Odd bedfellows

I came across a thread on a Facebook group recently which threw up a fascinating story quite unexpectedly. One of the members of the group was looking for alternative settings of hymns and canticles to unexpected tunes. One of my particular favourites was a setting of O Jesus I have promised to the theme tune of  The Muppet Show (I have a very vague recollection of singing this at secondary school!), and apparently there’s a setting of the Te Deum to When the foeman bares his steel from The Pirates of Penzance (try it and see). I’m sure that MusiCB3 regulars can come up with lots of other suggestions.

I mentioned that some years ago, I had used the tune of On Ilkley Moor baht ‘at for While Shepherds Watched. It had proved to be surprisingly popular both with the choir and the congregation. I’ve known On Ilkley Moor since I was a small child. My grandfather, who could be rather gruesome, used to sing it with great relish, especially the more grisly sections; and I was confident that it was a well established Yorkshire folk-song. The truth however turned out to be rather different….

Cranbrook, KentWikimedia Commons

Cranbrook, Kent
Wikimedia Commons

The tune was composed by a shoe-maker, Thomas Clark, and was named after a town in his native Kent, Cranbrook. The tune became a staple of the Methodist church, and there is a belief that it was paired at an early stage with Nahum Tate’s Christmas hymn; though it was first published partnered with Phillip Doddridge’s “Grace ’tis a charming sound”.

Once paired together the partnership swiftly became extremely popular. A choir trip from Kent took the tune to Yorkshire, where it was quickly embraced by northern choirs. But it was on a day-trip to Ilkley Moor, reputedly by a choir from Halifax, that the hymn tune would suddenly develop a new life when the choir (as choirs do) began to improvise new words to the tune; and so On Ilkley Moor baht ‘at was born.

There’s a rather strange coda to the tale for this particular blogger. I was surprised by the story, having always believed that On Ilkley Moor was a traditional tune. I was even more surprised however when I discovered that it had connections with the Kent town of Cranbrook. Most of my family are from S Wales, a small number are Huguenot, but an even smaller number come from a (then) small town in Kent – Cranbrook.

A very Happy Christmas and a Joyous New Year to all readers of MusiCB3 wherever you may be. Join us again in 2017.


Creative commons




About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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2 Responses to Odd bedfellows

  1. Lucas says:

    “O Jesus I have promised to the theme tune of The Muppet Show” I’ve just run that through in my head – what a piece of genius!!


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