Burnley Meths Singing Parts

The Burnley and Pendle Methodist Historical group came to visit Martin Top last week. It was used as a base from which various walks about the area could begin and conclude, while the life and times of Francis Duckworth, who was raised at the Stopper Lane Chapel down the road (now a house) might be considered. Over a score of folk attended. The highlight was outside the old Wesleyan Chapel at Stopper Lane singing some verses of Watts’ Jesus shall Reign to Duckworth’s Rimington tune. Various parts were sung, which gave the experience of hearing a favourite hymn a somewhat tingling feel. I am not sure what the cottagers thought, but none complained.

There is much about contemporary Christianity which is superior to our forbears’. One example was the levying of pew rents, which is now unpractised. Yet the Victorian chapel was in many respects better than ours. Not all older hymns were better than modern ones (time filtered out the worst), but they would certainly have sung deeper works than their great-grandchildren are pleased to repeat. Furthermore, they would have learned the different parts of the hymns, with tenors, basses, sopranos and altos all singing variations of a tune, yet beautifully harmonising and complimenting the others. We men sometimes cannot reach the high notes of songs, usually because we sing the melody which was often written for the soprano. The people called Methodist have evidently retained some of this distinction, and their singing is the richer for it.

I look forward to the day when Jesus shall indeed reign wherever the sun shines, from the scorched lands of Calormen to the idol strewn jungles of Bharat, from the godless wastes of Anglia to the fertile planes of Afurika. I also pray He reigns once more in our moribund denominations, our empty chapels and our feeble manses. That day is coming.

1 Jesus shall reign where'er the sun

does its successive journeys run,

his kingdom stretch from shore to shore,

till moons shall wax and wane no more.


2 To him shall endless prayer be made,

and praises throng to crown his head.

His name like sweet perfume shall rise

with every morning sacrifice.


3 People and realms of every tongue

dwell on his love with sweetest song,

and infant voices shall proclaim

their early blessings on his name.


4 Blessings abound where'er he reigns:

the prisoners leap to lose their chains,

the weary find eternal rest,

and all who suffer want are blest.


5 Let every creature rise and bring

the highest honours to our King,

angels descend with songs again,

and earth repeat the loud amen.

-Isaac Watts, 1719