Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Unlocking the Treasures - John Bacchus Dykes: Hull's very own reverend composer

If we think of the music heritage of Hull, we think of The Housemartins, Fine Young Cannibals and Everything but the Girl. Others may recall the Beatles visiting Hull, or Mick Ronson’s legendary guitar riffs as one of David Bowies Spiders from Mars. Few, however, have heard of John Bacchus Dykes, who was one of the 19th century's most prolific composers of hymns.

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'

Monday, 6 January 2020

Unlocking the Treasures Project


I have come across some gorgeous and eye-catching book covers during the course of this project [see the four examples].  They say 'don’t judge a book by its cover', but everything from the font used in the title to the texture of the cover influences our decision whether or not to delve into a book.  Since the beginning, covers have reflected the design trends and techniques of their day.


Before the early Nineteenth Century, books were hand bound and most manuscripts were covered in material such as vellum or calf leather. Book binding was primarily for protection of the manuscripts, which were often decorated with materials as gold, silver and jewels.


In the early Nineteenth Century, publishers assumed a greater role in the book production process, and were one of the forces behind the replacement of old wooden presses with iron ones. This technological breakthrough helped reduce the cost of producing a book.


In order to reduce the cost further, alternative materials were sought to replace the expensive leather which had been commonly used to cover books. In the early 1830s, the industry found a suitable variety of cloth so that the cover design could be printed directly onto it. Metal blocks were employed to transfer cover designs to the cloth, which meant that cloth could be as versatile as leather. As this process was cheaper and easier, cloth replaced leather in the production of book covers and became a staple in book bindery. Paper was also increasingly used as a covering material during the 19th century, but only later fully replaced cloth covers. These new materials, as well as being less expensive to produce and easier to print on, allowed for the development of new techniques such as multicolour lithography and half-tone illustration, which increased publishers' abilities to create ever more interesting and unique cover art.


A book cover has the ability to attract, delight and enhance the reading experience for all. The images used throughout this blog are some of my favourites to be discovered so far. Sometimes you really can and should judge a book by its cover, so why not come down and see what catches your eye in the Local Studies Library here at Hull History Centre...

Caoimhe West, Unlocking the Treasures Project

Monday, 4 November 2019

Unlocking the Treasures Project

As it is America’s Thanksgiving celebrations this month, I thought it would be fitting to feature this American Thanksgiving Dinner programme from 1922, which is part of the Local Studies Collection.

Programme for a American Thanksgiving dinner held by the Anglo-American Society, Hull Branch, 1922 [L.369.2]

American Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November, is an annual national holiday celebrating the harvest and other blessings of the past year. It commemorates a harvest feast shared in 1621 by the English colonists of Plymouth (known as the Pilgrims) and the Wampanoag people. The occasion has been celebrated nationally in the USA since 1789, when a proclamation was issued by George Washington.

The Anglo-American Society is the English counterpart of an organisation in the USA known as the Sulgrave Institution. The organisation derives its name from Sulgrave Manor, in Northamptonshire, which was the ancestral home of the Washingtons in the sixteenth century. The first principle of the Sulgrave Institution was 'to foster friendship amongst English-speaking peoples and all peoples of goodwill'.

The formation of the Hull branch of the Anglo-American Society was due in a large part to the efforts of Mr Charles Wray. He was connected with the Hull fruit trade. Mr Wray had been a joint secretary of the Mayflower celebrations, which had been held in City Hall in September 1920 and which led to the formation of the Hull branch of the Anglo-American Society.

Toast list for the Anglo-American Society Thanksgiving Dinner [L.369.2]

The first annual Thanksgiving Dinner was held in 1922 at Powolny's restaurant on King Edward Street, known colloquially as 'Polly’s'. It was managed by Petro Louis Dermond who had been born in Smyrna. Under his supervision, it became known as the place to be. However, in 1941, the building received a direct hit during May air raids, and never re-opened its doors.

This dinner was advertised in the Hull Daily Mail in the week leading up to the event, particularly encouraging Americans in the area to attend, and a report of the event appeared in the Friday edition of the paper on 1 December, 1922.

Hull Daily Mail, 1 Dec 1922

To all those American out there, near and far, I wish you a very “Happy Thanksgiving”.

Caoimhe West, Reader Assistant, Unlocking the Treasures Project

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Elizabeth Jackson, An East Yorkshire Witch

On the 19th July 1692 five women were hanged in Salem, Massachusetts. Their conviction was one of witchcraft. One of the accused was Elizabeth Jackson, born in the hamlet of High Hunsley, just twelve miles from Hull.

Graystone, Philip, Elizabeth Jackson of Rowley [Ref: L.9.61 RO]

Elizabeth was around age one when she emigrated with her parents to North America 1638. They sailed from Hull in the June on a ship chartered from London named John, arriving in Salem harbour in August. The family settled down, establishing a home in the newly formed settlement of Rowley, Massachusetts. By the age of seven Elizabeth was a maid in the house of Ezekiel Rogers, formerly minister of St. Peter’s Church, Rowley, East Yorkshire, who was the driving force behind the emigration of a number of Rowley’s parishioners to North America, including Elizabeth and her family.

Aged twenty-one Elizabeth married James Howe of the neighbouring town of Ipswich. Elizabeth and James had five children in total. Elizabeth seems to have developed a strong assertive character, no doubt because her husband, James, was blind. It has been suggested that because of this Elizabeth may have played a more pivotal and dominant role in the community, perhaps proving unpopular in this male dominated society. It was perhaps this strong and assertive character that singled out Elizabeth later on?

Problems began for Elizabeth in 1682. A young girl of a local family began to have fits in which she accused Elizabeth of using witchcraft to make her ill. The young girl, however, refused to name Elizabeth as a witch, but the damage was already done.

Elizabeth was refused admittance to Ipswich church and with it her activities became more isolated, perhaps adding to the already aroused suspicion. Things died down but the issue of witchcraft resurfaced again in 1692, this time in the nearby town of Salem. The community at the time was experiencing difficulties with what appears to be a series of unfortunate and unexplainable events. It was at this time that people looked for scapegoats. The seventeenth century was no stranger to witchcraft hysteria. England and Europe had witnessed such hysteria earlier in the century, and it now spread to the colonies in North America.

The events at Salem centred upon a slave called Tituba, who hailed from Barbados. She regaled horrific stories to a group of girls, including the daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris, to which they believed themselves to be bewitched. The girls developed uncontrollable screaming and spasms, and with it the girls named those who had allegedly bewitched them. The first was of course Tituba. Other names followed, including that of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth found herself incarcerated in Boston prison. Elizabeth found support from her family, but also from Reverend Samuel Phillips, minister of the church in nearby Rowley. Phillips met with the young girl. The girl continued to refuse to name Elizabeth as a witch, despite best efforts of her brother to do so. Others offered testimonies on Elizabeth’s behalf, including neighbours who described Elizabeth as a good Christian.   

Elizabeth along with five other women, were tried in June 1692. The trial began on the 30th June with people demonstrating that they had been bewitched by her. Elizabeth was said to have also appeared in various forms of spirits and spectres. Perhaps the biggest blow to Elizabeth, and indeed her family, came from her brother-in-law, John Howe. He accused Elizabeth of bewitching some of his cattle to death. Of course this was fabricated, but due to Elizabeth and James having no male children, John stood to gain if Elizabeth was out the picture with any property reverting to John and not Elizabeth on James’s death.

In all 150 people were accused. Some were found guilty while others confessed to avoid death. Elizabeth, however, maintained her innocence, but to no avail. The trial concluded inevitably with the sentence of death by hanging. Elizabeth along with four other women were executed on 19th July, their bodies simply cast in to holes at their place of execution. Elizabeth’s death did not bring about an end to witch-hunting in Salem. Four men and one woman were hanged on 19th August with further executions on 19th and 22nd September. Eventually the frenzy did subside. In 1710 legal proceedings were brought to verify Elizabeth’s innocence. The conviction was eventually quashed and the family received compensation for the loss of her life.   

The Salem Witch Trials have captured the imagination of writers and artists over the last three centuries. The American Playwright, Arthur Miller, wrote The Crucible (1953), which was eventually turned into a film in 1996, featuring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. Today many people have heard of the Salem Witch Trials, but not many know that an East Yorkshire woman as one of those at the centre of this tragic and infamous 17th century witch-hunt.

You can read a detailed account of the life of Elizabeth Jackson and her trial at Salem by Philip Graystone, available in our Local Studies Library at the History Centre at reference L.9.61 RO.

Happy Halloween!

Neil Chadwick, Project Officer.