In September of 2011, with the kind help of Rev. Malcolm Watts, I made the trek on a rainy Sunday from Salisbury, England, to the nearby village of Broughton, Hampshire. The latter is a village situated roughly mid-way between Salisbury and Winchester. I was looking for a house, a chapel, and a grave. All were associated with Anne Steele (1717–78), the daughter of William Steele, the pastor of the Calvinistic Baptist chapel in Broughton. We soon found the Baptist chapel in Broughton easily enough. Sadly, it has been closed. The house where she lived, known as “Grandfathers,” in Rookery Lane, was more difficult to find, but eventually it was located. Her grave took even longer, as it is to be found in the Anglican parish church—somewhat unusual as she was a Baptist. Anne was converted in 1732 and baptized the same year. She grew to be a woman of deep piety, genuine cheerfulness and blessed with a mind hungry for knowledge. She never married, although there were two proposals of marriage—one from none other than the Baptist pastor and hymn-writer Benjamin Beddome (1717–95). Anne, however, made a conscious choice to remain single.
Anne’s singleness gave her the time to devote herself to poetry and hymn-writing, a gift with which the Lord had richly blessed her. About ten years before her death, sixty-two of her hymns were published in a Baptist hymnal entitled A Collection of Hymns Adapted to Public Worship (1769), whose editors were John Ash and Caleb Evans. This hymnal gave her hymns a wide circulation throughout Baptist circles, and, in time, her hymns became as well known in Baptist circles and beyond as those of Isaac Watts, John Newton, or William Cowper. They played a part in revitalizing areas of the Calvinistic Baptist cause throughout England.
In the past few areas a number of studies of Steele have appeared, of which the latest is Priscilla Wong’s Anne Steele and her Spiritual Vision (Reformation Heritage Books, 2012). This is a slim volume, but it provides the interested reader with a great overview of some of the central spiritual themes of Anne’s hymns. Warmly recommended.