Icons of England
  • Introduction
  • The Icons
  • Nominations
  • News
  • Learn & Play
  • Your Comments


Hubert Parry: the Composer

The music to Blake’s words was composed in 1916 by Sir Hubert Parry, specifically for a meeting of the “Fight for the Right” women’s suffrage movement being held at Queen’s Hall in London that year. In the final stages of the suffragette campaign, he conducted it himself at a performance at the Royal Albert Hall, which is when it became known as Jerusalem.

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, Bt by Sir William Rothenstein 1807
NPG 3877
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, Bt by Sir William Rothenstein; pencil,
375 x 254mm
Its association with the women's movement led to it being adopted as a hymn at the annual general meeting of the National Association of Women's Institutes in 1924. It is still sung at their AGMs and branch meetings to this day.

In 1922, Edward Elgar scored the music for orchestra, giving it the grandiose sweep that we have associated with it ever since. This is the version that is performed every year at the Last Night of the Proms, at the Royal Albert Hall. On hearing it, George V is said to have declared that he wanted it to replace God Save The King as the national anthem.

About the man

Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918) gained a Bachelor of Music degree from Oxford at the early age of 18, while he was still at Eton. He went on to be a Professor of Music at Oxford before ill health forced him to cut down his many teaching duties. Having also taught for 11 years at the Royal College of Music, he became only its second director in 1894. While there, he was tutor to - among others - the English composers Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Gustav Holst. He was awarded a knighthood in 1898, and died in 1918. Parry is buried in St Paul's Cathedral.

Many consider him to have been the most important English composer since Purcell, as he almost single-handedly ushered in a Romantic renaissance in English music at the end of the 19th century.

All things to all people

Jerusalem occupies a unique place in the annals of English popular music, in that it has been appropriated by many different organisations and served many different causes, from women's rights to modern sporting occasions. It has found political favour with groups across the spectrum, from the Labour Party to the British National Party.

The biopic of British athletes Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, Chariots Of Fire (1981), takes its name from one of the lines of Blake's poem, and the hymn appears in the soundtrack.

For many years, it was sung, along with the Red Flag, at the close of Labour Party conferences.

In sport, it has been the anthem of choice at the Rugby League Challenge Cup finals, and in 2005 was adopted by supporters of the England cricket team in their victory over Australia in the Ashes tournament.

As a hymn, it has been a mainstay of public school assemblies almost since it was first composed. It is heard being sung lustily in Lindsay Andersons anti-establishment film If.... (1968) at just such an institution.

Pop Records

Pop recordings of Jerusalem have included:

  • ELP (Emerson, Lake and Palmer) - it appears as the opening track on their 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery
  • Bruce Dickinson (the Iron Maiden singer), who has recorded a solo concept album about the life of William Blake, The Chemical Wedding (2005).
  • The Fall (1988)
  • Billy Bragg, on his EP The Internationale (1990)
  • The KLF (as the JAMs, for their 1991 record It's Grim Up North)
  • Fat Les, whose recording was the official anthem of the England football team for the Euro 2000 championships. The original video, depicting Keith Allen attacking German planes in a Spitfire, was reshot because it was thought to be too provocatively nationalistic for a football song.