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Diary

07 June 2013

ISTOCK

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 bazaar.

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 earth.

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 1950s.

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 no mistake.

Pan-Anglican poet

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 verse 3:

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 pyper.dick@btinternet.com.

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 example.

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 rest.

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 shirley.jordan@lincolnminsterschool.co.uk .

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.

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