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Harsnett history

The Harsnett Choir is named after Samuel Harsnett, the son of a Colchester baker. He was born in 1561, and between 1597 and 1605 was Vicar of Chigwell Parish Church in Essex.

The inscription of the brass to his memory in Chigwell Parish Church, where he was buried, reads:

"Here lies Samuel Harsnett, formerly Vicar of this church, first the unworthy Bishop of Chichester, next the more unworthy Bishop of Norwich, and finally the most unworthy Archbishop of York."

The choir was formed in 1984 from a nucleus of members of Chigwell Parish Church Choir, plus friends, when the choir there was disbanded. Since then, of course, the membership has changed, and now our members are drawn from all over the country.

The choir committee, in choosing a name for the choir when it was formed, chose the present name as a happy reminder of its origins.

The Harsnett Choir was directed by John Rippin until 2006. Everyone is very grateful to John for his hard work and commitment to the choir over 21 years.

Harsnett today

Harsnett is in its 35th year. We've changed a lot over the years, from a regional group in Essex to a membership drawn from all over the country, from Bristol to East Anglia, and from the south coast to the Isle of Harris! Our members represent many Christian denominations and those with no Christian faith, but who all love singing liturgical music to a high standard in some of the most beautiful settings in the country.

Harsnett has 64 members and a total mailing list of 103. With the number of visits we do each year, we are keen to expand our membership. We take what we do very seriously, but we're really sociable too and always have fun at each visit - it isn't all singing! If you are interested in joining us, please contact Ed.

Ed Sutton has been directing the Harsnett Choir since 2007.

We are lucky to be accompanied by a number of excellent organists, including:

Samuel Harsnett

Early life

Samuel Harsnett was born in Colchester in 1561. He was educated at Colchester Free School (now Colchester Royal Grammar School) and at Pembroke College, Cambridge, from where he gained a BA in 1581. He was ordained into the Church of England in 1583. A year later he was reprimanded by Archbisphop Whitgift for preaching against predestination.


In March 1587 Harsnett became headmaster of Colchester Royal Grammar School. The school currently has a house named after him. Teaching didn't suit him and the following year he returned to Pembroke College, gaining his BD in 1590. He was master of Pembroke Hall 1605-1616 and Vice-Chancellor of the university 1606-1609. He gained his DD in 1606. He resigned in 1616 following accusations about him by the fellows of Pembroke which were made to James I.


In 1597 he became chaplain to the Bishop of London, Richard Bancroft, who was to become Archbishop of Canterbury. This relationship helped Harsnett rise through the ranks in the church. Through Bancroft he got the rectory of St Margaret, New Fish Street, London and the vicarage of Chigwell, Essex (1597-1605). Even after 1605 he continued to live at Chigwell, having buried his wife there in 1601. In 1619 he bought land in the parish on which he founded an English school and a Latin school (now Chigwell School).

Harsnett was quickly promoted, to Prebendary of Mapesbury (1598) and Archdeacon of Essex (1602), both positions aided by his relationship with Bishop Bancroft. He was installed in the rectory of Shenfield, Essex in 1604. He became Bishop of Chichester in 1609, and Bishop of Norwich in 1619.

In 1624 he was charged before Parliament with 'high-handedness' by the citizens of Norwich and in that same year he also persecuted the Puritans in Great Yarmouth, leading to a complaint by them to King Charles I in 1627.

Despite this, on 26 November 1628, he was elected Archbishop of York.


1561 - Samuel Harsnett born

1583 - Samuel Harsnett ordained into the Church of England

1597 - Samuel Harsnett became Vicar of Chigwell

1609 - Samuel Harsnett became Bishop of Chichester

1619 - Samuel Harnsett became Bishop of Norwich

1628 - Samuel Harsnett became Archbishop of York

1629 - Samuel Harsnett founded Chigwell School

1983 - The choir of St Mary's, Chigwell is disbanded by the new Rector

1985 - A group from the former choir of St Mary's Chigwell and some friends got together to sing the choral services at St Edmundsbury Cathedral. The Harsnett Choir was born.

2006 - John Rippin, who had successfully directed the choir for 21 years, retired

2007 - Ed Sutton took over as Musical Director

2009 - The choir commissioned their former MD, John Rippin to write an anthem to celebrate their 25th anniversary. "Sing, ye faith, sing with gladness" became a choir favourite.

2019 - Harsnett celebrates its 35th year with a first performance of the newly commissioned 'Harsnett Evening Service' written by Exeter composer, Anthony Musson. First performance planned for Exeter Cathedral in August.

See the Past Visits page for a full list of where and what Harsnett has sung over the years.