We shall be in darkness

Bundles of letters to Thomas Batcheldor, Chapter Clerk of the College of St George from 1846 to 1866, are kept in the Chapel Archives. The collection of letters [SGC I.E.1-5] could be considered the equivalent of Batcheldor’s email inbox and they provide an interesting insight into the business of the Chapter Clerk’s office in the mid-nineteenth century.

Many of the matters discussed remain relevant to the running of the Chapel today: engagements for the choir, keeping the organ in tune, appointments to jobs in the College, arrangements for work to the fabric of the Chapel. There are some matters, however, that are very much of their time. Two letters sent to the Chapter Clerk by organist and master of the choir, George Job Elvey, in 1859 give just such an example. On 19 January Dr Elvey wrote to say that only four packets of candles remained and that they would last ten more days [SGC I.E.4/11]. He explained that the candles were being used up more quickly than previously “in consequence of the great draught”. A large curtain recently set up in the organ loft also “considerably darkened” the Chapel so that it had to be lit up for longer. A little over a week later, 27 January, comes a second letter from Dr Elvey [SGC I.E.4/12] – there are now only two boxes of candles remaining and as he believes tapers are not kept ready-made but only made to order they cannot afford to lose any more time. Elvey urges Batcheldor, “be so good as to give the order for them or we shall be in darkness.”

It is easy to overlook, in the days of instant lighting at the touch of a button, how pressing the need must have been to keep up the constant supply of candles and tapers in order that early morning and evening services could keep running in the Chapel. A collection of Chapter bills held in the Archives shows that in October 1858, only three months before Elvey’s urgent requests, the Dean and Canons had received a bill for £35 5s for candles and tapers from J. Garnett – the equivalent of more than £1,500 in today’s money! [SGC XIV/1858/8]

There is also evidence that relationships developed between Chapter and those tradesmen who regularly supplied them. Orders and bills alone do not tell us anything of this, but in July 1865 the widowed Mrs Charlotte Garnett wrote to Mr Batcheldor because she had heard that he continued to order candles from her late husband’s firm because of her continued interest in it [SGC I.E.5/92]. She thanks him “sincerely and respectfully” for this “kind sympathy”, but feels she has a duty to make it clear that she has not received any benefit from the company since her husband died in 1859. The final record we hold of a payment by the Dean and Canons to Garnetts’ is from 1861. Later that decade, bills for candles came from Domenico Piccirillo (for altar candles) and Edwin Alger.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.