Lewes, the county town of East Sussex and home of Sussex Harmony boasts a wealth of churches and non-conformist chapels. So, it was appropriate that the Quire chose to raise the rafters to small but enthusiastic audiences in five of them to celebrate a reign of thirty glorious years. Seventeen singers representing past and present quire members and four instrumentalists, including our indefatigable music director, Rachel Jordan, made a start at St Anne’s.  This is a Norman Grade One listed church on the Winchester to Salisbury to Canterbury pilgrim trail.  An attraction is the 13th century anchorite’s cell where a female recluse with her cat lived thanks to a bequest from the Bishop of Chichester.

We started with our “faves from the grave” in the form of Pentonville and Leicester, a funeral hymn by William Tans’ur 1706 -83 that is unique to Sussex and unseasonably with a version of While Shepherds.” Two founder members of the quire – Edwin McAdam and Milly Murphy – plus three who had been at the first practice of Sussex Harmony led the rest of us down to hill to the late 17th century Westgate Chapel. 

Lewes had been a hot bed of anti- monarchist and republican sympathies fueled further by Thomas Paine, the political theorist who was early worshipper at the chapel.  Paine played a part in the 1774 American Revolution, so we included in our programme two Shape Note numbers from America – Africa and Washington, by William Billings of Boston.  Billings, a tanner and itinerant singing teacher, from Boston produced the first American book of psalms. Since Thomas Paine had sailed to America in a ship captained by the uncle of a very competent and prolific Sussex composer, Nathaniel Cooke 1773 – 1827, it was also appropriate to include in our programme his music including a glorious Canon no. 1. Born in Bosham, near to Chichester, his canons stand comparison with the music of Thomas Tallis and other composers of polyphony which he must have heard in the cathedral.

Stop number three was St Michael’s church where Thomas Paine married his second wife, his landlord’s daughter.  Now very much an Anglo- Catholic establishment, we decided to concentrate on a Lewes composer, the mid- 19th century surveyor and cartographer William Figg. Old Portslade with its block chords was more appropriate than his anti- French anthem This little Island shall be free which for some inexplicable reason has not been taken up as a Brexit anthem.  We finished the morning’s concerts with Grant us thy peace to William Seal’ s rip roaring tune that most of you will know to Shepherds Arise.

A trip to Lewes would not be complete without lunch in a Harveys pub, so refreshed we went on our way to the Quaker Friends Meeting House, erected in 1784. Although their services do not include music, we had a puzzled but nevertheless enthusiastic audience for a varied programme including Cooke’s Canon no 1 as well as some American shape note music. When its gallery at the west end is restored, we would dearly like to go back to introduce them to the music that was performed in other Lewes places of worship.

Finally, to St Thomas in the Cliffe.  Now an example of Victorian “restoration” which included the demolition of its west gallery the church date back to the 12th century.  It looks a lot better when decorated with hop bines and huge bags of malt for the brewery’s harvest festival service in October when we will once again be providing the music.  But this time, it included Psalms 42 and 43 by Thomas Clarke, wrapping up our day with a very emotional performance of Grant us thy peace before we adjourned totally worn out but happy to another Harveys pub.