The Age of Reform – Music of the Great Victorians at St Paul’s

Music at St Paul’s (as in every English Cathedral) has seen dramatic change through the centuries. The nineteenth century saw significant developments which continue to benefit the choir to this day, largely brought about by Sir John Stainer.

Victorian St Paul's

A day in the life of a chorister in 1836 looked like this: Up at 7.30am (8am in winter) and choir practice before breakfast (milk, bread, and butter). Mattins at 9.45am, and music and singing practice from 11am to 2pm. On one morning of the week, six boys were given an Italian lesson, paid for by Miss Maria Hackett. Dinner was at 3pm (meat, vegetables and half a pint of beer). Evensong was at 3.15, and after a break the boys had lessons from 5.30 to 8pm. Supper was bread, butter and beer and bedtime was 9pm – or as late as midnight if it was an oratorio evening.

St Pauls Roof

By 1845 the choir boys were being temporarily boarded in the Chapter House with a singing master, a grammar master and a matron. But in 1848 boarding arrangements had been abandoned, and by the next year the eight choristers and four probationers received annual allowances, attended day school, and on leaving school received £30 to provide training for future employment.

One of the boys to benefit from the more enlightened regime was John Stainer, who laid the foundations for the choir we enjoy today. His predecessor as Organist, John Goss, was responsible for the music at the funeral of the Duke of Wellington in 1852.


Stainer was appointed Organist in 1872 at the age of 33, and immediately enlarged the choir by increasing the number of choristers to thirty with ten probationers, and increasing the number of Vicars Choral also. This expansion in numbers was desperately needed after the removal of the choir screen (against Wren’s wishes) which had previously cut the ‘music’ area off from the rest of the Cathedral.

Choir Screen

The repertory of the choir was also enlarged and included Mendelssohn’s ‘St Paul’ and J.S. Bach’s ‘St Matthew Passion’ (performed this year on Thursday 26th March at 6.30pm). This was achieved in one year. Such was the driving leadership of Stainer that, by his retirement in 1888 (due to loss of sight), standards had been set which are still an inspiration today. Stainer wrote his best known work, ‘The Crucifixion’, a year before retirement.

Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee

The century closed with the famous Diamond Jubilee Service for Queen Victoria outside the Cathedral. The present Cathedral Choir had the great privilege of singing for the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, and continues to lead the nation in services of State significance in addition to its daily routine of music and prayer.

The Cathedral Choir in concert (2)

Based on ‘The Choir of St Paul’s: The first popular profile of a great Cathedral choir, its musicians, and its heritage’.


USA Choir Tour April 2015


  • World-renowned choir makes first visit since 2003
  • Performing in 8 cities in 14 days
  • Tour starts in Boston on April 16th

Color Guard 1

St Paul’s Cathedral Choir will begin a major 8 venue tour of the USA on April 16th in Boston, MA as it makes its first visit to America in 12 years. The tour will renew a long-standing relationship that the Cathedral has with the USA and marks the first of 3 visits the choir will make over the next 6 years.

Andrew Carwood, Director of Music, said: “This is a very exciting tour for us. In 1953 St Paul’s was the first UK cathedral choir ever to tour the United States. Over six decades on we are thrilled such a strong connection remains and we look forward to sharing our musical heritage and the treasures of the unique English choral tradition with friends old and new.”


The Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s, said: “We are delighted to welcome thousands of American visitors to St Paul’s every year. This tour is a way of giving something in return, and enabling a wider audience in the United States to experience for themselves the beauty and wonder of the music we are so lucky to hear regularly. I’m very much looking forward to being a part of this visit, and making new relationships with friends in America.”

The full list of venues and performances (including links to purchase tickets):

BOSTON, MA                             Trinity Church                   Thursday 16th April      7.00pm

ATLANTA, GA                            Cathedral of St Philip     Saturday 18th April          7.30pm

MACON, GA                               Vineville UMC                  Sunday 19th April            4.00pm

SHREVEPORT, LA                     First UMC                            Tuesday 21st April      7.30pm

HOUSTON, TX                           St Martin’s Episcopal     Friday 24th April                7.00pm

WASHINGTON, DC                  National Cathedral         Sunday 26th April             5.00pm

ST PAUL, MN                             Cathedral of St Paul        Tuesday 28th April           7.30pm

VALPARAISO, IN                       Valparaiso University    Wednesday 29th April    7.30pm

  • There has been a choir at St Paul’s Cathedral since 1127. 30 boy choristers and 12 vicars choral provide music for 8 sung services a week.
  • St Paul’s Cathedral is home to the American Memorial Chapel. The Cathedral hosts the annual Thanksgiving Service for the American Community in London and has held a close relationship with the USA over many years.

BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong Broadcast

St Paul’s is delighted to have its service of Choral Evensong broadcast on BBC Radio 3 tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday, 4th February) at 3.30pm. It can also be heard on Sunday 8th February at 3pm.


Broadcasting Evensong has become a firm fixture in the life of Cathedrals and Chapels across the country, and it is always a highlight of the year for the Choristers and Vicars Choral of St Paul’s.

We’re particularly pleased because this broadcast can be downloaded on BBC iPlayer, allowing our friends across the world to experience for themselves the beauty of the Evensong liturgy. Why not let us know where you’re listening from?

Introit:  My lovely one (Finzi)

Responses:  Leighton

Psalm 88 (Flintoft)

First Lesson:  Isaiah 61 vv1-9

Magnificat:   Giles Swayne

Second Lesson:  Luke 7 vv18-30

Nunc Dimittis:  Holst

Anthem:  Benedictus (Elgar)

Hymn:  Hail to the Lord’s Anointed! (Crüger)

Organ Voluntary:  Offrande et Alléluia final from Livre du Saint Sacrement (Messiaen)

Andrew Carwood, Director of Music

Simon Johnson, Organist