He was a clergyman, teacher, hagiographer, novelist and hymn-writer born in Okehampton, Devon, England, who began his studies in Warwick, England, but traveled throughout Europe with his family for much of the time. He is known to have stayed in the Basque region of Spain, France and Germany and when he returned to England he continued his studies at Clare College, Cambridge, graduating with an M.A. in 1860.
He became a curate, antiquarian, hagiographer (studied saints) and teacher. An avid collector of folk songs from his local area of Devon and Cornwall, he published collections such as A Garland of Country Songs and Songs of the West.
Working in collaboration with Cecil Sharp, who was also a collector, in 1907 they published English Folk Songs for School, which would be used in the classroom for the next 60 years. Very much and advocate of music in education he left his original manuscripts to be made available for future students to study them and are now housed in various Devon libraries and records offices.
In total he published over 500 works and is particularly remembered as a hymn writer and translator with his best-known works being Onward Christian Soldiers, Now the Day Is Over and Gabriel’s Message.
The manor that was his family’s home was rebuilt by him and now preserved as a hotel and it is here the manuscripts of his hymns are kept.
He wrote many novels such as Mehlalah, and non-fiction works that include The Lives of Saints, collections of ghost stories, folkloric studies of werewolves and one of his most popular works was Curious Myths of the Middle Ages.
As a teacher he was known for his eccentric sense of humour and once taught a class with his pet bat on his shoulder, but even with this kind of reputation he held the post of President of the Royal Institution of Cornwall from 1897 to 1907.
He and is wife, who had come from a less fortunate background and allowed him to “educate” her after their meeting, were married for 48 years and had 15 children and their story was the inspiration for Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and the later musical My Fair Lady. Their grandson William Stuart Baring-Gould was a noted Sherlock Holmes scholar who wrote a fictional biography of the detective.
He died in Warwick, England, on 2nd January 1924 aged 89.
St. Louis Chamber Chorus recordings
The Angel Gabriel (Traditional Basque/Sabine-Baring-Gould)
SLCC 04 (CD: St Louis Chamber Orchestra: A Spanish Christmas)
Arranger: Edgar Pettman
Conductor – Philip Barnes