Hymns and Schools

What better way for a writer of an education blog to spend Christmas Day than to recall some of the Victorian hymns that feature schools and education, either in their title or the actual words. However, research hasn’t yet yield up a ‘carol’ with a direct school reference.

In 1829 there appeared in the USA, ‘Hark, the infant school bell’s ringing’ by a Miss M. J. and composed for Infant school Number 1. This appeared in the aptly named ‘The infant School and Nursery Hymn Book, published in New York as long ago as 1831.

Of course, it is necessary to winnow out the much larger collection of hymns about Sunday, or as the Americans seem to call them Sabbath Schools, when seeking for those hymns about schools as more general education establishments. However, it is worth recalling the debt that the development of education has paid to those that started the ‘Sunday School’ movement more than two centuries ago.

Hymns about schools in general, and especially schools for younger children capable of instruction, appeared throughout the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, especially in the USA. Some of their first lines included:

Lord and Saviour, true and kind

We build our school on thee, O Lord

To infant school. To infant school

Dear God, a school day

Gracious God, our heavenly father, meet and bless our school

How we love our infant school

The bell rings for school

Our youthful hearts for learning burn – with the third verse starting ‘Our teachers are so very kind, We love to go to school.’ This hymn appeared in hymn books up to the 1930s.

Henry James Buckoll an assistant master at Rugby School was responsible for two of the more enduring hymns relating to the school year: ‘Lord dismiss us with thy blessing’ and ‘Lord, behold us with Thy blessing, Once again assembled here’. I am not sure what new pupils made of the reference to ‘once again’, but perhaps it was the schools as an entity and not the pupil as a person Buckoll was writing about.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the large number of Church of England and Roman Catholic primary schools in England, not to mention the remaining few Methodist primary schools around the country, there appears to be little specifically written hymns for these pupils to sing in modern hymn books.

Like other popular songs, hymns appear to go out of fashion, although at Christmas the staples of O Cone all ye Faithful; Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Silent Night; O little town of Bethlehem; Away in a manger and while shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seem to come around every year.

So, festive best wishes to both regular readers of this blog and those that have alighted on this festive post. May 2018 be a wonderful year for you wherever you are reading this Christmas epistle.







4 thoughts on “Hymns and Schools

  1. Hi John
    Your article reminds me of our time at TCS, the buzz of excitement when we noticed the cover was off the organ and grand piano: it meant we were singing Jerusalem in assembly. Many of us in Jewish assembly would join the main assembly to join in the singing. Perhaps an example of “British Values”. Happy New Year to you and yours.
    Frank Solarz

  2. Hi John – Happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year to you too. I hope you’re not suffering from a hangover – there’s a hint that you might have been enjoying a festive tipple when you wrote your article. ‘O Cone all ye Faithful…’ Or maybe it was Christmas Pud of Cake with rather too much spirit in the mixture.
    Christmas really begins for me when ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ is broadcast from King’s College, Cambridge.
    The great thing about Christmas songs is that the number keep growing. Not just the spiritual (John Rutter) but the wonderfully celebratory (Noddy Holden) and pop versions (my favourite – Fairytale of New York).

    • Janet,

      A happy Christmas and best wishes for 2018 to you as well.
      I started that blog post in the morning and then went off to the lunch for those that have left ‘care’ recently to accompany the Lord Mayor of oxford (picture on my Councillor Facebook page – Cllr John Howson) and then came home and completed the post. It was meant to be lighthearted, but doesn’t seme to have come across that wy. Still it awakened memories in an old school friend who has also posted a comment.

      So, many thanks for reading the blog at this time of year.


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