‘Radwell’ is a tune that deserves to be better known. I added the name to my Google Maps list of tune-honoured places when I trawled a hymnbook index for the purpose, and first became aware of the tune’s qualities when I had the bright idea of suggesting Radwell as a place to meet. I stumbled over the awkwardness that there are in fact two villages called Radwell. One of these is in Hertfordshire, and one in Bedfordshire.
The tune and its hymns
Did the tune’s Hymnary entry offer clues as to which village was meant? No, but it let me hear the tune for myself. I loved it at once, though I don’t impress musicians when I offer my fumbled explanations as to why.
A Hymnary search on the name ‘Radwell’ brings up a list including two texts with which the tune has been used: ‘Lord Jesus is calling to all who will hear’ and ‘For beauty of prairies’. Clicking on the line for that second text takes you to an entry headed ‘For beauty of praises’; a Hymnary garbling, I fear.
I found the tune used, in Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised, for ‘O Father, we thank thee for Jesus thy Son’, whose main emphasis is on praise for builders of churches in Britain. According to the Psalter Hymnal Handbook, reproduced in the Hymnary entry, ‘Radwell’ was written around 1940 for a hymn in a slightly different metre. No one seems to know when, or why, the tune was altered to its present form.
Readers who followed the link will have noticed a second Hymnary error. The entry for that text claims no knowledge of its tune. Hymnary is my go-to source for information on hymns, but it isn’t 100% reliable.
The composer was Hilary Chadwyck-Healey (1888-1976). His day job was as director of the British Tabulating Machine Company, later ICL; this firm was based near Baldock. The Hertfordshire Radwell is a few minutes’ ride from Baldock; it’s very probably this village that he meant to honour by the name of the tune.
Chadwyck-Healey’s other compositions include choral sacred pieces, organ preludes, an elegy, a piano piece, songs, marches and an opera based on the novel Lorna Doone. He sang in the coronation services of 1937 and 1953 and was also, apparently, the model for Bustopher Jones, the cat about town in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. His musical life included meetings with William Lloyd Webber. At some of these, Lloyd Webber’s son Andrew was present, and he remembered Chadwyck-Healey when he came to turn that book into the musical Cats.
Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey recalls his great-uncle as
“one of the funniest people we, as children and indeed as young adults, had ever met. He had an enormous fund of stories, jokes, poems and anecdotes enhanced by his most expressive face and voice. We all adored him because he was so unstuffy.”
Riding Radwell to Radwell
So there’s probably no mystery about which Radwell was meant. Last week I cycled from Hertfordshire Radwell to Bedfordshire Radwell, and tweeted about the triumph when I completed the ride.
In Hertfordshire Radwell I found All Saints’ church, which apparently uses the 1916 version of Hymns Ancient and Modern – missing out on their tune. All Saints’ has taken part in a protest pilgrimage organised by Bishop Richard Atkinson in support of their River Ivel.
Bedfordshire Radwell has no church, so far as I can tell, but it boasts a troubling stretch of road near the River Great Ouse. The pavement stands above the road by several feet, and a gauge at the side of the road indicates the depth when the road is flooded.
Why isn’t the tune ‘Radwell’ better known? Probably because there aren’t that many hymns that fit its 220.127.116.11 metre. So here’s a challenge to EAB readers. We’re not up to a formal poetry competition – but why not have a go at writing some words, sacred or secular, that could be sung to this tune? We might publish some of them…
In writing this article I had help from Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey, Dr John Henderson of the Royal School of Church Music, and Mike Cole. Thanks!