And so it was to Horbury Brig (as it was known then) that a young man, called Sabine Baring-Gould, arrived on the Monday after Whit Sunday in 1864. Although he lived at the John Sharp's vicarage at Northgate, Horbury, Baring-Gould wanted to establish a place of worship in Horbury Bridge where he was the new curate. Accommodation was hard to find, but he managed to rent a small cottage next to a shop. He converted the downstairs room into a night school, and the bedroom into a chapel. In later years the cottage and the shop were made into one house. Part of the shop was converted into the Post office. The little church grew and grew until the Sunday services filled the whole house. Baring-Gould also started a Savings Bank for the local people of Horbury Bridge.1

Onward CHristian Soldiers

Above: The monument at Horbury Bridge celebrating the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers"

In the 1860s, Horbury itself had the parish church of St. Peter's, but at Horbury Bridge, Sunday meetings were in what is now the Post Office. Twenty years later, in 1884, the parish was able to build the church of St John, with its little stone bell-cote.

Sabine Baring-GouldSabine Baring-Gould (1834 - 1924)
The Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould became curate to the Rev. John Sharp, vicar of Horbury, but was based at Horbury Bridge from 1864 to 1867, when he then relocated to Dalton, near Thirsk. He will always be associated with Horbury Bridge for it was here that he wrote his rousing hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers". A prolific author, he wrote 1,200 published works during his long life and unusually did most of his writing standing at his high desk. Baring-Gould was born in Dix's Field, just outside Exeter, Devon on the 28th January 1834, but much of his life is associated with the family parish of Lew Trenchard, nine miles north of Tavistock in Devon.

From a well-to-do family, his father was Captain Edward Baring-Gould and his mother was Charlotte Bond. Baring-Gould was named after his great-uncle, Sir Edward Sabine, K.C.B., President of the Royal Society. Edward and Charlotte Baring-Gould lived at Lew Trenchard until first born Sabine Baring-Gould was three years of age, but it seems they were bored with rural life and set off on a trip around Europe that lasted thirteen years. This meant that Baring-Gould never had a formal school education and instead he was educated by private tutors. He was an exceedingly bright pupil and by the age of fifteen, he could speak five languages fluently.

Once settled back in England, Baring-Gould attended Cambridge University, earning the degrees of Bachelor of Arts in 1857, then Master of Arts in 1860 from Clare College, Cambridge, after which he took several paid and volunteer teaching positions. It was whilst he was teaching that he demonstrated his affinity with the natural world. After a holiday in Iceland, Baring-Gould kept an Icelandic pony called "Bottlebrush" in the school grounds and he also had a pet bat, which often clung to his shoulders as he taught his classes. It was likely that his last teaching role was at Hurstpierpoint in Sussex and at this stage he decided to join the clergy, much to the disapproval of his father. This was something that would drive Baring-Gould along as a workaholic in an effort to prove himself to his father. Finally, shortly before he died, his father accepted that his son had proved his worth to him.

In May 1864, thirty year-old Sabine Baring-Gould boarded a train north to Ripon. Whilst working at Hurst School in Sussex, a vacancy had arisen for a school chaplain. Although Baring-Gould was not qualified to apply for this position, he knew that his friend, the Reverend J.T. Fowler, had already been appointed to open a new church mission at Horbury Brig, Yorkshire. Working quickly, Baring Gould persuaded the Rev. Fowler to apply for the position of chaplain at Hurst, in the hope that John Sharp, the vicar of Horbury would then accept him in Fowler's place. Sharp agreed and Fowler was duly appointed chaplain at Hurst School. Sabine Baring-Gould then met the Bishop of Ripon, Robert Bickerstath in London and submitted himself for ordination. He was ordained on Whit Sunday, 15th May 1864 in Ripon and the next day he set off by train to travel to his new living at Horbury Bridge. Baring-Gould recounted his arrival:

"On reaching Horbury Station, I found that the place offered no cabs, and possessed no omnibus. No porter was available for my luggage, so I shouldered it and walked up the hill towards the houses surmounted by the spire. I heard a brass band playing, and soon fell in with a procession of men. On inquiry, I ascertained that this was the School Festival, so I deposited my luggage in a little shop and joined the procession. What caused me some surprise was the halting, and partial dissolution of the procession at the door of the public house. But I understood that the instrumentalists, what with the ascent of the hill with the sun on their backs, and their exertion upon horns and pipes and drums, needing refreshment and called for pots of beer to show brotherhood with the orchestra.

When after a while, refreshed and reinvigorated, the band reformed and after a brazen flourish, blew lustily "See the Conquering Hero Come." I concluded that this was a delicate allusion to myself, who along with another man brought up the rear of the procession. But when the band and all who followed it passed the church and vicarage, without entering or noticing either, I began to entertain suspicions, and turning to the man with whom I walked, I inquired as to the nature of the school, in which he confided in me that he was a teacher. Only then did I learn that this was a Dissenting (Primitive Methodist) demonstration. I dropped from the tail, flew back, got my luggage, and stole very crestfallen into the house of the Reverend John Sharp, where I was heartily laughed at for my entry upon my duties."

Baring-Gould was now the curate at Horbury Bridge, his first posting within the Anglican Church. He rented a cottage at Horbury Bridge and in a downstairs room, he established a school for people to attend every winter evening. The school was attended by the men as well as the boys and girls of Horbury Bridge. Baring-Gould's school provided them with the only education they would ever get. His aim was not just to educate and civilise people, but also to help them take on the Christian faith. He held Christian services in the room above his night school.

During the two and half years that Baring-Gould was at Horbury he lived in the Rev. John Sharp's vicarage in Northgate, Horbury. To give an impression of what Horbury was like in the 1860s, he wrote:

"The vicarage was on the north side of the church, which cut the sun from all the windows on the south side. It possessed a small walled garden to the east. The grass, shrubs and flowers so begrimed with soot as to dirty the fingers that touched them. There was also an old mulberry tree in the garden, but the fruit tasted of smoke."

He also later related a story about the people of Horbury Bridge and their resilience and attitudes to life's ups and downs. A Horbury woman who had been ill for some time said to her husband one day, "I'm deein' lad, I wunder whatever them poor bairns a'll do after I be gone." Her husband said to her "Doan't fret lass, a've already spokken to t'widow next doar, and she reckons she'll be 'appy to be t'next missus." The woman immediately got up and started slapping her husband about his bald head, saying "Nay then, I won't dee." And she didn't. She was still alive when Baring-Gould left Horbury.

The six-bedroomed vicarage accommodated John Sharp, the perpetual curate (often referred to as the vicar), who was a bachelor and also Alfred Davies, the senior curate, William Cass, the curate at St. Michael's Church, Wakefield and Sabine. There was also a schoolmaster named Charles Dutton and a residential housekeeper.5 The parish of Horbury included Horbury, Horbury Bridge and Horbury Junction with a population in the 1860s of about 3,500.

Grace TaylorBaring Gould's work at Horbury Bridge succeeded beyond all expectations and he was held in high esteem by his followers. A substantial Mission Chapel was erected at Horbury Bridge with all kinds of people helping with the building fund. One individual even donated ten shillings from a prize fight. The completed Horbury Bridge Mission Chapel was opened on St. Catherine's Day (November) 1865

One especially valuable helper was Mr. Fred Knowles, the organist, Sunday school superintendant and a quarry owner. He generously gave and carted all the stone required. Mr. Knowles lived in a large house overlooking the Calder Valley where Baring-Gould occasionally took the boys from the Mission for games in the beautiful grounds.

Baring-Gould called upon one of the poorest families in his flock as Whitsun approached and found a young girl who was very disappointed that she couldn't attend the Whitsun Feast. "And why not?" he enquired. It transpired that she didn't have a new hat. "Never mind" said he, "You'll look quite as nice in your old hat as the other people in their new ones." And she did. After that meeting, Baring-Gould often called at that same house, for the young girl's name was Grace Taylor who was just 16 years of age and as a Sunday School teacher, she taught a class at the Brig Mission Chapel.

Baring-Gould fell in love with Grace Taylor, who was a mill worker at Poppletons's Mill, Horbury Bridge and had started work at ten years of age, with very little formal education. Grace Berry Taylor was born near Ripponden, West Yorkshire on the 27th March 1850, the second child of wool comber Joseph Taylor and his wife Hannah, who lived in a weaver's cottage at Bank Hey Bottom, Barkisland, Halifax. In 1855 or 1856, the Taylor family followed relatives and moved to Horbury Bridge, where Joseph worked at Poppleton's Mill as a mill scourer with maximum earnings of 20 shillings a week and rented a cottage in Mill Fold Yard close to the mill. By 1861, the Taylor family had moved to live at Golden Square, Horbury and close to St. Peter's Church and the vicarage where Sabine Baring-Gould lived. 30 year-old Sabine Baring-Gould was smitten and he paid for Grace to be educated privately in York where she was taught middle-class manners, whilst compensating her parents for their loss of her earnings in the mill.

The Rev. John Sharp first introduced the Whitsuntide Procession in 1840 to mark the birthday of the mother church St. Peter's and the founding of the local church schools. This innovation became a popular annual event and marchers from the surrounding villages met at St. Peter's at 1:30pm every Whit Tuesday. Whitsuntide was the time when children traditionally received new or handed down clothes. Before going out in public, the children were expected to parade themselves in front of their elderly relatives for inspection. This was generally unpopular with the boys, but any embarrassment was soon forgotten when a shiny new coin was slipped into their pockets. Most parents made personal sacrifices to provide their children with new clothes and it was woe betide any children who dirtied their outfits first time on.5

In 1865, The vicar at St. Peter's church decided that the Horbury Bridge Mission scholars should join them. Baring-Gould was asked to conduct them to St. Peter's and the route from Horbury Bridge was then, as it is now, up Quarry Hill and beyond for over a mile. Fearful the little ones would straggle all over the place when climbing Quarry Hill, Baring-Gould decided that singing a hymn would help make their long journey that much easier for the children. This is allegedly Baring-Gould's own account:2

"The hymn 'Onward Christian Soldiers' was written on Whitsun Eve, 1865. I had resolved that the Brig children should come up to the parish church on Whitsun Tuesday. Mr. Fred Knowles came to me at the vicarage and asked what they should sing on the day of the long walk. We discussed one thing and then another, then I said 'I'll write a processional.' Mr. Knowles replied 'You must be sharp about it, as this is Saturday and there will shortly be no printing done.' So, I sat down and wrote the hymn. It was printed, practised on the Sunday afternoon, and it was sung to the tune of Haydn on the Tuesday."

However, this is a popular misconception, fuelled by Sabine Baring-Gould himself, as can be seen by the above account. In fact, the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" was published in the "Church Times" on the 15th October 1864. It may have been an early draft, but the hymn was actually written seven months before Whitsun Tuesday in 1865.

To begin with, Onward, Christian Soldiers used the tune "St Alban", taken from the slow movement of Haydn’s Symphony 53. It wouldn’t provoke a very quick march. Sullivan’s "St Gertrude" seemed made for Onward, Christian Soldiers and from 1871, the hymn has been sung to Arthur Sullivan's "St Gertrude". The Salvation Army adopted the hymn as its favoured processional and the piece became Sullivan's most popular hymn.

Whilst Grace was away undergoing her training in York, Baring-Gould wrote his first novel "Through Flood and Flame", which was an anonymous and autobiographical account of his time in Horbury Bridge. Included in the novel were some of his intense feelings for Grace Taylor, which must have been thought quite racy at that time in Victorian England. In the novel, Sabine also references the great flood at Horbury Bridge in November 1866 when members of the clergy rescued victims in a small boat propelled along with a clothes prop. He also expressed his animosity towards the Horse and Jockey public house and its patrons, who had regularly interrupted Sunday services at the Brig Mission or robbed the Mission of some of the Congregation. In the novel, he writes that the raging waters of the River Calder swept away the pub and its landlord, which was definitely a bit of wishful thinking.

In the novel, Baring-Gould also shows his feelings by ridiculing the Dissenters who worshipped in their unique way at Ranter's Fold, close to his room in the vicarage next to St. Peter's church. Baring-Gould had by now left Horbury Bridge and arrived on Christmas Day 1867 at Dalton, near Thirsk where he became the new perpetual curate at the church of St. John the Evangelist, which was built shortly after his arrival at Dalton in 1868.

Sabine Baring-Gould (34) and Grace Berry Taylor (18) were married at St. Peter's Church, Horbury on Sunday the 24th May 1868, after Banns were read on the 10th and 17th May, as well as on the day of the wedding. Normally, a man of Baring-Gould's standing would have had a Society wedding, but this was not the case and it is likely that he felt such a wedding was inappropriate because of the view that the couple were ill-matched. No relatives from the families of either bride or groom were present at the wedding, with the exception of Susan Taylor, Grace's younger sister, who was a witness. Very little detail was published in the local newspapers about the wedding, suggesting it was quite a covert arrangement.

Mersea Island map

Above: 1940s map showing Mersea Island, Essex on the River Blackwater and River Colne estuaries, 9 miles south-east of Colchester, Essex.

The couple took a month's honeymoon, staying first in Switzerland in the fashionable Alpine resort of Interlaken, where they toured around visiting places like Jungfrau, Lucerne, Meiringen and Valais, which to Grace must have felt a million miles from her previous life at Horbury Bridge. The couple finished off their honeymoon in London where they enjoyed visiting museums, exhibitions and the theatre, before returning to Dalton and a small house. Sabine had given notice to his housekeeper before Grace became his wife, and she now took on the duties of running the household and preparing meals. On the 20th April 1869, Grace gave birth to their first child, Mary and another daughter, Margaret followed shortly afterwards. An offer of the Crown Living at East Mersea in Essex was made to Sabine in early 1871 by the then Prime Minister, William Gladstone, who was aware of Sabine's reputation as a writer of hymns and had been taking a close interest in his latest work on the "Origin and Development of Religious Belief." Life in Dalton had become almost unbearable for the Baring-Goulds in their cramped little house with two children already on the scene. Without too much hesitation, Sabine gratefully accepted Mr. Gladstone's offer.

In March 1871, the Baring-Goulds moved from Dalton to Mersea Island, Essex. Situated ten miles from Colchester, the only access then was via a causeway known as the Strood, which is covered by seawater at high tide, effectively cutting the island off. Sabine was inducted as the rector of the church of St. Edmund King and Martyr in the village of East Mersea in late March 1871. In 1872, Sabine's father died and he inherited the 3,000 acre family estates of Lew Trenchard in Devon, which included the gift of the living of Lew Trenchard parish, which was at that time occupied by his uncle, the Reverend Charles Baring-Gould. They stayed at East Mersea for ten years until 1881. During those ten years at East Mersea, Sabine Baring-Gould wrote over 60 titles, including the best seller "Mehalah", a novel set in Mersea, which is still popular today.

Baring-Goulds graveThe death of Sabine's uncle in February 1881 allowed Sabine to return to his native Lew Trenchard in Devon, where he could settle with his wife and growing family of seven children. After the living became vacant in 1881, Sabine was able to appoint himself to it, becoming parson as well as squire. He did a great deal of work restoring St Peter's Church, Lew Trenchard, and (from 1883 to 1914) thoroughly remodelled his home, Lew Trenchard Manor.3 The couple went on to live very happily together, producing 15 children: ten daughters and five sons, all but one of whom lived to adulthood. A probable apocryphal story4 is that at a children's party one night, a small child bumped into Baring-Gould's leg and, upon picking her up, he asked "And whose little girl are you?", at which the child burst into tears and said "I'm yours Daddy!"

The marriage lasted until Grace's death 48 years later on April 8th 1916 at Lew Trenchard, Devon at the early age of 66, after suffering for many years with rheumatoid arthritis. When Baring-Gould buried his wife in 1916 he had carved on her tombstone the Latin motto Dimidium Animae Meae ("Half my Soul").

Sabine Baring-Gould never remarried and in the early hours of the 2nd January 1924, he died at his home at Lew Trenchard, shortly before his 90th birthday. The funeral service was held on the following Saturday and the cortege stretched all the way from Lew House to St. Peter's Church where he had served for 43 years. He was buried at the church in the adjoining grave to his wife Grace. On his death Sabine Baring-Gould's bibliography listed over 500 separate publications.5


1. Horbury Bridge Post Office by John Olsen.
2. Sabine Baring-Gould Appreciation Society Newsletter 1990/91, Number 5, Page 8.
3. Sabine Baring-Gould on Wikipedia
4. Sabine Baring-Gould: A Brief Biography
5. "Half My Life - The Story of Sabine Baring Gould and Grace" by Keith Lister, published 2004. ISBN 1-903833-29-9

Stephen Wilson, April 2016