Hymn singing

“My only way of remembering people’s addresses has been by the numbers of the hymns.”

In August 1922 All Souls Church in Haliburton Road, St Margarets was suffering a major hymnal crisis following the release of three reports:-

REPORT 1

The Choirmaster said that the hymn books used by the choir “were so old that they were tattered and torn too badly for any further use. A new set was urgently required.”

REPORT 2

The Sunday School teacher reported that “the children had so few hymnals they had to sing from two different publications which severely limited the choice of hymns to be found in both books. Even these books were in bad condition.”

REPORT 3

The churchwardens said that “an increasing number of the congregation had no hymnals of their own and borrowed from the store on the shelf…These too were worn out and not sufficient to supply all needs.”

English Hymnal

The Church Council were faced with a difficult decision. Should they buy a replacement stock of the traditional ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’, one of the pillars of the English establishment along with the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible or go for the distinctly modern ‘English Hymnal’ first published in 1906?

‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’ had a definite pull. Since it was first published in 1861 it had proved to be the most popular hymnal in the C of E. Congregations knew the book – and they liked it. However it was an expensive publication and All Souls Church was short of money. The choirmaster, Mr R.G Wright, was a practical man and he put forward two points in favour of the new ‘English Hymnal’

Hymns Ancient and Modern

  1. It contained nearly all the best known A & M hymns… “A collection of the best hymns in the English language,” he said, “plus a few others suitable for use by the Sunday School.”
  2. The publishers of ‘English Hymnal’ offered a 25% discount to any church that introduced their publication.

A 25% discount? Hallelujah! If there were minds to be convinced that did it! Church Council Vice-Chairman Mr Moore-Keys proposed the motion that All Souls should purchase ‘English Hymnal’ and Mr Hayes seconded it. All in favour? Carried nem.con – unanimously!…

“I shall be sorry to give up the old book but after hearing the discussion I am convinced that it is the best thing to do. I am sure that the public will agree to the change if the circumstances are explained.”

MR MOORE-KEYS. Vice-chairman of the Church Council

But not everybody was happy as evidenced by a letter that appeared in the Parish Magazine the following month …

All Souls Parish Magazine

Dear Mr. Editor,

I hear that the Church Council has decided to drop the A. & M. Hymn Book. For years my only way of remembering people’s addresses has been by the numbers of the hymns. Take for instance Mr. Ormiston (Treasurer). He lives at No 215 – “The Church’s One Foundation,” and Mr. Wright (Choirmaster and Organist) lives at No. 261 – ’Bless’d Are The Pure in Heart." My dentist very suitably resides at “That Day of Wrath, That Dreadful Day.” Mr. W. S. Lidbury’s (Churchwarden) unfailing cheerfulness explains why "Come, Let Us Join our Cheerful Songs “ is the number of his house, and ”Let Saints on Earth in Concert Sing" is exactly the home for Mrs. Macleod and her entertaining family. Now all this is to be altered. How on earth am I to know where anybody lives?

Yours despairingly,

PERPLEXED.”

P.S If it turns out that “I Was a Wandering Sheep” is the number of my house in the new book I shall leave the neighbourhood!

All Souls Church started using the ‘English Hymnal’ on Sunday 5th November 1922. The congregation were expected to pay for their own copies within 10 days of delivery. Mr Wright, a.k.a “Bless’d Are The Pure in Heart” made an advanced donation of 1 guinea (£1 and 1 shilling.) Today All Souls – always at the cutting edge of digital devotion – has abandoned the printed hymnal in favour of electronic display screens hanging in the church.

In today’s world, where we have to remember not only house numbers but so many other numbers as well – passcodes, postcodes, telephone numbers, PINS and whatnot, I wondered if the ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’ could offer us any help as it did for ‘Perplexed’ back in 1922. I had mixed success…

St Mags Shield

  • My Bank – “Jesus, grant me this, I pray”
  • My friend – a Mills and Boone novelist – “Glory to thee, my God, this night.”
  • My friend – a guitarist in a rock band – " Lo! He comes, with clouds descending.
  • Our local Bath & Shower Shop – “New every morning is the love.”
  • Our local electrician – “Now that the daylight dies away.”
  • A neighbour with a two-year old with tantrums – “Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding.”

As for Peter Mahnke, the esteemed editor of the St Margarets Community Website – he’s to be found at “The Advent of our King,” which I am sure you will agree is sufficiently respectful!

— from Martyn Day