David Ireland 1946 – 1953 writes: 

A few years ago I was delighted to meet up with an old school friend, Michael Dewing, who I knew at the Choir School.   He suggested I should get in touch with the Norwich Cathedral Ex – Choristers’ Guild, who I had heard of but didn’t realise were still in existence via you as Secretary of the Guild.

I am at long last doing this and have put together a brief résumé of my time at the Cathedral.

As I no longer have any family or relations left alive to confirm dates, I hope these are accurate..

In September 1946 at the age of 8 I joined the Choir School. Dr Heathcote Statham – nicknamed “Dicky” was the choirmaster and it was he who approved you for the choir. He was an excellent organist and conductor.   I remember he was conductor of the Norwich Philharmonic Orchestra and I was one of the older school members who were invited to sell programmes when the Orchestra played at St Andrew’s Hall. 

My first teacher was Miss Bagge – Scott, “Maggie” who I remember was quite old and lived in a house in Elm Hill, The junior school room was situated above the cloisters and accessed by some stone stairs, past a large pile of coke –which fuelled the large fire in the down stairs rehearsal/ senior class room, complete with Grand Piano and wooden cupboards to hang our coats- and then past some empty rooms.

Beyond the junior school room there was a decent area of tiled flooring, used as a play area.  Beyond the play areas were toilets. 

When I moved to the senior class I was taught by Canon E.A. Parr.   As many will know he was quite an amazing man who covered a wide range of subjects.   He also took Evensong most weekdays at the Cathedral.

I remember he often brought small antique pieces of pottery such as oil lamps to discuss them with us around the grand piano. He also used to organise and referee sports events on the sports field we used near Pull’s ferry.

I was the last Head Boy when the school was merged with Norwich School in September 1951.

I believe my voice broke in early 1954 when I then left the choir and Norwich School later in the year. 

It was a special period of my life and one that I remember with mixed feelings.

I was “Bishops Boy” to Percy Herbert on special Festivals/Occasions,    I still think he was the most saintly looking and religious man I have ever met.

The Cathedral Dean during most of my time was Dean Holland who was Bishop of Wellington in New Zealand before he returned to England and Norwich.   I remember him as a friendly and very charismatic man.   At Christmas he would give members of the choir a food parcel -mainly fruit, which he told us was a gift from the people of Wellington. 

One person I must mention was the Very Rev Canon Thurlow, who I am sure many will remember.   Towards the end of my time at the Cathedral he took on more of the workload from Canon Parr, taking most of the services.   He was quite strict and would hit you on the head with the edge of his mortar board if you got out of line. Through experience I can vouch for the fact it hurt!

Sometimes when we sang at Holy Communion on observance days, such as Easter. He would take us all to the Maids Head Hotel for breakfast.   He is the only man I know who could eat, drink, talk and smoke all at the same time!

He had a kind side to him and he once took some of us by car to Wales for a holiday.   We stayed in Youth Hostels, which was quite an adventure in those days.

He also taught some of us how to ring church bells which I think we did mostly at St George’s Church, Colegate. 

I felt it was a long year for us choristers, with only one month a year as a holiday period.   Morning rehearsals and Evensong every weekday plus Saturdays and Sundays were hard going, particularly in the summer when you wanted to be out playing.   When at the Norwich School, homework was an added task to be completed on more or less a daily basis which added to the pressure. 

However one does look back with a sense of pride – It was an honour to have been at the Cathedral School and a Chorister in the Choir.   To have sung at so many special events, especially the annual Carol Service where we sang from the organ loft to a packed Nave is something I will never forget., 

I have been very fortunate in life and my working career which has mostly been in food retail.

I have been happily married for 59 years and my wife and I have a great daughter and two lovely grandchildren, both of University age,

I retired in 2000, and now live with my wife in a small village near Malton in Yorkshire.

Frederick Warden (Chorister 1913 (?) to 1919) in conversation with Lionel Stone – the then Guild Secretary, 27th June1986.


Hello Lionel. I wish to thank you for sending me the book of the old choristers. You have done so for a number of years, but I haven’t been able to attend the meeting, owing to the excessive fares which British rail choose between London and Norwich. Of course, I am just an old age pensioner, and I no longer have a car. I had a car until about 1980 and I had to give it up. I haven’t driven for 52 years. The volume of traffic is nothing like it was when I started motoring. 

My name is Frederick William Warden, I was born in the year 1904. I see in your book that you mention the anniversary of Canon Claude Palfrey’s connection with Norwich Cathedral, and I thought you might be interested in somebody who can go back a bit longer than even he. 

I joined the choir, I think in 1912. My father was a lay-clerk at Norwich Cathedral just after I was born. He died in 1951. He was on the Cantorus side and he sang alto, but it’s not so much that I want to tell you about him, but I thought you might be interested in some of the things that we got up to and what life was like for us in the Choir School. 

Of course, it was the old school, which is now a gift shop. It was a lovely old place. I think it has lost a lot of its character now, but in our days, we really liked it. 

So, to start, I will tell you about our Master. It was a man called Brockbank. We called him, not by his given name, but by a rather cruel name of ‘Bung’. I don’t know why, but we always referred to Mr Brockbank as Bung. He was a north countryman, I think, and he came down from one of the Cathedrals in the North to Norwich. He was a man of about six foot three, grey hair, big bushy grey moustache, a florid face and a disciplinarian. 

He wasn’t too firm, he could bend a bit and he was a nice fellow. We went in fear of him, but at the same time we rather liked him. He taught us for three hours. I don’t know what his qualifications were, but the curriculum was not very extensive, but we got a good grounding, and I suppose we came through it as well as could be expected for those days. 

The old school room was lit by gas, there were three burners in the centre and a Tudor type fireplace, which we kept going during the winter with loads of coke, which was stored at the top of the (spiral) stairs, leading to the dormitories, the old Monks dormitories. 

I hope you are following me. (if you stand in the middle of the classroom…) as you look at the cloisters, there is the main door, and, at the left of the main door, there is an opening, and you went up the stairs and at the top of the stairs there was a huge supply of coke. (the residual smell from this coke was still very evident when I joined the choir in 1949 I think there was still coke there, but can’t remember whether the fire was ever lit - Richard)  You can imagine that we boys used the coke for one or two things that it shouldn’t have been used for – we used to fight with it. Then you get into the Monks withdrawing rooms, there were five or six rather large rooms, in which all manner of things were stored, such as old organ pipes – we found a box of old organ pipes and we made merry hell with these! 

When you got right to the end of the Monk’s Dormitories, you came to a very large playroom, in which was situated an oaken ladder which had been screwed to the beams of the ceiling, and we used to play on this ladder, swinging like monkeys from bar to bar, and if you could – what we called – miss four, it was quite an achievement, but that meant missing four rungs. 

That is what the school was like. 

We had a number of books stored in the school, which were mostly for the organ. I was the Organist’s Book Boy at one time, and it was my job to see that whatever service we had for that day was always in position for the Doctor (Bates). 

I remember at the time, Dean Beeching was in residence, but one evening, the news came through that the Dean had died, Dean Beeching was dead. Doctor Bates came to me and said, ‘you must change the service, get (some other service – I can’t remember what it was) and I was to go through the Cloisters, get these books and get them up to the Organ Loft. 

At the time they were levelling the Cloisters. The cloisters were Higgledy Piggledy, the surface of it was never smooth or nice and the Dean and Chapter had decided that what they would do was to get workmen and level it off. Well, the workmen started to level it off and – of course – a number of skeletons came up. In fact, I believe there were hundreds of skeletons brought up. One thing I remembered about them was that they all had perfect teeth – or nearly all – of course one or two of them got broken by the spades hitting them, but on the whole it was amazing to see people with thirty two teeth. 

I was talking to one of the workmen, and he told me that they were buried there during the Black Death. That, of course, I can’t vouch for, but that is what I was told. 

So, when the Doctor told me that I was to go and change the books, I got to the first door from the Cathedral, got down into the Cloisters, and realised that I had got to go the whole length of the Cloisters with all these skeletons lying around, and boy did I go down these cloisters fast. I think I broke the 100 yards record down there! Anyway, I got his books and raced back and put up the new ones for him. That’s just one incident I can remember quite clearly. 

Another thing was, we used to go around the Cathedral, and we used to give that door that leads up to the spire a bit of a push now and then, and nine times out of ten it was locked. 

The workmen were doing something, and we thought that we would see if the door was still locked. We knew that the workmen were about, so we gave it a push, and lo and behold it was unlocked, so about three of us decided that we would go up the spire. 

We climbed the stone stairs up to where the bells were – I expect you’ve been up there – we messed around with the bells and then we decided that we would go the rest of the way up to the top of the spire. 

As you know, there are beautiful great ??? ladders – how many are there – I can’t remember – they are about 50 feet long. We got right to the top of the spire and we thought it was marvellous, looking down on Norwich from 300 feet. Then we came down, and there was a odd job man, called Adams. He had apparently heard a noise in the belfry, and he came up to investigate. So we hid – we knew that we were in trouble if he caught us, and we got past him and down without him knowing it. I often wonder how he summed up the incident, because it must have been mysterious to hear somebody up there one instant, and them disappearing the next. (very reminiscent of my own trip up the spire with Keith Gascoyne and Paul Rayner. The view from the top was spectacular, especially seeing the outside of the spire, with all the knobbles on it, and the nave, far down there – Richard). 

I was there at the burial of Nurse Cavell. She, as you know, was shot by the Germans in Brussels, and after the war she was brought over to this country and buried in a corner of the Cathedral, near the Chapter House. I have got a photograph of myself and the other boys who were contemporaries of mine … quoting from memory, they were Salmon, Gibbs, Riches, Manning, Wilson – that’s all I can remember, but I have this photograph which was taken at the time, and it is interesting, because it has a picture of Brockbank, who I earlier told you was our master. 

About the singing. I became solo boy after a few years, and there was rivalry between Wilson and myself. I remember he had quite a good voice and we alternately sang such things as ‘Hear My Prayer’, ‘I waited for the Lord’ which, as you know, is a duet, and, at one time I even tackled ‘Let the Bright Seraphim’. 

Of course there were a lot of others, which I cannot remember, but we did do a lot of big choral works, we used to go to St Andrew’s Hall and help them with the festivals, which they had there. I remember that we did the ‘Dream of Gerontius’ on a number of occasions. It is wonderful music. I did see a lot of celebrities there – I suppose they don’t mean much now, because they have passed into history. I remember Heifetz, for example, he played there and Primrose (possibly William Primrose, violinist, but he would have been very young at the time. More likely this is a later memory), Salmon (can’t reliably trace him) and quite a lot of celebrities at the time. 

I haven’t said much about Dr Bates. He was a kind man, he was a lovely man and we had a horrible nickname for him, which he didn’t deserve. He used to take us round to his house, which was the one near to the Ethelbert Gate. He had a little pipe organ in there, which he used to play, and he used to take us through one or two things. 

Also, during the Great War (1914 – 1918) we used to be taken round to the various big houses where the soldiers were billeted and convalescing. We were taken to some lovely Halls in Norfolk, like Holkham Hall and a number of others, but the joy of going to them was that we had to go by car. Being in a car in 1915 was quite an event!!! 

We would go through the lovely lanes and the dusty roads of that time and at the end of it we knew that there was going to be tea and cake and similar things. 

The Dean, at Easter, always had us for breakfast, and we always went into the Deanery. We had eggs, naturally, Easter Eggs and one or two goodies in his great big kitchen. 

Another one, too, was Canon Aitken; he used to have us at Christmas. We used to go to his house, which was a rather large one near the Deanery. He would give us a real good time just before or just after Christmas. And during Christmas we used to go round the Close and sing at all the big houses there, and we would collect quite a lot of things like mince pies and oranges from them. 

We were paid quarterly. Half a guinea, ten and sixpence, (52.5p) of which my mother would give me the odd sixpence (2.5p).   We had a great time; sixpence could buy you the Earth in those days. We were loaded up with sweets and all sorts of things. 

Monday was always a holiday, and we spent it exploring the country. We had rambles and blackberrying and chestnutting and all sorts of boys’ pursuits, but one of our most loved days was fishing. 

We knew where the good fish were and we had to travel. I remember one day we set off for Acle. That is eleven miles from Norwich, but we started very early, our Mum had packed us up some things so that we wouldn’t go hungry, and off we went. After quite a long time, we covered the eleven miles to Acle and we proceeded to fish. 

Having had a good day’s fishing, we started off. We hadn’t gone very far when we saw a Rolls Royce, grandly making its way towards Norwich. In the front was a chauffeur, and in the back a very dignified lady. She saw us and smiled and we raised our caps. We always had to raise our caps to every woman that passed us, even in the Close. 

After the car had gone a few yards, it stopped and she invited us into it. We were then happily conveyed in the Rolls Royce, right to Norwich. This gives you an idea of what it was like, because although the roads today are swamped with cars, in those days, in every mile or so you’d see about three cars. 

We lived at number 44 The Close, a lovely old Tudor house – it’s still there – I hope. It backs on to the Cathedral Close flint wall. It was rather large and had a very nice garden, and you just looked up and you got one of the finest views of the Cathedral, looking at the East end. We were very happy there. 

So, what happened to me when I left the Cathedral? 

I was about 16 when I left the Cathedral. My voice hadn’t really broken, but they thought it was time that I started to learn a trade or something. So I left, and one thing that I remember that really hurt me at the time was that I could no longer wear my cap with the Cathedral badge on it. It attracted so much attention, and seemed to be a badge of authority, a badge that got us into lots of places where we would not have been able to get, had we had just normal things on. 

I had always been good at drawing and I had an idea that I could get a job as a draughtsman at the Great Eastern Railway Company. My father knew somebody in the office, and I went down and had an interview with him. He said I would have to pass an examination, so I went down to the Great Eastern Offices and I passed this examination. And then he said that there wasn’t a vacancy at the time, but as soon as one came up they would send for me. 

In the meantime I was kicking my heels, with nothing to do, and I heard of a job in Colmans on St Andrews Hill. The shop is still there (in 1986) On my own I went in and asked to see the engraver there. He offered me a job as a draughtsman, drawing out Memorial Tablets, that is to say if somebody wanted a War Memorial (and there were hundreds being erected (this would be in about 1920) in Norfolk. They would have a drawing of what the plaque was supposed to look like, and then they could either approve of it or disprove of it. 

So I started there as a draughtsman, drawing these plates. It was a bit of a come-down from what I wanted, because I had thought I was going to be drawing express engines, which I loved. But I found an interest in lettering and soon became pretty proficient at it. But after two or three years, the demand for war memorials naturally started to dry up. I was faced with either leaving or learning the trade of an engraver, which they were prepared to give me. So I started up engraving. 

I was apprenticed for six years (so to about 1928/9) and I received six shillings, thirty pence in today’s money, per week. I became quite proficient and loved the work. The side which attracted me most was the construction of tablets, such as you see in our own Cathedral. Some of those were done by a man named West, who had a business in St Andrews, and he was quite good. If you are in the Cathedral, and you just look at those that are (may still be) fixed on to the wall near the cloisters, you can see some of West’s work. He had been an apprentice at the same place as I was, but he was much older than I, and he was in business on his own when I arrived there. 

I liked the work immensely and soon I was knocking out memorials left right and centre. When I finished my apprenticeship, I looked for a rise, because by then I was getting about ten shillings  (50p) a week, and I could not exist on that. Or at least my parents didn’t think much of me receiving such a low wage. Anyway, I asked for an increase to something like 30 shillings (£1-50) a week and it was refused. They said that the work had dropped off and there was hardly enough to keep me going. 

I knew an engraver in London who used to work in Norwich, a really clever man, not only an engraver, he was also an artist and a sculptor. I wrote to him and I got a job. He helped me quite a lot, I worked in London, in Old Street, and I worked for him for a number of years. 

But then came the Depression – 1930 time – and of course millions were out of work. I drifted from job to job and finally my Dad said ‘If I were you, I would set up business on your own’. This I did. He gave me a few pounds and I started a business in Hatton Garden, and it prospered. 

I had met my dear wife, and we had decided to get married. I wrote to my Dad and told him that we were going to be married (here) in London. He said ‘For Heaven’s sake, come down to Norwich and be married in style. So that’s what we did, we came down to Norwich, and we were married in St Luke’s Chapel, in the Cathedral, on 18th November 1933. We have been together ever since, that is 53 years ago. My poor wife is now disabled, and that is something which we don’t talk about. 

But, came the war (1939 – 1945) and the bombing started and one morning I went there and there was nothing but a few ashes of what had been my workshop. 

So I went to the RAF and tried to join up, but when he saw that I was a metal worker, had worked in metal, he said “You should have registered as a metal worker. I can’t take you, it is against the law’ and he was quite right too! So I went down to the labour exchange and they said that I had to go on to aircraft work, as they desperately wanted people to build aircraft, so I went into aircraft work. I made the gun turrets for the Lancasters and the Stirlings, the heavy bombers. 

During the war, when I was working in Hatton Garden I had a telegram saying the Norwich had had a heavy raid, this was one of the Baedeker raids, and that my house had been badly damaged, so I got down to Norwich and had a look at the house, but I found that there was nobody there, so I decided that I would sleep there. I mean all the windows were blown out, but there were places where I could sleep. I could not find my parents or my sisters, I had no idea where they had gone, they had all disappeared. During the night the sirens went again. 

I saw things that I shall never forget, that is the Cathedral was hit. Flames licked up the tower like a huge candle. But they had taken the precaution that this might happen, and they had a hose up there, and after a devil of a fight, they got it under control and the spire was saved. But all around the Cathedral all the little factories and houses were burning, and nobody was paying any attention to them. 

There was one bomb that had dropped in the allotments round there, and there was a great big hole. 

I finally tracked down my family, my parents, they had gone to some friends, about 10 miles out, living with them. 

I spoke to you earlier about being the Organist’s Book Boy. Of course, the organ at the time was that large Victorian Organ of Norman & Beard. If I remember rightly, it was a four manual organ, a magnificent thing, much bigger than the existing organ, very ornate. But I understand that there was an electrical fault in it which finally brought about its demise. 

But there is one thing which I remember, the Echo Organ. I suppose it is no longer there. It was situated over Bishop Lyhart’s tomb, near the high altar.   At Christmas, I always loved to hear it, because they played the Echo Organ. Dr Bates played the second part of the overture to the Messiah, and he always played it on the Echo Organ. He sat up in his main organ, and, by pressing the keys, he could make this Echo Organ play. It was, as I say, near the high altar. The effect was rather ghostly, because that part of the Cathedral was almost in total darkness, and you could hear this lovely music coming out of the darkness, whilst we sat there waiting for ‘There were shepherds abiding in the fields’, which I sang on a number of occasions. It was thrilling.

Other names that I have remembered who were contemporaries of mine were: 





Hammond Senior and

Hammond Junior. 

I forget where they were, but I think they were mainly on Decani. I was a monitor on the Decani side, and my brother was on Cantorus, opposite. 

My Dad was also on that side (Cantorus) so the three of us were virtually looking at each other. 

Well, Lionel, there are hundreds of things which I have forgotten, but I do hope you find some of these things of interest. Because when we have gone, there will be nobody to tell you about what Norwich, the Cathedral and Choir were like before the Great War. 

… such as when I was in Barrack Street and I saw the 12th Lancers, resplendent in their gorgeous uniforms of blue with yellow trappings and lances polished so bright as they rode gallantly to war, 

…and of the streets filled with army carts, sometimes drawn by four mules, 

…soldiers were billeted in the various houses round Norwich, 

…and zeppelins coming in from the coast, they used to drift in from Yarmouth, and I suppose that they came to see what a lovely Cathedral we have got in Norwich, 

it was altogether different from what we have today 

I am so proud, that I always tell people that if they come into Norwich, they must go into the Cathedral and stand by the lectern in the centre of the Cathedral and look up at the beautiful work which the Normans and their descendants have left for us. 

In the evening of my life, I like to think that these things have been put down. It has been a good life. I motored all over the Continent and saw most of the great cities of Europe. 

My work I was very happy in, I did several things which will remain:           

I did the plate for Churchill, which at the time of his death, was placed in the church, 

I did a replica of Thomas Tompion’s (1639 – 1713) sundial which stands in Kew Gardens. If you ever get to Kew gardens, near the Dutch House, you will see this replica of Thomas Tompion’s Sundial. There was a tremendous amount of work in it. It took me the best part of four months to engrave it. The Queen unveiled it.

Then I did the biggest V-cut in England, which is in Westminster Cathedral, it is on the left wall as you go into the Catholic Cathedral. 

I also did a number of plates which are in the Great Hall at Westminster, set in the floor, and they commemorate the great events which have happened in that chamber. 

I also did a lot of work for the Tower of London, and if you are there at any time and you see the site of the scaffold, that is my work. 

So ends my story. I hope you can find something of interest in it, I am very grateful to you for sending me these copies of your book, so I shall sign off now.