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Leeds cathedral has had such a varied history! The other day I was chatting to the parents of young Master Chambers, the organist boy at the Lounge Cinema. He is an amazingly gifted child, who sings at the choir there and receives informal tuition from the Organ Master too. He is also said to have written hymns and short songs by the age of ten, like that Wolfgang Mozart. Anyway, they told me some interesting things, I decided to write a little summary of what I found out about the history of the church, and especially the choir and the organ, which has some interesting links to the history of Leeds art and artists.

I remember the old St Anne’s Church, situated on the west side of Cookridge Street facing down Park Row. It was demolished for road widening in 1903. I was there among many others in the crowd, overlooking the destruction of this much-loved old church. While it’s hard to say goodby to a building we passed by every day all our life, I have to admit it wasn’t a very special building, nor very old at the time.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Leeds was created in 1878 and in the following year, St Anne’s was elevated to Cathedral status. Eighteen-year-old Arthur Grimshaw, one of the sons of the famous Leeds painter, John Atkinson Grimshaw, was appointed as the first Organist and Master of the Choristers in 1883 and has been serving there ever since then. During these decades he has become widely regarded as ‘The Father’ of St Anne’s Cathedral music. Grimshaw was also the principal conductor of the Leeds Symphony Society from 1896 until a couple of years ago. He is also a painter and not a bad one! Very much influenced by his father’s style and choice of subject matter, Arthur Grimshaw’s paintings focus on the streets and dockland areas of Northern cities and towns: Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds and Scarborough.

Arthur E. Grimshaw, The Quayside, Newcastle upon Tyne

Arthur E. Grimshaw, The Quayside, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1895, oil on canvas, Laing Art Gallery.

He was most active between 1890-1900. Unlike his father, he has never exhibited at the Royal Academy and I know that Isabella and her London artist friends probably turn up their noses at his ‘provincial’ moon-lit landscapes and cityscapes. His work does seem to be derivative of his father’s, but it is not wholly without value. The Pre-Raffaelite obsession with precision and detailing and his father’s legacy in creating atmospheric nocturnes may now be seen old-fashioned, but they are quite wonderful. I think they are perfect paintings for the salon of a discerning but perhaps not too affluent collector up here in the North. Much as I like his works, I can see why his works will never achieve the height of popularity of those by his father twenty-thirty years ago.

He is a prolific painter, but he has been much busier in his other field of passion and profession: he composed not only a setting for Psalm 141 and other Church music, but two operettas, El Escribano and Amaranthus, in 1891 and 1892 respectively. Later in the decade he composed various songs, part-songs and melodies for string orchestra. Mr Grimshaw is indeed a born musician with impeccable taste and devotion to his instrument.
Here is a story: Ten years ago, Pope Pius X issued a decree to restore the  unaccompanied Gregorian chant to Roman Catholic public worship as the supreme model of all sacred music. Although some modern music is permitted, the decree made point to avoid the so-called ‘theatrical style’ favoured in Italy, restricted solo singing and prohibited women from forming any part of the choir. When Architect Eastwood’s splendid Arts and Crafts Gothic-style cathedral opened on in June 1904, Grimshaw was at the organ console and the choir was conducted by Austin Mahoney. By then the magificent Norman Beard organ had been built and installed according to the specification of Mr Grimshaw. Well, Grimshaw and Mahoney went against the papal decree for the occasion and Rossini’s  Petite Messe Solennelle was sung at the Pontifical High Mass, which was exactly the thing the Pope wished to uproot. It was a one-off though. After the opening, the strict limitations placed on the organ’s use returned. In fact, the instrument is shut down completely during Lent and Advent and the ‘redundant’ organist welcomed into the choir.

So this is the story of the organ at St Anne’s intertwined with the story of a truly impressive local artist. It always pleases me to find interesting intersections, overlaps and coincidences in stories about art and artists. Artists are such fascinating people! I’ve seen some paintings by him, but really want to meet Mr Grimshaw in person now.


If you want to meet Mr Grimshaw, you better hurry Lavender! Arthur Edmund Grimshaw died in the same year (1913). Following his untimely’s death at only 48, the Cathedral appointed the World’s Youngest Cathedral Organist, Henry Alban Chambers, a boy treble in the Cathedral Choir, who also was the resident organist at the Lounge Cinema Headingley.Chambers remained in post until 1931. Bernard F. Malone, a senior member of the choir, was appointed organist in succession to Chambers and would serve the cathedral in this capacity for the next 22 years.

On Monday 13th November 2006, a magnificently restored Leeds Cathedral re-opened for worship after a closure of 15 months. The four cathedral choirs now sing ten services between them each week including Choral Vespers and Mass every weekday (except Friday) alongside the two principal Sunday services. Choral Vespers are regularly broadcast from the cathedral on BBC Radio 3 and the choirs can also be heard on both BBC Radio 2 and 4.Leeds Cathedral’s free Thursday lunchtime organ recitals and choral concerts are now an important element of the City’s busy musical calendar.

The organ, built in 1904 specifically for Leeds Cathedral by Norman and Beard, had been out of use since the 1970s and was subsequently replaced by an electronic organ. Widely recognised as the one of the finest examples of Edwardian organ building, the Norman and Beard instrument has now been re-built and enlarged, as befits the restored Cathedral and the new position of the Choir at the East End. Reconstruction and restoration work undertaken by German organ builders Johannes Klais Orgelbau has been designed to preserve the English Edwardian tonal style of the original instrument. The organ was re-built in the workshops of Klais in Bonn and transported to Leeds Cathedral in June 2009 for re-instatement over a five month period. On the 16th May 2010, Benjamin Saunders gave the inaugural recital on the re-built organ, preceded by Pontifical Vespers sung by the Leeds Cathedral Boys’ Choir, Girls’ and Adult Choirs.

More about the history of the Cathedral choir: http://www.leodis.net/discovery/discovery.asp?page=20031110_356182278&topic=20031110_154781521&subsection=2007320_828273953

The Stanley &Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds has two paintings by John Atkinson Grimshaw in its permanent collection: ‘Briggate Leeds’ and the ‘Thames Moonlight’ both painted in the early 1880s. Arthur E. Grimshaw’s paintings are less frequently found in public galleries, but the recent increased popularity of his father’s paintings brought his works to the limelight too, it is not uncommon to find them at commercial galleries.