Canon Harford found sweet music to be good for the souls

MARVELS OF THE MINSTER: A Victorian curate went on to carve a special niche in the use of music, as DAVID MORGAN explains

Frederick Harford had wide-ranging artistic skills. This portrait is now in the British Museum collection

What’s your favourite piece of music?

It might be one that you have enjoyed for many years or may be you recently encountered something new? Of course, it can depend on your mood.

Music has the ability to raise the spirit, soothe a troubled mind and, indeed, invoke many memories. Some people use calming music to settle them into a night’s slumber. We might disagree with each other’s choices but for the vast majority of us, music is an integral and important part of our lives. None more so than when we are feeling under the weather when music has the potential to lift us.

Over the last hundred years music, has played an increasingly important role in helping the healing process. It is widely acknowledged that music can help to bring you out of a dark place. Patients who have lost much of their ability to recall recent events can be stimulated to remember earlier times in their lives through songs of their youth.

One of the people responsible for realising the therapeutic and healing use of music was Rev F K Harford. He ended his ecclesiastical career as a Minor Canon at Westminster Abbey. Frederick Kill Harford had begun his career at Croydon Parish Church, where he served his curacy from 1856 to 1858.

Born in 1832, his unusual middle name was from his father’s paternal grandmother, Francis Kill. Frederick was the second son in this well-to-do household at 22 Royal Crescent, Clifton, one of Bristol’s most desirable neighbourhoods.

Harford is best-remembered for his musical work, including many hymns

He was educated at Rugby School and in 1850 entered New Inn Hall at Oxford to read Classics. He was awarded a BA in 1855 and his MA three years later. After his two-year curacy here in Croydon, he was appointed as Chaplain to the Bishop of Gibraltar.

In 1861 he was appointed as a Minor Canon at Westminster Abbey, where he remained until his death in 1906. While holding the post of Minor Canon, Frederick was also priest at St Margaret and St John the Evangelist, Westminster 1881 and secondly at the Close of the Collegiate Church of St Peter, London, in 1901.

Harford was always interested in the arts. In a diary written in 1859 by Maria Fox Trickett, who lived near the Hardfords in Clifton, she describes how, “Mrs Harford sent Mama a Poem by her son beautifully got up in Medieval style and called ‘The Martyrs of Lyons and Vienne’, by the Rev Frederick Harford MA.”

Harford returned to visit his Gloucestershire roots for many years. In the burial records of the District of Frenchay in the Parish of Winterbourne, Gloucester, Rev Harford is recorded as carrying out a funeral service in 1860 and again in 1868, when he officiated on two separate occasions. It would not be beyond reason to think that these were people known to the family who specifically asked Harford to return and take the funeral service.

A talent for writing verse is a recurring theme throughout his life. When at Rugby he won a school prize for writing a poem about the River Niger. As a clergyman, Harford turned his attention to hymn-writing. A  collection was published in 1894 entitled Hymns for the Passing Hours, to suit family worship.

Gustav Dore’s Christ quittant le prettoir.  The French artist spent 10 years on this work, with much of the thinking behind the scene offered by Harford

An accomplished musician, his hymns were arranged for one, two or three parts. Frederick collaborated with the eminent London composer Sir Frank Bridge, who set Harford’s words to music. Heavenly Babe, List afar! What Angel Voices and Joy ye people, great and small are three of their hymns.

Harford also wrote a book about epigrams which was published in 1890.

And he also came to think that music had healing and soothing qualities. In the early 1890s he founded and developed the Guild of St Cecilia’s in London. Chapters of his Guild would gather in groups of 10 or so to play in hospitals and other medical institutions for the benefit of the patients.

Epigrammatic: Harford turned his hand to writing on other topics, too

The exact benefits of listening to music were not known or understood. However, they did know that the patients felt a real lift from this service. The Guild decided that the musicians should perform unseen by the patients, so they were placed behind a curtain.

This was so there was an ethereal quality of the music coming from afar. Patients wakening up after an operation, hearing a Bach concerto might have thought they had gone to heaven.

And while Harford’s Guild ceased to function long ago, the idea that music can help in all sorts of therapeutic ways has been progressed and developed. He wasn’t the only one with the idea, but Harford certainly played a significant part in the beginning of this movement.

He was always convinced of the merits of music in medicine and wrote in a medical journal of the day about when he had performed in St Pancras’ Infirmary. One female patient spoke to say she enjoyed the playing of a lullaby and nurses remarked that this was the first time this woman had spoken in a fortnight. He had influential supporters, too, including Florence Nightingale.

The St Cecilia Choir, of which he was justly proud, grew so large that they had to rehearse in the largest available room in the Westminster Palace Hotel. Harford invited any doctors or nurses to come along to sing or just to listen.

There certainly were those who were negative in their responses to the work of Harford and the Guild. One article written about the beginnings of Music Therapy is entitled “Frederick Kill Harford; Dilettante Dabbler or Man of Our Time”.

Harford’s own approach to the newspapers was often blunt. One 1891 letter was entitled, “Is exhilarating music or soft music best for invalids?”

The Guild lasted for only five years, as Harford failed to overcome the doubters, leaving others bemused by his grand ideas, one of which was to play music for others to hear down that most modern of inventions of the time, the telephone.

He may have been ahead of his time, but after putting in so much energy to his scheme, Harford’s own health began to falter.

Throughout his life, Harford enjoyed a wide interest in the arts, not confined to music. There are three examples of his etchings held today by the British Museum to show what talent he had in this area, too. He developed a friendship with Gustav Dore, the French painter who he met at a dinner party in Sydenham where the artist was staying having visited the Crystal Palace.

Death notice: Harford died in 1906

One of Dore’s most well-known paintings, Christ quittant le prettoir (Christ leaving the praetorium), owes much of its development to Harford’s ideas.

Dore was excited by the debate about how Christ could be portrayed in the time between his trial and the taking up of his cross, and the artist spent 10 years on this work. Gustav Dore, who died in 1883, regarded this particular painting as his masterpiece.

Harford died on November 11, 1906, at 4a Dean’s Yard, by Westminster Abbey.

There was an entry in a London paper shortly after his passing, asking if anybody who felt they had any claim to his estate then they were to contact the appropriate solicitor.

Harford might have died in relative obscurity but the music therapy world owes him a big debt.

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