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.