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Earth Floors to Fitted Carpets
Mere Brow Local History Society - August 1990
ISBN 0951643509
Extracts reproduced, with permission, for reference only
Web Transcript © Hubmaker 2002. Reproduction by any means strictly prohibited.

THE "MERE BROW ANTHEM"

A Christmas Anthem, "Behold a virgin shall conceive", was sung every Christmas at Mere Brow Chapel for as far back as anybody can remember. Friends from neighbouring Churches would come to Mere Brow to listen and share in the rendering of this traditional Christmas music.

Sadly, the tradition has lapsed for a few years but may be revived in view of the recent interest shown in our local history and culture.

Mr Henry Bond Senior has made every effort to trace the origins of this anthem but as yet he has been unable to proceed to a final conclusion. The following account tells of Mr Bond's search and the information which is available from his findings:

"At various periods from 1960 onwards I have made many inquiries into the origin of this anthem, which probably dates back to 1800, but without success.

I first saw a manuscript copy about 1927 when Mr. John Lea, who kept a grocer's shop in Holmeswood and was a leading member of Holmeswood choir, showed me a copy. I wish I had taken more notice of it then. At present I cannot remember anything of it but please bear the name Lea in mind. On coming to take Mere Brow choir in 1935, I soon became used to singing "Behold" as it was done every Christmas, but we all sang it from memory. I sensed then that there might be discrepancies in the way we did it, and in 1940 Henry Moss (then Mere Brow Organist) and I each wrote out, independently, a copy of "Behold" as we thought it might appear. Both efforts were sadly out of order as I found out when I saw an "authentic" manuscript copy. In 1960 I again became interested in the anthem and was able to borrow from Thomas Ascroft, Holmes (of T. Ascroft & Sons, Mere Brow) a manuscript book bearing the title "James Lea's book, Burscough, March 22, 1859." His brother, Richard Lea, is also mentioned. This m.s. book contained about 20 easy anthems, including "Behold", all written out in pen and ink. Three of them, but not "Behold" had composers' names attached.

The name Lea on the manuscript book reminded me of John Lea and any possible connection. I wrote a letter of inquiry to the Ormskirk Advertiser but only Mrs Rimmer of Martin Mere replied. She was the previous owner of the m.s. book, which before belonged to her father, Thomas Mawdesley of Burscough, who knew James and Richard Lea (1859). All three played violin and cello. Mrs Rimmer had heard the name Fawcett mentioned as the composer but was uncertain if this was correct. She could also remember Mere Brow Men's Choir singing "Behold" at Derby Farm, Martin Lane, Burscough, many years ago - she was writing in 1960.

I have said there were three composers mentioned in the m.s. book. These were Messrs. Fawcett, T. Clark and J. King. J. Fawcett lived from 1789-1867, born in Lancashire, and was a chapel organist and wrote a lot of easy choir music. His tune "Melling" is No. 696 in the Methodist Hymn Book. Thomas Clark, 1775-1859, was born in Canterbury and also wrote a lot of music and has two tunes, "Crediton" (No. 565) and "Warsaw" (No. 606) in our hymn book. About this time the Rev. N. Catherall, who was Minister at Holmeswood, gave me four volumes of anthems published by Messrs. Pitman, Hart & Co., who flourished in the 19th century. These printed anthems were very similar in style to those in Mr Ascroft's m.s. book and, indeed, contained anthems by the three composers just mentioned, especially Fawcett. Now what intrigued me was that in their advertising pages Pitmam and Hart listed an anthem "Behold, a virgin shall conceive" by Thomas Jarman. I should say that none of the pieces in the m.s. book corresponded with any in Pitman Hart's collection, but the fact that the style was the same, and that three composers were common to both, prompted me to seek out Thomas Jarman's "Behold".

Jarman was a Baptist organist and choirmaster who was born at Clifstone in Northamptonshire in 1776 and died there in 1861. He wrote a great deal of early choral music and was well -represented in Pitman, Hart's collections. Now a word about the publishers. Joseph Hart was a partner in the firm of Hart and Fellows, music publishers in London from 1818-1830, and in business alone from 1830-1858. This name then disappears until 1881 when another music-publishing firm opened called Hart & Co. Frederick Pitman began music publishing in 1862 in London. He died in 1886 and the business continued under his name until 1900 when Hart & Co. (the "new" Hart) took it over. The business continued as Pitman, Hart & Co. until about 1960 when it was taken over by J. B. Cromer & Co. Of course, by 1980 all this music was long out of print. I wrote to Cromer's but they knew nothing of Pitman, Hart's early activities. I then wrote to the British Library (British Museum) but, although they had some of Jarman's early music, they had not got "Behold". Much more correspondence was entered into with the Baptist Music Society and many others, including the Methodist Music Society who did not reply to my letter, without getting any clue to Jarman's "Behold".

Then followed a new departure. Mrs. Porter, of Holmeswood, had half a manuscript copy of "Behold" which she lent to me and which I copied. This was written by her grandfather, Mr. Richard Hart, who died in the early 1920's aged about 83 years. This would give his birth at 1841. Also, I was talking to Mrs. W. Harrison, then of Tabby Nook and now of Banks. This Mr. Hart was also her grandfather. She told me that this Mr. Richard Hart had a well-to-do uncle who lived and died in London leaving no wife or family and who was buried at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, a relative having visited the grave. This made me wonder if this could be the Joseph Hart, music publisher, named before. He was publishing 1818-1858 when Richard Hart was a young man. It seemed curious that Richard should have a m.s. of "Behold". I have heard that the early Harts lived in Southport - there is a Hart Street there. Unfortunately, I got no further with my inquiries. I could not establish if Jarman's "Behold" is the same as ours. I hardly think he would have composed this as we know it - it is not a great piece of music.

After a hundred years of singing it without a score, it is no wonder that it has got corrupted. It would be possible to write it out and perform it with an organ part - neither "Behold" nor any other anthems in T. Ascroft's m.s. book had organ parts. Mr. Richard Eatough once arranged it for a 4-part choir, in the 1920's I think. All my enquiries were based on it being the same as Jarman's. If not, then my investigations are in vain. It might be useful if one could establish who the Mr. Hart was (his Christian name and profession) who is buried at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. I am convinced that our "Behold" has its origins round about 1800 and amongst the composers I have mentioned. Also, it would be interesting if Joseph Hart was, indeed, a forebear of the present Harts of Mere Brow".

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