03 November 2021

A grave at Saint Chad’s Church
links Lichfield with musical
life in Victorian Dublin

Samuel Culwick’s grave in Saint Chad’s Churchyard, Lichfield … a link between the choral traditions of Lichfield Cathedral and Victorian Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Saint Chad’s Church by Stowe Pool in Lichfield a few weeks ago, I came across, quite by accident, the grave of Samuel Culwick, who had been a Vicar Choral at Lichfield Cathedral and a churchwarden of Saint Chad’s for many years.

Samuel Culwick, who died in 1861, is buried in Saint Chad’s churchyard along with his wife Rebecca, who died in 1853, and their eldest daughter, Sarah Jane, who died in 1911. The Culwick family seems to have been part of church music in Lichfield for a number of generations. But there were other reasons too for paying attention to Samuel’s grave.

During another return visits to Lichfield 10 years ago (2011), I realised that that there is an interesting connection between Lichfield Cathedral and one of the high points of musical and cultural life in Dublin.

Everyone in Dublin knows both the Feis Ceoil and the Culwick Choral Society. But I wondered than how many people realise that both were founded within a year of each other by Dr James Cooksey Culwick (1845-1907), or that Culwick was a chorister and assistant organist at Lichfield Cathedral (1865-1866) before moving to Ireland in 1866.

James Culwick was born in West Bromwich on 28 April 1845, and moved in his early childhood to Lichfield, where his father was a musician and vicar choral in Lichfield Cathedral.

At the age of 14, James became a chorister in Lichfield Cathedral, where he took lessons from the cathedral’s assistant organist, Thomas Bedsmore (1833-1881). Bedsmore was a composer and was the assistant organist at Lichfield Cathedral until becoming the organist in 1864. He was also the organist at Saint Chad’s Church.

James Culwick was Bedsmore’s pupil and became assistant organist at Lichfield Cathedral (1865-1866), and also become the organist at Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield.

Saint Chad’s Church by Stowe Poll, Lichfield … James Culwick was the assistant organist at Lichfield Cathedral and the organist at Saint Chad’s before moving to Ireland in 1866 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

However, Culwick moved from Lichfield to Ireland with his young wife Alice in 1866, and held a succession of appointments as organist, first in Birr, Co Offaly, and then in Bray, Co Wicklow, before finally settling in Dublin.

Culwick moved from Saint Ann’s, in Dawson Street, Dublin, in 1881, to take up the prestigious position of organist and choirmaster in the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle. He was also Professor of Pianoforte and Theory at Alexandra College, Dublin, for 27 years.

Meanwhile, he was involved in a number of amateur musical bodies, including the Orpheus Choral Society, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Dublin (Trinity College Dublin) in 1893.

His output as a composer includes church services, anthems, finely-crafted secular songs, and notably the dramatic cantata The Legend of Stauffenberg (1890).

Culwick was a co-founder of Feis Ceoil in 1897, and a year later, in 1898, he founded the Orpheus Choral Society. The society was later renamed the Culwick Choral Society in his honour.

The organ in Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

James Culwick was married twice. His first wife, Alice Mary Harrison of Lichfield, died on 20 October 1875 at the age of 29. He married his second wife, Mary Richardson, in Saint Peter’s Church, Dublin, on 22 November 1876, was a daughter of the Dr Benjamin Richardson, a surgeon of Ely Place, Dublin. The officiant at the wedding, the Revd Alfred Thomas Harvey (1843-1898), was then curate in Saint Ann’s and Warden of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School. Mary Culwick died on 31 December 1921 at the age of 72.

The Culwick family lived at 28 Leeson Park, Ranelagh, for many years.

His children included the Revd Arthur James Culwick (1873-1939), curate of Drumcondra (1897-1900) and Zion Church, Rathgar (1901-1906), and incumbent of Saint James, Crinken, Bray (1906-1909). He worked briefly as a missionary in Lucknow and as an organising secretary with CMS, before working in parishes in England until he died in 1939.

James Culwick’s daughter, Florence Culwick (1877-1929), was a conductor and choir director. After her father’s death, she re-formed the Orpheus Choral Society as a mixed choir. For some time, it was known as ‘Miss Culwick’s Choral Society’ before becoming the Culwick Choral Society.

James Culwick died at his home, 57 Upper Mount Street, Dublin, on 5 October 1907 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, with both wives and his daughter Florence A memorial tablet in the south choir aisle of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin marks his as organist and choir master of the Chapel Royal, and describes him as ‘A learned musician. A true artist. A good man.’

The Culwick Choral Society is an amateur choir with over 100 active members drawn from all over Dublin and the surrounding counties. For 123 years, the Culwick has maintained an unbroken tradition of music-making in Dublin. The skill and musicianship of a succession of conductors has been crucial to its success. The present Musical Director, David Leigh, follows a long line of distinguished conductors.

The choir offers a major choral performance each Spring and a concert of seasonal music at Christmas. Since 1990, a charity performance of Handel’s Messiah in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral each December is an established event in the Dublin musical calendar.

James Culwick is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery with his wives and his daughter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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