LANCING AND SOMPTING
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Looking through some old black & white photos I came across one little photo that brought back a past memory of August fifty years ago. On coming across your website I thought I would pass this on to you.
Back in 1956, I was all of 10 years old and was a choirboy at my local church, Christ Church. The church was situated near the northern edge of Tottenham near to where Haringey met Wood Green in North London. Back in those days just after the war the area was a smashing place for us generations born around the end of WW2 to grow up in. We had many fine parks to play in.
In all I was in the choir from aged 8 to 11. The church is sadly no longer there, and has long since been replaced with houses. But back in 1956 it was always full on a Sunday for all three services held there that day. Many members of my family were married there. It was a very popular church and a focal point of local life in that area at the time with a lot of activities going on. On the same grounds that the church was situated was also the vicarage and a church hall that ran Cubs, Brownies, Scouts & Guides groups.
The church itself was quite big and the size of its choir reflected that. It was an all male choir and was made up of approx 28 boys & 20 - 24 adults. We were a bit unique in that the cassocks we wore were a light pastel green in colour as opposed to the usual red, black or blue that most choirs of that time wore. The choirmaster was also the church organist and the church organ was truly magnificent. I can remember once after choir practice one evening, slipping quietly into a pew bathed in darkness at the back of the church, while Mr Smith privately played something on the organ. He played Bach’s ' Fuge', that was becoming more well known at the time due to it's exposure in the Walt Disney film ' 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' that was doing the rounds in local cinemas around that time. The sound of that wonderful piece of music being played in that huge empty space is something that has stayed with me all my life.
The choir used to go away to camp once a year and halfway through my time with the choir I went away with them to Sompting Abbots. I think there must have been a deal struck of some sort as what happened was that we were allowed to camp in a field near to the big school opposite St.Mary's Church. During the two weeks we were there I think the local choir of St. Mary's stood down and we took their place.
We'd all piled into the back of an open backed van, probably a canvas top with a drop down gate at the back, for the journey to Sussex. So we couldn't see where we were going, but we could see where we'd been. We'd left from outside Christ Church hall and it was a nice dry & sunny journey down to Sompting. As I said we set up camp in a field in the grounds of the Sompting Abbots School, if that was what it was called then? It was August and the school was empty. I can remember that a path/lane ran along past the northern side of the school and at the end of that we turned south and camped in a field not far down, so still basically still at the top of the hill.
At the edge of the field we were in, between us and the school, was a big circle of trees, in the middle of which was where an uprooted tree had been. It was here the camp 'bog' (toilet) was situated. Beyond that the trees met the lawns coming down from the south of the school. The photo here is unfortunately the only one I have from that time. I am not sure who took the photo of fellow choir member Eddie Manning, the little chap you see here standing on that very lawn south of the school.
Just to the right of the school along the path/lane, that took us to our camping field, were a few one storied very old brick buildings. It was in one of these that the choir practised during the week, it was also where we would robe up. There was also another photo in existence taken outside of that building with me dressed in my choir robes. Sadly it has long vanished. Most of the boys making up the choir had made it along to the camp that year along with a few of the adults in the choir as well. A few other adults came down from London for the weekend and for those Sunday services.
So on that first Sunday morning we made our way along to the practice room to get robed up. Us boys were in our white ruffs & surpluses and green cassocks. The adults wore black cassocks. I can remember that particular Sunday morning was a lovely summers morning as we made our way along the path in double file towards St Mary's. The path took us through a wooded area and I have recollections of the sun glinting through the trees reflecting on the gold cross held high at the front of our line. We crossed the lane separating us from the church and even at that young age the sight of that marvellous looking church with its unique Saxon tower was something to behold.
Even as a ten year old the church seemed very small but we all managed to comfortably get into place once inside. Up by the altar at the north transcept I believe we were? I wonder to this day what the congregation thought of us being there like that. We were after all a very big choir compared to what they must have been used to. Having said that we were a good sounding choir. I say that not in any kind of boast only that earlier that year we had sung in the Royal Albert Hall and people had come to visit us from St Paul's Cathedral to record us to be added to a recording they were making. So I suppose we must have been quite good. But as I said, we had a cracking choirmaster and organist to lead us. We had the privilege of singing in that wonderful church over those two weeks, and for me looking back, singing in St Mary's church at Sompting was the pinnacle of my time in the choir. At the time I would have had no idea of just how historic the church was.
One of the adult members of the choir was dear old Mr Saxby, who must have been in his 70's at the time. He came down to be a part of those services and to stay with us over the weekend. Or rather, he had more sense and stayed at the 'Marquis Of Granby' at the bottom of the hill there. He was a lovely old chap who always looked after us boys in the choir.
Another chap who came down for the weekend drove down in his black Vauxhall motor car. As a result he ended up taking a bunch of us at a time on a trip around the area. I can remember we headed north from Sompting and over the downs. The adults in the car kept saying we were heading to 'Mickey Mouse Town' for tea & cakes at a cafe there. As we came down from the downs towards the town to which we were headed from that height it looked indeed very small. Which is why it was christened so. I seem to think that town was perhaps Steyning*.
We were lucky and only had a couple of days of rain during our two weeks under canvas. The hot summer had caused a thunderstorm one night and we then realised why we were camped at the top of the hill…… so that all the water ran downhill and away from us. I had a few trips either way by bus from the bottom of the hill. Once to Shoreham and then a couple to Worthing. I seem to recall we had tea in either a sort of Lyons or an ABC tea rooms in Worthing?
I only went to camp that once with the choir. The following year I could not make it along. That was a great pity as I had greatly enjoyed the previous year. Apparently during that following year in 1957 for some reason the floor boards of the room in which we practised had been pulled up and what came to light was a stash of weapons dating back to the time of the Civil War.
Back in the late 1970's I think it was, during one summer in August, I took my wife for a trip down to Sompting to look for that marvellous time in my youth. Rural England in the 1950's was so unspoilt by the march of progress and it was a serene pace of life compared to today. Whenever I watch that old black & white film, 'A Canterbury Tale', it so reminds me of what rural life was like at that time when I camped with the choir at Sompting.
On returning to Sompting after so many years I feared it may have been swallowed up by modern day expansion. But I was nicely surprised to find the place had hardly changed at all up the hill there by St.Mary's Church and that it was still surrounded by fields. It was almost like I was being transported back in time.
I took a few photos that day at St Mary's and one
I had in mind to take even before I had arrived there I attach here.
I took it from across the other side of the lane, where the path from
the school emerges through the trees. It reminds me of the choir's
procession that Sunday morning back in 1956 as I neared that wonderful
historical church for the first time. It was a joy to sing there.
A very special time and memory in my life.
* Editor's note: Mickey Mouse town is actually in Sompting - North of the A27, and West of Halewick Lane.
Alan has written subsequently (16/01/07): I have since managed to trace a fellow choir member who was there at Sompting with me back in 1956. This chaps name was John Giggins, and here are three photos he took during our stay when parents came down from London to visit us at the camp site....hence the little girl seen in the foreground. My tent was the second from the right. The tent far left with the chap stood by it was our wash tent where we washed in cold water every morning. The big tent to the rear, right, was where we had our meals. John Giggins in his choir robes back then in 1956 ( pity it's not in colour, the robe was a pastel green colour ). Also, a picture of Sompting house.
If you share Alan's memories, then please email email@example.com.