Returning Brewer to His Rightful Place

This post comes from our new MA History by Research student, Simon Carpenter.

Strictly speaking, I have just embarked on studying for an MA in history with the University of Gloucestershire, but I see a major part of my research as helping to return Herbert Brewer to his rightful place in music history. Herbert Brewer, or to be more accurate Sir Herbert Brewer, was organist of Gloucester Cathedral between 1897 and 1928. As such he took on private articled pupils, as was the system in those days. Except that in Brewer’s case these included the stellar Ivor Gurney, Herbert Howells and Ivor (‘Keep the home fires burning’) Novello.

NPG x123535; Sir (Alfred) Herbert Brewer by Bassano
Sir Herbert Brewer

Unfortunately for Brewer, the subsequent biographers of his famous three pupils have tended at best to damn him with faint praise, or at worst portray him as a narrow minded, authoritarian teacher whose pupils succeeded despite him. Michael Hurd’s (1978) ground-breaking, but now dated biography of Ivor Gurney has – I believe – a lot to answer for in this respect.

My research is focussing on the relationship from Brewer’s perspective, from the perspective of how professional education was carried out at that time, and in particular how the articled pupil system was expected to operate. I will also be researching other pupils of Brewer, not just the famous three, to get an even more rounded view.


Gloucester Cathedral in the early 20th century.


In fairness he probably was a pretty scary teacher, though his own autobiography does give a different perspective on even that aspect of his character. But I suspect that was probably what was expected of someone in his position at that time. I will look into that. However, most of all I would just like to give Brewer a fair hearing, and I will keep you posted with regular progress reports over the next couple of years.

Simon Carpenter



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