Percy Dearmer

Percy Dearmer

The Reverend Percy Dearmer MA (Oxon), DD, (February 27, 1867 – May 29, 1936) was an English priest and liturgist best known as the author of "The Parson's Handbook", an Anglo-Catholic liturgical manual. A lifelong socialist, he was an early advocate of the ordination of women, and very concerned with social justice. Dearmer also had a strong influence on the music of the church and, with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Dr Martin Shaw, is credited with the revival and spread of traditional and medieval English musical forms.

Education and ordination

Born in Kilburn, Middlesex, to an artistic family—his father, Thomas Dearmer, was an artist and drawing instructor—Dearmer attended Streatham School and Westminster School (1880–1881), before moving on to a boarding school in Switzerland. From 1886–1889 he read modern history at Christ Church, Oxford, receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1890.

Dearmer was ordained to the diaconate in 1891, and to the priesthood in 1892, at Rochester Cathedral. On May 26 of that year, Dearmer wed nineteen year old Jessie Mabel Prichard White (1872–1915), the daughter of Surgeon-Major William White. She was a writer herself, (known as Mabel Dearmer) of novels and plays rather than ecclesiastical and historical matters. They had two sons, both of whom served in World War I. The elder, Geoffrey, lived to the age of 103, one of the oldest surviving war poets. The younger, Christopher, died in 1915 of wounds received in battle.

"The Parson's Handbook" and vicarage at St Mary's

Dearmer's liturgical leanings were the product of a late Victorian debate among advocates of Ritualism in the Church of England. Although theoretically in agreement about a return to more Catholic forms of worship, High Churchmen argued over whether these forms should be appropriated from post-Tridentine Roman Catholic practices or revived from the traditions of a pre-Reformation "English Use" rite. Dearmer's views fell very much on the side of the latter.

Active in the burgeoning Alcuin Club, Dearmer became the spokesman for a movement with the publication his most influential work, "The Parson's Handbook". In this book his intention was to establish sound Anglo-Catholic liturgical practices—in the native English tradition—which were also in full accord with the rites and rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer and the canons that govern its use, and thus safe from attack by fundamentalists who opposed such practices. Far from persnickety, such adherence to the letter was necessary in an environment where conservatives such as John Kensit had been leading demonstrations, interruptions of services, and legal battles against practices of Ritualism and sacerdotalism, both of which they saw as "popery".

"The Parson's Handbook" is concerned with general principles of ritual and ceremonial, but the emphasis is squarely on the side of art and beauty in worship. Dearmer states in the introduction that his goal is to help in "remedying the lamentable confusion, lawlessness, and vulgarity which are conspicuous in the Church at this time". What follows is an exhaustive delineation, sparing no detail, of the young priest's ideas on how liturgy can be conducted in a proper Catholic and English manner.

In 1901, after serving four curacies, Dearmer was appointed the third vicar of London church St Mary-the-Virgin, Primrose Hill, where he remained until 1915. He used the church as a sort of practical laboratory for the principles he had outlined, revising the book several times during his tenure.

In 1912 Dearmer was instrumental in founding the Warham Guild, a sort of practical arm of the Alcuin Club / "Parson's Handbook" movement, to carry out "the making of all the 'Ornaments of the Church and of the Ministers thereof' according to the standard of the Ornaments Rubric, and under fair conditions of labour". It is an indication of the founders' outlook, emphasis and commitment to the English Use that it was named for the last Archbishop of Canterbury before the break with Rome. Dearmer served as lifelong head of the Warham Guild's advisory committee.


Working with renowned composer Ralph Vaughan Williams as musical editor, Dearmer published "The English Hymnal" in 1906. In collaboration with St Mary's organists Martin and Geoffrey Shaw, the pair later produced two more hymnals, "Songs of Praise" (1925) and "The Oxford Book of Carols" (1928). These hymnals have been credited with reintroducing many elements of traditional and medieval English music into the Church of England, as well as carrying that influence well beyond the walls of the church.

The 1931 edition of "Songs of Praise" is notable for the first appearance of the song "Morning Has Broken", commissioned by Dearmer from noted children's author Eleanor Farjeon. The song, later popularised by Cat Stevens, was written by Farjeon to be sung with a traditional Gaelic tune often used for Christmas carols.

Later years

For the fifteen years following his tenure as vicar at St Mary's, Dearmer served in no official ecclesiastical posts, preferring instead to focus on his writing, volunteerism and effecting social change. During World War I he served as chaplain to the British Red Cross ambulance unit in Serbia, where his wife died of enteric fever in 1915. In 1916 he worked with the Young Men's Christian Association in France and, in 1916 and 1917, with the Mission of Help in India. Dearmer married his second wife, Nancy Knowles, on August 19th, 1916. They had two daughters and a son, Antony, who died in RAF service in 1943.

Politically, Dearmer was an avowed socialist, serving as secretary of the Christian Social Union from 1891 to 1912. He underscored these values by including a "Litany of Labour" in his 1930 manual for communicants, "The Sanctuary". After being appointed a canon of Westminster Abbey in 1931 he ran a canteen for the unemployed out of it.

In addition to his writings, volunteer efforts and work with the church, Dearmer served as professor of ecclesiastical art at King's College London from 1919 until his sudden death of coronary thrombosis on May 29, 1936. His ashes are interred in the Great Cloister at Westminster Abbey.

Works written or edited by Dearmer

* "Christian Socialism and Practical Christianity". London: The Clarion, Ltd., 1897.
* " [ The Parson's Handbook] ". London: Grant Richards, 1899.
* "The Cathedral Church of Wells: A Description of Its Fabric and a Brief History of the Episcopal See". London: G. Bell and Sons, 1899.
* "The Cathedral Church of Oxford: A Description of Its Fabric and a Brief History of the Episcopal See". London: G. Bell and Sons, 1899.
* " [ The Little Lives of the Saints] ". London: Wells, Gardner, Darton and Co., 1900.
* "Highways and Byways in Normandy". Macmillan, 1900.
* "The English Liturgy". 1903.
* "The English Hymnal". 1906. (General editor.)
* "The Training of a Christian According to the Prayer Book and Canons". London: A.R. Mowbray, 1906.
* "Socialism and Christianity". London: The Fabian Society, 1907.
* "The Ornaments of the Ministers". London: A.R. Mowbray, 1908.
* "Socialism and Religion". London: A.C. Fifield, 1908.
* "The Reform of the Poor Law". London: A.R. Mowbray, 1908.
* "Body and Soul: An Enquiry into the Effect of Religion on Health". New York: E.P. Dutton, 1909.
* "Everyman's History of the English Church". London: Mowbray, 1909.
* "Fifty Pictures of Gothic Altars". London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1910.
* "The Church and Social Questions". London: A.R. Mowbray, 1910.
* "The Prayer Book: What It Is and How We Should Use It". London: A.R. Mowbray, 1910.
* "Reunion and Rome". London: A.R. Mowbray, 1911.
* "Is "Ritual" Right?" London: A.R. Mowbray, 1911.
* "The Dragon of Wessex: A Story of the Days of Alfred". London: A.R. Mowbray; Milwaukee: The Young Churchman Co., 1911.
* " [ Everyman's History of the Prayer Book] ". London: Mowbray, 1912.
* "Illustrations of the Liturgy, being Thirteen Drawings of the Celebration of the Holy Communion in a Parish Church, by Clement O. Skilbeck". Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1912.
* "The English Carol Book". 1913.
* "False Gods". London: A.R. Mowbray, 1914.
* "Russia and Britain". Oxford University Press, 1915.
* "Patriotism and Fellowship". London: Smith, Elder, 1917.
* "The Art of Public Worship". Bohlen Lectures, 1919.
* "The English Carol Book", 2nd ed. 1919.
* "The Power of the Spirit". Oxford University Press, 1919.
* "The Communion of Saints". London: A.R. Mowbray, 1919.
* "The Church at Prayer and the World Outside". London: James Clarke, 1923.
* "Eight Preparations for Communion". London: SPCK, 1923.
* "Songs of Praise"(with Ralph Vaughan Williams). Oxford University Press, 1925.
* "The Two Duties of a Christian: For the Use of Enquirers and Teachers". Cambridge: W. Heffer and Sons, 1925.
* "The Lord's Prayer and the Sacraments: For the Use of Enquirers and Teachers". Cambridge: W. Heffer and Sons, 1925.
* "Belief in God and in Jesus Christ". London: SPCK, 1927.
* "The Truth about Fasting: With Special Reference to Fasting Communion". London: Rivingtons, 1928.
* "The Sin Obsession". London: E. Benn, 1928.
* "The Oxford Book of Carols" (with Ralph Vaughan Williams). Oxford University Press, 1928.
* "The Resurrection, the Spirit, and the Church". Cambridge: W. Heffer, 1928.
* "The Legend of Hell: An Examination of the Idea of Everlasting Punishment". London: Cassell, 1929.
* "The Communion Service in History". London: Church Assembly, 1929.
* "The Eastern Origins of Christian Art and Their Reaction upon History". London: Sampson Low, Marston and Co., 1929.
* "The Sanctuary, A Book for Communicants", London: Rivingtons, 1930.
* "The Urgency of Church Art: "Spiritual Truth Conveyed by Means of the Outward". London: 1930.
* "The Escape from Idolatry". London: Ernest Benn, 1930.
* " [ Some English Altars] ". Introductory Note by Percy Dearmer. London: Warham Guild, 1930-1944?
* "The Server's Handbook", 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 1932.
* "Christianity and the Crisis". London: Gollancz, 1933.
* "Our National Church". London: Nisbet and Co., 1934.
* "Christianity as a New Religion". London: Lindsey Press, 1935.
* "Man and His Maker: Science, Religion and the Old Problems". London: SCM Press, 1936.

ee also

*English Hymnal
*The Parson's Handbook


*Gibson, Paul. Review of "Percy Dearmer: A Parson's Pilgrimage". "Anglican Journal", April 2001.
*Hawes, John (1999). [ Rubrics and riddel-posts] . Retrieved December 8, 2005.
* [ Percy Dearmer] . Retrieved December 8, 2005.
* [ St Mary-the-Virgin, Primrose Hill] . Retrieved December 8, 2005.
*Southwell, F. R. and F. R. Barry, "Dearmer, Percy (1867–1936)", rev. Donald Gray, "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, 2004.
*Yates, Nigel (1999). "Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britain, 1830–1910." Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826989-7.

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