Old Duffield Village, Church, and Castle,
With some Personal Reminiscences.

A Lecture given before the Duffield Branch of the Church of England Men's Society, Dec., 8th., 1921,



It may be interesting to recall something about the church and its services in my boyhood's days. In these degenerate times it is said that the church is too far away from the village for the school children to be taken there regularly. When I was young, the Sunday-school children were always taken to morning and afternoon services, which were much more lengthy then than now. Shortened services had not yet been sanctioned, and as no one had ever known the Rev. F. W. Moore (of whom I must speak later) to shirk a duty, he invariably read everything enjoined by the rubric. Consequently, I remember one Ash Wednesday morning, when the boys had been taken to Church, the service consisted of Morning Prayer, Litany, Ante-Communion Service, the Commination Service peculiar to the day, and sermon (always lengthy in those days), the whole service lasting so long that as we returned through the meadow the bell was ringing for afternoon school. If we had any dinner that day we were certainly late for school!

The service was the then usual duet between parson and clerk. Peter Sowter for over fifty years, in the broadest "Derbyshire," read all the responses, and gave out the hymns and church notices. Many stories gathered about the old man's name. There was a tradition among the boys that on one occasion he announced that a vestry meeting would be held the following week to decide what colour the church should be whitewashed! He had a powerful and sonorous voice, that filled the church with his A-a-mens, and also when he gave out the hymns with the time-honoured formula "Let us sing to the praise and glory of God." Peter had - or so it appeared to me as a boy, somewhat in awe of him - a stern and forbidding manner, and I know that nervous and timid brides were at times much startled by a peremptory order in his gruff voice, to "knale down!" when so directed by the rubric.

The church was heated in those days by four large iron-stoves, always a welcome diversion for us boys when Peter went round during the service to mend the fires, making a great clatter, quite irrespective of what else was going on. It must have been a sad day for the poor old clerk when the choir commenced to recite the responses and the vicar to give out the hymns, and Peter, I suppose, was told to keep quiet. But he remained in his place in the chancel as long as he could attend service, entering behind the vicar, and bearing the ponderous book of the banns of marriages, and also following the vicar to shut him up carefully in the reading desk, and afterwards in the pulpit.

The pulpit candles, too, had to be lighted on winter afternoons before the sermon, while the vicar retired to the vestry to exchange the white surplice for the black Geneva gown worn at that time. Well I remember the "dim religious light" of those gloomy winter afternoons when the pulpit candles were the only lights we had, and the beautiful effects of their glimmering rays as daylight faded and shadows of arch and pillar deepened within the old grey walls, whilst the quiet voice of the preacher rose and fell until the words of the closing hymn, sung in semi-darkness, seemed very real to us, "Abide with me, fast falls the eventide!" When it was first attempted to light the church, so that we could have evening services during the winter months, it was by means of what we called "coronas " - circles of tin hanging from the roof, with six or eight sockets fitted to hold candles. When these burnt low and guttered, it was not unusual for anyone sitting underneath to find a cascade of molten tallow dropping from above! The church was first lighted by gas in November, 1885.

I well remember the old organ which had replaced the village band, and on which I played my first church services. It was a small instrument of five stops, and was unique in its way, for it combined the usual keyboard arrangement and a barrel-organ in one, and could be played either by the keys in front or by turning a handle in the rear!

No notice of Duffield worthies would be complete without mention of Gervase Cooper, a one-time organist on that old instrument, who afterwards became a leading Wesleyan, playing the chapel organ and teaching in the Sunday school until a great age. He was a man of great piety and humility, and his tall, ascetic, bent form, with his most gentle and refined features, were constantly seen about the village until his death, in 1906, at the age of 93

Gervase Cooper resigned his post at church when he was desired to teach the choir some glees and part-songs, as his conscience, of a strong Puritan type, would not permit him to play and teach "secular music," and one cannot but admire such devotion to principle. But so long as he could walk the distance he invariably attended church on Good Friday, when I always remembered to play as voluntaries what I knew he loved best - some of the Passion music from Handel's "Messiah."

It may seem strange that I can claim to been the contemporary of the father of a man born so long ago as 1813. But "Fine Sammy" Cooper, the father of Gervase (who lived in one of the cottages I spoke of as near the vicarage), and who was so called from his notably fine alto voice, which in his youth was greatly in request in all the countryside, sang in the church choir until he was well over eighty years of age, and I was a small choir boy at the time. Well I remember his then quavering alto and my boyish treble joining in one of those great days when 2,000 voices from all parts of the diocese met in a soul-stirring choral festival in Lichfield Cathedral, to which diocese we then belonged. I think the only other remaining member of the choir in those very early days is my old friend, Evan Moreton, who still takes his place in the choir-stalls, where I hope to see his veteran form for years to come.

I must here pay a tribute of affection to the memory of some former chorister comrades who have passed away. Many of you will remember Alfred Robinson, George Cash, William F.P. Meakin, Charles E.T. Terry, Arthur and George Alldred, Frank Bailey, John W. Knapton, and Samuel Wright, among others. What memories these names recall of fine festival services in cathedral and church; of the honourable place always assigned to the Duffield Church Choir at Lichfield, Southwell, and elsewhere; also of happy Saturday afternoon rambles in their company, ending at the "Barley Mow" at Kirk Ireton, or some other village hostelry, with an evening of songs and glees, much to the delight of the inhabitants. Those were great days, and those old choristers did great service for their church. May they, one and all, rest in peace!

In those days, Christmas carol singing had not degenerated into the penny-hunting mockery that it has now become, but bands of choir-members from church or chapel, often with an instrumental accompaniment, made midnight melodious with the music of the good old hymns and carols for the love of it, with some of the true Christmas spirit and with reverence. The first election of sidesmen for Duffield is recorded in the minutes for Easter, 1880, when four were nominated by the vicar "to assist in Divine Service in case their aid should be required," and I had the honour of being one. The others were Sir A.P. Heywood (then "Mr."), Dr. Scriven, and Alfred Disney, all of whom have joined the "great majority."

First published 1922, Derby, Harpur and Son. Website copyright 2001 Jed Bland. 16.04.01