Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Hymn map

I've made a start at mapping the places that have hymns named after them. This is nowhere near comprehensive, and even the places I have included don't all (yet) have full information. But it's a start.

Click on the dots to find out more about the place and the hymn.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Forest Green

FOREST GREEN is the name of the tune sung (in the UK, at least) to O little town of Bethlehem. Since this is the carol from which I have taken the title for my book (and this blog) I thought I should look into it.

The tune is a folk-song called The Ploughboy's Dream, which Ralph Vaughan Williams 'collected' in 1903. Vaughan Williams noted that the singer from whom he learnt this song, Mr Garman of Forest Green, was a native of Sussex but living in Surrey.

Thanks to Mr Simon Coombs of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, I have learnt that RVW collected this song at a place called Broadmoor in Surrey, and that he also heard songs sung by one Isaac Longhurst on the same occasion. Here's a map showing Broadmoor:

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I have tried to find out some more about Mr Garman of Forest Green. Vaughan Williams estimated his age to be about 60. By consulting the census records I have discovered the following:

There is only one adult Mr Garman recorded in the 1901 census in the Dorking area whose birthplace was in Sussex: Henry Garman, born in 1830 (which means he was in fact 73 when he sang The Ploughboy's Dream at Broadmoor). The only trouble is, I have yet to find any evidence that Henry Garman lived at Forest Green. In the censuses of 1871, 1881 and 1891 he is living at Sheep Green (sometimes spelt Ship Green), which is to the north of Jayes Park, about here:

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It's not far from Forest Green (about a mile) but I don't think anyone living there would claim to be a resident of Forest Green. In 1901 he was living in Stane Street, Ockley: again, not far from Forest Green, but not actually in it.

Isaac Longhurst, the other singer whom RVW heard on that occasion in 1903, was living in Forest Green at the time of the 1901 census, when he was aged 68. Among the inhabitants of Broadmoor at that time was a Frederick Longhurst (aged 41 in 1901). Frederick was not Isaac's son as far as I can see, but I would be surprised if there was no family connection. I also guess that Vaughan Williams' visit in 1903 was to the house of Frederick Longhurst.

So to sum up:
  • If the Mr Garman who sang The Ploughboy's dream to RVW in 1903 was indeed a native of Sussex who lived in Surrey, it was probably Henry Garman, born 1830.
  • This Henry Garman was not living in Forest Green at the time of any of the censuses 1871 to 1901 (though he did live in the same general area).
  • Isaac Longhurst, who also sang to RVW on the same occasion, was a resident of Forest Green.
  • Frederick Longhurst lived at Broadmoor, where Mr Garman sang The Ploughboy's Dream to RVW. I have yet to discover how Frederick and Isaac were related.
My tentative - very tentative - conclusion is that when Vaughan Williams referred to 'Mr Garman of Forest Green' he was making a mistake, mixing up Garman and Longhurst. So perhaps we should be singing the carol to a tune called SHEEP GREEN? It fits in with the shepherd theme!

Any insights would be welcome.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Crimond (continued)

The memorial windows in Crimond Church commemorate Jessie Seymour Irvine, composer of the tune CRIMOND, set to the words of Psalm 23 (The Lord's my shepherd).

But as I hinted in my last post, there is more to it than this simple statement. 

The 23rd Psalm?

For a start, the tune was not originally composed for these words. When it first appeared (in 1872 in a book called The Northern Psalter) the only words given were the following:

Thou art the Way, the Truth, the Life:
grant us that way to know,
that truth to keep, that life to win,
whose joys eternal flow.

This is the last verse of a hymn that begins 'Thou art the Way, to thee alone from sin and death we flee’, with words by G W Doane. The fact that The Northern Psalter only printed the last verse with CRIMOND seems to suggest that these words were only given as a suggestion, and that choirs were free to use any texts that fitted the music. As the rhythm of the tune is in Common Metre, that could include a large number of hymns.

It was the Glasgow Orpheus Choir that first sang CRIMOND to the words of The Lord's my shepherd. They made a recording of this pairing of words and music (see the link in my last post) which helped fix the association in the mind of the public. This was also reinforced by the fact that our present Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) had The Lord's my shepherd at her wedding in 1947, sung to the tune CRIMOND.

Nowadays the tune is so closely associated with these words that it is rarely sung to any others. (There is, however, another tune that is often used for The Lord's my shepherd: it's called BROTHER JAMES'S AIR.)

Did Jessie Irvine write CRIMOND?

In Crimond itself, there is no suggestion that anyone other than Jessie Seymour Irvine might be the composer of the tune. But when it was first published in The Northern Psalter it was attributed to David Grant (1833-1893); and no-one, up to and including the time of the Royal Wedding in 1947, questioned this attribution.

Grant was one of a group who were engaged in collecting and editing Scottish hymn-music. A tobacconist by trade, he was also Precentor (leader of music) at a church in Aberdeen, and a composer whose works included a hymn-tune called RALEIGH, in honour of the man who introduced smoking to Britain. The group was led by William Carnie, a journalist; other people involved in the project included the precentor of Crimond church, William Clubb. The fruit of their labours was The Northern Psalter, a hymn-book that proved extremely popular and sold tens of thousands of copies.

CRIMOND was, as I have mentioned, one of the tunes included in this hymn-book. As David Grant was from Aberdeen there is no obvious reason for selecting the name CRIMOND: according to one version of the history, it was chosen in honour of William Clubb.

The Northern Psalter was published in 1872, but it was not till the 1940s that anyone publicly made the claim that CRIMOND was composed by Jessie Irvine. At about the time that Princess Elizabeth was getting married, the Revd Dr Millar Patrick wrote an article in the Bulletin of the Hymn Society in which he claimed that Jessie Irvine, not David Grant, was the composer. He based his claim on a letter written in 1911 by Jessie's sister Anna, which had recently come to light. In this letter (addressed to Robert Monteith, minister at Crimond from 1909) Anna states that the tune was by Jessie, but Grant had provided the harmony.

The truth is far from clear. On the one hand, Grant's name was given as the composer for decades without being challenged. On the other, Anna Irvine's letter cannot be completely discounted (though William Clubb, for one, believed that she was confusing CRIMOND with another tune by Jessie Irvine called BALLANTINE). Certainly Irvine had stronger links to the town of Crimond than Grant.

But in Crimond itself they are sure: it was Jessie Seymour Irvine who wrote the tune.

List of ministers of Crimond, including Alexander Irvine, father of Jessie Irvine. Note also Robert Taylor Monteith, to whom Anna Irvine wrote her letter attributing CRIMOND to Jessie.


I have recently returned from a sailing trip in Scotland aboard Goldfinch. My brother-in-law Bryan Davies and his friend Mike Neal are sailing her round Britain and I was lucky enough to be invited to join them for part of the trip. Towards the end of the month I will be re-joining them in Dublin for another stretch. (Goldfinch has her own blog: see http://goldfinchrounduk.blogspot.co.uk/)

One of the ports we visited was Peterhead, on the east coast of Scotland.

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This gave me a perfect opportunity, because Peterhead is only a few miles away from Crimond. One of the most famous hymn-tunes of all is named CRIMOND, so it seemed a shame to miss the opportunity of visiting it. This tune is usually sung to the words of The Lord's my shepherd. Here's a link to an old recording of it, sung (slowly!) by the Glasgow Orpheus Choir:

The bus journey from Peterhead takes only about half an hour. The countryside here is low-lying and green; the architecture is mainly built out of local materials, which range in colour from dull brown to even duller grey. 

To say that there is not much in Crimond would be an insult to the people who live there; but there is little to catch the eye of the casual visitor. It is a village with a population of around 800, with a substantial primary school, a couple of shops, a fine collection of grey houses, and a church.

Crimond Church
The church is a handsome building. The clock is a notable feature: its face bears the inscription THE HOUR'S COMING, and between the eleven and the twelve there are six minutes, so that the clock apparently has sixty-one minutes.

The clock on Crimond Church
Unfortunately when I arrived at Crimond the church was locked (not surprising really, at lunchtime on a Wednesday). On the noticeboard outside there were some phone numbers, including one for the Church Officer, so I called and left a message to the effect that I was in town for the day and would like to see the church. I then took a walk round the village and, having taken a few more pictures of the church, got on the bus back to Peterhead.

Within five minutes my phone rang. It was Marlene Cowie, the Church Officer of Crimond Church, offering to come and open up the church for me. As this was an opportunity that was unlikely to recur, as soon as the bus got back to Peterhead I bought another ticket and stayed aboard as it turned round and headed back in the direction of Crimond. The bus driver probably thought I was insane.

Mrs Cowie was there waiting for me outside the church. She very kindly let me in and showed me round, even going as far as making me a cup of coffee and giving me some biscuits.

If the church was handsome from the outside, it is beautiful on the inside. It is not big, but it is light, clean and airy, not like the shadowy old churches of England. It has a white balcony running round on three sides half-way up the walls, and a fine old organ that Mrs Cowie informed me was much admired by visiting organists.

The interior of the church

Crimond church, showing gallery
At the back of the church are four arched windows engraved with designs commemorating the hymn-tune which has made this place famous. They are almost impossible to photograph because they are so reflective, and the engraved designs have no colour, so they come out as ghostly images:

On the first of these windows is the inscription:

The 23rd Psalm: Crimond tune composed by Jessie Seymour Irvine 1836 - 87

These windows have been installed in memory of the Rev James E Lyall, the last minister of the church, who died in 2002. Since then the job of minister has been taken by a locum. 

Jessie Seymour Irvine was the daughter of a previous minister, Alexander Irvine, who was in office from 1854-1884. Crimond is, of course, proud of the achievement of its former inhabitant in composing this world-famous tune for The Lord's my Shepherd (a metrical version of Psalm 23).

In my next post I will return to Crimond - or rather to CRIMOND the tune - because, like the clock with 61 minutes, all may not be as it seems..

What it's all about

Why are so many hymn-tunes named after places?

Everybody knows at least some hymns. But unless you are regularly involved in choral music you may not realise that hymn-tunes have NAMES. 

Unlike other types of song, the name of the tune rarely gives any clue about the words it is sung to. For example, the tune for O little town of Bethlehem is called FOREST GREEN (if you're American, you probably know a different tune, called ST LOUIS). The tune for While shepherds watched their flocks by night  is called WINCHESTER OLD. The tune for Come down, O Love divine is called DOWN AMPNEY. 

The reason for this is that in the early days of hymn-singing it was common for one tune to be used for a number of different sets of words, so it was important to be able to talk about the tune separately from the lyrics. 

From the outset it was very common for the titles of hymn-tunes to be taken from place-names. All of the examples I have mentioned above are places: Forest Green is a village in Surrey, Down Ampney is in Gloucestershire, Winchester is in Hampshire, and St Louis is in Missouri. 

All Saints Church, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire
This blog aims to explore the stories that link the hymn-tunes with the places they are named after. My motivation for doing this is to explore the history of the 'little towns' and the music: I will leave the spiritual side of things to others better qualified than I. In any case, the story behind the tunes is often far from religious. On the way we will meet not only priests and poets, but also murderers, seafarers, emperors and ploughmen.

O Little Town: the book

In parallel with this blog, I am in the process of writing a book on this subject, also called O Little Town. This is nearing completion and I hope to make it available later this year. The blog will not, however, simply be extracts from the book. I'll be able to include more pictures, for example, and links to recordings of the music. I will also be able to be a bit more casual and haphazard in the subjects I choose. 

If you would like more information about the book, watch this space!

Do get in touch with your comments and observations. And if you know more about a particular subject than I do, let me know!