Monday, 9 November 2015

The book is now available!

At long last my book O Little Town is available. To order your copy simply click on the button below.

I hope you enjoy it. I would be glad to hear any comments you have.

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Monday, 2 November 2015

Sussex hymn-tunes - Part II: KINGSFOLD

A while back I started to write about hymn-tunes that are named after Sussex place-names. Having been briefly diverted by an expedition to Suffolk and Essex, I am now back home and ready to think again about the tunes that grew near where I live.

The first instalment of my post on Sussex hymn-tunes focused mainly on tunes that Ralph Vaughan Williams collected from Harriet and Peter Verrall in Monks Gate, just outside Horsham. Vaughan Williams lived not far away, in Surrey, and many of the folk-songs that he adapted for use as hymn-tunes were collected in Sussex. So if you will indulge me, I will stay with RVW in this entry too.

I live in Warnham, a village just outside Horsham, diametrically opposite from Monks Gate. There is a hymn-tune called WARNHAM, but only because I wrote it myself. It was my entry for a competition run by the Royal School of Church Music to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Hymns Ancient & Modern. The competition challenged composers to write a tune for some new words by Timothy Dudley-Smith, the prolific hymn-writer whose works include Tell out my soul. I didn't win, so the hymn-tune WARNHAM remains unsung. I did re-use the melody for a rhapsody for string orchestra: you can hear an excerpt here.

Kingsfold is a hamlet within the parish of Warnham. It has a fine old pub called The Owl. This pub has reinvented itself more than once over the years: it used to be called The Wise Old Owl, and before that it was a nightclub called Cromwells. But its original name was The Wheatsheaf.
The Owl in Kingsfold
In 1904, shortly before Christmas, Vaughan Williams visited The Wheatsheaf in Kingsfold and heard a folk-song being sung by a Mr Booker. The tune that Mr Booker sang is very old. It has been used for many different words, and the tune itself is found in many different variants. The words that Vaughan Williams heard were The Ballad of Maria Martin, telling the true story of a grisly murder that happened in Suffolk in 1827.

Maria Martin (or Marten) was a young woman who lived with her father and her stepmother in Polstead, near Ipswich. She planned to marry her lover, William Corder. He persuaded her that they had to travel in secret to Ipswich: she had an illegitimate child by a previous lover, and Corder said the local constable had a warrant for her arrest because of this. They agreed to meet secretly in the Red Barn, not far from Maria's home in Polstead.

Some weeks later Maria's father started to receive letters from William Corder telling him news of his wedding to Maria and of their new life on the Isle of Wight. But Maria's stepmother started to have nightmares, and eventually persuaded her husband to search the Red Barn. There he saw a patch of earth that looked as if it had been disturbed more recently than the rest. With the help of some friends he dug into this earth and found Maria's body. She had been shot.

William Corder hanged for the murder of Maria Marten. The case became famous, and soon it was being used as subject-matter for plays, pamphlets and ballads. It was one such ballad that Vaughan Williams heard in Kingsfold, in The Wheatsheaf.

Earlier that year Vaughan Williams had agreed to become music editor of The English Hymnal. Many of the tunes he used in that book were adaptations of folk-songs that he or his fellow enthusiasts had collected. The tune he heard in Kingsfold was used for the hymn I heard the voice of Jesus say.

Dives and Lazarus

As well as being found in hymn-books under the name KINGSFOLD this tune is well-known as being the basis for Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, a work for harp and strings that Vaughan Williams wrote in 1939.

It is often assumed that Dives and Lazarus is the name of the folk-song from which this melody is taken. As I said earlier, the tune has been used for many different sets of words, both sacred and secular. But the connection with the song called Dives and Lazarus is not historical. Vaughan Williams' friend Lucy Broadwood, an accomplished musician and fellow collector of folk-culture, included the tune in a book called English County Songs, in which it appears with the words to Dives and Lazarus, a song based on one of the parables of Jesus. Lucy Broadwood makes it clear in her book that the pairing of these words with this tune was her idea, and there is no evidence that it was ever authentic.

The version of the tune that Lucy Broadwood published was slightly different from the one that Mr Booker sang to RVW in Kingsfold. What's more, the version of the tune that appears in hymn-books under the name of KINGSFOLD is Broadwood's version (which she heard in Middlesex), not the Kingsfold one. Like the story of FOREST GREEN, which I wrote about a while ago, this is another example of Vaughan Williams being somewhat approximate in the labels he gave his folk-tunes.

However, the hymn-tune as we have it is recognisably the same as Mr Booker's song, so perhaps Vaughan Williams can be excused. No doubt the evening he spent in The Wheatsheaf in 1904, enjoying its festive fare and listening to its locals singing, was a sufficiently pleasant memory to be immortalised in a beautiful hymn-tune. And as a resident of the same parish, I am proud to be a neighbour of KINGSFOLD.