Recordings in the Archive

​​  ​​ "A wonderful project.  Thank you for this"
    Andrew Nethsingha 

​​   "A tremendous achievement.  Many congratulations"
    Christopher Robinson

   ​​

Over 10,000 recordings from 820 choirs, the Archive is the world's largest collection of recordings from choirs of gentlemen and boys singing in the English Cathedral tradition
.
"this is now a collection of unparalleled national importance"  Royal College of Organists magazine

Recording categories

From major international labels through to private one-off recordings, the unique breadth and scope of the Archive is reflected in these recording categories

Recordings issued for sale

Major independent labels
International labels
Issued on 78s, LPs, cassettes, CDs. 
On labels, current and defunct, who mainly specialise in church and organ music recordings such as Priory, Regent, Herald, Lammas and Abbey.
Issued on 78s, LPs, cassettes, CDs.  
For worldwide distribution by a major international label, both current and defunct, such as EMI, HMV, Decca, Harmonia Mundi, Warner and Argo.

Small independent labels
In-house recordings
Issued on 78s, LPs, cassettes, CDs.
Over the decades, there have been many hundreds of small labels, often a one-man-band, producing choir recordings mainly for local sale.
Cassettes, CDs
The advent of these formats made it possible for a choir to make the recording, undertake the duplication and artwork and sell locally.
Private & Special pressings
Issued on 78s, LPs, cassettes, CDs.
From companies, large and small, these are some of the rarest recordings in the Archive. Issued in limited quanties - even just one copy!
Tape-to-disc service
Most cities and even large towns had an independent record company or studio who specialised in transcribing the customers reel-to-reel tape recording either onto pressed shellac 78s and  LPs.
The choir could have as few or as many copies as required and was an inexpensive way to issue a recording in the home locality.

Many hundreds of choirs produced this type of record and they are an invaluable part of the Archive as they usually represent to only recordings from that choir.

Recordings not for sale

'One-off' private recordings
Transcription LP
Recorded either by the choirmaster or an enthusiastic amateur on tape or the modern equivalent, these recordings are often the only sound legacy of a particular choir or solo chorister.   

The Archive has an extensive collection of these 'one-offs'  representing many of the greatest gems in the collection.

78rpm acetate transcription discs were superseded by the LP in the
1950s and many of the same record companies continued to transcribe radio broadcasts onto LPs

The Archive has an extensive collection of Transcription LPs from 1953-1979.
Electrical acetate 78rpm transcription disc
Commonly called an acetate transcription, this type of 78rpm gramophone record was used to record live on-air radio broadcasts and never for sale to the general public. 

As a transcription disc was directly cut (direct-cut acetate) from the on-air broadcast they were usually a one-off copy.

​78rpm transcription discs were used from the late 1920s (the dawn of electric recording) and the last such record in the Archive is dated 1959, although LPs and magnetic tape were being used concurrently from the early1950s.    The Archive's first transcription disc is from 1937 - making this the earliest surviving radio broadcast.
In late 1934, a new type of transcription disc was commercially introduced. It consisted of an aluminium core disc coated with black cellulose nitrate lacquer and referred to as an "acetate" disc by radio professionals.  
​​Using a top-quality blank disc the result was a virtually noiseless broadcast-quality recording which could be played several times before the effects of wear started to become apparent.  ​​

These discs were distributed to radio stations, usually abroad, for broadcasting and the BBC had its own Transcription Service record division. 

Numerous other companies, such as Master Sound, Dury, Levy Sound Studios, Excell Sound Services specialised in the recording of transcription discs. 


Master Sound System were the leaders in the field of this technology and almost all the other companies, including the BBC, used their equipment.

Given the short playing time of a 78rpm record, often twenty or more discs were needed to record a radio broadcast!  Usually on two recording machines so that a smooth change from one disc to the other would happen.

The Archive has a substantial collection of transcription discs, both from the BBC and the various specialist companies.  Their historical importance cannot be over emphasised and is solely due to the transcription disc that so many early radio broadcasts, particularly BBC Choral Evensongs, have survived.
Direct-cut 78rpm acetate
78rpm Test pressings
An acetate disc cut directly from a live performance or occasionally from tape.
A few copies of  would be distributed for evaluation by the record company and choir master as to whether the recording should be rejected or released on sale.  

The Archive has numerous test pressings which were never released on sale.
These are 'one-offs' and extremely rare; the Achive  has a substantial collection of these records, containing many rare gems.

Unissued recordings


Click to discover the fascinating history
of the record labels who produced
church music recordings


LPs, cassettes, CDs
Recorded for sale but for some reasons not released.   Many of these have been donated to the Archive by the record companies themselves. 

Recording formats

As you would expect from an Archive stretching over a 100 years, we have recordings
on almost every audio and visual format from 1902 up to the present day 

This photograph was specially taken to illustrate the audio and visual formats
Click to enlarge

Videos of recording sessions

  1. King's College : 2012
    Rutter, 'All the bells'
  2. Winchester : 1989
    'Byrd Three Masses' LP
  3. St John's College : 2016
    Jonathan Harvey 'Deo' CD
  4. New College : 2016
    'The Gate of Heaven' CD

Photos of recording sessions

  1. Salisbury Cathedral.  1957
    Salisbury Cathedral. 1957
  2. King's College, Cambridge. 2013
    King's College, Cambridge. 2013
  3. King's College, Cambridge, 2013
    King's College, Cambridge, 2013
  4. King's College, Cambridge, 2013
    King's College, Cambridge, 2013
  5. Hereford Cathedral, 1927
    Hereford Cathedral, 1927
  6. Portsmouth Cathedral, 1983
    Portsmouth Cathedral, 1983
  7. St John's College, Cambridge, 1927
    St John's College, Cambridge, 1927
  8. Holy Trinity, Barkingside.  1969
    Holy Trinity, Barkingside. 1969
  9. St John's College, Cambridge.  1964
    St John's College, Cambridge. 1964
  10. Portsmouth Cathedral, 1973
    Portsmouth Cathedral, 1973
  11. Portsmouth Cathedral. 1999
    Portsmouth Cathedral. 1999
  12. St John's College Cambridge
    St John's College Cambridge

Click on a photo to open the slide-show

How many recordings are in the Archive?

As recordings arrive from all over the world on an almost weekly basis its difficult to give the exact number of recordings and broadcasts held in the Archive; however, these numbers are accurate at 1st April 2018
​​