REACHED through a foyer pungent with wood polish and civic self-esteem, Chelmsford Public Library had an inner sanctum, The Essex Room, in my youth. There, after signing a visitors’ book, readers could ruffle freely through the local-history collection.
That democratic facility was where I explored the world of Thaxted village’s Red Vicar, Conrad Noel, whose Christian Socialist vision of a merrier England riled the gentry, not to mention the Bishop, since it also involved a cavalier attitude to Prayer Book Protestantism.
The composer Gustav von Holst became involved with the music at Thaxted even before he had stopped using his German preposition; the “von” is still in use, I see, in the first Church Times small ad for Thaxted’s Whit Sunday and Whit Monday extravaganzas in the midst of the First World War in 1916.
A Procession of the People and Solemn Mass on each day came with a feast of choral and orchestral music bolstered by Holst’s forces from Morley College and St Paul’s Girls’ School. What a draw it must have been if, in 1917, it was useful to pay for an extra line: “Accommodation at ‘The Swan’ or ‘The Cock’.”
By 1918, the publicity talked about the “Thaxted Movement” and the “Catholic Crusade”. Many of our readers, even a century on, hardly need to be told how that vision of a world changed by beauty, equality, and, above all, the Real Presence of our Lord enabled Anglo-Catholicism to capture the imaginations of some, at least, of a new generation.
I’m not sure whether bucolic leftiness has as high a profile in Thaxted now as all the morris dancing that draws visitors to the village; but both would be part of the Noel legacy. He set up the Thaxted Morris Men in 1911.
ALL this comes to mind as the musical world marks the centenary of the first performances of Holst’s suite The Planets. Not to be left out, the Friends of Thaxted Church have produced a short film, Thaxted: I vow to thee . . ., to celebrate the famous hymn to the tune Thaxted, one of the suite’s themes (“Jupiter”).
This professionally produced film begins with the house where Holst wrote The Planets at weekends. Then it has the tune performed on a variety of instruments on location, including a solo violinist walking about in the church itself.
This is followed up by the church choir, and then spectators and morris men joining in together at last year’s Morris Festival. The orchestra that we hear is the City of Prague Philharmonic. It is all delightful, and was found very moving when it was watched on a large screen in the church, I’m told. A centenary performance of The Planets will be given there on 13 October.
A DVD, including this film and highlights of the Morris Festival, costs £9.99 and can be obtained at local tourist offices; The Laundry Room, Thaxted; and Hart’s Books, Saffron Walden (or phone 01371 831355). The film can also be downloaded from the usual outlets: the links are in full on our website.
Nevertheless, part of me thinks that a more suitable hymn for our new dark age is Holst’s big hit of Whitsun 1917, “Turn back, O Man” (Thaxted Bells) (100 Years Ago, 2 June 2017). I haven’t sung it in church since an Advent Sunday service in Chelmsford Cathedral in the 1970s, perhaps because even the most ingenious gender reformer would be tied in knots trying to modernise Clifford Bax’s text. That’s hardly to the point this year: I hope it rears its head as a poignant period piece for Armistice centenary services.
AFTER referring to Mr Justice Darling (Diary, 8 June), I heard from a Reader in Huntingdon, Richard Hough, who tells me that Sir Charles Darling’s appointment as a High Court Judge was a reward for his work as an MP.
“He was not regarded as the brightest star in the legal firmament, and, because of his inappropriate jokes in court, is believed to be the ‘judicial humourist’ lampooned in Ko-Ko’s ‘Little List’ in The Mikado (‘They’d none of them be missed’).”
Mr Hough relates the story that one day the judge’s children were having tea, and were surprised to find that they were allowed to have jam on their bread, which was a rare treat. “They asked their governess whether, perhaps, it was someone’s birthday. ‘Oh no,’ she replied, ‘it is because one of your father’s decisions has been upheld by the Court of Appeal.’”
Such political appointments are a thing of the past. I wonder whether politically correct appointments have the same comic potential.
AFTER decades of knowing exactly what and when worship on Sunday was going to be — I organised the parish’s Common Worship Entmoot — I am now perforce experiencing other ways as well.
Having fallen twice now into the Fifth Sunday of the Month trap (not a feature of the metropolitan calendar, except in churches that practise what a priest once told me was “Filofax religion”), I have returned from church without finding a service at all. I am also discovering the concept of the monthly family service at which the congregation look roughly the same average age as they were at the non-family service (maybe a couple of weeks older).
Family services were not part of my upbringing. A bracingly early parish eucharist was supplemented by a monthly late-morning “parade” eucharist for that parish’s Baden-Powell militias, who, amazingly, turned up for it . . . while they lasted.
The highlight of church parade was that portions of the Alternative Services (Series 2) Holy Communion service were replaced by Gordon Rock’s Pilgrim’s Mass, which was catchy and enabled you to sing the Kyries and confession as one seamless number, with the words “Brothers and sisters, pray for me” — a heartwarming thought that was not shared by the Liturgical Commission. You might not necessarily have wanted to do it every week, though.
The composer’s death, at the age of 88, has been announced this summer; he was a headmaster and an LRAM, and his funeral was at St Thomas More Roman Catholic Church, Towcester. So, thank you, Mr Rock. “Brothers and sisters, pray for him.” Said or sung.