Sounding Childhood

Part 1--Children's Hymns

British Nineteenth-Century Children's Hymns


In today’s society, hymns, when they are still sung at all, are primarily sung in church, or church-related activities (camps, etc.), and they are usually sung as the entire congregation, of all ages.  Popular music dominates what children sing on their own, even what might be sung in schools and at home.  In the nineteenth century, in both England and America, folk songs and popular music existed but what children—of all classes—would sing on a daily basis were hymns: they sang them at home, they sang them at church, they sang them at the church-sponsored schools, they sang them at public (boarding) schools, later they sang them in the national schools.     

Yet this culture of children’s hymn-singing has not been studied thoroughly.  My study stems both from my personal love of hymn-singing, as a youth and now as an adult, and from my two areas of scholarship—Victorian aesthetics and children’s literature—as they converged into a study of Victorian children’s hymnody.  It focuses primarily on the situation in England and spans the entire nineteenth century.  It is based on three research trips to England, 2006-2014, as I delved into archives and libraries for extant hymn books (I am using the 19th-century term, not "hymnals" that we might use today) for children of the era, which was an incredibly rich--and unique--genre of book-publishing for children rarely seen in such quantities before or since: in my study along, I amassed a bibliography of over 100 hymn books.  

In my analysis of these various hymn books and the culture of hymn-singing, I make the following claims:

  1. Hymns challenge and empower children, placing deep theology and rich poetry within the grasp of children.
  2. The music is just as powerful, and perhaps even more inspirational at times, as the text, making hymns for adults with engaging tunes very popular in children’s hymn books.
  3. Victorians offered hymns to children as a way that those children could impact the world around them, in missionary work, temperance work, and even animal welfare (temperance leagues for children were called Bands of Hope and animal-welfare organizations were called Bands of Mercy).


The results of this 10-year project are a book published by Ashgate Publishers (now Routledge) in 2016: British Hymn Books for Children, 1800-1900: Re-Tuning the History of Childhood with the following chapters/foci:

  1. Creating Communities of Song: Class and Gender in Children’s Hymn-Singing Experiences;
  2. Re-Writing the History of Children’s Literature: Three Periods of Children’s Hymnody;
  3. Erasing Child-Adult Distinctions: “Crossover” Children’s Hymn-Texts and Tunes;
  4. Staging the Child: Agency and Stasis for Children in Art and Hymn-Book Illustrations;
  5. Reforming Society:  Missionary, Bands of Hope, and Bands of Mercy Hymns; and
  6. Resurrecting the Child: The Cult of the Deathbed, Hymns of Faith, and Children of Life.

I invite you to purchase the book, now in paperback!


As part of my research, I calibrated the number of times a hymn appeared in each of 100 19th-century children's hymn books to determine its frequency, and thus popularity.  In the following table, then, "No." is the order of that frequency; % is the percentage of frequency (of 100 hymn books); with additional information given of text and tune (hymns could be set to different tunes throughout the century). The title of each hymn is linked to a page with more information about the hymn: interpretation, audio recording, hymn text and musical score.

No.   %    Title    Date Author of the textTune (composer if known)
146I think, when I read that sweet story of old1841Jemima Thompson LukeGreek tune
243Awake, my soul, and with the sun1674Thomas Ken"Morning hymn"
342Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear 1827John Keble"Hursley"
441From Greenland’s icy mountains 1823Reginald Heber"Missionary Hymn" by Lowell Mason
540Hark! The herald angels sing 1739Charles Wesley"Berlin" from Mendelssohn
638There is a happy land​ 1843Andrew Young"Happy land"
733Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty 1826Reginald Heber"Nicea" by J. B. Dykes
833Rock of Ages, cleft for me 1776Augustus Toplady"Redhead" by Richard Redhead
931All hail the power of Jesus’ name 1779Edward Perronet"Diadem" by James Ellor
1031Glory to Thee, my God, this night 1695Thomas Ken"Tallis’ Canon"
1129Abide with me, fast falls the eventide 1847Henry Francis Lyte"Eventide" by Wm. H. Monk
1229I sing the almighty power of God 1715Isaac Watts"Washington"
1326Nearer, my God, to thee 1841Sarah Flower Adams"Horbury" by J. B. Dykes
1425Around the throne of God in heaven 1838Anne Shepherd"Glory"
1525Great God, and will Thou condescend 1810Anne and Jane Taylor"Holley" by G. Hews
1625There’s a Friend for little children  1859Albert Midlane"Children’s Friend"
1724Gentle Jesus, meek and mild 1742Charles Wesley"Innocent"
1823Here we suffer grief and pain 1832Thomas Bilby"Joyful"
1922Christ the Lord is risen today 1739Charles Wesley"Easter Hymn"
2022Jerusalem the golden 1861John Mason Neale"Ewing" by Alexander Ewing
2120Hushed was the evening hymn 1857James Burns"Samuel" by Arthur Sullivan
2218We are but little children weak 1850C. F. Alexander"Alstone"
2316Once in Royal David’s City 1848C. F. Alexander"Irby" by H. J. Gauntlett
249Jesus, Lover of my soul 1740Charles Wesley"Hollingside" by J. B. Dukes
258I love to tell the story 1866Katherine Hankey"Hankey" by Wm. Fischer
267Jesus bids us shine 1881Susan Warner"Little Soldiers"
271Father, in high heaven dwelling 1896unknownMusic by W. Jackson
281One day, dear children, you must die 1862unknownMusic by John B. Dykes
291Voice of the Helpless (Band of Mercy) 1897Carlotta PerryMusic by L. B. Marshall
301Lift aloft our banner (Band of Mercy) 1897Thomas Timmons"Battle Hymn of the Republic"
311There is a happy time (Band of Hope) 1861unknown"Happy Land"


My daughter, Annetta Itnyre, grew up during the writing of this book, accompanying my husband and me to England all three times and learning quite a few of these hymns to record by herself or with friends.  Then, in June 2015, with immense help from my colleague Dr. Jessica Raposo, director of music at Indiana University East, I auditioned for and created a “Hymn Camp” of 18 children grades 4th through 8th, boys and girls, to learn some of these hymns.  For a week, we taught them about 17 hymns which we then recorded.  It was inspiring to see children of today become as excited about hymns as I imagine many nineteenth-century children becoming!  Go to CREDITS where I recognize these talented young people and the many others who made this first camp such a success.


Please use the drop-down INDEX in the top left corner to find additional resources.  For example, you can also view all the SCORES of the hymns as taken from nineteenth-century children’s hymn books that I own.  Separate pages also give all the RECORDINGS, and a chronological TIMELINE of the hymns. I also include many pictures from the children's camp (used with permission) throughout the website, including the one here showing children AFTER the official picture above--"being goofy"--as children certainly can, then and now!

It is thanks to Jessica and the children that I may share the joy of children’s hymn-singing with the world.  Enjoy!

     Dr. Alisa Clapp-Itnyre
     Professor of English,
     Indiana University East

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