Music has always played an important part in the life of St Augustine’s. In the early years, the choir consisted of only boys and men, often numbering nearly 50.
It was this choir that carried on a centuries old Anglican choral tradition, with full sung evensongs a regular event in the church. The choir sang in many other places, including Westminster Abbey and St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol.
Women were first allowed in the choir in the 1970’s – Rachel Jenkins was the first to be admitted.
Sadly, we no longer have a church choir.
Arthur sang in the choir at St Augustine’s almost continually for 90 years – a fine achievement. He was a very much respected member of the church and choir, and was even a director of Swindon Town Football Club when they won the League Cup against Arsenal in 1969. Like many people connected with the church, he worked in the Great Western Railway works.
John Betjeman appeared one evening in the church when the choir were practising for Christmas services, and asked if he could stay and listen – he only introduced himself when the rehearsal was over.
He was apparently researching for an article on Churches in Swindon and invited the choir to give a carol concert in his local Church on his estate near Wantage. Of course, the choir went and afterwards enjoyed supper in his house. When he wrote to thank Clayton West, he offered to find a camp site for the annual choir camp. He then arranged for the choir to camp on the Earl of Wicklow’s estate in Eire.
It is said that he was a frequent visitor to Evensong in the church.
On March 5th 1965, the then organist Clayton West took some of the choirboys to London and presented the nameplate from the steam engine “Westminster Abbey” to the choirboys there. The boys joined the abbey choirboys for evensong – surely, a great occasion! The event received much publicity in both the local and London newspapers. Apparently, the St Augustine’s choir boys behaved impeccably at Evensong.