Philip Cheetham

A short profile

Although Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement — culminating in the Munich agreement of November 1938 — was met with rapturous approval at the time, the shadow of Germany’s invasion of Austria in March 1938 remained, and marked a significant and troubling turning point in European history.

England, however, was still giving of her best. Hovering midway between these two points in history, on July 3rd 1938, with a certain quiet discretion, our friend and colleague Philip Cheetham was born. He was the only son of The Reverend & Mrs. F. P. Cheetham of Egerton Hall, Manchester, an AnglicanTheological CollegePhilip’s father was the Principal.His mother was also gifted, having studied piano and singing at the Royal Academy; she was a fine musician and teacher. Thus were Philip’s foundations laid, from which flowered the courteously modest, quintessential English gentlemen we see before us today.

Philip’s early years were not without their ups-and-downs as the family moved, in 1939, to Hartford, near Northwich, Cheshire. Moving into the vicarage, his father became the new Vicar of Hartford. The village of Hartford was surrounded by ICI factories and became a wartime target and a magnet for V1s. Philip remembers one such monster skimming the village rooftops, but then plunging harmlessly into a nearby field mercifully causing little damage. The sounds of war instilled a certain fear, the local air raid siren was tested every Monday morning, but even though it sounded the “all-clear” it put the fear of God into Philip, which was understandable for a five-year-old whose mother was the ARP Warden.

Following the war, while at Preparatory School, Philip started piano lessons, but regretfully his piano teacher, Miss Davies — perhaps a little eccentric and Welsh — although thinking kindly of the boys, seemed to produce a certain clash of personality and the lessons did not inspire. Philip was pleased to give them up when he reached age thirteen.

1952 opened new doors and, now fourteen, Philip moved on to Marlborough College, Wiltshire, where he took ten ‘O’ level and then three ‘A’ level subjects: Physics, Chemistry and History. It was here, towards the end of these courses, that a physics master suggested the boys might prepare a two- or three-minute talk on something that interested them. Fortuitously, at the time, it happened that the organ in the school chapel was being re-built and enlarged by Hill, Norman & Beard.The chapel was a magnificent Victorian Gothic building which held over 650 people, and its ante chapel was full of the parts of the organ and, above all, pipes of all shapes, sizes, and materials. Philip decided that his talk would be on (the physics of?) organ construction.

The school library contained several books — of Edwardian vintage — about organ building, with many wonderful engravings of Ophicleides, Apfel-Regals and unda Maris, as well as other more conventional pipework examples. Philip was absolutely hooked; his two-minute talk must have gone on for twenty-five minutes at least!

When the organ re-build was complete, with a gleaming new console of four manuals and a much-enhanced specification, the Marlborough organ attracted much attention. The high pressure Tuba’s magnificence was heard far and near and, subsequently, Philip’s interest in the organ and its mechanics led him to an appreciation of the organ and its music. A series of recitals, one by Flor Peeters, was greatly inspiring and soon he was totally won over to “serious” music. Many wonderful concerts were performed at Marlborough with visiting professional orchestras and the superb chapel choir; Philip remembers a visit by Herbert Howells. Undoubtedly public school life could have its discomforts, but Marlborough had provided Philip with considerably more than a basic education.

Following Marlborough in 1956, Philip was posted to Western Germany for his two-years National Service in the Royal Air Forcemaintaining, repairing and operating Radar Navigational Systems. Happily his early music lessons were not wasted as, during his Air Force days, Philip re-learned his rudimentary keyboard technique and for about a year was organist (Philip modestly says “harmonium player”) in the tiny chapel of RAF Schleswigland, a small radar unit.

Philip’s parents retired, in 1959, to Hastings, which was opportune for Philip coming to the end of National Service, as he was able to have a series of organ lessons from the late Vincent Batts FRCO at All Saints Church, Hastings, on the splendid untouched three-manual Father Willis.Philip then, later that year, continued his education at St. John’s College, Cambridge, studying: Natural Sciences Tripos Part I (1961), Natural Sciences Tripos Part II 1962 second class Honours, division ii (Botany) B.A. 1962, Cert. Ed. 1963, M.A. 1965.

Of course, Evensong, sung by the outstanding St. John’s chapel choir under George Guest, was a regular and constant inspiration to Philip, opening his eyes to the glories of English Cathedral music. He was able to continue with his organ lessons at Hastings during holiday breaks and a church near to St. John’s had a convenient Hill, Norman & Beard organ for term time practice; regrettably only organ scholars were permitted to practice at St. John’s.

So profoundly moved was Philip in his appreciation of such fine music that he became determined, on leaving university, to apply for jobs only in Cathedral cities. Canterbury therefore became home to Philip and then his wife Susan. Susan works in the Cathedral and they are able to go to Evensong on most days.

While the children were young there was not always time for organ playing, but Philip did sing in a church choir. In 1974 he became organist of St. Mary’s Church, Nackington (where Susan is organist now) and it was at this time he first joined our Kent County Organists’ Association. 1981 brought a move to St. Mildred’s Church, Canterbury, where the organ was totally re-built and much improved by F. H. Brown and is now amongst the best in the area. Philip feels fortunate to have had twenty very enjoyable years there.

Philip was appointed Lecturer in Biology at Canterbury College in 1963 and has been employed in continuous service at the college ever since. There was a sabbatical year at Wye College, University of London 1970-1971, for a Post-graduate course in Applied Plant Sciences; Philip obtained a M.Sc. (Distinction). His teaching duties have been mainly with ‘A’ level Biology courses, although more latterly GCSE classes in Physics, chemistry, biology and human biology. For some years Philip was in charge of the college Horticultural Unit and from 1982 to 1994 was responsible for all the Biology courses in the Department of Science & HumanitiesAlso in 1992 he became Course Tutor for the Access to Higher Education (Science) course.

Philip took early retirement from his full-time post in August 1994, but took up a temporary part-time (fractional) post in September 1994, involving ‘A’ level Environmental Sciences and GCSE work in Human Biology, continuing with his teaching and administrative responsibilities on the Access course in Science.

Finally retiring in 1998, things seemed busier than ever, with the organ, grandchildren, and other hobbies. Philip has two children and four step-children; there are six step-grandchildren and one day each week is entirely taken up with looking after them. Philip is also learning Italian — so helpful on their annual holidays there — and is also a bell ringer as well as being a member of Canterbury City Centre Parochial Church Council. He is a member of the Inland Waterways Association and an associate member of The Morris Minor Owners’ Club. Susan has a 1958 Morris Minor 1000 on which they greatly depend.

Philip’s kindly manner and unassuming modesty veils an unseen depth of character and ability. With rolled umbrella on one arm and wife Susan on the other, he seemingly portrays an English “Hercule Poirot”, searching out the secrets of organs, churches and their history on our many visits and meetings. With his unique knowledge and enthusiasm we are pleased Philip is once again a serving committee member. His work and loyal membership have immeasurably enhanced our Association over some twenty-seven years and we earnestly hope, of course, he will continue for many more


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