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Oh for a mansion in the country

08 April 2016

Helen Burrows on the era of choristers at Addington Palace


Canada-bound: Gerald Knight rehearses a choir for the Toronto Anglican Congress, 1963

Canada-bound: Gerald Knight rehearses a choir for the Toronto Anglican Congress, 1963

The Royal School of Church Music: The Addington Years
John Henderson and Trevor Jarvis
RSCM £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50


MY FIRST visit to Addington Palace was magical: the golf course was covered in deep snow, the sun was shining, and the building looked wonderful. I had travelled from rural South Wales to attend my first young organists’ course, and it made a deep and lasting impression.

I returned more or less annually for about five years, and often the snow did, too, but the magic was really within the building: the smell of polish and toast, the organs tucked in every available corner, the dungeon organ surrounded by secondhand music available for sale, the vast great hall, hidden staircases, the common room, the rather grand furniture in many of the bedrooms, and the mysterious subterranean offices where, some years later, I found myself working in “Other Publications”.

No visitor to Addington could possibly be immune to the atmosphere of the place, the sense of purpose, and the inspiring musicians who, in many cases, quite literally lived, and breathed the work of the RSCM during the Addington years.

The RSCM moved from Canterbury to Addington Palace in 1953 and remained there until the move to Cleveland Lodge in 1996. This book, a wonderful synthesis of historical fact and personal anecdote, is quite rightly dedicated to the thousands of RSCM affiliates, members, and friends without whom the RSCM would not have flourished, and will, no doubt, become a much treasured memory box for all those involved in this chapter of the RSCM’s history.

Turning the pages of this book is like spending a few days with old friends. Most of the reminiscences pre-date my own association with Addington, but the personalities of the time were so influential that their spirit lived on in the building right up to the move to Cleveland Lodge. Moving to Addington enabled Sir Sydney Nicholson to realise his dream of “a large mansion in the country with a chapel that would hold up to a hundred boys”. Sadly, he did not live to see this vision realised, but would surely have been delighted to learn that the first residents during the RSCM’s incumbency were the Coronation Choristers in the spring of 1953.

Communal life at Addington, for resident staff, students, and after the close of the college in 1974, the thousands of visitors on short residential courses is extremely well documented through detailed descriptions, photographs, and anecdotes. There is much humour throughout the pages, and a genuine sense of community and shared purpose. Descriptions of the other vital aspects of the RSCM’s work, from catering to administration, finance, publishing, outreach work, and not least an appreciation of the lasting legacy of Martin How’s Chorister Training Scheme demonstrate that, while the walls of the Palace contained the offices and many of the activities during this time, it was undoubtedly the people that made the RSCM, and this book is a testament to them all.

The 11 tracks on the accompanying CD are a bonus. Most are taken from live recordings at lectures and services and many feature How, either as conductor or organist. Dated between 1931 and 1996, they also enable listeners to hear the voices of both Nicholson and Gerald Knight.


Dr Helen Burrows is Director of Music at St George’s RAF Chapel of Remembrance, Biggin Hill, and at Combe Bank School. She is also Examinations Secretary to the Guild of Church Musicians.

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