Autobiography of James Tilbury (1881-1972)


1916. PENNSYLVANIA, USA  When choirmaster at Grace Church, Mt Airy, Philadelphia, I met the organist and choirmaster of another P.E. Church on Broad St.  His name was Edward Hardy.  Hardy was an old Manchester (England) Cathedral chorister to whom I was introduced when I was 13 years of age and staying at the home of a clergyman friend who had invited me to his Manchester home for my holidays. Ted Hardy was an extremely good pianist even then and we had a very jolly sing-song time together.  Although he had been living in Philadelphia more than a year, we had neither met nor heard of each other since our boyhood days.

1917. The Rev. Arthur Rudd was about to be installed by the Bishop, as Rector of the Trinity Memorial P.E. Church at Ambler, Pa. (15 miles from Philadelphia)  He was quite worried because the ceremony was to be performed in two weeks time and the choir (?) had dwindled to just three or four members.  Weeks before, a Mr & Mrs Wm. Ball had gone to live in Ambler and the Rector mention­ed his predicament to them.  We were then living in Wyndmoor - a few miles away - and had recently entertained the Balls at our home there following the discovery that 16 years earlier, Wm. (Billy) Ball had worked at the next desk to mine in the Union Castle Line office in Southampton, England.  He was now with a Philadelphia concern.  "Billy" Ball had urged the Rev. Rudd to see me concerning his difficulty and he did so the very same day.  I in­vited him to leave everything to me and forget all about the matter.  Quickly I got together several of my choir-singing friends, together with my brother (tenor-who happened to be staying with me for a month),my office secretary (contralto) and my wife (soprano) and three days later we were all rehearsing at the church. Fortunately, the organist was very good and coop­erated enthusiastically and everything proceeded satisfactorily. After the service, at which the choir numbered twenty two, the Rector said he was proud and delighted and urged me to become their permanent choirmaster.  I agreed, resigned from my Wyndmoor Lutheran church appointment (choirmaster) and moved my family into the excellent house alongside the church grounds at Ambler.

1912. CANADA.  When engaged in forming a male quartette in Vancouver, Canada, to occupy spare time, I was introduced to a man who was recommended to me as a good first tenor.  His name was Warburton and he was the son of Canon War­burton of Winchester Cathedral, England, whom I naturally knew very well.

1928. BERMUDA.  In August 1928 I took my wife and family for our annual vacation to Bermuda.  We left New York on the "Queen of Bermuda".  Looking over the pass­enger list at the page showing the names of the Captain and officers, I saw the name of MacHaffie, Chief steward.  Immediately I recalled the time when I was eight years old and chorister at St. Mary's church, Southampton, England, and often played around in the church grounds before choir practice with a boy of that name. I went at once to the Chief Steward’s office and soon learned that he was that choirboy friend of 1889.

1948. CALIFORNIA.USA.  Some years after retiring from business I visited a sister in California.  Two months later I became choirmaster at St. Mark's P.E. church, Altadena.  The resigning choirmaster told me that, 33 years before, he had been a choirboy in the P.E. church of St. James's at 22nd and Walnut street Philadelphia.  On comparing notes we found that I was actually singing there as bass at the same time and must have stood close behind him at the services.  In the same St. Mark's church choir, Altadena, there was a tenor who told me that, as a boy, he also sang in the choir of St. Mary's church, Southampton. but about 10 years after me, in other words, 49 years before we met.  Altadena's congregation had a lady member who said she had lived most of her life in Frankford, Phila, and was a member of the congregation of St. Mark's P.E. church there during the entire 17 years I was in charge of the music and, of course, knew me quite well, though not to speak to, as we had never met.

1931. BERMUDA.  Before I was born my paternal grandmother sold her property and took five of my uncles & aunts to Sydney, Australia.  She was 84 years of age.  I understand that sailing ships took about six months for the voyage at that time.  She not only survived the trip but continued to live out there until she died at 96 years of age.  In 1931, my eldest daughter, Dorothy, secured an appointment as secretary to the manager of the Hotel Inverurie, Bermuda.  One day a young man telephoned saying he wished to speak to Miss Tilbury.  She replied, "I am Miss Tilbury".  After a few words he said “I wanted to speak to Miss Dorothy M. Tilbury”.  My daughter replied, "I am Miss Dorothy M. Tilbury".  He was quite confused and said he would come right over to the Hotel and explain.  When he arrived it transpired that there were TWO DOROTHY M. TILBURY'S on the Island and the missing one had been invited by the young man to have dinner with him that night at the "Inverurie Hotel".  Presently they all met and excitedly discussed the extraordinary situation. It appeared that the Australian Dorothy was related to one of my uncles who lived in Sydney, but why she was ever named Dorothy M. is hard to understand.  My Father, the only member of the family who had remained in England, had never corresponded with that uncle, in fact, had scarcely ever written to any of them and none had ever re-visited England so we children knew practically nothing of our Australian relatives. The Australian Dorothy was 22 years of age and she and a Sidney engineer wished to get married.  Her parents were not at all in favour of the match and opposed it vigorously, but it was finally agreed that she could take the "Around-the-world" trip she had long desired and if, upon her return, she still wanted to marry the engineer the parents would withdraw all objections.  It leaked out later, that as soon as the daughter had sailed, the parents had written to all of those relatives she planned to visit, urging them to try to find a more eligible young man for Dorothy.  Apparently this scheme didn’t work.  When she was in England she was strongly advised to stop off at Beautiful Bermuda on her way home via the U S A and she did so.  She was so fascinated with the lovely island that she sought, and secured, some pleasant work in a little millinery shop  and was there for 6 months before the two girls met.  Our Dorothy had also been several months in Bermuda but she now left the "Inverurie Hotel" and they both came up to Philadelphia where the Austra­lian Dorothy remained as our guest until obliged to resume her journey.  She eventually reached her Sydney home and soon afterwards married the man of her choice.


[1] Source David Tilbury, Oregon


  • April Boothe 2 years ago

    Thank you so much for posting this autobiography of my great grandfather, James Tilbury (1881-1972)! My dad told me many of these amazing stories about his grandfather over the years. It was such a blessing to find them here, print them out & share them with my dad who is now 76. I have one picture of myself as an infant with my great grandfather. My dad (James Tilbury Nutter of Connecticut/Texas)has even more info on the family, but alas, he is not a big fan of modern technology.

    • linden 2 years ago

      My pleasure April, glad it's been useful. Perhaps you could digitise all your father's gems of information? Cheers, Linden

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