The Reverend Desmond Lionel Morse-Boycott

In appearance he was what one would imagine as a typical country parson of bygone years. He smoked a pipe, wore a skull cap and huge black cape. He began his working life as a journalist, but his ambition was to become a Priest. This was fulfilled when he was ordained in 1924.

Fr Desmond Morse-Boycott
Fr Desmond Morse-Boycott

Fr Desmond, as he was known far and wide, served his first curacy at the Church of St Mary's, Somers Town, which is situated in the King's Cross, Euston, area of London.

In those days there was a terrible amount of real poverty, particularly within the parish in which Fr Desmond served. He would venture out at night and mingle with young lads on street corners, many of whom he found playing cards and gambling. Often he put himself at physical risk trying to stop the gambling by the young and the more adult members of the population. His intervention worked to varying degrees although this never deterred him. The police in those days had hardly any success in stopping street gambling for there was little else for the men and youngsters to do. Fr Desmond could be very persistent and persuasive, influencing the young and gaining the respect of the old.

He encouraged some of the lads to partake of whatever food he could spare at the time. Coming as they did from poor homes where food was at a premium, such an offer was extremely popular. These boys eventually became the foundation of Fr Desmond's choir and school.

After five years working in the parish, Fr Desmond decided that the majority of the boys needed educating to a much higher standard. With this in mind, he resigned as curate at St Mary's in order to found his school and, from then on, his life became one long struggle. He appealed for donations far and wide with some success. His first home was "under the pavement" in Somers Town. This was where the school began and was called the St Mary of the Angels Song School. Those boys who joined Fr Desmond' s school were given the opportunity to be educated and to be trained to sing in his choir. Because of Fr Desmond's love of music, the boys were also encouraged to play various instruments under a professional tutor.

During a visit to Devon, where the choir was performing concerts and singing in local churches, their home in Addlestone, Surrey, was burned down. This meant a further financial struggle. A suitable house was ultimately found in Beaconsfield where the boys continued to be educated and trained to sing. They travelled far and wide in this country and in France, also giving concerts and singing in churches on Sundays. The choir was often in demand for weddings and funerals. This helped with the income, but Fr Desmond had to make continuous appeals for donations to keep the school a viable proposition. The established Church of England gave no help whatsoever which was a great disappointment to him for all of his life. Fr Desmond's wife died in 1957. She had been the school Matron and had taken care of all the domestic arrangements over the years. She was greatly missed not only by Fr Desmond but also by everyone who knew her.

Later Fr Desmond moved to another house in Beaconsfield by which time the number of boys in his care began to dwindle.

Eventually Fr Desmond was no longer able to cope with the boys; therefore the Trustees decided to close the school and turn the St Mary of the Angels Song School into a Trust to finance boys at cathedral choir schools. Preference was always to be given to the sons of clergy. Many have benefited and still do. Fr Desmond ultimately retired to his old home town of Worthing where he died in 1979.

To ensure the continuity of the Morse-Boycott Bursary Fund, the Trustees consulted the Dean and Chapter of Chichester Cathedral who consented to take over responsibility for the administration of the Bursary Fund. It was officially handed over to them in 1994 and continues to flourish. Several of the original Trustees remain on the Board and meet with the Dean and Chapter annually.

Fr Desmond's daughter, Mary, who is Patron of the Trust, continues to live in Worthing. When her mother died, Mary took over many of the domestic arrangements of the school in spite of the calls upon her time.She was an actress at the Royal Opera House in London until her retirement.

The Trust helps with the education of a number of boys in various cathedral choir schools, in particular the Prebendal School at Chichester.

The Morse-Boycott Bursary Fund, as it is today, is a fitting memorial to Fr Desmond who dedicated himself under extremely difficult circumstances to the education, choral excellence and welfare of underprivileged boys in his early days and, later, to those who had singing talent but not the reserves of money to afford fees without some help.

If you happen to be one of those who is receiving help from the Morse-Boycott Bursary Fund, please pray for the souls of the late Fr Desmond and his wife, Marguerite, and give thanks.

A comprehensive history of the St Mary of the Angels Song School may be found in a book by Fr Desmond entitled "A Tapestry of Toil".

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