28th January 1834 - 2nd January 1924
A classic Victorian polymath, Baring-Gould was, for many years, the Squire and Parson of family estate at Lewtrenchard in West Devon.
Blessed with a photographic memory and talent for languages, Baring-Gould spent the early years of his life and much of his education travelling the continent with his family.
At the age of seventeen he resolved that he would restore both the Manor house and the church at Lewtrenchard and encourage the spiritual development of the people. He wanted to enter the church, but his father would not allow him to do so, so after leaving Cambridge University he became a teacher until, in 1864, his father relented and allowed him to enter the church. He was ordained at Ripon and became curate to John Sharp, rector of Horbury in Yorkshire.
Sharp gave Baring-Gould the task of creating a church mission in the poorer part of the town, Horbury Brig. He was well liked in the district, where he set up an evening school and chapel. Hymns that he wrote, such as Onward, Christian Soldiers, quickly became favourites. While he was in Horbury Sabine met Grace Taylor, a teenage factory girl. Despite parental opposition on both sides, Sabine and Grace were determined to marry, and she went to York to live with relatives of John Sharp to learn middle class manners. They were married on 24th May 1868. The marriage was a great success, Sabine and Grace were married for 48 years, and had 15 children, 14 of whom lived to adulthood. Baring-Gould was devastated by Grace's death in 1916.
Baring-Gould moved to a parish of his own at Dalton in Yorkshire in 1867 and began writing to supplement his living. As well as novels, he wrote The Book of Were-wolves and Curious Myths of the Middle Ages. In 1870 he published The Origin and Development of Religious Belief, which caused outrage among Protestants, Anglicans and Catholics alike. The Prime Minister, W. E. Gladstone liked the book, corresponded with Baring-Gould, and offered him the Crown living of East Mersea in Essex.
Here he wrote many more works, including his fifteen volume Lives of the Saints and Mehalah, a novel likened by Swinburne to Wuthering Heights. Baring-Gould's father died in 1872, leaving him the estate at Lewtrenchard, but an elderly uncle was rector of the parish and so Sabine and his young family remained in East Mersea until 1881, letting out the manor house to support the family.
In 1881 Sabine Baring-Gould moved back to Devon to become the Parson and Squire at Lewtrenchard. He was enormously popular with his parishioners, and wrote over forty novels, sixty volumes of religious works, travel books and many general interest books as well as hundreds of articles for magazines. Much of the money from this work went to pay for repairs to houses and farms and to build new cottages on the estate. He also restored the church and the manor house.
He was interested in archaeology, and became a member of the Dartmoor Exploration Committee of the Devonshire Association, of which he was President for the year 1895. He was President of the Royal Institute of Cornwall from 1897 to 1907.
In 1888 Baring-Gould began collecting folk songs "from the mouths of the people", the activity that he wrote of as the greatest achievement of his life. He was helped by two more experienced musicians, Henry Fleetwood Sheppard and Frederick Bussell. Together they travelled around Devon and Cornwall, writing down songs as they heard them sung by the old country singers. He also collaborated with a number of the other song collectors of the time, notably Cecil Sharp but also Lucy Broadwood, Frank Kidson and George Gardiner. (Cecil Sharp's handwriting can be seen in the manuscript collection.)
Baring-Gould hoped his folksong collecting would "resuscitate the traditional music of the English", but to achieve this, it was necessary to edit them musically and to edit the texts to meet the expectations of the time, including the removal of overtly sexual material. Recognising that there might be interest in what he actually collected at some point in the future; he deposited copies of the songs and tunes in Plymouth Library so they were freely available to all. These volumes, known as the Plymouth Collection ('Fair Copy', 'Rough Copy Notebooks' and 'Plymouth Notebooks' are to be available on this site, as digital images, with the kind permission of Plymouth Libraries.)
Baring-Gould died in January 1924, a few days short of his ninetieth birthday, and is buried in Lewtrenchard churchyard, next to his wife.