Hymnology Collections : Ravenscroft’s Book of Psalms

A guest post from Oreste de Tommasso, one of the Funk Project Cataloguers at New College Library.

A reprint of the tunes in Ravenscroft's Book of Psalms :  With introductory remarks. London, 1845. New College Library, Hymn 345.

A reprint of the tunes in Ravenscroft’s Book of Psalms : With introductory remarks. London, 1845. New College Library, Hymn 345.

This item, an edition of the Whole Book of Psalmes, was recently catalogued as part of the Hymnology Collections Project. It’s typical of the many nineteenth century items in the Hymnology Collection, much of which was originally collected by the Edinburgh bookseller James Thin.  The pages in the volume are laid within a red line frame border, with an initial capital letter decorated in red ink. The cover title is within a rounded decorated lozenge in a golden colour.

The Whole Booke of Psalmes is one of the most important psalters of the period, though it contains much music from earlier publications. This collection includes national hymns (such as Dumferline, Dundee, and Glasgow) whose authorship remains uncertain, while the harmonizers into four parts are some of the most celebrated musicians of the Tudor era. Names such as Thomas Tallis, John Dowland, Thomas Morley, Giles Farnaby, Thomas Tomkins, all feature here. Thomas Ravescroft himself contributed fifty-five of its 105 settings.

Hymn 345 tpRavenscroft was not only a good musician, but a man of considerable learning in his faculty. By 1598 he was chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral and graduated MusB from Cambridge at the age of fourteen.

The tunes are simple in their conception, as having a syllable for a note, thus easy to sing. It is the Sternhold and Hopkins metrical version of the psalms. Following the customs of the period, the tune was sung in the Tenor part by male voices, while the bass provided a simple foundation while the treble voices were often learnedly ornate in counterpoint style. Through the events of Civil War and Restoration, this multi-part style of singing was silenced and quickly fell into oblivion, in spite of some genuine attempts to revive it. Nonetheless, Ravenscroft’ Booke of Psalmes is the fount of Psalmody across all Great Britain, and this reprint provides a compendium-model of genuine psalmody.


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, v. 46

Havergal. W.H.; A reprint of the tunes in Ravenscroft’s Book of psalms : With introductory remarks. London, 1845.

From slave trader to ‘Amazing Grace’ – John Newton

[Newton, John] / An authentic narrative of some remarkable and interesting particularas in the life of ********* ... London, 1786.

[Newton, John] / An authentic narrative of some remarkable and interesting particularas in the life of ********* … London, 1786. New College Library Z.1188

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of John Newton, Anglican clergyman and hymn writer. This volume from New College Library’s Special Collections tells his remarkable story. The Authentic narrative of some remarkable and interesting particulars in the life of Mr. Newton describes Newton’s early career as a seaman on a slave trading ship. He experienced  a profound religious conversion, which when he finally took up life on shore led him to become active in evangelical revival. He pursued private studies in Divinity and taught himself Greek, Hebrew and Syriac.

In 1764, the year he was ordained as an Anglican priest, his Authentic Narrative appeared and quickly became a bestseller. Newton’s early life as a seaman slave trader coloured his experiences in later life, when he wrote and campaigned against slavery and is known to have met and advised William Wilberforce. He was a prominent hymn writer, and his legacy lives on today in the well known hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ .

New College Library has this sixth edition, at Z.1188, published in 1786, but it went through ten British and eight American editions before the end of the century. It was quickly translated into several other languages – New College Library also holds a Gaelic edition at Gaelic Coll. 137.


D. Bruce Hindmarsh, ‘Newton, John (1725–1807)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2010 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/20062, accessed 18 July 2013]

Gaelic hymns from the Highlands

Grant, Peter. Dain spioradail. Elgin : Peter Macdonald, bookseller, 1837. New College Library Gaelic Collections 250.

New College Library’s recently catalogued Gaelic Collections contain several editions of  “Dain spioradail ” by the celebrated hymn writer Peter Grant.

This edition at Gaelic Coll. 250  is the fifth edition, considerably enlarged and improved from earlier editions. It was published in Elgin, in the highlands of Scotland.

The title page information refers to Grant’s Gaelic name Pàdraig Grannd nan Òran, which means ‘Peter Grant of the songs’. Grant was a Baptist minister, born on 30 January 1783 at Ballintua, Strathspey, Scotland. He was a skilled fiddle player, who was able to set his poems on evangelical themes to well known tunes which were popular into the twentieth century.  This work is typical of the works in the Gaelic Collection, which contains many volumes of religious poetry.

With thanks to Patrick Murray, our Gaelic Cataloguer, for supplying details of this item.

Summer days at New College Library … and Hymnology collections

Summer has arrived!  The weather forecast says 12 degrees today –  but it feels much warmer. The School of Divinity’s exams are over, and the bustle of last week’s General Assembly has faded. Inside the  library, only a few dedicated researchers are at work – and the library staff, of course. Here’s a summer themed item from New College Library’s Special  Collections.

The child’s book of song and praise, including 34 pieces of music … [1870]. Hymnology Collection, E15/g 6.

  The child’s book of song and praise [1870] is an item from the Hymnology Collections. The core of these collections was the gift in the 1880s of two thousand hymnbooks from James Thin, the founder of the famous Edinburgh bookshop. This collection has been added to by gift, purchase and the re-organisation of other library books of a similar nature to form the collection of over 5000 items  we have today.

Primarily 18th & 19th century printed volumes (some with very nice pictorial publishers bindings),  there are also some older books,  a few scores and some LPs and cassettes. The collection covers sacred songs and poetry as well as hymns, including  many items intended for children, both for Sunday School and home use. This verse from The child’s book of song and praise is just one example:

“Peace be around thee, wherever thou rov’st’ / May life be for thee one summer’s day …”

A project to catalogue the Hymnology Collections online has just begun – just one of the Funk Cataloguing Projects which are opening up the Special Collections here at New College Library.