14. James Dace, musician

I see that James Dace and Son’s music shop is being re-opened in Moulsham Street, Chelmsford. As James Dace (2) the founder was born in Witham, it seems a good opportunity to write a little about him.

I’ll begin with his father, also James (1), who was born in Writtle. When he was 16 he became a bugler with the Witham Rifle Volunteers, who trained locally. Usually Volunteers had drummers, but Witham had buglers instead.

Then in 1816 he (1) became the parish clerk, sexton and organist at St Nicholas church in Witham. The church provided him and his wife Mildred with a small cottage in the corner of the churchyard, next to the Woolpack  (it’s not there now – see the photo). He was also the gardener, and was said to be “weather wise”. In 1824 he was dismissed from the organist’s post for some reason. However, he remained parish clerk and sexton until his death in 1864, aged 77.  Six people replaced him – four boys to give the responses during services, and two men to do the rest.

His son, James (2) the musician, was born in the cottage in 1821. He had eleven brothers and sisters though some died. In 1840, when he was 19, it was said that “he lives by his profession as a musician”. In that year he played the serophene at the opening of the new Congregational church (now URC). The serophene was a sort of early harmonium.

Afterwards, the vicar, Reverend John Bramston “severely lectured the father (1) for allowing his son (2) to enter such a place for such a purpose.” There was strong rivalry between Rev Bramston and the Congregationalists. Dr Dixon, who recorded the event, called Bramston one ”of these bigots”.

Young James (2) forged ahead, and called himself a “Professor of Music” in the 1841 census return. He soon became church organist at All Saints’, Maldon. After a concert in Chelmsford in 1843, he received warm praise from the Chronicle’s reviewer, in spite of the fact that the flautist could not get his flute in tune with the piano. In 1847 Robert Bretnall of Spring Lodge wrote in his diary “I went to the White Hart to hear a Concert performed by 14 Musicians and a Miss Seymour, conducted by Mr Dace (2) and a Mr Thorn. There was Davis the famous Trumpet blower there. I left at 10 o’clock”.

James (2) settled in Colchester for a while, where he married and had a large family. He acquired a very large number of pupils all over mid-Essex and beyond. In 1855 he moved to Chelmsford where his shop was established, and the business developed rapidly, selling pianos, music etc. and doing repairs. He soon had other branches in Stratford, Colchester and Romford, and later at Ilford and East Ham. When he (2) died in 1896, the Chronicle wrote that “The name of Dace is well known in musical circles in Essex. The deceased gentleman has been successful as a composer, and has also carried on business as a dealer in music, musical instruments &c. in Chelmsford and Colchester for many years.”

It was added that “he acted as organist at Moulsham Church for some time, and afterwards as organist at the London-road Congregational Chapel.” So he continued to spread his organ playing between the different religious denominations, despite the earlier reprimand from Reverend Bramston.


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