The Subscribers to Reffley Spring

The ‘Subscribers to Reffley Spring’, as they referred to themselves, in the mid-18th century, were evidently sufficiently prosperous and well organised, to be able to undertake, not only building works at the Spring, but also commission the writing and performance of a Cantata, and possibly other pieces, by Dr Thomas Arne, one of the foremost composers of his time, and arrange for their public performance at the Reffley Spring, a la Vauxhall Gardens! (Arne also wrote a piece called Venus and Bacchus, that could have been performed on that occasion, no doubt, as was, the ‘Ode’ that was published in the Town and Country Magasine 1772.


Thus, it was in 1756, that the event which marked the Subscriber’s arrival into the public arena, occurred.  There appears to be little known about how this came about.   It is, therefore, necessary to construct a likely scenario from the information that is available.


In the mid 18th century what eventually became a gentleman’s society, for the past century held its annual meetings at the spring, had become aware of the growing popularity of the Reffly Wood and its spring as a ‘spa’ for the townsfolk of Lynn and surrounding area, noting that there was ‘not even anywhere for ladies to sit down’.(2)


Events might not have turned out quite as they did, had not the youthful, (he was only 24years old. at the time) Dr Charles Burney, from London decided in 1751, for health reasons, to take up the position of organist at St Margaret’s Church, Lynn, which he held for the following nine years…….


Charles Burney was an English music composer and historian.  In 1749 he was appointed organist at St. Dionis-Backchurch, Fenchurch St. London, with a salary of £30 a year. It was for his health that he went in 1751 to live in Lynn Regis in Norfolk, where he was elected organist, with an annual salary of £100, and lived there for nine years. from Wikipedia.


Fanny Burney, Charles Burney’s daughter, writing in her biography of her father, described this time in his life…


“Mr Burney, decided….”to retire wholly from London; after an illness by which, for thirteen weeks, he had been confined to his bed.

Most fortunately, Mr Burney, at this time, had proposals made to him by a Norfolk baronet, Sir John Turner, who was member for Lynn Regis, of the place of organist of that royal borough; of which for a young man of talents and character, the Mayor and Corporation offered to raise the salary from twenty to one hundred pounds a year; with an engagement for procuring him the most respectable pupils from all the best families in the town and its neighbourhood.

Though greatly chagrined and mortified to quit a situation in which he was now surrounded by cordial friends, who were zealously preparing for him all the harmonical honours which the city [of London] holds within its patronage, the declining health of the invalid, and the forcibly pronounced opinion of his scientific medical councillor, decided the acceptance of this proposal; and Mr Burney, with his first restored strength, set out for his new destination.



Mr. Burney was compelled to make his first essay of the air, situation, and promised advantages of Lynn, without the companion to whom he owed the re-establishment of the health that enabled him to try the experiment; his Esther, as exemplary in her maternal as in her conjugal duties, was now indispensably detained in town by the most enduring of all ties to female tenderness, the first offsprings of a maternal love; of which the elder could just go alone, and the younger was still in her arms.


Mr Burney was received at Lynn with every mark of favour, that could demonstrate the desire of its inhabitants to attach and fix him to that spot. He was introduced by Sir John Turner to the mayor, aldermen, recorder, clergy, physicians, lawyers, and principal merchants, who formed the higher population of the town; and who in their traffic, the wine trade, were equally eminent for the goodness of their merchandize and the integrity of their dealings.


All were gratified by an acquisition to their distant and quiet town, that seemed as propitious to society as the arts; the men with respect gave their approbation to his sense and knowledge; the women with smiles bestowed theirs upon his manners and appearance. His air was so lively, and his figure so youthful, that the most elegant as well as beautiful woman of the place, Mrs. Stephen Allen, took him for a Cambridge student, who, at that time, was expected at Lynn.


He was not insensible to such a welcome; yet the change was so great from the splendid or elegant, the classical or amusing circles, into which he had been initiated in the metropolis, that, in looking, he said, around him, he seemed to see but a void. -   from Memoires of Dr Burney – Mme D’Arblay  R D Moxom Bond St. 1832.



The memorably, favourable impression that Dr Burney created upon the  townsfolk of Lynn, was in stark contrast to his own situation. He was in his 24th year in a strange town, without his wife and two children.  In a letter he wrote to his wife, after being in Lynn for a week, he lamented that he could not imagine, however he could have thought that he would he happy in the place, and…..the organ (in St Margaret’s Church) is execrably bad.

Lynn Mar 4th 1754.

The New Organ made by Mr Snetzler of Oxford Rd London, for St Margaret’s church in this Town, will be opened on the 17th inst. By Mr Burney. Ipswich Journal 9th March 1754.


This can only be conjecture: as there is no record of the events leading up to the performance of the Cantata but :following upon Charles Burney’s introduction to Lynn society in 1751, it would only be natural, after allowing a suitable period for him to settle into his new life, and there being a vacancy, for him to be invited to join the ‘Subscribers to Reffley Spring,’ as they were then known.  So, in 1756, or perhaps earlier, when the Subscribers decided to make improvements to the Spring, which included replacing the Obelisk, they had contacted Cyril Wyche, the, then owner of the land, for permission to carry out the works.  At the same time, they must have determined that a ‘Ceremony of Dedication’ of the Spring, would be in order, on completion of the improvements.  It can only have been because they had someone of the eminence and experience of Charles Burney amongst their ranks, that they were able to put together such an elaborate public ceremony. Maybe the suggestion came from Burney, himself, as he was the one who would be capable of arranging such an occasion. It so happened that Charles Burney had formerly been apprenticed to Dr Thomas Arne, who was, in 1745,- following  his hugely successful ‘Colin & Phoebe’,  was established as the leading composer at the London pleasure gardens of Vauxhall, and also, Ranelagh and Marylebone for the following 20 years… from wikipaedia  


So allowing for the possibility that Dr Arne visited Burney in Lynn, they both would have been in a position create and perform the Cantata.


Charles Burney, as well as Thomas Arne, could well have written the words to the Cantata, and also those of the Ode, as Burney would have been familiar with the Ceremony of the Water, as it was then called,  which features in the Cantata……




 Thomas Arne

REFFLEY TEMPLE (Query 94) – The Rev. E. J. Alvis, rector of East Winch, in a lectur on “A record of Music in Lynn,” delivered  in St. James’s-hall, in that town, on November 23rd, made the following interesting reference to Reffley Temple and spring:- “one somewhat remarkable discovery, due to our noted archaeologist,  Mr. Beloe,  I have to relate.  You know that in the parish of Gaywood there is a chalybeate spring, which runs amongst  overhanging trees,  in a large basin,  with a fine central obelisk, back by an octagonal temple, and with convenient seats,  surrounding a bright verdant lawn.  It belongs to Sir William ffolkes, Bart., and by the first baronet, member for Lynn,  was appropriated as a place of resort for the people of the town.  Its water is said to make better than any other drink, now much gone out of fashion, called, I believe, punch.  Many are the happy hours the inhabitants have spent at Reffley.

Somewhere my friend picked up a Cantata by Dr. Arne (for voices and striings),  entitled,  “Reffley Spring.”  The libretto indicates that it is for the dedication of the water, and is carried on in a kind of Druidical fashion, the chief person being called  “The high priest,”  and as the potation is being brewed various directions are given, as “mixing the water and other liquors,”  handed to the high priest in a goblet, with appropriate recitations, songs, and chorus, of which these words form a part:-

To Reffley’s bright deities swell  the glad strain,

Still Reffley’s delights be the theme:

Whilst Reffley flows on, may that pleasure remain,

And our be the sweets of the stream.

Burney being a pupil of Arne,  I think it quite likely that Arne visited Burney whilst at Lynn, and being  entertained by his pupil!  And friends at Reffley on some occasion was induced to write this cantata. – E.S.L.  from Norfolk Chronicle 8th December 1900.

It is only fair to point out, that Burney’s relationship with Arne was not an easy one, at least from Burney’s side. Burney’s complaints, suggest that he was being over sensitive and not entirely appreciative of the position he found himself in. From Arne’s side, who waived the usual apprenticeship fee, and even his suggested 100guineas proved prohibitive from Burney’s side, nevertheless Arne provided Burney’s board and lodging in his home, so probably felt justified in utilising Burney’s skills as he did.


Young Charles Burney


Burney sought an apprenticeship  and…. Macburney was in no position to pay for an apprenticeship, so Arne offered to take young Burney as his own apprentice for a £100 premium; however, even this sum proved too high. Eventually recognising the value of an assistant who could play the violin, viola, harpsichord, and organ, Arne decided that Burney could “be a more profitable than expensive part of his Family” and so offered to take the young musician to London with him without fee.  Burney happily accepted.  The articles were drawn up, the “covenants exchanged in a legal & regular way”, and Burney was bound apprentice to Arne for seven years, the usual term of apprenticeship at that time. 

Upon arrival at the Arne house……Burney immediately understood that Arne had ulterior motives.     Instead of learning composition, he found himself “slavish and miserable”.  He was forced to act as copyist, orchestral musician, chorus singer, and even teacher to Arne’s students in his master’s stead. For example, for the first performance of Alfred at Drury Lane in 1745, Burney had to make a fair copy of the score and the separate voice parts, attend rehearsals to “correct books” and teach some of the singers their parts……since Arne had assumed responsibility for (Burney’s) room and board, he felt entitled to any money Burney earned…….

Burney lived with Arne’s family and Mrs Arne was “kind and maternal” to him. Nevertheless Burney suffered growing resentment toward Arne. He wrote (in an article for Rees Cyclopedia) of his frustrations. “It grieves me that gratitude does not oblige me to speak with more reverence of him as my Master; but the truth is, he was so selfish & unprincipled, that finding me qualified to transcribe music, teach, & play in public, all which I could do before I was connected with him, he never wished I should advance further in the art…….


The author of the following article would not have been aware of the existence of the ‘Subscribers’ however, -as they were then called, who must at some point, have invited Charles Burney, and perhaps Thomas Arne, to join them in their  annual ‘festivities’ at the spring, for them to be familiar with the ‘subscribers’ activities there, which are so much a part of the Cantata:

“ No less interesting is a presumed connection between King’s Lynn and the composer of  ‘Rule Britannia’ discovered by Mr E.M.Beloe. It will be remembered that Dr. Burney was a pupil of  Dr. Arne. What more natural then that Arne should have visited Burney at King’s Lynn during the latter’s organship at St. Margaret’s Church?  In the parish of Gaywood  (an eastern suburb of King’s Lynn) is ‘Reffley Spring’ , a chalybeate spring  much frequented in a picnician sense. Now Arne wrote a short work  entitled ‘Reffley Spring: a cantata composed for the dedication of the water to the Deities of Love and Social Enjoyment.’ The score of this cantata contains information that  ‘Reffley Spring rises in a little Wood , about two miles from Lynn in the County of Norfolk.’  There is no known record of ‘Reffley Spring’ “( for a brief account,see the ‘Introduction’ to an ‘Ode to Reffley Spring’ published in ‘The Town and Country Magasine’ published July 1772)  or the author of the libretto of the cantata;  but he may have written it to be performed at Reffley Spring, or at one of the Gardens (Vauxhall or Raneleigh)then in vogue in London. At all events, the subject probably suggested itself to Dr. Arne during a visit he paid to King’s Lynn as the guest of his former pupil  Charles Burney then residing there.from A VISIT TO KING’S LYNN WITH NEW BURNEYANA AND ARNEIANA. published in THE MUSICAL TIMES – December 1, 1904.



“ It is not every Place that can Boast the Possession of a Musical Work of Local Intention by a Composer of Arne’s

                                                   Standing and Ability.”                                    

From The Great Dr Burney His Life-His Travels-His Works….

Percy Scoles 1948 p. 328.



In the ‘Appendices’ section of his book, ‘The Great Dr Burney’, Percy Scoles, provides an account of Thomas Arne’s Cantata Reffley Spring and what was known of how it came to be written, under the heading of:




In the list of Arne’s ‘opera and other stage pieces’ in Grove’s Dictionary is found ‘Reffley Spring 1772’ (a work not referred to in Cumming’s book on Arne’).


I do not know where the date 1772 comes from, but it is possibly correct, as the work was published by C. & S. Thompson, No. 75 S. Paul’s Church Yard’, and according to Kidsons’s British music Publishers this firm, under this style, was publishing from 1764 to 1776-8.*


Reffley Spring is not, properly, an ‘opera’ or a ‘stage piece’. Its title-page styles it A Cantata composed for the Dedication of the Water to the Deities of Love and Social Enjoyment, the Music by Dr Arne. This refers to ceremonies still maintained at the chalybeate spring in the parish of Gaywood, about two miles from Lynn.  The waters of the spring were celebrated for the brewing of punch, which liquor, made according to a secret recipe, is still, it is said, consumed annually beside it.


The spring ‘rises, amongst overhanging trees, in a large basin with a fine central obelisk, backed by an octagonal temple, and with convenient seats surrounding a bright verdant lawn.  It belongs to Sir William ffolkes, Bart.,(at the time Scoles was writing, Sir Francis ffolkes) and by the first baronet, member for Lynn, was appropriated as a place of resort for the people of the town.’ (Lecture by Rev. E.J.Alvis, Vicar of East Winch, in St. James Hall, Lynn, 23 Nov. 1900.)


The octagonal building is small; it bears an inscription, ‘Reffley Temple-Erected by a Friendly Society, A.D. 1789. Whosoever Defaces it will be Prosecuted. Enlarged A.D. 1851.’ A raised flat stone in the Temple enclosure is lettered: “This stone Table was Presented To The Members of Reffley by a Friend, June 22nd 1778.” There is also a very large tree-stump, apparently serving as an additional table.  In front of the Temple are two sphinxes; behind it a small kitchen.


On the visit of the present writer (Percy Scoles) to this spot he apparently over-looked a Latin inscription at the base of a column.  Of this the Hon. Secretary informs him that it conveys the information that the spring was dedicated to ‘Bacchus and Venus, the gods of the place’ on the 24 June 1756, when ‘the column rose more beautiful than before from its ruin’. The original date of the dedication of the spring to its quasi-religious purposes is unknown: local tradition associates it with anti-government gatherings in the time of the Commonwealth.  The earliest remaining document of the Society is a ‘Bett Book’, dated 1789 which records some very odd wagering among the members..…


Arne’s Cantata consists of recitives, airs, and choruses, all very convivial and very amorous, designed to accompany the elaborate ceremonial which is thus set out as the music proceeds:


“The Company being ranged near the Spring , the High Priest, standing in the centre(Crowned with a wreath of Ivy, Myrtle and Roses), begins the Recititive.

1, Here all advance to, and encircle the Spring.

2, From a charger, brim full of excellent Punch (a liquor for which this Chalybeate Water is celebrated) a Goblet is filled, and handed to the High Priest).

3, Here a quantity of Loaf Sugar is thrown into the bason, which the water flows into.

4, Whilst the Symphony is playing, the High Priest gives the Most Beautiful Toast in the Universe, Venus, which goes round, and the air is sung.

5, From the Charger a copious Bowl is filled, and delivered to the High Priest, as before.

6, Here a Bottle of Brandy is poured into the Bason.

7, Again, while the Symphony is playing, the High Priest gives the Toast most pleasing to those “Who impotent of thought, puff away Care”. Bacchus goes round.

8, A lemon is squeezed into the Bason.

9, Here the Bowl is again replenished, and given to the High Priest.

10, Venus and Bacchus, the Deities of Reffley United, constitute the Toast that goes round, previous to the Song.’  


It will be realised that, if the cantata was actually, as it appears, performed on the spot, a considerable body of musicians must have been in attendance, and it is curious that written or  printed record has not been found and that no Lynn tradition seems to exist as to a performance or performances of the work.  Some revival of the music and ritual would offer an opportunity for local pageantry.  Why not? – say at five years’ intervals.  It is not every place that can boast the possession of a musical work of local intention by a composer of Arne’s standing and ability. It is gloomily reported that the present musicalefforts of the ‘Sons of Reffley’ (always thirty in number) at their annual celebration do not rise above Cock Robin. They play bowls, drink punch out of beautiful old china, eat a lavish lunch and smoke churchwarden pipes (lit at an ancient lantern), sing their simple song- and that it is disappointingly reported is all they do.


The purposes of mentioning this cantata of Arne’s in the present book (Scoles’s book on Dr Burney) are mainly two: (a) the work has been generally overlooked by writers on Arne and it seems desirable that its existence in print should be recalled to notice; (b) it has been suggested in Lynn (e.g. in the lecture by the Rev. E.J. Alvis above quoted) that the friendship between Burney and Arne led one to induce the other to pay a visit to him at Lynn and that this was the result of the visit. This may be, but it must be observed that Burney left Lynn at least four or five years (or even, according to Grove’s date of the Cantata, twelve years) before the publication of the music and that no mention of the work appears in Fanny Burney’s Memoirs of her father, or in Burney’s treatment of Arne in his History of Music.  Further, as Burney had himself successfully composed for the London theatres, one would suppose that he himself would be called upon to compose any convivial music required for local use.



    This Day were published.

    Reffley Spring, a Cantata, the music by Dr. Arne,   1s.

    From General Evening Post (iss. 6082) 3rd-6th Oct. 1772. In the Burney Collection.    


    “A CANTATA was written on this occasion, and set to music by a gentleman of the company, was performed in public”…on 24th June  (1756)


See Appendix section for complete Cantata




Whilst  researching material for this history of ‘Reffley Spring’,  the author came across, what is possibly the only account, of the actual performance of the Cantata, so far discovered. The author of the piece either based his ‘Introduction’ on something written at the time, or must have had a good memory of the events of the Day, some 16 years earlier. The ‘poetical piece’ is entitled ‘Ode on the Dedication of Reffley-Spring’, which according to the author, was performed with the Cantata. It was published in the ‘Town and Country Magasine’ for July 1772.


The article does not actually mention the year when the events referred to, took place, but it is obvious that it refers to the performance of the Cantata in 1756. The item is headed:


To the Printer of the Town and Country Magasine, [1772]


“On this occasion, the following piece has been composed, as one small tribute to the sacred grove, in honour of the scene, where oft the heart hath drank rich draughts of rational felicity, and marked the hours for happiness.

The bason being formed and the necessary decoration completed, this  day (June 24) was fixed on for the consecration of the fountain, and for a solemn dedication to the powers omnipotent of love and wine; to perpetuate the day as an anniversary festival in the memory of the living, and in order that the same may be observed by our sons, and our sons sons as an ordinance for ever.

In order to raise the solemnity of the scene, A CANTATA  was written on this occasion, and set to music by a gentleman of the company, was performed in public- The recitatives , with the ceremony of consecration, by a person in the character of  The High Priest of Bacchus and Venus, crowned with a wreath of ivy, myrtle, and roses – The airs and song were performed by two or three good voices, and the choruses admirably supported by the rest of the company – the music was much admired, and had a fine effect, for Nature here contributed to raise the note of joy ; whilst the voice of the nightingale softened the symphonies of the airs, and the loud convivial chorus was exalted to the highest pitch of grandeur and sublimity, by the unison of thunder, bursting from the most picturesque scene of clouds, that human fancy can conceive”……….. (see Appendix for the complete Town and Country Magasine article.)


The writer of the ‘Introduction’, quoted above, must have been a ‘Subscriber’ himself.  The fact that he omits to mention the year when the event about which he is writing, occurred, could be because he was writing for the average reader of the magazine.  The person who wrote the introduction, must have been present at the ceremony, as he is aware of the intention that the ‘day’ should be perpetuated by the Society as ‘an anniversary festival’.  As it refers to the performance of the Cantata, and the ‘consecration of the fountain’ then we can safely assume that it refers to June 24th 1756, some sixteen years prior to the date of  its publication – July 1772.


 The Cantata itself, was published according to some sources in 1764, and again, in 1772 (the year the Ode was published).  The point of note, here, from the Introduction, is that: A Cantata was written on this occasion, and set to music by a gentleman of the company, was performed in public. Since we know that the Cantata’s music was written by Thomas Arne, then the foregoing suggests that the ‘gentleman of  the company’ was likely to have been, Charles Burney, an accomplished musical transcriber who,  – possibly with Arne- was likely to have been in charge of the performance.


Inscriptions on the Obelisk


The author of the 1772 item in the Town and Country Magasine, then provided a translation of the inscriptions on the sides of the Obelisk.


A more detailed translation was made by the father of the late Mr. E.M. Beloe, which correspondent “J. E.” included in his letter to the Lynn News and Advertiser 19th September 1933, a part of which follows:


“To many visitors (to Reffley Spring), especially to those who are not Latin students, the inscriptions on the obelisk have been puzzling.  At a meeting of the Archaeological Society in Lynn some years ago the late Mr Beloe’s father gave the translation of these inscriptions, which he described as ‘quaint Latin.’ The inscriptions and translations of the four sides of the obelisk will probably be of interest to many of your readers. Here they are:


                                                         Liberalitatis jussu

                                                     Pulchrior e ruinis resurgit

                                                     Columna Refflensis

                                                     Illustris ferils hic

                                                     Publice sacratus

                                                     VII. Cal IVL.


Which, being translated reads, “By the command of Liberality, more comely from its ruins rises again the Column of Reffley, here publically dedicated on a famous holiday, 24th June A.D. 1756.”


                                                           Pondus Curarum

                                                   Siu ist relinquere velies

                                                   Deliciarum te

                                                   Quo sedes duceret ires

                                                   Hoc opus hoc stadium

                                                   Parvi properemus et ampli

                                                   Si Veneri volumus

                                                   Si Baccho vivere cari


The literal translation is: “Should you wish to leave behind the burden of anxious thoughts.

                         You would go wither the seat of delight lead you.

                         This task, this pursuit, let us ensue both poor and rich.

                         If we desire to live dear to the Goddess of Love and the God of Wine.”


 – or more freely:  


                        “If you would leave behind your load of care,

                        Whither Joy’s abode invites thereto repair!

                        Both rich and poor pursue in this design

                        Would we be dear to Love and Dear to Wine.”


Genius Loci

Baccho Veneriq


Fontem Hune Felicitatis

D.D.  D.  D.D.

V.  S.  LL.   M.

H. P. O.


“The  Spirit  of  the  Place.  This spring of Good Fortune sacred to the Gods of Wine and Love was dedicated by….(undecipherable).”


     Quisquis  hoc sustulerit  aut  jusserit

 ultimus  suorum  moriator 


“Whoever removes or orders this to be removed let him die the last

of his race.”  (A common form of imprecation).


From the sentiments expressed above, it is most likely that the earlier ‘column of Reffley’ that adorned the spring had to be replaced because it had been damaged by vandals.


Reffley spring Obelisk                                                                                               Images supplied by Alex Wright