Memories of St John’s Church choir by Colin Price
My connections with St John’s Church go back to when I was a small boy. I attended Sunday school, which was then run by the superintendent Mrs “Nell” Hurley, and when I was eight years old, I joined the church choir.
The organist and choirmaster in those days was Bill Stretton, a local baker who later became a miner and was tragically killed in a mining accident. The Rood figures at the entrance to the chancel are dedicated to his memory.
If I remember correctly, the boys choir consisted of about a dozen members with ages varying from eight years to when their voices broke at around 14. The head choirboy at that time was called Robert Hunter. The men’s choir was made up of all ages from late teenagers pensioners. The tenor section included Bill “Buller” Jones, Harold Fereday, my dad Donald Price who sometimes sang alto, John Francis and Terry Bruce, who was also learning to play the organ with Bill Stretton. I don’t remember any members of the bass section, except for another Colin, Colin Cluley, and his brother Boris, and Cedric and Andrew Smith, a little older than myself.
After about a year, I was asked to sing small solo part in a harvest anthem, “Ye shall dwell in the land” by Joseph Stainer, with the larger baritone part sung by Colin Cluley. After that, I often sang solos sometimes from Handel’s “Messiah” and other sacred music.
After Bill Stretton resigned, the position organist and choirmaster was taken up by a young man who was in the Royal Air Force stationed at Hednesford named Bob Kalton. Bob expanded the choir and if I remember correctly, the worries choir numbered almost 20. It was during Bob’s time that a harvest Festival service was recorded and parts of it put onto discs, including the anthem “Thou Visitest the Earth” by Maurice Greene. The curate at that time was John Dodd.
After Bob Kalton finished his national service and return to his hometown of Wrexham, his place was taken by another Royal Air Force man, Sgt David Dence, who, being a “regular” stayed for a longer period, giving way to a local Hednesford man, Percy Kendrick, scratch that. It was during this time, having studied the organ at Cannock grammar school, I was given the job of organist at St Thomas’s church, Huntington, where I stayed for three years, after which I returned to St John’s as organist and choirmaster.
During this time, as well as the usual anthems, I instituted a link with the Bourne Methodist Church, so that both our choirs might join together to perform larger works. The first of these was the Christmas music from Handel’s “Messiah” which we performed in St John’s. The soloists were all local, including Ruth Fereday, soprano, Miss Poxon, contralto, a tenor from Cannock whose name I can’t remember, and Frank Jordan, bass. The organist was Frank’s son, David, who was the organist at Bourne. This was followed by Bach’s “St Luke Passion” which was performed by the same soloists the following Easter in the Bourne church. This was in the time of Rev. Jim Quinn.
It was shortly after this time, that I left the village to study music at the Royal Manchester College of music, and so had to leave the post of organist, something which I had enjoyed doing, and I was sorry to leave. I hope that these few memories may prompt a few more of the church at that time, and if I have left anyone out, please feel free to correct the error.