By Godfrey Collyer

LAST Monday as I hurried across Watts Park the Civic Centre Clock chimed midday just as I passed Isaac Watts’ statue so I stopped for a few moments to listen to the bells play the tune St. Anne composed by the church organist William Croft and associated with Watts’ well known hymn, Our God, our help in ages past originally published in 1719.

Isaac Watts was born in Southampton in 1674. His mother was Sarah Taunton whose nephew Richard Taunton was the founder of the famous Southampton school. Richard Taunton and Isaac Watts were second cousins. Isaac’s father had married Sarah at Millbrook in September, 1673 and their early life together was difficult for Isaac’s father spent periods of time in prison for his religious views.

The family lived at 41 French Street where Isaac’s father ran a boarding school but the persecution of his father for his religious views forced its closure. Isaac was taught by his father until he was six then he attended the “Free School”, later known as King Edward VI Grammar School. His teacher there, John Pinhorne, recognised Isaac’s ability and saw great things ahead for him.

Watts’ ability had been recognised by many people in Southampton including the physician John Speed who along with others offered to pay for him to be educated at university. Isaac however chose to move away to London to study at the Nonconformist Academy at Stoke Newington Green.

In 1694 Isaac returned to Southampton for over two years where he joined in the life of the Independent congregation with his family. He told his father he was disappointment at the poverty of the psalms and canticles sung in the church. His father challenged him to do better. Throughout his childhood Isaac had been recognised for the quality of his verse and he brought those skills to the challenge. The outcome was the hymn Behold the glories of the lamb and thus began his life’s work, the writing of hymns.

While in Southampton Isaac considered the whole principle of hymn singing and in 1707 he published Hymns and Spiritual Songs which contained some of the most popular English hymns of all time. Isaac was a prolific writer and he penned about 750 hymns including There is a land of pure delight, which according to tradition came to him while gazing across the Test towards the New Forest

As the bells fell silent I continued across the park but the chimes had worked their magic for I was humming “Joy to the World” one of Isaac’s most popular hymns at this time of year. As I walked I realised why his hymns are so popular, they personalise our hymn singing and they entertain.

Godfrey Collyer is a local tour guide with