are pleased to invite all nymphs and shepherds
to a special ceremony of dedication of the famed
chalybeate waters of Reffley Spring to the
Deities of Love and Social Enjoyment.
As our loyal acolytes will know, the waters of Reffley Spring have been used for many years to make a very special and most satisfying punch drink by the Brethren of the Reffley Society. The Reffley Brethren, our most loyal followers, have arranged for a special ceremony which will take place at the Reffley Temple, and will include the dedication of a new obelisk erected in the spring to our very honour. The talented Mr. Thomas Arne has kindly agreed to compose a special cantata for the occasion which will feature of a band of musicians and famed singers from the mortal realms. Prithee share with us in this celebration of love and convivial pleasure, and enjoy the double intoxications which we, Venus and Bacchus, so graciously extend to you.
A Cantata composed for the Dedication of the Water
to the Deities of Love and Social Enjoyment, the Music by
Arne's cantata, Reffley Spring, is little known today, and only a handful of copies are known to exist. Modern scholarship now gives the publication date of 1764, although the date of the composition of the work is not known with certainty.1 Other mysteries surround the work, especially the celebrations which occasioned its composition.
The remaining evidence points to the work having been commissioned by the Reffley Society, a group centred in the parish of Gaywood in South Wooton, just outside of Lynn (now, King's-Lynn). The formation of this society dates back to 1650 when Cromwell passed an edict forbidding gatherings of more than 30 people. Residents of the area were staunchly Royalist in their sympathies (especially the wealthy Ffolkes family), and the formation of the society appears to have been a form of protest so that free speech and the freedom of association were protected. That said, the number of members in the society (all men of good standing in the community) has never exceeded 30. With the restoration of the monarchy, the society appears to have lost its political significance and, by the eighteenth century, the society's meetings had become social and convivial celebrations which were held yearly.
The society appears to have taken its name from a chalybeate spring which rose up in the woods on property owned by the Ffolkes family. Water from this spring was used to make a punch of which each member of the "Reffley Brethren" had to partake at the yearly meetings. In addition, the members enjoyed a candlelit meal, and smoked pipes containing a special blend of tobacco. Eventually an obelisk was erected at the site of the spring, and a building erected (known as the Reffley Temple) for the use of the Brethren. On 24 June 1756, a celebration of dedication to "Bacchus and Venus, the gods of this place" took place. At this time, a new obelisk was erected in the middle of the spring.2 One wonders if it was not this celebration which occasioned the composition of Arne's cantata. Unfortunately, the earliest surviving document in the records of the society dates from 1789, the year after Arne's death.3 A more permanent temple, a brick octagonal structure, was erected near the spring in 1789, and subsequently enlarged in 1851. Unfortunately, the obelisk and the temple were severely vandalized in the 1970s and, sadly, the site was subsequently given over to an housing estate. The society still existed in the 1980s, but reports in the local newspapers indicate that the membership had dwindled.4
The consumption of a specified amount of a punch made from various liquors and the spring water was a prerequisite for entry into the temple by the brethren. It is the process of making this punch which forms the actions associated with Arne's cantata. Although not an opera, there are specified actions in the work, which make it perhaps akin to a pageant. There is only one solo singer (tenor voice), and the chorus appears only in the final section. The tenor soloist acts as the High Priest, and actors mime the parts of Venus and Bacchus. The following actions are specified in the publication, and the score contains the numbers (given in parentheses) which pertain to specific actions:
The Company being ranged near the Spring, the High Priest, standing in the centre (Crown's with a wreath of Ivy, Myrtle, and the Roses), begins the Recitative.
1. The earliest editions of the Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians gave the date of publication as being 1772.
2. Percy A. Scholes, The Great Dr. Burney, his life, his travels, his works, his family and his friends. 2 vols. Oxford: OUP, 1948, II: 328.
3. When Percy Scholes visited the society, he discovered that there was no long-standing tradition of musical performance, beyond the singing of "Cock Robin" at the yearly meetings.
4. I am much indebted to Dianne Yeadon, enquiry assistant in the area of Norfolk Studies, at the Norfolk & Norwich Temporary Central Library (Norwich) for providing me with copies of newspaper clippings and other information from this period.
Paul F. Rice
Memorial University of Newfoundland