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St Oswald's

The parish church of Bollington

Bollington Road, Bollington Cross, SK10 5EG
07895 363 038



Sing-Along Hymns

Sir Henry Walford Davies (1869-1941)

He was born in the Shropshire town of Oswestry and composed the hymn tune Oswald's Tree Great Shepherd of Thy people.

Although a performing musician and composer, he served with the Royal Air Force during the First World War when he composed the well known Royal Air Force March Past. In May 1898 Davies was appointed organist and director of the choir at the Temple Church in the City of London, a post he retained until 1923. On the death of Sir Edward Elgar in 1934, Davies was appointed to succeed him as Master of the King's Music.

(Scroll down for another hymn.)


God be in my head

This short song of petition for God’s presence is from the 1558 Sarum Primer, which was a collection of prayers and worship resources developed in Salisbury during the 13th century.

This can be a personal prayer used at any time. It is also appropriate for singing at a funeral.

Although only quite short, it is nevertheless one of his most famous pieces of music.

The first phrase of the melody is played as an introduction before the choir starts singing

God be in my head,
and in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes,
and in my looking;
God be in my mouth,
and in my speaking;
God be in my heart,
and in my thinking;
God be at mine end,
and at my departing.

God be in my head

O King enthroned on high

This 8th century Greek hymn was translated by Revd John Brownlie. In 1885 he became Assistant Minister of the Free Church, Portpatrick, and Senior Minister there from 1890 after the death of his predecessor.

He translated many hymns, but his translations have not not remained as popular as those of J M Neale.

The tune Temple was presumably composed while Davies was employed at Temple Church (picture below).

O King enthroned on high,
Thou Comforter Divine,
Blest Spirit of all Truth, be nigh
and make us Thine.

Yea, Thou art everywhere,
all places far or near;
O listen to our humble prayer,
be with us here!

Thou art the source of life,
Thou art our treasure-store;
give us Thy peace, and end our strife
for evermore.

Descend, O Heavenly Dove,
abide with us alway;
and in the fulness of Thy love
cleanse us, we pray.


photo of Temple Church

O little town of Bethlehem

Revd Phillips Brooks was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1835 and was ordained in 1859. He was consecrated as Bishop of Massachusetts in 1891, but died at Boston in January 1893.

In 1865 – the year that the American Civil War ended and President Lincoln was assassinated – Revd Brooks went on a trip to Israel and saw Bethlehem and its surrounding fields on Christmas Eve. Back in the USA he wrote a poem in 1868 emphasising the quietness around Christ’s birth. The organist at his church, Lewis Redner (1831-1908) was an estate agent when not being at the keyboard. He set the Vicar’s poem to music. His tune St Louis is the original tune for this carol and is still associated with the hymn in most of the world outside the British Commonwealth.

In February-March 1868 there was an (unsuccessful) attempt to impeach President Andrew Johnson. Johnson had been Abraham Lincoln’s Vice-President and so had been sworn in as President when Lincoln was assassinated. He was, to say the least, a controversial figure (especially at that very difficult time in US history) and was not selected by his party as a presidential candidate in the election of November 1868. On Christmas Day 1868, in one of his last acts before leaving office, President Andrew Johnson granted unconditional pardon to all those Civil War rebels who had not already been pardoned.

Perhaps Revd. Brooks longed for the peace and quiet of Bethlehem?

Sir Henry Walford Davies wrote a tune for this hymn, simply called Christmas Carol.

When Ralph Vaughan Williams was selecting tunes for the English Hymnal of 1906, he substituted the tune Forest Green, which has become the usual tune known by British congregations. It was originally the tune for the folk song The Ploughboy's Dream - you can read the original words at the bottom of THIS page.

There is an additional verse, not often sung (see below).

[1] O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by:
yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting Light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

[2] O morning stars, together
proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King,
and peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary;
and, gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wondering love.

[3] How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming;
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him,
still the dear Christ enters in.

[5] O holy child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in;
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!

Christmas Carol

St Louis

Forest Green

[4] Where children pure and happy
pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee,
Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching
and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
and Christmas comes once more.

For each hymn we have provided a set of verses together with an electronically generated sound-track. The sound track does not provide any words - just the tune.

The selection of hymns to be included was subject to certain limitations, notably the restrictions of copyright. This meant that many modern hymns were excluded, and the exclusion even applied to some updated versions of traditional hymns. Some publishers have made a few minor changes to make hymns more "inclusive" and have then claimed copyright over the revised text. So in most cases the ORIGINAL texts have been used, even though these may not be the versions that appear in modern hymnals.

In deciding what tunes to be used, this has largely been the Webmaster's personal choice. It is a mixture of familiar tunes and tunes that are not well-known, but deserve to be better known. The webmaster has included some personal favourites (and excluded some pet hates!). The soundtracks provided go with the words provided - if there are four verses, the tune is repeated four times. Where possible tunes have been provided with descants or alternative arrangements.

Wherever possible, there is an explanation of who wrote the words or tunes, the circumstances under which they were written, when (and sometimes why). Many hymns include references to verses appearing in the King James Version of the Bible; more modern translations were not then available! In some cases we have tried to explain these scriptural references or other instances where words have changed their meaning over time.

This selection of "Sing-along Songs of Praise" was originally a series of blog posts written during the COVID Lockdowns of 2020. It was intended to allow people to sing hymns in the safety and privacy of their own homes at a time when hymn-singing in church was not allowed (even if the church building was open!).

When hymns are sung as part of a church service, it is normally the case that the hymn books are set aside at the end of the hymn and the next part of the service continues. There is no time to sit and reflect on the meaning or the beauty of words and/or music. This collection allows you to take your time, to read, listen sing along, reflect, and to repeat a hymn again if you wish.



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Last modified: 06 March 2021