The name Ebenezer Beesley may be familiar from the Latter-day Saint hymnbook, as the composer of a number of our current hymn tunes. These include “High on the Mountain Top,” “Welcome, Welcome, Sabbath Morning,” and the sacrament hymn “Reverently and Meekly Now.”
Ebenezer Beesley was an Englishman, born in Bicester (Oxfordshire) in 1840, but grew up in Wooburn Green, Buckinghamshire (about 5 miles southeast of High Wycombe).
His musical abilities evidently developed from a very early age. It is said that when he was only 6, he could sing all the different parts of the songs being rehearsed by the choir which met in the Beesley home. Such was his talent that a group of local women apparently offered to provide the funds for him to become a chorister at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. His parents declined the offer, however, and shortly thereafter joined the Church.
Ebenezer’s parents had been Wesleyan Methodists before being introduced to the restored gospel. When they were baptised in 1849, they were the first local residents to join the Church, and Ebenezer’s father, William, was called as the first branch president for Wooburn Green. This was only the third branch of the Church to be organised in nineteenth-century Buckinghamshire, the first two being Edlesborough and Simpson in the north of the county. Despite considerable opposition from the local clergy, criticism in the local press, and almost half of the early members emigrating, the branch seemed to have thrived and remained in existence for at least the next twenty years.
Ebenezer was a shoemaker like his father. In the 1851 census, at only ten years old his occupation was already listed as ‘Shoe Closer.’ The next we knew of him was his marriage in March 1859 (age 18) to Sarah, the eldest daughter of the second branch president for Wooburn Green, Henry Hancock. Only eight days after their marriage the newlyweds were on their way to the Salt Lake Valley, leaving Liverpool on the William Tapscott with over 700 other new converts from Britain and Europe. They crossed the plains in the George Rowley handcart company, and Sarah reported that they suffered greatly from shortage of food and water, as well as the heat along the way.
Once in Utah, they settled in Salt Lake City and Ebenezer continued to work as a shoemaker, but was very active in various community musical groups, as he sang and played the violin and flute. He also composed songs for the Sunday School and the Juvenile Instructor. In 1880, he was called to be the director of the Tabernacle Choir and served in that position until 1889. He was one of a committee of five —which included Evan Stephens and George Careless —who compiled The Latter-day Saints’ Psalmody of 1889. This was the first official LDS hymnbook to include music as well as words, and more than a dozen of Ebenezer’s tunes were included.
But Ebenezer didn’t forget his origins. Among the hymns which we sing today, and for which he composed the music, are: “Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words” (a tune named “Bicester,” recalling his place of birth), “’Tis Sweet to Sing the Matchless Love” (a tune named “Hancock” —his wife’s maiden name), and “God of Our Fathers” (hymn no. 76), which he named “Wooburn Green” after the place where he grew up, first displayed his considerable musical talent, learned his trade, and met and married his sweetheart, Sarah.
This article is part of the https://www.lds.org.uk/church-history section.