Searching online for a festive hit song, Mike Guilfoyle, vice-chair of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, discovers a link between Mike Oldfield and a composer and organist buried in Ladywell cemetery.
In a moment of wistful nostalgia I searched on line for a jaunty festive pop hit from the 1970’s that had stuck in my mind and whose tuneful melody evoked some much needed seasonal cheer.
When I looked further at the particular arrangement of this medieval song I discovered that its most popular rendition was the work of a composer and organist buried in Ladywell cemetery!
Dr. William Joseph Westbrook was born in East London in 1831 and for many years was the organist at St. Bartholomew Church, Sydenham ( 1851-1884 , where he is remembered by a brass plaque).
He helped to establish the newspaper, The Musical Standard, and was a musical examiner to the College of Preceptors (Teachers) and transcribed many pieces of classical music over the years for the organ and the citation “arr. by WJ Westbrook is a very familiar abbreviation”.
In 1864 he became a founder member of the Royal College of Organists. He lived for many years at Redberry Grove, Sydenham, and died in1894 and was interred in Ladywell cemetery.
His wife, Martha Westbrook predeceased him. The distinctive headstone lies close to the boundary wall adjoining Ivy Road.
One particular memorable transcription of his was that of the medieval and melodic song, ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ (In sweet rejoicing) and a contemporary version of this song was popularised by the composer/artist Mike Oldfield in 1975, whose instrumental version entered the British bestsellers list on December 20, 1975.
The song, usually with words (originally from a combination of German and Latin), was popular throughout Europe in various incarnations through the centuries.
There were two separate 19th century translations of the lyrics into English, firstly by composer Robert Lucas Pearsall and then by priest, scholar and hymn-writer John Mason Neale.
I hope that readers unfamiliar with this single find in it some welcome festive delight as well as maybe prompting them into looking up some of Mike Oldfield’s other memorable compositions (recall Tubular Bells !) and when next in Ladywell cemetery they will stop at W J Westbrook’s headstone in a suitably attuned and festive mood!
Footnote : For those readers with a keen interest in organ/church music , W J Westbrook’s grave is located close to that of two other nineteenth century organists and organ builders of particular note also buried in Ladywell cemetery:
George Maydwell Holdich ( 1816-1896)
Elizabeth Stirling/Bridge (1819-1895)