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Which hymns are suitable for a service to do with the railways and steam engines?

27 April 2018

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Your answers: I would be delighted if anyone could suggest hymns suitable for a service to do with the railways and steam engines.

How about some of the 20th-century hymns from 100 Hymns for Today? The most obvious is HHT 33: “God of concrete, God of steel” (“Lord of cable, Lord of rail”). But there are others such as HHT 61, “Lord of all hopefulness”, and HHT 17, “Come workers for the Lord”.

Gillian Newton

There’s a Country and Western-style hymn by Eliza R. Snow (1804-87) and M. E. Abbey, “Life is like a mountain railroad” (tune: Life’s Railway to Heaven). It is probably never sung in church, even in the United States, but has been recorded by Johnny Cash, Boxcar Willie, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, and others. There seems to be scope for Anglicising the US railway terms, but there might be a problem in finding a well-known tune for that metre. This hymn can be found at hymnary.org, as can “You are travelling on a railway” by Will O. Jones (1922): “Put your trust in Christ the Savior, Well He knows this line and rail.”

(The Revd) Rod Pierce

Guildford, Surrey

Not only is “O happy band of pilgrims” (J. M. Neale) suitable for a journey or pilgrimage that may take place when hauled by a GWR Castle, LNER streamlined A4, SR Merchant Navy, or LMS Coronation, or whatever type of locomotive is involved, but there is also a wonderful phrase to delight the signalling enthusiast: “the longed-for distant”. This could be said to signify the approach of the “home signal” as we bear in mind that our true home is in heaven.

(Fr) Michael Gill SSC

Cranford, London

May I suggest the anthem Some trust in chariots, by Martin Shaw, to words from Psalm 20.7? The publishers would be happy to make the anthem available.

Isobel Platings (CEO, The Martin Shaw Society)

Ealing, London

Edwin Burgess tells us of the less than serious discussion by Percy Dearmer in his introduction to Songs of Praise Discussed (OUP, 1933) of a hymn from the 1890s, at the height of the railway era, “Good Elijah went to heaven In a chariot of fire”, which states: “Enoch travelled by translation With no ticket to return.”

David Eldridge finds railway language in “Christ, whose glory fills the skies”, among other hymns.

Philip Deane, of Bishop Middleham, suggests “Sleepers, wake!” but also, for those who know about George Jackson Churchward, “For all the Saints” and “Who are these like stars appearing”.

Timothy Sykes of Penrith URC, Cumbria, explains that “We plough the fields and scatter” (“He lights the evening star”) is suitable because of the final steam locomotive built at Swindon for British Railways in 1960, as a BR Standard Class 9F 2-10-0, Evening Star, No. 92220, the last of its class and the only to be named.

“The Son of God goes forth to war” (“Who follows in his train?”) was, we believe, once a notorious giggle for choirboys.

Gwilym Stone found many suggestions in a similar vein in answer to a question about hymns for the funeral of a railwayman at uk.railway.narkive.com — angel trains, transports of delight, etc. You will also find there a headstone for William Pickering and Richard Edger (d.1845) with a singable-looking epitaph of six stanzas (Long Metre), “The Spiritual Railway”. Editor

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