Frances Havergal, a well-known hymn writer of the 19th Century.

Talk by Patsy Spiller
On 20
th February 2018

This meeting was held on the at All Saints Church, Leamington Spa.

Frances Havergal was born in 1836, the youngest daughter of a clergyman. Her home life was comfortable, she was well educated and musical, and had a lovely singing voice from her youth. However, it was a strictly evangelical household. No fairy tales, poetry, novels or plays (not even Shakespeare) were allowed, in case youthful imaginations should be led astray. Frances, however, was sensitive to natural beauty and landscape; in later life she came to love Switzerland, becoming a good climber and walker.

After her much older siblings married and left home, and her beloved dog died, she felt alone and increasingly questioned her spiritual life, finding it difficult to reconcile her love of nature with the sternness of God. She constantly worried that her attitude to God was wrong. Sadly her father moved to Worcester, where they had no garden; her father called her a “caged lark”. Luckily, she had a married sister to stay with. Her mother endured a long illness and Frances went to a French-speaking school, with an evangelical curriculum. She still felt sinful because she did not feel truly spiritual. A friend, Mrs. Cook, helped her by telling her to imagine that Jesus was standing next to her. Mrs. Cook later became the second Mrs. Havergal and Frances went to boarding school again; her relationship with her stepmother was sometimes difficult. She was academically good, becoming a writer of poetry and hymns, which she continued all her life. She visited her sister in Dublin and became close to the Irish and finding many good causes to support. She set up collections for Irish causes in Sunday Schools.

At 23 she became a governess. She earned money from her writings on religion and was in great demand for her beautiful contralto voice. Her father and stepmother came to live at 43 Binswood Avenue, Leamington Spa and she continued to live there after her father, to whom she had always been very close, died. She very much enjoyed a series of trips to Switzerland, where she loved walking and climbing in the mountains. She felt fitter, and, above all, closer to God. In her thirties she suffered from typhoid fever, which damaged her health. In Leamington she wrote religious books for children, and prayers for them to say, helped at Sunday School classes and ran a choir. She also visited patients in the Pump Room.

After her step-mother died in 1878, she went to live in Wales with her unmarried sister Maria. Here she threw herself into temperance work, but her health had been weakened and she died of peritonitis in 1879, at the age of 43. She is remembered for her poems and many popular hymns, especially “Take my life and let it be.”

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