Churchyard Nature Note with Andrew Tompsett

December/January 2017

Marvellous Merritt

‘Hark the glad sound, the Saviour comes’

Christmas is a time when we welcome a new beginning and look forward to the future. The older generation may be thinking back to their early youth when large groups of carol-singers sang lustily around our villages, with a bit of luck, singers were invited inside to warm up and enjoy mince pies. Pam and I enjoyed this at an early age in Pevensey when we collected on behalf of the local children’s home, but this was abandoned when TVs became common, making our doorstep offerings inaudible to those inside!

I also remember joining collectors when Camborne Rotary Club toured the town with their illuminated Christmas tree on a trailer proclaiming (loudly !) the glad sound of Thomas Merritt’s familiar carol.

It is with a sense of pride and joy that our Christmas celebrations are greatly enhanced by his music which embodies the spirit of Cornwall, since we know that whilst we sing them, others of the Cornish diaspora are singing them in Australia, the USA, South America, and probably in rather different weather!

Thomas Merritt’s grave and white marble head stone may be clearly seen in the north-west corner of the St Illogan churchyard. Weather permitting, the St Illogan Church choir and hardier members of the congregation have gathered there around Christmas time maintaining a tradition to sing one of his carols, probably ‘Hark the glad sound ’. A wreath is laid and all are welcome to join in!

The musician Malcolm Arnold described Merritt’s music as full of joy without sentimentality, as shown in his carols, oratorios and a coronation march for King Edward VII, as well as a march based on a Russian national anthem. Merritt never travelled far from his home in Broad Lane whilst serving the churches and chapels of Pool, Illogan and Four Lanes. Whilst not as well known as he deserves nationally it is amazing that his music has travelled so far overseas.

Thomas Merritt was not strong and at the age of 18, when he became unable to undertake hard

work underground in the mines and tin streaming, he took up music full time as an organist and

choirmaster and composer, performing and teaching until his death in 1908 at the age of 46.

Sadly much of his music has been lost but soon, as the Cornish archives are reorganised in Redruth (the old brewery site), that which remains will be readily available and may stimulate further research into the work of this most talented musician son of Illogan laid to rest in our churchyard.


Andrew Tompsett