The Choir of Gonville & Caius celebrated the festive season with a Christmas concert in Bincombe, Dorset, where the College has been landowner for almost 450 years. The 24-strong mixed choir, one of the UK's leading collegiate choirs, received a double invitation to sing in the county: one from Judy Foot of Holy Trinity Church, Bincombe, and another from John Summers, a Caian and curate in the Three Valleys Team in rural Dorset.
Over the five-day tour, the choir, and the two Caius organ scholars, Michael How and Luke Fitzgerald, performed in Yetminster and Leigh churches, and gave an evening concert at Bradford Abbas church. They then took the train from Yetminster to Upwey (a beautiful rural journey, with both halts request stops), were met by Judy Foote and walked to the vicarage for tea. Their evening concert at Holy Trinity, Bincombe, on the theme Bright Morning Star! - Music for Advent and Christmas, featured plainsong, traditional carols, German, Polish and French festive music and a piece by Caian composer Thomas Hewitt Jones. The event, which also gave the audience a chance to join in advent hyms and carols, was sponsored by Bidwells and Symonds & Sampson.
The Bincombe estate in Dorset has been owned by the College since 1570, when Dr John Caius donated it to the College endowment. The 1000-acre estate, managed by Bidwells on behalf of the College, is primarily residential and agricultural, and includes a very pretty village of Bincombe, plus arable and dairy farming and livestock-rearing. The Foot family has farmed in the area for many generations, and registered their Bincombe flock in the first volume of the Dorset Horned Sheep Society in 1892, making theirs the oldest flock of Poll Dorset sheep in the country. The Estate also enjoys a rich history and is the scene of one of Thomas Hardy’s short tales, recounting the apparently true story of The Melancholy Hussar and the execution of two deserters who are said to be buried in the village churchyard. Farther back in time there was a Bronze Age Settlement on Bincombe Hill, today buried under tumuli called the Bincombe Bumps. These are known locally as the ‘Music Barrows’, as folklore tells that if you put your ear to the ground at midday you are able to hear the plaintive tones of faerie music (or is it the Caius Choir?) emitting from the burial grounds.
There were more Caius connections during the December trip. In Sherborne, the Choirmaster was hosted by the grandson of a former Caius Master, Sir Hugh Kerr Anderson (remembered with a monument in the College Chapel), while in Bincombe he met the great-granddaughter of Alfred Waterhouse, the architect who designed the Waterhouse Building that surrounds much of Tree Court.
For the Choir, who all fit in rehearsals and performances around their academic work, the trip was a welcome first chance of the term to spend time away together. All those who participated in the tour would like to thank their generous hosts for their kindness and hospitality.