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Out of the question: Peculiar colour of cassocks

by
23 November 2010

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.

Your answers

What exactly is the rule abut choristers’ wearing crimson cassocks? Is there royal or other authority for it?

For centuries, the colour of cassocks worn by choristers varied. Crimson-scarlet was not specifically asso­ciated with the Chapels Royal or Royal Peculiars such as Westminster Abbey, except in so far as it was a normal colour for royal livery.

There is, however, not a rigid rule, but a comparatively modern custom that dates from the reign of King Edward VII at the beginning of the last century, that requests that red cassocks should be worn only by the clergy and lay personnel in churches of royal foundation. Strict adherence to this restriction has always proved impossible — particularly in the case of hundreds of choirs for which the choice of colour of cassocks has simply been one of suitability and aesthetic taste.

This vexed question of choristers’ wearing crimson-scarlet cassocks received the attention of Bishop John Bickersteth and Robert Dunning in their authoritative history Clerks of the Closet in the Royal Household (Sutton Press, 1991).

We learn that in the early 1980s an attempt was made to regularise practice nationwide.

The Lord Chamberlain at that time endeavoured to control the widespread use of crimson-scarlet by choirs, but reached the con­clusion that “it would be an unequal struggle to try and get them all out of the royal livery, although he issued a statement to say that he hoped choirs and servers would gradually phase out its use.”

To what extent he met with success remains questionable, and would require to be surveyed afresh.

(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire

A particular shade of scarlet (le mot juste; for it is indeed “a vivid red colour with a tinge of orange”) is restricted to the cassocks of Royal Peculiars, as the Dean and Chapter of one cathedral discovered early in the 21st century, when, on a visit, the Sovereign forbade the choir to continue to wear cassocks of that colour, and herself paid for a complete set of cassocks to replace what were not to be worn.

Charles Cleall
Shaftesbury

Recently, while attending a service in one of them, I observed a poster showing the names of the 24 “Greater Parish Churches”, together with drawings and a short descrip­tion of each. I recall seeing a similar poster in another such church a few years ago, but in neither case did it appear that the poster was available for purchase. Does any reader, please, know where I may obtain a copy? (Electronic gadgetry knows no part of my life.)

This map was printed only in limited numbers, and two copies were issued to each member of the Group. I am sure that if the questioner were to ask in a church where he sees a poster displayed for a photocopy, they would be happy to oblige. Alternatively, if he or she contacts me, I will see if I can arrange for a photocopy to be sent to him or her.

(Mrs) Pat Wollaston
Secretary, Greater Churches Group
24 Hastings Road
Malvern WR14 2SS

Your questions

Why do we sing the Gloria Patri after psalms, and when did this custom start?
J. B.

Why do we sing the Gloria Patri after psalms, and when did this custom start?
J. B.

Does a historic family connection as the patron of a church count as a qualifying connection for getting married there?
B. L.

Does a historic family connection as the patron of a church count as a qualifying connection for getting married there?
B. L.

If church furnishings were given in memory of someone, and are now no longer to be used, what should be done with them? Will the PCC be required to consult the family before disposing of them?
G. A.

If church furnishings were given in memory of someone, and are now no longer to be used, what should be done with them? Will the PCC be required to consult the family before disposing of them?
G. A.

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