Croydon’s musical marathon to save the minster organ

By - Friday 24th June, 2016

Thirty straight hours. 500 hymns. Croydon Minster’s fundraising ‘hymnathon’ isn’t for wimps. Liz Sheppard-Jones explains why she’s taking part

Photo by Croydon Minster, used with permission.

From 2008 until 2015, I worked at Croydon Visitor Centre. All day every day, people asked us questions and Croydon became my Mastermind specialist subject.

Doing the job, I was struck again and again by how much we Croydonians don’t seem to know about our own town: our centuries of history, our beautiful buildings, our numerous links with famous people and events. It’s often the way: when you live on top of something, you either take it for granted or you overlook it, and the barrage of negativity we’ve faced for so long has persuaded too many of us that our town is a complete [insert here any one of a selection of terms of vilification: working at the Visitor Centre, I heard them all].

Time and time again I would mention Croydon’s historic minster church in Waddon to someone and find they’d never been there. If that’s you, it’s well worth a visit. It was rebuilt in the English Gothic style after the original Saxon building was destroyed by fire in 1867, but its ancient graveyard remains and six former archbishops of Canterbury are buried in it: Edmund Grindal, Gilbert Sheldon, William Wake, John Potter, Tom Herring, and of course, none other than Croydon’s main man: John Whitgift. An Anglo Saxon will made in the year 960 is recorded as being witnessed by ‘Elfsies, priest of Croydon’, and the church is mentioned in the Domesday Book.

In the summer of 2015 the minster resounded to the Alternative Dubstep Orchestra

Okay, so forty years ago someone saw fit to run a dual carriageway right in front of the place and the reek of car exhaust in the front porch is just “so f**king Croydon“, to quote the late David Bowie. But it still has a quiet green garden alongside, and these days there are the wonderful wooden wildlife sculptures of Ian Murray to admire.

The minster also has a lovely four-line manual organ, built by the celebrated nineteenth century organ builder William Hill. It’s now in serious need of remedial work. Which is how the hymnathon came about.

Music at the minster is a rich part of Croydon life and over seventy singers are involved in its four choirs. The Choir of Men and Boys, the Girls’ Choir, the Choral Scholars and Lay Clerks sing four choral services each week, give regular concerts and have toured, broadcast and recorded. For me, the many works performed there are things of beauty to rejoice in whatever your religious interests, and whether or not you have any. If you’ve never attended a concert or even a choral evensong, I’d encourage you to do so.

It’s not all about church music, either. The minster’s acoustic makes it a great venue for concerts and gigs of all kinds and in the summer of 2015 its soaring arches reverberated to the sound of the Alternative Dubstep Orchestra. I hope events like this happen more often so that the building can be used and appreciated by all the communities of Croydon.

500 hymns to be covered and keep right on ’til morning

The struggling organ jeopardises the minster’s music, so there’s a fundraising campaign for repairs and the seriously ambitious hymnathon is part of it. From 2:00pm on Friday 1st July through until the evening of Saturday 2nd July, there’ll be thirty straight hours of singing as they burn through the English Hymnal: that’s 500 hymns to be covered and keep right on ’til morning.

I’ll be taking part in the wee small hours. Having been brought up singing hymns, they have a hold over me that’s hard to put into words, inspiring nameless grief and making a kind of magic. The idea of singing them through the stillness of the night in the minster’s shadows is irresistible. Then a group of us from Croydon Bach Choir will do a daytime stint together, and go along for the event’s grand finale at 7:00pm on Saturday.

And of course, it’s all about fund-raising, so here’s how it will work:

  • If you want to sing,
  • Donate £5 simply by texting HYMN99 £5 to 70070
  • Pick up a sponsorship form from the minster, or…
  • …ask your sponsors to make their donations here on the Just Giving website. Sponsors, please add a personal message so that singers know who supported them
  • Buy a hymn for £50. If you do, you’ll be given a specially printed version of your chosen hymn
  • Vote for your favourite hymn. This costs £5 and the ten most popular hymns will be sung at the finale
  • Business sponsorship packages are available, allowing companies to advertise to around 1000 visitors over the thirty hours of singing. For more information call 07979 191246

I think that it’s going to be an amazing event. I hope that it raises shedloads of money for the organ fund and that as many Croydonians as possible will get behind it. I would also really appreciate it if anyone would like to sponsor me: please click here and leave me a message! Thank you very much.

Croydon minster’s hymnathon begins at 2:00pm on Friday 1st July and ends with the grand finale at 7:00pm on Saturday 2nd July. Refreshments will be vital, and they will be available. 

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Rosie E

    Just checked the top ten hymns results so far- startlingly at the moment Jerusalem is winning, followed by Abide With me.. then the Wild card ‘other’ category…. ;o)

    • lizsheppardjourno

      Here’s hoping for ‘wild card other’ as I have a couple of votes in.

      ALL the versions of St Patrick’s Breastplate on You Tube are rubbish and feeble efforts from a half empty pew when actually it’s incredibly dramatic and needs to be sung by massed choirs on a cliff top in a storm (I shall suggest this to Croydon Bach :) ).

      See you on Sat x


    See you there around midnight. Can we just turn up and pay?

    • lizsheppardjourno

      Hey G :) I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to just contribute on the spot. Two people have sponsored me by just giving me cash so there’ll need to be a collecting tin somewhere.

      So cool to have somebody else on the night shift – see you on Friday, L x