Choir’s 100th anniversary concert

St. Barbara’s Church Choir will celebrate 100 years of singing and leading worship with a concert on 22 February at 7pm at St. Barbara’s Church. The choir will sing from its extensive repertoire spanning many centuries and styles, plus instrumental music.

It was 100 years to the day that the first boys and men were admitted at a special service after evensong on 22 February 1914, not even three months after the consecration of the church in Palmerston Road.

All choristers had to be very well behaved, or payment would be reduced. An additional chore from 1924 until the move to the current building in 1931 was pumping the bellows of the organ; a lack of effort or concentration might cause temporary loss of wind and leave the organist and congregation stranded – a serious offence!

The St. Barbara’s Choir Guild, formed in 1920, did much to maintain the welfare of the choir and choristers. It organised concerts and outings and was responsible for the creation of the Coventry Church Choir’s Association whose Annual Festival Service was considered one of the most important in the country. The outings were a great attraction for the choirboys; the parish magazine of April 1935 records an interview by the organist Mr Allcott of a bashful boy named Sydney who wished to join because of a forthcoming choir outing. Happily, he could sing beautifully. A newsletter article in 1949 records a cheerful party of choirboys setting out from Coventry in heavy rain; by the time they reached their destination in Northampton the Heavenly Meteorological Office had relented and a sunny afternoon allowed boating and swimming.


Girls were admitted from 1975. However, for a while women had been allowed to sing in the auxiliary choir, which was formed in the 1920s to sing at the extra services needed to accommodate all worshippers in the small church in Palmerston Road.

The longest serving choirmaster and organist was John Viggars, who shared the post with Eric Simpson for 8 years and then served alone for another 19 years until 2007, when he took up a new post in Braunston in Northamptonshire. His record is beaten by Bert Freeman, who was a chorister for 70 years until ill health forced his retirement in 2004.

St. Barbara’s Church Choir became affiliated with the Royal Society of Church Music on 17 February 1948. Most members of the current choir receive training via the RSCM Voice for Life scheme; several have considerably improved their musical knowledge and vocal skills and achieved the bronze or silver award.

Katherine and Norman Owen took over at Easter 2007, serving as choir leader and organist, respectively. The choir grew quickly with regular numbers of about 20 expanding to over 30 for special services and occasions, of which there have been many in recent years, keeping the choir busy and in good voice.