Baker, Henry Williams


b Vauxhall, S London, 1821; d Monkland, Herefs 1877. The eldest son of an Admiral and Baronet; Trinity Coll Camb (BA, MA), ordained (CofE) 1844. After a curacy at Great Horkesley nr Colchester, Essex, he became Vicar of the small parish of Monkland (pop c200), a few miles W of Leominster, from 1851 until his death at the age of 56. There being no vicarage, he had one built with space for a private chapel with a small organ; he then established Monkland’s first school. Within his opening few months he had also written his first hymn, published in an 1852 collection made by Francis Murray, Rector of Chislehurst; but greater things were soon afoot. From a crucial meeting at St Barnabas Pimlico, London, in 1858 (see also under Baring-Gould and Woodward) and a formal committee established in the following January, Baker became a founding father of what became Hymns Ancient and Modern. As the project‘s first chairman and its main driving force, he conducted much of the work at and from his vicarage, still in his 30s. After 2 ‘samplers’ in 1859 (the year he inherited his father’s baronetcy) with respectively 50 and 138 hymns, the first official edition including 33 of his own texts and translations appeared in 1861. After an early disappointment Baker never married; but the vicarage, presided over by Henry’s sister Jessy, was a hub of activity often filled with fellow-hymnologists, scholars, editors and workers. They also met regularly at Pimlico, the new railways between London, Leominster, and elsewhere proving a key factor in their work and personal contacts. Baker himself often had to handle tactfully, by post or otherwise, questions of Anglican doctrine, poetic style, copyright terms, payments and fees, textual alterations and (later) how to safeguard its future.

Their book attracted much criticism for editorial changes, but weathered the storm to become the most popular hymn book ever, through main editions of 1868, 1904 (its least successful revision), 1923, 1950, 1983, and 2000. The latest edn, well over a century on, retains 11 of his original texts, versions and translations; 13 are included in the evangelical Anglican Hymn Book of 1965. Among his other writings was Daily Prayers for the Use of those who have to work hard—fittingly from the pen of a man of immense energy and versatility. Julian, who calls his editing labours ‘very arduous’, compares his ‘tender’ and ‘plaintive’ hymnwriting with that of H F Lyte, qv. Among other biographical treatments, he features in Bernard Braley’s Hymnwriters 2 (1989); the 150th anniversary of A&M was celebrated in Monkland and Leominster in 2011. Nos.23C, 371*, 435, 911*, 952*.