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Dr Robert Ashfield Rip


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I regret to have to report that Dr Robert Ashfield passed away at 1:40pm today at the age of 95.

 

Robert (“Bobby” or “Doc”) Ashfield (as he is affectionately known in Rochester), was the first Cathedral Organist under whom I sang as a very new Supernumerary Lay Clerk in the autumn of 1970, learning the job by singing alongside one of the six regular men.

 

He was born in Surrey in July 1911, but his family moved to the village of Eynsford in Kent in 1912. His first practical musical experience was blowing the organ in the village church while his mother played - and sometimes they reversed the roles. As a young teenager he attended Tonbridge School, where he excelled both at the organ and on the sports field. In 1928 he entered the Royal College of Music in London to study with Ernest Bullock (then Organist of Westminster Abbey). Having gained his ARCO diploma in 1931 and FRCO the following year, Bullock invited Robert to be his Organ Scholar at the Abbey. In 1934 he was appointed Organist of St John's, Smith Square in London (now a concert hall) and in 1936 he became Music Master at Westminster Abbey Choir School, gaining his BMus from London University the same year. In 1940 he returned to Tonbridge School as Assistant Music Master, and obtained his DMus the following year, before being called up for war service. After the war, in 1946, he went to Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire as Organist & Rector Chori. He moved to Rochester Cathedral as Organist in 1956 and the following year was also appointed a Professor for Theory and Composition at the Royal College of Music. Robert retired in 1977 but remained active until recently as a composer and concert promoter, and was a regular attender at the Cathedral Eucharist on Sunday mornings. We last saw him in church on Christmas morning.

 

The Cathedral Special Choir had already scheduled some of Robert’s music for this weekend (as we often do): as the Introit at Evensong today we sang his processional setting of “Of the Father’s love begotten”, and this is repeated at tomorrow afternoon’s New Year Carol Service; at Mattins tomorrow we sing “Fairest of morning lights” (17th century text by Thomas Pestel); and as an extra valedictory item at the end of tomorrow’s Eucharist we will sing his best-known anthem, written for a Diocesan Choirs’ Festival at Southwell in 1949 to a text by Lionel Johnson, based on Revelation 17:

 

“Ah, see the fair chivalry come, the companions of Christ!

White horsemen, who ride on white horses, the Knights of God!

They, for their Lord and their Lover, who sacrificed all

Save the sweetness of treading where He first trod!

These, thro' the darkness of death, the dominions of night,

Swept, and they woke in white places at morning tide:

They saw with their eyes and sang for joy at the sight,

They saw with their eyes the Eyes of the Crucified.

Now, whithersoever He goeth, with Him they go:

White horsemen, who ride on white horses, Oh, fair to see!

They ride where the rivers of paradise flash and flow,

White horsemen, with Christ their Captain, for ever He!”

 

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

 

 

Douglas Henn-Macrae

Senior Lay Clerk, Rochester Cathedral

Director of the Cathedral Special Choir

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RIP

 

I came across his 3part mens voices responses last year.... what a pity they aren't more widely known, a very nice set of limited difficulty.

 

Used to be standard Mens' Voices repertoire for Monday Evensongs. Less so nowadays, alas.

Do you have the Lord's Prayer setting that goes with them (a later addition, I think)?

Let me know if you would like one.

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That's sad - however, what a long life!

 

I recall Dr Ashfield being very kind to me when, as a young and inexperienced youth I ventured to ask for some time on the cathedral organ at Rochester many years ago now. He gave me tea and made time for a good chat, good advice, and all the time I wanted on the instrument.

 

My wife and I were at Rochester briefly in September, and I told her all about that event - remembering Dr Ashfield with pleasure.

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Guest Roffensis

How very sad to learn of the passing of Dr. Ashfield. I grew up in Rochester, and heard him scores of times, and will mention one story concerning him, which shows the kind man he was. As a very small boy, I had made a sneak recording of him playing at one of the 6.00 short recitals on a sunday, prior to the evening service. One piece I did not know, and so I bravely phoned him (he answering the phone "Dr. Ashfield"), and played him this recording over the phone, stating he may be able to help me find it. He roared down the phone at me "where did you get that", to which I apologised and replied I had recorded him! After a brief lecture about not recording him without his permission, "how dare you record me", he then told me it was Handel's Occaisional Overture, to which I said there were no recordings of it at all that I knew of. He told me "oh you wont find that, it's my own arrangement". Upon my teliing him my illicit recording was poor, he offered to do it again for me!

 

This was duly carried out the following week, and sure enough I recorded him, a second time, with his permission. Sadly, this recording was even worse, and I phoned him again to thank him even so, but said it was worse than the previous. And so, aqain, he offered to play it again, and that recording is good, and I still have it. Three weeks on the trot Rochester had Handel!!

 

I well recall him at Rochester, he was a perfectly charming, human and very kind man, and very talented indeed. He has left us some fine music. With the passing of Joe Levett some years ago, I feel that an era has passed us at Rochester.

 

May Dear Dr. Ashfield rest in peace, he was a much loved figure at Rochester, very "old school", and one of our big names.

 

R

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The funeral will be next Monday, 15 January, at 2:15pm in Rochester Cathedral.

A Memorial Service, with interment of ashes, will be announced at a later date.

Please pass the word to any non-list members who may have Rochester connections and would like to know about this, and also to anyone who may have contact with Bobby's surviving contemporaries, e.g. Drs Jackson, Vann, Wicks, etc.

 

Douglas Henn-Macrae

Senior Lay Clerk, Rochester Cathedral

Director of the Cathedral Special Choir

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  • 4 weeks later...

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