|Image from Life and letters of John Bacchus Dykes, M.A., Mus., Doc., vicar of St. Oswald's, Durham, edited by Rev. Joseph Thomas Fowler [L.783.9]|
The son of William Hey Dykes, a shipbuilder and banker, Dykes was born in Lime Street, Hull. His musical ability was recognised at a young age. In his youth, he played organ at St. John’s Church where his grandfather was a vicar for over 55 years.
His interest in music was encouraged from the start, but it was whilst attending Cambridge University that he pursued his musical interests with great enthusiasm. He formed the Cambridge University Musical Society, becoming its president during the 1846/7 academic year. He obtained a BA in Classics and was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England. He was appointed as a curate in Malton, North Yorkshire, and went on to serve in various positions in Durham.
Dykes produced many sermons and wrote various articles on religious matters, but it is his hymns that he is most famous for. He wrote music for over three hundred hymns, but arguably his most famous is the hymn 'Eternal Father Strong to Save'.
Perhaps better known as 'For those in Peril on the Sea', this hymn was originally a poem by William Whiting, before Dykes set the words to music making it the most famous maritime hymn in the world. Such was the hymn's standing, it was adopted as the official hymn of the United States Navy and was played at the funerals of two US presidents, Roosevelt and Kennedy.
In Hull, this hymn would have had special meaning, not just because it was written by a son of the city, but because the city's inhabitants were all too aware of the perils the sea brought to generations of mariner families.
A little known though interesting fact, it is reputed that Dykes' composition for 'Near thy God to Thee' was played by the band of the ill-fated ship 'Titanic' as it went down, this being depicted in the 1997 James Cameron film.
Dykes died on the 22 January 1876 aged 53. Such was his popularity that money as raised in Durham, Hull and even in the United States to help support his family. He was buried at St. Oswald’s Church in Durham.
|St. John’s Church, Dispensary & Wilberforce Monument, Hull [Lp.726.5 S.JO/1]|
Sadly there is nothing to commemorate this son of Hull in his own place of birth, a son who is perhaps the most famous of Victorian hymn tune composers. Lime Street, once a sprawling array of housing, has given way to industrial and commercial properties. The site of St. John’s Church, which had been so formative in Dykes' early years, is now occupied by Ferens Art Gallery. This said, the legacy of John Bacchus Dykes continues to this day in the city whenever his music is played.
Neil Chadwick, Project Officer 'Unlocking the Treasures'