James Montgomery – Poet and Editor

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‘Here lies interred, beloved by all who knew him, the Christian poet, patriot, and philanthropist. Wherever poetry is read, or Christian hymns sung, in the English language, ‘he being dead, yet speaketh’ by the genius, piety and taste embodied in his writings.’ This is the inscription that remains on James Montgomery’s memorial sited in Sheffield Cathedral above.

James Montgomery (4 November 1771 – 30 April 1854) was a British poet, hymnwriter and editor. He was particularly associated with humanitarian causes such as the campaigns to abolish slavery and to end the exploitation of child chimney sweeps. James Montgomery was the founder of the ‘Sheffield Iris’, a radical newspaper he edited. These were times of political repression and he was twice imprisoned on charges of sedition. The first time was in 1795 for printing a poem celebrating the fall of the Bastille; the second in 1796 was for criticising a magistrate for forcibly dispersing a political protest in Sheffield. Turning the experience to some profit, in 1797 he published a pamphlet of poems written during his captivity as Prison Amusements.

Although he achieved some success with his poetry, especially with the collection The Wanderer of Switzerland (1806) Montgomery himself expected that his name would live, if at all, in his hymns. Some of these, such as “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed”, “Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire”, “Stand up and bless the Lord” and the carol “Angels from the Realms of Glory”, are still sung.

As well as the monument carrying his name  there are various streets named after Montgomery and a Grade II-listed drinking fountain on Broad Lane. The meeting hall of the Sunday Schools Union (now known as The Montgomery), situated in Surrey Street, was named in his honour in 1886; it houses a small theatre which also bears his name.