History of the Society

Our journey from the thirties

The beginnings 

John(43)75I am John Webber, a former Chair of the Society, and these are my recollections. The London Society of Organists was established in 1930 and the present Society was its South Eastern Branch. From 1961 the Branch became the Southwark and South London Society, with Harold Dexter (then Director of Music at Southwark Cathedral) as the first Chairman; the Vice Chairman was Malcolm Hubble. In those days the Committee met at Henry Willis’s home, The White House in Palace Road, Tulse Hill. Ever since its beginnings, meetings of the Society have been held for the benefit of organists who are interested in organ music. These events usually take place in our own area, but sometimes much further a field. The Society is ecumenical and meetings take place in churches of all denominations; occasionally visits have been to schools and even stately homes, such as Blenheim Palace.

Southwark Cathedral 

Southwark Cathedral has often been used as a venue, and the Society has had a long association with various Directors of Music there. In June 2005, to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of the ever-young E. H. (John) Warrell, who left Southwark in 1976, the Society and the Dean, the Very Reverend Colin Slee, arranged a weekend of musical events involving Mr Warrell and his two successors, Dr Harry Bramma (1976-1989) and the present Director, Peter Wright. Harry, who has been a guiding light behind the present recording, went on to become the Director of the Royal School of Church Music, then based at Addington Palace, near Croydon, and also All Saints’, Margaret Street, in London’s West End.

A typical annual format for the Society in recent years: a February visit to about three churches in an area in or near South London (Beckenham, Greenwich and Clapham); an Annual General Meeting at a venue where the organ is demonstrated and then tried out by many of those present; a summer visit out of the area. We have now begun to venture into France (Calais, Boulogne, St Omer) and Belgium (especially Ypres). Staying in this country, we have had summer jaunts to Winchester, Purbeck and Laycock (in Wiltshire); an early autumn meeting locally. Sometimes this is an all-day educational or training event, with a theme such as ‘improvisation’ or ‘liturgical accompaniment’, with invited experts such as Anne Marsden Thomas and Martin Baker. Young people have had a chance to demonstrate their skills, as in 2004 at St Barnabas, Dulwich. Finally, there’s an annual meal, often in central London.

Distinguished members

Some of our members have given a lot of their energy to the Society and gone on to lead distinguished careers: Peter Barley has been Director of Music of St Marylebone Parish Church and, since 2002, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. Carleton Etherington became sub-organist at Leeds Parish Church and, since 1996, has been organist of Tewkesbury Abbey. Other long-standing and much-loved members have included Arthur Arnold, Harry Coles, Donald Eggleton, George Fill, John Goode, Gerald Gostling, Raymond Gray, Ray Luckett, Arthur Newell, George Nullis, Charles Poupart and Bill Wilson. Recently deceased and distinguished members include E. H. Warrell, who joined in 1930, and Malcolm Hubble (1946).

The wider family

The Southwark and South London Society is one of many such groups affiliated to the Incorporated Association of Organists. The membership currently stands at about seventy-five.

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 Former Chairs of the Society

  • Graham Powell
  • John Webber
  • John King
  • Steve Robson
  • Paul Gobey
  • Recd. Cynthia Finnerty
  • Harry Bramma