The Walbrook Glee Singers

It was a fortuitous enquiry that introduced the Wallbrook Glee Singers.  

John Woodfield, collector and researcher, was looking to reduce his accumulation of photographs and made some searches on the web for possible information on a large mounted group portrait of four gentlemen, entitled “Walbrook Glee Singers”.  The photographer was “Speight, Rugby”.  The photograph had been in the collection of his grandfather who had been a photographer himself, but it did not seem to have any family connections.

Having Emailed copies of parts of the image to the author, a little research on the group and the individuals portrayed followed.  After replying with some preliminary thoughts, the owner felt the photograph might be better kept in Rugby together with other Speight material.  Following a rendezvous in a car park just off Junction 22 of the M1, the photograph was generously donated to the Speight Archive by John Woodfield in memory of his grandfather, Charles Henry Christie of Birmingham.

Walbrook Glee Singers

So who were the Glee Singers?  There was nothing helpful on Google, but the on-line Newspaper Archive, although it does not yet include any Rugby newspapers, did provide several references to the group.  The Rugby Advertiser had to be searched in the traditional way!  

The Walbrook Glee Singers were indeed based in Rugby and sang in the area and occasionally further afield.  So far references to them have been found between 1894 and 1903.  

The name is a mystery.  The fact that there was actually a Mr. Walbrook who sang “Glees” back in the 1860s in the Aldershot area is assumed to be a coincidence;  also, there appear to be no connections with the Wren church, St. Stephen’s, Walbrook in the City of London, although the earliest performance traced was in the London area.

The press reports suggest there was an earlier “line up” than the four gentlemen depicted in the photograph, but these later singers seem to have come together by June 1900.  The two “line-ups” had one member in common, Charles Sapsed, although misprinted “Tapsed” in the early report!

The Performances

That earliest performance traced was in Richmond on 21st January 1894, when “The Richmond Central Musical Society gave a concert at the Greyhound Masonic Hall on Tuesday … The Walbrook Glee Singers gained hearty encores for their efficient rendering of four well-known part songs.”  

There appears to be a gap until October 1899, when they are reported as being from Rugby.  They were in Northampton for the fifth annual banquet of the Licensed Victuallers. “The Walbrook Glee Singers, an accomplished male quartet from Rugby, sang a number of songs and glees (without accompaniment) with extraordinary skill and taste.”    The next month they were again in Northampton for the Mayoral Banquet on 9th November 1899.  “During the repast, … The Walbrook Glee Singers rendered with exquisite taste a number of songs and catches, for which they were several times encored.” 

This apparent preference for Northampton reflects the fact that a Northampton newspaper has been scanned and can be more easily searched.  

In January 1900, an evening concert in the National School, Turvey, Northants, in aid of the church roof fund included an appearance when: “Mr F H Mardin, (chief constable of Northampton), … had specially engaged the celebrated Walbrook Glee Singers - Messrs. T. Sparkes (alto), A. J. King (first tenor), F Stannard (second tenor), and C. Tapsed (base), who contributed some of the best singing ever heard in Turvey, and were much appreciated.”   The programme included: “Banks of Allan Water”, “Lass of Richmond Hill”, “Simple Simon”, (encored and “She wore a wreath of Roses” given),  “The Old Folks at Home” (specially arranged) … (encored, and “A Catastrophe” given), “Robin Adair”, ( encored, and “Cats” given), and “Good Night”.

That earlier group of performers has not been satisfactorily identified.  Frederick G Stannard could be an L&NW Railway draftsman who was born in Cotesbach in 1867 and appeared in the 1891 census.  Thomas Sparkes, might be a club steward, born in 1877 in Hampton in Arden, who was living at 3, Albert Street, Rugby in 1901, and who become a compositor in Coventry by 1911.  No obvious A. J. King has emerged.  

On 31st March 1900, at Rushden, in addition to various contributions from the audience and by “local talent”, “The Walbrook Glee Singers from Rugby provided the programme at the weekly “smoker” on Saturday night.  This was their first visit to Rushden at the club; and their singing was highly appreciated by the large audience.  They contributed  “A Catastrophe”, “Simple Simon”, “The Old Folks at Home”, “Lass of Richmond Hill”, “Good Night”, “Rub-a-Dub”, “She wore a wreath of Roses”, “On the Banks of Allan Water” and “Robin Adair”.   

By 12th June 1900, the personnel seen on the photograph have become the established line-up.  They performed at the Patriotic Fete at Harpole, “To celebrate the glad tidings of Lord Roberts’s triumphal entry into Pretoria. …  At half past two, the Walbrook Glee Singers (Mr. Charles Sapsted, Mr. Ernest Brooks, Mr. Walter White, and Mr. Sidney T. Laughton) commenced the entertainment with some quartets, which were well sung and heartily appreciated.”  

On 14th June 1900, at Jephson Gardens, Leamington Spa, there was an Al Fresco Concert with “…some pleasing quartettes rendered by the Walbrook Glee Singers …”.   The items performed included:  “A Catastrophe”; “The Old Folks at Home” plantation melody with imitation banjo accompaniment; and “Simple Simon”.

On 13th November 1900, they performed at an evening concert in Leicester.  “The Walbrook Glee Singers from Rugby visited the Town Hall here on Tuesday night and gave one of their highly-pleasurable and characteristic entertainments, which more than sustained the high reputation the party have gained for refined harmony and melody, and although the audience was small the applause was such as to show well-merited approbation. …  The humorous recital of Mr. Ernest Brookes was well received, as was a duet by the former and Mr. Sidney Laughton, while the quartets were all of exquisite harmony, calling for repeated applause and repetitions.  Mr. Walter White’s songs were also very enjoyable.  Mr. Sapsed (secretary and bass) may be congratulated on forming such an excellent party.”   This perhaps confirms that Charles Sapsted had a leading organisational role, having also been in the earlier line-up.

They ventured further from home in August the next year.  On 24th and 31st August 1901, the Hastings newspaper announced the forthcoming appearances of the Glee Singers.    They appeared at the twelfth annual “Hastings Pier Promenade Concerts” on Saturday 31st August and a report of the event followed the next week.  

“The Walbrook Glee Singers (Messrs. Ernest Brooks, Walter White, Chas. Sapsted, and Sidney Laughton). … In their humorous quartets and in the beautiful arrangement of “Anne Laurie” the Glee Singers were conspicuously successful. … In the evening concert, … The quartet, “Lovely Night,” by the Walbrook Glee singers, was much admired. … The Walbrook Glee singers reappeared with the well-known humorous quartet, “Simple Simon”, which they gave with inimitable humour, winning an encore, and responding with “Annie Laurie”. … Mr Sidney Laughton sang “A mariner’s home’s the sea,” and the Walbrook Glee Singers closed with “Good-night, Beloved.” 

On 2nd October 1901, the Glee Singers were included in a concert organised by Mrs. Rylands in Rugby in aid of the Hospital of St. Cross and headed by Alice Gomez, a contralto.  “The Walbrook Glee Singers (Messrs Ernest Brooks, W White, C Sapsed, and S Laughton) contributed quartettes, including one entitled, “Italian Salad”, which was the most elaborate piece we have heard them attempt.”   A further concert for the same cause was given in November 1901; they gave a “quartette, “Italian Salad”, … (encored, and “Jenk’s Compound” substituted).” 

The latest reference found to date is 16th June 1903, when the singers gave a concert as part of the “various entertainments” at the Liberal Demonstration held by the North Bucks Liberal Association at Bletchley Park: “… the Walbrook Glee Singers gave two excellent concerts in a huge marquee.”  

The Performers

Whilst the performers featured in the photograph are named, that does not immediately identify them.  The initial assumption that Speight was their local photographer was confirmed later by the news items that stated that they were from Rugby.  A guess was made of their ages, and by assuming the photograph was taken in the early 1900s this provided estimated birth dates.  The estimates were: Walter White, say 45, born c.1855 [act.1858]; Charles Sapsed, say 35, born c. 1865 [act.1866]; Ernest Brooks, say 30, born c.1870 [act.1871]; and Sidney Laughton, say 25, born c, 1875 [act.1876].  The various names were then searched using the Ancestry and FreeBMD websites.   The guessed ages from the photograph were remarkably accurate! 

Helpfully, there were not too many options, and local Rugby born identities were quickly suggested for three of the four.  The more difficult candidate was Charles Sapsed, but after searching the papers for Walbrook references, the various individuals were also searched and strong candidates emerged.

Charles Sapsed 

Charles Sapsed 

Charles was born in Beckenham, Kent in about 1866, the youngest son of Mr. J. Sapsed, later of Kingston-on-Thames.  In 1881, he was a fifteen year old clerk, working and boarding in Saffron Walden.  In 1888, he left Saffron Walden, after being presented with a Gladstone bag by a few friends at the Cross Keys Hotel on 9th March.  “Mr. R. A. Williams, on behalf of the donors who included some of Mr. Sapsed’s musical and personal friends, … in a speech referred to the willing matter in which Mr. Sapsed always responded when asked to give his services at any entertainment.”   In 1891, he was working in London, lodging, as was his warehouseman elder brother, in Kentish Town and still a clerk.  Could he have “collected” the Walbrook name in London for some reason? Could he possibly have formed a group there, as he seemed already to be such an accomplished “entertainer”.  He married Clara Hughes, “the eldest daughter of Mr. T. H. Hughes”, on 4th October 1893.   He must have met her during his musical time in Saffron Walden.    At some time there was a move to Rugby, as their first two children were born there in 1895 and 1897.  

He is listed in Rugby in 1899 and 1900 living at Langham Villa, Murray Road.  He was still a clerk, and in 1904, the family had moved to 155, Clifton Road.  They moved away and by 1911 he was in Camberwell, a manager in printing and publication with three children.

Walter White  
Walter White      

Walter’s birth was registered in Rugby in Q1, 1858 [Rugby 6d, 433], and he was christened on 14th February 1858 at the parish church.  He was the son of James White, a railway porter born in Barby, and his wife Elizabeth, born in Ullesthorpe.  

He married in Rugby in 1891, with a Sarah J Cryer, from Kilsby when he was living at 23, William Street, a fireman with the L&NW Railway; in 1901, they were living at 108, Old Station, now with a nine year old daughter, a son of seven and a new baby daughter of two months.  He had now been promoted and had progressed to be a railway engine driver.  By 1911, he had been married twenty years; their address was now 108, Newbold Road, he was still a railway engine driver and his son, now seventeen, had started on the railway career ladder as an engine cleaner.

Ernest Walter G Brooks

Ernest Walter G Brooks  

Ernest Brooks is important for other reasons than his singing alone.  In 1884 the Rugby Portland Cement Company was wound up and a partnership was then formed between G. H. Walker's sons, Henry Edyvean Walker and Arthur Caldecott Walker together with Charles Hall, a cement maker who was managing partner.  In 1898, Charles Hall died but was not replaced.  Instead, a works manager was appointed, the first being Isaac Brooks, born in 1838 in Blaby.  He was an accountant, and in 1898, he was aged sixty.  

The birth of his son, Ernest Walter Guardner Brooks, had been registered in Q4 1871 [Rugby 6d, 470] and he would also work at the cement works, indeed, the 1901 Census indicated that he was a “Secretary at Cement Works”.  Isaac’s death was registered in Q1 1912, he was then aged seventy-four [Rugby 6d 755].  Before that date he had retired and Ernest had succeeded him, and it seems likely that he took over as Manager in 1906, as he was presented with a silver salver for twenty-five years service on 30th June 1931.  That is now held by the CEMEX / Rugby Cement Archive.  In 1911 he was living at 61, Regent Street, Rugby, aged forty and married for seventeen years with two children: a son sixteen and daughter twelve.  The business carried on as a Partnership until 1925 when it became again a private limited company.

He died on 16th January 1933, when living at Holyoake, South Kilworth.  He left an Estate with a gross value of £4484, with net personality of £1464.  Probate was granted to his widow, the sole Executrix.

 Sidney Thomas Laughton  

Sidney Thomas Laughton  

Sidney was born on 4th September 1876, and the birth was registered in Q4 1876 [Rugby 6d, 546].  He played some cricket and is recorded playing for Rugby Onwards -v- Rugby at Rugby Cricket Ground on 23rd June 1900.   He batted at No. 11 and was not out, having scored nine runs.

It appeared he had some formal singing training as on 10th October 1900, at Leamington Spa Town Hall, he was presented with a prize in the local music examinations held by Trinity College London: “Senior pass: Sidney Thomas Laughton (Hubert Lamb, Mus. Bac.) singing;”.  He also sang a song during the afternoon’s proceedings.    

In 1901, he was with his parents, Samuel Laughton [1844 - 1904], a cabinet maker from Warwick and Lavinia Frances (née Wingell) Laughton [1854 - 1936] from Walcott.  Sidney was then following his father’s trade.  They lived at 24, Dunchurch Road, just a few doors away from the Speight family’s photographers’ studio at No. 16, where it may be that the portrait of the group was taken!  

His marriage was registered in Q4 1922 at St. Georges, Hanover Square [St. Geo. H. Sq. 1a, 965] to Dorothy Chamberlain.  They had two children: the first, Richard Dennis Vereker Laughton [1923 – 1924] died very young and the second son, Dennis Sidney Laughton [1924 – 2005] would become a barrister at law and later his father’s executor.  

Sidney had travelled to USA in 1926, apparently as a “Detective” and travelled there again in retirement.  He died on 25th April 1958 aged 81.


It seems from the dates that it was Charles Sapsed who probably formed the group.  Whether the name, Walbrook, deliberately included parts of the names of two members, Wal[ter White] and [Ernest] Wal[ter] Brook[s] must be pure speculation!

Ernest Brookes would certainly have had increasing responsibilities at the works as his father neared retirement in about 1906.

John Frearson