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Marianne Farningham Hearn (1834 – 1909)

from “Marianne Farningham Hearn, A Centenary Souvenir” by M.L.Brice and A.W.Groves

More about Marianne Farningham Hearn and her hymns including “Just as I am, Thine own to be


A hundred years ago on December 17th the birth of a daughter brought great joy to a little home in the Kentish village of Farningham. A month later little “Polly” was taken to the village Chapel and during the interval between services was put to sleep on the table in the” singing-pew.” Interested friends gathering round joined in simple prayer for the baby and in a wondrous way those prayers were answered—For that baby became “Marianne Farningham” a name which was destined to be a blessing to thousands in England and abroad.

Marianne Farningham appealed to a very wide public through her writings week by week in The Christian World, to an ever extending circle by her writings in, or later by her editorship of, the Sunday School Times; to numbers of people up and down the whole of England and Wales by her “Lectures”; and to the people of Northampton through her truly wonderful Bible Class.

The great influence Marianne Hearn exerted during her life was very remarkable, especially when the simplicity of her home and the very real struggle that she encountered to obtain any school education is considered. Her father, Joseph Hearn, was a small tradesman—her mother’s father a paper maker and also a preacher of great force and originality. The home influence was a very beautiful one. Marianne felt she owed much to the example of her mother’s lovely life, cut short far too soon by consumption, and to the force of her father’s prayers—his petition for her usually ending: “Bless dear Polly and grant that she may find favour with Thee and with those with whom she may come in contact”—this inserted because “Polly” was so much plainer and less interesting looking than her brothers and sisters.

Another influence in the home was her father’s mother who loved beautiful words and the stringing of them together and who taught Marianne to read before she was six—her only lesson book being the Bible which, with Ann and Jane Taylor’s Moral Songs, comprised the children’s library. Thus she learned to read but further schooling presented a great difficulty. There was the National School certainly, but members of the little Baptist Chapel would have considered it a greater sin to send the children there than to leave them uneducated. A dame-school in the next village solved the problem for a short time—and the minister’s daughter helped her with her writing, for already the urge was on her to put down some of the thoughts that came to her in that beautiful world of fancy in which, for the most part, she lived. About this time too there came into her hands a copy of Felicia Hemans’ “Better Land”. .This lit the flame which never after went out. But better days were dawning, for the British and Foreign Bible Society opened a “British School” and to her great joy “Polly” was allowed to attend Her time there was cut short all too soon by the early death of the beloved mother.

Hard times came for the little twelve-year-old girl— all the housekeeping and looking after the three other children with only very occasional school attendances and she did so much want to learn. Not that book learning came easily to her—she loved nature better and the out of doors. But learning she was determined to have and the summer saw her at her books before five o’clock, and in winter she worked after being sent to bed, keeping herself awake with cold strong tea saved from tea time. However, it was one of her life-long regrets that she had had so little schooling, though she must have made good use of all she had, for afterwards she became a teacher in British Schools in Bristol, Gravesend and Northampton.


The beginning of Miss Hearn’s recognition as a writer is rather amusing, for having written rhymes for friends’ birthdays and local happenings, which her minister scornfully criticised, he one day lighted on some of her lines which he pronounced beautiful, not knowing who was the author. Thus encouraged she sent verses to the Gospel Magazine entitled “Music in Heaven,” which she says “I knew all about in those days “. Other editors accepted her verses which she signed Echo—then The Christian Cabinet accepted a poem of ninety lines called “Let us pray “—and as this paper was later incorporated with The Christian World this really was the beginning of her connection with that weekly.

The name “Marianne Farningham” was first used with the verses published in the first copy of The Christian World, brought out on April 9th, 1857. These verses were the beginning of that wonderful series written for that paper week after week almost without a break for over fifty years. After a few months a prose article was also contributed weekly and later something especially for children. When one realises that in less than ten years the circulation of The Christian World rose to over a hundred thousand per week no wonder that her name became a loved one to a huge circle of readers.

Three years after the publication of The Christian World, The Sunday School Times appeared. It was a marvelous production for the half-penny charged for it, and it had a large circulation especially among the villages in the North of England. Marianne was responsible for many articles, later becoming its editor, and perhaps the very last article written by her was one in anticipation of its jubilee which was celebrated the year following her death.

Soon after the appearance of the first number of The Christian World, Miss Hearn took a post as Teacher at Gravesend largely to help the home finances, and later moved to Northampton as Head of the Infant Department of the British School. She was drawn to Northampton for one reason, because she was told that there she could Listen to a man ” who preached like a prophet and prayed Like a seraph “—the Rev. John Turland Brown, and she became a member of his church and found much inspirition for her writings from his sermons and prayers.

Happy years followed for teacher and taught. Miss Hearn and the Mistress of the Girls’ Department, Miss Gordge (afterwards Mrs. Euren) were devoted friends; but, she was finding more and more work for her pen, so much so that Mr. James Clarke The Christian World editor advised her to give up teaching and devote herself entirely to writing. The question now was, should she remain in Northampton or go to live at some more intellectual centre? While she was still undecided, the teacher of the Senior Girls’ Class at College Street Chapel, who for health reasons was giving it up, asked Miss Hearn to take her place. This she consented to do until such a time as a better teacher could be found. No such teacher was ever found, as may well be imagined, and though her first Sunday was a humiliating experience for her, she was soon enthroned in the hearts of her class, and her love for them was undoubtedly a strong reason for her not leaving the town.

Her Sunday Class, however, was only the beginning, for her main work was to get into touch with her girls in the week. First, at her sister’s, where she had a good sized room, and later in her own home, space was often taxed to the uttermost to provide accommodation for the girls who came for her week-evening gatherings. These took the most varied forms, perhaps the memories that lingered longest were of the sacred times of consecration and communion.

There was always plenty of fun and then a lovely ending of hymn singing and family prayer. But whatever it was or where ever they were, it was her intense love for girls that gave her such a hold over them—no girl could be with her without knowing that and feeling she expected the very best from her.

Of all the activities in connection with the Class it is impossible to speak, but in days long before “Tours and Cruises,” Miss Hearn was annually taking parties of her girls away—generally to the sea thus opening for them a new world in the appreciation of beauty in every form.


Miss Hearn’s talks to her class made her realise that she had a special gift for speaking to large audiences and in 1877 she gave the first of that series of lectures by which she was able to inspire so many and gain for herself friends all over the country. The first one was given in the Hall of “The Useful and Religious Knowledge Society” in Gold Street, Northampton, and was entitled “Women of To-dày” and it attracted a large and appreciative audience. The most popular one was” The Rush and Hush of Life ;” but, for some years, each winter saw her ready with a new title. Sometimes the lectures were given in Halls, sometimes in Chapels, and then she wondered if the minister might disapprove of her, as she always aimed at soon raising a laugh, partly to get herself into happy relationship with her audience and also to test if she was being heard.

All this time she was getting more and more of her work into print, so it was a great marvel that with this and all the travelling and fatigue involved in her lecturing, she managed, with very few exceptions, to get back to Northampton in time to take her class on Sunday.

Her lecturing brought her many thrilling experiences, the most tiresome one happened when, on her way to Wales, the train was held up in a snowdrift for forty-eight hours, and. to get on at all she had to walk across the snow-dad hills, to be greeted on her arrival by a scolding for not keeping faith with her public. For the most part the adventures added to the zest of life, and she much enjoyed seeing so much of England and made hosts of friends, including the workman for whom she wrote a letter home, and who insisted on its ending with “Please excuse bad writing and spelling “.

In her writing the one great difficulty each week was to find the right subject and those of us, who, at any time were privileged to share her life, realised the relief it was when the start was made. But then came the excitement of getting the work off to London in time for Thursday’s paper. At Barmouth often I remember standing at the foot of the stairs ready to start off at a run immediately the precious envelope appeared, and this was what happened when she wrote, perhaps, her most popular verses: “Will anyone then at the beautiful gate be waiting and watching for me?” She could not get her inspiration till almost the last minute, but it came, and the verses got to the office in time, as they always did.

Her writings were kept fresh and interesting by her journeys for her lectures, particularly as she was a good traveller. Thus she saw many of the natural and architectural beauties of Great Britain, but she loved most the countryside and homely villages each with its little chapel to which she loved to go.


A few year’s later came the first of several trips to Switzerland and when in 1889 she had a bad collapse and was ordered away for at least three months, the chance to see something of Italy was taken. The mere enumeration of the places she visited astounds one, and she revelled in the beauty of it all.

Later still a great friend invited Miss Hearn to go with her to the Holy Land, and the present writer had the privilege of being one of the party. It was a thrilling experience to go such a journey and in such company!

The trip took place before there were railways in Palestine, so that once having landed at Jaffa we had to do the journey on horseback—an enjoyable experience for the younger people but much too tiring and trying for both Miss Hearn and her friend. There were no carriage roads then, so it had to be, and despite the fatigue she enjoyed it all, greatly looking forward to sharing her experiences. Sadness, however, clouded the end of the trip. The friend succumbed a few days after the return, to typhoid, contracted in Damascus, and the promised lectures were never delivered.

Perhaps her happiest times were spent at the Barmouth cottage—a spot for many of us steeped in happy memories. She so loved the glorious views, the mountains and the sea, the gorgeous sunsets, the flowers in the spring-time, the wind on the hillside above the cottage. She came in touch with many interesting people there—Mrs. Talbot, from whom she rented the cottage, friend of Ruskin with whom she played chess by post card, Miss Frances Power Cobbe, a pioneer in the Women’s Movement and many others. Several parties of her girls enjoyed all the glories with her.

Little has been said of her writings outside her work for The Christian World, but at least six collections were made of her poems and brought out in book form. She wrote several biographies—” Grace Darling,” “David Livingstone,” “General Gordon,” “Queen Victoria,” among others and several books of stories for children. Then there was one novel “A Window in Paris,” based on the experiences of personal friends during the siege. Little books of helpful thoughts for people of all ages also appeared, but her most popular work was one called “Girlhood “, really just the summing up of her experiences with her Bible Class, and last but not least came her delightful autobiography which she called “A Working Woman’s Life “.

All through her days Miss Hearn was interested in good causes, and was thrilled by the beginnings of the Salvation Army, the inception of the Christian Endeavour Society, the Boys’ Brigade, the Crusade in the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (started by her friend, Rev. Benjamin Waugh), and the stand made for Temperance Teaching, which she strongly advocated as a member of the Northampton School Board. She did much work in connection with the Sunday School Union, indeed all efforts for the uplift, especially of young people, were dear to her heart.


The Bible Class.


The ever-increasing popularity of Miss Hearn’s Class which in numbers soon outgrew the allotted space in the gallery, and which for perhaps fifteen years occupied the front pews in the chapel, made her eager for a room big enough to accommodate it, and it was largely as the result of her activities that our Young People’s rooms were built.

From the time when the foundation stones of the buildings were laid we did our best to help to meet the cost, and we were proud when they were completed to be able to hand over £100 to the Treasurer. Our efforts were wonderfully supported, for, in response to an appeal in The Christian World we received sufficient money to furnish the room. One of Miss Hearn’s North Country friends gave the carpet for the platform, a piano was purchased, and lastly Messrs. James Clarke & Co. provided us with a library of good popular books.

Blessed Sunday afternoons followed! The room was usually full, and sometimes the front of the platform provided the extra seats needed. The hour passed all too quickly, and we liked to linger afterwards for the individual word which meant so much to us.

Later, Miss Ashton, young, fresh and enthusiastic was persuaded to co-operate with Miss Hearn in visitations and in conducting the class during her rather frequent absences. She was loyally supported and for eight years she was not only an acquisition to the class, but a strength to our revered leader.

The Tuesday evening meetings continued to be held at Miss Hearn’s home, No. 12, Watkin Terrace, where there would be perhaps fifty of us, Henceforth, however,the Birthdays were celebrated at College Street, the Upper Hall being lent for the fun after tea, which fun “the little teacher” enjoyed as much as any of us. The last birthday party was that of December 17th, 1900, though the class generally didn’t know that it would be the last, for there were to be no farewells.

Mrs. Bogle succeeded Miss Hearn as the leader of our class. In 1902 Mrs. G. J. Moore joined her, until in the following year Mrs. Bogle retired. Mrs. Moore retained the Presidency for some years, and then the two Women’s Bible-classes were merged into one, presided over by Mrs. D. R. Owen who held it until in 1914 she left Northampton.

Now, having once more been beautified, the room is again the meeting-place of College Street Women’s Bible class—which includes a small remnant of Miss Hearn’s class, under the able leadership of Mrs. S. Lievesley. During the week, it is used for other meetings of a devotional character, and, our Minister, Rev. Hubert W. Janisch has requested that because of its sacred associations it should be the women’s prayer and meeting room.


This “Centenary Souvenir” would not be complete without a word concerning Miss Hearn’s home-life. Those of us who knew her intimately saw her at her best, when she had leisure to sit by the fire and read an up-to-date book, or join us in a game of bagatelle, or entertain her friends—And how many called her friend! Her sympathy with others in all kinds of sorrow and difficulty was wonderful. She had truly,

“A heart at leisure from itself To soothe and sympathise”.

She loved music, and when her niece—our present College Street Choir leader—was there and could sing to her she was especially happy. Her love of family was strong; she was devoted to her sister and her brother and their children, and though she had great anxieties concerning them and sad bereavements, they were a joy to her. During her later years three of her nieces shared her home and cared for her as she had cared for them when they were younger Her eldest niece helped her with her Sunday School Times work.

Of these last years there is not a great deal to be said except that they were busy. Though the Bible Class and other activities had been given up, each week brought more than sufficient literary work. “A Working Woman’s Life” was begun and a new volume of poems entitled” Harvest Gleanings and Scattered Fragments” was published in 1903. This was to be the writer’s last, but a few years later “Lyrics of the Soul” appeared.

The writing of” A Working Woman’s Life” was not done quickly. As Miss Hearn could be spared from Northampton she was often away, spending part of each year at Barmouth. A month in Cornwall in 1903, and another month at Bassenthwaite in Lakeland in 1907, remain vividly in my mind. It was at Bassenthwaite that the postman every day brought a batch of the proofs of the ” Life ” to be corrected. In this year too, and when Alderman Poulton was mayor, there was a memorable gathering of her fellow-citizens in the then New Council Chamber of the Town Hall to do her honour and to present her with a cheque to which not only her Northampton friends, but many who knew her best as “Marianne Farningham” had contributed. The money was useful, and the honour done her by the town to which she had given the best of herself touched her deeply.

The Spring and Summer of 1908 were spent at the Barmouth Cottage, but, our friend had lost her usual vitality, and after her return home, she gradually sank into invalidism. She remained with us through the winter, but when Spring came she begged to be taken back to Barmouth. She had her desire, but, in less than a week after her arrival she had gone—

“Where Everlasting Spring abides, And never withering flowers”

This was March 16th, 1909. The funeral service at College Street Chapel was conducted by Dr. Charles Brown, assisted at the grave by our former minister, the late Rev. P. H. Smith.

And so passed Marianne Farningham Hearn, whose name may be forgotten but whose influence will never die, because her life was one of consecrated service, and she had brought so many to the feet of their Saviour. She was a very humble Christian. Almost the last words she said to me were “There are some of you, who have never made a name as I have, who will be given a higher place in the Kingdom than I; but, I shall not mind, I shall be content to take the lowest place “.

A fitting tribute to one whose personality and consistently Christian character and loyalty had so endeared her to the church at College Street was the erection of a bronze tablet to her memory in the chapel, and a brass one in “Miss Hearn’s Room “. The unveiling service during the ministry of Rev. Morison Cumming, in the presence of relatives and friends who remembered her and loved her was such as she herself would have approved, and through the generosity of readers of The Christian World her room had been re-decorated and made to look as fresh as when it was first opened.

So, we praise God for the life and work of Marianne Farningham Hearn.

“I beckon you, the young the strong, Tis good to hear your cheery laughter; Come onward still, with joy and song, Nor dread what’er shall follow after, Face life with trust, and not with fears, God rules the years “.



© Copyright : Graham Ward. All rights reserved.