25 August 2022

Waterstones opens a new
chapter in Lichfield and
celebrates Samuel Johnson

The new Waterstones bookshop in Lichfield pays homage to Samuel Johnson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

James Boswell recalls how Samuel Johnson advised him one day ‘to have as many books about me as I could; that I might read upon any subject upon which I had a desire for instruction at the time.’

For many years now, I have mourned the loss of the Staffs Bookshop, which had been trading in second-hand books in Lichfield for over 65 years. Gone too are the new and second-hand book sections in the former Cathedral Shop in the Cathedral Close.

Lichfield is well-served by the antiquarian bookshelves in the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum on the corner of Market Street and Breadmarket Street, opposite the Market Square, and there is a good Oxfam second-hand bookshop in in Market Street.

But Lichfield was without a good bookshop for far too long until Waterstones opened a new shop is opening in Lichfield this summer.

After taking part in the Lichfield Peace Walk as far as Farewell, earlier this week, I took my first opportunity to visit the new Waterstones in Lichfield, which opened in May in the former Dorothy Perkins unit on Market Street.

A display of Penelope Lively’s ‘The Road to Lichfield’ in (1977) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

It is so appropriate that the windows include a display of Penelope Lively’s The Road to Lichfield (1977), her first adult novel which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

As Waterstone’s was opening, Luke Taylor, the company’s retail director, said: ‘We are delighted to confirm that Waterstones will be opening a bookshop in Lichfield. We have long hoped to open a shop in this historic and popular city and have now found a great location for our bookshop.’

The unit had been empty since the closure of all Dorothy Perkins sites across Britain last year. Waterstones officially opened its Lichfield branch at 35 Market Street on 20 May.

David Hemming of Burley Browne who undertook the negotiations with Waterstones said there had been a huge amount of interest in the property. ‘Not surprisingly, we had several other good quality companies interested, including coffee shops, and restaurant operators. However, because it is such an important unit in the city centre, our client wanted to make sure we had the right sort of occupant that suited the location.’

He added: ‘Waterstones ticked all the boxes and fits in really well with Lichfield’s strong mix of independent shops and national chains. The restaurant and leisure market is also strong. It was that variety that Waterstones really liked.’

Of course, there is no shortage of coffee shops, restaurants or charity shops in Lichfield. But the city badly needed a good bookshop for far too long.

Adding to the literary associations with Lichfield, the shop is immediately opposite the Samuel Johnson Birthplace on Market Place and close to the Library in Old Saint Mary’s, making it a natural destination for all readers.

Waterstones in Lichfield has a full display of local history books by local writers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The shop is decorated throughout with a variety of apt quotations from Samuel Johnson in each section. I was particularly delighted to find a full display of local history books by local writers, including books by my friends Kate Gomez and Joss Musgrove Knibb, former editior of CityLife In Lichfield, and books on Samuel Johnson and Erasmus and Charles Darwin.

Already, the new Waterstones has had a number of book signings and readings. Ian Moore was there yesterday (24 August) signing his book Death and Fromage, and in June there was a lunchtime book signing with the Revd Richard Coles for his new book, Murder Before Evensong.

Waterstones was established 40 years ago by Tim Waterstone in 1982 and is now part of the British cultural landscape, employing over 3,000 booksellers across more than 280 bookshops.

As Britain’s last surviving national bookshop chain, it has fought off the perceived threat of e-readers and online competition to begin a programme of active expansion.

Coffee with an old friend in the Coffee House on Breadmarket Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Later, I bumped into an old friend and we decided to have coffee in the Coffee House on Breadmarket Street, sitting in the widow and enjoying life passing by on the streets of Lichfield.

The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum next door is covered in scaffolding as restoration work continues. But part of the screen on the scaffolding close to the Coffee House and Boomers displays a poem on scaffolding by Seamus Heaney that is popular at many weddings:

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

Seamus Heaney celebrated on the scaffolding between the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum and the Coffee House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Thursday 25 August 2022

‘God, that madest earth and heaven, / Darkness and light; / Who the day for toil hast given, / For rest the night …’ darkness descends on the River Thames and London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘For the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’ (Matthew 24: 44) … darkness envelops Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Gospel reading in the Lectionary of the Church of Ireland today is:

Matthew 24: 42-51 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 42 ‘Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

45 ‘Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked slave says to himself, “My master is delayed”, 49 and he begins to beat his fellow-slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. 51 He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Today’s reflection: ‘God that madest earth and heaven’ (‘Ar Hyd Y Nos’)

For the last thee mornings this week [Monday to Wednesday], I was listening to his Three Preludes Founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes. These three organ solos are based on Welsh tunes that Vaughan Williams had already arranged for hymns in the English Hymnal, which he edited with Canon Percy Dearmer.

Vaughan Williams’s father, the Revd Arthur Vaughan Williams, came from a family of Welsh origins that had distinguished itself in the law. And so, this morning [25 August 2022], I continue this Welsh theme, listening to the hymn ‘God that madest earth and heaven,’ which Vaughan Williams arranged for the English Hymnal (1906) to ‘Ar Hyd Y Nos,’ a Welsh melody, dating from about 1784.

‘Ar Hyd y Nos’ is a Welsh folksong sung to a tune that was first published in Edward Jones’s Musical and Poetical Relics of the Welsh Bards (1784). The metre is 84 84 88 84.

The Welsh lyrics were written by John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-1887), and the song is highly popular with traditional Welsh male voice choirs, and is sung at festivals throughout Wales.

It has been translated into several languages, including English, and is best known as a children’s lullaby in English by its second line translating the Welsh title, ‘All Through the Night.’

The tune is often used for other hymns such as ‘Go My Children With My Blessing,’ and Fred Pratt Green’s ‘For the Fruit of All Creation.’

The hymn ‘God that madest earth and heaven,’ which Vaughan Williams set to ‘Ar Hyd Y Nos’ in the English Hymnal (1906) (No 268), is a composite two-stanza hymn, in which Stanza 1 was written in 1827 by Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826) and Stanza 2 in 1838 by Archbishop Richard Whately (1787-1863).

Reginald Heber was Bampton Lecturer in Oxford and Rector of Saint Luke’s, Hodnet, in north Shropshire and the Diocese of Lichfield, before becoming Bishop of Shropshire. While Heber was Rector of Hodnet, tradition says, he was staying one night in a Welsh house when he heard a blind harper playing this melody, and he was so taken by it he immediately wrote the first stanza.

The second stanza is a free translation by Richard Whately of the prayer Salva nos, Domine from the office of Compline in The Book of Common Prayer: ‘Preserve us, O Lord, while waking, and guard us while sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.’

Richard Whately was Archbishop of Dublin from 1831 to 1863. He was born in London, and educated at Oriel College, Oxford. He was the Bampton Lecturer in Oxford (1822) and Principal of Saint Alban’s Hall, Oxford (1825), before becoming Archbishop of Dublin in 1831.

In 1860, he published his Lectures on Prayer, which included several translations of German hymns by his eldest daughter, Emma Jane Whately. His youngest daughter, Blanche, was also a hymn writer. He died in Dublin on 8 October 1863.

The two stanzas were brought together in their present form in 1838. The hymn is included in the New English Hymnal (No 245), and in a slightly amended version with a harmonisation by Dr George Hewson in the Irish Church Hymnal (No 67).

God, that madest earth and heaven (NEH 247):

God, that madest earth and heaven,
Darkness and light;
Who the day for toil hast given,
For rest the night;
May thine angel guards defend us,
Slumber sweet thy mercy send us,
Holy dreams and hopes attend us,
This livelong night.

Guard us waking, guard us sleeping;
And, when we die,
May we in thy mighty keeping
All peaceful lie:
When the last dread call shall wake us,
Do not thou, our God, forsake us,
But to reign in glory take us
With thee on high.

‘Holy dreams and hopes attend us, / This livelong night’ … night-time at the end of a working day in a restaurant in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Thursday 25 August 2022:

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘The Pursuit of Justice.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Javanie Byfield and Robert Green, ordinands at the United Theological College of the West Indies.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the Church in the Province of the West Indies. Bless them in all they do as they serve communities across the Caribbean.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org