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Bonhams seek happy throng

08 February 2013


AN AUTHOR's manuscript of one of the best-known hymns in English, "Onward, Christian soldiers" (right), is expected to sell for as much as £1500 when it comes up for auction in the spring.

It was written by the Revd Sabine Baring-Gould and first published, over his initials, in the Church Times on 15 October 1864, the year of Baring-Gould's ordination. It was No. VII in a series of "Mission Hymns", and headed "Hymn for Procession with Cross and Banners".

When, in later years, Baring-Gould was asked about the circumstances of its writing, his accounts varied; and he dated it 1865. But, in a letter of 1918 to Canon J. B. Hill of Horbury, near Wakefield, where he had served as an assistant curate, he said: "The hymn, 'Onward, Christian Soldiers', was written on Whitsun Eve, 1865. It had been resolved that the Brig Children should come up to the parish church on Whitsun Tuesday; and Mr Fred Knowles came to me at the Vicarage and asked what they were to sing on the long walk. We discussed one thing and then an-other and I said I would write a processional. 'You must be sharp about it', said Mr Knowles, 'for this is Saturday and there will shortly be not printing done.

"So I set to work and knocked off the hymn in about ten minutes. We got it printed and practised on Sunday afternoon at School, and it was sung to a tune by Haydn on the Tuesday. I sent it to the Church Times and it was therein printed and published."

The tune was from the slow movement of Haydn's Symphony in D, No. 15. It was not until 1871, when Sir Arthur Sullivan wrote the tune St Gertrude, that the hymn's popularity burgeoned.

Baring-Gould published more than 1240 works, including a book on the history of werewolves.

The manuscript will be offered for sale at Bonhams' London saleroom on 10 April.

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