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Horbury to celebrate author of 'Onward Christian Soldiers'

First published on: 30th April 2024

One of our Wakefield area churches is going to be celebrating one of their former curates, the writer of the hymn ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.

From Friday, May 17 to Sunday May 19, Horbury will come alive with singing, storytelling and a huge march, as school children, residents, visitors and guests mark the 100th anniversary of the death of former curate, Fr Sabine Baring-Gould, most famous for writing the hymn for the children of the parish.

Baring-Gould authored hundreds of books in fields as wide-ranging as history, geography, theology, mythology, the lives of the saints, biography, and even stories about ghosts and werewolves.

He is responsible for the preservation of a huge collection of folk music from Devon and Cornwall, and during the three years which he spent in this parish, just outside Wakefield, he not only composed the hymn which has given Horbury world-wide fame, but also met (and later married) the love of his life, Grace Taylor, who was ‘just a local mill girl’.

Looking forward to the weekend, Fr Christopher Johnson, Vicar of Horbury with Horbury Bridge, said: “Anyone coming into Horbury immediately notices the signs on the road: ‘Horbury: home of Onward Christian Soldiers’.

“This was Baring-Gould’s legacy to us which spread throughout the world, and we are pleased to be able to celebrate the life of this Victorian superstar, who was so much part of our own history and heritage, in an event which draws the whole community together.”

The weekend of celebrations commences with the world premiere of a musical show based on his songs and writings.

In Ghosts, Werewolves and Country Folk – Songs and Stories of Sabine Baring-Gould, award-winning folk artists Jim Causley and Miranda Sykes will set Baring-Gould’s spooky tales and stories of the people he discovered in 1860s Horbury to some of the 2000 haunting melodies and traditional folk songs which he collected.

This concert takes place on Friday, May 17 at 7pm at Horbury Working Members’ Club and tickets are on sale online via the church’s website or in person at Darling Reads on Horbury High Street.

During his time in Horbury, the Vicar of the parish despatched Baring-Gould to Horbury Bridge where he founded both the church and school.

In recognition of this, on Saturday, May 18, visitors will be welcomed for a Coffee Morning and Open Church at St John's Church at Horbury Bridge to browse historical displays about the life of Baring-Gould, and to view work from the children of Horbury Bridge Academy, over coffee and refreshments.

Meanwhile, historical displays will also be available at St Peter’s Church and in Horbury Library.

Celebrations then come to a climax with the re-enactment of the Whit Walk on Sunday, May 19 at 2pm.

This was the walk for which Baring-Gould composed his hymn, for the children to sing on their way up to St Peter’s at Whitsun.

Community groups have been invited to create and bring along banners to carry in the walk, which will be led by Horbury Victoria Band, and will include guests such as the Lord Lieutenant and Bishop of Wakefield.

The parade begins at 2pm from the playground of Horbury Bridge Academy, and all are welcome to join in.

A short service will follow when the walk reaches its destination at St Peter’s, with readings and prayers led by the children of St Peter’s School and Horbury Bridge Academy, and a short sermon by former Bishop of Wakefield and Archbishop of York, the Lord Hope of Thornes.

The weekend has been made possible by grant funding from Horbury Common Lands Trust, and Wakefield Council Culture Grants, as part of Our Year – Wakefield District 2024.

For more information about the weekend, and how you can take part in re-living this heritage, please click here.

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