Keeping the Hymns Close By

Sweet Hour of Prayer

Author – William W. Walford, 1772 – 1850
Composer – William B. Bradbury, 1816 – 1868
Published in 1845

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit and watching thereunto will all perseverance and supplication for all saints.
Ephesians 6:18

William B. Bradbury

“Sweet Hour of Prayer” is a hymn reminding Christians of the importance of daily communion with God. The text is thought to have been written in 1842 by William W. Walford, a blind lay preacher and owner of a small trinket shop in the village of Coleshill, Warwickshire, England. The traditional account associated with the origin of this hymn, is that one day a Coleshill minister, Thomas Salmon, (1800 – 1854), stopped at Walford’s shop for a visit with his friend. Walford had just completed a new poem about prayer and is said to have requested Salmon to notate it for him. Three years later, Salmon came to America and showed this poem to the editor of the New York Observer. He asked the Observer to publish these words “if you think them worthy of preservation.” The newspaper agreed and the poem was published in the September 13, 1845 issue.

The tune, “Sweet Hour,” was composed for this text by the noted American composer of early gospel music, William Bradbury, in 1861. This was the year that the text and Bradbury’s tune first appeared together in a hymnal collection, the Golden Chain. The prayer poem was soon sung around the world.

William B. Bradbury has contributed the music to many of our gospel hymns still widely sung today. These include “The Solid Rock”, (May 2015 Hymn of the Month), “He Leadeth Me”, (March 2019 Hymn) “Jesus Loves Me”, (February 2020) and “Just As I Am.” (October 2016 Hymn).

In recent years there has been uncertainty raised about the authorship of this text. William Reynolds in his book Hymns of Our Faith, 1964, has done considerable research and has been unable to establish with certainty that a blind William Walford ever lived in Coleshill, England at the time when this text was written. Reynolds believes that the real author was a Rev, William Walford, a minister, who was president of the Homerton Academy in England and the author of several books, including one titled The Manner of Prayer. The text of this book has many similarities to the hymn’s text. Mr. Reynolds suggests that it is possible that the William Walford of Coleshill and the Rev. Walford of Homerton could be one and the same individual. Regardless of the identity of the author of this text, “Sweet Hour of Prayer” has been greatly used of God for many years to challenge believers with this basic truth –whenever we spend time in communion with God, it becomes a sweet and meaningful hour in our lives.

Taken from 101 More Hymn Stories Copyright © 1985, 2013 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.