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Christleton History File May 2021

People from the Christleton History Archives

Sir George Guest

Dr George Guest CBE FRCO

Last month in my article about Cliff Boddy I told you about his friend George Guest organist at St. James' who became one of the most famous Choral Conductors in the Country. I have tried to piece together his career story from various sources.

George Guest was born in Bangor, and often assisted his father George, also an organist, as an organ blower. He became a chorister at Bangor and later at Chester Cathedral, where he also received organ lessons from Dr Roland Middleton. He also attended the Kings School in Chester. He learned quickly and by 1942 aged 18 achieved the status of Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. It is reported by Wikipedia that he became organist and choirmaster at Connah’s Quay Parish Church, but our Parish Magazine states that he was appointed organist at St James’ in July 1942. He didn’t stay long initially as the next we learn in the Parish Magazine of October 1942.

“It has been a blow to lose our young organist so soon after his appointment. The PCC have decided to make a temporary appointment of his father Mr E J Guest as organist”.
The reason for his leaving was that at 18 years of age he was called up to join the RAF.
Subsequent reports state;

August 1944
“It is good news that our organist George Guest is safe after his watery escape”

December 1944
“It is a pleasure to have a glimpse of George Guest our organist who is home on leave and will be our organist on Christmas Day”.

January 1947
“We are very glad to have our organist Mr George Guest back once more

March 1947
“We have an excellent organist and choirmaster, and the choir is making great strides and showing real enthusiasm. Mr Guest has promised to give an organ recital on Sunday 19th March at 10.45 and 6.30pm & the choir will sing an anthem. We had the privilege of hearing Miss Troutbeck sing two contralto solos and the organist played pieces by Bach, Stanford and Ireland. All who came were enthusiastic about this experiment, and we hope you will help in telling others about these recitals when they are announced."

April 1947
"We had another great treat on Sunday March 9th when Mr George Guest gave an organ recital and the choir sang the anthem, “Lord for thy Tender Mercies sake”. Mr Frank Magee from the Chapel Royal sang solos from “Messiah” and “Elijah” and we were all helped by this special music. The choir has been diligently practicing for Easter rehearsing the “Hallelujah Chorus” and “Rejoice in the Lord” by Purcell. We feel a personal satisfaction in the success of our young organist in obtaining the offer of two scholarships, one at Oxford and one at Cambridge, and we must congratulate him even if it means that sooner or later we will lose him again."

May 1947
"Lastly we had some really inspiring music. Purcell’s Anthem “Rejoice in the Lord” and part of the Messiah. “Behold I show you a Mystery”, “The Trumpet shall sound” and the “Hallelujah Chorus”. We congratulate the organist and choir for all the good work they have done lately, and the great advance they have made. Last Sunday they gave Bach’s anthem “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”. When this is sung as it was sung, simply and carefully sustained and accompanied the effect is wonderful……"

July 1947
"Our organist Mr George Guest has given us so much help during the time he has been with us, which has been lamentably short. On St Peter’s Day he gave a short recital both in the morning and evening and it was a delight to hear him. In addition to this he has really done so much in the training of the boys and choir. As someone present at nearly all practices, I can say that I have never known any choir trainer who has inspired so much enthusiasm or wasted less time. The results have been evident to the congregation, in the rendering of the music and the reverent behaviour of the choir."

Sept 1947
"The choir excursion to Barmouth was most satisfactory and admirably arranged by Mr George Guest. We have now had to say farewell to our organist Mr George Guest, but his place is being taken by Mr RA Sutton ARCO who will also be assistant organist at the Cathedral."

It appears that George Guest had also filled that role whilst at Christleton, as the Chester Cathedral Organist encouraged him to apply for the organ scholarship at St John’s Cambridge. He studied under Robin Orr, and in his final year as organ scholar was offered the full time post of Organist and Choirmaster at St John’s. Within five years he had founded a choir school, and the choir under his expert direction began to challenge the supremacy of the choir of Kings’ College Cambridge with the quality and tone of their singing. The choir began broadcasting in the 1950’s and by the time of his retirement in 1991 had recorded sixty LP’s or CD’s. The choir undertook many overseas tours, through Europe, the Americas, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. He became a University lecturer and three years later Fellow of St John’s. He was according to his Guardian Obituary “ The musical master who revitalised England’s Cathedral Choirs ”

He was also Professor of Harmony at The Royal College of Music, and returned to his Welsh roots by becoming an Honorary Druid and member of the Gorsedd of Bards at the National Eisteddfod.
In 1987 he was appointed CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

He was a frequent visitor to Christleton and St James’ Church. He clearly loved the place, and even in the 1970’s & 1980’s would drop in for evensong when he was visiting the area. He would quietly slip into the nave, and Cliff would turn to the choir and say “sing well tonight, George is in the congregation.” He was a lifelong supporter of Chester Football Club. He passed away in 1991 aged 78 years. Cliff regarded him as being one of his best friends.

St John’s College Cambridge
The College was founded in 1511 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII It is the second largest of the Colleges of the University of Cambridge. It has 120 Fellows, 530 undergraduates and 280 graduate Students. The magnificent front gate illustrated displays the court of arms of Lady Margaret Beaufort, with a statue of St John the evangelist above it. The present College Chapel where Dr George Guest was organist and musical director was built in 1868, but St John’s has had a distinguished tradition of religious music since the 1670’s, and the choir is said to be one of the finest collegiate choirs in the world.

Christleton Parish Magazines 1940-47

  •  The Arms of Lady Margaret Beauford, founder of St. John's College Cambridge

    The Arms of Lady Margaret Beauford, founder of St. John's College Cambridge

  •  The Chapel of St. Johns

    The Chapel of St. Johns

  •  St.John's College, Cambridge from the River

    St.John's College, Cambridge from the River

  •  St.James' Church, Christleton

    St.James' Church, Christleton

  •  St.John's Gateway, Cambridge

    St.John's Gateway, Cambridge

  •  St. John's College, Cambridge

    St. John's College, Cambridge

  •  Organ Presented by William Fleming 1878

    Organ Presented by William Fleming 1878

  •  Sir George Guest

    Sir George Guest

  •  St. John's College, Cambridge

    St. John's College, Cambridge

  •  St. John's College, Cambridge

    St. John's College, Cambridge

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