This sketch of a man holding a bottle appears in one of the music books of the former Windsor Glee Club [SGC GD/50/23]. Judging by the inscription on the contents page, it may have been owned by one John Foster in 1844. The Glee Club regrettably remains a shadowy organisation although it appears to have had a connection with Sir George Elvey (organist at St George’s 1835-1882). Certainly many, if not all, of the Club’s members were lay clerks, and it is through several generations of them that 39 volumes of the Glee Club’s music have found their way into the Archives.
The majority are bound volumes of printed individual unaccompanied part songs which would have been sold separately. There is also some orchestral music, manuscript piano music, and some solos and duets. The collections of individual songs are from the nineteenth century and include classics found at similar clubs around the country, which were numerous at this time. Many of them won prizes at the ‘Catch Club’ or ‘Glee Club’ in London. They are often about drinking, love, and the coming of spring. Although not much is known about the club, there are some clues about occasions where they performed.
Particularly intriguing is ‘Health to my dear’, originally by Reginald Spofforth (a prolific contributor to these volumes), with lyrics by Mrs Barbauld. However, in the three times it appears in this collection, the lyrics have been changed:
Health to my dear the Prince and long unbroken years,
By storms unruffled and unstained by tears.
Wing’d by new Joys may each white minute fly,
Spring Smiles on her his cheek and sunshine in her his eye.
O’er that dear breast kind heart where love and pity spring
May peace spread her downy wing.
Sweet beaming hope her his path illumine still
And fair Ideas all her his fancy fill.
Combined with a note at the start of one of the volumes ‘Eton College Dinner Wednesday 30 July 1845 Come bounteous May, The Mighty Conqueror, Health to my Dear’, this suggests that at some time, possible in 1845, the Windsor Glee Club were invited to sing for a Prince.
Not all the songs are glees for unaccompanied male voices. Solos, duets and trios from popular operas, now forgotten, also appear, including several from the opera ‘Siege of Belgrade’ which was clearly a favourite. The most bizarre title comes from the comic opera ‘Olivette’ by Edmond Audran, which includes the sad legend of ‘The Torpedo and the Whale’. A 1918 performance of it is available here.
The books also contain many pencil sketches, often of people. This one appears in the middle of a series of songs about Bacchus.
Many of these books bear the name ‘Josiah French’, a lay clerk, and as the archives have other drawings by French, it is possible that some of these are also his work.
Glimpses of other individuals also appear. Some of the manuscript piano music belonging to Sophronia Kemp in 1810, who seems to have played song accompaniments and dance music, while M Snowden in 1832 wrote out a lot of waltzes (not all to his or her liking, with ‘Lanner’s Waltz’ being described as ‘very ugly, not fit to waltz to’). A cryptic message above a short piano piece reads ‘to Miss Nameless of Jolly house on 29 February 1822 to the Great rejoicing of all the friends of both parties.’ This volume (SGC GD/50/39) is the only one of the collection to have music for chapel services in it. Did one of the lay clerks get engaged on 29 February?
Anne Courtney, Assistant Archivist