The sacred song, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” which was written for the English harvest festivals by Henry Alford, is a well-loved harvest-thanksgiving hymn especially among Christians. During those years past, these festivals were movable feasts that vary according to the harvest time in different villages.
Writer and Hymnologist Henry Alford
Hymn writer Henry Alford, who wrote “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”, was a gifted, 19th century Christian leader. A distinguished theologian, prominent Greek scholar and writer, he was also a poet, artist, musician and translator.
Henry Alford was born in London on October 7, 1810. He descended from generations of respected clergyman in the Anglican Church, and in time, followed the footsteps of his ancestors. He studied at Trinity College in Cambridge, was a distinguished student and writer. At 47, he eventually became the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, a position he held until his death.
One of the major interests of Alford was hymnology. He translated and composed numerous hymns which he published in his Psalms and Hymns (1844,) The Year of Praise (1867,) and Poetical Works (1852 and 1868.) Of his many works, only “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” is still in use in most evangelical hymnals.
Alford published several volumes of his own verses. He also edited the works of English poet and preacher John Donne. However, his fame rests on his edition of the New Testament in Greek (4 volumes,) which occupied his life for some twenty years.
mposer and Organist George Elvey
George Elvey was the composer of the Tune Name “St. George’s, Windsor” used in “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” George Job Elvey was born on March 27, 1816 at Canterbury, and was a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral. Subsequently, he studied at the Royal Academy of Music.
In 1834, he won the Gresham prize medal for his anthem, Bow Down Thine Ear, and a year later, appointed organist of St. George’s Royal Chapel, in Windsor, England, a post he filled for 47 years, until retirement in 1882. He took the degree of Bachelor of Music at the University of Oxford in 1838, and two years later his works were commissioned for the Three Choirs Festivals of 1853 and 1857.
He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1871, not only for his faithful service to the royal family, but for his musical publications. Elvey passed away on December 9, 1893. His works include oratorios, and many great anthems, along with music for the organ.
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
“Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” first appeared in Alford’s Psalms and Hymns in 1844. It was meant to be a harvest song, and titled “After Harvest” with seven stanzas.
Elvey originally composed the music for another text. In 1861, the tune first appeared with Alford’s text in the Anglican hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern. Only four have remained in common use of the original seven stanzas of the hymn as found in published hymnals.