Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Henry Philpott Bishop of Worcester 1860 to 1890


If you visit Worcester Cathedral you might see the fine sculpture by Sir Thomas Brock of Henry Philpott, who was Bishop of Worcester between 1860 and 1890. The statue was originally positioned in the south Transept. Today, many visitors may not realize why a statue was made in his honour, and paid for by the public. This would surprise our Victorian ancestors who knew him as a great mathematician, an able administrator, and a man deeply committed to charity.

Bishop Henry Philpott of Worcester. Photography by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)


Henry Philpott, born in Chichester, was from an early age a gifted mathematician and classicist. As an undergraduate he was awarded the position of Senior Wrangler at Cambridge University, and was Smith’s Prizeman. His exam answers were kept for many years by the University because of their quality. He became a Fellow of St. Catherine’s College, and later went on to be the Master of the College from 1845 to 1860, and was Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University on three occasions. He did this job so well that he impressed Prince Albert, who made him his Chaplain.


Autographed picture of Bishop Henry Philpott. Photograph by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
Yet it was his actions as Bishop which made him beloved of his Diocese. He was a hard working man, who realised that debates are often pointless and that he could achieve far more in life by avoiding the House of Lords, meetings, congresses, Lambeth Conferences, and Convocations whenever possible. As a moderate Evangelical he devoted himself to his Diocese and to charitable work. He helped local churches in need of repair, offering sums of money from his own pocket. For example, he gave an acre of land to Lower Mitton when it needed an additional churchyard, and £1,250 to All Saints, Worcester. He also helped poor clergy. He had a substantial private income, and was frequently able to give away most of his official income to charities and charitable causes, both private and public. He also extended this charity to fellow Protestants in non-conformist churches in Worcester and Stourbridge. He founded scholarships, for example at Malvern Proprietary College in the 1860’s, and served as chairman of the Trustees at Bromsgrove school, where a stained glass window was erected in the school’s chapel in 1891. He was also interested in health matters and was a Governor of Worcester Infirmary, and was a patron of the Worcester Ophthalmic Hospital. He also attended meeting of Philanthropic societies in his Diocese.

Bishop Philpott was not a great public speaker. He only had three addresses for confirmation ceremonies. However, he was conscientious in replying to all correspondence and never relied upon a secretary. In 1881, he escaped being killed in his own library at Hartlebury Castle, when a large stone monument to Bishop Hurd above the door fell down only moments after he had been there.

In 1846 Philpott married Mary Jane, the daughter of the Marchese di Spineto. In 1878 the Bishop’s wife went blind. When he came home each evening Bishop Philpott would read to her. Despite her blindness she also enjoyed walks around the Castle’s gardens with her husband. The Bishop resigned the Bishopric in August 1890, and retired to his much-loved Cambridge, where he died. On his retirement money raised was put towards the gift of a silver ink stand, but the majority of the money established the ‘Philpott fund’ for the Pensions of the Clergy in the Diocese. This was because the poverty of the clergy at the time was an issue that Philpott was only too aware of. He is now buried at the Church of St. Mary at Bishop’s Wood in Hartlebury, which he built.


One volume of Dr. Samuel Johnson's works donated by Bishop Philpott to the Cathedral. Photograph by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Bishop Philpott generously donated many books from his own collection to the Cathedral Library. The cathedral’s archive also shows that the Bishop was involved in the administrative side of the Victorian restoration of the Cathedral, and provided the new Bishop’s throne. He died leaving a large sum of money, including generous legacies to the Church Pastoral Aid Society, and the Church Missionary Society.


The catalogue of books Henry Philpott gave to Worcester Cathedral. Photograph by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester (U.K.)


When visiting Worcestershire, why not also look at Hartlebury Castle and its excellent Hurd Library. Their link is as follows: http://www.hurdlibrary.co.uk/


David Morrison, with thanks to Mr. David Everett for research.

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