John Bacchus Dykes was born on March 10, 1823, to William and Elizabeth Dykes, at Kingston-on-Hull, England.
At the age of 10, he played the organ at the church at St. John’s Church, Hull, England, where his grandfather, Thomas was the vicar.
He could play the organ, piano, violin and horn.
In 1843, at the age of 20, he entered St. Catherine’s College and graduated in 1847 with a B.A. in classics, under the name of John Dikes. He formed the Cambridge University Music Society, where his performances of comic songs were featured.
He was ordained by the Church of England as a deacon, and served as a curate at Malton in Yorkshire in 1847, and then as priest in 1848.
In 1850, he married Susan, the daughter of G. Kingston, Esq.
In 1851, he received a Master’s Degree, from Cambridge, under the now known name of John Bacchus Dykes.
From 1849 to 1862 he was the precentor (or music director) of the Durham Cathedral.
On March 30, 1851, he was 28 years old and living at 34 Hollingside Cottage in Durham. His wife, Susan, was 24. They had two female house servants that were 30 and 24 years old and one 16 year old male.
On April 7, 1861, he was 38 and his wife, Susannah was 36. They had two girls: Gertrude, who was 8, and Caroline who was 6. His family was living with his younger brother, Fredric, the bank manager, and his mother Elizabeth, the fund holder. His sister, Lucy Cheap, was a clergyman’s widow of 34 years of age. They were living with three servants and a visitor at the Westgate Bank House on Barnsley Street in Wakefield, Yorkshire, England.
In 1861, an honorary doctorate of music was conferred on him by the University of Durham.
In 1862, most of his hymn tunes were published in Hymns Ancient and Modern.
From 1862 onward he was the vicar of St. Oswald’s, Durham. There he had such high church ideals there was a conflict with the Bishop Charles Baring, his boss with low church ideals. It resulted in the Bishop refusing to approve a staff for the large church, unless John Dykes would make concessions to stop using specially colored robes and other things. In 1874, the court ruled against him, so he entered retirement, living in Ticehurst, Surrey.
On April 2, 1871, John was 48, and Susanna was 43. They were living at 27 Church Street, Durham. Their children were all going to school and were: Earnest, who was 19; Mary C. who was 18; Gertrude, who was 16; Caroline, who was 14; Ethel who was 11; and John who was seven. Susanna’s blind brother who was 48, was living with them as well as three servants: a cook, waiter, and housemaid.
He died at the age of 53, on January 22, 1876, at St. Leonards, Ticehurst, Sussex, England. His remains were buried in St. Oswald’s churchyard, Durham.
Although he wrote and published many sermons, and works on liturgics, he is remembered by about 300 hymn tunes he composed. His tunes are described as the finest examples of Victorian times. Some of them are listed here:
F.L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 523.
N.V. Hope, “Dykes, John Bacchus.” J. D. Douglas, Philip Wesley Comfort and Donald Mitchell, Who's Who in Christian History. (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997, c1992).
Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories, Includes Index. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1985), p. 80, 210.
Ancestry.com. 1851 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1851. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1851.
Ancestry.com. 1861 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1861. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1861.
Ancestry.com. 1871 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2004. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1871.
Ancestry.com. Cambridge University Alumni, 1261-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 1999. Original data: Venn, J. A., comp. Alumni Cantabrigienses. London, England: Cambridge University Press, 1922-1954.