John Hele

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Born: 24 May 1846

Died: 28 April 1899


John Hele, Mus.B., ARAM, was born in East Stonehouse, Devon (now part of Plymouth) to a stonemason, Thomas Hele and his wife Honor on 24 May 1846. He was baptised at Stoke Damerel parish church on the following 5 July. The family was musical: his elder brother George founded the organ building firm Hele & Co; his younger brother Thomas, although pursuing a career in banking, became a much respected organist in Plymouth. He is not to be confused with George's son John Calvert Hele, Mus.B., FRCO, who succeeded George as head of Hele & Co.

In 1860, at the age of 13 or 14, John was appointed to his first organist’s post at St Pancras, Pennycross, Plymouth. From April 1862 to Christmas 1863 he was the organist at Christ Church, Devonport. In early 1864 he moved to St Mary’s, Devonport where he was the organist, but apparently not the choirmaster. He then spent three years at the Royal Academy of Music in London, studying with William Sterndale Bennett, John Goss and Charles Steggall, while simultaneously holding an organist’s post at Morden, Surrey from 1865 to 1867.

On completing his studies in 1867 he returned to Plymouth, where he took a position as organist and choirmaster of Charles' Church, and went on to obtain a B.Mus. degree from New College, Oxford, in 1871 – in those days candidates for the musical degrees did not need to be resident at Oxford. Subsequent church organist appointments were: Bodmin Parish Church, Cornwall (September 1868-1872); St Peter’s, Plymouth (c. December 1872 to at least 1879); Emmanuel Church, Plymouth (1894-1899).

In March 1883 Hele was appointed Plymouth’s first Borough Organist and by October 1896 he had given a grand total of over 2,000 public recitals. He also became conductor of the Plymouth Choral and Orchestral Association and the Plymouth Vocal Association as well as of choral societies in Cornwall. These positions helped him to become the most prominent Plymouth musician of his day.

Hele died after a ‘long and painful illness’, aged 52, at Sticklepath, near Okehampton, at 11 a.m. on 28 April 1899, having gone to this ‘bracing moorland’ a month earlier to try to restore his failing health.

View the Wikipedia article on John Hele.

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