Welcome to our Festival blog

We are a small congregation who organised a highly successful 'William Byrd Festival' in May 2011 to celebrate the life and work of the village's Elizabethan composer, William Byrd (c.1540 - 1623). In 2012 we played host to the world-famous choir The Cardinall's Musick under their director Andrew Carwood.

This website contains everything you need to know about William Byrd and his links with Stondon Massey. The church is open for services, of course, and on the second Sunday afternoon in the month during the summer.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Festival Mention in Magazine

William Byrd, "one of the indisputable giants of Renaissance music", is the Great Composer featured in the January 2011 edition of the Classic fm magazine published today. The article mentions the forthcoming 'William Byrd Festival' at St Peter & St Paul Church, Stondon Massey (Essex), an invitation to visit the Memorial Tablet (though please contact beforehand, because the church is usually locked), and a photograph of the small Norman church which we should emphasise is in a small village, not a town, of about 600 residents.

The William Byrd Festival is being held in support of repairs and maintenance to the church and its surroundings.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Festival Programme Announced

Having retiled the nave roof this year, more work needs to be done to St Peter & St Paul Church and its surroundings. In order to raise funds to retile the porch and create a new Garden of Remembrance in the churchyard (which will cost over £5000) members of the local congregation are organising a ‘William Byrd Festival’ next May to commemorate the village’s famous Elizabethan composer. The Festival will be held over two weekends at the church.

Leading the list of artists will be Richard Turbet, an expert in the life and work of William Byrd, and the Stondon Singers, a local Choir who since their formation in 1968 have specialised in the music of the renaissance composer and his contemporaries. Richard has chosen as his theme ‘William Byrd: His Essex Years’. The event will be given twice on Saturday 7 May: a matinee at 4.00pm and evening performance at 7.30pm.

Then on Saturday 14 May at 7.30pm, the Writtle Singers conducted by Christine Gwynn will give a concert of mainly Byrd’s music. Having heard the Writtle Singers perform an evening of words and music remembering the events of the Gunpowder Plot this will be an occasion not to miss.

Tickets for both events go on sale in early January priced £12.50 (children under 16, £6), from the William Byrd Festival, c/o Church Office, The Vicarage, Church Street, Blackmore, Ingatestone, Essex. CM4 0RN. (Cheques payable to “Stondon Massey PCC”. Please enclose SAE).

On the two Sundays, church services will also be on a Byrd theme. On 8 May at 9.00am Stondon Church will have a Book of Common Prayer Morning Service featuring recorded music by Byrd, with singing supported by the church music group, Jubilate. Then on 15 May, again at 9.00am (repeated at 11.00am at the Priory Church of St Laurence Blackmore), there will be a Service of the Top 10 Favourite Hymns, as voted by the people of our two parishes and beyond. Why? Because Byrd said that “Since singing is such a good thing, I wish every man would learne to sing”.

Writtle Singers 'Top of the Bill' as Second Weekend of Festival is Announced

We are delighted to announce that the Writtle Singers, a local chamber choir, will be giving a Concert at Stondon Massey Church on Saturday 14 May (at 7.30pm) as part of a second weekend of the forthcoming William Byrd Festival.

Writtle Singers chamber choir, conductor Christine Gwynn, has gained a reputation for high quality and innovative performances, both locally and further afield, including Cambridge, York and London’s Southbank Centre. As well as making 3 CDs and broadcasting on BBC Essex, Writtle Singers have toured abroad to Antwerp and Prague and will be performing in Zurich in April 2011. The Singers have a wide repertoire and have recently performed Byrd’s music in commemoration of ‘Gunpowder, Treason and Plot’, the failed Catholic uprising against King and Parliament in 1605. Hear them on 14th May.

A review of their recent Concert, 'Gunpowder Treason and Plot' is given here.

To hold a concert on Bonfire Night (Saturday 6 November), with the sound of fireworks clearly audible all round Writtle Church, would have ordinarily been total madness. However the juxtaposition of the Anglican and nation's celebration that the King had been saved with the intimate Catholic mass - and other works - in a place of peace with invited (though paid) guests was stunning. The noise outside added to the secrecy and urgency of worship inside. I mention worship because at many points in the programme the music crossed from musical to spiritual. When, in the Credo, the choir sang "Et resurrexit tertia die" the joy of salvation was almost tangible. Byrd's work was sung with conviction. The Agnus Dei, sung away from the stage in the chancel was a fantastic piece of theatre. The script was quite something too. "Martyrs or traitors"? I had an interesting conversation over the post concert glass of wine comparing 9/11 with 5/11.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Byrd Notes

Cardinall’s Musick under the direction of Andrew Carwood has won the Gramophone Record of the Year and Best Early Music recording for their 13th CD in the series, of Byrd’s complete works in Latin. The disc is titled 'Infelix ego' and is released on the Hyperion label.

‘Classic fm Magazine’ will be featuring William Byrd in their January 2011 edition. The magazine hits the news-stands on 2 December.

Every 21 November, in America, William Byrd is honoured (together with John Merbecke and Thomas Tallis) with a feast day in the liturgical calendar of the Episocopal Church (USA).

Readers might be interested to know that the Festival blog is attracting almost as many visitors from the United States of America as those from Britain. Why is this do you think? Please send in your comments.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Festival to welcome Byrd musicologist and well known local singers

Stondon Massey Church will be reverberating to the words and music of its local Elizabethan composer next May. Members of the local congregation are organising a William Byrd Festival in support of the fabric of the village’s ancient church and surroundings.

Leading the list of artists on the evening of Saturday 7 May will be Richard Turbet, an expert in the life and work of William Byrd, and the Stondon Singers, a local Choir who since their formation in 1968 have specialised in the music of the renaissance composer and his contemporaries.

Mr Richard Turbet is a retired librarian from the University of Aberdeen where latterly he was Special Collections Cataloguer and subject specialist for Music. Richard is a leading authority on William Byrd, having written or edited over one hundred published works about the composer and related subjects. Richard has given talks at the Byrd Festival in Portland, Oregon, and edited its tenth anniversary commemorative book. He has contributed to the Grove and to Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and is currently compiling the third edition of his book, “William Byrd. A Guide to Research”. For fifteen years Richard Turbet was a cathedral layclerk.

The Stondon Singers need no introduction other than to mention that they are one of the leading small choirs in this part of the county and St Peter & St Paul’s Church is proud to host their annual ‘William Byrd Memorial Concert’ every July around the time of the composer’s death. Their conductor is Christopher Tinker.

“There is a growing sense of excitement”, said Andrew Smith, the Chairman of the Festival Committee. “Richard will be speaking at Stondon for the first time, and has chosen as his theme ‘William Byrd: His Essex Years’. The combination of Richard Turbet’s expertise and the Stondon Singers musical ability to illustrate the talk will create a unique event and will be one of the highlights of the Festival”.

‘William Byrd: His Essex Years’ will be presented at Stondon Church on the evening of Saturday 7 May 2011.

William Byrd Festival Service

We will having a Festival Service using the traditional Book of Common Prayer liturgy on Sunday 8 May 2011. The service will be on the Byrd theme, not that the recusant Catholic composer attended his parish church all that often, if at all. Morning Prayer will be at St Peter & St Paul Church at the usual service time of 9.00am.

Monday, 16 August 2010

William Byrd Festival. Stondon Massey. May 2011

The ‘William Byrd Festival’ will take place in May 2011 at St Peter & St Paul Church, Stondon Massey, where this great Elizabethan composer was buried in 1623.

The ‘William Byrd Festival’ exists to:
- raise funds towards the upkeep of the ancient St Peter & St Paul Church, Stondon Massey (Essex), and its immediate surroundings
- raise the awareness and appreciation of William Byrd (c1539/40 – 1623), the Elizabethan composer, who died in 1623 having spent the previous 30 years as a resident of the village of Stondon Massey.

The Festival will be organised by local people and St Peter & St Paul Church PCC, the body responsible for the fabric of the building.

It is planned that the Festival will be held over one weekend in May 2011. The programme is in an embryonic stage and will be published in due course. Tickets will go on sale early in 2011.

Would you like to help with the event?

Would you like to join our mailing list and be among the first to hear what is happening?

William Byrd: Memorial in Stondon Massey Church

"To the Glory of God and in memory of WILLIAM BYRD who lived at Stondon Place in this Parish for the last thirty years of his life. He died 4 July 1623 aged eighty. This tablet was erected in 1923 in celebration of the tercentenary of his death".
The memorial is on the south wall of St Peter & St Paul Church, Stondon Massey.
(Photo by Michael Harris)

Book in Stondon History Series. 'William Byrd: Some Notes'

A 28 page booklet about the William Byrd, written from a local perspective, is available priced £2.00 + P&P (£3.00 to UK addresses) in aid of St Peter & St Paul Church, Stondon Massey.

Stondon Massey: Church Roof Appeal

Rising prices mean that the small congregation at Stondon Massey church is faced with a £5,000 shortfall following completion of essential work to retile the nave roof.

Roofing Contractors have advised that the heating oil used to fire the new tiles and the price of the imported lead has been the main reason why costs have risen since the indicative estimate given last year. More work to the roof structure also proved necessary once the old tiles were stripped off.

The Norman Grade I listed church of St Peter and St Paul has stood on the “stone hill” on the outskirts of Stondon Massey village since about 1130. It has long been associated with the Elizabethan composer, William Byrd, an ardent Catholic who lived in Stondon Massey for the last thirty years of his life, dying on 4 July 1623. Although he probably never crossed the threshold to receive an Anglican communion, inevitably his body was laid to rest in the churchyard, as requested in his last Will and Testament. Byrd’s memorial, unveiled nearly 100 years ago, is on the nave wall. We have the Edwardian Rector of the village, Revd. Reeve, to thank for his bringing to local and national recognition this great composer, who is now remembered at the annual William Byrd Memorial Concert held at the church by the Stondon Singers.

Re-roofing the nave will ensure that the small country church is watertight for generations to come. The present Rector, Revd. Toni Smith, is appealing for funds to bridge the gap.

It is our turn to remember and protect this legacy and honour those who have worshipped in this little church over many centuries, through both bad times as well as good.

£5,000 is urgently needed.

Do help if you are able, as have the many generations who have gone before us. Do come and see for yourself. The church is open for services, usually held at 9.00am Sundays, and on the 2nd Sunday in the month until September for visitors from 2.30 to 4.30pm.

Donations would be welcomed. Please send cheques payable to St Peter & St Paul Church PCC to Blackmore Vicarage, Church Street, Blackmore, Ingatestone, Essex. CM4 0RN.

Thank You.

Interview on Phoenix FM

Interview on Phoenix FM

Local church members Bruce Hopking and Jan Macintosh were interviewed by Ed Wellman of Phoenix FM ahead of the Summer Sale, which was held at St Peter & St Paul Church, Stondon Massey, on 7 August.

Bruce described the scene and the need for additional funds. “The church was built by a Norman knight, Serlo de Marci, in about 1130. It would have been thatched originally and surrounded by timber built cottages all of which were abandoned and demolished about the time of the Black Death.

“Over the many years we have had to replace the roof tiles almost annually. The fixings holding the tiles to the battens were all failing. We had got an ongoing problem of possible damp coming in.

“We had the good fortune to have a legacy which gave us the opportunity to use it as the cornerstone for our funding. We built on that with donations from three funding bodies and generous gifts from parishioners – but we are still not 100% there.

“The tiles recommended by our architect David Ferguson – keymer shires – have a handmade look and are not exactly the same one to another. The roof, whilst bright fresh and new, blends with the older roof adjoining”.

Jan, the Churchwarden, added: “It is a lovely quiet place. The fact that when you walk into church it is something to know you are following a long line of worshippers here in Stondon Massey. By keeping the church in good repair it will be standing for many, many years to come”.

For the full interview go to: http://www.phoenixfm.com/story/4006.php

Stondon Massey Church

St Peter & St Paul Church: "Nave and chancel are Early Norman. Two original windows remain on the north side and two on the south. The only later medieval addition of importance is the belfry, which is placed a little further east than the west end". (Pevsner. The Buildings of England. Essex. 1954).
(Photograph by Michael Harris)

A Living Church in an Ancient Building

To find out more about the people who go to St Peter & St Paul Church visit http://www.stlaurenceblackmore.org.uk/

Stondon Massey

The following is taken from ‘Durrant’s Handbook For Essex’ (Durrant & Co., Chelmsford, 1887).

Ston’don Massey. A. 1155; P. 261; Rectory, value £500; 3 m. S.E. from Ongar.

Literally Stone-dune Marci, the stony or gravelly hill of the Marci, or Marks, its owners in former times. The Place is a good mansion. The Church (SS. Peter and Paul), though small, is a remarkable example of a Norman church. It consists of a nave and chancel, to which a modern N. aisle and mortuary chapel with vaulted stone roof have been added. A timber framework in the W. end nave supports a tower with 3 bells and a spire. On the N. side were, until recently, two round-headed Norman loopholes, placed very high in the wall. Opposite were two similar windows, one of which, in the 16th cent., was replaced by a large square-headed 3-light (Perp.) window. In the chancel are two more loopholes like the others, not more than 2½ in. wide externally, but splayed internally to 3 ft. The S. door is a rude, plain, round-arched one, with square capitals, of Norman age, or possibly older. The rood-screen and pulpit (both perfect) are of fine 16th cent. carved oak. The E. window is poor; that at the W. is Perp., with a narrow lancet window over it, which is possibly original. The font is octagonal, with rose ornaments. There is a floor brass, with effigy and long inscription to John Sarre [Carre](1570), citizen of London ironmonger and merchant venturer, who was born in the parish ; and another to Rainold Hollingworth (1753). The Register begins in 1708.

Sacred Music TV Series: Tallis, Byrd and The Tudors

Programme three in the series 'Sacred Music' has just had its first broadcast on BBC FOUR (written 4 April 2008). Entitled 'Tallis, Byrd and The Tudors', we learned about these two Elizabethan Catholic composers who lived and worked in Essex.

Tallis worked for the Anglican Church following the dissolution of Waltham Abbey where he was organist between 1538 and 1540. He composed such pieces as 'If Ye Love Me', simply because as a musician this was the art professionally required of him at the time. The Church was the only place for his creativity.

Byrd, the younger of the two men, was quite a different character. He was a closet Catholic writing subversive liturgy for families such as the Petres at Ingatestone Hall. The present Lord Petre was interviewed at his home and viewers were shown paintings of William Petre, the first Baron and canny Tudor Secretary to the monarchs, then John, William's son and patron of Byrd. The Petre family were keen musicians and invited Byrd to Ingatestone Hall at Christmas 1585 for merrymaking and the odd secret Catholic mass. Byrd's settings of the Mass for Three, Four and Five Voices (part of the Mass for Four Voices sung by The Sixteen at Ingatestone Hall) are deliberately written for an intimate, domestic area. This is dangerous music.

The choice of Byrd's home at Stondon Massey, after the London Plague of 1592, seems to have been a deliberate hideaway from prying villagers and a walk across country to what was a hotbed of recusancy in the nearby village of Kelvedon Hatch.

Byrd is portrayed as a 'protest singer' in the composition of 'Why do I with paper, ink and pen' - a reaction to Edmund Campion's execution / martyrdom at Tyburn - and in the writing of 'How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land' (in Latin) to that Psalm 'By the Rivers of Babylon' (no don't mention Boney M please!).

These were indeed turbulent times! Repeated fines for recusancy and maybe anonymous burial at night fall in the churchyard at Stondon Massey.

Harry Christophers, director of The Sixteen who appears in the programme, told the 'Early Music Show' (BBC Radio 3, 6.4.08) how very much he enjoyed performing Byrd's intimate music at Ingatestone Hall.

William Byrd (1543 - 1623) made no bones about the fact that he was a Catholic, and had powerful friends to protect them. His family and close friends were often in trouble and even imprisoned for recusancy. He became a close friend of the Petre family at Ingatestone and, while living at Stondon Massey, embarked on the Gradualia and Masses. This music was to be sung in private Catholic chapels such as that of the Petre family.

He devoted himself to projects during the last 30 years of his life while in Essex. There are two Byrds – the private one in retreat in Essex and a more European one, linked with De Monte across in Vienna. De Monte sends ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ Byrd replies in opening text ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’, a poignant response.

The composer's body was laid to rest in Stondon Massey churchyard in July 1623. Local people re-enacted his secret burial in the closing scenes of the programme.

Andrew Smith
Written and posted on http://www.blackmorehistory.blogspot.com on 4 April 2008, the date of the first transmission of the programme ‘Tallis, Byrd and The Tudors’, and 22 December 2008, when the programme was repeated.

William Byrd: Introduction

Thomas Tallis and William Byrd were the great composers of Elizabethan England. In 1575 they were granted the exclusive right to produce printed manuscripts. Byrd, we know, lived for the last thirty years of his life at Stondon Massey. He was one-time organist at the Chapel Royal and Court Composer to the Petre family at Ingatestone Hall.

A Catholic in a very Protestant era, Byrd was an unpopular man in the parish. The Churchwardens, who had significant power in those days, presented his name before the Essex Archdeaconry courts for failing to attend church and take communion, and for failing to pay church rates. This was a compulsory local tax intended to pay towards the upkeep of the church building and to provide for the poor of the parish.

It is highly unlikely that Byrd’s work was performed in the Church of England at the time and it is only during the twentieth century that his work has been rediscovered. We know that Byrd wished to be buried at Stondon Massey, but there is no evidence since no headstone was erected – in common with the early seventeenth century – and the Parish Registers for the period, unlike Blackmore, have been lost. St Peter and St Paul’s Church has a memorial to him commemorating the tercentenary of his death: he died on 4th July 1623. It bears the inscription “The Father of Mvsic”.

Andrew Smith
First published in ‘Church Matters’, July 2004

William Byrd: The Recusant

Britain celebrates some important anniversaries this year: VE Day (1945); the death of Sir Winston Churchill (1965); the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) and, the plot by Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament (1605).

The year 1605 marked a period of continued anti-Catholism in this country, for their doctrine threatened the establishment and the Crown. Queen Elizabeth I’s, stand against the Spanish (Catholic) threat to the Crown (1588 – the “Armada”) demonstrated how wary the English were of “foreigners”. Catholics were rooted out by Churchwardens and fined heavily, for it was illegal to not attend communion in the Church of England.

One such offender was William Byrd, who lived in Stondon Massey until his death in 1623. The village churchwardens were zealous in their pursuit of Byrd through the Ecclesiastical Courts. In 1605, at (Great) Baddow, it is recorded:

“William Bird et Ellen

“For Popish Recusants. He is a gentleman of the Kings Maties Chapel, and as the minister and churchwardens do hear the said Will Bird with the assistance of one Gabriel Colford who is now in Antwerp hath been the Chief and principal seducer of John Wright son and heir of John Wright the Elder. And the said Ellen Bird as it is reported and as her servants hath confessed have appointed business on the Saboth Day for the servants of purpose to keep them from church and also done her best endeavour to seduce Thoda Pigbone her now mayd servant to draw her to popery as the mayd has confessed and believes hath drawn her mayd servant from tyme to tyme those 7 years from coming to church and the said Ellen refuseth conference, and the minister and churchwardens have not as yet spoke with the same Wm Birde because he is from home”.

Andrew Smith
First published in ‘Church Matters’, July 2005

William Byrd: Last Will

William Byrd, great composer and resident of Stondon Place, died on 4 July 1623.

In His Will he wrote:

“In the name of the most glorious and undivided Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, three distinct persons and one eternal God, Amen.

“I, William Byrd of Stondon Place in the parish of Stondon in the County of Essex, gentleman, do now in the 80 year of my age, but through the goodness of God being of good health and perfect memory, make and ordain this for my last Will and Testament.

“First: I give and bequeath my soul to God Almighty, my creator and redeemer and preserver: humbly craving His grace and mercy for the forgiveness of all my sins and offences; past, present and to come.

“And that I may live and die a true and perfect member of His holy Catholic Church without which I believe there is no salvation for me. My body to be honestly buried … in the parish of Stondon where my dwelling is: And then to be buried near unto the place where my wife liest buried, or else where as God and the time shall permit and suffer. ….

“I … ordain and dispose of the same as Followeth. First, the whole Farm [of Stondon Place] … I give … to my daughter in law Mrs Catheren Byrd for her life; upon the conditions following, viz: to pay Twenty eight pounds, fifteen shillings and fourpence yearly to mr. Anthony Lutor or his assignees for the fee farm rent. And to pay to mistress Dawtry of Doddinghurst 15 shillings yearly for the quit rent of Maleperdus freehold: Also to pay unto my son Thomas Byrde Twenty pounds yearly during his life: And to my daughter Rachel Ten pounds a year during her life. And the same payments to begin at the next usual Feasts of payment after the day of my death: …

“In witness thereof I, the said William Byrd have set my hand and seal the Fifteenth day of November in the years of the reign of our Sovereign lord James, by the grace of God King of England, France and Ireland the Twentieth and of Scotland Fifty six defender of the faith re 1622:

By me Wyllm Byrde

Sealed and delivered in the presence of Henry Hawksworth.
(Proved by Thomas Byrd and Catherine Byrd 30 October 1623)”

Andrew Smith
First published in ‘Church Matters’, July 2006

William Byrd: Revd. E. H. L. Reeve writes (in 1900) ...

Before going further, let us look a little more closely at this William Byrde. He was a remarkable man, and it is well known in musical circles as one of the great composers of his time. He was bred up to music, we are told, under Thomas Tallis, the composer of the familiar “Canon” and was appointed organist of Lincoln Cathedral probably as early as 1563, when he was only about 25 years of age. On Jan. 25th, 1569, Robert Parsons, gentleman of the Chapel Royal, was drowned at Newark-on-Trent, and on the 22nd Feb. following Byrde was sworn in his place. In London he seems rapidly to have made his way, sharing with Tallis the honorary post of organist of the Chapel Royal. Like most members of the Chapel Royal, though outwardly he conformed, he appears to have remained throughout his life a papist at heart. It was probably on account of his religion that he lived all his life some way out of London where he would be less likely to attract attention. His name occurs as living at Harlington, near Uxbridge, in 1581, and again in another entry he is described as “a friend and abettor of those beyond the seas”, and as living at Draighton.

In 1585 Tallis died, and the patent granted to the pair (for publishing certain music) became Byrde’s monopoly. His first important work was published in 1588, and is entitled “Psalmes, Sonets and Songs of Sadnes and Pietie, made into musicke of five parts”. He was a voluminous writer, and some have ventured to claim for him the composition of the first English madrigal.

The association of Bryde with Tallis is happily perpetuated in the complimentary poem prefixed to their “cantiones sacrae”.
“Tallisius mango dignus honore senex.
Et Birdus tantum natus decorare magistrum,”
which perhaps might be translated –
“The old man Tallis, worthy endless fame;
Bird, born to add fresh lustre to his master’s name”.

We can judge for ourselves the personal appearance of the talented gentleman, who for some five and twenty years made a home in our village. His reputation as a musician served no doubt in a large degree to shelter him. A very stringent regulation was passed by parliament in 1593, entitled “An Act to retain her Majesty’s subjects in their due obedience,” by which means an obstinate and prolonged refusal to attend public worship as now reformed was made a capital felony, and this was embodied by James I in the Canons of 1604. Now from the year 1605 until 1612, and probably later, it was regularly recorded that the Byrde family were “papistical recusants”; and Mrs Byrde in particular, if the reports of the minister and churchwardens are to be believed, seems to have been very zealous in making converts. Byrde himself was frequently presented for popish practices before the archidiaconal court of Essex, and is said to have actually been excommunicated from 1598 onwards! Yet he was all this while actively engaged in performing his duties in the Chapel Royal, and was present there at the coronation of James I.

Byrde lived on at Stondon for some time longer. He made his will as an old man of 80, in 1623, leaving the place to his daughter-in-law Catherine Bryde (wife of his eldest son Christopher), and after her to her son, Thomas Byrde and his heirs. The estate at that time appears to have been under certain liabilities, for he mentions Anthony Luther of Kelvedon, as one to whom “the fee-farm rent” is to be paid. He died, probably at Stondon, on July 4th 1623. His death is recorded in the “Chapel Royal Cheque Book” as that of a “father of musicke”, a title which however may refer as much to his age as to the veneration in which he is held by his contemporaries. He desired to be buried where he should die, and trusted that this might be “at Stondon, where my dwelling is”, and that he might be laid near the place where his wife (Ellen) was buried. In a future chapter on the Parish Registers I shall have occasion to refer again to the lamentable fact that all records have perished prior to 1708, so that we have no parochial notice whatever of the celebrities of whom I have been writing. Very possibly the fact of the family having been persistent papists may have militated against any memorial being raised to the great composer in the church or churchyard.

In the Lay-subsidy lists of 1624, Mrs Catherine Byrde appears as taxed for the lands in Stondon and so again in 1628. At this latter date she was styled a Recusant, showing that, like her father-in-law and his family, she still adhered to the Romish faith.

A closer perusal of the State papers makes it clear that the Bryde family continued owners of Stondon Place from their purchase of it in 1610, to the year 1651.

Andrew Smith
First published in ‘Church Matters’, July 2007

William Byrd: Tercentenary

This year (2008) marks the 150th anniversary of Edward Henry Lisle Reeve’s birth at Stondon Massey. He succeeded his father as Rector of the Parish in 1893 taking a particular interest in history and the life of William Byrd. It was his enthusiasm that led, following visits from gentlemen organising the Tercentenary Celebrations of Byrd’s death, to the placing of a memorial on the south side of St Peter & St Paul Church.

The unveiling of the memorial was marked by a Service on 12th March 1924, attended by twenty men and boys of the Chapel Royal who sang a selection of Byrd’s work. The officiating preacher was Dr Gary Warman, the Bishop of Chelmsford, who unveiled the memorial. “Things were so arranged that the Bishop could easily manipulate the light cord from the pulpit”, Reeve wrote.

The Essex Chronicle reported: “Considerable local and general interest was taken in the historic event [on Wednesday] and the church was filled some time before the service started. An imposing touch of colour was provided by the long scarlet and gold-braided coats of the boy choristers, with the white laced ruffs as were used in Byrd’s time”.

“The service took the form of evensong, with sung responses by Byrd. Psalm 84, ‘O how amiable are Thy dwellings’. In the place of the Magnificat, Byrd’s anthem, ‘O praise the Lord, ye saints above’ was finely rendered. For the Nunc Dimittus, the anthem ‘Come to us we beseech Thee’ (Byrd) was substituted. After the third collect ‘Justorum Animae’ (Byrd) was sung, followed at the close by the hymn ‘For all the saints”, sung to the tune by Vaughan Williams. Practically all the singing was unaccompanied. The choir, led by Mr Stanley Roper, gave faultless renderings”.

At the time of the Byrd Celebration the organisers of the London events very kindly secured for the Vestry of Stondon Church a photograph expressly taken from the original Will of the great composer.

Above: William Byrd’s signature on his Will.
Top: Booklet for sale in aid of church funds.

Andrew Smith
First published in ‘Church Matters’, July 2008

William Byrd and the Petre Family of Ingatestone Hall

William Byrd, Elizabethan composer, and Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in London, moved to Stondon Massey in 1593 where he stayed for the reminder of his life. It is thought that William Byrd moved to Stondon in order to be near the Petre family of Ingatestone Hall, his Patron.

William Petre, who had overseen the dissolution of Waltham Abbey and other monasteries, purchased Ingatestone Hall in 1540. The family, who were also Catholics, held William Byrd in great esteem and we know that, from 1586 at least, the composer was a frequent visitor to Thorndon Hall (near Brentwood), the Petre’s principal seat, and Ingatestone Hall. Byrd’s association with the Petre family stretched back at least to October 1581 when he wrote a personal letter to William Petre regarding a Mrs Dorothy Tempest whose husband had been attained for taking part in the Northern Catholic Rebellion of 1570.

On 26th December 1589, John Petre sent his servant to London to escort Byrd to Ingatestone Hall, where he stayed through the Christmas season of 1589/90 until 8th January. Lord Petre possessed a virginal, lute and viol; musical instruments commonly used during Elizabethan times, and just before Christmas that year had bought an expensive instrument from a Mr Bough (costing £50) which could have been an organ or finely decorated virginal. We know that on Byrd’s departure the steward paid £3 to five musicians from London for playing at concerts during Christmas-time.

Byrd attached William Petre’s name to his tenth Pavan and Galliard in Lady Nevill’s book composed in 1591.

Byrd certainly wrote much music while living at Stondon Massey. He composed masses, services, madrigals, songs and pieces for the organ, the virginal and the orchestra. His greatest works are perhaps the three Masses, for three, four and five voices, written in Latin for illegal performance in the Petre household. The Council of Trent in 1563 had practically outlawed the Latin rite in the Church. The title page of the printed version is blank and the work was not published when composed in the 1590s.

William Byrd later dedicated his second book of Gradualia (1607), a cycle of forty-six vocal pieces, to his Patron, John, 1st Lord Petre of Writtle.

At a time when Catholicism was virtually illegal, William Byrd was, to some extent, protected by the influential Petre family. His ability to compose had won the respect of this family as well as Queen Elizabeth I (and later James I). This proves that it is not only what you know but who you know.

Andrew Smith
First published in ‘Church Matters’, July 2009

Update: The present Lord Petre is coming to the 4pm performance of 'William Byrd: His Essex Years' on 7 May.

William Byrd's Library

William Byrd, the Elizabethan composer, lived at Stondon Massey for the last thirty years of his life, dying in 1623. He was a Catholic but avoided the severest penalties because of his association with the Chapel Royal and Queen Elizabeth I (who loved his music) and James I. Recently evidence has come to light which provides an insight into this composer’s life as well as his music.

Two leading Byrd scholars, Kerry McCarthy and John Harley, have announced in the Musical Times (Winter 2009) the discovery of ten books containing Byrd's signature which had hitherto eluded nearly all other scholars. These books are in libraries spread across the United Kingdom and the United States of America but the authors have inspected each one and confirmed the identifications of the signatures to be genuine.

It is thought that Byrd may have collected books because of his association with the publishing trade. Alongside Thomas Tallis, the Queen granted him exclusive right to publish music.

The discovery of these books is important because, like any personal library, they reflect the tastes of the owner. Nine books are about religion, but more accurately the politics surrounding the Catholic and Protestant situation of the time, taking the Protestant side of the argument. One, ‘The unmasking of the politike athiest’, published in 1602, is a violent attack on the Roman Catholic religion by J. Hull. He condemns musical and liturgical practices of English Catholics, describing the ‘Ave maris stella’ (Hail Virgin Mary) as blasphemous and denounced the use of organs and other instruments of the church. ‘Superstitious’ holidays such as Candlemas, All Saints and Corpus Christi did not escape Hull’s tirade. What is curious is that Byrd should own such a book which was against everything he held dear. We know that Byrd composed many settings for such festive occasions. The authors suggest that Byrd was wily in his choice of books on public display and attempted to deceive those who browsed his bookshelves or those who were instructed, as in May 1585, ‘too send for byrd of the chappell and that his howse be diligentlye searchyd’.

The tenth book is one typical of the age. It is a sixteenth century travel guide covering everything from what to see, eat, wear and observe as customs “so that the traveller after his rangings and peregrinations shall retire himself a man of skill”. The book was dedicated to the great explorer Francis Drake. Byrd though was an armchair traveller believed to have never left these shores, unlike his brother John who was a London merchant and shipowner who frequently exported wheat to Spain and traded as far afield as West Africa and Brazil.

These fresh insights reveal that history is not a dead subject. Our modern age with its worldwide web is adding to the stories of our forbears. It’s a great time to be a local historian!

Andrew Smith
First published in ‘Church Matters’, July 2010