To the lighthouse : more music of the sea

Grace DarlingWith songs to do with the sea still fresh in my mind after last week’s post, a reader enquiry about a particular song in the MusiCB3 collections brought Grace Darling (A1892.226) to my attention. This song by Felix McGlennon tells the story of Grace, and the part she played in the rescuing of survivors of the shipwrecked steamer SS Forfarshire.

The Longstone Light-house

The Longstone Light-House / Wikimedia Commons

Grace was the daughter of William Darling, who was the keeper of Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland Coast. The story goes that on the night of 7th September 1838, Grace spotted the wrecked Forfarshire from the lighthouse and set off with her father in a rowing boat to search for survivors, the sea being too rough for the nearest lifeboat to reach them in time. They saved nine people in the rowing boat, with another nine being picked up further out to sea by a passing sailing boat. Grace became something of a national heroine as news spread of the rescue effort, and her early death from tuberculosis a few years after the rescue at just 26 years old lent pathos to the story. McGlennon’s song is just one of many re-tellings, alongside poems by Swinburne and Wordsworth, and other songs.

Travelling from the very north of England to the very south, another lighthouse-related item from the nineteenth century sheet music collection is the Eddystone Galop (A1883.266).  The Eddystone Lighthouse, off the coast of Devon, has a history of being built and re-built, having been once destroyed by fire and once by the Great Storm of 1703. The current lighthouse, designed by James Douglass, is the fourth one to be built, and was first lit in 1882. As this piece is dated 1883, it seems probable that the wonderfully colourful title page illustration is of Douglass’ lighthouse. It does seem to match up with current photos of the lighthouse…it looks as though there have been changes made to the lamp, but the windows are definitely the same!

Eddystone Galop1

The Eddystone Galop / A1883.266

An earlier incarnation of the Eddystone Lighthouse (the third to be built) is the setting for another song in the UL’s collections. The Man at the Nore (A1871.3354) is a rather peculiar ‘Legend of the Briny Deep’, about a lighthouse keeper of Eddystone who married a mermaid, resulting in all sorts of family difficulties…

The Man at the Nore

There are yet more lighthouses to be found in opera: the Pendlebury holds a recording of Peter Maxwell Davies’s chamber opera The Lighthouse (CD.C.267). Like the Grace Darling song, this is inspired by a true story. Described by the ROH as an “atmospheric combination of a detective mystery and a ghost story” it is based on the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from the Flannan Isles Lighthouse in 1900. The Pendlebury also holds a vocal score of this (Pb.261.93D.L1) and there is a libretto at the UL (M463.c.95.52).


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3 Responses to To the lighthouse : more music of the sea

  1. Is this the song which ‘Uncle Matthew’ used to roar out in Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Pursuit of Love’? Some of the words were ‘Grace had an English heart …’.

    Liked by 1 person

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