Heyford Singers – November 2020


A tribute to Joan Hanley

Nearly forty years ago on a preparatory visit to Nether Heyford before our move here (Bliss Charity School for one son, playgroup for another, and the all-important allotment) we wandered into Manor Park to have yet another look at our soon-to-be home, when we met Joan Hanley. She chatted to us, extolling the praises of this village, its friendly community and its facilities, undoubtedly a lovely place to work and bring up a young family. It was the beginning of a long friendship with this very special lady. But there is much history to Joan, and it begins many years before our first meeting …

Joan was born in December 1925 in the small Yorkshire village of Bubwith, where she later attended the local primary school, before moving onto a girls’ grammar school in Selby. Although Joan’s father and brother both enjoyed singing, the “cronky” piano with its untuned sound was the only instrument in the house. However Joan showed an early interest in learning to play the piano, received lessons from the village church organist and achieved Grade 8 before going off to train as a teacher in Ripon, studying music and history. It was here that Joan’s organ playing moved to a higher level, taught as she was by Dr Moody, organist of Ripon Cathedral. For two years she was the resident college organist, and on one occasion was invited to play the Cathedral organ for a special event!

Her teaching career began in 1945 at a primary school in Fulford, York where she taught for seven years, now also taking on the permanent post of church organist in her home village. In 1954 Joan applied for her third teaching post,”a first assistant (female)” at Willow Park Junior in Pontefract, which had 500 pupils and was the largest primary school in the West Riding. She got the job and worked alongside Arthur, who also taught at the same school. They married on 27th December 1954. The ensuing years saw Joan taking on more responsibility for music in school, playing the organ and accompanying choirs. She and Arthur joined Pontefract Choral Society, soprano and tenor respectively, and it was here that they developed their love, and experience, for great choral works as well as attending numerous music concerts.

When their daughters, Judith and Pamela arrived, Joan gave up teaching to be a stay at home mum. But as ever music teachers were much revered and Joan was frequently invited back into the classroom, to take music lessons, begin recorder groups, form school choirs and play for assemblies! Joan’s dedication to music in children’s lives was strong and varied! On one interesting occasion there was an evening’s entertainment of Sooty and Sweep with the ever-popular Harry Corbett; when the accompanist failed to turn up for the show Joan stood in at a moment’s notice – another musical accolade!

In 1974 Arthur took up a job with the Northamptonshire Inspectorate and the family relocated to this county, moving into the newly created Manor Park in February 1975 where extensive floods greeted them on their first day! It was to be a very long, settled and happy time for Joan and her family. She taught at Grange Junior School for ten years, and also at the Saturday morning Music School in Daventry. I am sure that there are many people reading this who will fondly remember their Saturday morning music classes with Joan, recorder playing, singing, etc. As a family we were always so grateful for Joan accompanying our son Jeremy on the piano and practising with him for his violin exams, his success in part attributable to her encouragement… and patience!

During my years of teaching at Bliss School I hold lovely memories of Joan playing the church organ for numerous carol concerts, leavers’ services and Harvest Festivals, as well as the occasions when I took my class of little people down to the church and she would let them press the organ keys or pedals! Her passion for music, and her love of children was very evident in her kindness, her delightful sense of humour and the ever-present twinkle in her eye. There are families who have christened their young children, walked down the aisle to be married, or bade farewell to those who have died – all to the musical accompaniment of Joan playing the organ in our local village church.

In 2003, shortly after Heyford Singers was formed, Joan joined the choir as an alto, where she remained a loyal and valued member until age and mobility applied their inevitable restraints. Her legacy with the Singers will live on in every new member who joins “ for the love of music and singing”.

Joan’s last few years were spent in a local care home, until she died in August at the grand age of 94! Her funeral, which was a beautiful and very personal occasion, taken by Reverend Stephen Burrow and Sue Morris, reflected all the aspects of music which Joan so loved – Jesu, Joy of man’s desiring (played on the organ), If with all your hearts (from Mendelssohn’s choral work, Elijah) and My Favourite Things (from The Sound of Music). We will miss Joan, her smile and sense of humour, her love of children, and the musical accompaniment that she gave to so many of our lives. We are all the richer for having known this lovely lady.

I would also like to dedicate this article, and indeed this issue of the Prattler, to all those friends and family members, within our village community, who have died in recent months. Sadly the restrictions of Covid 19 have prevented us sharing the grief, the tears and the hugs that we would normally give so freely. But they all live on in our hearts and leave us, each and every one, with such precious memories.

Take care as we enjoy the beauty of these late autumn days and we look towards the hopes of a new year. Stay healthy and content, take care of one another, and may music feature somewhere in your life every day.

Jill Langrish


If you would like to find out more, visit the Heyford Singers page or our website:


 alternatively come along to one of our rehearsals in Nether Heyford Village Hall.


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