Between Christmas and Burns’ Night is a good time to recall a man with a link both to one of our favourite carols and Scotland.
James Montgomery was born in Irvine, Scotland, on November 4 1771 but later lived in Sheffield.
He loved poetry and words, and became clerk to Joseph Gale, the editor and owner of the radical Sheffield Register, which was on virtually the same site as The Star and Telegraph, at Hartshead. As well as being a newspaper the business had a shop and publishing office.
Just two years later, Gale fled to America after upsetting the authorities with his outspoken views and Montgomery took over the paper, changing the name to the Sheffield Iris. The first edition was printed on Friday July 4, 1794.
He lived above the newspaper printing shop and would have been there throughout the cholera epidemic that swept the city in 1832. In 1834, he laid the foundation stone for the monument built to commemorate those who had died in the outbreak.
Montgomery printed his own poems at the Iris offices and also composed hundreds of hymns. Many are still in use today, with ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’ probably being the most famous. The tune he set it to he called ‘Iris’ after his newspaper.
He was as outspoken as his forerunner and ended up in trouble and even prison, on a number of occasions. He became known as a champion of the less fortunate members of society. Another of his campaigns was to stop children being used as chimney sweeps and he was actively against slavery.
Montgomery lived at Hartshead until 1836, then moved to grander premises at 4, The Mount, Broomhill, designed by an architect called William Flockton in the 1830’s. He lived there until his death in 1854. The old Hartshead premises were eventually pulled down to make room for extensions for later newspaper premises.
There are many tributes to Montgomery in Sheffield, including road names, a statue outside the Anglican cathedral, (moved there from the General Cemetery), a window dedicated to him inside the cathedral, a neglected fountain on Broad Lane and The Montgomery Theatre on Surrey Street.