The Rich History of Forwoods: Part 2

Previously on Forwoods History, we learned how a young tenor by the name of Reggie Forwood gave up a promising solo career, married soprano May Bartlett, survived the Baedeker raids on Canterbury, celebrated the arrival of a daughter, suffered a fractured skull in an encounter with a truck, and went on to create a successful music shop in Palace Street, Canterbury.

Julia Forwood, born in the middle of the Second World War, when Canterbury was effectively a front-line city within easy reach of German bombers, married civil engineer Roddy Tyndale-Biscoe in 1963. As Reggie approached retirement age, the family’s thoughts began to turn to the future of Forwood’s Music Centre, as it was then known.

In 1974, Roddy made the decision to give up his international engineering career, settle back in Canterbury with Julia and their two young daughters, and together take on the running of the shop.

Slowly, the premises expanded from 37 Palace Street with the addition of numbers 35-36, the new units providing a brighter home for classical LPs and cassettes and creating more space for the classical sheet music in No 37. The sales area of No 37 was extended backwards into what was previously a bakery.

When May Forwood retired from teaching singing in ‘the upper rooms’ an extensive new first floor musical instruments showroom was opened over all three units. The business rebranded as Forwoods Classical Music to indicate the direction the new owners wished to take, and the interior was given a ground-breaking make-over, masterminded by David Stewart of Dart Designs.

An advert from 1979 shows that, by then, Forwoods was the sole agent in East Kent for the Boosey & Hawkes musical instrument rental programme, a try-before-you-buy scheme that enabled countless aspiring musicians to get their hands on an instrument for a fraction of the purchase price. Rentals then started from 80p per week for up to 6 months.

Forwoods had always been a place where one could buy tickets for local concerts, and this was formalised so that, by 1982, the aptly named Forwood Bookings was operating from a box office just inside the front door. Here, one could book tickets for cathedral concerts, theatre at the Marlowe and – via a Keith Prowse agency – for London’s West End. Forwood Bookings was the official box office partner for Canterbury Festival and Stour Festival and coastal venues such as Leas Cliff Hall in Folkestone and Margate Winter Gardens.

Running the box office was a genius piece of marketing because it brought into the shop not just performers, but a wider clientele with an interest in music and the arts, most of whom would leave with more than just the tickets they originally came in for. With the printed music department, the first floor instruments showroom and the expanded recorded music department, it made Forwoods a true hub of Canterbury’s musical life.

Archbishop Runcie at prayer with Pope John Paul IINestled in the historic heart of Canterbury in what is known as The King’s Mile, many famous visitors have passed by the front door of Forwoods, including royalty and foreign dignitaries. None more so than Pope John Paul II, who in 1982 headed past in his popemobile on his way to the cathedral where he knelt in prayer with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, at the shrine of the Martyrdom of St Thomas Becket.

As musical tastes began to evolve, and with the excellent Classical Longplayer providing stiff competition from St Peter’s Street, Roddy & Julia took the difficult decision in 1986 to close the record department and replace it with an expanded popular music showroom. By now, the designers of music books had worked out what the record industry already knew – that a strong visual image on the cover could help to sell a book and add to its value, so Dart Designs went for a concept where, in contrast to the classical department where everything was stored side-on in red boxes (which, by the way, are still in use) books were displayed, forward-facing, in open racks. The fittings were largely black, but a striking lighting design ensured the colourful products were attractively presented.

The late 1980s were a time of particular flourishing for Forwoods Classical Music. By now, Keith Wilson was running the instruments department, James Pertwee the popular music showroom and Stephen Yarrow the classical sheet music section. A rival store, Kennards, closed in 1987 giving Forwoods another boost, and attractive window displays and hanging baskets brought admiring comments from customers and those passing by.

The shop supported summer schools such as that run by the eminent flautist Trevor Wye at Ramsgate, Kent Music School at Benenden and Mark Deller in Aix-en-Provence, either by attending with pop-up shops or by being the approved supplier for their syllabus material. When Oxford University Press launched their new book 100 Carols for Choirs in 1987, the editors David Willcocks and John Rutter came to the shop to sign copies on the day, Rutter recently recalled, that weatherman Michael Fish assured TV viewers that there definitely wasn’t a hurricane on the way.

Forwoods became the hub for various charitable events. Owner Roddy Tyndale-Biscoe was a member of the Rotary Club of Canterbury and as Vice-President in 1990-91 took a leading role in ‘M20 Yours for the Day’. This was a fun day held on the ‘missing link’ of the M20 between Lenham and Ashford which would open two days later. A rare opportunity to run, walk or cycle or even ride a horse on a stretch of British motorway! The Rotary Clubs of Canterbury, Ashford and Maidstone collaborated to raise over £48,000 which was divided between Kent Air Ambulance and the three clubs.

Forwoods was effectively the call centre for the event, as it was again for an ‘organ crawl’ in aid of the Life for Laura appeal to fund a new Special Care Baby Unit at Kent & Canterbury Hospital. Churches all over Kent opened their doors for the day to visiting organists, converging on Canterbury Cathedral at the end of the day for an organ duet recital by Michael Harris, the Assistant Organist, and his wife Brigitte.

It must have been very gratifying for Reggie Forwood, by now approaching his eighties and still working part-time, to see how his daughter and son-in-law had taken over his beloved music shop and created something which was, by any standards, a first-rate business and a community-minded establishment.

In the early 1990s, Roddy & Julia were approached by an entrepreneur looking to buy the shop and began to explore, perhaps for the first time, what life after Forwoods might be like for them. Being an engineer, Roddy always brought his practical skills to the repair and maintenance of musical instruments. He saw an opportunity to be relieved of the day-to-day commitment of running the shop and concentrate instead on rehairing bows and fixing up unloved fiddles. They undoubtedly wanted to enjoy the fruits of their labours in semi-retirement, with the opportunity for more travel and leisure time.

What they had not foreseen was that their three key staff, Messrs Wilson, Pertwee and Yarrow, would stage a management buy-out, which was completed in the summer of 1993. The founder Reggie Forwood died in October 1993, just months after attending his daughter’s retirement party and no doubt content in the knowledge that the future of Forwoods Classical Music was in safe hands. His wife May passed away in 2000.

Sadly, shortly after retiring from the shop, Julia suffered a serious illness, and much of Roddy’s time thereafter was taken up with caring for her. Nevertheless, he was a valued consultant to the new owners, and he continued to repair instruments and bows for Kent Music School until shortly before his death in 2019, leaving a workshop full of them when he passed away, just three days after Julia.

Roddy & Julia Tyndale-Biscoe