by Ellie Jones, Cathedral Archivist
Farley Sinkins was born in Leeds in 1845, the son of Devon-born William Sinkins and his wife Susanna, who were both infant school teachers. Young Farley’s musical life started as a choirboy in his local parish church. In his teens he was apprenticed to a letter-press printer alongside his elder brother, but by the age of 20 he was already pursuing a career in music. In 1865 he was singing bass at St Asaph Cathedral in Wales. By 1870 he was married with a young family, and moved to take up the position of principal bass at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. In the 1871 census his occupations are given as lay clerk at Christ Church, master of the National School in New Hinksey, teacher of piano, and singing and concert agent.
In January 1877 Sinkins applied for the position of lay bass clerk at Exeter Cathedral. The Cathedral Organist, Daniel Joseph Wood, reported that he was “the most efficient bass” and he was appointed in May that year. By June he was receiving extra pay for additional duties. However, from 1879 until his resignation from the choir in 1891, Sinkins most often appears in the records less for his musical talent than for being reprimanded for absences.
In November 1879 Sinkins and fellow lay vicars John Browning and Emmanuel Northway, were admonished as they had “absented themselves three weeks from the practice of music”. Browning and Sinkins had responded insolently and defensively to Chapter’s reprimands, and on Sunday 9th November they had “deranged the service by (as the Chapter believe) wilful irregularity in singing thereby causing surprise and remarks on the part of the congregation”.
It is most likely that Sinkins’ absences were due to his growing teaching and concert commitments elsewhere. He resigned from the choir in January 1891, and received £30 from the Dean and Chapter for his service.
By the early 1890s Sinkins was a well-known manager and promoter of popular Covent Garden promenade concerts. One of his most notorious shows was the 1892 English premiere of French composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila. The performance didn’t quite go according to plan. Saint-Saëns’ opera had received its premiere in Weimar, Germany, in 1877 but Biblical operas were out of fashion and it wasn’t until 1890 that it was staged in France for the first time. The 1892 London performance was intended to be the full opera, but the Lord Chamberlain refused to allow it and the French lead performers both withdrew at short notice. Sinkins managed to secure two English singers who had just one day to rehearse. The performance went ahead as a reduced concert version, and the full opera wasn’t staged in London until 1909.
Farley Sinkins continued working as a vocalist and musical agent – although seemingly with less fame and success – for most of his life. He died at Chelmsford in 1929, aged 83. Two of his children were also working musicians; Ernest as a piano tuner and instrumentalist, and Edith as a vocalist.