Just as she was
IT IS an often told story - I first heard it at my
mother's knee at about the age of five or six - but still worth
telling: the one about the lady who wrote the famous hymn "Just as
I am, without one plea" because she was too ill to help at a church
Now the story will be told again - and again, perhaps, by
Brighton's tourist guides - because a blue plaque is to be unveiled
in memory of the author of the hymn, Charlotte Elliott (1789-1871),
at 1.30 p.m. on Saturday week (15 June) in Kemp Town, in the
presence of more than 100 former pupils of the former independent
school St Mary's Hall.
But here is a detail I did not know. This school was founded in
1836 for "daughters of poor clergy" by Henry Venn Elliott
(1792-1865), who thought - splendid man - that it would open up
opportunities for them to become governesses.
The Vicar of St Mary's, Brighton, he enlisted the help of the
Marquis of Bristol, who provided the land in Kemp Town for the
school; and Queen Adelaide, wife of William IV. The school closed
in 2009, but not before its alumnae had included Elizabeth (The
Wombles) Beresford, and the businesswoman Heather McGregor,
aka the FT columnist "Mrs Moneypenny" and presenter of
Channel 4's Superscrimpers.
Neither, I am sure, would claim to be as iconic (today's word)
as Charlotte, Henry's sister (the Elliotts' grandfather was the
Revd Henry Venn, of the Evangelical "Clapham Sect"). It was, I now
discover, in aid of the founding of this school that the aforesaid
church bazaar was being organised.
A sense of peace and contentment came over Charlotte in her
sickroom, and lifted the cloud of despondency that had descended on
her while the rest of the family were going about, doing good, in
their typically Church of England way.
Hence her lovely hymn that has outlasted the school - a message
there, I think, and one that will not be lost on the grateful old
girls of the St Mary's Hall Association, who campaigned for the
erection of the plaque near the school gates.
And, of course, Henry and Charlotte will share the honours on
it, a little reminder that everyone in God's family has a part to
play that is his or hers alone in building God's Kingdom on
Head girl, 1918
STILL on the south coast; Bournemouth High School for Girls (as
was) this time; but very much at the other end of the candle. It
has to be - she was Editor of the Church Times in the
Rosamund Essex, head girl at the school in 1918, is being
featured, I learn, in a BBC series about the First World War,
presented by Jeremy Paxman, and to be shown next spring. The
researchers have, I believe, now succeeded in getting in touch with
her adopted son. So we await the programme with interest.
Mr Paxman gave a talk last month at the independent Talbot Heath
School (as Bournemouth High is now known) about Miss Essex. The
wartime link is that she recalled in her memoirs, Woman in a
Man's World, the talk by the headmistress at the time, Mary
Broad, in which she told her girls that, since only one in ten of
them stood a chance of getting married, since nine out of ten young
men were dead (untrue, of course), they would need to make the most
of their lives as single women - which is what the young Rosamund
set out to do.
Interestingly, neither the report of Mr Paxman's talk on the
school's website, nor the one in the Bournemouth Echo,
mentions what Miss Essex went on to achieve - which was to be one
of very few woman editors in the religious press, if not the only
one, in her day.
Indeed, the only other one who comes to mind is fictional: the
reliable Miss Brimley, a former wartime colleague of George Smiley,
in John Le Carré's second thriller, A Murder of Quality
(1962). Whether Brimley herself was a creation purely of the
imagination, I do not know - but her readers were a funny lot and
ANOTHER hymn-writer now (see first item) - but not one
who has achieved immortality by it. Nevertheless, it must have been
an honour to write a hymn for the Pan-Anglican Congress of 1908 -
an occasion of Edwardian splendour that seems, in retrospect, to
have elevated the self-esteem of the newly designated Anglican
Communion to an unsustainable level.
I recall a merry time with our production department in 2008,
colouring in the coats-of-arms when we reproduced the supplement
that the CT produced for this occasion (20 June 2008).
Sadly, this doesn't make me any better informed about the Revd
Frederick Pyper, who served parishes in Nottingham before his death
on 27 June 1915.
He was one of four sons of a clergyman, all educated at
Haileybury, and all also ordained.
Frederick also wrote "Bethlehem Cradle Song", with music by
Leonard Henniker (both were at St Andrew's), an organist and
prolific composer, and this was published by Stainer & Bell. (A
book of Pyper's hymns was printed in 1911.)
This carol, "Sleep, baby, sleep", looks on into the life of
Christ and, therefore, does what many clergy must want to do, which
is to get the whole of the gospel message in at Christmas (probably
a mistake). He brings to Christmas a fresh touch or two, as in
Sleep, Baby, sleep!
For fast that anxious night draws near,
When Thy poor Mother, faint with fear,
Shall clasp Thee to her breast, and creep
To yonder Gate, where safety lies,
The starlit road to friendlier skies.
Sleep, Baby, sleep!
Frederick's grandson, Dick Pyper, who has been digging around in
the British Library, would be glad to hear from anyone with further
information: they should write, please, to 35 Meads Road,
Guildford, Surrey GU1 2NA, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking from afar
FUNNY how bits of her pre-Reformation liturgy have caught on in
the Church of England in the past 30 years, ripped out of anything
like their original context - like the "O" antiphons, for
It's those Advent carol services "from darkness to light", I
suppose, that do it; and perhaps as far out of context as anything
would be the Matin Responsory at six or half-past on Advent Sunday
evening - or at the beginning of the parish eucharist, as I am used
to singing it.
Nevertheless, we love it - almost invariably sung to an
adaptation of Palestrina. Lincoln Cathedral has its own custom, but
obviously feels that it is time for Palestrina to be given a
So, on your marks and get set, would-be composers. You have
until 30 September (unless the Lord returns first) to submit your
entries. For rules and full text, email
I will spare the unmusical further details, except to say that
the winning piece will be selected by the cathedral's music staff
and sung in the "ever-popular Advent procession in the cathedral at
the beginning of December". The runner-up's entry will have its
première at the Cathedral Consort Choir's Christmas Concert in
Gainsborough Parish Church.