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Church and Quire in Ingleton, Yorkshire

from The Story of My Village (1840-50) by Anthony Hewitson

The church, recently rebuilt, was a gloomy and severely plain structure, both internally and externally. The pews were high and of all shapes and sizes, and in winter time the floors of some of them were covered in straw. The reading and preaching were done in a desk-fronted contrivance of the three-decker kind. The minister was a highly cultured, stern-looking old gentleman and he wore a very dark wig, which added solemnity to the austerity of his aspect. This was the Rev. William Waller B.D., and he was an admirable preacher. Sometimes he would cease from speaking for a moment or two to take a drink of wine from a pretty large glass or goblet which he had on a shelf within the pulpit. At the close of each service and when the congregation had got to the door, comments were usually made on the service and they were invariably of a laudatory character.

The parish clerk, Paul Berry, whose business it was to read the responses and lessons and announce the psalms to be sung was a very antiquated, singularly-ramshackle individual. He would now and then fall fast asleep and require rousing to make his response or he would start up and say "Amen" loudly at a point where it was unnecessary or he would give out the wrong psalm. Altogether he was a source of much astonishment, amusement and annoyance, but being an old church official he was allowed to remain at his post until at last age and infirmity entirely incapacitated him from clerking.

The church choir, located in a clumsy, dingy, unsightly gallery at the west end of the church, amounted to a curiosity. The members of it consisted of the village schoolmaster, a shoemaker, a couple of joiners, one or two colliers and several lads. The instruments played comprised a clarionet, a cornopean, a bassoon, a flute and a bass fiddle. The tunes were in many cases very ancient and some of them involved a whimsical division of words and reiteration of syllables at the end of certain lines. The amusingly absurd style adopted, of splitting words and repeating the splits at line ends, was just on par with the plan referred to in an article on the "Humours of Rustic Psalmody" which appeared in the Cornhill Magazine.

You might have heard the singers lustily proclaiming their defiance to the Decalogue in "I love to steal, I love to steal," while all they meant to do was "to steal awhile away" to some imaginary realm of blessedness. "Stir up this stu-, stir up this stu-," was only the fuguing form of "Stir up this stupid heart to pray." So with "And take thy pil-, and take thy pilgrim home"; "My poor pol-, my poor pol-, my poor polluted heart"; "And more eggs, more exalt our joys"; "I love thee bet-, I love thee better than before"; "And catch the flee-, and catch the fleeting hour", and many more entertaining instances of perverted sense of song.

The instrumental play was primitive and the vocalisation of the lads by whom the singing was principally done was crude. They were, with perhaps one or two exceptions, quite ignorant of musical notation and if it had been gauged by anything like a moderate standard of efficiency would have been pronounced a most precious melange of noise. But we who were present thought differently, for when we saw the clarionet player's cheeks intumescent and purple, and beheld the man with the cornopean rapidly pressing the little pistons surmounting it, and the flautists pouting extensively near the top of his instrument, and the bassooner puffing mightily and the individual in charge of the big fiddle working away across the centre of it almost as energetically as if he were trying to saw some huge piece of wood asunder, and all the lads staring keenly and warbling with wide open mouths, then we felt proud of the choir, and thought that the "music" was going grandly.

The members of the choir got no direct pay for their services, but at Christmas they experienced a sort of compensation. They went out playing and singing and during several nights they had a high old time of it. Waifs and carollers took the field antecendently and received various gifts, but the choir people got the lion's share in the domains of hospitality and pecuniary liberality. They visited the principal houses in the village, went to all substantial ones - those of farmers forming the majority - in various nearby districts and left no stone unturned by way of procuring money gifts or refreshments.

Their programme was arranged in sections and the different places selected were taken in turn until the whole had been operated upon. They played and sung, and their list of melodies was curiously varied - it ranged from the hymn, "Hark the herald angels sing" to the erotic rondeau, "Here's a health to all good lasses." At each house visited they opened a vein of generosity and in the country districts they not only got money but liberal supplies of refreshments. By the heads of farmhouses, which places they usually reached at night-time, they were invariably well received. In nearly all instances they were asked in, and whenthey went in they took up positions round the hearth. Thus located they sang and played vigorously, supped freely out of a puch bowl or a large tankard or from glasses separately handed about. Before leaving they gossipped and joked with members of the household in the liveliest of ways on the oddest of subjects. In this style they worked through their Christmas programme. From country places they usually returned home very late and some of them never definitely knew how they reached their own domiciles or what time they got to bed.


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