Anna Letitia Waring (1823-1910)


Head and shoulders of woman about 30s with dark curly hairAnna Letitia Waring was a Welsh poet and Anglican hymn writer whose best known work is the hymn In Heavenly Love Abiding. She lived in Bristol for most of her life and was known to have had close and loving friendships with women “of singular depth and intensity”. Shortly before her death she wrote a love letter to another woman. She destroyed many letters before she died and those that remained “were not fit for publication” according to her biographer and niece, Mary Talbot, who published a short biography in 1911. JR Watson, one of the world’s authorities on hymns and hymn writers, wrote that Anna enjoyed “a love between two women that could not be revealed, but which gave nothing but pleasure”.

Anna was born in 1823 near Neath, South Wales, the third of seven children. Her family were Quakers but she was baptised into the Church of England aged 19 in 1842. Her father and uncle also wrote verse and hymns. Her poetry reflects a gentle compassionate reflective personality with a sense of humour. Her first collection of hymns were published in 1850 but the majority of her work was published posthumously in 1911. Among her best known hymns are Father I Know That All My Life, Go Not Far From Me, O My Strength and My Heart Is Resting, O God.

In many ways Anna typified a conventional Victorian spinster: pious, reserved and devoted to “good works”. She was involved in several philanthropic causes and was a great supporter of the Discharged Prisoners Aid Society, visiting Bridewell and Horfield prisons in Bristol for many years. To someone who spoke of the painfulness of such work she said “It is like watching by a filthy gutter to pick out a jewel here and there, as the foul stream flows by”.

Anna moved to Bristol with her family sometime in the 1830s. By the 1841 census they were living in Cave Street, St Paul’s. From about 1843 to 1856 she lived at 11 Dowry Parade, Hotwells, and in the 1860s at Aberdeen House, Westbury on Trym. From around 1871 to 1881 she lived with her spinster sisters at 14 Frederick Place, Clifton before moving to 3 Pembroke Road in 1884 where she lived until her death aged 87.

Intensely shy, Anna shunned publicity and the Western Daily Press of 16 May 1910 reported her funeral was conducted “with quiet simplicity which marked the life of the late Miss Anna Letitia Waring”. The service was held at St Andrews, Clifton, which was destroyed in the Blitz of 1940. One of Anna’s hymns Father, I Know That All Is Portioned Out For Me was sung at the service. The lesson was read by Canon Talbot, husband of her niece and biographer Mary Talbot. Anna was buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery, Brislington, where her grave can be seen today but sadly it is overgrown and in a bad state of repair.

Jonathan Rowe 2022