Behind the Hymn: Sweet Hour of Prayer
William Walford was a simple uneducated wood carver with a great memory. He spoke
and wrote poem in his England home and shop. He was so in tune with God and scripture that he was often asked to speak at his Congregational Church and share a sermon. The word of God overflowed through him and came out in his poetry.
Thomas Salmon, a native of New York, spent time in Coleshill, Warwickshire, England. While visiting there he became acquainted with William.
In an article in the New York Observer, published on September 13, 1845, he recalled the following:
“During my residence at Coleshill, Warwickshire, England, I became acquainted with W. W. Walford, the blind preacher, a man of obscure birth and connections and no education, but of strong mind and most retentive memory. In the pulpit he never failed to select a lesson well adapted to his subject, giving chapter and verse with unerring precision and scarcely ever misplacing a word in his repetition of the Psalms, every part of the New Testament, the prophecies, and some of the histories, so as to have the reputation of knowing the whole Bible by heart. He actually sat in the chimney corner, employing his mind in composing a sermon or two for Sabbath delivery, and his hands in cutting, shaping and polishing bones for shoe horns and other little useful implements. At intervals he attempted poetry. On one occasion, paying him a visit, he repeated two or three pieces which he had composed, and having no friend at home to commit them to paper, he had laid them up in the storehouse within. How will this do? asked he, as he repeated the following lines, with a complacent smile touched with some light lines of fear lest he subject himself to criticism. I rapidly copied the lines with my pencil, as he uttered them, and sent them for insertion in the Observer, if you should think them worthy of preservation.”
Three years later, Salmon had returned to the United States. He showed it to the editor at the New York Observer. The lyrics to the poem were published with this report.
In 1861, composer William B. Bradbury put a melody to the poem.
The hymn was first published in a hymnal in 1878.
After the song became well-known, students of hymnody tried to track down W.W. Walford, but they found no one of that name who fit the description given by Salmon. They did locate a Rev. William Walford in Homerton, England, but he was well educated and not blind.
Rev. Salmon died in 1854 and more than likely Rev. Walford never knew his poem was even published, much less would become a beloved hymn.
While blind, Walford seemed to see with his heart. God used his simple words to become a great hymn that would minister to millions.
*I was unable to find any known pictures of William Walford or Thomas Salmon