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Thomas Hawkes of Williton, Somerset

Bob and Jacqueline Patten

Reprinted from an article in West Gallery no.2, April 1991.

Thomas Hawkes was born at Wiveliscombe, Somerset on 3 November 1786, and as a boy of ten went to Williton to serve his apprenticeship under the Steward to the Earls of Egremont, the Wyndams of Orchard Wyndham, Williton, who were substantial landowners in the county. After his apprenticeship he presumably worked as a journeyman before setting up his own business as land agent and surveyor. In 1818 he married a lady from Middlesex, London, and in 1821 their first son, also Thomas, was born. Next came Mary Ann, named after her mother, and at least a further five children. At the time of the 1851 census Thomas had quite a houseful: ten family members over three generations, a servant, and two unmarried female visitors from London. As these two ladies were the same age as Thomas junior, who was by then aged thirty, unmarried, and still at home, one can sense some matchmaking taking place; evidently it was unsuccessful as he was still single ten years later.

When Thomas set up his business in Williton is not known, but by the 1820s he was working for various local turnpike trusts, and for the Earl of Egremont: many surviving documents and maps are held by the Somerset Record Office at Taunton. By 1851 he had also acquired a farm of forty-eight acres employing three men and three boys, and one of his daughters was married to a farmer of 250 acres. After Thomas died on 9 July 1857, Thomas junior took on his father's business as land agent and surveyor, also adding auctioneer, but dropping farming.

In two paragraphs we hope we have drawn a brief sketch of a successful, hardworking, respected nineteenth- century businessman with a typically large family. What places Thomas Hawkes apart from many other such men was his deeper involvement with the Wesleyan Methodists. Thomas and Mary Hawkes are commemorated in a window of Williton Methodist Chapel, along with John and Mary Stoate, whose house was licenced for worship by Wesleyan Methodists in 1810. In 1833 Thomas published A Collection of Tunes, better known locally as Hawkes Tune Book.

Title page

In the four pages of preface he made a number of broad comments on church music, musical technicalities, and introduces the 'G Clef' devised by his collaborator, George Gay. He also made a number of specific comments, obviously based on his own experience. (The italics are Hawkes's):

'My object, therefore, has been to select, adapt and arrange in classes, a complete set of tunes for all the hymns in the Wesleyan Collection '(1)..'Some writers have condemned all fuguing tunes, especially those which repeat part of a line; but if this sentence were to be executed, some of the finest compositions in existence would be banished from the sanctuary. 1 very humbly venture to say, that such tunes, well adapted, may not only be tolerated as affording variety, but are extremely useful on some occasions to give life, vigour and more than ordinary expression to extraordinary services. The blame does not lie with the composer, but in those, who admiring his sounds without possessing his judgment, use the tunes to hymns which will not admit repetitions, without dividing the words and injuring the sense.

'A general feeling prevails in the Methodist Connexion in favour of CONGREGATIONAL SINGING ... but those who would thus join, should aquaint themselves a little with music' ... 'There are persons who having little or no knowledge of music, attempt to sing by following those who can sing correctly; and there are others, who anxious to help a little where they can, break in abruptly, and leave off in the same manner, to the great annoyance of those who have a cultivated ear.

'Good congregational singing can never be expected whilst the music is confined to the choir. The principal melody of a tune is soon learnt, and we frequently bear treble, tenor, and bass voices singing it in different octaves, whilst the other parts are wholly neglected, or filled with false harmony: but the bass and inner parts ought to be sung as accurately as the air, which can be done without the sight of the notes'

new G clefs
Barnstaple by Isaac Tucker, showing the G clefs devised by George Gay

'Soon after the Reformation in 1644, the assembly of divines at Westminster, published their directory, in which they suggested that as many in the congregations could not then read, it was convenient that the minister or some fit person appointed by him, should read the Psalm line by line before the singing thereof. The practice is however very injurious both to the words and music, and a great obstacle to the improvement of psalmody. This evil is only partially cured by giving out two lines at a time, as there is scarcely a hymn in the Wesleyan, or any other collection, having the sense complete in one line or two. Surely now Sunday Schools have been so long established, both for children and adults, those who will not learn to read, ought no longer to be indulged; and as Hymn Books are now so cheap that all may possess them, it is hoped, that a whole verse will in future be given out at once on all occasions; except the double Hymns, which, as they are sometimes sung to single tunes, by dividing the verses, should be given out four lines at a time.'

'Where there is no Organ some other Instruments are essential to guide the singers. Reed Instruments, if properly played, assimilate nearest to the human voice; but a good player either on the Oboe, Clarionet, or Bassoon, is seldom heard in a place of worship. For this reason the German Flute (2), being sweeter and softer, seems to be most generally preferred for the upper parts, and the Viola and Violincello for the under parts'...'IN RAISING THE TUNE, the practice of sounding the upper key note, and falling through several chords to the octave below, (which in many places of worship is done by all the instruments and voices) seems very objectionable'.

'THE POWER of several parts should be well proportioned; so that each may be heard without either being borne down. The Air or principal melody (which should be sung by treble voices) may be allowed to predominate in a small degree...'Those who are assigned to sing or play one part should not interfere with others, and on no account should the Bass or Tenor voices sing the parts intended exclusively for the Trebles. This is sometimes attempted in falsetto, but seldom to good purpose'.

Thomas Hawkes then concluded:

    'Inaccuracies will, no doubt, be discovered, for which indulgence is respectfully claimed; but having spared no pains or expense in the work, 1 now submit it to a generous public, with all possible respect and deep solicitude. T.H. WILLITON, June 24 1833'.

Hawkes Tune Book contains 565 tunes, 237 are by the 'best ancient authors' and 328 'were composed by modern and living authors, many of them purposely for the hymns to which they are set'. Numbered among the former is Thomas Shoel (1759-1823) of Montacute, Somerset. Thomas Shoel was an agricultural labourer, poet, and prolific composer. His sets of 'Joy to the World', and 'Hark What Mean These Lowly Voices' were sung around the village each Christmas Eve until early this century. Among the modern composers, some are known to us, and some identify their locations by their titles. Most of the titles of the tunes are devotional, but many are locational. For example Joseph Porter has six tunes included, of which five have west Somerset place names as titles such as 'Minehead' and 'Porlock'. A survey of the titles gives an indication of the locality of many of the composers, and Hawkes' Tune Book was a local production, largely for local consumption. Its region of influence probably did not extend greatly beyond the area defined by the locations of the contributors.

Thomas Hawkes Somerset locations

The most extensive contributor was William Besley with seventy-eight tunes, of which eleven had Devon titles, with another five from Cornwall, Somerset, and Wiltshire. In occasional flights of fancy he ventured further afield to 'Madras' and 'Glascow' for titles, but whatever possessed him to name tunes 'Final Doom' and 'Wrestling Jacob'(3) is not known. In equal second place, with forty-two tunes each, were George Gay, Hawkes's collaborator and organist at Corsham Chapel, Wiltshire, who included 'Corsham' and 'Williton', and Joel Thorne, a local man from the adjacent parish of Old Cleeve, who included half a dozen tunes with Somerset titles.

Better known to us is George Matthews (three tunes); born in 1782, George contributed 'Leighland Chapel', named after the chapel-of-ease at Leighland, Old Cleeve, where he led the church band for many years. He titled another tune 'Nettlecombe' after the next valley over the hill. Two of George's dance manuscripts have survived and we are proposing that the WGMA hear much more of his activities and music. From further afield came John Jones (thirty eight tunes), whose titles 'Neath Chapel' and 'Duffryn' suggest a link with south Wales, just across the Bristol Channel.

R. and J. Broderip (seven and five tunes respectively) used east and north Somerset placenames for many of their tunes:- 'Bruton', 'Mells', 'Binegar', and so on, while Samuel Gill (twenty-four tunes) had three from south Somerset: 'Henlade', 'Ashford', and 'Long Sutton'. We could go on, but we hope that we have demonstrated a geographical range centred on west Somerset, and spreading through the rest of Somerset, on into Wiltshire, and possibly, across the water to south Wales. Cornish place-names rarely occur, and Dorset and Gloucestershire are barely mentioned. This gives an area of influence with a radius of about fifty miles from Williton, slightly distorted by George Gay's influence at Corsham.

By way of circumstantial evidence, 150 years after publication, we have turned up references to Hawkes Tune Book at Wheddon Cross and Withypool in west Somerset, and at Carlingcott in north Somerset. At Carlingcott, an undated MS source had five of them identified as coming from 'the Selection', which could be cross-referred to Hawkes Tune Book, and a further thirteen which can be attributed to the same source. The Wesleyan Chapel at Carlingcott was founded in 1851 and in its heyday its band consisted of two cornets, a double bass, two 'cellos, five violins, and a pedal organ, accompanied by a choir of twenty-four. The band survived for over 130 years, during which time it had only three conductors - but that's another story!

Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Williton
Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Williton
Commemoration window
Commomeration Window
See inscription to Thomas Hawkes

We wish to acknowledge the assistance of Dr Glyn Court and the staff of Somerset Record Office in preparing this article. A copy of Hawkes Tune Book is available in the Emmanuel Greene Collection in Bristol Reference Library.

1) Editor's Note. Presumably A Collection of Hymns for the use of the People called Methodists, by the Reverend John Wesley, published in London in 1780, containing 525 hymns.   back

2) The 'German' or transverse flute was often specified in prefaces, doubtless to distinguish it from a fipple flute such as a recorder or whistle.   back

3) A tune of this name attributed to Samuel Sebastian Wesley first appeared in The European Psalmodist, edited by Wesley in 1872.   back

Music files:
Williton and Vision by George Gay
Absolution by William Besley
Binegar by J.Broderip
Bruton by R.Broderip
Long Sutton by Samuel Gill
Porlock by Joseph Porter


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