In last October’s projected exploration of the Little Ouse, I found several towns along the river had names corresponding to entries in hymnary.org . One of the towns was Thetford. Three separate composers have given Thetford’s name to their productions. I’ve been trying to find out why.
Let’s look at the tunes in chronological order.
The Bradford organist
‘Thetford’ by Frederick Atkinson appears to have been first published by Dutton of New York in 1883, in Hymnal and Canticles of the Protestant Episcopal Church with Music (edited by the Rev. A.B. Goodrich and Walter Gilbert). Atkinson was born in Norwich, educated at Cambridge, died in East Dereham, and had connections at more than one stage of his life with the music of Norwich Cathedral; he’s thus very definitely on our East Anglia patch. He wrote hymn tunes, anthems, and canticle settings for the Church of England, as well as songs and piano pieces.
A trawl of the Musical Times brings up many stories of 19th-century Atkinsons, and a respectable number of them concern him. But I’m still looking for an explanation of why he named a tune after Thetford. Another town he honoured in this way was Morecambe. The Michigan-published Psalter Hymnal Handbook explains this by Morecambe’s being “not far from Bradford, where Atkinson worked as an organist.” In fact they’re about 60 miles apart, twice the distance between Thetford and Dereham.
The King’s College chaplain
‘Thetford’ by Edward L. Hopkins appeared in Hymns for the Children of the Church, published by the Church Extension Association, in 1907. That book used six of Hopkins’ tunes, and again Thetford is not the only place he honoured with a tune. Stretham in Cambridgeshire, where he served his curacy in the 1870s, is another, as is Monxton in Hampshire, where he was rector for 28 years. Stretham is next-door neighbour to a village called Little Thetford. Was this, rather than the town in Norfolk, what he had in mind when naming his tune?
The Church Extension Association evolved into what is now a religious order, the Community of the Sisters of the Church. The community’s archivist told me that much of the material in the 1907 book was by relatives or close friends of sisters in the order.
Edward Larkin Hopkins had a near namesake within the world of Victorian hymnody: Edward John Hopkins (1818-1901). Those of you who go in for hymns much may even have sung some of Edward John’s. Edward Larkin Hopkins died in a London nursing home in July 1910. I’m trying to find out more about him. Between Stretham and Monxton he was chaplain of King’s College, Cambridge, which had both those parishes in its gift; he may well have entertained aspirations as a secular composer, if he wrote the 1871 setting of Thomas Moore’s ‘Row gently here‘.
The Hampstead dentist
‘Thetford’ by D.A.R. Aufranc was published in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church Hymnal of 1941. Aufranc, for much of his life a dentist practising in Hampstead, was another who wanted to make music outside the hymnbook. He self-published a number of pieces aimed at the dance bands of the 1930s and 40s, and their failure, according to his son, decades later, was a matter of deep disappointment to him.
Poems and articles by him were used in Seventh-Day Adventist magazines. One of the poems, beginning “There is a road, though narrow and obscure”, appears also as the hymn that rides the tune ‘Thetford’. Again, I’m trying to find out more about him, though his son’s recollection of him as “always a great complainer” makes me wonder how much fun this trip to the dentist will be.
As a cyclist, I’ve encountered a number of roads near Thetford that are narrow and obscure. Perhaps they are the reason for his choice of that town’s name for his tune.
Each of the Thetford tunes seems to have had just one hymnal publication, and not survived the winnow of generations’ use. The next tune I write about will be one that’s known a bit better, and deserves to be known better still: ‘Radwell‘ by Hilary Chadwyck-Healey.
Meanwhile — three tunes have been made for Thetford, and none of them has shown much staying power. Are any EAB readers minded to have a go at another one, and see how long it works?
Acknowledgments: Sister Marguerite Mae, Community of the Sisters of the Church; Tom Davies, King’s College Cambridge; Frank Bowles, Cambridge University Library; Jerry Smith, Norwich Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Thanks all!