On this day in 1906 John Ireland was in Littlehampton, taking part in the annual St Luke’s choir summer outing. Littlehampton was at that time a thriving harbour and popular destination, as seen in surviving historic photographs. The day began early with a 6am train from Victoria. After changes at Arundel and Ford, the party arrived at the seaside at 9am. The morning was spent in the sea. 12.30pm saw the group assembled for lunch and a commemorative photograph (tantalisingly lost). The rector, Henry Bevan, joined them from London at this point. In the afternoon some went rowing, some for a drive, bathed again and met for tea. The return journey commenced at 8pm with 4 boys missing. Charles Hindes, the vestry clerk, had to stay behind to locate and bring home the miscreants.
Ireland’s attachment to Sussex, the county where his fancies took on musical form, started early. He was a regular visitor to the coast (Littlehampton, Brighton, Seaford) with the choirboys of St Luke’s. In the 1920s he took a pied-à-terre in Ashington, close to where he would eventually live in Rock Mill. The place was Ivy Cottage, on the edge of the village, as seen on the map below. Still there, the cottage now stands on the busy London Road (the A24). The road just below, with the Rectory shown, is where Ireland lived in a room on Meiros Farm in the early 1950s, before buying his windmill.
This single small photograph of Ireland at St Luke’s has huge significance, given the close (and in some cases lifelong) associations of the composer with the people captured in it. This is the tenth in a series of short blogs uncovering the personalities behind the faces.
The two lads with identical hairstyles, one standing, one seated at the front, are Edward and Reginald Motley. It’s possible to identify them through census records and by judging their ages from the photograph. In the picture the older boy, Edward, is 12, his younger brother Reginald 10. Edward stands next to Ireland’s favourite chorister, Charlie Markes. The two Motleys lived in Fulham, at 69 Rostrevor Road, not that far from John Ireland in Gunter Grove.
When Ireland lived on Guernsey in 1940, his home on l’Erée Bay sat below one of the island’s most important burial mounds, Creux ès Faies.
This megalithic passage tomb and its surrounding fields have long been reputed for their fairy associations. Indeed, the site itself has always carried a ‘fairy’ name. Local folklore believed it to be the entrance to the fairy kingdom on Guernsey, from which sprites might emerge to dance on John Ireland’s other favoured spot, ‘Le Catioroc’. Soon after the composer was evacuated from the island in 1940 (exactly 100 years after the tomb had been excavated), it became part of a lookout on the west coast. Now it has resumed its former secretive peacefulness, hidden under a grassy mound.
On Holy Saturday in 1906 festal Evensong at St Luke’s, Chelsea, commenced at 6pm. One of Ireland’s choristers, Stuart Taylor, sang ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’.
Today, between Rackham and Chanctonbury. Mild and breezy.
For many years the month of December was, for John Ireland, one associated with carols and the church. On 24 December 1904, in his new role as organist and choir director at St Luke’s, Chelsea, he managed his first full choral evensong for Christmas Eve, ‘when the warmth and brightness of the large Church within must have contrasted pleasantly with the murky, misty atmosphere outside’ (St Luke’s parish magazines, 1905, p.12). To begin, the hymn ‘All my heart this night rejoices‘ was sung. The usual anthem was replaced with the carol ‘The manger throne’, and the offertory hymn was ‘It came upon the midnight clear’. After the blessing Ireland and his choir performed ‘A Virgin unspotted, the prophet foretold‘. The church was richly decorated with laurel and holly. Red tulips stood in dramatic contrast to white chrysanthemums and narcissus flowers.