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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Norwich Composers 2

More Norwich composers:

Group B: Composers in the Baroque Period (to c.1745)

Richard Carlton 

The evidence about Carlton's date and place of birth seems simply to be lacking, so we cannot be certain that he was born in Norwich; but he certainly worked in Norwich and Norfolk and died in the county.  His probable dates are c.1558 to 1638.  He graduated BA from Clare College, Cambridge in 1577, was vicar of St. Stephen's, Norwich from some time in the 1570s, a minor canon at Norwich Cathedral from 1591 until at least 1609, Master of the Choristers from 1591 - 1605 and in October 1612 was presented to the living of Bawsey-cum-Glosthorpe where he probably remained until his death.   

Describing himself on the title page as 'Priest: Batchelor in Musique', Carlton published his own collection of 21 pieces (printed by Thomas Morley in London) under the title Madrigals to Five Voices in 1601.  The choice of lyrics shows a bias towards an earlier type of Elizabethan verse.  His musical sympathies are with the pre-madrigalian English tradition exemplified by Byrd.  Like Byrd, Carlton is inclined to strong rhythmic counterpoint.  His most striking feature is the clashing of major and minor thirds, which occurs frequently in his music.  Four of the pieces are obviously viol accompanied songs (like Byrd's).  In the preface to the collection he remarks that 'I have laboured somewhat to imitate the Italian, they being in these dayes (with the most) in high request, yet may I not nor cannot forget that am an English man.'   This interesting comment shows that Carlton was aware that his music was in a style that had passed out of fashion.

Carlton contributed Calm was the air and clear the sky to Morley's Triumphs of Oriana.  Two anthems and a Pavane for five instruments composed by him  also survive.

Relevant Recordings 

The Triumphs of Oriana  - I Fagiolini (Chandos) CHAN 0682

The Triumphs of Oriana  - King's Singers (Signum, 2006) SIGCDO82


My thanks to Keith at Prelude Records in Norwich for his advice on available recordings or (as some people call it) "Discography".


  • See under Parsley: NGDM Vol. 5
  • Peter Aston and Tom Roast - Music in the Cathedral, in Norwich Cathedral Church, City and Diocese 1096-1996, ed. Ian Atherton and others
  • Watkins Shaw - The Succession of Organists at the Chapel Royal and the cathedrals of England and Wales from 1538 (1991).

Richard Gibbs

Richard Gibbs [or Gibbes], born late 16th Century to mid 17th Century, was sworn in as organist on 16th June 1622.  During his time, from Michaelmas 1629, the posts of organist and master of the choristers were again combined.     In 1635 he purchased a large estate in St. Andrews for £320 from William Cobbold (q.v.).   Although there was no organ for him to play after 1643 (destroyed by Puritans), payments to Gibbs can be traced as far as Michaelmas 1646.  The Parliamentary Survey of 1649 still refers to the 'house of the organist and Master of the Queristers, Richard Gibbs . . . lying on the east side of Almonry Green [Upper Close] containing five rooms in the first story and five chambers over them, together with a yard lying before the said house enclosed with a stone wall containing about half a rood '.  The house was damaged during the Commonwealth period, repairs being authorised in 1662 for the new organist.  The house with some alterations still exists as 67 The Close.  It was later occupied by Zechariah Buck. 

In an illustrated lecture of 1903, Dr. A.H. Mann had Gibbs' anthem Have mercy upon me, O God sung.  He commented that this 'lovely little Anthem' proved that Gibbs 'could write Church Music in its purest style.' 

He points out also that two good musicians - namely Dr. Thomas Tudway in his collection for the Earl of Oxford and James Hastings, organist at Ely Cathedral, - thought the anthem well worth preserving.  A two-part version of this four-part piece was published in John Playford's 1663 collection Catch that Catch Can. 

Another anthem See, sinful soul resembles the larger scale verse anthems of John Bull and Dering.   Also extant is an Almain and Corant for keyboard, which was performed by Terence Charlston at the Royal Academy of Music in London in 2004.

Richard Gibbs had two sons, Richard and Thomas, born in 1635.


To play a clip of Gibbs' work click one of the following links - Clip 1 - Clip 2

Relevant Recordings  

These clips of Gibbs' Almain and Corant were specially recorded by Terence Charlston for this website.  To our knowledge there are no other recordings of any music of Richard (or Thomas) Gibbs.  Our thanks to Mr. Charlston.

Thomas Gibbs

Thomas Gibbs, possibly a relative [if son, baptized on 13th October 1635] of Richard, [see above] was organist at Norwich Cathedral from 12th September 1664 until he succumbed to the plague in 1666.  He was buried on July 16th 1666.  His widow was granted a gratuity of £2.   Someone of the same name was organist at Canterbury Cathedral from 1661 -1663.  Thomas Gibbs contributed a number of two-part dances to Playford's Courtly Masquing Ayres (1662).

 According to Noel Boston, there was another Thomas Gibbs, contemporary with Richard, perhaps his brother, living in the Close.  In Playford's Court Ayres of 1635, Thomas Gibbs figures among the composers.  Playford's 1662 publication is * a new edition of his Court Ayres and Musica Harmonia.  


  • New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians [NGDM], 2nd Edition (2001), Ed. S. Sadie, Volume 9
  • N. Boston - The Musical History of Norwich Cathedral (Norwich 1963),
  • originally published in Reports of the Friends of Norwich Cathedral 1938-9.
  • Watkins Shaw - The Succession of Organists at the Chapel Royal and the cathedrals of England and Wales from 1538 (1991).
  • Peter Aston and Tom Roast - Music in the Cathedral, in Norwich Cathedral Church, City and Diocese 1096-1996, ed. Ian Atherton and others.
  • Arthur Henry Mann (& notes by Tom Roast) - Old Norwich cathedral musicians: text of a lecture given by Dr. A.H. Mann 5 March 1903.     
  • * reference in Playford's English Dancing Master 1651 - Margaret Dean-Smith's notes on Adisons's Saraband, her page 26. 

Thomas Pleasants

Thomas Pleasants was organist at Norwich Cathedral for 20 years until he died in Norwich on the 6th August 1689 aged 40. 

The name 'Tho: Pleasants of Norwich and Norfolk' is found in the list of subscribers to Mace's Musick's Monument of 1676.  There seems no reason to doubt that the organist was the same person as one of the choristers recruited on the resumption of choral services at the Restoration.  The recruiting was done by Peter Sandley, an experienced lay clerk, who on

30th November 1661 was ordered by the chapter to be paid £5 'for teaching the singing boys for one year last past'. 

Sandley had earlier (on 29th May 1639) been admonished 'upon his fault of distemper in drink when he undertook to play upon the organ in the absence of the organist, from henceforth to carry himself with more sobriety.'  The 'great confusion on the choirs' also resulted in Richard Gibbs being told that 'he should henceforth in his absence appoint a sufficient man to do his office there and that he should look better to the education of his boys'. 

Thomas Pleasants was still a chorister in 1664 as evidenced by a Receipt of 10th June 1664:  'Received of Dr. Herbert Astley for the diet of Thomas Pleasance for one half year . . .  the sume of three pounds six shillings and eight pence'.   On 5th December 1669 it was resolved that he should have

£20 per annum  'so long as he shall execute the place of organist of this church'.  After some sort of probationary period he was permanently admitted organist from February 1670 or 71 and was also Master of the Choristers from October 1672.   On the 29th October 1671 he married Ann Brown in the Cathedral Church.  They had several children.   Thomas died in 1689 and is buried in the North Transept of the Cathedral.  His tomb bears a coat of arms and the inscription  'Anno aetatis suae XL Salutis humae MDCLXXXIX '. 

No compositions by him survive.  The task of providing new music for the choir seems to have been undertaken by other members of the musical staff, only one or two of whom were born in Norwich.

Anthony Beck 

Anthony Beck may have been born in Norwich.  He certainly worked and is buried in Norwich.  He died on 29th January 1674.

Beck was appointed a lay clerk of Norwich Cathedral on 3rd Sept 1639 and subsequently admonished in the Chapter Acts for neglecting his duties (17th June 1642).   He is listed as already in office as a Schoolmaster at Norwich Schools in 1662 (subscription 15/08/1662).  After the Restoration he resumed his place in the Cathedral, was promoted to minor canon in 1663 and took his turn as Precentor in 1663 and 1668.  Under the simple inscription Anthonie Beck 1674, M.C.1629, he lies buried in the apse of the Cathedral.  Two of his anthems survive: Behold how good and joyful - creates a 'favourable impression' (Spinks*) - and Who can tell how oft he offendeth?

William Pleasants 

The register of St.Mary-in-the-Marsh contains this entry: William the son of Thomas Pleasants and Ann his wife Baptised Nov. 19th 1675.  He was made a lay clerk in 1692, and was a schoolmaster from 1693-1703.   He became the first organist of St. Peter Mancroft church in Norwich in 1707 at a salary of £20 p.a.  He died in 1717. 

Fragments of his compositions survive: a service and two anthems. 

Humphrey Cotton

Humphr(e)y Cotton was born in 1693 and died aged 56 on September 19th 1749 in Norwich. He was the son of a former freeman of the City of Norwich, Edward Cotton, and was baptised at St. Peter Mancroft on 14th January 1693.  A notice in St. Peter Mancroft register for 11th November 1717 records that 'Mr. Humphry Cotton was elected organist for the Parish in the room of Mr. William Pleasants deceased' at an 'Annual Salary of Twenty Pounds p.a.'. 

He  subsequently became organist of the Cathedral, being admitted on 29th December 1720 and his patent was issued 16th February 1721.  On the 25th August 1722 he was elected freeman of the City as the son of his father.   He was married, but his wife had only a short life: she died in 1724 at the early age of 24.  His son, presumably his only son, was buried shortly after, in 1728.  Humphrey survived for a further 20 years and was buried with his wife and son in the South Transept of the Cathedral. 

Only two of Cotton's compositions seem to have survived - one service (dated 10th November 1722) and one anthem (O that my head were waters).  Dr, Mann seems to have also known two kyries and in his 1903 lecture had the choir sing 'Glory to God in the highest' about which he said, 'It is an excellent composition of its sort.'

Cotton is also noteworthy, not being from a Cathedral background, in being increasingly involved in developing the musical life of the City.  The Norwich Gazette of 3rd August 1728 contained an advert for a CONSORT of Vocal and Instrumental MUSICK, at Mr. Boseley's Room, for the Benefit of Mr. HUMPHREY COTTON.  This was printed with a woodcut depicting two people playing a keyboard and wind instrument respectively, and has been reproduced in Trevor Fawcett's booklet Music in Eighteenth-Century Norwich and Norfolk.  The need for musicians to supplement their income with Benefit concerts may be detected in Cotton giving further concerts in 'Mr. Christien's Great Drawing Room' on 15th July 1738, in July 1740 and 7th August 1742.  He is also depicted in a painting by J.T. Heines from 1734, where he sits playing the violin in the middle of a musical party being held at Melton Constable Hall.  This is the first likeness we possess of a Norwich composer, probably leading the orchestra.  The picture is reproduced on the cover of Fawcett's booklet.  In 1737 he was able to buy for £50 a tenement in what is now Bethel Street, which Dr. Mann thought 'was the house formerly inhabited by his mother'.     


  • See under Gibbs.
  • *Spinks quotation for Beck in NGDM Vol.  3.  
  • Trevor Fawcett - Music in Eighteenth Century Norwich and Norfolk.

Vaughan Brooks  

April 2011