Sunday retrospective

timetravelIn the last half of November in 2014, I was sent Farewell to Kindness off to beta readers and began writing Candle’s Christmas Chair.

The Epilogue to Farewell to Kindness threw me a curve ball that took me more than nine months to find in the bushes. I lost the heroine of what was then still called Encouraging Prudence. (And figuring out what my characters were trying to tell me has turned that book into two: Prudence in Love, and Prudence in Peril.) In ‘When you break eggs make omelettes’, I posted about the conundrum of stories that escape their author, with a long quote from Juliet Marillier.

I posted about happy endings, agreeing with those who criticise them as unrealistic, and pointing out:

The critics are, of course, quite right. Happy endings do not happen in reality. And neither do sad endings. In fact, endings of any kind are a totally artificial construct. My personal story didn’t begin with my conception; my conception was simply an event in the story of my parents, and my story is an integral part of that. Nor will it end at my death. What I’ve made (children, garden, quilts, books) will carry on after me.

Whenever we write and whatever we write, we impose an artificial structure on reality. We choose a point and call that the beginning. And we choose another point and call that the end.

My post about psalm singers might be worth a look. They played an important role in the communities of the 18th and early 19th century, and in my novel Farewell to Kindness. I give a bit of history and a couple of YouTube clips of songs as they might have sung them (one psalm and one considerably more secular).

‘How to tell what novel you are in’ was a link and quotes from a series of Toast posts, including How to tell whether you’re in a Regency novel, and How to tell whether you are in novels by a number of other authors. A sample?

7. A gentleman of your acquaintance once addressed you by your Christian name as he brushed his fingers against the lace filigree of your fichu. You still blush at the recollection.

And in my last post for November, I talked about the cycle of the liturgical year, and how earlier times fitted this cycle to the rhythms of the season and the demands of agriculture. Before most people were driven from the land and commerce began to rule over piety, church holy days meant holidays. And even into the late Georgian, the week long feast of Whitsuntide remained.

In Farewell to Kindness, the action of a third of the novel happens before the backdrop ofWhitsunweek (also known as Whitsuntide).

Carl Spitzweg - Das PicknickApart from walks, fairs, picnics, horse races and other activities, the week was known for the brewing of the Whitsunale. This was a church fundraising activity–the church wardens would take subscriptions, create a brew, and sell or distribute it during the week of Whitsuntide. It has a certain appeal. It would certainly be a change from cake stalls and sausage sizzles!

Whitsunweek was the week following the Feast of Pentecost (WhitSunday), and seems to have been the only week-long medieval holiday to survive into early modern times. It usually fell after sheep shearing and before harvest, and it was a week of village festivities and celebrations.



Making a joyful noise to the Lord

Thomas_Webster_-_A_Village_ChoirFrom the beginning of the 18th century until the spread of the church organ in the mid 19th century, many villages had a quire (choir) of psalm singers. Often called ‘West Gallery Singers’ because they sat in the west gallery above the rear end of the nave, they sang the psalms and other selections from the Book of Common Prayer to tunes composed by local teachers and quire members.

In 1700, the nave was already ‘owned’ by the more affluent members of the congregation. Galleries to the north and south were built to seat the poorer members of the flock, and the west gallery became home to the singers and musicians.

And they took their job seriously. Here’s an extract from the Rules of a quire in Kent:

1773 Oct. 28th Ann agreement made for the Company of Psalm singers in Kenardington. We Do gree to forfitt two pence on all Sundays for not being at Church in Divine Sarvis time to joyn to sing to the praise an glory of GOD and to meet on Sunday Evening at Six o’clock and forfitt one penny and to meet on all Thursday evenings at Six o’clock or forfitt one penny for each Neglect of not being there at the time. The mony to be gathered by One Whom the Company apoint for that purpus and the forfitt mony to be Spent on January 1st 1774 at a place apointed by the Company. Agreed and aproved of by us Who have hear unto Sett our Names.

Wm Chittenden
Thos Noakes
Wm Durrant
Thos Kingsnorth
Jn Austen
Thos Tolhurst X his mark
lsaac Dadson X his mark
Thos Leads X his mark
Wm Hills
James Backer
Thos Hampton
Henry Holit
Wm Jones X his mark
James Huld

And here’s what they might have sounded like.

They used their skills in other settings, too:

There is no doubt that the mixed groups of instrumentalists and singers which we refer to as ‘quires’ to distinguish them for the organ-driven, surpliced latter-day groups, became very important in parish life. Those who played for the singing in church would also have played a major part in parish social life on feast days, high days and holidays. They had status within parish society, the nature of their jobs often gave them a measure of independence, and they were not infrequently in conflict with the parson or the squire. Their music often travelled far and wide, and in surprising forms. For example, few people today realise that when they sing the Yorkshire anthem ‘On Ilkley Moor Bah’t ‘At’ they are actually singing a west gallery hymn called ‘Cranbrook’, composed by the Canterbury shoemaker Thomas Clark who alone wrote hundreds of such splendid tunes.

The following far more secular song (just listen to the repeated chorus) might well have been sung on the village green on the night of the Whitsunale celebration that is a central event in Farewell to Kindness. If I do a book trailer, this is the song I want in the background. I couldn’t find a version sung by a West Gallery quire, but this one is pretty and the words are clear.


Much of the material for this article and all the quotes came from the West Gallery Music Association.