Havergal, Frances Ridley


b Astley, Worcs 1836, d Caswell Bay, Oystermouth, nr Swansea, Glam 1879. Named after a distant ancestor, the Protestant martyr Bp Nicholas Ridley, she was a bubbly personality growing up as her father’s favourite in an evangelical and musical family. A gifted linguist from her Worcester childhood onwards, she learned Lat, Gk and Heb as well as French, German and Italian. She was reading and memorising Bible portions from the age of 4 (and later in their original languages), writing verse from 7 onwards, proficient at the piano and in singing, teaching younger Sunday School children at 9, and at 14 made a decisive commitment to Christ—which for her meant service as well as belonging. This was the year when, following her mother’s death, she followed her older sisters to boarding school at Campden House. Caroline Cooke, who led her to the point of clear decision, was soon to marry Frances’s widowed father. From 1859 onwards she worked energetically in support of the (evangelistic) Irish Society. Uncertain health did not prevent her from travelling to the continent including a further (and strictly discipined) educational year in Düsseldorf, Germany, and five journeys to the Swiss Alps where she revelled in some adventurous climbing—not unique among Victorian ladies but far more demanding for them than for their modern counterparts. In her ‘love affair with the Alps’ she was constantly moved by the mountain scenery to adoration of the Creator. By 1860 she was contributing verse to the journal Good Words and her own first collection came in 1869/71 with The Ministry of Song (5th edn 1888). She was also now a solo singer with the Kidderminster Philharmonic Soc. Her father’s death in 1870, and an attack of typhoid, spurred her to further travel and intense literary and mission work including her best-known hymns.

On Advent Sunday 1873 she experienced a deep spiritual renewal; her pursuit of holiness in no way lessened the lighter touch of her wit and humour. She was a keen supporter of the early Mildmay and Keswick Conferences (later the ‘Convention’—while remaining wary of what she saw as some of its extremes), CMS (which featured 12 of her hymns in its centenary collection The Church Missionary Hymn Book of 1899) and other evangelical causes at home and abroad. The Rev Charles Busbridge Snepp enlisted her help in editing his Songs of Grace and Glory; Hymnal Treasures of the Church of Christ from the 6th to the 19th Centuries (1872-74) and became a personal friend. This book went through many editions. FRH corresponded with the American Fanny Crosby (see notes to Frances J Van Alstyne): ‘Dear blind singer over the sea,/ this English heart goes forth to thee./ Sister, what will our meeting be/ when our hearts shall sing, our eyes shall see!’ In 1879, the final year of her relatively short life, she wrote the last of her dozen or so books, Kept for the Master’s Use. She had recently turned down the last of several proposals of marriage; and she died in June before being able to address a Church Congress at Swansea in October. Her place was taken by John Ellerton, qv, who began by saying that ‘the hymns of this lady will live long in the heart of the church’.

Frances’s sister Maria published Memorials of Frances Ridley Havergal in 1880, and her verse was collected posthumously as Poetical Works (2 vols, 1884). Church Hymns (SPCK 1871) was the first hymnal to include her work; by its 5th edn, Hymns of Consecration and Faith featured 5 items of FRH’s words and music combined, with a further 19 hymn texts and 3 tunes. Hymns of Faith (1964) has 18 of her texts; 5 are included in the 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Most hymns appeared first as leaflets; most are addressed to Christ. Biographies include those by T H Darlow (1927) and Janet Grierson (published by the Havergal Society on the centenary of her death, 1979), and her writings for children have been reprinted as recently as 2005. She also appears as a rare hymnwriter in J G Lawson’s eccentric but useful Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians (1911). John Ellerton says, ‘Christ was her King; she loved to call him so‘; to Spurgeon she was the ‘last and loveliest of our modern poets’ and Pamela Bugden points out that ‘the esteem…was mutual’ (Ever, only, ALL for Thee, 2007). Nancy Cho, who in 2007 completed her work on women hymnwriters, ranks her as the foremost. See also Carol Purves, Travels with Frances Ridley Havergal, Day One ‘Travel Guide’ series, 2010. Nos.515, 658, 698, 728, 799, 850, 854, 859, 860.