London Gallery Quire

London Gallery Quire

 

Church Crawl 2006

Ode to the London Gallery Quire by Ros Hall

"My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my senses ... ".

"Thy plaintive anthem fades past the near meadows, over the hill stream, up the hill-side ...
Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music ... ".

Although Keats was singing the praises of a nightingale in his garden in 1819 I feel sure he would have been equally inspired had he been sitting in the same spot listening to the fifty-plus mellifluous voices of London Gallery Quire and friends on a Saturday afternoon in September 2006, singing out summer "in full-throated ease".

Keats House in Keats Grove, Hampstead, was just one of the five venues visited on the occasion of London Gallery Quire's fifth church crawl at the start of the season of mists - if the weather as I left home in Sussex was anything to go by. Stella Hardy had wisely suggested that we all meet outside Hampstead Tube Station "as the first church can be somewhat difficult to find". Six of us from Sussex emerged from a stuffy Tube into bright sunshine, which was matched by the smiles and greetings of many familiar faces waiting on the pavement distinguished also by their antique-style hats and pretty dresses.

As we caught up on news Antonina Spittal competently led us through the alleys to St Mary's, Holly Place where the total numbers swelled to fifty, including four instrumentalists, from the far corners of the country. We were welcomed by Ros Clements in Francis Roads' absence and she led us in songs old and new carefully chosen with this catholic church in mind.

St.Mary's
Getting settled in
St.Mary's
St.Mary's Catholic church
St.Mary's
Musicians - Ros Clements leading

The spire of Christ Church, New End, Hampstead Square, the next church on our itinerary, can be seen from all over London. We had no trouble finding the church, but identifying the vicar was not so easy since he had decided to wear shorts and t-shirt that day! Alan Weeks and Nick Markwell led the singing which included the refreshingly 6/8 "Lively" from the Red Book. By now our thoughts were turning to "O for a draught of vintage! ".

St.Mary's, Holly Square
St.Mary's, Holly Square
Christchurch, Hampstead Square
Christchurch, Hampstead Square
Christchurch, Hampstead Square
Christchurch, Hampstead Square

Mike Spittal is accomplished at discovering all eating-places within a shout of London Gallery Quire Crawls. Alas, we could sample only one of his twenty-odd suggestions for lunch, and some of us picnicked by the Mixed Bathing Pond (although, of course, we neither observed nor participated in such activity) on the edge of the Heath under bright blue skies.

St John's, Downshire Hill was our après-lunch rendezvous, with John Miles leading everyone in a variety of items including James Leach's 'Behold the Saviour of Mankind', and 'I Know that my Redeemer Liveth' - 'Messiah' from the "red book". St John's is a remarkable church in several ways; it is the only proprietary chapel in the diocese of London and was the subject of a major appeal recently, enabling a splendid undercroft to be added. The box pews were moved at this time to the side aisles enabling the huge expanse of the interior to be used variously for ceilidhs and whatever else the bohemians of Hampstead get up to, including worship, using their new and very comfortable chairs. How we miss John's oboe-playing when he conducts!

St.John's, Downshire Hill
St.John's, Downshire Hill
St.John's, Downshire Hill
In full voice
St.John's, Downshire Hill
John Miles leading (& old box pews)

Any "drowsy numbness" had worn off as we rolled down the hill to Keats House. All five conductors of the day led the singing of familiar "Red Book" tunes in the tranquil, leafy garden, where we were encouraged to "pour forth thy soul abroad in such an ecstasy" by applause from over their garden walls of some residents as well as one or two bemused visitors to the House, now a Keats Museum. We didn't get to hear the nightingale on that September afternoon but we did have the doubtful privilege of seeing a plum tree planted to replace the "fruit tree wild" under which Keats possibly sat seeking inspiration to write his most famous Ode!

Keats House
Keats House - Alan Weeks leading
Keats House
Keats House
Keats House
John Miles leading

Lastly, we sauntered or puffed up the Hill to the parish church of St John-at-Hampstead, standing nobly at the end of charming Church Row. Here Tony Singleton made a bold decision that the unusual west-facing gallery was robust enough to withstand our considerable joint weight for our final rumbustious burst of singing. No fewer than twenty eminent people are buried in the sloping graveyard here including John Constable and his wife. It is easy to see whence the inspiration came for all these writers, artists, poets and musicians. Hampstead is a most interesting village full of listed buildings and natural beauty like my own typically rural Sussex village, yet so very different.

St.John at Hampstead
St.John at Hampstead
St.John at Hampstead
St.John at Hampstead
St.John at Hampstead
St.John at Hampstead
Tony Singleton leading

West Gallery church crawls have become one of my favourite forms of music-making, but they don't just happen. We, the Sussex contingent, are indebted to Stella and Mike and Antonina for their meticulous research and organisation which enable these London Gallery Quire crawls to be such enjoyable days out for us, and to the London Gallery Quire for making all their visitors so welcome so that just for the day we, like Keats, could ". . forget the weariness the fever and the fret here where men sit and hear each other groan ... "!

Photos by Tony Singleton and Cedric Morgan

top


Return to Home Page         See pictures from 2005, 2007, and 2009