"A boy sings ... a beautiful thing."

Doctor Edward John Hopkins

The Temple Church, London

"When I first went (to the Temple) there were only two ladies and two gentlemen in the choir, and they used to sing in the organ gallery. The curtain would be drawn aside for a few minutes, the singers would sing, and everyone would turn west to look at them; then the curtain was banged to with a rattle of brass rings. What queer ideas they had of music and organists in those days."

That is how Dr Hopkins described his introduction to the Temple Church. Edward John Hopkins was born in London on 30th June 1818, and was from a large family of musicians. His father was a clarinetist and bandmaster. His younger brother, John (1822-1900) was organist of Rochester Cathedral from 1856 until his death; and his first cousin, John Larkin Hopkins (1819-73) was organist at Rochester from 1841 to 1856 and thereafter at Trinity College Cambridge.

Edward John Hopkins was a chorister at the Chapel Royal from 1826 to 1833. He became organist of Mitcham church, Surrey, in 1834 and after other church posts he was elected organist at the Temple in 1843. Here he soon acquired a notable reputation, not only as organist but even more as choirmaster.

David Lewer, our own Temple author and historian describes the modern choir of gentlemen and boys as coming about almost by accident. Following the major restoration of the church in 1842, the Master, without enthusiasm, had accepted the idea put forward by the Church Committee and some of the Benchers that a Cathedral Service should be introduced. It fell to John Calvert, a deputy lay-vicar of St. Paul's, to provide a choir for the reopening of the church.

"The postponed service took place on Sunday, 20th November 1842 with the little band of six choirboys and three gentlemen. They were Enoch Hawkins (alto), John Hobbs (tenor), and John Calvert (bass), with James Turle, organist of Westminster Abbey, at the console."

The question of a permanently established choir was still undecided, but after the closure of the church from 6th August 1843 for three months for 'further beautifications' it was decided to establish a 'double choir' with six choristers and three gentlemen each side, the choir having been removed from the organ gallery. This introduction of a surpliced choir caused little short of a sensation.

Hopkins had been appointed organist on 7th May 1843, but it was not until John Calvert was dismissed in 1844 that he was able to assume full charge of the music and choristers. As a result of a financial incident which led to Calvert's dismissal, the Benchers appointed a permanent Choir Committee which has ever since been responsible for ordering the affairs not only of the choir but also of all matters connected with the church.

In 1848 The Guardian reported that it was not necessary for the visitor to follow the service in the Prayer Book as every word could be heard perfectly. Prince Albert caused some consternation by arriving unannounced and on foot to attend a choir practice. Henry Humm, perhaps the greatest boy soprano of Hopkins' day, wrote of the music:

"Very little was new, and nothing was very ambitious, but much of it was beautiful."

Through his great ability as a choirtrainer, Hopkins soon made the music at Temple a model for the choral services that were rapidly becoming established in parish churches throughout the country. He was soon widely known as a fine trainer of boy soloists; one of the earliest was George Rothwell, the brother of Frederick Rothwell who was responsible for the rebuilding of the Temple organ in 1910. George arrived in London in 1852 at the age of eleven and joined the choir. At the time of his early death in 1867, George's brother wrote:

"What used to distinguish him from the first was the perfect absence of boyish nervousness when singing or playing, and the bold manner in which he would sing the difficult solos at the Temple which often gained him great praise. I remember on one occasion, after he had sung a solo that a perfect stranger met him as he was leaving the church and insisted on giving him a sovereign for singing his solo so beautifully."

Hopkins was one of the founders of the College of Organists in 1869. He was awarded the Lambeth Mus.D in 1882. A prolific composer, his anthems and services were once in great demand and are worthy of resurrection. Only one hymn tune 'Ellers' (1869) remains in general use. His reputation as a writer was made by his work on his excellent treatise 'The Organ; its History and Construction’.

On the occasion of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 the Temple choristers led the procession onto the steps of St. Paul's. Dr Hopkins at 79 was among the tenors. This proved to be one of his last engagements, and his farewell services were sung on Sunday, 8th May 1898 when all the music played and sung was of his own composition. David Lewer writes that "a great crowd gathered in the porch and beyond to salute Dr Hopkins as he proceeded from the church to the Inner Temple gate."

On New Year's Day 1901, Dr Hopkins was taken ill, and he passed peacefully away on 4th February, two weeks after the death of the old Queen.

Stephen R. Beet  January 10th 2001

The Oxford Companion to Music by Percy Scholes
Letters of Frederic Rothwell, 1900
A Forgotten Organist by Kenneth Shenton 1992
Music & Letters by H.C. Colles 1941

I am most grateful to Mr David Lewer for all his help in preparing this article, not least for his permission to quote extensively from his two masterly works, 'A Spiritual Song' (1961) and 'The Temple Church in London' by David Lewer and Robert Dark (1997) The latter work is available from the Temple Church, price twenty-eight pounds.


Copyright 2001 Stephen R. Beet Used by permission

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This page was last modified on 01 September 2004