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Sabine Baring-Gould

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Sabine Baring-Gould

Sabine Baring-Gould
A portrait of the author.
Born 28 January 1834 (1834-01-28)
Exeter, England
Died 2 January 1924(1924-01-02) (aged 89)
Lew Trenchard, Devon, England
Occupation Anglican priest, landowner
Nationality British
Spouse Grace Taylor
Children 15
Relatives Edward Baring-Gould

Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould (28 January 1834 – 2 January 1924) was an English Anglican priest, hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist and eclectic scholar. His bibliography consists of more than 1240 publications, though this list continues to grow. His family home, Lew Trenchard Manor near Okehampton, Devon, has been preserved as he had it rebuilt and is now a hotel. He is remembered particularly as a writer of hymns, the best-known being "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "Now the Day Is Over". He also translated the carol "Gabriel's Message" from the Basque language to the English.


Sabine Baring-Gould was born in the parish of St Sidwell, Exeter on 28 January 1834.[1] The eldest son of Edward Baring-Gould and his first wife, Sophia Charlotte (née Bond), he was named after a great-uncle, the Arctic explorer Sir Edward Sabine.[2][3] Because the family spent much of his childhood travelling round Europe, most of his education was by private tutors. He only spent about two years in formal schooling, first at King's College School in London (then located in Somerset House) and then, for a few months, at Warwick Grammar School (now Warwick School). Here his time was ended by a bronchial disease of the kind that was to plague him throughout his long life. His father considered his ill-health as a good reason for another European tour.

In 1852 he was admitted to Cambridge University, earning the degrees of Bachelor of Arts in 1857, then Master of Arts in 1860 from Clare College, Cambridge.[4] During 1864, he became the curate at Horbury Bridge, West Riding of Yorkshire. It was while acting as a curate that he met Grace Taylor, the daughter of a mill hand, then aged fourteen. In the next few years they fell in love. His vicar, John Sharp, arranged for Grace to live for two years with relatives in York to learn middle class manners. Baring-Gould, meanwhile, relocated to become perpetual curate at Dalton, near Thirsk. He and Grace were married in 1868 at Wakefield.[5][6] Their marriage lasted until her death 48 years later, and the couple had 15 children, all but one of whom lived to adulthood. When he buried his wife in 1916 he had carved on her tombstone the Latin motto Dimidium Animae Meae ("Half my Soul").

Baring-Gould became the rector of East Mersea in Essex in 1871 and spent ten years there. In 1872 his father died and he inherited the 3,000 acre (12 km²) family estates of Lew Trenchard in Devon, which included the gift of the living of Lew Trenchard parish. When the living became vacant in 1881, he was able to appoint himself to it, becoming parson as well as squire. He did a great deal of work restoring St Peter's Church, Lew Trenchard, and (from 1883–1914) thoroughly remodelled his home, Lew Trenchard Manor.

Folk songs

He regarded his principal achievement to be the collection of folk songs that he made with the help of the ordinary people of Devon and Cornwall. His first book of songs, Songs and Ballads of the West (1889–91), was published in four parts between 1889 and 1891. The musical editor for this collection was Henry Fleetwood Sheppard, though some of the songs included were noted by Baring-Gould's other collaborator Frederick Bussell.

Baring-Gould and Sheppard produced a second collection named A Garland of Country Songs during 1895. A new edition of Songs of the West was proposed for publication in 1905. Sheppard had died in 1901 and so the folk song collector Cecil Sharp was invited to undertake the musical editorship for the new edition. Sharp and Baring-Gould also collaborated on English Folk Songs for Schools during 1907. This collection of 53 songs was widely used in British schools for the next 60 years.

Although he had to modify the words of some songs which were too rude for the time, he left his original manuscripts for future students of folk song, thereby preserving many beautiful pieces of music and their lyrics which might otherwise have been lost.

A Fair Copy of the folk songs he collected, together with the notebooks used for gathering information in the field, were given by Baring-Gould to Plymouth Public Library in 1914 and deposited with the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office in 2006. These, together with the folk-song manuscripts from Baring-Gould's personal library discovered at Killerton in 1998, were published as a microfiche edition in 1998. In 2011 the complete collection of folk song manuscripts (including two notebooks not included in the microfiches edition) were digitised and published online by the Devon Tradition Project in association with the English Folk Dance and Song Society as part of the 'Take Six' project undertaken by the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. It now forms part of the VWML's 'Full English' website. Thirty boxes of additional manuscript material on other topics (the Killerton manuscripts) are kept in the Devon History Centre in Exeter.

Cecil Sharp dedicated his English Folk Song—Some Conclusions to Baring-Gould.


Baring-Gould wrote many novels including The Broom-Squire set in the Devil's Punch Bowl (1896), Mehalah and Guavas, the Tinner (1897),[7] a collection of ghost stories, a 16-volume The Lives of the Saints, and the biography of the eccentric poet-vicar of Morwenstow, Robert Stephen Hawker. His folkloric studies resulted in The Book of Were-Wolves (1865), one of the most frequently cited studies of lycanthropy. He habitually wrote while standing, and his desk can be seen in the manor.

One of his most enduringly popular works was Curious Myths of the Middle Ages,[8] first published in two parts during 1866 and 1868, and republished in many other editions since then. "Each of the book's twenty-four chapters deals with a particular medieval superstition and its variants and antecedents," writes critic Steven J. Mariconda.[9] H. P. Lovecraft termed it "that curious body of medieval lore which the late Mr. Baring-Gould so effectively assembled in book form."[10]

He wrote much about the Westcountry: his works of this topic include:

  • A Book of the West. 2 vols. I: Devon; II: Cornwall. London : Methuen, 1899
  • Cornish Characters and Strange Events. London: John Lane, 1909 (reissued in 1925 in 2 vols., First series and Second series)
  • Devonshire Characters and Strange Events.

Baring-Gould served as President of the Royal Institution of Cornwall for ten years from 1897.[11]


Baring-Gould, along with his friend Robert Burnard, organised the first scientific archaeological excavations of hut-circles on Dartmoor at Grimspound during 1893. This resulted in the formation of the Committee of the Devonshire Association for the exploration of Dartmoor. The committee co-opted R. N. Worth, R. Hansford Worth, the Revd W. A. G. Gray and Dr Prowse.[12] Baring-Gould was the Secretary and author of the first ten annual reports until 1905. The Dartmoor Exploration Committee performed many archaeological digs of prehistoric settlements on Dartmoor and systematically recorded and in some cases restored prehistoric sites. The current state of many prehistoric stone rows and stone circles on Dartmoor owes much to the work of Sabine Baring-Gould and Robert Burnard and the Dartmoor Exploration Committee. Baring-Gould was President of the Devonshire Association for the year 1896.[13]

He wrote much about Dartmoor: his works of this topic include:

  • Dartmoor idylls (1896)
  • A Book of Dartmoor (1900), London : Methuen, 1900. Republished Halsgrove, 2002
Baring-Gould at age 5
Baring-Gould at age 35


He married Grace Taylor on 25 May 1868 at Horbury. They had 15 children: Mary (b. 1869), Margaret Daisy (b. 1870, an artist who painted part of the screen in Lew Trenchard Church), Edward Sabine (b. 1871), Beatrice Gracieuse (b. 1874, d. 1876, aged 2 years), Veronica (b. 1875), Julian (b. 1877), William Drake (b. 1878), Barbara (b. 1880), Diana Amelia (b. 1881), Felicitas (bpt 1883), Henry (b. 1885), Joan (b. 1887), Cecily Sophia (b. 1889), John Hillary (b. 1890), and Grace (b. 1891).

His wife Grace died in April 1916, and he did not remarry.

Baring-Gould died on 2 January 1924 at his home at Lew Trenchard and was buried next to his wife, Grace.

He wrote two volumes of reminiscences: Early Reminiscences, 1834–1864 and Further Reminiscences, 1864–1894.

One grandson, William Stuart Baring-Gould, was a noted Sherlock Holmes scholar who wrote a fictional biography of the great detective—in which, to make up for the lack of information about Holmes's early life, he based his account on the childhood of Sabine Baring-Gould. Sabine himself is a major character of Laurie R. King's Sherlock Holmes novel The Moor, a Sherlockian pastiche. In this novel it is revealed that Sabine Baring-Gould is the godfather of Sherlock Holmes.

Selected bibliography

  • The Book of Were-Wolves, being an account of a terrible superstition (1865)
  • Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (1866)
  • The Lives of the Saints – a sixteen-volume collection (1872 and 1877)
  • Mehalah, A Story of the Salt Marshes (1880)
  • The Village Pulpit (1886)
  • Red Spider (1887)
  • Grettir the Outlaw: a story of Iceland (1890)
  • In Troubadour Land: A Ramble in Provence and Languedoc (1890)
  • In the Roar of the Sea (1891)
  • The Tragedy of the Caesars (1892)
  • Dartmoor Idylls (1896)
  • The Broom-Squire (1896)
  • Curiosities of Olden Times (1896)
  • Domitia (1898)
  • A Book of The West: Being An Introduction To Devon and Cornwall (2 Volumes, 1899)
  • Pabo, The Priest (1899)
  • A Book of Dartmoor (1900)
  • A Book of Ghosts (1904)
  • Songs of the West: Folksongs of Devon & Cornwall (1905)
  • A Book of the Pyrenees (1907)
  • Devon (1907)
  • The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte (1908)
  • Cornish Characters (1909)
  • The Vicar of Morwenstow, being a life of Robert Stephen Hawker (1913)
  • Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe
  • Devon Characters and Strange Events
  • A First Series of Village Preaching for a Year
  • A Second Series of Village Preaching for a Year
  • Bladys of the Stewponey (1919)
  • Court Royal
  • Eve
  • John Herring
  • Iceland, Its Scenes and Its Sagas
  • Noemi
  • Sermons to Children
  • Sermons on the Seven Last words
  • Old Country Life
  • The Preacher's Pocket
  • The Mystery of Suffering
  • The Pennycomequicks
  • The Gaverocks
  • Urith
  • Village Preaching for Saints' Days


  1. ^ "Baring-Gould, Sabine". Who's Who, 59: p. 91. 1907. 
  2. ^ Graebe, Martin; "Devon by Dog Cart and Bicycle: The Folk Song Collaboration of Sabine Baring-Gould and Cecil Sharp, 1904–17", Folk Music Journal, Volume 9, Number 3, 2008, pp. 292–348, ISSN 0531-9684.
  3. ^ Wawman, Ron. "Early Family Correspondence of Sabine Baring-Gould", 2010.
  4. ^ "Gould (or Baring-Gould), Sabine Baring (GLT852SB)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  5. ^ "The Squarson". TIME. 24 June 1957. 
  6. ^ "A Marriage of Opposites" (PDF). Sabine Baring-Gould Appreciation Society. Archived from the original on 29 May 2008. Retrieved 20 May 2008. 
  7. ^ Sabine Baring-Gould (1897). Guavas, the Tinner. Methuen & Co., London. 
  8. ^ Curious Myths of the Middle Ages
  9. ^ Steven J. Mariconda, "Baring-Gould and the Ghouls: The Influence of Curious Myths of the Middle Ages on 'The Rats in the Walls'", The Horror of It All, p. 42.
  10. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, "Supernatural Horror in Literature", Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, p. 352; cited in Mariconda, p. 42.
  11. ^ Colloms, Brenda (2004). "Gould, Sabine Baring- (1834–1924)".  
  12. ^ "The Exploration of Grimspound – First report of the Dartmoor Exploration Committee" in Report & Transactions of the Devonshire Association., no. 26 1894, pp. 101–21
  13. ^ Report & Transactions of the Devonshire Association, no. 28 1896, p. 18.
  • Frykman, G. C. & Hadley, E. J. (2004) Warwick School: a History ISBN 0-946095-46-9
  • Purcell, William (1957) Onward Christian Soldier: a Life of Sabine Baring-Gould, parson, squire, novelist, antiquary, 1834–1924, with an introduction by John Betjeman. London: Longmans, Green

External links

  • Biography and hymns of Sabine Baring-Gould at
  • 'Songs of the West' – Sabine Baring-Gould and the Folk Songs of South-West England
  • , by Sabine Baring-GouldCurious Myths of the Middle Ages
  • Works by Sabine Baring-Gould at Project Gutenberg
  • Audio Librivox
  • Mehala full text at All Things Ransome
  • Archives of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (search for "Baring-Gould" in "collectors")
  • Sabine Baring-Gould Appreciation Society
  • Devon Tradition Project
  • by the BBCDevon Discovering DevonBiography from
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