Notes on St Illogan Music Dr Pamela E Tompsett


The earliest record of music in St Illogan (old) Church relates to 1798 when a bassoon was purchased for John Clark who sat in the west end gallery with the choir. The latter presumably lapsed as further expense was incurred in 1823 as one guinea was spent for re-establishing a choir of singers -‘their music and reeds for the bassoon being the cause of regular expense’! This was when the Rev. George Treweeke was rector.


The next mention of a choir in the records was of robes being organised in 1887 which was some years after the move to the present building in 1846.

In the 1950s the choir stalls were full, with 10 men attired in black cassocks and white surplices, whilst the 10 ladies wore white surplices and black mortar boards.

A boys, and later on a boys and girls choir, was created in the 1950-60s and they used the front pews of the church.

Choir robes were changed again in the 1970s for royal blue cassocks with white surplices and rather short gowns with white collars and cuffs as well as blue mortar board style soft hats for the ladies.

Fashions had altered by 1998 when red cassocks with white surplices for the men and long red gowns with white cords, collars and cuffs for the ladies but no hats.

choir with Royal blue robes

Royal blue robes

Red robes choir

Red robes choir

illogan chioir

St illogan Choir

Thomas Merritt

Thomas Merritt

New Choir vestry 1981

Numbers of singers have varied over the years from the earlier 20 or so to the current 14. As well as supporting the congregation in regular Sunday services and special occasions, the choir sings anthems for festivals and adds music at weddings and funerals as required. Occasional musical evenings or concerts help to raise funds for the church.

Thomas Merritt (1863-1908), the famous Cornish miner/composer of carols and oratorios is buried in the churchyard and at Christmas the choir sings a suitable carol at his grave.

A new choir vestry was created as part of the new Parish Room in 1981.

Some Principal Organists and Choir Masters or Mistresses.

Mention has been made of a bassoon in the old church but in the new church a pipe organ was the main source of music and a succession of dedicated and competent musicians has kept this tradition alive.

(1798 John Clark on bassoon) Conington (Con) Oxland 1930s, Frank Delbridge, Robert Bowden c.1956, Lawrence Goodson (boys choir c1960), Jane Napir, Paddy Bradley (Falmouth), Phyllis Letcher 1960s (boys & girls choir), Saskia Wyld 1972, Mike Semmons 1993, Andrew Negus 2010.


Inside the church, an Oak Screen divided the Chancel from the South Aisle filling the arch where the organ now is and opposite was a doorway leading into the Vestry. Originally the organ stood at the West End on a raised platform with the Choir in front of it. When the Choir and organ were moved to their present positions in the chancel, the screen was removed and the pitch-pine choir stalls installed.

The original pipe organ with tracker action, 14 stops, 1 pedal stop and two manuals, made by Bryson of London in 1875 was converted to an electric blower in 1937 and rebuilt at a cost of £310 in 1966 with hopes of a complete restoration before the end of this century.

By 2001 restoration costs had risen to £25,000 and a modern replacement Viscount Prestige I instrument costing £14,000 was duly installed in February 2004. This offers superb sound combinations and a huge range from cathedral to very quiet celeste. The tuba and reeds are exceptional. 

During its installation the orientation was reversed through 180° and the organist now faces the choir.

Viscount Prestige I

Viscount Prestige I organ details

3 manuals (keyboards)

56 speaking stops

32 note concave radiating pedal board

Under each manual there are a series of 6 thumb pistons and 12 combination thumb pistons giving an almost infinite number of sound combinations.

A selection of the 26ft Bourdon pipes from the old organ are on display in the North Aisle. (Some of the large diameter wooden tubes have a new role as nest boxes for the churchyard birds!)