A blog for anyone with an interest in Polperro, publishing and people... with occasional musings on history and humanity.
Polperro Fishermen's Choir celebrates 100 years
Posted on February 8, 2023
The Polperro Fishermen’s Choir celebrates its centenary this year. Founded in 1923 (pictured above), it has continued to perform for audiences ever since, raising funds for charity. For many years the prosperity of Polperro depended on the pilchard industry. The fishermen were a hardy breed of men and the Chapel had a great influence on their lives. They were devout men who would sing as they worked their boats; and not surprisingly many of these songs were hymns that were sung in Chapel on a Sunday. When the pilchard fishing began to decline; the singing did not.
It was Eva Cloke, the organist at the Chapel and Thomas Mark, a lay preacher known locally as the ‘Fishermen’s Bishop’ who realised the need to establish the Polperro Fishermen’s Choir in 1923. The choir would sing hymns and religious style songs in Chapel on Sundays and at Harvest of the Sea services as well as other religious fishing festivals around the county in the 1920s and 1930s. The choir’s reputation grew and they were soon singing regularly in the village and in different parts of Cornwall. At the time some 90 per cent of the choir were fishermen from Polperro.
But, with the decline of the fishing industry, the choir suffered losses until other tradesmen from around the village joined in. It was disbanded for the duration of World War II but was reformed in 1951. The Choir’s ‘uniform’ in the early days was a rough knitted roll-neck gansey, knitted by the wives and daughters for their men folk. Each man could be identified by the pattern of his gansey, a tradition which had continued down the years. In 1982 the choir ‘modernised’ and adopted a black blazer with badge and a roll neck shirt or sweater.
After Eva Cloke’s death in 1969, the choir continued to perform concerts not just in Polperro but throughout southern England, including television appearances for both BBC and ITV as well as recordings for BBC Radio, Radio Cornwall and Plymouth Sound. Other performances included visits to Quiberon in France and the Royal Albert Hall in London.
In 1973 the choir celebrated its Golden Jubilee year by making their first long-playing record entitled ‘Sounds like Polperro’ which became a best seller and remains a favourite today. This was quickly followed by ‘Polperro Sings Again’; ‘When evenings Twilight’; ‘Tis Christmas time’; ‘Born In Song’ and ‘Polperro Sails’. In 1992 almost all the choirs in Cornwall sang together at Truro Cathedral to a full capacity audience.
The tradition of the Choir runs deep within the original Fishermen’s Choir families. Phil Carrigan became the musical director in 1999, having served with distinction in Her Majesty’s Band of the Royal Marines. He has played before the late Queen and the Queen Mother as well as concerts around the world including Washington D.C. and the West Indies. Probably his greatest claim to fame is when he lost his bass drum over the side while on parade on the flight deck of HMS Ark Royal in 1971 much to the amusement of the captive audience. It is said the entire ship’s company spontaneously broke into a chorus of ‘Sailing’ thus pre-empting their now famous recording!