Memory Lane

Danbury Church Choir 1. Rachel Firman: 

‘I remember Dr Gibbs driving to and fro from church with his wife,  for village concerts, in a very large (in those days, the  1950’s) silver car – make unknown to me! He made an impressive figure, with his height, wearing his academic gown of scarlet and white fur trimmings, processing in the church on special occasions!’ 

Danbury Church Choir 2.Matthew Radford:

Gibbs was a regular worshipper at the 11 a.m. Matins and always sat in the back row of the choir stall nearest to the sanctuary. He sang bass but sat on the tenor side because there was at that time no radiator on the bass side. At Easter when the around the church, he would wear robes of a Doctor of Music.

Gibbs disliked long sermons, and after about ten minutes would his books. The Rector, Frank Hopkirk, would hear it and say, ‘ And finally’ and the noise few moments, start again as his sermon. Hopkirk, also choirmaster, occasionally wrote short such as final the choir, duplicating them and only just before as most of us were reasonably good sight‐readers. When this happened to bring out his copy during the readings.

Choral singing in the 1950’s – Marjorie Nunn,  Vice-President of the Chelmsford Competitive Festival of Music and Drama:

My memories of Armstrong Gibbs begin with happy days at Chelmsford County High School where Miss Phyllis Wright was Head of Music. I sang in the Choir, my first choral experience, and I still have a copy of Except the Lord Build the House, a three part song for female voices by Armstrong Gibbs which we performed at the 1952 Commemoration Service in Chelmsford Cathedral. Miss Wright was accompanist of Danbury Choral Society and many were the tales she told us of the joys of choir practices under the baton of Armstrong Gibbs. I had piano lessons with a colleague of Phyllis Wright and recall the challenge of trying to play the piano part of Armstrong Gibbs’ Concertino for Piano and String Orchestra. Many years later I was given the honour of playing the organ for Phyllis Wright’s funeral at Chelmsford Crematorium. Before the service I played a version of A Song of Shadows in order to pay tribute to her long association with Armstrong Gibbs. Because of these memories I was particularly pleased that the Armstrong Gibbs Society generously decided to award cash prizes for a special class in the Singing Section of the Chelmsford Competitive Festival of Music and Drama. 

The composer Arthur Butterworth writes:

I  met AG in 1941. I was a very callow youth of 17, who worked as an office boy in a Manchester legal and estate office. I was besotted with the brass band and played the cornet, although already by this time I had aspirations to be an orchestral player. On being asked by AG what instrument I played, I timidly replied:….”the cornet, sir”.. ..” The what !..?… the CORNET !!….ugh!…you should play the trumpet !…. The implied distaste for such a plebeian, cloth-cap, northern working class brass band instrument filled him with horror. Although I had submitted some compositions for him to peruse, he did NOT give me a scholarship and I went home much deflated.

 I have heard quite a lot of AG’s music, more especially the “Westmorland Symphony” by the Westmorland Orchestra at Kendal some few years ago. I think it is fine, characteristic ENGLISH music, which has always been – along with Sibelius – the most influential on my own. I had some study with Vaughan Williams, and I am especially drawn to Bax, and know all about the cricketing days with AG, W.H.Squire, Clifford Bax, et al. I always rather regretted not having met AG again after the war, because I do like his music, even though he had, in a sense “rejected” me in 1941. 

An evacuee at the Gibbs’ home :

In September 1939 I was an evacuee from Tottenham North London to Little Baddow in Essex. We were sitting in the school playground when a distinctive looking gentleman arrived. He spoke to our teacher and Jean Parker and myself were selected to go with him. I was 11 years old and very frightened: I had not been away from my parents before. We got into the back of a large car, not knowing where we were going; the gentleman was Dr Armstrong Gibbs. We were taken to his house where Mrs Gibbs met us. We were made very welcome and I count myself very fortunate to have stayed at ‘Crossings’ their home.

 It was a beautiful house with a very long garden reaching down to Lingwood Common, a field on one side of the garden housed Ann’s pony and a field on the other side was full of daffodils. Ann was at Boarding School, I went into the field to feed the pony one day, and inadvertently left the gate open, the pony trotted straight across the tennis court, which left deep hoof marks. I had to go to the study to explain to Dr Gibbs what I had done, I was terrified, but Dr Gibbs was very understanding. The first Sunday we were there we went to Danbury church with Mrs Gibbs and David who was home on leave. David used his small sports car; Mrs Gibbs, Jean and I walked. Whilst we were in church War was declared and the Vicar advised the congregation to return home as soon as possible. Mrs Gibbs sat next to David in the car, Jean and I sat on the hood with Mrs Gibbs holding on to our legs so that we did not fall off.

 Dr Gibbs conducted the choir at Danbury church. Every Friday evening the choristers came to the house to rehearse the hymns for the following Sunday, it was lovely to listen to them. 

 It was a very severe winter, the pond at Eaves Corner was frozen over and the villagers were able to skate on it. There was a thatched bungalow at the entrance to Blakes Wood, the icicles reached from the thatch to the ground fencing the people in. I remember there was a Foot and Mouth scare, the farms had long troughs of disinfectant across the entrances. My love of the countryside came from my stay in Little Baddow. 

Dr and Mrs Gibbs had a cook and a parlour maid (Jessie and Evelyn). Jessie made jam and pickles from the kitchen garden produce. They were both very kind to Jean and I. On my 12th birthday I had an attack of quinsy and could not swallow, Jessie made me a jelly with candles all round the edge.  

Dr Gibbs was quite surprised when my father cycled from Tottenham to see me; he was made very welcome. Jean’s father was killed in action and she returned home to her Mother, I was left on my own until I returned to my parents. I have a Prayer Book signed Dr and Mrs Gibbs Christmas 1939, A Bible signed Jessie and Evelyn Christmas 1939, and a newspaper account of Ann’s wedding with a photo of Ann arriving at Danbury Church on Dr Gibbs’ arm. There are so many memories I will never ever forget. Dr and Mrs Armstrong Gibbs were a wonderful couple so kind and generous to share their home with two evacuees.  

The Turning Year – Michael Babbidge : 

My interest in The Turning Year goes back to my school days.  It was commissioned to mark the 800th (I think) centenary of the City of Carlisle. I was one of the schoolchildren who sang in the choir at its premiere. There is something delightful about the piece and the excitement of the first performance has remained with me all these years. Recently I called into the public library in Carlisle and saw a published copy of the score that they keep in the archives with a handwritten copy which has some instructions written, I assume, by Armstrong Gibbs himself.