A 'potted' history of St Austin's Choir.
A choir has been in existence at St Austin's Church since the very first Mass was celebrated. Here we have a 'potted' history of the choir up to 1931. All the infomation came from Dennis McKniff's book 'A History of St Austin's Church, Wakefield'. Our thanks go to Dominic Gilroy who was instrumental in updating the presentation of the church's history.
4th March 1828
St Austin’s Church opens with High Mass celebrated by Bishop Penswick.
“The service commenced with a fine Gregorian chant in English, by the Rev. incumbent, responded to by the choir.”
Wakefield & Halifax Journal 7th March 1828
The music chosen was mainly Mozart’s Mass no. 7. There had been a concert in Wakefield Parish Church (now the Cathedral) the previous day in which some well-known singers from the County had taken part. The assembled choir sang under the direction of Mr White, organist of the parish church. Principal soloist was Miss Farrar, a well-known soprano from York. Although the choir was mainly an Anglican one on this special occasion, the incumbent choir gained a reputation for providing high quality music in the early years of the parish.
Installation and inauguration of the new organ. Built by Mr Booth of Wakefield. A High Mass was sung with 13 priests in attendance. The Hermann family, from Munich, provided four soloists and a string quartet. A choir from York augmented the music which was mainly Haydn’s Mass no.1.
By this time the choir had an excellent reputation and was asked to sing at the opening of the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Spinkhill
Church was enlarged and the present balcony replaced the original one
14th November 1852
Choir sang Haydn’s Mass No 3 after further improvements to the church were revealed. On this occasion they were joined by Miss Mountain of Leeds, Mr Nelson from Bradofrd, Mrs MacDonnaugh of Dewsbury and Mr Inkersell from Sheffield.
Artist Thomas Cromeck returned from Rome to live in Wakefield with his wife and three daughters. They became the backbone of the choir over the next twenty years with the eldest daughter, Mary, becoming principal soloist and eventually director of the choir.
Choir sang at the reopening of the church following alterations to the church. Sung High Mass was celebrated by the Bishops of Nottingham and Beverley. Choir sang Haydn’s Mass No. 13 and was led by Mr H. Phillips and the organ was played by Mr J. Emmerson. By this time the choir had achieved a great reputation-so much so that non-Catholics often attended services just to listen to the music. Special services such as ‘Choir Sunday’ and ‘Schools Sunday' helped raise finance to cover the cost of the choirmaster and organist
A larger organ, built by Wadswoth Brothers of Manchester, was installed. First played by William Blakely of Dewsbury and a sung High Mass was celebrated on its inauguration.
A Diocese synod at York proclaimed that extravagant sung Masses were becoming too operatic and ordered that they should cease and that women were not be used in church choirs. It appears that the then parish priest, Fr Cooper, ignored the instruction! When the new parish priest, Fr George Lambert, took over in 1876 he received a letter from the Bishop asking why such Masses were still being sung at St Austin’s. On 2nd July 1876 a former parish priest, Fr Baron, returned to preach on ‘Choir Sunday’ and criticised the decision by the synod. For several decades women were reintroduced into the choir at times until the diocese would once again enforce the instruction. The cycle was repeated several times, being enforced again in 1892 and 1901. Fr Jerrard refers to the instruction in in April 1892 reporting that “females were only re-admitted temporarily to the choir when the male choir went on strike in October 1882”!
Fr Lambert made an agreement with Mr Lee to conduct and teach choir for £10 a year
Mr Fred Hardy was to be paid an extra £5 a year on top of his existing £15 per annum for playing the organ at extra services. He remained organist for ten years.
Choir directed by Mr Mitchell
Miss Threadgold lead soprano until 1910
Mr J.B. Barker directed the choir.
Miss Hannon lead soprano until 1919.
25th October 1916
Sapper Thomas Quinn of York Street, Wakefield.who was a tenor singer in St Austin’s Church Choir was killed in action on 25 October 1916 He is buried in the British Cemetery near Loos, France.
Mr Staynes conducted the choir.
November 19th 1926
St Peter and Paul’s chapel opened at Portobello. Bishop of Leeds, Dr Cowgill, celebrated a sung high Mass. Choir sang Turner’s Mass of St Cecilia.
Choir sang a new high mass by Cyril Vaughan.
Fr Thomson directed the choir.