Born in the village of Haughton in Staffordshire, Darwall was educated at Manchester Grammar School and at Brasenose College, Oxford (which he entered at the age of 14), graduating in 1756. He then became curate and later vicar of St Matthew's Parish in Walsall. In 1766 he married to Mary Whateley (1738–1825), his second wife, a published poet who ran a printing press and also wrote hymns. He died on 18 December 1789 at Walsall in the West Midlands. He was buried at the Bath Street Burial Grounds.
He is probably best known for his setting of Psalm 148, known as DARWALL'S 148th, which is most often sung to the words "Rejoice the Lord is King" (from Charles Wesley's Moral and Sacred Poems of 1744) and to "Ye holy angels bright" (from Richard Baxter's Poetical Fragments of 1681). It was first sung at the inauguration of a new organ in 1773.
- "John Darwall (1731–1789)". .shropshire-cc.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 2012-02-21. Retrieved 2012-06-14.
- "John Darwall". Hymntime.com. Archived from the original on 2012-07-31. Retrieved 2012-06-14.
- Street Names of Walsall, volume 1 of the series Street Names of Walsall Metropolitan Borough. Based on the original unpublished work by W.F. Blay with additional research by Walsall Local History Centre. Published by Walsal Metropolitan Borough Council's Walsall Local History Centre, 1992. ISBN 0 946652 28 7.
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- Biography at the Cyber Hymnal