Born 28th June, 1834, in Exeter, Baring-Gould was an antiquarian, novelist, travel writer and collector of folk songs. His childhood was spent traveling around Europe, due to his father's restlessness after an accident. However, he did manage to finish his education at Clare Hall, Cambridge. During this time he was known for his anti-establishment views and eccentricity. It is noted that whilst working at Hurstpierpoint College he taught with his pet bat perched on his shoulder.
Sabine finally settled into the life of rector of Lewtrenchard, and married a former mill-girl, Grace Taylor, in 1868, after first sending her away to be educated. This moved John Betjeman to write about him in admiration:
"What curate in an industrial parish in the North today would dare to single out a millgirl and have her sent to a place where she could learn to speak in an educated style and then marry her? "
Sabine's work as a rector enabled him to continue his love of travelling and he wrote many novels following his stay in a particular area.
The Frobishers, is his story of the Staffordshire Potteries, involving two sisters who are left penniless when their father dies. The older of the sisters, Joan, is too proud to accept charity and goes to work in the Potteries. She works amongst the lower class women, and is exposed to the horrors of lead poisoning for the first time. Although there is a happy ending for the two sisters, the towns of the Potteries are depicted as grimy and the houses as terraced slums. Sabine used the novel to expose the consequences of the Pottery trade on the health of the workers:
As one of the women workers states:
"If I am to die, let me die here where I've worked all my days, and where I've some friends. I don't want to be hustled away to die amongst strangers, just to accommodate Fennings and oblige Mangin."
"Why should you not go into the hospital here?"
"Because it would be reported as another case of lead-poisoning, and be brought home to Fennings' bank. They don't want to be blamed and get a bad name. It might get into the papers, and then the public might take it into their heads not to buy Fennings'ware, and think they'd done the virtuous thing, and go to sleep again. That is why they're ready enough to give me a sovereign to keep out of the way."
He also used his novel to illustrate his knowledge of the industry and its often treacherous outcomes for workers:
"Since 1894 it has been imperative to employ fans for the creation of a draught which shall remove the dust, by drawing it away."
"Again, in 1898, the Home Office issued rules, which, however, were not made compulsory, but were accepted by all the large firms and many of the smaller. Further rules were settled by arbitration in 1898, and came into force on January 1, 1899. If these rules be loyally carried out, and the operatives themselves are careful, then much of the mischief wrought by the lead and dust, as described in this story, will have come to an end."
"One admirable rule determined upon, is that a certified surgeon shall visit and examine all the women and young persons engaged in the dangerous processes once a month, and he is empowered to order suspension from employment. Moreover, no person under fifteen years of age is now permitted to be employed in any of those processes which are especially harmful to young constitutions."
Sabine had a varied and fulfilling career throughout his life. In 1916 his beloved wife died. They had fifteen children together. Sabine died in 1924, and was buried in his own churchyard at Lewtrenchard.
Those marked with an asterisk (*) are available in the West Midlands Creative Literature Collection:-
Arminell - a social romance (1891)
Bladys of the Stewponey *
Cheap Jack Zita
Gretter the outlaw - a story of Iceland *
Guavas the tinner * (1897)
Iceland: its scenes and sagas
In the roar of the sea - a tale of the Cornish coast * (1892)
Margery of Quether Mehala
Mrs Curgenven of Curvengen
Noémi - a story of rock-dwellers *(1899)
Perpetua - a story of Nimes in A.D.213 * (1897)
Queen of love
A sample chapter and the complete text of the following are available on this website.
Onward Christian soldier: A life of Sabine Baring-Gould, parson, squire, novelist, antiquary (1957) by William Ernest Purcell
Online information dedicated to the Sabine Baring-Gould folk song collection, with some biographical information.
News and books from The Sabine Baring-Gould Appreciation Society
Page created 19 June 2002 and last updated
22 March 2005
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