Posted by: rcottrill | June 22, 2010

Today in 1850 – William Walford Died

Some doubt has been expressed by hymn historians about the identity of William Walford, but the traditional account below remains likely in my view.

An elderly man, and blind, Mr. Walford owned a small novelty shop in Coleshire, England. Day by day, he would sit in the chimney corner, carving and polishing pieces of bone to make shoe horns and other useful items for sale. As he worked, he would commune with the Lord in prayer, sometimes putting together thoughts to be shared in church the following Sunday.

Walford had no formal education. But the Lord had given him an amazing memory. He knew much of the Bible by heart, and was sometimes called upon to speak. When he stepped into the pulpit, the blind preacher was able to quote Scripture passages word for word, giving chapter and verse, with hardly a slip.

One day in 1842, an American clergyman named Tom Salmon visited Mr. Walford’s little shop. Apparently, the old man talked with him about the theme of prayer, and the delight he took in fellowship with the Lord. Then he asked if Pastor Salmon would write down some lines of verse he had composed.

“How will this do?” he asked as he began, seemingly uncertain as to the worth of his creation. But he need not have worried. His poem became the beloved hymn Sweet Hour of Prayer. The tune was written by William Bradbury.

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

Here is a remarkable recording of this hymn. One man made a “male chorus” version, singing all the parts himself. It required overlaying  27 tracks. Wow!

Of course we can and should pray regularly on our own. But the Bible also reveals the value of corporate prayer, of fellowshipping in prayer with one another. How sad that the Prayer Meeting is often the most poorly attended gathering of the week! Believers were gathered for prayer prior to the birth of the church at Pentecost (Acts 1:14), and continued in prayer afterward (Acts 2:42).  More of us need the attitude expressed in a verse of Walford’s hymn not usually used today:

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
The joys I feel, the bliss I share,
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Saviour shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

(2) Today in 1870 – I Am Coming to the Cross first sung
William McDonald was an American pastor with the Methodist Episcopal denomination. He also worked as an editor, and authored a number of books. He says of his hymn, I Am Coming to the Cross:

The hymn was written in 1870 in the city of Brooklyn, New York, while I was pastor in that city. I had felt the need of a hymn to aid seekers of heart purity while at the altar … something, simple in expression, true to experience, and ending in the fullness of love.

In spite of some lines (not quoted below) that reflect a Wesleyan perfectionism with which I disagree, there is also here a simple expression of salvation and dedication.

I am coming to the cross;
I am poor and weak and blind;
I am counting all but dross;
I shall full salvation find.

I am trusting, Lord, in Thee.
Blessèd Lamb of Calvary;
Humbly at Thy cross I bow.
Save me, Jesus, save me now.

Here I give my all to Thee:
Friends and time and earthly store;
Soul and body Thine to be,
Wholly Thine forevermore.


  1. I have been reading your blog for some time now and would like to say that I really enjoy it. I have learned so much about the classic hymns. I love hymns and modern contemporary songs and worship tunes rarely ever match the depth and feeling expressed in the hymns. I wish hymn writing was still current. The version of Sweet Hour of Prayer was really well done. Almost better than the hymns sung by Glad. Thanks for posting that!


    • Thanks very much for the encouragement. And I agree that whatever new music comes along–and some of it is fine–we mustn’t simply toss away centuries of great hymns.

  2. […] (2) Today in 1845 – Sweet Hour of Prayer published William Walford, who wrote this lovely hymn, died in 1850, and this is the only selection to which his name is attached. Walford was blind, but he dictated the hymn to a visitor named Thomas Salmon. It was the latter who sent the poem to the editor of the New York Observer, where it was published. William Bradbury saw it, and wrote a tune for it. (For more, see Today in 1850.) […]

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