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Frederick Bridge aged about 40. Postcard photograph.

Sir Frederick BRIDGE (1844-1924)

March 2024

( b. Oldbury, 5 December 1844; d. London, 18 March 1924 )

Obituary from The Daily Chronicle, 1924.


Abbey Organist at Two Coronations.


“The Daily Chronicle” regrets to announce the death of Sir Frederick Bridge (who for 43 years the organist of Westminster Abbey), which took place at his residence, Cloisters, S.W., yesterday, in his 80th year.

The end came suddenly.  On Saturday morning Sir Frederick was at work, apparently in good health.  In the afternoon he was taken ill, and on Sunday was operated on for appendicitis.  Complications ensued, and he passed quietly away yesterday morning.  He was talking about music only half an hour before he died.

Born at Oldbury, near Birmingham, on December 5, 1844, educated at the Cathedral School, Rochester, where his father was a vicar-choral, he began his musical career as a small boy by tolling the bell at Rochester for the funeral of the Duke of Wellington.

His career as a great organist extended over half a century, for he was organist at Manchester Cathedral for six years before going to the same post at Westminster Abbey in 1875.  He retired in 1918.


He presided at the Abbey organ at the State services in connection with the two Jubilees of Queen Victoria, the Coronations of King Edward VII. and King George V., and many other great functions.  He said recently that he had played the Dead March over nearly every great man who had died in England during the last 50 years.

Sir Frederick Bridge (writes “The Daily Chronicle” Musical Critic) was one of the most familiar figures in our musical world, his sound musicianship and genial personality making him very popular with his fellow-musicians.

Beginning life as a choir-boy, the son of humble parents, he ended it with a knighthood, a university professorship (London), as Emeritus organist of Westminster Abbey (after being organist there for 43 years), and with many other honours.

To distinguish him from his brother (Dr. J. C. Bridge, of Chester Cathedral) he was nick-named “Westminster” Bridge soon after his appointment to the Abbey.

After retiring from the Abbey and the R.C.S., Sir Frederick continued a busy musical life, and only recently, in his 80th year, he told his friends that he was a “budding young operatic composer,” referring to the fact that he was engaged upon a resetting of a Dickens’ libretto.  This was completed only a week or two ago, and is to be performed during the coming season at Trinity College of Music.


He had a rather caustic wit, which figures in many anecdotes about him.  So irritated did he become by rings at his door bell before King Edward’s Coronation that he posted up the notice:  “Sir Frederick Bridge has no tickets, no time, and no temper.”

While conducting a rehearsal by the Royal Choral Society of “The Dream of Gerontius.” the orchestra joined vocally in the Demon Chorus, a practice Sir Frederick disliked intensely.  When they burst out with “Ha, Haa” in a nasal tone he exclaimed: “Don’t do that.  If you must join in it, do it in the way most natural to you – ‘He-haw.’”

An Appreciation of Sir Frederick Bridge from The Daily News, 19 March 1924.



The “Daily News” Musical Critic.

There could be no more appropriate heading and appreciation of the late Sir Frederick Bridge than the title that he himself chose for his autobiography, because for the larger part of his active life – 44 years to be precise – the Abbey was the pivot around which his life revolved.

With Sir Frederick Bridge one of the great figures of Victorian music passes away.  When all is said and done, the organists of England are the greatest and the most abiding influence on music in this country – a fact which it is no exaggeration to say gives to English music, even in its modern manifestations,  some of its most distinctive characteristics, and among the organists of his day none exercised greater power than Sir Frederick Bridge.  He was a great teacher, both in the classroom and as a writer, but a greater teacher in the organ loft.

I have used the word English advisedly, for nothing was more alien to the sturdy breezy, bluff personality of Frederick Bridge than Celtic twilight and all that it stands for in the arts.  He was not a progressive – as we reckon progressives in these days – at the same time he was far from a hide-bound Tory in music indeed when he first came to Westminster Abbey in the late seventies, he was a bold innovator and caused something like alarm in the sacred precincts.  At the dinner given to him on the occasion of his retirement he mentioned the fact that he had served under four Deans and five Precentors.  The first Dean was the totally unmusical Dean Stanley, and Sir Frederick told his hearers that, curiously enough, it was really due to Dean Stanley that he had introduced into the “Dead March” from “Saul” the drum effects which everybody now expects.  The Dean, who knew nothing about music whatever, had said that he was dissatisfied with the performances he had heard, but did not know why; and Sir Frederick Bridge found out that the Dean’s favourite instrument was the big drum and acted accordingly.  The story is worth repeating, because it shows how Sir Frederick always had the knack of combining practical sagacity with reverence for art.

In private life Sir Frederick was the most genial of men, and never failed to enliven every serious subject with his ready wit.  He was fonder of discussing his prowess as a fisherman or of recalling his earlier exploit – which was that he helped to toll the bells of Rochester Cathedral on the day of the Duke of Wellington’s funeral – than of music, or the many stately and solemn functions at the Abbey at which he had directed the music.

It was the greatest comfort to him in the last years that he was permitted to continue to live in Littlington Tower, within the precincts of the Abbey, with the memories of his great predecessors, of whom Purcell in particular was the chief object of his worship.

No appreciation of Sir Frederick – however short – can be complete without a reference to his gift as an after-dinner speaker.  He was always happy, always witty, yet never flippant.  In this capacity he was probably known to a very large number of people who knew nothing, and cared less, about his value to the nation as a musician – but this gift of his was far from being without it[s] value, for it helped many an unmusical person to realise that a musician – even a cathedral organist – could be intensely human.