St Anselm’s Choir
St Anselm’s Choir is as old as St Anselm’s Church itself and dates back to the opening of the first chapel in Hythe Street. As recorded in Sheila Whitehead’s history of St Anselm’s, the governess of the school which had opened next to the chapel “was required to set up a choir and play the harmonium. The choir probably sang for the first time on Easter Sunday March 25th 1866”.
The church in Spital Street opened in 1900 and, in the early 1900s, a pipe organ was installed. Mr W Firmin was almost certainly the first organist; he played from 1906 until 1915. In 1909 Gladys Peyman (later Spencer) joined him as assistant organist. Throughout this period, the choir was led and conducted by Mr Jackson.
Later, when Mr Jackson retired as conductor, Gladys Spencer continued to play the organ and lead the choir. For a period during the 1930s, Mr Chadwick took over as conductor with Gladys as organist. On Mr Chadwick’s resignation as conductor, Gladys reverted to choir leader and organist. During all these years, the choir had sung four part Latin masses every Sunday and on special occasions.
In 1941, Mary Spencer (Purcell) started as assistant organist and, as time went on, Gladys again took over the role of conductor with Mary playing the organ.
With Vatican II and changes in the liturgy, the choir had to learn new masses in English which was quite a challenge at the time.
Gladys resigned in the mid seventies when she was well into her eighties and, since no-one could be found to conduct the choir, Mary then lead the choir from the organ.
This continued until 1992 when Mary resigned and Marian Whitehead took over as choir leader and organist. The choir thrived under her leadership until sadly, in 2004, Marian died. For a while, the choir was unable to function until Marian’s sister, Sheila Whitehead, came to the rescue and the choir was able to sing again.
Sheila continues to play the organ and lead the choir today with the help of Helen Rees. Long may St Anselm’s Choir continue to sing – ad multos annos.