Warwick's West Gallery Quire

William Beasley
of Brinklow, Warwickshire






A Key to a Mystery

As published in the Autumn edition
West Gallery, The Newsletter of the West Gallery Music Association
September 2016. 


Sometime shortly into this millennium, having started a quire in Warwick, I set out to track down music by Joseph Key, who of course is a composer with Warwickshire connections, having lived in Nuneaton for the latter part of his life and been buried there in St Nicholas’ Churchyard on 20 September 1784.[i]  On the way to Nuneaton public library[ii] I contacted Warwick County Record Office who suggested that as Immanuel’s Ground Quire practised just over the road from their premises I should look in and see what they held by way of music.  There I found four fairly typical old books of choir music, [iii] roughly quarto size, which had obviously seen a good deal of use.  In two of them there was indeed music by Joseph Key.  His first book, both first and second editions,[iv] were present in some shape or form, but pages were missing and several of the other individually printed books included in the binding of the choir books had had their front and end pages removed.  This led to a certain amount of inspired guesswork as to what had been lost, and in at least one case what the book actually was.

Two of the choir books contained both printed and manuscript music, and thus, forsaking my search for Key, I started browsing through the manuscript sections where I found the usual collection of anthems and psalms.  However, one of these choir books[v] also included a piece entitled A Hymn on the Gunpowder Plot by Mr Dodderidge, a three-part hymn with a short closing symphony and interesting harmonies and ornamentation, worthy of copying then and there.  The first two couplets are:

Salvation doth to God belong,
      His power and Grace shall be our song

His hand hath dealt a secret blow

      And terror strikes the haughty Foe.

When transcribed and sung by Immanuel’s Ground, this piece quickly became one of our favourites – so much so that it is included in our choice of music for the ‘Gold Book’ Let Our Joys Be Known, published by WGMA in 2010, and we have been claiming it as one of our discoveries ever since.

In the same choir book, the manuscript additions[vi] follow John Geary’s Fifteen Anthems, a Carol, and several Hymns for Certain Days, printed and sold by the Author at Caldecote, near Nuneaton, [1781].  The carol in the title of Geary’s book turns out to be that known in the Oxford area as The Baldon Carol, it having been found (without the ornamentation in the printed version) in a manuscript from Marsh Baldon, Oxfordshire, and named as such by Dave Townsend.  The first part of the choir book is Capel Bond’s Six Anthems in Score…’ 5th Edition.  [n.d. - First Ed. 1769.]

The choir book in question is inscribed twice on the inside front cover in small writing ‘Jonathan Sodin’, which is repeated again in bolder handwriting on the front cover of Capel Bond’s book, followed by the date May 25th 1785.  The latter inscription has been partly eradicated by smearing ink over it, and is replaced by another on the inside front cover, stating ‘This Book for the Use of Harboro’ Church April 3rd 1815’.  Two further choir books in this collection bear this statement, to which has been added ‘At the expense of the Parish’.

Another book bound into one of these choir books is Parochial Harmony by John Alcock Jr., which was published in 1777: the title page describes the collection as ‘Expressly Composed for the use of Country Choirs, By J. Alcock, Junr.  Batchelor in Music and Organist of Walsall’.

Jonathan Sodin (or Soden - he preferring the former) was included in the Lists of Subscribers for both the publications by John Geary and John Alcock; fortunately these lists had not been removed by whosoever bound the choir books together.  Sodin is recorded on John Alcock’s list as living in Comb-Fields, Warwickshire; Soden as well as William Wakelin are recorded as living within the same parish by John Geary.  Alcock lists John Bird and William Watts Sodin[vii] as well as Jonathan Sodin living in Comb-Fields, with William Adler, George Bayliss, Samuel Colledge, William Goodman, Jnr. and John Jones, all living in Brinklow and purchasers of single copies of their respective books.  William Beasly, Char. Bird, and J. Sodin of Combfields are also listed elsewhere as subscribers.[viii]

Combe Fields, about 5 miles east of Coventry, was originally the parish of Smite and later extraparochial; it is now a civil parish containing no village.  Smite church, together with its chapel of Brinklow, was given to Kenilworth Priory, and at the dissolution of the priory the church was allowed to decay, finally being incorporated into the house now known as Peter Hall.[ix]  The former Combe Abbey gives its name to the area; the parish is just over 4,300 acres and what used to be a Cistercian abbey has, over the years since the Dissolution, become the Coombe Abbey Hotel and Leisure Park.  Doubtless the abbey’s lands were a great deal larger before the Dissolution.

An important point in the context of ecclesiastical administration is that, for a time, records of Combe Fields fall under Brinklow, this being the immediately adjoining parish to the east.  Jonathan Sodin is recorded in the St John’s Church, Brinklow, parish registers as being baptised there on 16th May 1741, and marrying Sarah Bird on 30th January 1766.  Sarah is possibly the daughter of the John Bird who is recorded as one of the subscribers, and who also was a fairly close neighbour of the Sodin family in Combe Fields.  Between 1766 and 1781 Jonathan and Sarah had 11 children, 6 boys and 5 girls, all of whom were christened in the parish church of St John the Baptist at Brinklow.  Their first-born, Jonathan, died and the second child was named after him

Jonathan Sodin ‘of Combe Fields’ was buried in St John’s churchyard on 7 July 1799, and an inventory of tombstones and memorial inscriptions made by the Brinklow Women’s Institute shows that his tombstone stood against the south wall of the church to the west of the transept.[x]  An inspection in 2015, however, showed it to be missing.  A number of tombstones which seemed once to have stood against the church wall were found lying face down on the steep-sided part of the churchyard grass, presumably to prevent damage from mowing.  Without raising them individually, there is no knowing whom they commemorate.

Jonathan dated his choir book May 25th 1785, when he would have been 44 years of age, and just before his son William’s apprenticeship to a carpenter in Coventry.  With his close involvement with the church at Brinklow (he is to be found several times as a witness to marriages), and the number of other men who had purchased similar music at about the same time, there is every reason to suppose that the church had a strong quire.  Indeed, it is said locally that there was a west gallery accessed from the tower staircase, and there appear to be positions at the west end against the tower where this might have been fixed.  No written record of this gallery, however, has so far been found.  Sadly this must have all come to an end in too short a time, as Jonathan died in 1799 and his son, also Jonathan and to whom these books may have passed, was buried in Coventry on 8 August 1811.  By 1815 the choir books had been transferred to the nearby parish eastwards of Harborough Magna, purchased ‘at the expense of the parish’.

Backtracking to the Hymn on the Gunpowder Plot, Mr Dodderidge is obviously Philip Doddridge who reopened a Dissenting Academy originally started by John Jennings, and attended by him in the 1720s. After persuasion to do so by Isaac Watts,[xi] Doddridge set up his own Academy in Marefair, Northampton, in January 1730, at the same time becoming pastor of the Castle Hill church.[xii]  He wrote the words, but this leaves wide open the question as to the identity of the composer of the Gunpowder Plot hymn.

Another piece amongst the manuscript section at the back of the same choir book, and in the same hand as the Gunpowder Plot hymn, is one entitled An Hymn for Christmas Day, by Mr Beasly.  Having set this music for Christmas 2014, several of the Quire started to compare the similarities in style between the two pieces, leaving us to wonder whether they were both by ‘Mr Beasly’, but certainly not by the Beesly who is thought to have written Otford, and who certainly once lived in his father’s farm cottage at Dry Sandford, near Wootton, just up the road from where Sheila and I live on the western edge of Oxford.

Since its publication in book form, there has been added to Nicholas Temperley’s on-line Hymn Tune Index an entry for an unclassified book: *UC 12.  Warwick, Warwickshire County Record Office, Parish of Harborough Magna DR 405/38.  (An English collection of hymns, lacking title page.)[xiii]

A subsequent researcher also found advertisements for the book, because Temperley’s list of missing and incomplete books includes the following:Beasley, William, of Brinklow, near Coventry.  Three Anthems, 11 Psalm Tunes, and 10 Hymns.  Brinklow: for the author, 1789.[xiv]

There was considerable rejoicing in the Macadam household therefore when, in October 2014, Sheila came across the key to proving the connection: two advertisements in the Northampton Mercury of 14 November 1789 and the previous December 1788.  The earlier advert called for subscribers for the Beasley book, who would only have to pay 3s 6d instead of the published price of 4s 0d, and the later one confirmed that the book was ‘just published’ by 14th November 1789.

The final piece of evidence was the reference in both advertisements to the Hymn on the Gunpowder Plot being included.  This tune now unfortunately survives only in manuscript form, for by another quirk of fate someone has literally cut pages 21 & 22 out of Beasley’s book with a knife, possibly because of the hymn’s anti-Catholic sentiments.  One is left wondering what the other two pieces of music might have been on the reverse of that lost page!

                                   Northampton Mercury, December 1788

                                    Northampton Mercury, 14 November 1789

No Subscribers’ List for Beasley’s publication survives the ruthless disposal of what was considered immaterial for a choir book, but at least one copy of his book remains, that in Warwick Record Office, DR 405/38, and catalogued as *UC 12 in the Hymn Tune Index.[xv] The missing Gunpowder Plot hymn is in choir book DR 405/39.

Of William Beasley himself there is more historical background to be related, but readers will have to wait for a subsequent article before this is revealed.

Edwin M Laming Macadam
Oxford, UK.

© September 2016



[i] Parish Records for Nuneaton (St Nicholas), 

[ii] Unlike George Eliot whose history is so well documented in and around the Nuneaton area, there is very little in the Nuneaton public library relating to Joseph Key except for his four books of music bound as a complete edition.  So far Key remains an enigma both to them and to the outside world, although he does gain a little more prominence as time passes and his works are performed.

[iii] Warwick Record Office Refs: DR 397/76, 405/38, 405/39, and 405/40.

[iv] Joseph Key, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Eight Anthems, on various occasions.  [Book 1] Nuneaton: for the author, 1774.  The second edition, including two added canticles for Morning Prayer, his much acclaimed Te Deum, and the Jubilate, is dated 1776.

[v] WRO Ref: DR 405/39.

[vi] It is interesting to note what the singers had in their repertoire.  Other than major anthems by the more recognised church composers of the day, there is a bias towards local composers in the smaller manuscript pieces, with compositions by John Valentine, Mr Greatorex, Mr Beasley, Mr Blockly, and ‘Sheffield’, as well as psalm tunes and collects by Key and Alcock, Jnr.

[vii] William Watts Sodin is Jonathan Sodin’s brother.

[viii] Dr. Edward Miller [of Doncaster]. The Psalms of David for the use of parish churches ... The words ... Tate & Brady ... Rev'd George Hay Drummond. London, c. 1790.

[ix] A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 6, Knightlow Hundred.  Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1951.  Now digitised at

[x] WRO Accession No. Z0609(SM).  Brinklow Memorial Inscriptions; including plan of monuments in the church and churchyard made to accompany W.I. survey on microfilm (MI 376).

[xi] The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, vol.6 no.7, September 1998.  See on-line at    

[xii] Tessa Whitehouse, Dissenting Education and the Legacy of John Jennings, c.1720-c.1729.

[xiii] To which is added by Nicholas Temperley: [N.p.]: [c.1785].upright; engraved.  19 tunes (2–4). <Fh> Bound with GearJFPT (1781–), KeyJA3 (1785), and HillJCM2 a (1787).

[xiv] Temperley’s comment in HTI: Advertisement in the Leicester Journal as ‘lately published, 18 December 1789’; a call for subscriptions had appeared there on 2 January 1789.  Added to HTI database in 2006.

[xv] HTI database reference for Beesley’s book is BeasWAPTH (1789) e.