Canon John Simpson Obituary

John (1947-51) was born at Dehra Dun in India on 15th October 1933 and has had a varied career as a submariner, priest, teacher and harpsichord player.

After Marlborough College, he entered the Royal Navy in 1951 as an electrical officer and read engineering at Sidney Sussex College from 1952-55. Cambridge allowed him to indulge in his passion for music. He had weekly organ lessons at Kings’ College under the organ scholar, Hugh McLean. At Sidney he played the organ and organised the College Music Society, as there was no organ scholar at that time. The Admiralty was confused when he was awarded an Organ Grant. He played hockey for the College and founded a cricket team to play pub cricket in the summer. He was also a member of the College Wildfowling Society, which allowed him to keep a car.

On his return to the Navy he served in submarines, including an experimental submarine running on High Test Peroxide and H.M.S.Orpheus the first of the ‘Oberon Class’ submarines, built at Barrow-on-Furness. During his time in Barrow, John started collecting early keyboard instruments, a single-manual harpsichord, some virginals and a square piano. In 1958 he bought a 1779 double- manual Kirckman harpsichord at Sotheby’s and used to cart it around in an A40 van. His last job in the Navy was Training Electrical Officer at H.M.S.Dolphin in Gosport. At this time, he had a flat in the organist’s house in Winchester and used to play the cathedral organ and do harpsichord continuo in the Winchester area.

He retired from the Navy in 1963, in order to be ordained, having taken his ARCM.  He went to Wells Theological College from 1963–65. After ordination, he served as a curate in Winchester, a Minor Canon at the Cathedral and taught at Peter Symonds School before going to Repton School, as senior chaplain, and Helston School, as Head of RE, where he established a Music Society and gained a reputation as a harpsichord player, regularly accompanying Leon Goossens, the famous oboe player. During his time in Helston he ran a Christian Fellowship in a stately home called Trelowarren. As the house was open to the public, he expanded his collection of keyboard instruments to twelve, including a grand piano, a forte-piano, the harpsichords, the virginals, four square pianos, a clavichord and a spinet. He was closely linked to the Regional Arts Association and National Federation of Music Societies. 

In 1979 he returned to Somerset as Rector of Curry Rivel before moving to the parish of King Charles the Martyr, in Tunbridge Wells in 1987, and then on to Bristol Cathedral in 1989, where he served as Canon Precentor in charge of administration, worship and music. At Bristol he founded a Cathedral Girls’ Choir with girls from all the schools in the city and organised the Ordination Service for the first women priests in the Church of England.

Since retiring to Ashill in Somerset in 1999, he has been a Governor of King’s College Taunton and Board Member of the Woodard Corporation and Vice-Chairman of the Somerset Community Foundation. During his life he founded six music societies in places where he served and promoted music through the Countess of Munster Musical Trust. In 2001 he preached at the submarine centenary service in Westminster Abbey in front of HM the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. Also in 2001 he was given the degree of Hon MMus by the University of the West of England. In 2004 he was made a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Somerset. For a number of years, he was on the Fabric Advisory Committee of Hereford Cathedral. To the end of his life, he continued to take services in local parishes.  He married Anne Pinsent in 1964. They have three children and eight grandchildren.