Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers

Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers

Douglas Bond

Christian Liberty Press, 1999, 237 pages

Annie and Drew are two American children stuck with having a long and boring summer in the dull, dreary town of Olney, England. With their mom working each day, they wander about the old village, full of old buildings, and an old stone church. Then, they meet old Mr. Pipes.

Mr. Pipes is not his real name. He is the organist for the church—hence, the nickname “Mr. Pipes”— and though he is old, he is full of stories and interesting hobbies, such as music, sailing the River Ouse and fishing for pike. Through the words of Mr. Pipes, the village of Olney is transformed from a dull, old town into a vibrant place full of history. Mr. Pipes is a student of music, especially that of the great hymn writers. As he befriends the children and teaches them to sail and to fish, he tells wondrous stories of God’s grace in the lives of men of faith. Annie and Drew develop a love for Mr. Pipes, for the town of Olney and a great appreciation for music as well as the arrangement of words to that music, words which glorify God.

Mr. Pipes recounts to the children tales about men such as Thomas Ken, the writer of the beloved “Doxology,” Charles Wesley, John Newton and Augustus Toplady. One of our favorite stories was about Isaac Watts, who had a natural gift for poetry, such that he seemed even to think in rhyme and verse. One night, his father rebuked him for giggling during family prayers. Little Isaac recited the thought which had made him giggle, a verse he had composed because he had just seen a mouse run up the bell pull:

There was a mouse for want of stairs

Ran up a rope to say his prayers.

Isaac’s gift of verse increased as he diligently studied his lessons. Finally, his father became so annoyed by his continual rhyming in conversation that he threatened to spank the boy. But he had a change of heart when the young lad, with tears, replied:

O father, do some mercy take

And I will no more verses make.

Of course, by God’s grace, Isaac did not forsake his gift but went on to be a much loved writer of hymns, becoming known as the Father of Hymnody.

This book was an enjoyable journey into the history of God-centered hymns we love to sing. The boys and I looked forward to our read-aloud times each day, wondering where Mr. Pipes would next take the children and what fascinating story he would tell. But there is another story told in the background of the book, a story which never loses its sense of wonder for the Christian, and that is the Gospel. As we watch Annie and Drew become aware of that Gospel under Mr. Pipes’ loving tutelage and his passion for God’s glory, we see the dawning of the light of understanding in their own hearts. By the end of the book, we see the gentle unfolding of grace in their lives.

I highly recommend this book as a family read-aloud. It should produce lots of giggles and aha moments as well as provoke some lively discussion and an overall appreciation of God-honoring music. And don’t be too sad when you close the book for the last time. The story doesn’t end there; Mr. Bond has graciously written not one, but two sequels: “Mr. Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation,” and “Mr. Pipes Comes to America.” We’re almost through with the second one and looking forward to see Mr. Pipes’ reaction to America!

Beth McMichen