Wednesday, 21 October 2009

In the Cathedral Archives

The excitement of today, in Gurney terms, was a visit to Gloucester Cathedral library and Archives to meet the recently appointed Archivist, Christopher Jeens. Chris has been in post a few months now and has a lot on his plate in the archive, which, due to the illness of his predecessor, has been mostly untended for some time. The archive has seen little in the way of cataloguing since the late 1960s. There are piles of things about the place, and the temptation to riffle through the piles must be suppressed for the fear of spreading mould spores, which are infesting parts of the library, now being painstakingly removed by the Archivist and his volunteers.

Sebastian Field and I ventured up to the library in the hope of gleaning what is in the archive - certainly as far as can be seen at present, before much organisation has been undertaken and the contents of the library learned by the archivist.

A few documents were known about and readily locatable; some others were as yet unsighted but were located during my visit; other things that may be of interest will have to wait for another day.

The first item I saw was the school admissions register. 1900 saw 8 pupils admitted to the Kings School, four of whom were admitted as choristers. This volume is all in Latin, but Gurney's was the only name not Latinised: perhaps Ivor is to Celtic to bear it. Gurney's entry, like that of the others who were admitted as probationary choristers, was appended with the phrase 'ch[oro] Eccl[esiasticus]: Cath: G[loucester]'. The most interesting entry in the admission list for that year is one Eric Harvey: the brother of F.W. Harvey, Gurney's close boyhood friend and fellow poet. It makes one wonder whether it was through Eric that Will and Ivor met. Eric was to fight alongside Gurney in the 2/5 Gloucester Battalion, until he was invalided home in April 1918, five months before Gurney was sent home following his being gassed. By the September in which Gurney was sent home, Harvey had returned to the front, where he earned a Military Cross shortly before he was killed by machine gun fire.

One of the objectives of my visit to the Cathedral archives was to discover more about Gurney's time as a chorister, and the Chapter minute book yielded a little information about this:

The probationary period for a chorister was a long one, for despite joining the school in 1900 Gurney was not admitted as a full chorister until the beginning of 1903. The choir generally consisted of ten boys, four of whom were solo boys, who were paid more than the other boys. Gurney was admitted as fourth solo boy, receiving a sum of £9 per year (as reported in the cathedral salary register), being £2 a year more than the next three choristers and £5 more than the lower three. This was paid in installments at Lady Day, Midsummer, Michaelmas and Christmas. In 1904 - the year of his Three Choirs Festival success as the youth in Elijah, alongside Madame Albani - Gurney was 3rd chorister. At the beginning of 1905 he was second chorister, and from Michaelmas of that year until the end of his chorister career in the summer of 1906, was made 1st chorister.

The chapter minutes also include the specification of chorister regulations and also some talk of the school curriculum, with the regular inspections often reporting the poor knowledge of scripture and church Catechism when examined - something concerning for a church school.

Another objective of my visit was to glean some information about Gurney's role as articled pupil and organist in the cathedral: he claims to have been 'assistant organist' at the cathedral for a time. However, if he was so it was an entirely honorary role since there is no salary drawn for such a post, nor any mention of such appointments in the minutes (there is talk of Herbert Brewer's terms of service, as Organist and Master of Choristers, and much talk of the Lay Clerks, but no assistant organist is mentioned.) One piece of information is interesting though: In 1906-7 the Cathedral was undergoing electrification, and by December 1907 the organ was in receipt of a new electric blower. In the Chapter meeting of 7 December 1907 Herbert Brewer put forward a proposal that his pupils be allowed to use the organ for practice. This was agreed, for a period of one year, provided that 'Dr Brewer is responsible for its proper use and that proper payment is made for the amount of Electric current consumed.' As Articled Pupil to Brewer, alongside Herbert Howells and Ivor Novello, Gurney now had the freedom to do as Howells reported in his 1938 recollection in Music and Letters, of Gurney composing 'organ works which he tried out in the midst of Gloucester’s imperturbable Norman pillars.'

I hope that in time photographs may emerge of the choir, or perhaps other documents may be found - music lists, choir administration documents and all. At present we just have to be patient while Christopher Jeens undertakes his painstaking and in some ways enviable task in the voyage of discovery that will be the restoration and cataloguing of the cathedral library.

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