27 February 2015

Ernest Winchester, a forgotten composer

A request from Hobart, Australia, for information about an English church music composer and organist set me off on a fascinating search.  I have to confess I came up with very little other than some very old copies of his music - notably hymn tunes and some settings of the Responses and Canticles - and an oblique reference to a performance he gave in a church in Gloucestershire.  Yet, it seems, for a time during the latter years of the 19th century, he was as popular as, say, Bob Chilcott or John Rutter are today (minus, of course, the oxygen of publicity provided by recordings and the internet).  This rather set me thinking about the fate of composers whose popularity is so governed by the tastes of the time that, once tastes change, they lapse into obscurity.

Losing touch with such figures not only robs us of part of our musical heritage, but makes it much more difficult for us to understand the musical environment out of which other, greater, composers emerged whose music has managed to transcend the very transitory world of popular taste.  We look at Victorian and Edwardian England and recognise the importance of such composers as Elgar, Stanford and Parry, and tend to dismiss the rest as second-rate.  Yet it was these "second-rate" composers, far more than those whose names and music has been preserved, who would have been the daily bread and butter of the young, budding musicians of the day.  Vaughan Williams, Walton, Britten and Tippett were all developing their love of music in an environment peopled by the likes of E C Winchester.

With the centenary of his death falling next year, it might be appropriate to resurrect the music of E C Winchester and certainly it would sensible to be reminded of his life; not least because it seems so typical of how most who wrote music in England during the late Victorian era lived and yet seems so improbable to us today.  I have a particular interest since he seems to have lived and worked in the same part of London as my father did when, as a young man about to enter a career in the civil service, he, too, worked as an organist and composed a considerable amount of church music.  With extreme gratitude to my original correspondent, Brendan Lennard, who is Senior Cultural Heritage Officer of the City of Hobart, and who managed to find out far more about Winchester than I did, I reprint below the full text of his most recent researches.  Both he and I would dearly love more information on this long-forgotten musician and would be grateful if any readers of this blog could come up with something more.  Do contact me direct either via this blog or on drmarcrochester@gmail.com - I shall pass everything you send to Brendan.

Ernest Charles Winchester was born on 22 May 1854 at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, second child of Charles and Mary E. Winchester.  He had an older sister, Mary.  One reference (Dictionary of Composers for the Church in Great Britain and Ireland) says he was born at ‘Osborne’ which of course was a royal estate – possibly suggesting that his parents worked there.  His father Charles is described as a gardener (1861).  In the 1861 census his family was living at Arch Lodge, Osborne Mews, Whippingham , Isle of Wight, but by 1871 they were in London where his father is now described as a store keeper and domestic servant.  The 1871 census gives his address as 18 Wycliffe Grove, Battersea, though it also describes the young Ernest Winchester (who was sixteen) as Assistant Schoolmaster, Isle of Wight.

On 16 December 1872 the eighteen year-old Winchester commenced employment as a writer in the India Office, the British government department created to oversee administration of the Provinces of British India.  He continued to work as a civil servant in the India Office until his retirement.  By November 1878 he was clerk, 2nd class and in May 1901 was appointed staff clerk.  (1905 India List and India Office List).

He had begun composing church music by the age of 20.  In 1874 his hymn, Sing to the Lord was the prize tune of the College of Organists (which was not then the RCO).

He married Mary Agnes Harriett Spratt (variously known as Agnes or Mary) on 16 January 1878 at Holy Trinity Church, South Wimbledon; their daughter Mabel was born the same year, and was baptised at Holy Trinity on 16 December 1878.  There appears to have only been the one child.  The Winchester family lived at 44 Charlwood Street West; Civil Parish of St George Hanover Square, Westminster in 1881 and at 37 Lambert Road, Brixton, Lambeth (1891).  In both the 1901 and 1911 census they were at 22 Henderson Road, Wandsworth (where’s the Blue Plaque?). 

Winchester was still with the India Office in 1911, but retired to Bexley, where he died on 21 February 1916 (next year will be his centenary!)  He was survived by his wife Mary, who died seven year later on 28 June 1923 and by their daughter Mabel.  Mabel Winchester had married Arthur Ronson at St Mary Magdalene, Wandsworth Common on 8 October 1904.  Ernest Winchester had become a grandfather on 18 September 1906 when Irene Ronson was born.  Irene (1906-1963) married Noel Roy Dobree (1891-1968) and they had two sons (Arthur and Peter) and a daughter (Mary).

E.C. Winchester, who had obtained his FTCL by the age of 23,  served as organist at Holy Trinity, South Wimbledon (unsure of dates); organist at All Saints, Norfolk Square, Paddington in 1881, and organist and director of music at Christ Church, Southwark from 1883.  All Saints Paddington was consecrated in 1847, but destroyed by fire in 1894.  Christ Church Southwark was bombed during the Second World War.  Only the Wimbledon church survives.

Winchester’s music was occasionally reviewed in the ‘New Music’ column of The Graphic (London).  In 1877 a “batch of Church music” by Winchester was said to demonstrate that he was “not only a good organist but a painstaking composer.”  His anthem “I Will Give Thanks Unto Thee, O Lord,” with a tenor solo and chorus was described as “a brisk, nervous anthem”; the Te Deum and Benedictus were said to demonstrate “good sound writing.”  Other work, including six settings of the “Kyrie Eleison,” were “at times rather monotonous” … but … “have much in them to commend.”  A new setting by Winchester of the hymn, “Hark! Hark! My Soul” was dismissed by The Graphic as not coming up the original by Frederick William Faber.  His “May Day Dance” was described in 1880 as a very charming caprice … one which repay careful study. In 1888 Winchester’s “Crowning of the May Queen,” to words by Claudia F. Hernaman was described by The Graphic as “a remarkably pretty trio for ladies’ voices.”

The British Library lists 58 items by E.C. Winchester (though some appear to be duplicates).  This list includes settings of Holy Communion, the canticles Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis, Te Deum, Benedictus, Benedicite and various hymns and anthems.  Interestingly, there is a setting of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ (I wonder how it compares to Sullivan’s St Gertrude?).  There are also two ‘Action Songs’ and music for Christmas.  His organ music includes a Grand Festival March and Three Original Voluntaries (both published by Pitman in 1898).  Most works in the British Library Catalogue were published by Hart and Co.  Many have a publication date of 1898 – though some of these works appear to have been in circulation long before that date.  His service settings were used in Hobart, Tasmania as early as 1891, and for its Christmas festivities in 1893, the Church of All Saints, South Hobart proudly proclaimed;

The special music for Christmas Day has been chosen entirely from the works of Ernest Winchester, the organist of All Saints’ Church, Southwark, London (one of the most popular writers of modern church music), including his “Festival service in F,” and anthem, “There were shepherds.”  The choral settings for Holy Communion are also to be Ernest Winchester’s compositions.

All Saints South Hobart continues the fine tradition of liturgical music in Anglican worship to this day, though I am pretty sure that Winchester’s work has probably disappeared from the repertoire!

This is the catalogue of compositions by E.C. Winchester held by the British Library:

Agnus Dei, etc. [In A flat.] London : Hunt & Co, [1898]
Be merciful after thy Power. Offertory Anthem. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedicite, omnia Opera, etc. [In G.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedicite, omnia Opera, etc. [In G.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedicite, omnia Opera, for use in Advent, Septuagesima and Lent, etc. [In E flat.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedictus ... in ... F. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedictus, etc. [In G.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Benedictus, harmonised on a Gregorian Tone. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Blessed is He that cometh ... Anthem, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Cantate Domino, etc. [In B flat.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Communion Service in F, for use with Marbecke's ... Creed. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Crowning of the May Queen. Trio for Ladies' Voices. Words by C. F. Hernaman. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Deus misereatur, harmonized on an Ancient Melody. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Evening Service. Magnificat & Nunc dimittis ... arranged to Gregorian Tones with varied vocal and instrumental Harmonies. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Evening Service. Magnificat [in A] and Nunc dimittis [in C] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Evening Service. Magnificat [in B flat] and Nunc dimittis [in D flat] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Ferial Responses, arranged and harmonized by E. C. Winchester. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Four original Settings of the Kyrie Eleison, in ... D major. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Gloria ... for Ordinary and Festal use und five Settings of the Kyrie Eleison. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Grand Festival March for the organ. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Hallelujah! Christ is risen. Full Anthem for Easter. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Hark! hark! my Soul. Hymn ... for four voices with a free Organ Accompaniment. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
I will give Thanks unto Thee, O Lord. Festival Anthem. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
If ye love Me ... Full Anthem, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Jubilate Deo ... in ... F. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Let us now go even unto Bethlehem. Anthem for Christmas. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Litany, etc. [In F.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Magnificat & Nunc dimittis ... in ... F. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis ... in ... G. London : Hart & Co, [1878]
Nicene Creed with Kyrie eleison-two Settings-and Doxologies. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Nunc dimittis. (From the Service in F.). London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Office for Holy Communion ... in ... F. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Onward, Christian Soldiers. Processional Hymn, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Praise the Lord. Full Anthem, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Sing to the Lord. Hymn for four voices. London : Weekes & Co, [1876]
Six original Tunes to favourite Hymns. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Six Settings of the Kyrie Eleison. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Strike of the Beer-Jugs. Action Song ... words by A. J. Foxwell. London : J. Curwen & Sons, [1892]
Te Deum [in D] and Benedictus [in F], etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum arranged to Gregorian Tones. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus ... in ... F. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus set to easy music for small Choirs. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus, etc. [In B flat.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus, etc. [In D.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus, etc. [In G.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Te Deum laudamus. Chant Setting, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Ten Offertory Sentences. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
The Cross ... [Hymn.] Words by S. C. Foster. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
The Little Gardeners. Action Song ... words by T. P. Cowling. London : J. Curwen & Sons, [1892]
The Lord is my Shepherd. Anthem, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
The Story of the Cross, etc. [Hymns.] London : Hart & Co, [1898]
The Story of the Cross. [S. A. T. B.] London : Hart & Co, [1884?]
The Story of the Cross. Second Setting, and five Original Litany Tunes, etc. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
There were Shepherds. Anthem for Christmas. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Three original Introductory Voluntaries for the Organ. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Three Settings of the Te Deum laudamus to original Quadruple Chants. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Venite ... harmonised on an Ancient Melody. London : Hart & Co, [1898]
Versicles or Preces & Responses ... for use during Advent and Lent. London : Hart & Co, [1898]



  1. Really interesting story about an ordinary church organist who spread joy and happiness literally around the world. Go into most south London church today and you have no organist but a bunch of wanabe songsters who, with their desultory guitars, drums and keyboards, give a bit of pleasure to some of the congregation and to the vicars and vicaresses, but whose music will never creep outside the walls of the church let alone be spoken of 100 years hence!

  2. How can I get a copy of his Preces and Responses. I need it please.