Sellé ... the Hampton Court Choir (Stephen Willis)


A transcript of a fascinating letter, now kept at the Public Record Office, from Sellé to the Lord Chamberlain, in which he passionately attempts to instigate the founding of a permanent choir at Hampton Court:

Old Palace Terrace
Richmond Feb.y 17th 1853

I was appointed to the situation of Organist to Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal at Hampton Court on Feb.y 20th 1845 by the Lord Chamberlain. The following is a copy verbatim of His Lordship’s letter.

“Lord Chamberlain’s Office
Feb 20th 1845

I have much pleasure in being able to accede to your wishes, and inform you that I have this day directed your Appointment to the vacant position of Organist to the Chapel Royal in Hampton Court Palace to be made out. The numerous testimonials in your favor, professional and from other quarters, have satisfied me that you will discharge the duties of the Office, with credit to yourself and advantage to the publick.

I remain, Sir,
Your obedient serv.t
De la Warr.
Lord Chamberlain.”

Finding that the state of the organ prevented me from performing my duties with credit to myself I made an application to the Commissioners of Woods etc. for its improvement, which has just been successfully completed.

In November 1846, in consequence of the inefficient manner in which the singing and choral portions of Divine service were performed, I applied to the Board for a grant which they sanctioned, but the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury did not confirm, owing I believe to other pressing cases at that time. From that period till the Chapel was closed for repairs, it remained in the most unsatisfactory state. At the restoration of the Chapel, an attempt was made at voluntary contributions, but no sufficient sum was raised to remunerate the singers for their time and trouble.

For a space of four years, I attended before service every Sunday, and spent many hours during the week at different times, and supplied at my own expense music books to a considerable amount, but to such little purpose, that I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible without a liberal grant to give satisfaction to the Public or do justice to myself.

As a public servant, I am anxious to do the public justice, and to keep pace with the improved taste of the people, for no one can deny the wonderful progress that a correct taste in music (especially sacred) has made in this country, during the last few years; nothing of a mediocre character will now succeed, and the Divine Art instead of being confined to the few, is now enjoyed and appreciated by the many.

The singing in our Churches and Chapels, up to the present time has been a national disgrace, a move however, is now being made in the right direction, large and splendid organs are erected, choirs and societies are formed, sacred music published at little cost, evidencing strongly a determination for improvement in Church music.

Surely a Royal Chapel with a fine organ visited in increasing numbers by the community at large, ought to take the lead in maturing the public taste.

In conclusion, I therefore most respectfully and earnestly entreat your consideration of these facts. In laying them before you, I feel I am only fulfilling the instructions of the Lord Chamberlain’s letter, in seeking an advantage for the public, as well as credit for myself.

I have the honour to be
Your Obedient Servant,
W. C. Selle

The Right Hon.ble
Sir William Molesworth, Bart.

Transcribed by Stephen Willis, and reproduced here with his kind permission.

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Web-page created 12 November 2005