This undated cabinet card portrait was taken in the ancient shipping town of Gravesend, Kent, England. Gravesend is on the south bank of the Thames Estuary, about 21 miles (35 km) from central London. The photograph was taken at the studio of Frederick Charles Gould, who became known for images he captured of the many ships that came to Gravesend to load and unload passengers and cargo.
The man in the portrait isn’t identified. On the back, someone wrote a name with question marks: Mr. Francis Grandling??
According to Google and Ancestry, no record exists of any man named Francis Grandling! Either the name was misspelled on the photo, or I’m reading it wrong, or I didn’t search hard enough.
Having failed to find the good Mr. Grandling in the historical record, I wondered if the hymn numbers next to him might tell us something. Did he choose those hymns for a reason? Unfortunately, without knowing the year of the photo, it’s hard to be sure which hymnal the numbers were derived from. The hymnal may have been Hymns Ancient and Modern, used by the Church of England. Editions were published in 1861, 1875, 1889, and 1904. I’d guess that the cabinet card was made in the 1890s, which would mean that the 1889 edition was probably in use at the time. On the other hand, if the photo was taken before 1889, the 1875 edition would have been in use. Frustratingly, hymn numbers don’t correspond between the two editions. I looked at the relevant hymns in both editions online. Since the 1889 edition is more likely to be relevant, I’ll share some of what I found in it.
Of the five hymns listed on the board in the photo, only the first one (373) has a name: In Times of Trouble. The first verse:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Knowing that seafaring was a big part of life in Gravesend, my attention was immediately drawn to the reference to the sea in the verse above.
The second hymn in the photo is number 184. The fourth and final verse:
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyelids close in death,
When I soar through tracts unknown,
See Thee on Thy Judgment Throne:
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.
Tracts unknown seems to refer to a journey taken after death, but the words might have had special resonance for sailors heading out on a dangerous journey to distant lands.
The third hymn in the photo is number 193. The first verse:
Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy Bosom fly,
While the gathering waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last.
The fourth hymn in the photo is number 264. The first verse:
My God, my Father, while I stray,
Far from my home, on life’s rough
O teach me from my heart to say,
Thy will be done.
The fifth and last hymn in the photo is number 176. The first three verses:
How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
‘Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary rest.
Dear Name! the rock on which I build,
My shield and hiding-place,
My never-failing treasury fill’d,
With boundless stores of grace.
In the first verse, the theme of fear is introduced, but in the third verse, Jesus is the rock and hiding-place (refuge) of the believer.
After I read through the hymns, it seemed clear that they might have been selected to resonate with a seafaring congregation. I searched online again to see if I could find any more references to Gould, the photographer. I came across an interesting recent blog post by Graham Thompson, Archives Assistant at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. The title of the post is Pastoral care on the waterfront: The work of St Andrew’s Waterside Church Mission. A photo by F.C. Gould & Son is used to illustrate the text. Mr. Thompson writes:
While seamen have faced many dangers and uncertainties at sea, mission societies such as St Andrew’s have supported and cared for their welfare through religious services and the provision of books – both at sea and on land.
The isolation and anxiety felt by many during the coronavirus lockdown has been likened to the uncertainties routinely faced by seafarers. Many different mission societies have existed to support the welfare of individuals facing dangers and isolation at sea.
Among them was the St Andrew’s Waterside Church Mission, established in 1864 to serve the spiritual needs of merchant seamen, fishermen and emigrants passing through the Church of England parish of Holy Trinity at Milton-next-Gravesend. Its work among the waterfront communities of the River Thames was replicated at branches in ports at home and abroad before it merged with the Missions to Seamen in 1939.
Another quick search online turned up a description of the founding of St. Andrews Mission House. The description is so vivid and interesting that I’ve copied all of it below. The highlights are mine:
St. Andrews Church was built to serve Gravesend’s waterside community. In the mid 19th century, the river Thames just off Gravesend was alive with vessels of all shapes and sizes waiting to load cargoes, or passengers and emigrants heading for Australia, New Zealand and the Americas. Smaller boats supplied the everyday needs of the larger ships, and the crews of these boats lived with their families and livestock on board a collection of hulks and old barges moored just offshore. The priest of the local Holy Trinity Church, Rev C E R Robinson, looked upon these people as his parishioners and began visiting them. He also extended his services to the emigrants who lived on board their ship, often in appalling conditions, and often for weeks before they sailed. Over 600 baptisms are recorded for emigrants wanting to be blessed before their departure.
It soon became necessary to have a headquarters for the mission and the former public house, the Spread Eagle, was taken over. Services were held in the bar and classes taught in a small adjoining hut. Rev Robinson wrote to a London church newspaper asking for donations to help build a mission hall, and the daughter of Rear Admiral Francis Beaufort KBE responded.
Donations were received from other townsfolk including Charles Dickens. On St Peter’s day 1870 the foundation stone was laid and the church was finished and consecrated on St Andrew’s Day in 1871. Inside, the ceiling is constructed to resemble an up-turned boat. Memorials include one to Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated Arctic exhibition on board the Erebus and Terror which set out from Gravesend.
The primary missionary purpose of the church was transferred to Tilbury when the docks were built, but services continued until 1971 despite ongoing problems with damp. The Diocese of Rochester decided to close the church because of the cost of repairs, but it was rescued and purchased by Gravesham Borough Council in 1975 and transformed into an Arts Centre.
While it’s impossible to be certain without identifying him, it seems likely that the man in the portrait below was an organist and choirmaster at St Andrew’s Waterside Church.
This post became much longer than I intended, so I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into the history of Gravesend, inspired by a choirmaster and a set of hymns.