Herefordshire People: Hereford Choral Society and the Marcher Apple Network
PUBLISHED: 17:24 09 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:33 20 February 2013
Mark Ewins talks to Ray Boddington about his twin passions: the Hereford Choral Society and the Marcher Apple Network. Photographs by Shaun Thompson.
I have come to talk to Ray Boddington in his sitting room at the top of Aylestone Hill on the edge of Hereford and we are surrounded by an astounding display of ornamental creatures - mainly ducks - which represent many years of collecting by Norma, Ray's wife. In this peaceful location there is a timeless atmosphere completely in keeping with Ray and his interests. He is an engaging man in whose company it is very easy to let time drift pleasantly by as he expounds his passion for music and, not least, for apples.
"My great-grandfather established the Boddington's brewing company in Strangeways, Manchester," says Ray by way of introduction. But Ray's father, rather than joining the family business, farmed fruit at Burghill until 1934. This set the seeds of Ray's own interest in apples and pears which bore fruit almost 60 years later when he and like-minded friends founded the Marcher Apple Network.
From Burghill, Ray's family moved into the Golden Valley to live at Hinton Hall in Peterchurch. His pre-war memories are of an idyllic existence, of tobogganing down the hill beside what is now Fairfield High School, and of the "South Wales Express" puffing past the end of the garden three times a day. This consisted of one small tank locomotive and a guard's van, sandwiching three trucks and a single carriage. "It would occasionally be carrying some elderly and very rural folk," recollects Ray. "They may have been to Hereford three times in their lives and once as far as Cheltenham!"
Sadly, all this came to an end. In 1940, Ray's father died at a very young age; and the war took away his elder brother, Robert, who disappeared on active service with his submarine, Unique, which has never been traced. Ray's mother moved to Roman Road, Holmer and later in the war, Ray followed his brother into the Royal Navy. Subsequently, Ray was accepted for Brasenose College, Oxford where he took a degree in Modern History, after which he returned to his home.
"I joined the firm of H & G Thynne, tilemakers, and became friendly with Denis Thynne, the son of the family. The two of us shared several memorable holidays in Switzerland and visits to the opera at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne," recalls Ray, with a warm smile. While he was at Oxford, he also enjoyed walking holidays in both France and Scotland.
The Boddingtons' house in Holmer was newly built in what had been an old orchard, so Ray's interest in apples was rejuvenated, and boosted by later visits to his sister's home in Ledbury, which also stood in a well-established orchard.
Ray met his wife at the local Scottish dance society. "When we first married, we rented a flat in Venns Lane, Hereford." says Ray, "Then we moved here in 1957, and two of our three children were born here."
Three months after the move, Ray found himself in need of new employment with the demise of Thynne's, and it was then that he went to work at Wiggin Special Metals, where he was responsible for technical information and information retrieval systems until he retired in 1984.
Throughout his life Ray has loved choral singing. As any of us who watched BBC1's prime-time programme, Last Choir Standing, this summer will know, Ray is a member of Hereford Police Male Choir. His eyes twinkle as he points out, "As I was the most senior contestant left in the competition I was interviewed by Myleene Klass," the show's co-presenter.
Ray also sings with the Hereford Rail Male Choir, but I first met him when I joined Hereford Choral Society, of which he has been a much-loved member for almost 60 years. It was very sad for us when Ray announced his retirement earlier this year, after doing so much to promote the well-being of the Society.
Hereford Choral Society will shortly be celebrating its 175th anniversary in very good health, and it owes much to Ray's innovation during his time as concert manager and chairman. It is significant that Ray was a member for over a third of its long history and has served with more than half of the Society's conductors.
Ray was concert manager between 1972 and 1983. Under cathedral organist Richard Lloyd, he began the tradition of the Choral Society performing from the west end of the cathedral rather than under the tower, from where it is more difficult to be heard. He also found a way to raise the gentlemen of the chorus so that they could get a better view of the conductor by borrowing the plastic-topped tables from the Wiggin staff canteen. "We put these at the back of the chorus so the gentlemen could stand on them!" Thankfully, the Society was later able to afford proper raked staging!
Efforts such as these by the committee increased both the membership of the Society and audience figures to the levels maintained to this day. Ray's organisational skills led to him becoming Secretary of the Hereford Three Choirs Festival, a post he was to hold for 12 years - as well as singing with the Festival Chorus before retiring in 2006.
For twenty years, from 1966 onwards, Ray was also treasurer of Holmer Parochial Church Council and was involved in the funding of the Parish Centre when it was built in the 1980s. You see the familiar black and white timbered tower of Holmer's St Bartholomew's Church and the Parish Centre beside it, when you drive out of Hereford to the north. Ray has fond memories of this time, working with the late Robert Price, the ex-coroner of Hereford, and the vicar, the late John Dale.
Goodness knows how he found the time, but with an interest in the built environment, Ray was also a member of Hereford Civic Trust, serving as vice-chairman for 17 years between 1975 and 1992, then chairman for a further four years.
"One of the developments we took an interest in was Maylord Orchards," says Ray. "We, and I think the people of the city, felt that the proposals put forward by Grosvenor Estates were much more appropriate, and the Trust tried to bring pressure for change on the planners, but to no avail."
The Trust was also involved in nurturing the landscaping of Castle Cliffe following the replanting. "In the drought of 1976, I can recall on my way to work in the morning carrying buckets of water down to save the young trees that had been planted."
The mention of trees brings us back to apples and pears and Ray's greatest passion of all. He inherited a copy of a most wonderful book, The Herefordshire Pomona, which was published in parts from 1878, and includes beautiful colour prints of many of the county's traditional apple varieties. In the 1980s he was involved in setting up a collection of rare fruits for the National Trust at Berrington Hall with the late Stanley Baldock, who was the official fruit collator for the local committee of the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens.
"Soon after this, one day in 1990, Norma and I were visiting Hay-on-Wye on a quest for antique bargains. I spotted some apples sitting in a greengrocer's window and went in to buy half-a-dozen which were labelled as Stirling Castle." When he told the greengrocer of his interest, the man picked up his phone and told someone that he had an "apple enthusiast" in his shop.
"In no time at all, I was on my way to Glasbury to meet Sheila Leitch and, after a further series of meetings, Sheila and I and five other people founded the Marcher Apple Network." This organisation now has an international membership of around 300 with the aim of rescuing and preserving as many old varieties of apples and pears as possible. Through its publications and at events such as The Big Apple and Flavours of Herefordshire, the Network offers advice on choosing and growing traditional fruit trees.
Illustrated recollections of Ray's time with the Hereford Choral Society can be seen at http://www.herefordchoralsociety.org/history.html
The Marcher Apple Network - http://www.marcherapple.net