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Lee, J. Turle (1866-1932)

Additional comments: Organist to the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn.
Following information obtained through mr. Andrew Mussell, Archivist of the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn.

He was born in the registration district of Lambeth in the fourth quarter of 1846, the son of James Lee, wood engraver, and his wife Charlotte. He married, in the registration district of Pancras in the fourth quarter of 1866, Mary Sarah Hopkins, the daughter of Lee’s tutor and patron, E[dward] J Hopkins of the Temple Church, by whom Lee apparently had a single child, a daughter, Maude Mary (later Ross). He died in Brixton (registration district of Lambeth) on 20 Oct 1932, described as a retired music teacher.

In 1862 many changes were made to Gray’s Inn Chapel, including the installation of a new organ, followed in 1864 by the appointment of a new organist, James Turle Lee, in the place of the previous organist, J W Parker, who retired. In the relevant minute of Pension (the Inn’s governing body) dated 20 Jan 1864 the Chapel Committee reported that it had “conferred… with Mr E J Hopkins, Organist of the Temple, who has the management of the chapel Choir of this Society and were of opinion that it would be expedient to adopt his advice on the matter and [are] therefore recommending the Pension to engage the services of a Mr James Lee who for many years studied under Mr Hopkins and whom the Committee were informed is in every way qualified for the duties – and who would be satisfied with the same salary (£40) as paid to Mr Parker.”

On 30 June 1869 E J Hopkins resigned as Master of the Choir of Gray’s Inn Chapel because he had been appointed Director of the Choir at the Temple Church, as well as organist. He recommended that Lee should be made Master of the Gray’s Inn choir in his place, while remaining organist, at an increased salary of £55 per annum, and his recommendation was accepted. Lee’s letter of thanks was not read until 12 Jan 1870, so there may have been a few months’ interval before his appointment was confirmed.

In 1884 there were a number of administrative changes in the Chapel, in connection with which Lee presented a report on his own account to Pension, concerning which the minutes of 20 Feb 1884 say only that the Treasurer would speak to him on the subject, after which no more is heard of it.

On 23 Nov 1887 the minutes note a conflict with the Reader (the Inn’s Chaplain): “At this Pension a question that had arisen between the Reader and the Organist is submitted to the Bench as to the extent to which the former might interfere in the arrangement of the Music or its rendering by the choir; and the Reader desired to have the decision of the Bench in the matter. The question had arisen from the Reader’s objection to the Organist’s choice of Music for a particular psalm. The Reader had been engaged with the Camb: Regius Professor of Divinity in “The Paragraph Psalter” and he felt justified in insisting upon Music suited to the words. The Reader was desirous to be informed what the Bench wished him to do in attending the practice at 10.00 a.m. on Sundays and according to Order “undertaking the supervision of the choir and its practice.” It is moved by Master Russell, Seconded by Master Beetham and Carried and Ordered that the Steward do write and inform the Organist that he is to submit himself to the directions of the Reader.”

The Reader in question was the Revd Stephen Phillips, formerly Precentor of Peterborough Cathedral, appointed in 1884. Unfortunately there is no further information on which psalm or which setting caused the incident, but Turle Lee seems to have been quite a prolific composer, his works apparently including popular songs.

In 1893 the Chapel was thoroughly restored and reconfigured, and the Inn took the opportunity to make new staffing provisions. In late 1892 Master Beetham (the same as in the above minute of 1887) made a formal complaint about the poor standard of the choir and music, resulting in a minute dated 20 March 1893; “Upon the Motion – pursuant to notice – of Master Beetham seconded by Master Griffith and Carried (Master Rose dissenting) It is Ordered that notice be given to thee Organist and Choir to terminate their engagement with the Society at Midsummer next, and also that notice be given to the Organ Builders (Messrs Gray & Davison) that their Contract for keeping in repair the Organ will be discontinued at the end of the current year.”

(The choir, as constituted in 1864, when Lee was appointed Master of Choir, consisted of four men, one for each of the male voices, and four boys). Revd Stephen Phillips did not long survive the Chapel renovation, and was replaced in 1894.

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