Walter Pickford

St Mary's Church organist and composer of arrangements for hand-bells

Walter Pickford was born 1894 into a family of organists going back several generations, so it is probably not  too surprising that by the time he was 10,  he was playing the organ for Sunday services at the Union Street Chapel, Hyde. He died in 1975. In the intervening years he served in the Lancashire Regiment during the first world and was wounded in France. Once recovered he was put in charge of a POW camp.

In May 1918 he married his childhood sweetheart, Elsa Beard, and they had three children …Steven, Jean and Helen. At the end of the war he returned to his former employment with ICI in the leather cloth division. In 1931 he was promoted to a post in London and chose to commute from Benfleet where he successfully applied for the vacant organist and choirmaster’s post at St Mary’s parish church.  The organ had been rebuilt and enlarged by Harrison and Harrison of Durham to a specification by Sir Sydney Nicholson. It was not a large organ, but what attracted Walter was the beautiful tonal quality.

The vicar at the time was the Rev. Ralph Gardener and the two became firm friends.  Walter introduced the modern chants for the psalms and treated the congregation to many new anthems from the choir and the occasional recital with his daughter on the violin.

The hand-bells of Benfleet were regularly played in the local pubs at Christmas and we believe any money donated went to St Mary’s Church. Helen Stewart (nee Pickford) remembers that two families provided the core of the hand-bell ringing group  –  the Matsons and the Pickfords. Helen, because of her age (14) had to get special permission to enter the pubs. Walter Pickford, who was the church organist, was keen to extend the group’s repertoire and set to work to compose some arrangements specific to hand-bells…..mostly carols or folk songs in six part harmony. Six ringers , twelve hand-bells.  Helen believes that these have never been published and that these arrangements are unique to Benfleet. They have now been reproduced on the site courtesy of Helen.

During the second world war Walter joined the ARPs, but continued to commute to London.  His work with ICI saw him touring aircraft factories to demonstrate applying adhesive and cloth to the wings of Spitfires and other aircraft.  In 1951 he retired as organist and continued to live at Hill End, which in 1933, when it was built, was the last (going downhill) house in St Mary’s Road.  At that time the plot was surrounded by fields and looked out onto a row of elms which housed a rookery. Walter died in 1975.

Walter Pickford
Ye watchers
Vicar of Bray and Here's to the maiden
Rubin Adair and Annie Laurie and The harp that once
The meeting of the waters
Drink to me only...
Good king Wencesslas and Silent night
The Lincolnshire poacher
Golden slumbers
Good king Wenceslas
The first Nowell
Ye watchers
O come all ye faithful
The Campbells are coming

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  • Hello I am Walter Pickford’s grandson Simon Pickford and have a very large family archive which I have inherited. P Handley I understand you have Walter’s WW1 medal. I would be interested in buying it back if possible to include with the other WW1 medals we have on display. Many thanks for your interest in Walter.
    Simon Pickford

    By Simon Pickford (28/01/2024)
  • Walter Pickford was in the 5th Battalion. On 10th January 1917, he was moved to the 16th Battalion; wounded on 2nd March 1917, then after hospital on the 13th July 1918 he became the Adjutant of a prisoner of war camp. Lancashire regiment does not exist. Lancashire fusiliers, South Lancashire; East Lancs; loyal North Lancs; York and Lancashire Regtiments at that time. Can the information be changed? Can Samuel Pickford contact me? I have more information.

    By p r handley (27/09/2023)
  • Dear Phil,
    Thanks for your addition to the site.
    Kind Regards,

    Pamela J. Bird-Gaines

    By Pamela Gaines (27/09/2023)
  • I have been researching Walter Pickford using Ancestry. He was in the 5th battalion Cheshire Regiment. He went to France 27th December 1916. He would have earned two medals, the British War Medal and the Victory medal. I have his Victory medal. His medal index card shows his address as 2a The Moor, Mottram. He was a 2nd Lieutenant on medals but promoted later to Captain. I didn’t find any soldier from Mottram serving in Lancashire Regiments.

    By p handley (26/09/2023)
  • Good Morning Mr. Handley,

    Thank you for your comment, which I have added to Walter Pickford’s page. Someone might be able to shed some light on this for you.

    Kind Regards,
    Pamela J Bird-Gaines

    By Pamela Gaines (21/09/2023)
  • Hello, I have a WW1 medal awarded to a Walter Pickford. born in Hyde. I understood he was an officer in the Cheshire Regiment though. I’m thinking it might be the same person?

    By P. Handley (20/09/2023)
  • Interesting to read about my grandfather Walter.
    Blessed that my aunt Helen is able to recount these stories. Have many happy memories visiting Hill End in my childhood. Why Hill End – because he came from near Hill End Road in Mottram where our family originated. Walter previously owned the Elms in Mottram later owned by L S Lowrey where he died.

    By Simon Pickford (16/06/2020)

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