West Gallery Music Association
Home   About Us   What's New   Calendar   Quires   Articles   Publications   Resources   Pictures   Discussion Forum   Links

Reminiscences of Christmas Fifty Years Since

The choirs of the various churches would go round the parishes on Chrismas-eve, stopping at the principal houses to sing an appropriate anthem or a Christmas carol; this over, the loudest tenor voice would call out the names of the nearest residents, such as good morning Mr. Smugg, good morning Mrs. Smugg, and all the young Smuggs, past three o'clock; a very cold and frosty morning; or the snow is falling fast. The young reader must understand in those days the winters were much more severe than now; skating almost a certainty, and snow falling at various times for two or three days, and remaining on the ground for several weeks. I have seen birds laying dead on the ground for want of food. My father informed me that the snow had been so high on Haldon that men were sent from Exeter to cut a passage through it to allow the mails, &c., to pass. Alluding to the perambulation, the choir consisted of singers, accompanied by a fiddle or two, bass viol, a clarionet or flute. The above named instruments were used in churches that had no organ. On the rounds some parties were waiting the arrival of the choir with a cup of tea, coffee, or soup which was very acceptable. A good efficient choir would be accomipanied by lots of "camp followers" who rendered assistance by carrying chairs, lanterns, &c., also by holding the music in frornt of the performers. About six o'clock the various rounds were finished; at half past six the Cathedral bell tolled out, the front doors were opened, and then there was a great rush of people, about half filling the nave, many in a state that indicated that they were not members of the temperance society, being very noisy, and smoking. This conduct not meeting the aproval of the Dean and Chapter they ceased to have the nave opened some years hence. At seven o'ciock the organist played the Old Hundredth Psalm on the "Great Organ", the chorister boys singing from the "Minstrels' Gallery", which was lit up with candles. The morning and afternoon services were thinly attended, but a great many outsiders went to hear the anthem. The parish churches were well attended in the morning, afternoon scarcely anyone present; evening three or four churches open, and these very thinly attended. So universal was the social and family gathering that the High Street in the evening had the appearance of a deserted town, with respect to people moving about.


It was customary at some of the inns at this season to invite the "landlord's" customers and friends to supper, and have a bowl of punch, &c., &c., I will give one instance of it which was at the Barnstaple Inn, North Street, kept by Mr.Ireland. After supper, the number being from thirty to forty, would, if convenient, adjourn to the large kitchen, which was nicely decorated, also a huge ashen faggot burning. ... Mr Carpenter, the organist, with the elder portion of the choir, added to the musical department by singing glees, catches, duetts, and songs; other parties filling up the interval with toasts, songs, or recitations, and a very pleasant, enjoyable evening was spent.

James Cossins, January, 1877

from Trewmanís Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth & Cornish Advertiser, 24th Jan 1877


Home page   |   Resources Index   |   Books Index   |   Recordings Index   |   Literary References