Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sabine Baring-Gould : Famous Devonshire man

Sabine Baring-Gould is a name few, if any will recognise, but he is a remarkable Victorian man who left a lasting legacy.

A clergy-man by profession, he was born in Exeter, Devon in 1834 and remained in Devon the latter half of his life. Educated at Cambridge, he lived to the age of 89.

During his life-time he was not only a clergyman but he was also a novelist and writer, folk song collector, hymn writer and scholar. He is probably most famous for writing the Christian hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers".


Baring-Gould was the author of many fiction and non-fiction publications and was considered to be in the top ten authors of his time, yet few people have heard of him now and his works are little known. He wrote around 1240 different publications in his life time including ghost stories including "The book of Werewolves" and "The Bideford Witches and other stories".

His most famous non-fiction work is probably "Curious Myths of the Middle Ages." In it he details his research into many different myths such as the Holy Grail.

His most famous novel is probably Mehalah which has been compared to Wuthering Heights. He also wrote an interesting novel called "Winefred" based in the Devon seaside town of Seaton. The novel includes a fictional version of the real life smuggler Jack Rattenbury and a brilliant description of a famous land-slip that happened near Lyme Regis during his life-time.

Some of his works are available as e-books at the internet archive here.

Folk Song collector

Baring-Gould was a collector of folk songs in Devon and Cornwall and amoung English folk circles is quite famous for it. He realised that unless these songs were written down they would be lost forever. However, some of the words to some of the songs were too explicit for Victorian society so he changed them to make them more acceptable.

His book "Songs of the West: Folk songs of Devon and Cornwall" is available today here for digital download and used by many folk artists today.

Baring-Gould collaborated with another famous folk song collector Cecil Sharp to produce a number of folk song books.

Married Life

Baring-Gould married Grace Taylor the daughter of a mill hand. For her, the match would have been very advantageous and she was sent away for two years to relatives to learn middle class manners. The couple remained married for 48 years until her death, and had 15 children.

The marriage must have been successful because Baring-Gould had "Half my soul" inscribed on her tombstone.

Other interesting facts

His collection of books: Baring-Gould accumulated a large amount of books during his life and these are kept in Exeter at the stately home "Killerton House", now owned by the National Trust. The oldest is a title from the time of Henry VIII.

Baring-Gould Society: There is a Baring-Gould Society in Devon who regularly meet. There website is here.

Baring-Gould Folk Festival: Every year at the end of October in Okehampton,  Devon is the Baring-Gould Folk Festival. Details here.

Jenna Dawlish

Jenna Dawlish is the author of two Victorian novels partly set in Devon.


  1. Fascinating, Jenna. What a long time it took for Grace to learn middle class manners. She'd be the subject of a tv documentary today!

  2. I loved reading about this fascinating man--thank you!


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