Henry Francis Lyte
was born in ‘The
Cottage’ in Ednam
on 1st June 1793,
the second son of
Lyte of the Royal
Marines and his
wife Anna Maria
Oliver. The family
lived for a number
years in Ednam,
but Captain Lyte
was drafted to
Ireland after the
rebellion in 1798
and the rest of the
soon after. Here
Henry and his older brother Thomas were entered as pupils
at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen. However, soon
after this the family broke up. Captain Lyte abandoned
his family and went to Jersey. His
wife and her youngest child George
moved to London where they both
soon died. What became of older
brother Thomas is uncertain. What
is clear is that at the age of nine,
Henry found himself alone without a
family to support him.
Fortunately the headmaster of Portora, Dr Robert Burrows, took pity on the young orphan. He recognised that Henry was a very able boy and took charge of him effectively adopting him, taking him into his family and paying for his continuing education at Portora.
Lyte worked hard and in 1809 he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Dublin where he studied Divinity. He was a brilliant scholar, and was also emerging as a talented poet winning the Chancellor’s prize for English verse three years in a row. He graduated in 1814. The following year he was ordained as a clergyman in the Episcopalian Church. He served first as Curate at Taghmon in Ireland but his health was fragile - he suffered for much of his life from lung trouble - and after a holiday in France and Italy for his health, he took up a post at Marazion in the gentler climate of Cornwall. It was here that he met his wife Anne Maxwell, daughter of a fellow churchman and they married in 1818.
In 1823 he became the curate of Brixham where he was a much loved minister for many years until his final illness. He worked hard, writing many hymns, prayers for the use of sailors, metrical versions of the Psalms, and books of mainly religious poetry. Some of his most famous works were Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven, based on Psalm 103, God of Mercy, God of Grace, based on Psalm 67 and of course the famous hymn Abide with me! which he wrote during his last illness.
Henry Lyte’s health had been poor for many years and he developed what in those days was called consumption – we would call it tuberculosis. Following a serious illness in 1839 he was ordered by his doctor to rest. He spent several winters abroad for the sake of his health but in 1847, on 20th November, he died at Nice in the south of France. Just before his departure from Britain he had started work on his greatest hymn Abide with me!. The final version was sent home from Avignon, shortly before his death. Since 1927 it has been sung every year at the F.A. cup final at Wembley Stadium.
Although he never returned to Scotland, Lyte never forgot his early childhood in Ednam. A plaque in Ednam churchyard commemorates his life.
Find out about the contribution people from Kelso have made through the ages. Biographies of characters with Kelso connections who have made their mark throughout the world.View Storyboard: Henry Francis Lyte