Subject In Quires and Places Where They Sing
Colin Scott & Bedford Gallery Quire
October 13, 2012


The meeting, a collaboration between SLHG and St Peter’s Church, was hosted by Colin Scott, organist. Bedford Gallery Quire came to the knave of the Church to perform selected songs and to talk about the history of both the West Gallery Movement and their instruments; the Quire was in costume and played original or copies of period instruments.
BGQ are a community group constituted in 2004 to research and perform music of the West Gallery period, the early eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries, in Bedfordshire and the neighbouring counties.
They perform in costume representing what might have been worn by our counterparts in Bedford around 1810—1830 singing three and four part harmony in the ‘conventional voices’ of Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass with instruments doubling the vocal lines.
In Bedford there was a church band and choir in the Three Ridges Chapel which is now called the Bunyan Meeting Free Church. They left a legacy of manuscripts of the metrical psalms, hymns, anthems, and carols which they performed. This, together with other Bedfordshire collections, forms the core of their repertoire.
The heyday of the music called ‘West Gallery’ was from the early eighteenth century to the mid nineteenth century. It was performed by ‘church bands’ which were sometimes referred to simply as ‘the singers’ even though they often included instrumentalists.
Following Cromwell’s destruction of the fabric of the church in England music formed little part of the church service until around the turn of the eighteenth century. At this time galleries were erected over the west door of many of the old parish churches to accommodate ‘the musick’ as it was also known. The term ‘West Gallery Music’ was coined by Thomas Hardy
late in the nineteenth century to refer to the music of this period.pastprogramme2
It was sung, according to a contemporary instruction, ‘forthrightly and with good courage’ with the musicians and singers adding passing notes and grace notes at will.
All singing in West Gallery music uses the powerful chest voice, with the tenor line often sung by women as well as men, and both voices and instruments doubling each other an octave apart. There are frequently small instrumental sections known as symphonies which give the players a chance to shine. The bass line was provided by the Serpent or a Bass Horn.
West Gallery singers were members of the local community; farmers, shopkeepers and tradesmen, with the occasional schoolmaster to provide the necessary degree of musical literacy. They usually provided the music for weddings, funerals, village ‘hops’ (an eighteenth century term) and other social events in their community.

More details about BGQ can be seen at