Woodward, George Ratcliffe


b Birkenhead, Ches (Merseyside) 1848, d Highgate, N London 1934. Harrow Sch and Gonville and Caius Coll Cambridge (BA 1872, MA). Ordained in 1874, he was twice curate at the ‘advanced’ Anglo-catholic parish of St Barnabas Pimlico, 1874-82 and 1894-99 (cf notes on S Baring-Gould); in between, incumbent of Lower Walsingham, Norfolk, and Chelmondiston, Suffolk. 6 ft tall, he ‘cut an imposing figure in clerical dress’; he played the ’cello and euphonium, the latter sometimes in church processions. Around this time he became a co-founder of the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society. From 1899 he was a licensed preacher in London, and joined the staff of St Mark’s Marylebone Rd 1903–06. He then moved to Highgate where he spent his later years. In 1901, following a carol collection 4 years earlier, he co-edited with Dr Chas Wood the first Cowley Carol Book, originally ‘a small volume…for use in the church of St John the Evangelist, Cowley’, Oxford; further vols following in 1902 and 1919. In 1904 he also published Songs of Syon: A Collection of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs set, for the most part, to their Ancient Proper Tunes; 4th edn 1923. His characteristically outspoken Preface includes at attack on the barbaric and discourteous ‘mutilation of foreign melodies when wedding them to English words’; an ‘apology for the frequent recurrence of his own initials’; and a request for the prayers of the singers and readers, ‘of their charity’, for the Editor. The total effect was to produce what Routley called ‘a collection of sacred madrigals for domestic devotion’, with ‘tunes of exquisite remoteness from the experience of ordinary congregations’. Further edns followed in 1908 and 1910. At least 4 other collections bear Woodward’s name and imprint, while two typically and joyfully archaic compositions have lasted well; one featured here, and Ding dong! Merrily on high. That carol reflects his own enthusiasm for bellringing; he also kept bees. As a writer, he acknowledged J M Neale (qv) as ‘my master’. He fell out with the compilers of EH, which contains none of his work, but in 1924 he received the Lambeth DMus. He is commemorated at St Augustine’s Highgate, N London. See also the RSCM’s Church Music Quarterly, Dec 2006. No.474.

Hymns and songs by Woodward, George Ratcliffe

Number Hymn Name
474 This joyful Eastertide