Ruth Johnson

A nucleus of a church choir may have existed before 1878 but not until the induction of the Revd Thomas Boniface in that year, and his introduction of a monthly Parish Magazine, are we able to follow the founding and growth of Deddington church choir from that date to 1930. From then on information has been passed down by word of mouth and by choir members of the present year 2000.

In the Church of St Peter & St Paul Deddington hangs a memorial tablet above the choir stalls. We read:

To the memory of Thomas MANCHIP, for 37 years Head Master of Deddington School and 34 years Choir Master of this Church who died March 9th 1911, aged 68 years. This tablet is erected in affectionate remembrance and grateful appreciation of his work in this Parish by old boys, members of the Choir and personal friends

The lucky combination of a very gifted musician and a music loving Vicar, the Revd Thomas Boniface, made this choir noteworthy amongst local church choirs. As Headmaster of Deddington Boys' School Thomas Manchip obviously had plenty of opportunity to inspire a love of music and co-opt the willing and enthusiastic into his Church Choir together with their fathers. Being described as a man whose 'vocal powers were very useful' he was always ready to aid any undertaking for the benefit of the Parish and that included arranging secular musical entertainment for the amusement of the people who, in this 'horse and carriage' age were forced to improvise their own social scene. All this he did with much ability and courtesy.

With local people power behind him he got the necessary funds to robe his men and boys' church choir, take them to yearly Choir Festivals run by the Deanery of Deddington Choral Association and on many fun outings, cricket matches against other church choirs and treats of meat teas arranged by ever willing ladies. He even turned out to be the catalyst gathering supporters for the building of the present magnificent Binns organ mainly because the Deanery of Deddington Choral Association declined invitations to hold their festivals in his beloved Parish Church on account of an inferior organ! A fascinating story to be told under its own heading.

Church choir 1906It is very fortunate that a photograph taken of Mr Manchip's choir in 1906 still hangs in the Church's choir vestry with names available to the present generation of choristers, many names familiar to this village today. Taking centre stage is the white-bearded Revd Boniface, is flanked to his left by Thomas Manchip, a portly, jolly looking man of whose total control of the choir there can be no doubt.

But the eye is drawn to 10 ladies in the back rows, dressed in their Sunday best clothes wearing enormous flower bedecked hats. Over the years, before 1906, Mr Manchip 'allowed' lady singers to grace his choir: at first only on Feast and Festival days to swell the sound of beloved anthems, but by 1906 he had admitted them as regular members, though excluded them from being robed. Amongst the ladies are Miss Boniface (sister of the Vicar), organist at this Church from 1889 to 1903 and Miss Edith Churchill, organist from 1903 till 1907. In the ranks of his few outstanding lady musicians, but sadly missing from this old photograph, was Lilian Alice Weaver who was to become organist in 1908 and serve her Church faithfully at the organ for the next 60 years.

And so began what should be known as the Miss Weaver era in this Parish Church. The choir faces changed, some of the boys of Thomas Manchip years had progressed to singing tenor or bass. Sung Services, now as before, were held on Sunday mornings and evenings and for 60 years, bar a very few short holidays, Miss Weaver filled the Church with the sound of her beloved organ, She progressed from the old (inferior!) organ via an 'American organ' used during the removal of the old organ for the Binns organ, and she remained the one steady influence on a choir whose members and choir masters relentlessly changed over the years. She mourned choir members who gave their lives in two World Wars and inspired all who sang under her. Those still alive in the year 2000 talk of her fondly and with much pleasure when they meet and a very few still sing in today's choir. Her memorial plaque is mounted on the organ casing in the Church.

No specific record is made in the Deddington Parish section of the Deanery Magazines of the date when Mr Long, of Castle House, Deddington, took up the reins as choir master early on in Miss Weaver's time. Reading between the lines it must be assumed that as a very accomplished musician he took a specific interest in the choir and began to lead it on a voluntary basis to the delight of the Vicar and Miss Weaver. When he felt the choir boys' appearance needed to be improved he kitted them out with ruffs and possibly persuaded the churchwardens to fit music rests to the choir stalls.

The Revd Boniface resigned his post in May 1924 owing to advanced age, and the Revd Maurice Frost, MA was inducted in October of the same year. As hymnologist of some note he would become another strong supporter of the organist, choir master and choir and guide them safely through years of great changes. Many choir boys of his time, who are now grandfathers, remember Dr Frost with great fondness. A strict disciplinarian, he thought nothing of breaking off his sermon to admonish a row of fidgety choir boys, ordering them out of their stalls into the front seats of the nave until the end of his sermon. To the delight of the boys he occasionally mixed up the decani side with cantoris, dishing out that punishment to the 'innocent'. He never bore a grudge and always saw to it that a healthy balance between choir duties and fun was struck for the youngsters. He taught them woodwork in the vicarage loft where he also rigged up a small boxing ring, letting them work out much youthful exuberance under the supervision of the local GP. Miss Weaver, on the other hand, gathered the youngsters round her own piano for extra singing practice and inspired many to take up a musical instrument.

In May 1929 Dr Frost discussed with his PCC complaints from certain members of the congregation about hymn tunes. He elicited the interesting figures that, since the previous Advent, 125 hymns had been sung: of these 95 were to tunes from the Ancient & Modern hymn book, the remaining 30 from the English hymnal and of these none were 'new'! A few months later experiments with a microphone by the organ and loudspeakers under the tower were made 'to produce the illusion of an organ behind the congregation and to make it possible for the congregation to sing in tune and to the beat of organ and choir! In September 1930 the PCC agreed with the Vicar to run church services without a choir for a few weeks and hold short practices of hymns for the congregation after Evensong.

The choir was reinstated in January 1931. Choir boys, for the first time in this choir's history were paid 3s.3d (about 16 pence) a quarter and were given a pot of honey and half-a-crown (12 pence) at Christmas. A charming concession was introduced when, during the three-hourly Good Friday service, the choir boys were allowed to file out through the Vicar's vestry for a 10-minute break with milk and buns in the vicarage.

RSCM affiliation Certificate 1937SECM affiliation Certificate 1927Sometime in the 1930s Leslie Malings of Deddington became choir master. His 'boys' remember him as a stern leader and an enthusiastic bell ringer, allowing choir members occasionally into the sanctuary of the bell chamber. Encouraged by their Vicar, the choir became an affiliated member of the School of English Church Music (later to become the Royal School of English Church Music) in 1937 whereby 'undertaking to do its best to promote the cause of good Church Music and in this to be guided by the principles set forth by the SCM', choristers following the motto 'I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding also'.

Choirboys of the 1930s remember to this day being driven by Dr Frost, in his much admired 1927 Austin 7 Tourer, to a SCM arranged training, once in Wellingborough and once in Chislehurst, Kent. They were as thrilled by being treated to a journey in an open tourer as having the chance to train under Sir Sidney Nicholson, founder of the SCM. (Sir Sidney H Nicholson arranged the pointing of Psalms and Chants published in 1932 in a book known as The Parish Psalter with Chants which is still in use during Matin Services in Deddington Church).

Church choir 1937 Deddington Boys Choir about 1937
Back: Bill Cowley, Arthur Lewis, George Unsworth, Edmund Pearson
Front: Dennis Franklin, Harold (Topper) Davis, Joe Cowley
Photo Courtesy of Arthur Lewis

The choir survived the war years under the guidance of Miss Weaver and the Vicar but sadly flagged towards the end of Dr Frost's ministry and a lengthy interregnum after his retirement in 1962. Had it not been for Miss Weaver's steadfastness and devotion at the organ the new incumbent might not have heard early on of enthusiastic singers longing to be called into a choir again.

With the arrival in 1963 of the Revd George Palmer and his wife Nora, both lovers of church music and well versed in matters of church choirs, the choir's renaissance years began. Mrs Palmer, whose energetic and enthusiastic actions brought about the formal enrolment of 32 men, ladies, boys and girls into the choir in April 1964, also inspired various kind parishioners by her own good example to raise money for hymn books, psalters, anthem books and to help with the sewing of robes for the ladies. Miss Weaver presided now, as before, on the organ enchanted to find in the Vicar's wife a kindred spirit, and a useful deputy organist.

Church choir 1968In October 1968 Miss Weaver (in centre of photo), now in her 83rd year, was able to celebrate 'Sixty glorious years' as organist at Deddington Church. The Bishop of Oxford attended the party, together with all her friends and her choir who provided the entertainment. Never again would the Church have such a long serving musician leading the services, playing at weddings and funerals and training a choir. She retired in 1970 but not before she knew that a teacher at Banbury School, who had been deputising on the organ over the past few years, would keep the choir going.

Young dynamic musicians have seldom been known to resist bigger and better opportunities and seldom stay long in one place, but Deddington church choir knew how to get the best out of them for themselves even if their faces changed rather rapidly over the next few years. Finally In 1976 Glyn Davies was appointed and was to remain with the choir as organist and choir director until 1991. He immediately began a drive to recruit youngsters, badly needed in a by then predominantly adult choir. It's the sad tale of any village church choir, that youngsters leave at the end of their school years to continue their education away from home. Glyn, a schoolmaster like a few of his predecessors, brought an enthusiastic bunch of boys and girls into the choir stalls whose exuberance caught everybody's imagination,

To help the image the ladies made new robes for themselves and the girls from a pattern supplied by the BBC costume department and discarded the old flat, black hats! The choir practised every Friday evening, in winter nearly perishing in the icy chancel, and they sang either Matins or Communion Services on Sunday mornings after another hour's practice. What kept everybody, young and old, to such a strict regime for many years was the multitude of wonderful opportunities: to sing in other churches in the vicinity, to go to training days organised by the RSCM, to attend Choir Festivals, to spend holidays together in wonderful Wales, sing Evensong in St David's Cathedral and give concerts, but most of all it was the love of singing the ever changing music of the church year with its great festivals.

The Revd George Palmer retired in 1978. He and his wife had been a wonderful inspiration to the choir, never failing in their encouragement, nor in setting up interesting 'extra curricular' engagements like nativity plays and Prayer Book Pageants in which the choir took its part.

Church choir 1984In December 1978 the Revd Richard Hannah was inducted. He came, saw, but instead of conquering the choir, was happy to support and nurture it in the same way as his predecessor. He and his PCC gave the choir leave of absence for the above mentioned holidays in Wales and with his blessing the Church hosted the Oxford Diocese RSCM Choirs Festival at which some 400 voices filled its hallowed aisles and recesses. Revd Hannah retired in summer 1989, the choir kept going, leading the singing during services as well as performing an anthem every Sunday. At the induction of the new Vicar, the Revd Ken Reeves in December, a full choir provided music throughout this solemn service attended by the Bishop and clergy from many North Oxfordshire churches.

Church choir 1992Glyn Davies retired at the end of 1990, leaving a well-trained choir in the excellent hands of a young organist, a teacher at Christ Church Choir School who, in the limited time allowed him to 'stray' away from his own duties in Oxford, taught a village choir the way it was done in a cathedral, to the enjoyment of all.

After his departure, another lucky stroke brought Dr Philip Agg to Deddington and the job of organist/choir director could not have rested in better hands. He not only inspired the choir to ever better singing, but encouraged a young local organ scholar to play occasionally during services and accompany the choir at concerts. The head chorister at that time gained the St Nicolas award of the RSCM and he and a girl chorister were selected to sing with the Southern Cathedral Choirs. Not to be outdone by past events, Philip led the choir on a singing holiday in Cornwall where they sang Evensong in Truro Cathedral. When he retired in 1993 it seemed appropriate that the heavens opened while the choir sang the traditional Easter anthem from the top of the tower drenching them thoroughly! The weather was in perfect harmony with their mood.

But church choirs should not rise or fall with the coming and going of choir directors! Their first duty lies with their Church, its vicars, PCC and parishioners. While Vicar and PCC advertised the vacant position, the choir kept going with the kind help of visiting organist/choirmasters until a new appointment was made. It is also not easy for a new appointee to take over an old established choir! The next organist/choir director did not stay very long but did the choir a good turn by introducing Linda Bloxham who took over in April 1994.

Not since Miss Weaver's days had this choir been in a woman's hands. Just four members remained who remembered those far off days and her gentle touch. The choir, deeply committed to maintaining continuity while without a resident organist/choir director and remembering fondly its past glories, was luckily just the sort of challenge Linda enjoyed. It wasn't an easy task, The village choir syndrome had struck again. The choir badly needed treble voices which, within her first year, Linda recruited and formed into a junior choir with which she did much work during her six years' residency. With the advent of Sunday sport and Sunday being often the family's only day of togetherness, it has become increasingly difficult to hold children to the required rather strict church choir routine. Only those supported by their family and those enjoying church music and ceremony will stand the pace. On the other hand, four adult choir members were presented with the RSCM's long-service medal, having reached their 30th year of faithful service.

Bringing the choir into the 21st century Linda never flinched from embarking on special commitments. Following the invitation of an old Deddington choir girl to join her choir in a concert, Linda took her choir on their first trip abroad, to Holland. A very happy event which brought about a return visit with a joint concert in Deddington Church. Singing at carol services in Hempton Church and at Harvest Festivals in Church Westcote and other village churches became a yearly event, as did taking part in twice-yearly services at the local hospital. Deanery-arranged Singing Days were not neglected, nor the yearly RSCM Festival in Dorchester Abbey. Linda's lasting memorial to this choir, however, is the Communion Service she wrote and which is currently in use in SS Peter & Paul Church Deddington. Her expert teaching enabled two young choristers to gain the much coveted Bishop's Award, an honour for the whole choir and Deddington Church.

Church choir 1998Linda Bloxham retired at the end of August 2000 leaving her Choir in the capable hands of Graham Thornhill who, as member of the choir, often conducted, or accompanied on the organ and to whom the caprice of Deddington church choir would be well known!

In over 100 years of singing there has only been a very short period in the 1930s when young choir members were paid once a quarter for their attendance. Remuneration for youngsters was from time to time discussed in the PCC in later years, but not reinstated. Instead of payment the PCC has given the youngsters a once yearly treat which, over the past years, has been a visit to the Chipping Norton pantomime. The choir receives payment for attending weddings of which each member is given a token amount on the day and the rest is paid into the choir fund.

Over the years the choir has built up a formidable music library of anthems, Communion settings, psalters and hymn books dating from ancient to very modern times. Its present day members want to hand this down to the next generation with their love and commitment to a great fellowship of Christian people who worship in song. New members, young and old, are always needed and made to feel very welcome.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Deddington PCC for the loan of Parish Deanery Magazines from which all early information was taken. I also extend my gratitude to Topper Davis Arthur Lewis who shared their choir memories of the 1930s with me.


Choir Director and Organist Linda Bloxham retired after 6 years faithful service to the Church and before choristers had time to feel abandoned, Graham Thornhill stepped straight from their ranks into the organ seat taking over painlessly where Linda had left off. A competent organist and quickly learning his role as teacher he also coped well with the disadvantages of being in charge of music for Services in an Interregnum, receiving his instructions from Curate or visiting priests.


In March Graham and Choir officiated bravely at the Service for the Institution and Induction of the Revd Dr. Hugh White as Vicar of the Benefice. The Right Revd. Colin Fletcher, Bishop of Dorchester, the Venerable John Morrison, Archdeacon of Oxford, the Rural Dean and a big congregation joined in the singing of many hymns and Graham had chosen  Linda Bloxham’s setting for the Eucharist. What, one wonders, were the prayers of organist and Choir during this solemn ceremony? Would God answer some of them?


Graham remained an exacting, gently inspiring Choir teacher and most diligent organist until he and his wife Gill, Choir member and confident soloist, decided to move on to pastures new. Prior to their move the Choir sang at the Blessing of their marriage and were afterwards royally entertained at a Wedding Breakfast spiced with song, fun and laughter. Gill was thanked for her gift, to each chorister, of the Anthem book “Ash Wednesday to Easter for Choirs” compiled by Lionel Dakers and John Scott. (This gift would a few years later become a living memory to Graham who died on Christmas Day 2007)

Without a resident Choirmaster/Organist the opportunity arose for budding local musicians to lead Choir and congregation at Services. One young organ scholar, Alex Soddy, had been a treble in Deddington Choir before transferring to Magdalen College Choir School and was now studying at Cambridge. Great was the Choir’s pride and joy when singing a few Services with Alex on the organ. On 2 June he accompanied the Choir, swelled by extra voices, in the Premier of a Choral Fantasy celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, libretto, written by Norman Stone set to music by Donald Lane, both men of Deddington.
A Choir barbeque was hosted in the summer by George and Bryony Fenemore on their farm in Clifton where Stephen Taylor, late organist of Kings Sutton Church and member of the Banbury Symphony Orchestra, made his appearance.

In September Stephen Taylor took charge of the Choir. During his reign the Vicar and PCC conducted various trials of changes in Services and seating for the Choir. Judging from personal records this cannot have been a very easy period for either Vicar or Choir. Seating the latter in front of the Screen had been tried before and was never a success. Hymnbooks and music had to be shoved under chairs and no eye contact with the organist was possible. The congregation on the other hand liked having the Choir a bit closer. Choir 2

Choristers in SS Peter & Paul take pride in their long history of producing sufficient members to sing every Sunday Service and attending Choir practice the Friday before. They enjoy singing at weddings or being asked to sing at the Hempton Church Carol Service. This makes great demands of their organist particularly if he also holds down an important full time job. 


Stephen served Church and Choir well throughout the year but obviously began to find it difficult to give full attention to both his job in business and his Church duties. However, he never let the Choir down and found suitable replacements if he was unable to attend. By the end of the year he resigned from his post and the only too familiar search for another Organist Choirmaster began.


Two very keen organists from churches in the Woodstock Deanery came to the rescue and kept the Choir going for neigh on nine months taking their turn on the organ and holding Choir practices whenever possible. Between them John Cullen and Andrew Patterson restored the Choir’s morale. But, reading through diary entries concerning the Choir, it is astounding to notice that the Vicar himself took no less than eight Friday practices. Although very musical he was no piano player, so no one with these talents in Choir or village was safe from being “hired” as accompanist. Both Vicar and his Choir survived!

On the hottest day of July some Choristers joined many other Oxfordshire Choirs to sing in the BBC televised “Songs of Praise” at Blenheim Palace.

 Wonderful news reached the Choir towards the end of the year, John Cullen had decided to accept the appointment of resident Organist Choirmaster. His credentials were the stuff about which a village choir only dreams. He was a retired Cathedral organist and retired Master from Tumbridge School. Under his guidance the Choir sang with joy his own compositions of “Let’s Celebrate” for the Deddington Eucharist Service, his “Choral Amen” and his setting for Psalms became great favourites.


In this year John would further delight parishioners by accompanying the Choir on the piano in Wendy Burrow’s production of “Old Time Music Hall”. Christine and Stephen Turner had re-joined the Choir family having been enthusiastic singers many years before. In the autumn the new “Living Room”, built over the old Choir Vestry, was consecrated by the Bishop of Dorchester. It was a sad day when the Choir had to move out and take refuge under the Tower, but at the Consecration Service they cheerfully gave of their best singing Hubert Parry’s Anthem “I was Glad” conducted by John and accompanied by Andrew on the organ. .In future cold winter months they learned to appreciate the “Living Room” when they were allowed to use it for weekly Choir practice.


There came the day, in April, when every Choir member received a most kindly worded letter from John informing them of his plan to accept the appointment of organist at Bladon Church, nearer in distance to his home than was Deddington. He was not about to leave abruptly having built up such a good relationship with his Choir, but it was very sad news. A Choir treat on May Bank Holiday Monday brought some cheer when choristers accompanied Timothy Wimbush, Rector of the Sibfords, on a tour of churches in the North of the Deanery and sang one part of Evensong in each church.
John and Andrew provided organ accompaniment in Deddington Church and John accompanied another of Wendy Burrow’s production for the Choir on the piano, a  medley of Gilbert & Sullivan songs.
John’s organ scholar Elsa Williams stood by at the time waiting and watching and probably wondering at the multitude of tasks to be undertaken by a church organist which appointment she was about to inherit.
On 19 December the sad news reached the Choir that Nora, wife of the late Canon George Palmer, had died. In the 1960s Nora, an accomplished pianist, spared no effort to re-establish SS Peter & Paul’s Church Choir which over a lengthy period had almost ceased to function. A number of choristers she had recruited were still present and still inspired by her enthusiasm for Church music. How delighted she would have been that “her” Choir would again be saved by a woman.


Elsa Williams officially became Choir Director and Organist at the beginning of the year. From the start she was a much appreciated leader, clear communicator and forged a good working liaison with the Vicar. Elsa was no stranger to members who also sang with the Warriner Choral Society where she had been piano accompanist for years. Her love for the organ and her love of working with a choir soon bore fruit and when, a few months further on, she bought her own home in Deddington, the Choir could not have been more delighted.

In May another singing tour brought the Deanery Choirs to the “Larkrise to Candleford” villages near Bicester and the next exiting event in the Choir calendar was an exhibition in Church portraying the Choir’s history from 1880 to the present day. Past choristers were invited and some attended from as far as the USA. During that afternoon, while tea and cakes were served, a choir of past and present members took part in a short programme of favourite hymns and anthems arranged and conducted by Elsa. The then Curate John Dane had cleverly arranged the showing of a film on DVD of past Choir events.
 A very moving Advent service included S.S.Wesley’s “The Wilderness” and on the Friday before Christmas choristers were invited to sing Carols in Hempton Church, a yearly event greatly appreciated, not only for the singing and homely service but also for the excellent mulled wine afterwards!


Throughout the year choirs from Bloxham, Adderbury, Bodicote and Deddington took turns to perform in each others churches to sing Evensong and some times a well known oratorio.
At Summer Teas served in Church the Choir were invited to entertain on one Sunday afternoon and at the “All Souls” service they sang Faure’s Requiem. Before the end of a busy singing year the sound system in Church was overhauled by experts, with the result that at long last, the congregation, and Choir in their “distant” bur comfortable Stalls, could hear every spoken word loud and clear! Elsa now had a Choir of seven Sopranos, four Altos, three Tenors and two Bases. The oldest and longest serving member being Irene Gregory who had reached the venerable age of 90.


There was great rejoicing when yet another singer from past years returned to the Choir. Olivia Minnear had gained her Bishop’s Chorister award when in her teens and now proudly wore the badge on purple ribbon over her robe. Her presence has brought youth back into the Choir and it is hoped that other young members will follow. They would certainly be made feel very welcome.
During the year the Choir sang at several weddings, the most popular request for these occasions being John Rutter’s “Gaelic Blessing” During the Deddington Festival the Choir was involved in a concert being produced by the Vicar, the theme our association with Europe. As in other years, the Choir attended the RSCM (Royal School of Church Music) Festival in Dorchester Abbey and on “All Souls” day again sang Faure’s Requiem. Advent was celebrated with a performance of “The Record of John” by Orlando Gibbons.


Following this Choir’s history into the 21st century one cannot help to suspect that there is  a tiny twinkle in God’s all seeing eyes when they rest on SS Peter & Paul Church Deddington. Who did he put to the test in times of tribulation? The Vicar, the Churchwardens, the PCC, the congrgation or the Choir? Most certainly, He taught them all to listen to each other, be thankful for each other and never take their personal likes and dislikes too seriously. The year 2010 has started well for this friendly community. The Choir has already sung Stainer’s “Crucifixion” and Faure’s Requiem with Choirs of sister churches and great preparations are in hand for visits from an African and a Swedish Choir to sing at Services in our Church. We also hear  that the Church is now served by Broadband and that Services can be recorded and broadcast world wide.

Ruth Johnson