History of the Choir

The History of St John's Church Choir

St Agatha's: the early days

Music at St John's bearing the stamp 'St Agatha's Mission' testifies to a strong choral tradition pre dating the consecration of the present building in 1913, to the late 19th century when St Agatha's was the Parish Church in Hurst Green.  A large choir at this time is suggested by the number of copies of music, much by Victorian composers who have not stood the test of time.  

The new ecclesiastical parish of Hurst Green, 1953/4

John Bickersteth (later Bishop of Bath & Wells) was licensed as the first Minister of the new parish and remained until 1962.  There is a photograph of the choir taken at the dedication of the extension to the church in 1962, which was broadcast on television.  At this time Rogation Sunday was celebrated by singing the Litany in procession to a service at Boulthurst Farm, quite a challenge along the bumpy farm road!  In the mid 1960s the pattern of morning worship changed from alternate Mattins/Eucharist to a 10am weekly Eucharist.  Organists included Mr Clifford (1960), Alan Miller, a brilliant RSCM student (1961), Mr Tolman, David Finnimore, Arthur Lee (1966), Michael Osborn (1971) and Stacey Powe.

The new organ, 1966

In 1966 the original organ from a country house which filled most of what is now the choir vestry, was replaced by a small electronic instrument, described later by organist, Frank Bunn, as 'like driving a car with one gear'.  
Under Stacey Powe and then Bryan Wells (1973), the choir sang full choral Evensong once a month.  Bryan Wells was later ordained priest and St John's provided the choir for several special services at St Francis, Monks Hill, Selsdon where he became the Vicar, including an Advent Carol Service in 1992, and Candlemas in 1993.  The organ was at the back of the church and on occasions Bryan was known to move rapidly to and fro combining roles of priest and organist.

Frank Bunn became organist in 1979 and a service of thanksgiving for his life was held at St John's in 1993 following his death the previous year, with combined choirs conducted by William White.  In 1984 a service at Oxted marked the centenary of the opening of the railway on 10 March 1884, a landmark in the development of Hurst Green.

Back to St Agatha's, 1988-1990

On the evening of Good Friday (1 April) 1988 the choir arrived to sing  'The Cross of Christ' to find the church ablaze. This devastating fire, started by an arsonist using a pile of choir robes and music, resulted in the destruction of the roof, organ, grand piano (ruined by firemen's hoses) and most of the music.

For the next two years St Agatha's became the church once more and a certain 'War spirit' developed.   Derek Mott was appointed organist in 1988 just before the fire and left during the time at St Agatha's.  He was assisted by choir member/deputy organist Andrew Woods.  Often, in the absence of  an organist in post, the choir led the singing entirely unaccompanied.  Weekly Evensong became fortnightly.

Babies were baptised from a glass fruit bowl instead of a traditional stone font and young children got up to dance during the music in the inevitably more relaxed atmosphere, a practice to continue for a while after the return to church. 

The Service of Re-Dedication, 1990

Exactly two years later, 1 April 1990, was a huge Service of Re-dedication, with the Bishop of Southwark and attended by local celebrities, complete with bodyguards.  Entrance was by ticket only and the choir sang music specially written for the occasion by Reg Streeton: 'How awesome is this place' and new organist Peter Barraclough, appointed just before the return to church.  The chancel screen was removed to create a new choir vestry, and the choir stalls moved from the sides to the east wall to enable the altar to be brought forward.  A new electronic organ was installed.

Affiliation to Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) in 1990 was the beginning of a long association and attendance at choir festivals throughout the Dioceses of Southwark, Rochester and Guildford.  1991 saw Norman Taylor as organist and the choir sang informal carol services at Fairholme in 1992 and Sycamore Court in 1993 directed by choirmaster Michael Harman.

More recent times

Tony Wiltshire was the organist from 1994 - 2004 and in August 1994 several choir members took part in an hour long act of worship with Gloria Hunniford, broadcast live on television from Addington Palace, RSCM headquarters.  

In 1998 a separate Junior Choir developed with its own busy calendar of singing and social events: Diocesan festivals, inter-choir bowling and regular trips to the theatre in London.  Following successful auditions for the RSCM Southern Cathedral Singers, several junior choristers sang Evensong at cathedrals throughout the South East.  Regular recruitment drives maintained an overall membership of about 20 and the choir barbecue, complete with bouncy castle for the more energetic, became a popular annual event.  

Tony was succeeded by Martin Carling (2004-2006).  In 2005 the choir enjoyed a lunch time buffet courtesy of Phyllis York who had left a generous sum in her will 'for a treat in gratitude for all the pleasure the choir has given her'. 

Today the choir is smaller in number, but no less enthusiastic, singing under  Director of Music Hilary Dilnot, who was appointed in May 2006.   

'I will sing with the Spirit and with the understanding also' (1 Corinthians 14:15)