Bristol Cathedral

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Bristol Cathedral, College Green, BS1 5TJ

Symonds attributed his affinity for choral music and places to infant memories of Bristol Cathedral. An equally critical connection was made in March 1858, when Symonds met the boy who became his first love.

William Dyer was a member of the cathedral choir, living with his father on Park Street, a short distance from Bristol cathedral. Boldly, Symonds wrote requesting his photograph, then asked Willie to meet with him. Dyer replied with a time – 10am on the 10th of April – and suggested they meet in the cloisters of the cathedral.

“From that morning I date the birth of my real self. Thirty years have elapsed since then; and still I can hardly hold the pen when I attempt to write about it.
Much sentimental nonsense has been talked about first love. Yet I am speaking the bare truth when I say my affection for this boy exhausted my instinctive faculty of loving. I have never felt the same unreason and unreasoning emotion for any other human being.”1

Symonds paid the organist of Bristol Cathedral – then John Davies Corfe – to continue Willie’s musical training, allowing him to fulfil his professional aspirations. His letters show that he frequently visited the cathedral to hear Dyer play, despite his father’s warnings against the friendship.


  1. John Addington Symonds, Phyllis Groskurth, The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds, New York, Random House, 1984 p104 []