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.


Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

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.



Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Hills of the north

My last post was entitled Sussex hymn-tunes - Part I, implying that there would at the very least be a Part II. And so there will be, in due course. But today I would like to write about East Anglia. I realise that East Anglia is not in the north, and is notoriously unhilly. But the title of the present entry does have a point, which we will come to by and by.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a concert at Snape Maltings given by the Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra, who gave a wonderful rendition of the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, Brahms' Symphony no 4, and Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs (sung by Helena Dix, who stepped in at the last minute to cover for Susan Gritton, and produced a sublime, ravishing performance).

This is of course Benjamin Britten country. As far as I'm aware Britten did not contribute to hymnody in any way (unless you count his arrangement of the National Anthem, which is sometimes heard at the Last Night of the Proms). Nevertheless, a visit to Snape is a musical pilgrimage in keeping with the spirit of my other journeys inspired by hymn-tunes. The morning after the concert I went for a walk through the marshes and then drove up the road to Aldeburgh and strolled along the seafront. It was a sunny, windy autumn day, and after I had finally tracked down a place that could sell me coffee (and a decent coffee at that - thank you Munchies) I was content. There is an impressive memorial to Britten right on the stony beach: a massive metal shell pierced through with a quotation from Peter Grimes: 'I hear those voices that will not be drowned'.
The Britten memorial on Aldeburgh beach, Suffolk. Photo © Mark Browse 2015
None of this has much to do with hymns. But the day before, en route to Snape, I called in at two places that have inspired some great hymn tunes. 

Little Cornard really is a little place, not far from Sudbury in Suffolk. To get to it you have to drive along a single-lane track, hoping that you do not meet another vehicle coming the other way. There are few cottages here and a pretty church (which unfortunately was closed when I went there). 
Little Cornard Church, Suffolk. Photo © Mark Browse 2015
During the 1910s the composer Martin Shaw would come here to help out on the local farms. The Martin Shaw Trust Archivist Isobel Platings tells me that he once wrote to Ralph Vaughan Williams from here, giving his address as Slough Hall, Slushy Lane, Workhouse Green. Vaughan Williams assumed this was a joke, and replied by writing to Shaw's Hampstead address. 

Shaw also spent his honeymoon in Little Cornard, at Appletree Cottage, which was lent to him by Noël Haselwood. I tried to track down the location of this cottage, and came to the conclusion that it is no longer there: it seems to have been replaced by a modern house, which can be seen in the distance in this picture:
© Mark Browse 2015
Shaw wrote many hymn-tunes, some of which have become established as classics. LITTLE CORNARD, named after this charming hamlet, is the vigorous tune usually sung to Hills of the north, rejoice, even though, as I mentioned earlier, the countryside around here is not northern and rather flat.

Just a few miles away is the pretty medieval town of Thaxted. The centre of Thaxted has many brightly-coloured old houses, leaning against each other for support. Its church is truly impressive, and has been described as 'the cathedral of Essex'. In 1914 Gustav Holst went to live in Monk Street, which is nowadays not much more than a loop off the B184 just to the south of Thaxted, with a handful of substantial cottages. It was here that he composed his most famous work, Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra, which was later re-named The Planets. According to some sources the music for this suite was originally inspired by the countryside around Thaxted, and the association with astrology was added later.

In 1917 Holst and his wife moved to Thaxted itself, into a house in the centre of the town, which now bears a blue plaque to commemorate his time there.
Holst's house in Thaxted. Photo © Mark Browse 2015.


The following year Vaughan Williams sent his friend Holst a poem called The Two Fatherlands, by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, who had been Britain's Ambassador to the USA at the outbreak of World War I. Vaughan Williams had been shown the poem by Lucy Broadwood, who suggested that he set it to music. He did not have the time to write a tune for it, so he sent it to Holst. It is a patriotic poem which has become a staple of Remembrance services, beginning I vow to thee, my country

Holst too was very busy, but he found he did not have to write a tune for the poem: he already had one that fitted it nicely. One of the movements of The Planets is called Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. It consists mainly of energetic, enthusiastic music, but also includes a passage with a grand melody, part folk-tune, part Elgarian nobilmente pomp. In the recording below, it occurs at 2:53.


Holst realised that this grand melody would fit the words of I vow to thee, my country perfectly well. He did an arrangement of it as a song for solo voice and orchestra. Its first appearance in a hymn-book was in Songs of Praise in 1925 (a book edited by Percy Dearmer, Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw). In this book, and in subsequent hymn-books, it was called THAXTED after Holst's home in rural Essex.

The interior of Thaxted Church. Photo © Mark Browse 2015

Thaxted church spire. Photo © Mark Browse 2015

Here's the hymn being sung at a televised remembrance service.


Saturday, 19 September 2015

Sussex hymn-tunes - Part I

I am not a native of Sussex but I have lived here for about eighteen years now, which is longer than I spent in the town in Kent where I grew up. So for me, Sussex is now very much home. I have been delighted to discover that my researches into hymn-tunes have led me to many 'little towns' that are only a few miles from my doorstep.

Many of the tunes named after Sussex places owe their titles to Ralph Vaughan Williams. In December of 1903 Vaughan Williams had heard a Mr Pottipher, of Brentwood in Essex, singing the folk-song Bushes and Briars; when he heard it, he felt it was something he had known all his life. From then on he became an enthusiastic collector of folk-songs, working with Cecil Sharp, Lucy Broadwood, George Butterworth and others to preserve the musical heritage of the country. Around this time, in 1904, he was approached by the Rev Percy Dearmer and asked to become music editor of a new hymn-book. This eventually became The English Hymnal, now a classic of hymnody. In choosing tunes for the hymns in this book, Vaughan Williams often turned to folk-music, adapting the traditional tunes so that they would be suitable for congregational singing. Nearly forty folk-tunes made their way into The English Hymnal in this way, and some of them have become so familiar as hymn-tunes that their earthy origins have all but been forgotten.

The area around Vaughan Williams' home in Leith Hill proved to be particularly fertile in his quest for folk-music that could be adapted for hymn-tunes. So it is not surprising that place-names from Surrey and Sussex crop up many times in the tune-index of The English Hymnal. I have already discussed FOREST GREEN in an earlier post; but that is over the border in Surrey. Today I'm keeping strictly to Sussex.

Thrift Cottages, Monks Gate. Photo © Mark Browse


And what better place to start than a tune called SUSSEX? It comes from a folk-song called The Royal George; Vaughan Williams collected more than one version of this tune, but the one that most closely resembles the hymn-tune was sung to him by Peter Verrall, who lived in Thrift Cottages in Nuthurst Road, Monks Gate, just outside Horsham. The song concerns a shipwreck, and the original words begin as follows:

As we set sail for the rock of Gibraltar,
As we set sail from sweet Dublin Bay,
O little did we think of our sad misfortune,
Sleeping in the briny sea.

In The English Hymnal Vaughan Williams adapted this song for the hymn Father, hear the prayer we offer. Here's a link to a recording of this hymn sung by the choir of Lincoln Cathedral:


Peter Verrall of Monks Gate, and his wife Harriet, were keen singers of folk-songs, and provided Vaughan Williams with much fruitful material. Harriet sang him a traditional Christmas song which has become ubiquitous: it is the one beginning On Christmas Night all Christians sing, and it is often referred to simply as the SUSSEX CAROL. There is a very well-known arrangement of this by the late Sir David Willcocks.

Harriet Verrall also sang Vaughan Williams a song called Our Captain calls all hands:

Our Captain calls all hands on board tomorrow
Leaving my dear to mourn in grief and sorrow.
Dry up those briny tears and leave off weeping,
So happy we may be at our next meeting.

Like all folk-songs this has many variants. To give an idea of the tune, here is a clip (with slightly different words), sung by Martin Carthy:



Readers with even a passing interest in hymns will at once spot what Vaughan Williams did with this song: it is the basis of the hymn-tune MONKS GATE, familiar to nearly everyone as the tune for John Bunyan's lyric Who would true valour see (or, as some prefer, He who would valiant be - the slightly amended version of the words that Percy Dearmer produced for The English Hymnal). Here is the hymn being sung lustily in Southwark Cathedral:




Monks Gate millennium sign. Photo © Mark Browse.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Down Ampney

As a former boss of mine used to say, there's a time and a place for spontaneity. My visit to Down Ampney wasn't planned: I had been in Droitwich (in Elgar country) for a family gathering, and a look at the map showed me that with only a slight detour I would be able to pass through Down Ampney, birthplace of Ralph Vaughan Williams. I seized the day.

It was June, only a few days from the solstice. Not a scorching hot day, but warm and mostly sunny. Almost as soon as you enter the village of Down Ampney there is a sign beckoning you towards the historic church. It is down quite a long track, set amid fields where sheep were grazing beneath green trees. Peter Warlock infamously (and inaccurately) described Vaughan Williams’ music as ‘just a little too much like a cow looking over a gate'; and here in Down Ampney it is easy to imagine where that facet of his rich musical personality came from.

All Saints Church, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire

Pronunciation and punctuation

Ralph Vaughan Williams' first name is pronounced Rafe (to rhyme with ‘safe'); any other pronunciation used to annoy him. His surname was Vaughan Williams, without a hyphen: Vaughan-Williams is incorrect, and it is also wrong to list him as ‘Williams, Ralph Vaughan'.

There seems to be some doubt about how to say Down Ampney. My visit in June was on a Sunday morning, and I arrived just as a service was ending. The curate greeted me, and in the course of our conversation I asked what the correct pronunciation should be. She told me it was ‘Amney', with a silent p; but she confessed that she was not a native, and in the rest of her conversation she pronounced it ‘Ampney'. 

One of my correspondents has stated that the p is ‘not exactly silent'. It is not quite absent, but not quite there: think of Stepney as pronounced by someone who lives there.


Vaughan Williams’ birthplace

The Old Vicarage, where Vaughan Williams was born in 1872, is now a private house. It is a surprisingly long way from the church, set back slightly from the road and protected behind a gate. Unlike the church, which has a small exhibition about the composer’s life, there is no obvious memorial to him on the house which is visible to the general public. I would imagine the current owners discourage tourists like myself from gawping at their home, and who can blame them?


Come down, O love divine

The tune DOWN AMPNEY was written by Vaughan Williams for the hymn Come down, O love divine. Here it is being sung by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge:



The tune first appeared in The English Hymnal, a collection of hymns for which Vaughan Williams was the music editor. Most of the ‘new’ tunes that he provided for this book were adapted from existing melodies - mostly folk-songs like The Ploughboy’s Dream (FOREST GREEN) and Our Captain calls all hands (MONKS GATE). Only three tunes in The English Hymnal were completely original compositions by Vaughan Williams; of these, DOWN AMPNEY is arguably the most beautiful - in fact it is one of the most beautiful of all hymn-tunes. By giving this tune the name of his idyllic birthplace the composer seems to be giving it his personal seal of approval; though I also guess that the words of the hymn (Come DOWN, O love divine) may have given him the idea of choosing this name.


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:


View Larger Map


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:


View Larger Map

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.

Crimond

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.



View Larger Map

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!