Reverend’s famous hymn still played by bells of All Saints

The blue plaque at Berry Head House

The blue plaque at Berry Head House - Credit: Archant

The first ever Torbay Civic Society blue plaque was put up at Berry Head Hotel to honour the Rev Henry Lyte.

It was 1987 and our then society chairman Mrs Ena Hocking had persuaded Sir Fred Pontin, owner of the Berry Head Hotel and managing director of the Pontins Group to sponsor our initial plaque.

Unveiled on Tuesday, January 13 1987, it was Councillor Mason of Torbay Borough Council and Sir Fred that officiated at the ceremony in the presence of civic society president Mrs Sheila Hardaway and Ena.

It was Sheila that opened the proceedings when welcoming everyone to this special occasion.

The prestigious event attracted many dignatories including the Rev E G Clements of All Saints’ Church, members of the Brixham Amenities Society and many councillors and officials making a ‘dignatory list’ of more than 20.

Then members of the public and the civic society completed a large audience for this our first in a list of four plaques planned.

As the event was held at the Berry Head Hotel, once the official ceremony was over everyone was invited to an afternoon tea.

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Strangely, though I was a founder member of the society and indeed a member of its committee at that time, for some reason I do not recall, I and my father did not attend.

That was unusual because when unable to attend, my dad usually went on my behalf.

By the mid-1980s I was quite ‘besotted’ with my second organisation - the National Federation of Self Employed (later the FSB) - being already a member of the regional committee and later would join its national policy committee and more often than not be in London.

Meanwhile, the plaque was formally unveiled before Sheila gave a little talk on the history of the Reverend Lyte and the hotel.

She even mentioned his reverence had moved from Dittisham before being appointed minister to a small chapel in Lower Brixham - a chapel that later became today’s famous All Saints’ Church in Brixham.

Henry had written 300 hymns here which included ‘Praise my Soul the King of Heaven’, ‘Pleasant are Thy Courts Above’ and his most famous work ‘Abide With Me’, which is still played daily by the bells of All Saints.

That hymn is also often sung at football matches and is used by other churches. It is believed this hymn took him less than half-an-hour to write, as he sat watching the sun set over Tor Bay.

By then his health was already failing and indeed he was waiting to leave Brixham and his beloved Devon forever, when moving to Nice on his doctor’s advice. He died in France in 1847.

Back in Devon, his most famous hymn would not be published until three years after his death. The hymn had been inspired by the Rev J Hogg, the vicar that succeeded him at All Saints, and also married Henry’s daughter.

Today, Berry Head Hotel proudly sports our first plaque, although now joined one honouring Commander E G Martin OBE - renowned international yachtsman who having won the first Fastnet Ocean Race founded the Ocean Racing Club later known as the RORC.

Prior to being a hotel, Berry Head house was used as a military hospital during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and I find it fascinating that Napoleon Bonaparte, while a prisoner lying at anchor in Torbay, was so near this albeit temporary hospital.

Two wings eventually became part of a residential care centre until eventually the house fell into disuse until 1833 when Henry Lyte moved in after turning the property into a vicarage.

A copy of the Rev. H F Lyte and Berry Head House pamphlet can be obtained by sending stamps to the value of 50p plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 1 Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ1 1DE.