"Heartiest congratulations on this fine work"
    John Bertalot

St Andrew's, 
Wells Street, London


Click for other
​Tractarian Choir Schools

This is where it all began... the first ever choir to make a recording 

St Andrew's, Wells Street, and St Andrews, Kingsbury, are the same building ...... read the unique story of the church and choir.


St Andrew's, Wells Street

St Andrew's, Kingsbury

Click on any photo to enlarge

St Andrew's was one of London's finest Victorian churches, designed by Samuel Daukes, built in the heart of the West End and consecrated February 1847.

Soon it became one of London's best known and fashionable churches, renowned for its music and cathedral style daily sung services.

Inside the elegant exterior was the richest and most opulent collection of Victorian church fittings in existence.  Add to this the finest of music together with  magnificent Anglo-Catholic ceremonial and St Andrew's outshone many a cathedral....this was Tractarian heaven!

It is little wonder that the congregation included members of the Royal Family, leading figures of the day and the Prime Minister, William Gladstone, when matters of state would allow.

A  year after the church was consecrated, a rival appeared in the next street; this was eventually to eclipse St Andrew's in music and Anglo-Catholic ceremonial.  Its name is legendary in the history of church music, for it was All Saints, Margaret Street, whose own choir school lasted until 1968.






The proximity of St Andrew's and All Saints

The Wells Street choir

and their choir school

One reason for St Andrew's musical reputation was the purpose built  Tractarian choir school for the twenty-four choristers, which adjoined the church

Also, the layclerks were paid professionals and the directors of music included famous musicians such as Richard Redhead, Philip Armes, Joseph Barnby, F W Docker and Marmaduke P Conway.

Gounod's sacred music was first heard in England at St Andrew's and his Messe Solennelle, adapted to the English Eucharist, was performed there on St. Andrew's Day, 1863.  He wrote numerous anthems also for the choir.
 


The Choir School  was on the second floor of this purpose build two story building with the clergy residing on the first floor.
 
Ground floor consisted of a large parish vestry with separate vestries for the vicars, curates, lay clerks and choristers, together with the music library.  A corridor led to the north-west porch of the church.
 
The entire basement was the choir practice hall which doubled up as the chorister's game's area and playground.

This 1895 photograph of the choristers, the only one in existence, shows one of the classrooms and was given by the granddaughter of Frank Stamper who you can see as a 12 year old on the far end of the back row.

At the age of 21 he became the sub-organist of St Andrews, gaining his FRCO a few year's later.
 

Click on any photo to enlarge

These are the massed choirs, of which St Andrew's was one of many, at Queen  Victoria's  Diamond Jubilee in 1897.  

Frank Stamper, in later life, recalled to his grand daughter how the choir stood seven steps up, looking directly down into the carriage and having to be in position two hours before it started.

The gramophone records

On the 12th & 13th October 1902 at the studios of the Gramophone Company  (forerunner of EMI) located in the basement of the Coburn Hotel, St Andrew's, under the direction of their choirmaster, F Docker,  became the first English choir to record a gramophone record. 

These early recordings were studio based, as the equipment couldn't be moved and were recorded acoustically, no microphones as yet, with the sound travelling down a huge metal horn to a vibrating stylus which cut directly into a wax master disc.

The finished records were thick, heavy and recorded on one side only.
Over the course of the two days,  thirty-three gramophone records were recorded.  Of these, seventeen were never issued as not being up to standard and three masters were destroyed on the spot.  

A total of thirteen records were issued in time for Christmas and here are two of them:

 'Bethlehem' by Myers B Foster
​ 'Onward Christian Soldiers' 

The choir undertook three more recording sessions in 1908, 1909 and 1911.

​The 1909 session is notable as it produced the first recording of an entire church service,  'Morning Prayer as prescribed by the Church of England' and issued in a folder of eight single-sided records. 

This 1909 set contains the 1911 record of the Royal prayers.  Below you can listen to  the 1909 prayers.

'Morning Prayer' : listen to all eight records

As the service was Matins, the prayers for King Edward (VII) and the Royal Family were recorded.  However, he died the following year, 1910, so the Gramophone Company now had a prestigious set of recordings which had suddenly gone out date.

Therefore, on 6 March 1911 a new recording of the set of eight records was with exactly the same music.  The only difference were the updated prayers for the Royal Family and George V.

However, the recordings were not satisfactory and except for the updated Royal prayers, were all destroyed. The original 1909 set continued to be issued with the record of the prayers being replaced by the 1911 version.

1909 label with Royal Prayers

​​From Wells Street to Kingsbury  

Owing to changes in the demographic area and with another similar style of church around the corner, there was not the congregational numbers to sustain both.

So on Easter Sunday 1931, St Andrew's closed its doors and declared redundant. The initial plan to was demolish the church but such was the outcry at the proposed destruction of such a beautiful building containing such treasures that another plan had to be conceived.

The then Bishop of London, Dr Winnington Ingram, made the bold and unprecedented decision to move the church to the fast growing suburb of Kingsbury.  It was demolished, numbered stone by numbered stone, and transported ten miles to Kingsbury, being dubbed by one newspaper as 'the biggest jigsaw in the world.'  
The fine sculptures, paintings and ironwork were put back in a faithful restoration of the interior, and by October 1934 the work was completed.

Strangely, although none of it appeared to be missing, one small piece of stone from the reredos was left over.

According to the Wembley News, thirteen hundred people crowded into St Andrew's on 13 October 1934 to celebrate its consecration by Bishop Winnington-Ingram.



St Andrew's re-assembled at Kingsbury

The Kingsbury choir

The choir was immediately re-established but without the choir school and without daily choral evensong. Even a few of the original boys would travel on the Metropolitan line to sing once again in the reborn church.  

The large choir of men and boys continued to thrive and we take up the story once again in 1957 when Barry Rose was appointed organist and choirmaster, before he took up the post at Guildford Cathedral in 1960.

He set about enlarging and improving the already flourishing choir and brought in musical friends to sing in the back row. 

Under his inspired leadership the choir came full circle and once again recorded, this time for the radio in what is surely a fitting legacy for this unique choir.

One work from the radio broadcast in 1960

The choir in 1960

Footnote

Recently, I was contacted by the vicar of St Andrew's who was most interested in the history of the choir and asked if he could put a link from the church's new website to this page.  

I am delighted to have helped in some small way to bring the history of this unique choir to a wider audience.

View the church website.