And was Jerusalem builded here?

David Cameron recently said that his preferred English national anthem, for use at sporting occasions and the like, would be ‘Jerusalem’. (I agree: if you’re not going to have the theme tune of The Archers, then ‘Jerusalem’ is the best-available option.) And it turns out the history of the song is even stranger than I thought it was.

Let’s do this backwards.

In 1968 the song entered the public domain after the copyright on it expired, fifty years after the death of its composer, Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918). That copyright had been held by the Women’s Institute, and they held it because it was transferred to them by Parry’s executors in 1928, when the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was being wound up, thanks to the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act of the same year. And Parry had assigned the copyright to the NUWSS towards the end of his life because he was so pleased with Millicent Fawcett’s enthusiasm that his song should be, as she called it, ‘the Women Voters’ Hymn’.

Now we’re heading towards the bits of the story I didn’t know before today.

If you read the Wikipedia article, “And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time”, you learn that Blake’s text was rescued from comparative obscurity when it was re-published by the Poet Laureate, Sir Robert Bridges, in an anthology of poems, The Spirit of Man [pdf], in support of the war effort in 1916. And it was Bridges who suggested to Parry that it be put to music, specifically for a meeting of the Fight for Right campaign in March that year at the Queen’s Hall (which was later destroyed in the Blitz, which is why the Proms are now held at the Royal Albert Hall instead).

Now on the Fight for Right campaign, Wikipedia says this (in the article on ADTFIAT): ‘The aims of this organisation were “to brace the spirit of the nation, that the people of Great Britain, knowing that they are fighting for the best interests of humanity, may refuse any temptation, however insidious, to conclude a premature peace, and may accept with cheerfulness all the sacrifices necessary to bring the war to a satisfactory conclusion”’, which makes it sound like a crazy jingo campaign, and clearly on some level it was.

But it becomes more interesting when we add in this information, from tehgraun‘s Notes & Queries:

SIR Francis Younghusband was an imperialist (in India), a soldier and the conqueror of Tibet. Later, his views changed and he became a mystic, a friend of Gandhi and an idealist. On August 4, 1915, he published a letter in the Daily Telegraph, which ended: “We are engaged in a spiritual conflict – a holy war – the Fight for Right.” His words took off. By the end of August he had funds, helpers, an office and meetings up and down the country. He was supported by many well-known writers and public figures. Younghusband’s aim was to achieve something better and more lasting than a purely military victory…

And then there’s the stuff about Bridges and Parry and the composition of ‘Jerusalem’, and so on, adding the detail that Younghusband ‘hoped the sentiment would embrace all religions rather than just Christianity, but the movement fizzled out at the end of 1917, largely because of conflict between the jingoists and the idealists’. (It’s not hard to think of reasons why the Gandhians and the imperialists might have had a falling out, I suppose.)

Well, it was in 1917–after the slaughter of the Somme, before the final fizzling of Fight for Right–that Parry withdrew his song from this campaign and reassigned it to the suffragists. (Perhaps he wanted it to be attached to something?) And the rest, as they say, is (the at least slightly more familiar) history.

Patrick French’s Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (Flamingo, 1995) is apparently the place to go for more on this kind of thing. And “Jerusalem” is back in the news this month for happily non-David-Cameron-related reasons, because Prof. Jeremy Dibble at Durham has been reconstructing the original version of the song, whose first stanza was apparently scored for solo soprano.

27 May 1940: the RAF raids, um, RAF Bassingbourn (Cambridgeshire)

From the current LRB letters page (the whole thing is fun, but this in particular caught my eye):

On 27 May 1940 an RAF bomber, aiming for a German airfield in Holland, flew into a magnetic storm which disabled the compass. Completely lost, the crew identified the Thames as the Rhine and bombed an airfield in Cambridgeshire.

I did not know this. Andrew Etherington’s website has more:

RAF Bomber Command: 4 Group (Whitley). Bombing – Dortmund, Duisburg, Dusseldorf and Cologne.

10 Sqn. Eleven aircraft. Ten bombed. One enemy aircraft claimed destroyed by tail gunner. One bombed Bassingbourn in error…

The 11th crew from 10 Sqn, failed to find their primary target and bombed what was thought to be an airfield in Holland. This was not the case. After carrying out their bomb-run they set course for home, but after flying for some time, and when the Dutch coast failed to show up, it was thought that something was amiss. This was confirmed when W/T bearings indicated that the aircraft was over England and flying on a westerly course. With the aid of further W/T assistance they were able to scramble back to base. A re-plot of the sortie was instigated and the unfortunate conclusion was reached that the airfield they had bombed must have been British! This was confirmed when communications with Air Ministry revealed that the RAF airfield at Bassingbourn, near Cambridge had been attacked at the same time the No. 10 Squadron crew presumed they were bombing an enemy airfield. Luckily there had been no casualties and only slight damage at Bassingbourn. Subsequently the story got around that one of the bombs had hit the W/T rest hut at the side of the airfield, passing through one wall, over the top of a sleeping airman and out the over side before exploding. The said airman then woke up!

Repercussions followed. The unfortunate skipper was demoted to second pilot and he and his crew subjected to much leg-pulling by the other crews. This included the dropping of a home-made ‘Iron Cross’ constructed from a tea-chest lid and some brown coloured cloth, by one of the other 4 Group squadrons. It was addressed to ‘Herr von (name withheld) from a grateful Führer.’

During subsequent investigation it was discovered that the magnetic compass had been rendered U/S when the aircraft had flown through an electrical storm after crossing the English Channel on its outbound flight.

It looks as if this would have been a bomber based at RAF Dishforth in Yorkshire.

Britishness Agenda: Special Beaver Edition

This week has been a fantastic week for Gordon Brown’s “Britishness” agenda, as two events have united the people of Britain as almost never before.

First, the people of Britain came together to support Barcelona in the final of the Champions League (with the exception of a small handful in the Northwest of England). Second, we are (almost) all of us delighted to welcome a dozen Norwegian beavers into the wild (with the exception of a small handful within fifty miles or so of the beaver-reintroduction zone in Scotland).

I’m feeling fairly patriotic this week, at any rate, certainly much more than usual.

The Virtual Stoa Salutes The Bard Of Finisterre

Actually, I think the position of Poet Laureate is a silly one, and I hope Carol Ann Duffy doesn’t start writing dreadful poems about the royal family. (She may not, in fact, given her opinion that “No self-respecting poet should have to” write poems about Edward and Sophie of Wessex.) But her appointment is a permanent rebuke to those who struck Finisterre out of the Shipping Forecast seven years ago, and that’s a very good thing.


It’s not often we have a genuine celebrity visiting the comments boxes at the Virtual Stoa, especially now it’s in it’s post-only-once-a-month-or-thereabouts mode (sorry about that, these things happen), but Mike Chubb — the man who invented the Winterval, no less — just dropped by to comment on the Winterval-themed thread below, and because his remarks address important Winterval-related issues, I’m rescuing them from the obscurity of the comments thread and posting them over the fold. Oxford’s WinterLight event is on Friday: they’re going to re-open Bonn Square and stick up a funny solar system in Broad Street, or something. (Details over here.) And continue on for Mike Chubb’s thoughts on his magnificent creation…

Continue reading “Winterval!”

More British Values Day

As Simon points out in the comments to the post immediately below this one, there is confusion in ministerial ranks as to whether we are, in fact, going to be having a British Values Day after all. This page of the BBC is currently headlined “British Day idea ‘is still alive'”, but yesterday the same page was far gloomier about the future of British Values Day (more in line with this kind of report). Perhaps confusion about whether to have a Day on which to celebrate British Values is, in fact, a British Value? In other British-Values-Day-related news, I’m delighted to report that the Virtual Stoa is the top Google hit on the entire interweb for those searching for information about BVD, which is as it should be.

If you’re looking for adventure of a new and different kind / And you come across a Girl Scout who is similarly inclined / Don’t be nervous, don’t be flustered, don’t be scared — Be prepared!

There’s nothing new about Scouts getting sex education; Baden Powell wanted to include a passage on “continence” in the first edition of Scouting for Boys, but it was removed on the advice of the publisher. I’ve transcribed it from the appendix to Elleke Boehmer’s edition over the fold.

Continue reading “If you’re looking for adventure of a new and different kind / And you come across a Girl Scout who is similarly inclined / Don’t be nervous, don’t be flustered, don’t be scared — Be prepared!”