William Knapp was parish clerk of St. James’s Church, Poole, Dorset, England for a period of thirty-nine years, and one of the most popular composers of music for country church choirs in England in the second half of the eighteenth century.
According to Hutchins, William is believed to have been born at Wareham, Dorset in 1698, but any record of the event seems to have been lost in one of the towns many fires.
Very little is known of William’s life before he became parish clerk of St. James’s Church, Poole in 1728. By trade he was a glover and is believed to have worked as an itinerant psalm-singing master, an increasingly popular occupation at the time. Most of these men were self-taught, or at any rate had no formal education or qualifications.
In 1728, and in 1738 William published ‘A Set of New Psalm Tunes and Anthems’ by subscription and in the introduction states that the pieces were composed for the choirs he taught in different places. Most of the tunes are named after villages near Poole, and it is possible that he may have taught choirs in all of them.
William Knapp died, aged 70 at Poole where he was buried, ‘somewhere near the old town wall’, on September 28, 1786. He left no will, and from the grant of probate it is clear that his wife and two daughters had already died.
His works ran into numerous editions, were frequently adapted and pirated in other publications, and were copied into countless village musicians’ manuscript books all over England. Today he is only remembered as the composer of the hymn-tunes Wareham and Spetisbury.