During the early 1900's our choirmaster was Mr John Purves and his great musical skill resulted in the choir winning a number of prizes in competition singing. Such was the love and respect in which he was held that, on his death an electric blower was given in his memory to allow the pipe organ to be played without the assistance of someone pumping the bellows. The blower is still, after all these years giving good service and has seen out the original organ and now powers its replacement.
John Purves' son Kenneth was, by the age of twelve, a most accomplished boy soprano. We are fortunate in being able to present Kenneth Purves' story in his own words. Shortly before his death and nearly blind from diabetes, which had first attacked him at the age of twelve, he wrote down a comprehensive account of his career in a letter to Everson Whittle, dated 6th February 1985. Here it is:
'I was born in New Longton, near Preston on 1st December 1911. My father, John Purves, was a master tailor in Fishergate. He had a choir in his charge from the age of sixteen until he was sixty, and at one time, before my birth, he conducted a massed choir at a performance in The Crystal Palace. My mother had a beautiful soprano voice (a soloist) and my father was a bass. They did a lot of choral work in Preston before my time - singing under the very competent baton of Sir Henry Wood.'
'You will understand that I was born to sing. Every Friday night, my parents had a Glee Party at their house in New Longton. When I arrived at 4.45 am on 1st December 1911 the Glee Party still arrived in the evening and performed in the drawing room below my parents' bedroom; so I had an early introduction.'
'Just before my eleventh birthday my parents decided I should be given singing lessons and I started training in Longton, the next village to New Longton, under Mr Tom Wright. In December 1923 - about two weeks after my twelfth birthday - I made my first public appearance, and a couple of weeks later I sang Come unto me and I know that my Redeemer liveth in the performance of Messiah by the choir of the Primitive Methodist Chapel in New Longton. My mother sang the recitatives and Rejoice and, of course, my father conducted. The next year, I sang all the soprano solos in Messiah and my mother stood down.'
'My parents were very friendly with a Mr Homewood who was advertising manager for HMV and he used all the persuasion he could muster to get his firm to take me up commercially, but they had already recorded Ernest Lough whose solos were "coming on nicely" and they were convinced that this was a 'one off' and that there would be no demand for anything similar. They were prepared to do a single-sided 12" record for me at my expense, and this I had done. I recorded it - Hear ye, Isreal - in a studio in the firm's offices in London (Queens Hall) when I stopped off overnight on my way home to Preston from an engagement in Swindon. The accompanist was a lady provided by HMV. At the end of the record she forgot that we were still running and looked across and whispered "Well Done!"
Remarkably, the original recording turned up on a market stall in Preston in 1959 and has since been included on a set of CD's along with a number of other great boy soprano's entitled 'The Better Land' and produced by Amphion Recordings. Further details and ordering information can be found by clicking here to go to the Amphion web site
Special thanks go to Martin Monkman of Amphion Recordings who has graciously agreed to allow a sample of the recording to be available for you to hear.
Click here for a sample of Kenneth Purves singing "Hear Ye Isreal" from Mendelssohn's Elijah
It is remarkable to think that this outstanding voice was heard in our Church singing Handel's Messiah over eighty years ago. As part of our Centenary Celebrations in 2008 we will be giving a performance of The Messiah to which all are welcome to join us as singers or audience. Further details will be available soon on the Church Choir page
Kenneth Purves' son is the well known TV presenter Peter Purves. More information about his career can be found on the Peter Purves web site
Peter has sent us his best wishes for our Centenary and the following are his recollections of his time in New Longton:-