[Today’s post is by John H.Parker, co-author of the newly released book, Abide With Me, published by New Leaf Press. This account is from the travels of John and his co-author/photographer, Paul Seawright.]

Our cream tea this afternoon at Lew Trenchard Manor on the edge of the Dartmoor tors in Devonshire is served on the manicured green lawn at a table under an umbrella shading us from the July sunshine. The service consists of two silver pots, one for tea and one for hot milk, with a strainer to catch the loose leaves as the tea pours into bone china cups decorated with delicate rose patterns, and matching saucers containing fresh scones, biscuits, and cakes. All of this is served by a pretty young waitress in perfectly starched white blouse and black tie.

Sitting there, buttering the scones, we gaze at the grey-stone Jacobean manor which since the early 1600’s has housed the differing fortunes of the aristocratic Gould family. Every facet of Lew Trenchard bespeaks quality, countryside luxury, and centuries of wealth: the imposing house, the exquisitely manicured grounds and gardens, the slate-floored and oak-paneled lobby, the elegant guest rooms.

On arrival, a guest who also knows that the most celebrated owner of Lew Trenchard was Sabine Baring-Gould, author of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” recognizes that here lived and worked a man far different from the usual image of the hymn writer, such as a preacher living in modest ecclesiastical circumstances. Sabine was a squire, a man of wealth and influence. But as such he was a man doggedly dedicated to one guiding principle: personal, aristocratic control of his environment to produce prolific work and words in a context of Christian service.

Sabine was a “squarson,” both squire and parson. The former privilege came from his birth into England’s landed gentry. As the son of a wealthy and wandering father, he traveled Europe, eventually finishing Cambridge and returning to Lew Trenchard to benevolently, if overtly, supervise the people of his manor as both squire and spiritual guide.

Details of Sabine’s life perhaps demonstrate his kind but unusual and sometimes controlling personality. For one, he was a bit of an eccentric, teaching school on occasion with a pet bat perched on his shoulder. He also occasionally employed his rank to make appropriations and adjustments to effect enhancements he deemed desirable, such as replacing a tenant’s handsome window unit with another so that the original could be installed at his manor.

But Sabine’s supreme and most famous act of control toward a fortunate result transpired when he came to admire a young girl working in a mill who was beyond doubt beautiful, but not nearly accomplished enough for the role he envisioned for her. He had her sent to school to learn to speak and pronounce English in the requisite manner, and afterward married her.

George Bernard Shaw later used this story of Sabine Baring-Gould and his bride to create Professor Henry Higgins and flower girl Eliza Doolittle for his play Pygmalion, later made into the musical and then motion picture My Fair Lady.