A Musical Memory (or two)

As a schoolboy in the early 1940s, I attended a school in Wolverton, a railway town in Buckinghamshire and now part of Milton Keynes. The headmaster was a bluff, no nonsense Yorkshireman named Mr Herbert Lunn.

Mr Lunn was an all-rounder in the sense that he could teach almost every subject, apart from languages and frequently filled gaps when other teaching staff were absent. His greatest affection was for music and he ran the school choir for many years, selecting youngsters after ‘auditioning’ them for tonal quality and their ability to listen, learn and commit to memory chosen pieces(of music). Mr Lunn was a great fan of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and he could spout long passages from The Song Of Hiawatha during an English Literature classs; to this very day those memorable opening lines – ‘By the shores of Gitchee Gumee, of the shining Big Sea Water …’ still make me cringe!

Singing in the choir

Mr Lunn had a fine tenor voice and he led the local, Anglican, St George’s church choir in Wolverton. Herbert Lunn was a member of a Masonic Lodge so it’s a safe bet that he would have been the leader of music during some of their ceremonial occasions. As one of Mr Lunn’s school choir, I was taken along to a couple of eisteddfods at which we were adjudicated, together with other contestants. I know that over the years, the school choir managed to win several prize cups for our well-drilled performances. An especial favourite was ‘Linden Lea’ although Mr Lunn also enjoyed teaching us sea shanties.

On one such occasion, the set-piece was NON NOBIS DOMINE, psalm 113b (Not Unto Us O Lord) which all the choirs had to perform. When we arrived on the stage at the Guildhall, Northampton, we were astonished to read those very words, in large lettering, around the walls of the Great Hall, although it turned out to be sheer co-incidence of course.

A strict disciplinarian

Mr Lunn was a short individual, with piercing blue eyes behind thick lenses, a tight mouth and was a strict disciplinarian to match. He always appeared in school dressed in either a forest green tweed, three piece suit, or a similar outfit in a brown tweed. He had a strange gait, leaning forwards as he strode along. During one of the ‘bus rides to Buckingham Town Hall for a competition, I sat next to Mr Lunn and cheekily asked him why he walked as if he was battling a strong wind. He replied with words to the effect – “My boy, if YOU had grown up in the hilly part of Yorkshire where I come from, you too would walk the same way that I do !” . Woe betide any miscreant who was sent to “… see Mr Lunn …” since he knew how to swish a sharp ruler across the knuckles at the same time as delivering a few, well-chosen words(or so I was told by more than one of the lads). To be fair to our Headmaster, he never found fault with those boys who absented themselves to attend Mass on the various Holy Days of Obligation before going to school. In those times, there were rather more such occasions and the Smythe lads were altar servers at the Church of St Francis de Sales. RC’s did not take part in the daily school assemblies, always conducted by the Headmaster, complete with hymns, readings and prayers.

What did I learn?

So what did I learn from Mr Lunn? Well certainly a life-long love of music and the sheer enjoyment of singing in a choir which I still do at the age of 83, with Cantare Singers, here in Northampton. Way back in the late 1950s and early ‘60’s, I sang in the Cathedral Church of St Thomas of Canterbury & Our Lady Immaculate, mostly using the Gregorian chants and Latin motets. CANTARE translates as ‘I can not, not sing’ so this is rather appropriate in my case … thank you Herbert Lunn for my musical memories!
Northampton UK

Comments about this page

  • My late father, Ron Stephens, would have agreed with you. He spoke very fondly of Mr Lunn. He also sang in the choir in about 1930/31 and I have two photos from about this time.. One shows them triumphantly displaying a large shield. Under the photo is written – Wolverton Boys Choir, 1930, Winners of Northampton and District Challenge Shield. The other smaller photo, again from this time has the names of all the choir members written on the back. There is a Tom Sear on the back row – any relation?

    By Wendy Harvey (02/01/2018)

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