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The Life of Francis Duckworth (1862-1941)

Perhaps the grave most sought out by visitors to St Mary's churchyard is that of Francis Duckworth, with its engraving of the opening lines of the hymn tune “Rimington”. As it is just sixty years since his death, there are probably many parishioners who know little of his life, and even fewer who ever met him, it seems timely to contemplate the life of this gentleman.

Born in Rimington on Christmas day 1862, he was the fourth son of Robert and Mary Ann Duckworth, who kept the local grocery store and post office, next door to Stopper Lane Wesleyan Chapel, which was both the social and musical centre of the district. As yet there was no organ, so music was provided by an orchestra, of which his father and three uncles were members, so the young Francis grew up in an atmosphere of enthusiastic amateur musicians. Hence, the seeds were sown for the development of his natural talent and love of music. As a boy, overhearing his uncle holding forth, in the shop, on the words of Isaac Watts, and quoting with fervour those words: “Jesus shall reign where'er the sun…..” Francis resolved that if ever he could compose a tune it would be to that great hymn.

When he was twelve, Francis' mother died. Times were hard and he had to leave the village school to help in the family business. After a few years, he followed his elder brothers, Caleb and Joshua, to Colne, to earn his living, leaving his two sisters and younger brother in Rimington. All three brothers established successful businesses, after much hard work and remained in Colne for the rest of their lives. Francis became a wholesale grocer, prospered and settled there with his wife, son and daughter. All worshipped at Albert Road Methodist Church where Francis soon became organist.

But tragedy came with the death of his wife in 1901 and Francis began 40 lonely years of widowhood. Music was his solace and the great thrill of his life was his journey to London to purchase a French Mustel organ. This gave him the inspiration to compose hymn tunes and “Rimington” was completed and sung for the first time at the Colne Whitsuntide processions in 1904. He later composed more tunes and all eighteen were published in the “Rimington Hymnal”, which he dedicated to his daughter, Margaret, who sadly died at the age of 28 in 1917. The hymns were sung world-wide, most notably by the Lancashire Fusiliers on Mount Calvary, following General Allenby's capture of Jerusalem.

Francis continued as organist at Albert Road for over 40 years, and in his letter of resignation he wrote: “Reckoning the few years I played at Stopper Lane, I have completed 50 years service as honorary organist to the Methodist church, and as a thank-you offering for the many blessings received, I have much pleasure in enclosing a cheque for £50 (being £1 for every year served)”. What a moving example this is of the dedication and devotion of this kindly gentleman. Later, the church presented him with a beautiful, leather-bound volume of the Methodist hymn book, suitably inscribed by church officials, and this is now one of my most treasured possessions.

Dorothy Taylor

(great-niece)