Rosemary & Christopher Clemence

A short Profile

The Gladstone Committee of 1895 proposed the concept of wishing to separate youths from older men in adult prisons and in implementing these ideals the first specialised institution was established at Borstal, near Rochester, Kent in 1902. Although well intentioned, Borstal soon became synonymous with rascally misdemeanour and delinquency and one would, understandably, eschew any connection with such a notorious institution. However, on 3rd July 1946, this was indeed where Rosemary was born. Not in the prison, we hasten to add, but in the village of Borstal, where she now looks back with fond memories of her education at Borstal School and her father who was, in later years, organist of St Matthew’s Parish Church, Borstal.

Christopher, by contrast, was born in the relative respectability of Chatham, on 6th November 1948; notably just eight days before the Prince of Wales. His father was also an organist, and although his parents were Methodists, they attended Ebenezer Congregational Church, Chatham, later to become the URC and now the Emmaus Centre. Tom, his father, was organist and sometime choirmaster there for 54 years and was a gifted accompanist providing an extensive musical environment for Chris as he grew up. Some may remember he organised a KCOA meeting at the church in the 1970’s.

Rosemary’s parents attended Chatham Methodist Central Hall where her father was the Sunday School Superintendent and harmonium player; her mother and sister also sang in the choir. The Central Hall had a large 1400 seat capacity and every month it played host to the London Philharmonic Orchestra requiring Rosemary, her parents and aunts to provide tea for them. Here they were to meet people like Malcolm Sargeant, Basil Cameron, Hugo Rignold, Eileen Joyce and even Peter Katin. Rosemary’s appreciation of music and singing found the Central Hall Choir lacking and, as her father worked in the same insurance office as Joe Levett, Assistant Organist at Rochester Cathedral, Joe suggested she join the Cathedral Special Choir, which sang for the 6.30 p.m. service each Sunday. Starting in 1964, at the age of eighteen, she still sings regularly with them.

Chris also had aspirations to join a choir and, when he was ten years old, he persuaded his parents to investigate an Anglican Church choir, as there were no opportunities at the Ebenezer. It was suggested he might like to join the all-male choir at St Stephen’s Church, Chatham. The Choirmaster was Keith Miller, who had been at King’s College, Cambridge during Boris Ord’s time, when he featured as the baritone soloist in the first recording of The Three Kings. He was not only a gifted musician but also an exceptional choir trainer and Chris enjoyed life in the choir, first as a treble and later as a tenor, serving without a break for thirty years. Keith’s philosophy was to both work hard and play hard and Chris grew up in a tradition of an annual choir holiday remembering a notable tour of Switzerland and France in 1966. Numbers in the choir reached almost sixty in its heyday.

He attended a RSCM course as a treble at Addington Palace in 1960 and was selected to participate in the Cathedral Choir course the following year at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, under the direction of the late Gerald Knight. About the time he joined St. Stephen’s choir his father suggested he be "put to the piano", but with the boredom of scales and arpeggios interest quickly evaporated. He always fancied playing the tuba, but as he was not a large child, he felt he would have been lost behind it.

Rosemary & Christopher Clemence

Chris attended Highfield Secondary Modern School, Chatham and cycled daily from the family home in Walderslade; here his music teacher was Tom Stocksley, also a former KCOA member. Leaving school, Chris had no firm idea of a career although his father suggested banking. Chris was keen on maths, but as he only emerged from the 5th form with two GCE’s, he had to attend further education to gain the necessary qualifications. The following year he started work at the National Provincial Bank, Gillingham having passed his interview at the Head Office in Bishopsgate.

In his late teens, he started attending a youth group run by St Stephen’s Church and here, following the Sunday evening service at the Cathedral, Rosemary appeared; after thirty-five years of marriage and with a daughter, Ruth, the rest, as they say, is history. They were married in 1971 at Rochester Cathedral with Joe Levett playing the organ as he had done for Rosemary’s parents in 1939.

Chris joined Rochester Choral Society, where Rosemary was already a member, which was then under the baton of Robert Ashfield, but both left in 1971 when they married, the priorities of setting up home and studying for banking exams taking precedence. However, they did make time to sing in The Tudor Consort of Rochester which gave recitals both near and far; having sung with them for over twenty-five years they have sung under the direction of: David Poulter, Paul Hale and Roger Sayer.

Being transferred to a bank in the City, Chris made a number of Christian friends through attending the lunchtime services at St Helen’s, Bishopsgate. Here he became more exposed to evangelical and Biblical preaching and in 1989, being unhappy with the preaching at St Stephen’s, and a rift which sadly divided the church, he left and has since attended the Enon Baptist Church, Chatham, where he is treasurer, organist and youth leader. He modestly confesses he plays the organ, but only up to hymn playing standard, and although he plays a pipe organ with two manuals, it has only 3 ranks of pipes and no pedals.

Rosemary had aspirations to be a librarian but in fact became a secretary. She has been fully employed over the years working for: KCC County Library; BBC Radio, Light Programme, where she frequently took dictation from Richard Baker; Medway College and Kent Music School; and for the past sixteen years has worked for the Diocese of Rochester dealing with the fabric and re-ordering of churches.

She has just retired but likes to keep fit with gardening and walking. Together with Chris she is now, after a gap of twenty-eight years, very active with Rochester Choral Society; Rosemary being Secretary and Chris the Treasurer. Following early retirement, Chris joined Gideons International, which is involved in distributing Bibles in schools and homes for the elderly and acts as a room steward at Restoration House. He enjoys reading, gardening, photography and persuading the computer to do what it should.

Although Rosemary and Christopher have had a connection with our KCOA since the late 1960s, when they attended meetings with their parents, they joined in their own right in 1992. Rosemary has been our valued Secretary for the past seven years and we are indeed grateful for the immense work they undertake for us; with Chris’s quiet genial demeanour and Rosemary’s crisp trademark efficiency, they have made an incalculable contribution, not only to our Association, but also the music of Rochester over many years.


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