Percy Dearmer

The Reverend
Percy Dearmer
Born Percival Dearmer
(1867-02-27)27 February 1867
Kilburn, England
Died 29 May 1936(1936-05-29) (aged 69)
Westminster, England
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford
Notable work
  • Mabel White
    (m. 1892; d. 1915)
  • Nancy Knowles (m. 1916)
Ecclesiastical career
Religion Christianity (Anglican)
Church Church of England
  • 1891 (diaconal)
  • 1892 (presbyteral)
Congregations served
St Mary-the-Virgin, Primrose Hill

Percival Dearmer (1867–1936), known as Percy Dearmer, was an English priest and liturgist best known as the author of The Parson's Handbook, a liturgical manual for Anglican clergy. A lifelong socialist, he was an early advocate of the public ministry of women (but not their ordination to the priesthood) and concerned with social justice. Dearmer also had a strong influence on the music of the church and, with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw, is credited with the revival and spread of traditional and medieval English musical forms.

Early life and ordination

Dearmer was born on 27 February 1867 in Kilburn, Middlesex, to an artistic family; his father, Thomas Dearmer, was an artist and drawing instructor.[1] Dearmer attended Streatham School and Westminster School (1880–1881), before going to a boarding school in Switzerland.[1] From 1886 to 1889 he studied modern history at Christ Church, Oxford,[1] receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1890.

Dearmer was made a deacon in 1891 and ordained to the priesthood in 1892[2] at Rochester Cathedral. On 26 May of that year, he married 19-year-old Jessie Mabel Prichard White (1872–1915), the daughter of Surgeon-Major William White. She was a writer (known as Mabel Dearmer) of novels and plays. She died of typhus[3] in 1915 while serving with an ambulance unit in Serbia during the First World War. They had two sons, both of whom served in the First World War. 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 incumbent 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-church clergy 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,[1] 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, therefore, safe from attack by Evangelicals who opposed such practices. Such adherence to the letter was considered necessary in an environment in which 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".[4] 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.[2] 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,[5] a sort of practical arm of the Alcuin Club and 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 the renowned composer Ralph Vaughan Williams as musical editor, Dearmer published The English Hymnal in 1906.[6] He again worked with Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw to produce 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 church.

In 1931 an enlarged edition of Songs of Praise was published.[7] It is notable for the first appearance of the song "Morning Has Broken",[7] commissioned from noted children's author Eleanor Farjeon. The song, later popularised by Cat Stevens, was written by Farjeon to be sung with the traditional Gaelic tune "Bunessan". Songs of Praise also contained Dearmer's version of "A Great and Mighty Wonder" which mixed John Mason Neale's Greek translation and a translation of the German Es ist ein Ros entsprungen from which the music to the hymn had come in 1906.[8]


It has been claimed, that Dearmer was secretly consecrated as a bishop on 15 August 1894 by Frederick George Lee and John Thomas Seccombe of the Order of Corporate Reunion. From 1909 to 1914, he was a member of the committee of the Society of St Willibrord[9] (founded in 1908 by George Barber to promote friendly relations between Anglican and Old Catholic churches and to prepare the way for full intercommunion between these churches).

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 affecting social change. During the First World War he served as a chaplain to the British Red Cross ambulance unit in Serbia, where his wife died of typhus in 1915.[10] 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.[11] Dearmer married his second wife, Nancy Knowles, on 19 August 1916.[12] They had two daughters and a son, Antony, who died in RAF service in 1943.

From 1919 to his death in 1936, he was a lecturer in ecclesiastical art at King's College, London.

Politically, Dearmer was an avowed socialist, serving as secretary of the Christian Social Union from 1891 to 1912.[1] He underscored these values by including a "Litany of Labour"[13] in his 1930 manual for communicants, The Sanctuary. After being appointed a canon of Westminster Abbey in 1931[14] he ran a canteen for the unemployed out of it.[15]

In addition to his writings, volunteer efforts and work with the church, Dearmer served as visiting professor at the Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1918–1919, and then as the first professor of ecclesiastical art at King's College London[12] from 1919 until his sudden death of coronary thrombosis on 29 May 1936, aged sixty-nine, in his residence in Westminster.[1] His ashes were interred in the Great Cloister at Westminster Abbey on 3 June.[1]

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.
  • Loyalty to the Prayer Book, 1904
  • 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. Fabian Tract No 133. London: 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 & Company. 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 (with Martin Shaw). 1913.
  • False Gods. London: A. R. Mowbray, 1914.
  • Monuments and Memorials 1915
  • 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 (with Martin Shaw), 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 Martin Shaw and 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 Martin Shaw and Ralph Vaughan Williams). Oxford University Press, 1928.
  • The Resurrection, the Spirit, and the Church. Cambridge: W. Heffer, 1928.
  • Lecture Notes for Lantern Slides Warham Guild, 1929.
  • 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.
  • Linen Ornaments of the Church (1929), digitised by Richard Mammana
  • 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?
  • Songs of Praise Enlarged Edition (with Martin Shaw and Ralph Vaughan Williams) Oxford University Press, 1931.
  • The Burse and the Corporals (1932)
  • The Server's Handbook, 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 1932.
  • Christianity and the Crisis. London: Gollancz, 1933.
  • Songs of Praise Discussed, A Handbook to the Best-known Hymns and to Others Recently Introduced (with Archibald Jacob) Oxford University Press 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.

Styles and titles

  • Mr Percival Dearmer (1867–1891)
  • The Revd (or Fr) Percival Dearmer (1891–1911)
  • The Revd Dr Percival Dearmer (1911–1931)
  • The Revd Canon Percival Dearmer (1931–1936)



Works cited

Bates, J. Barrington (2004). "Extremely Beautiful, but Eminently Unsatisfactory: Percy Dearmer and the Healing Rites of the Church, 1909–1928". Anglican and Episcopal History. 73 (2): 196–207. ISSN 0896-8039. JSTOR 42612398. 
Dearmer, Percy (1899). The Parson's Handbook (2nd ed.). London: Grant Richards. Retrieved 21 December 2017. 
Goodfellow, Ian (1983). The Church Socialist League, 1906–1923: Origins, Development and Disintegration (PDF) (PhD thesis). Durham, England: University of Durham. Retrieved 15 December 2017. 
Huelin, Gordon, ed. (1983). Old Catholics and Anglicans, 1931–1981. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-920129-7. 
Jones, Dorothy; Studwell, William E. (1998). "Percy Dearmer". Music Reference Services Quarterly. 6 (4): 59–61. doi:10.1300/J116v06n04_13. ISSN 1058-8167. 
Latham, Alison (2011). "English Hymnal". The Oxford Companion to Music (rev. 1st ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780199579037.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-957903-7. 
Piepkorn, Arthur Carl (1965). "Review of The Warham Guild Handbook: Historical and Descriptive Notes on 'Ornaments of the Church and of the Ministers Thereof' (2nd ed.) by T. W. Squires". Concordia Theological Monthly. 36 (3): 179. ISSN 0010-5279. Retrieved 16 December 2017. 
Southwell, F. R.; Barry, F. R.; Gray, Donald (2004). "Dearmer, Percy (1867–1936)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32763. 
Watson, J. R. (2015). "The Bible and Hymnody". In Riches, John. The New Cambridge History of the Bible. 4. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 725–749. doi:10.1017/CHO9780511842870.043. ISBN 978-0-521-85823-6. 
Wilkinson, Alan (1996) [1978]. The Church of England and the First World War (2nd ed.). Cambridge, England: Lutterworth Press (published 2014). ISBN 978-0-7188-4165-2. 

Further reading

Bates, J. Barrington (2003). "Review of Percy Dearmer: A Parson's Pilgrimage by Donald Gray". Anglican Theological Review. 85 (2): 391–392. ISSN 0003-3286. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
Chapman, Mark D. (2001). "Percy Dearmer: Liturgy and Justice". Theology. 104 (820): 271–276. doi:10.1177/0040571X0110400406. ISSN 2044-2696. 
Dearmer, Nan (1940). The Life of Percy Dearmer. London: Jonathan Cape. OCLC 2800142. 
Gray, Donald (2000). Percy Dearmer: A Parson's Pilgrimage. Norwich, England: Canterbury Press. ISBN 978-1-85311-335-2. 
Mews, Stuart (2002). "Review of Percy Dearmer: A Parson's Pilgrimage by Donald Gray". Theology. 105 (823): 84–86. doi:10.1177/0040571X0210500137. ISSN 2044-2696. 
Palmer Heathman, Katie (2017). "'Lift Up a Living Nation': Community and Nation, Socialism and Religion in The English Hymnal, 1906". Cultural and Social History. 14 (2): 183–200. doi:10.1080/14780038.2017.1290995. ISSN 1478-0046. 
"Percy Dearmer". London: St Mary-the-Virgin, Primrose Hill. Retrieved 15 December 2017. 
Yates, Nigel (1999). Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britain, 1830–1910. Oxford: Clarendon Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198269892.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-826989-2. 
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