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Frances Ridley Havergal, the English hymn-writer and poet

By Carol Purves
June 2019 | Review by Ruth Burke
  • Publisher: Day One
  • ISBN: 978-1-84625-206-8
  • Pages: 128
  • Price: £10

To most readers of this review Frances Ridley Havergal is probably best known as the writer of such hymns as ‘Take my life’, and ‘Lord, speak to me, that I may speak’. This book, the latest of the Day One Travel Guides – and the first written about a woman – is both a potted biography and practical guide for anyone wishing to visit the places associated with Frances.

Frances was born in 1836, the youngest of six children. Her father was rector in Astley, Worcestershire. She was a gifted individual and wrote hymns (and tunes to accompany them), poems and devotional books for adults and children.

Although we know her best as a hymn-writer, in her own day her books of poetry and prose were hugely popular, and she was obviously regarded as a woman of deep devotion, since an enormous number of spiritual enquirers corresponded with her.

All this has been carefully researched and documented by Carol Purves, but we are also given insight into more personal aspects of Frances’ life. We see her in her various relationships – as a daughter, sister and aunt. We find out about her love of painting and travel, especially in the mountains of Switzerland, Scotland and Wales. We learn also of her unstinting efforts on behalf of numerous charities, and of her ongoing struggles with ill-health.

The book includes over 150 coloured illustrations. Some show how the places associated with Frances look today, but others are contemporary photographs and drawings and pictures of artefacts which belonged to Frances.

Frances never married and made her home with various family members at different times in her life. The places associated with her are mainly in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Bedfordshire, although she spent the last two years of her life in Mumbles, South Wales, and died there in1879.

Anyone wishing to retrace her footsteps would find this book extremely useful. It gives plans of several towns, details of how to drive there and of bus and rail routes, as well as brief historical sketches of the areas and suggestions of other worthwhile things to see while visiting. The shape and size of the book, along with the flaps on its cover which act as bookmarkers, make it ideal to carry whilst sight-seeing.

The author has included a bibliography, which should prove useful to anyone whose appetite has been whetted and wants to find out more about Frances. All in all, this is a most interesting book, either as an introduction to Frances Ridley Havergal or for the devotee.