Bryan King - Church Times obituary, 8 February 1895


The death of the Rev. Bryan King, which took place on January 30th at Weston-super-Mare at the ripe age of eighty-three years, removes from visible presence one to whom the English Church owes a deep debt of gratitude as one of the earliest practical proponents of the Catholic revival in England. The name of Bryan King has not been much before the public of late years, a fact due partly to his love of retirement, fostered by his residence for more than thirty years in an out-of-the-way village on the Wiltshire Downs, some miles distant from a railway station, and partly to increasing infirmities, especially an almost total deafness, which for several years took him off, to a great extent, from active association and co-operation with his fellow-members of those religious societies, such as the Society of the Holy Cross and English Church Union, in whose proceedings, however, he took the liveliest interest. Five-and-thirty years ago, however, his name was, while against his own will, one of the most famous in England. Those who can recall the intense excitement of the riots at St. George's-in-the-East, unless they had the privilege of being amongst the number of his intimate friends, would probably, many of them, hear with surprise that the rector who went through went through such a time of trial was living until last week, and that he had been vicar of the parish to which he exchanged from St. George's until last November. The life of retirement is the most practical and convincing contradiction, if any were necessary, of the charge so loudly and frequently reiterated in those days that the rector of St. George's was merely actuated by a love of notoriety.

Bryan King was born on Holy Innocents' Day 1811, in Liverpool. His grandfather was the Rev. Bryan King, rector of Woodchurch, Cheshire, and his father, George King, was a Liverpool merchant. His mother's maiden name was Ashfield, and she was a great-grandchild of Lewis Morris, Governor of New Jersey, one of her uncles having been Ambassador of the United States at the Court of the Tuileries during the French Revolution, and another member of the family having married the Dowager Duchess of Gordon, mother of the notorious Lord George Gordon, she being used to refer to these facts with a humorous suggestion that the members of his family had been accustomed to riots.

He was educated at first at a day-school in Liverpool, and as his father had a small house on the Cheshire side of the Mersey, in which he and his family resided for several months in the year, Bryan King and his brothers had to cross the Mersey daily to and fro in all kinds of weather in a small sailing boat, which was then the only means of crossing. He himself attributed his ability to endure the physical trial of the riots at St. George's to the hardness which he learnt to endure in his early training. When, shortly after becoming Rector of St George's, he went with his friend Mr. Spencer Charrington to Norway for a tour on account of his health, it is significant that, whilst another friend went by steamer, these two chose to make the voyage in a small fishing boat; and almost to the end of his life, except when absolutely prevented by illness, he used to summon his family to prayers at an early hour in all kinds of weather. At the age of 14 he was removed to Shrewsbury School, under the headmastership of Dr. Butler, where being of a naturally sensitive disposition, and not in most robust health, having had in his first years a serious attack of rheumatic fever, he suffered considerably from the the roughness of behaviour prevalent there, as at most other public schools at that time; but this no doubt helped to prepare him for his later experience of far more brutal violence.

In 1831 he proceeded to Brasenose College, Oxford, where the principal, Dr. Gilbert, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, impressed him, as a thoroughly old-fashioned Oxford don of a type the disappearance of which Mr. King, with a conservatism that always remained staunch and constant, used frequently to lament. He became a speaker of the Union, the leading speakers at that time being Ward (author of the "Ideal"), Cardwell (the late Viscount), and Robert Lowe (afterwards Viscount Sherbrooke). He held one of the Hulme exhibitions at Brasenose, and having taken Classical honours, subsequently became Fellow of his College, for which he always had a real affection.

Although the Tractarian movement commenced during his time at Oxford, and although he we soon to be one if the first to put the teaching of its originators into practice, Bryan King himself stated that he was not at first at all in sympathy with it, being under the influence of his college tutor, the Rev. T.T. [Thomas Townson] Churton, a man of sincerely religious character and of decidedly "Evangelical" views. It was only the violent articles in one periodical in which the leaders of the movement were attacked, contrasted with the calm and consistent conduct of the victims of such treatment, that gradually enlisted his sympathy with them and their cause. The requirement of the Hulme foundation that he should reside until the time of taking his M.A. degree, gave him a valuable opportunity of theological and general study when the exigencies of examinations were past, and he attended, amongst others, the lectures of Dr. Pusey.

Mr. Bryan King was ordained deacon by Bishop Bagot of Oxford in 1836, and priest on Trinity Sunday 1837, Dr. Pusey being one of the priests assisting at his ordination. Shortly afterwards he was presented by his college to the perpetual curacy of St. John's, Bethnal Green, a district with a population of about 8,000 at that time. Overwhelmed as he felt with the terrible responsibility of such a district at the very commencement of his work, he yet found time to take an active part in the originating and carrying out a scheme for the erection of ten churches, parsonage houses, and schools in the parish of Bethnal Green. Mr. William Cotton of Leytonstone, a director of the Bank of England, having been applied to by Mr. King for a subscription to some proposed new schools, being struck with the spiritual needs of the parish, suggested the larger scheme. A committee was formed, with Mr. Cotton as treasurer, and the Revd. H. Mackenzie (afterwards Bishop-Suffragan of Lincoln) and Bryan King as secretaries. Bishop Blomfield warmly and energetically supported the scheme, and it was entirely carried out. At this period Mr. King, one one of his frequent visits to his cousin, Dr. Joshua King, President of Queen's College, Cambridge, met the daughter of the Rev. Thomas Ardell, to whom he was shortly afterwards married, and who for more than 50 years was his chief earthly consolation, the brave and patient partner in his joys and sorrow, and his constant attendant in his infirmities.

In 1842 Mr. King became Rector of St. George's-in-the-East, and was married in the same year. The population of St. George's was at that time 38,000. The last rector had for some time been in ill-health and unable to do anything. Bishop Blomfield, who was the first English Bishop to discard the episcopal wig and clerical bands, and with them the old-fashioned notions of episcopacy, had recently delivered his celebrated charge, in which he had required the clergy to pay a more strict regard to the rubrics, especially insisting on the propriety of preaching in a surplice, and using the prayer for the Church Militant. This was the ostensible cause of violent opposition on the part of the Vestry, though the real cause was undoubtedly the commencement of a determined attack upon Satan upon one of his strongholds, the parish being full of brothels and public houses of the lowest type. Five years of bitter opposition to one whose only thought was the welfare of the souls entrusted to his charge, resulted in a serious illness which nearly proved fatal and necessitated six months' absence and rest. On his return, untouched by his sufferings, his opponents became more actively hostile. The organ was damaged, and the organist was paid his salary by the Vestry on condition that he refused to do his work. Upon this a number of the younger parishioners who had come to appreciate and sympathise with their rector, procured a harmonium, and formed a choir to chant the psalms and canticles and sing anthems. This was bitterly resented, but the opposition was the occasion of a characteristic sermon by the late Rev. Dr. Evans, who had been curate at St. George's [in fact Minister of Trinity Episcopal Chapel]. After saying that no one in his senses could doubt that King David sang his psalms, he looked calmly round and declared that no one in all his dominions called him a Puseyite for his pains.

In 1856 was commenced the St. George's Mission, originated by Father Lowder and resulting in the glorious work. This has been fully described in Father Lowder's Life, but it does not appear that Mr. King has ever received the credit due to him in this matter. Without in the slightest degree attempting to diminish the honour due to Father Lowder, it may be confidently stated that the true origin of that noble work was the agonising prayer of the Rector of St. George's. Preaching at the opening of the Mission on Psalm cxiii.9, after explaining the nature and circumstances of the work, he said:-

It is, then, fourteen years ..... since a priest and pastor was entrusted with the cure of the souls of this vast parish. For several years of his ministry here, he was (and that certainly through his own most manifold frailties, and sins) the object of almost universal suspicion and distrust amongst his people; thus further, he was, as it were, utterly paralized in the very vastness of his charge; his own feeble and almost unaided efforts in his own overwhelming field of labour seemed to be all futile and vain; he could find no means of obtaining such help in his work as he needed; 'fast bound in misery and iron' he was but as it were alone, and alas, a most unvigilant sentry here .... So that he could only look upon himself as a mere obstacle and hindrance in the way of the salvation of his poos people's souls; he could only pray and entreat in deep distress of soul, day by day, and that for several weary years, that it might please his Saviour to remove him as a mere stumbling-block and offence from this part of the vineyard which He had purchased with His all precious Blood .... Thus it pleased Christ Jesus, in His endless pity and love, to revive the heart of His most helpless and unworthy servant with the hope that the times of refreshing might even yet come upon him .... when even he might be able in praise to say, "He maketh the barren woman keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children: praise ye the Lord.

So he welcomed the mission, and this extract shows not only the deep humility of the man, but also the intensity of prolonged prayer that resulted in the foundation of the mission.

In the year 1858 two chasubles were presented with the request from several communicants that the rector would use them, which, in consideration of the recent Knightsbridge judgment, he did, these being the first coloured silk vestments used in London since the beginning of the Catholic revival.

In March, 1859, the Rev. Hugh Allen, an extreme Protestant and an avowed opponent of the rector, was elected by the vestry Lecturer at St. George's. Mr. Allen's subsequent action was followed by the commencement of those riots which for months were a scandal to a civilised country, a disgrace to the Government that permitted them, and to the Bishop who rather encouraged than discouraged the rioters. The clergy and choir were in constant danger of their lives, and were only protected by a band of faithful laymen from various parts of London. It was shortly before this that Mr. King had assisted at the formation of the English Church Union, being a member of its first elected Council, and himself one of the first, if not the first, to receive its substantial assistance.

At length, when the health of the Rector was completely broken down in 1860, Dean Stanley and Mr. Thomas persuaded him to accept leave of absence from the Bishop, arranging for Mr. Hansard, whose death was so near Mr. King's, to undertake the charge, and themselves guaranteeing his stipend. 

Then, in his own words, followed over 30 years of "such peace and tranquility as falls to the lot of few", and the fulfilment of two dear wishes to his heart, to visit Bruges and to live in the country. On leaving St. George's he lived for three years in retirement with his family in Bruges, and then in 1863, through the arrangement of the Bishop. effected an exchange with the vicar of Avebury.

Avebury is a charming little village on the old Bath Road, between Marlborough and Calne, noted for its Druidical remains on a vaster scale than Stonehenge, though with fewer stones remaining, and other interesting antiquarian remains, notably Silbury Hill, the largest artificial tumulus in Europe, and with a beautiful little church containing Saxon work. Here the weary soul found rest in ministering to a small flock of simple country folk, and restoring the church to something like its former beauty. This work was finished in 1883, when, at the reopening, a grand sermon inspired by the genius loci, was preached by Mr. King's brother-in-law, the late Bishop Harvey Goodwin of Carlisle. The sermon in the evening was preached by Canon Rhodes Bristow, whose renunciation of a business career to take Holy Orders was on the the fruits of the St. George's riots.

For the last few years Mr. King had been unable to do any clerical duty, his youngest son acting as his curate. He resigned the living of Avebury only last November, and had the satisfaction of seeing his wife and family comfortably settled in their new home at Weston-super-Mare before he was called to his rest. Brave as a lion, and patient as a lamb, his life is one of which English Churchmen may be proud. Though so weighed down by suffering for so many years, he was never morose. He had a strong sense of humour that nothing could destroy, and the charm of his talk which his earlier friends will but remember, remained even after his deafness made conversation an almost insuperable difficulty. He expired peacefully after many days of acute suffering, borne without a murmur, on Wednesday, January 30th. On Saturday after the parish Mass his body was taken to All Saints' church, were a Requiem Mass was sung, the celebrant being his son-in-law, Rev. W. Crouch. The subsequent funeral service at the cemetery was taken by Rev. E.J. Morris, curate-in-charge. A large number of floral tributes from old St. George's friends and others bore witness to the loving regard and veneration in which his memory is held by all who knew him. - R.I.P.

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