Georgian Psalmody 1: the gallery tradition

Papers from the First International Conference organised by The Colchester Institute, edited by Christopher Turner

Contents, biographical notes, foreword and introduction

After biographical notes on the contributors and a brief foreword by Bill Tamblyn, Peter Holman in his introduction considers themes running through the papers, and charts the development of his own interest in psalmody.

Present at the birth

In his keynote address, Nicholas Temperley notes that, over thirty years ago, the Americans accepted country psalmody as an important part of their musical culture whereas it was largely ignored in its country of origin. He describes his own change of attitude towards the repertoire and points to significant publications and groups which have been influential in arousing the growth of interest in country psalmody. He continues by attempting to slot country psalmody into pre-existing musical categories before a brief examination of the attempts to sing the psalms and the role played by the itinerant singing teachers. In the second part of his paper Temperley outlines his recent work on the Hymn Tune Index.

The English choir-band in literature

Gillian Warson draws on a small but important selection of English literature to see how contemporary writers reflect the activities of church and chapel musicians during the late Georgian period. Inevitably the work of Thomas Hardy is central to her discussion, although she includes references to the work of such authors as Butler, Eliot and Trollope. She also refers to one important diary of the period -- that of the Somerset parson William Holland (1799–1818) -- and makes full use of the satirical 'Sketch Book' by the American writer Washington Irving.

Trouble in the gallery

Parson James Woodforde, who kept a diary between 1758 and 1802, spent the last 28 years of his life as the incumbent of Weston Longeville, Norfolk. Prior to this he had served as his father’s curate at Castle Cary, Somerset. It was during this period that he became involved in a dispute with the singers who occupied the west gallery. The dispute erupted to such an extent that it would have ended in the consistory court at Wells had it not been for the political power of the local squire Cary Creed. Ken Baddley traces the dispute from its beginnings in 1767 at the door to the west gallery.

Processes of transmission in the country psalmody tradition

Dave Townsend seeks to assess the nature and relative importance of the ways in which this music was handed on. He begins by defining and distinguishing between oral transmission, musical tradition, folk music, and then considers the concepts of ur-text, composer’s intention, and usage. Printed material is discussed in terms of 18th-century publishing practice, attribution, the nature of different ‘editions’, and the needs of psalm-singing teachers. The value of the different kinds of village musicians' manuscripts as a guide to performance practice and as a primary source of musical material is demonstrated. The place of oral transmission in the country psalmody tradition is explained, in the methods of the singing-teachers, and the use of well-known orally learned tunes. In conclusion, the value of the different kinds of information is discussed.

Performance practice in 18th-century Georgian psalmody

Psalmody tune-books published in the 18th century invariably contain prefaces, which were primarily designed to provide singers with a basic grounding in musical theory. As an added bonus for present-day musicians, they may also include evidence of original performance practice. Sally Drage examines the technical content of some of these psalmody prefaces, and discusses their relevance to modern performances of gallery church music. Essentially this is a preliminary exploration and not a definitive overview, as, despite the excellent work of individuals, formal research into this music is still in its infancy, and much of the repertoire still awaits evaluation.

The performance style of west gallery music

In attempting to reach an understanding of performance style within the genre, Vic Gammon examines the various types of evidence available, including traditions from North America and Scotland and the carol singing still enjoyed in public houses in Yorkshire and Cornwall today. He defines the 'plebeian musical style' prevalent in the galleries as 'full-voiced heterophonic polyphony' and argues that it was wilfully suppressed by educated reformers who were unsympathetic to the qualities which it exhibited. He suggests that confusion arose between poor performance practice per se and the aims of a minority of art musicians who attempted to dominate a popular musical tradition belonging to the majority.

The west gallery tradition in the Isle of Man

Fenella Bazin sets out by establishing the historical background relating to the use of metrical psalmody in the worshipping communities on the Isle of Man. She then turns to the broader educational issues affecting the tradition, and examines the growing importance of Methodism on the island and the effect it had on the Manx Church. Her attention is next focused on the Colby music books -- some of the most important Manx sources containing sacred vocal music from the Georgian period. In conclusion she deals with matters related to performance practice, including instrumental accompaniment and the role of the west gallery, and explains why the tradition continued into the early 20th century.

Church and chapel music in and around Sydney, Australia, 1788–c1860

This paper offers a rare chance to understand how an essentially Anglican tradition was transplanted to a colonial settlement during the Georgian period. James Forsyth traces the establishment of primitive worshipping communities in Australia and their initial adoption of the metrical psalms in familiar English versions. This was followed by a period of establishment and liberalisation within the church during which permanent buildings were erected and the hymns of Isaac Watts and John Wesley were gradually accepted. Attention is then focused on the emergence of new material produced by Australian-born poets and composers which helped to establish a discrete Australian culture, thus, inevitably, leading to the disappearance of the old.

The decline of the gallery tradition

In this brief exploratory paper Christopher Turner questions the accepted view that the demise of the bands was directly as a result of the Oxford Movement. While acknowledging that the movement did have an enormous effect on the life of the Anglican Church during the 19th century, he attempts to show that many other factors need to be considered in understanding this complex period of change, and that the simplistic view adopted by many writers should be challenged.

Alive and kicking: the living tradition of English 'gallery' music

In presenting this paper to the conference Ian Russell set out to introduce delegates to a sample of traditional carol singing drawn mainly from south Yorkshire and north Derbyshire. He considers the function and development of the tradition and makes observations regarding the style and manner of performance and its status among the musical elite in contradistinction to its local popularity as an enduring form of vernacular sacred singing. His approach is broadly ethnographic in that it incorporates the methodologies of a number of academic disciplines, including social and oral history, ethnomusicology and social anthropology, cultural geography, performance practice and hymnody.

Presenting west gallery music to the general public

The Madding Crowd is amongst the best known of the groups performing music associated with the gallery tradition because of their exposure through the media as well as their successful appearances throughout the country. In this wide ranging paper, full of personal asides, Mike Bailey traces the group’s background and shares many of their varied experiences with others involved in similar performances, while dealing with everything from problems with the Alternative Service Book to questions of pitch.

'If I was you, I wouldn't start from here'

Gordon Ashman looks at some of the mistakes he himself has made over the years with his involvement in various 'revivals'. He stresses that music from the gallery period is not a revival and points to some of the other assumptions that are made about the repertoire. These include the ideas that the repertoire is crude, that it should be performed with a 'Mummersetshire' accent, and that the various colourful stories which surround the tradition can be taken at face value.


This section is a compilation of works referred to in individual papers. It includes all printed works (except modern newspaper articles) and recordings (listed after the printed materials). Manuscript references are not included; details of these are given in footnotes in the papers. Some original printed sources are very rare, if not unique. These works are listed with shelfmarks, call numbers or a cross-reference to the paper that discusses them in detail.