John Bacchus Dykes was born March 10, 1823, at Kingston upon Hull in England. He was a "natural" musician, and became the organist at his father's church when only ten years old. At age 12, Dykes became assistant organist at St. John's Church in Hull, where his grandfather was vicar.
He studied at Wakefield and St. Catherine's Hall in Cambridge, where he was a Dikes Scholar, co-founder and President of the Cambridge University Musical Society, and earned a BA in Classics. He was ordained deacon in 1847 and in 1848, he became curate at Malton, Yorkshire. For a short time, he was canon of Durham Cathedral, then precentor (1849-1862).
In 1861, he received the Mus.D. degree from the University of Durham and in 1862 he became vicar of St. Oswald's, Durham (he named a son John St. Oswald Dykes, and one of his tunes St. Oswald). Like John Mason Neal, he tried to introduce his High-church tendencies, but met with resistance from the bishop. The bishop saw to it that Dykes received no assistance with his parish. In order to receive two curates to help him in his parish, he had to promise three things: to prohibit wearing colored stoles, the use of incense, and the turning of their backs to the congregation except when "ordering the bread" at Holy Communion. The first two were never contemplated by Dykes. He did appeal to the Queen's Bench, but the lost the case.
The burden of caring for his large parish without help, together with the strain of the controversy with the bishop, took its toll on him and he died at only 53, on January 22, 1876 at Ticehurst, Sussex, England. He was buried at St. Oswald's. After his death at St. Leonard's-on-Sea, his great popularity was seen when his admirers raised 10,000 pounds to benefit his family.
Dykes published sermons and articles on religion, but is best known for his hymn tunes. The Tractarian ("High Church") movement, revitalizing the faith and worship of the Anglican Church, had the problem of creating singable tunes for the new hymn texts being written by Reginald Heber, John Keble, and others. John Dykes was one of the main composers for the new hymn texts. He composed 300 hymn tunes, "Service in F," a musical setting of Psalm 23, anthems and part songs. Twenty eight of his hymns were for children.
In his music, as in his ecclesiastical work, he was less dogmatic than many of his contemporaries about the theological controversies of the day -- he often responded to requests for tunes for non-Anglican hymns. In addition to his gift for writing music, he played the organ, piano, violin, and horn. He is thought to be the most representative and successful composer of Victorian hymn tunes. His tunes are standard repertory for all the major hymnals in the United States, after being first introduced 100 years ago in Baker's "Hymns Ancient Modern." (Hymns and Carols of Christmas.com)