DUE to the pandemic, it seems likely that there will not be any choral music at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral today at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

This has allowed commentators to speculate about what music would have been chosen – without any danger of being proved wrong – and nearly all have selected one hymn, written by a Durham clergyman who now lies beside a playground.

Commentator Eve Pollard told Jeremy Vine’s television programme: "Apparently Prince Philip was very keen for that naval hymn, For Those in Peril on the Sea.”

The music for this hymn, which is the hymn of the Royal Navy and the US Navy and which has been played at the funerals of five US presidents, was written by Dr John Bacchus Dykes.

His name might ring a bell to any bored child who, in a stultifying service, flicked through the book of Ancient and Modern Hymns and noticed such a peculiar moniker on such well known hymns as We Plough the Fields and Scatter, Holy, Holy, Holy, and The King of Love My Shepherd Is.

Bacchus, of course, was the Roman god of wine more usually associated with drunken debauchery than reverential praise.

Dr John Bacchus Dykes was born in Hull in 1823 into a family of churchmen. He showed musical promise at an early age, studied at Cambridge University and became a minor canon at Durham Cathedral in 1849. He also took on the role as precentor, in charge of choral music, and lived in Hollingside House, now the home of the university vice-chancellor.

In 1862, he moved over the Wear and became the vicar of St Oswald’s, a growing parish. However, he was high church – incense and mysticism – whereas the Bishop of Durham, Charles Baring, was an evangelical. Even though Dykes took the bishop to court, the bishop refused to give him a couple of curates to help with his workload, largely because Dykes refused to stop burning incense and wearing coloured stoles.

The stress of Dykes’ workload is said to have caused his early death, at 53, in 1876, and he was buried in an extension to St Oswald’s churchyard which he had created. In the same grave is his youngest daughter, Mabel, who’d died aged 10 in 1870 from scarlet fever.

However, in 1966 all the other headstones in that extension were removed and the flat ground was converted into a play area.

“His grave is now railed off in white from the rest of the playground that cost £700 to convert,” said The Northern Echo. “The churchyard has been closed for burials for many years and a special faculty was granted by the Bishop of Durham to turn it into a playground.”

In his time, Dykes wrote the music to more than 300 hymns. Many of them fell out of fashion, as being too sentimental and Victorian, at the start of the 20th Century, but a large number has endured.

For Those In Peril on the Sea is one of the most famous, because of its resonance with sailors around the world. In 1979, it was sung at the funeral of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who was Prince Philip’s uncle, and there is a story that it was the last tune played by the orchestra on the Titanic as it sunk 109 years ago this week.

However, there is more enduring story that the last selection of the Titanic’s orchestra was Nearer, My God, To Thee, which is another of John Bacchus Dykes’ compositions.