Saturday, February 05, 2011

David Johnstone Beattie (1881 - 1964); author, hymnwriter and (Plymouth) Brethren historian from Langholm and Carlisle

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The beautiful town of Langholm in the Reiver country of the Scottish Borders is nicknamed 'The Muckle Toun' and is perhaps best known as the birthplace of poet and Scots language activist Hugh MacDiarmid (real name Christopher Murray Grieve). The last time I drove through there were some large entrance signs commemorating this connection. Langholm is also the southernmost point of one of the most beautiful driving routes in the British Isles - the A7 through the Borders to Edinburgh, which has some stretches which are just as spectacular as the famous Skyline Drive in Virginia.

A lesser-known Langholm man, David J Beattie, first came to my attention when I was sent photocopies of a small gospel song book entitled "Songs of the King's Highway", a collection of 77 songs he had written which was published by Pickering and Inglis. It was undated but from the typographic style it looked to be from around the late 1920s or early 1930s - the same era when Pickering & Inglis first published the mighty hymnbook Redemption Songs, and also Duncan McNeill's Hymn Book. Seven of the pieces in Beattie's book were in light Scots rather than standard English, and I have posted them over at Sacred Scotch Solos.

I picked up an original copy of the book a few years ago, and to my surprise inside was a pencil inscription "Author's copy, Beattie lived in Carlisle", along with Beattie's signature. In the introduction Beattie describes the American hymnwriter Charles H Gabriel as his 'intimate friend', to whom Beattie 'owed much for help and encouragement during many years of close friendship'. Gabriel wrote three melodies for the book.

There's an article here entitled 'Langholm's Forgotten Son' which summarises Beattie's life. He and his brother joined the family stonemason/monumental sculptors business in 1898; during and after the two World Wars the firm was responsible for many war memorials in the south of Scotland.

He belonged to the (Plymouth) Brethren and wrote occasionally for the Brethren publication The Believer's Magazine, including articles about Scotland's 1859 Revival. Even though Brethren assemblies/halls had begun in Plymouth and Dublin among (affluent) disaffected Anglicans in the early 1800s, it was post-1859 Revival working-class Scotland and Ulster that was a seedbed in which they really flourished. Beattie's historical account of the growth of the Brethren movement, entitled Brethren - The Story of a Great Recovery (published by Brethren publisher John Ritchie of Kilmarnock in 1939, who also printed some of my grandfather's poetry, is freely available online here), carefully details the intimate connections between the halls of Scotland and Ulster. It tells the stories of men like Jeremiah Meneely, so closely associated with the initial Kells and Connor epicentre of the Ulster 1859 revival and who later led evangelical missions in Ayrshire and Glasgow, where his Antrim voice must have preached the hamely message of his own self-penned hymn "There's a gran' time comin, o brither dear, whun Jesus will tak us hame'.

In between times Beattie wrote six other books which spanned his interests of local history, language, music, the stories of hymnwriters, as well as the history of the "wee halls" - Oor Gate En' (1915), Psalm Singing Among the Scottish Covenanters: A Lecture (pamphlet, 9 pages, Steel Bros. Carlisle 1915), Prince Charlie and the Borderland (1928), Oor Ain Folk (1933), Stories and Sketches of our Hymns and Their Writers (1934; the frontispiece photo of which is Ayrshire hymnwriter Anne Ross Cousin), The Romance of Sacred Song (1935; in the Preface of which he wrote that 'my bookshelves already groaned under the weight of volumes on this engrossing subject') and Lang Syne in Eskdale (1950).

For those of you with an interest in gospel music, his chapter How We Got our Popular Gospel Song is a fascinating read - available here. In it Beattie rhymes off a "Premier League" list of hymnwriters of his time:

"...Among writers who laid the foundation of American Gospel hymnody the following names are familiar: W. B. Bradbury, P. P. Bliss, Philip Phillips, Ira D. Sankey, James McGranahan, W. J. Kirkpatrick, Robert Lowry, George C. Stebbins, H. R. Palmer, D. W. Whittle, T. C. O’Kane, J. R. Sweney, W. H. Doane, Fanny Crosby, E. O. Excell and Charles H. Gabriel. Of this group of sweet singers, whose songs have been carried to the ends of the earth, Mr. Stebbins and Mr. Gabriel alone remain...." - it's significant that of the 16 he listed, a quarter of them (the ones I've marked in bold) all had Ulster connections.

Beattie also contributed a hymn to The Believer's Hymnbook - 'Assembled, Lord, at Thy Behest' (no 367), a book which is still used in the simple Sunday morning 'Breaking of Bread' meetings in Brethren-minded gatherings around the world; Beattie is named in the acknowledgements section at the front of the book.

Beattie died in July 1964 and his funeral service was held in Hebron Hall in Botchergate, Carlisle. The stonemasonry business still operates from the same building, now under different management, but is still called Beattie & Co, shown below.

If you know more about him which could be added to this post, please get in touch.


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5 comments:

Sue H said...

DJB was my mother's uncle. He and my Grandfather, Joseph Edward Beattie II, worked the business in Warwick Road.

MausC said...

David Johnstone Beattie was my grandfather. My mother was Constance Beattie. I loved the office at Warwick Road, my Aunt and two of my uncles worked there when I was little.
I now live in New Zealand, I was Maureen Proudfoot, now Maureen Crawford.

MausC said...

David Johnstone Beattie was my grandfather. My mother was Constance Beattie. I loved the office at Warwick Road, my Aunt and two of my uncles worked there when I was little.
I now live in New Zealand, I was Maureen Proudfoot, now Maureen Crawford.

MausC said...

David Johnstone Beattie was my grandfather. My mother was Constance Beattie. I loved the office at Warwick Road, my Aunt and two of my uncles worked there when I was little.
I now live in New Zealand, I was Maureen Proudfoot, now Maureen Crawford.

Stuart Tedham said...

My name is Stuart Tedham and I wrote the piece 'Langholm's Forgotten Son'for the E&L back in December 2009. I am glad that are people still intrested in him and his works.