English Boy Choir Costumes: Lichfield Cathedral


Figure 1.--A HBC reader has provided this image of the Lichfield Choir in their formal robes. Note the high ruffled collar.

Lichfield Cathedral is located just 27 kilometers north of Birmingham. The city and Cathedral thus lie at the heart of England. The site 1,300 years ago stood at the centre of the ancient Kingdom of Mercia. Bishop Hedda built a Cathedral here to house the bones of Saint Chad. Pilgrims have been coming here ever. Lichfield Cathedral is a masterpiece of gothic architecture. The Cathedral sponsors a school and choir. The Choir School is a member of the Royal School of Church Music, an international organization dedicated to high standards in liturgical music. The Lichfield Cathedral Choir wear very elaborate high-collared choir robes. Their traveling uniform is that of the school attached to the cathedral which includes a distincrive yellow cap and blazer. A chorister has provided us a fasconating account of his experiences.

The Cathedral

Lichfield Cathedral is located just 27 kilometers north of Birmingham. The city and Cathedral thus lie at the heart of England. The site 1,300 years ago stood at the centre of the ancient Kingdom of Mercia. Bishop Hedda built a Cathedral here to house the bones of Saint Chad. Pilgrims have been coming here ever. Today Lichfield Cathedral, at the heart of the Lichfield Diocese, is a focus for the regular worship of God, the life of a thriving community of Christians, and for the work of God in the wider world. The history of Lichfield Cathedral starts in Saxon times, when Bishop Hedda built a small church to house the bones of St. Chad. This small cathedral church was replaced by a large Norman cathedral in the 12th century and this, in turn, by the present MediŠval cathedral, in the Gothic style, begun in 1195. Much change took place during the Reformation, and it was severely damaged during the Civil War. Bishop Hacket restored the Cathedral in the 1660s, the Architect Wyatt made some changes to its ordering in the 18th century, and it was massively restored, to its MediŠval splendour, by Gilbert Scott during the 19th century. The Cathedral today shows all the signs of this long history of a Christian community serving God and the world, and moving confidently into the 21st century. Lichfield Cathedral is a masterpiece of gothic architecture. The three spires are unique to this cathedral in England. Several elements of the cathedral are worth seeing: 1) the bowing out of the pillar in the nave 2) the curvature of the building from the east to the west 3) the statues of the kings of England on the west front and 4) the gargoyles. We did a little looking around the downtown shopping precinct.

Cathedral School

A former chorister tells us that "The present school was re-founded in 1942 to educate not only the choristers but also local boys and more recently girls."

Cathedral Choir

The Choir School is a member of the Royal School of Church Music, an international organization dedicated to high standards in liturgical music. Choristers (generally between the ages of 8 and 15) are recognized for their years of service and musical achievement with a system of ribbons and medals which they earn during the course of their tenure with the choir.

Performances




Figure 2.--The choristers have two uniforms: summer and winter. The picture shows the summer uniforms. The yellow cap has a black cross of St Chad in the centre NOT the choir badge. The choristers do not wear suits but grey trousers (pants if you are American) for senior boys and grey short trousers for junior boys. The jacket is a blazer with the Lichfield crest on the breast pocket.

Costume

The Lichfield Cathedral Choir wear very elaborate high-collared choir robes. The choristers have two uniforms: summer and winter. The picture here shows the summer uniforms (figure 2). The yellow cap has a black cross of St. Chad in the centre NOT the choir badge. The choristers do not wear suits but grey trousers (pants if you are American) for senior boys and grey short trousers for junior boys. The jacket is a blazer with the Lichfield crest on the breast pocket. The winter uniform consists of caps, blazers and trousers / shorts as for summer but with grey shirts and school tie (black with numerous pairs of thin parallel yellow stripes running diagonally across).

Individual Experiences

A former Lichfield chorister has provided us with a fascinating account of his experiences.

Personal memories - cold legs in winter when wondering through the cathedral close wearing short pants! The uniform of the chorister has changed from my day: I was deputy head chorister in my final year and both the head chorister and myself had to wear these enormously heavy purple velvet robes over both the surplice and cassock. In summer they were very hot and at times, when we were singing outside the cathedral, they were unbearable. Though you did keep you warm in winter especially when the cathedral heating broke down! Nowadays, the head and deputy only wear a medallion notifying their positions in the choir.

Other memories: being away from home especially over the Christmas period when we were required to sing everyday up until Boxing Day, then we could go home and have Christmas with our families 2 days late! Singing some of my final services in the cathedral with an enormous black eye caused by a cricketing injury--not such an angelic choir boy!

Overall a great start in life: fantastic education and discipline not only from a traditional "Reading, Writing and Arithmetic" point of view but also in music (theory and practise), Latin(!) and above all learning at a very young age to look after oneself and to respect others. However, the life of a chorister is very regimented or at least it was in my day: every moment from waking to sleeping you were doing something be it singing, music practise, games, lessons, homework, eating, out-of-school clubs, etc. Looking back, some feel that perhaps it is too structured and in many cases too demanding on some of the young choristers who are sent away from home at the age of 7 or 8. But overall the pros out-weight the cons, I believe. [Towers]

Sources

Towers, Richard, e-mail message, February 6, 2003.







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Created: August 26, 2000
Last updated: September 23, 2003