Music and Vision homepage



Grayston Burgess looks back to Canterbury and Cornwall

I was brought up by my grandparents in the back streets of Canterbury under the watchful eye of the Cathedral's Bell Harry Tower, my father having died of the then dreaded TB when my brother was four and I was only two. My mother, who inherited nothing but debts from my father's Music Shop, then ran the gift shop attached to the original Court's department store in Burgate Street. The great Alfred Deller worked as an assistant in the fabrics department of Court's at the same time - a fact not many people will know! To make both ends meet my mother sang in concerts around Kent until Burgate Street was flattened by bombing at the beginning of the war. My brother was already a cathedral chorister. When it was decided to evacuate the Choir School alongside the King's School, Junior King's School and St Edmund's, I joined it at the tender age of eight and we all found ourselves, my mother included, suddenly transported to Cornwall.

By an amazing act of courage and duty the remnants of the Cathedral Choir, led by the day-boys who remained behind, were directed by Joseph Poole (later Provost of Coventry, and a fine musician) and, aided by Mr Harvey, the assistant organist, carried on the daily services throughout the entire war in the crypt, prevented only once when a bomb demolished the Cathedral Library and blew out most of the crypt windows! I remember going back to visit my grandparents during holiday times only to spend most nights in the nearest air raid shelter during the 'red alerts' as German bombers made their way to London and back, occasionally unloading their lethal cargoes on us! At the same time I helped out in the choir and so got to know the day-boys well. As a small boy I watched the dog-fights and V1 'doodlebugs' lighting up the sky through the entrance to the shelter. My grandfather, a veteran of the front line in the first World War, 'commanded' the street, making certain everyone was safe and giving a running commentary on the events above, from outside, arms akimbo, defying the enemy! He came through both world wars without a scratch - a hero indeed!

The Choir School, under the watchful and resourceful eye of the Headmaster, the Rev Clive Pare (who also sang alto) and the Organist, Dr Gerald Knight (who also sang tenor), was housed in the Carne Hotel at St Blazey; the King's School and the other schools were boarded at the Carlyon Bay and the Bayfordbury Hotels on the coast nearby. By chance, Gerald had been brought up in the next village to St Blazey, where his mother still lived at that time, and I suspect it was through his local knowledge and organising skills that the whole campaign of re-allocation of the Canterbury schools so swiftly and expertly carried out. The name Carne Hotel was perhaps an overstatement of its importance, since it was in fact a shop-cum-bakery owned and run by a Mr and Mrs Inkerman Carne, an enormously buxom and loveable Cornish lady and her tiny bald-headed husband, with about fourteen rooms above the shop into which we 24 boys, Clive Pare, the matron and the cook, managed to squeeze. The erstwhile 'Tea Rooms' now doubled (or trebled) as dining room, practice-room, and general games-room. Being short of time and space for practising the piano and other instruments, it was not uncommon for us to line up for meals to the tune of some simple Adam Carse piece being learnt by some unfortunate probationer. Not infrequently we joined in by singing the tune at the same time as his practice, and woe betide him when he got it wrong!

<< Music & Vision homepage                       Continue reading this article >>

 Copyright © Grayston Burgess 1999