Anne Murray’s Choir

St Nicholas Church Choir (c1947)
Back row: M Hammond, A Edge, R Burr, A Cox, Ken Speers, B Godfrey, B Shuttle, R Taylor
3rd row: Ronald Dunn, F Brown, Mr Dunn, W Westaby, G England, Roger Speers
2nd row: D Jarvice, Mr Sharp, J Mutton, Miss Murray, John Page, W Leech, J Holloway
Front row: L Oldman, unknown, Timmy Hammond, unknown, C Burr, G Rollinson, J Westaby, C Purciss

Anne Murray was born in 1920. She was the daughter of Nellie and Athole Murray, and lived at Wardley, a house opposite the Village Hall on Church Lane, Chislehurst.

Her father, Athole, was a free-lance priest, who took services as and when required at St Nicholas Church, and at churches in Petts Wood, Orpington and elsewhere.  He was financially secure since his wife Nellie had received a substantial legacy under her father’s will (Henry Tiarks of Foxbury), and Athole was able to devote himself to his hobbies, one of which was music, and church music in particular.

Anne followed his interest, and studied organ and composition at the Royal College of Music. She won a scholarship at RCM for her composition work, some of which were performed at Westminster Abbey, Durham Cathedral and St Paul’s Cathedral. Others were recorded and she had a least one work broadcast on the BBC. She also recorded programmes about music on BBC radio.

In 1942 she worked briefly as assistant organist at St Nicholas Church, until the organist, Sydney Smith, asked for her resignation. The Rector immediately wrote to her with a testimonial to her work, and within six months the organist himself had been asked to resign, with Anne being appointed in his place. She was to remain as organist and choirmaster until 1951.

Anne was a determined and dedicated choirmaster, expecting the best from her boys and men. She was strict, but fair, and earned the respect of her charges, a number of whom remember her warmly.

At the time of writing, Anne is in a nursing home in Milton Keynes, aged 94. More information about her family is available in booklet form.  Contact us for more information.

Society member Ken Speers was one of her choristers, and he has provided us with some interesting memorabilia, including the programme for the performance of The Boy Bishop in 1948 at the Village Hall, and The Messiah at the County Grammar School for Girls (now Chislehurst School for Girls) at Beaverwood Road. The photographs were taken in 1947. Other Society members may remember Anne and her family. Please contact us if you want to share your memories.

Here are Ken’s recollections:

My recollections from my time singing on St Nicholas Church Choir

I joined the choir in 1945. At that time I was a pupil at St Nicholas Church of England School. The headmaster then was Mr Jenkins, who addressed our class and asked if any of us boys was interested in auditioning for the church choir. I became interested, and my name was forwarded to the church. Applicants were then invited for a singing audition with the then choir mistress and organist, Anne Murray, either in the church or at Wardley in Church Lane.
I was accepted as a probationer, and later as a chorister, often singing solo in the church on special occasions. Us choristers had to go through an initiation ceremony, where you were held by your arms and legs and then thrown in a gorse bush; we called this being furzed.

Practices were held on Mondays and Wednesdays after school at Wardley in the upstairs front room. Friday practice was in the church with the adult choir. Boys were paid a small fee, one (old) penny, 1d., per practice and the bus fare, and I think we were paid for services in the church. The best time for choir boys was weddings. Most couples married before the end of the tax year, April. There was a set fee of twenty one shillings (£1.05 now), divided between the number of boys attending. Sometimes there were three weddings on a Saturday. I am unsure about the fee for funerals. There was one very notable funeral in the church that the choir had the privilege to sing at, that of Sir Malcolm Campbell, in January 1949.

The choir performed in a number of concerts, one in particular of Handel’s Messiah, performed at Beaverwood School for Girls, with orchestra. Others were at Farringtons Chapel, with carols. There was also a rendering of Sydney Nicholson’s “The Boy Bishop”, staged in the old Village Hall in January 1947. We also sang  at Evensong in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, Southwark and Rochester Cathedral. During practice rehearsing for the Messiah, Anne would cut rosewood needles for use on the HMV Gramophone, situated at the back of Wardley. The speaker was enormous. We had to listen to the Huddersfield Choral Society recordings, trying to make us emulate their performances, with the singer Isobel Bailey as soloist, although Anne was never favourable to female singers in church choirs.

Before our practices in Wardley, Anne’s mother, Nellie, would provide the boys with this wonderful drinking chocolate that we all appreciated, especially on a cold day. On Christmas Eve there was always a party at Wardley for the choir, organised by Anne Murray’s family. After Christmas we were treated to a pantomime at the Penge Empire. I can remember shouting at Tommy Trinder. In the summer months, Miss Mears, who lived in Church Row, would pay for days out to the coast for the choir boys. In those days the journey took about four hours one way. The boys would wait excitedly at the Lych Gate for Southlands Coaches to arrive from Bromley.

Sport was played against other choirs; football at Edgebury Boys School and Shepherds Green, which was the home ground of Chislehurst Old Boys. There was also a match against St Paul’s Cathedral Choir at Bellingham near Catford. Our cricket matches were mostly on the then West Kent Cricket ground, although we had other games at Beaverwood and Folkestone.
On two occasions during my time in the choir I was fortunate to be selected for two Royal School of Church Music courses, in the school holidays January 1948 and April 1949. I really enjoyed my time in the choir, and writing this brings back some very happy memories.

Ken Speers

Ann Murray’s St Nicholas Church Choir Football Team in 1947
Back row: Ronald Dunn, Reg Oldman, Roy Dent, Tony Dent, Bob Steel, Michael Dorrer
Front row: Tony Edge, Brian Maddox, Roy Burr, Ken Speers, Chris Burr
Photograph taken at Edgebury School for Boys