Herborising and the High Church – the story of the Reverend Richard Thomas Lowe (1)

This year Lambeth Palace Library and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Library, Art & Archives have been engaged in a collaborative project looking at the role played by clergymen in the study and progress of natural science. The intimate links between members of the clergy and the development of science may to some seem unexpected, but the significant role of clergymen has been both influential and far reaching. With potential postings to far flung locations, time between pastoral duties and reverence for the natural world, these educated men were well placed to undertake scientific investigations. It is these links which the collaborative project has sought to explore, focusing primarily on the complex and intriguing character of the Reverend Richard Thomas Lowe (1802-1874). Lowe’s achievements as a naturalist have been obscured as a result of the controversies he caused on Madeira in relation to his clerical practices during his time as chaplain on the island in the 19th century. This series of blogs posts will examine this tale of ecclesiastical intrigue – it is a story of suspicion, principles and unwanted innovation which is revealed through our respective library and archival collections.

IMG_1240 Lowe edited
Photographic image of Richard Thomas Lowe, courtesy of the National Archives (J 121/2416).

Lowe first journeyed to Madeira as a Travelling Bachelor in 1826 following his graduation and ordination as deacon (on Christmas Day 1825) in Christ College Cambridge. He arrived on the island’s shores in company with his ailing mother, Susanna Lowe (his father having died when he was an infant). The trip was to be cathartic, spiritual and educational – a heady mixture. For Lowe’s mother the island offered comfort from the ravaging symptoms of consumption (tuberculosis or TB). Madeira was effectively an island sanatorium; its temperate climate offered respite and comfort from the debilitating disease. For Susanna’s son, however, Madeira presented an opportunity. Although it had been explored by the likes of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), Lowe was convinced that fresh discoveries lay waiting to be made by an intrepid naturalist.

View of Madeira from 1807 (The English Church in Madeira by H.A. Newell, 1931, plt. 3. Lambeth Palace Library, H5697.M2).

After many months of exploring the island’s natural riches, Lowe decided to remain on Madeira (he had return to England briefly to receive his MA and be ordained as a priest in September 1830). He was soon presented with an opportunity which would boost his professional prospects. In 1831 the chaplain on the island, the Reverend William Deacon, offered Lowe the position of temporary chaplain to the flock of residents and visitors who attended the little English Church on the island (now known as the Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity). Deacon was to return to England for a time and was in need of a reliable and capable locum. Lowe had made a favourable impression both with Deacon and the congregation – he was the natural choice to fill the position. The temporary role was fortuitous, but Lowe may well have had his sights fixed upon more. It was generally known that Deacon was amid a wrangle over his salary. This was to be reduced by £100 a year and in protest he was to remove himself to England until the matter was resolved.  There were, however, suggestions that Deacon’s sojourn would become a permanent move and his position would fall vacant – Lowe, was in a prime position.

Lowe fulfilled the role of locum with care and diligence. He preached to his receptive congregation and the established pattern of worship continued without aberration. The only difficulty for Lowe, was the limited time he was left with for his botanising over the course of the season (the sheer volume of the sick who resided on the island kept the chaplains of Madeira very busy, offering succour and comfort where they could), but he was a dedicated clergyman and continued to minister to the best of his ability. All seemed to be going well, but his spell as spiritual leader was put to an abrupt end – Deacon returned early and Lowe stood aside.

Exterior view of the English Church on Madeira as it appeared in 1844 (The English Church in Madeira, by H.A. Newell, 1931 plt. 5. Lambeth Palace Library, H5697.M2).

For the time being Lowe could dedicate his time solely to his natural history research (find out more on Kew’s Library, Art & Archives blog). Soon, however, the foundations laid during his temporary position yielded fruit. Around 1832/33 Deacon retired and Lowe was once again in a position to step neatly into his shoes. He wrote excitedly to his great friend Sir William Hooker (1785-1865) (who had been Professor of Botany at Glasgow University and then famously Director of Kew from 1841) to tell him of the “comfort of a permanent provision and employment in my profession”:

I am sure you will be glad to hear I am likely to succeed at the end of the year to the Chaplaincy of this place, under circumstances peculiarly gratifying…the Brit[ish] Residents have unanimously & of their own accord entirely, come forward, drawn up and submitted a memorial in my favour to the Government (Directors’ Correspondence 58/179).

All did not quite commence without incident. Lowe refused to assume the position of chaplain until he had officially received word from the Government and the Bishop of London – much to the fury of Madeira’s consul Henry Veitch (1782-1857) who held sway on the island. He withheld Lowe’s salary and threatened to appoint another chaplain if the current nominee was unwilling. Lowe backed down and settled into his role, being officially recognised as chaplain on 31st December 1833.

For the time being the skies seemed clear and life resumed its tranquil rhythm, but storm clouds were brewing.
A5 leaflet HerborisingYou are warmly invited to come and view our collaborative exhibition “Herborising and the High Chiurch…” which runs until 20th July 2015 in the Reading Room at Kew.


Charles Blomfield, Correspondence between the Lord Bishop of London (1846) [ Lambeth Palace Library, H5133 472.11]
Herbert Andrew Newell, The English Church in Madeira (1931) [Lambeth Palace Library, H5697.M2]
Foreign chaplaincies: three letters to the Lord Bishop of London (1853) [Lambeth Palace Library H5150 12.13]
RBG Kew: Library, Art &Archives, Directors’ Correspondence 58/179
RBG Kew, Library, Art & Archives: Directors’ Correspondence 58/171
Patrick H. Armstrong, The English Parson-naturalist  (2000)                                                               Roy Nash, Scandal in Madeira: the story of Richard Thomas Lowe (1990)

Early Modern Archbishops’ Papers Project 2

Dr Richard Palmer reports on further work to re-catalogue the early modern Archbishops’ papers. In recent weeks seven volumes of papers of Thomas Secker, Archbishop of Canterbury 1758-68, were catalogued for the first time on an item by item basis. The papers were found to include many papers inherited by Secker from his predecessors, especially Thomas Herring, Archbishop of Canterbury 1747-57.

Secker 1 mainly comprises papers relating to William and Mary College, Virginia, including a long account of the affairs of the College by John Camm following his dismissal as professor of Divinity in 1757. Also included are papers relating to financial provision for the clergy in Virginia in which Camm also played a prominent part. A letter sent in 1760 to Lord Halifax, Commissioner for Trade and Plantations, signed ‘Philanglus Americanus’, with suggestions on the governance of the American colonies and the role of the Church of England, was found to be the work of Samuel Johnson, President of King’s College, New York, one of Secker’s most prominent correspondents in America.

Secker 2 comprises a miscellany of papers, the largest section relating to the project of Benjamin Kennicott to collate all known Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament. Also included are papers relating to Ireland. Amongst these, as well as 16 letters to Secker from the Dean of Killaloe, published by the Church of England Record Society in 2010, was found an important letter to Secker from his friend John Bowes, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, giving a vivid first-hand account of the anti-union riots in Dublin in December 1759.

Secker 2 f. 232
Letter to Archbishop Secker from William Henry, Dean of Killaloe, 1764 (Secker 2 f. 232)

Secker 3 comprises Canterbury diocesan papers. These were already arranged and listed by the names of parishes, and it was initially assumed that no additional cataloguing was needed. However the papers proved to be more important for their subject matter than their location, and were so disparate in nature (including a report by the architect Robert Mylne on the fabric of Canterbury Cathedal, a catalogue of the parochial library at Detling, and letters on the baptism of a ‘negro’ and an Anabaptist), that a completely new catalogue was necessary. Also included are visitation papers, including an interesting series of 6 letters to Secker from his chaplain, Charles Hall, providing reports on the progress of the visitation in 1762.

Secker 4 comprises metropolitical papers, including correspondence on Secker’s exercise of the ‘Archbishop’s option’, his right to nominate to a benefice of his choice in the diocese of a newly consecrated bishop on its first becoming vacant. Secker’s choice of St George’s Hanover Square, a plum in the diocese of London, caused a rift with Thomas Sherlock, Bishop of London, which is a major theme of the correspondence.

Secker 5 comprises Latin exercises (short dissertations on theological topics) written by candidates for institution to benefices or, more typically, dispensations to hold benefices in plurality. These were already catalogued by the names of their authors. However various inaccuracies suggested the need for a new catalogue correlating each exercise with the institution or dispensation which resulted.

Secker 6 mainly comprises papers of Secker as Visitor of various institutions (especially All Souls College, Oxford). Included are letters from Stephen Niblett, Warden of All Souls, and the jurist William Blackstone. The new catalogue allows these papers to be studied alongside other papers of the Archbishop as Visitor of All Souls in the manuscripts series and Vicar General records.

Secker 7 is miscellaneous in character and the new item by item catalogue reveals many significant items which were previously inaccessible. Included is Secker’s letter to Archbishop Herring in 1755 responding to Herring’s proposal to nominate him to be Bishop of London; original declarations and oaths taken by converts from Roman Catholicism; a letter from Jacob Duche in 1765 giving an account of his life, spiritual development and ministry in Philadelphia; and legal opinions by Lord Hardwicke and others. Also present are papers relating to foreign Protestants, the Faculty Office, Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, and the case of Henry Perfect, a clergyman who failed in every respect to match up to his surname.

The Mothers’ Union: In Word and Deed

In 1876 Mothers’ Union founder Mary Sumner had printed a run of fifty cards with practical advice for mothers. There was a hymn on one side and, on the reverse, the following text:

‘Remember that your Children are given up, body and soul, to Jesus Christ in Holy Baptism, and that your duty is to train them for His Service.

1.       Try, by God’s help, to make them obedient, truthful and pure.

2.       Never allow coarse jests, bad angry words, or low talk in your house. Speak gently.

3.       You are strongly advised never to give your children beer, wine or spirits without the doctor’s orders, or to send young people to the public house.

4.       Do not allow your girls to go about the streets at night, and keep them from unsafe companions and from dangerous amusements.

5.       Be careful that your children do not read bad books or police reports.

6.       Set them a good example in word and deed.

7.       Kneel down, and pray to God morning and evening, and teach your children to pray.

8.       Try to read a few verses of the Bible daily, and come to Church as regularly as possible.'[1]

The cards were distributed among attendees of those first Mothers’ Union meetings held in the parish of Old Alresford, and given to those who had expressed interest in the group’s activities. The language used may seem slightly amusing to us now but the dutiful nature of these words can still be felt. Though not exactly a manifesto, the cards set forth (directly or indirectly) some of the principles on which Sumner founded the Union. The sixth point on the list seems to be the most enduring: a ‘good example in word and deed.’ As we shall see, behind the one hundred and thirty-eight-years of tireless social outreach, domestic and international campaigning, and charity work the Mothers’ Union have informed and educated their members through a prolific publishing campaign.

By 1888 the Mothers’ Union was sanctioned and operating in eighteen dioceses, many with several branches. With such rapid growth a means of clarifying the aims and objects of the Union became essential to its unity and coherence as a national organisation. In response the Mothers’ Union Journal was founded and in addition to articles noting the progress and purpose of the Union, the journal published fiction, poetry and teaching for mothers, including a series entitled ‘Letters to a Young Mother from an Old Mother.’ In its second year of publication the journal doubled its page count in order to dedicate more space to reports of meetings and it was around this time that a central Committee was formed with a view to inaugurating a Central Council.

We see then, that the ‘good example’ of the words printed and disseminated through the journal was one of the central organising principles of the movement in these early years. The articles directly informed the ‘deeds’ of many branches, where the issues discussed in the journal often provided a structure or focal point for meetings. The journal would also be used as a means of advertising pamphlets written by Sumner, her brisk but considered language providing a framework for the deeds carried out in the outreach and education undertaken in the various branches of the union.

The journal – succeeded by other periodicals including Mothers Union News, Mothers in Council, and more recently Families First – was only the beginnings of this organised effort in literary outreach. In Ten Years More: 1926-1936, a pamphlet summarising the achievements of the group during that decade, Mary E Thompson wrote:

It is impossible to give an adequate idea of our publication work. Ceaselessly all kinds of books, booklets, pamphlets and leaflets have been poured out to our members.[2]

They were popular too; in 1889 the first Mothers’ Union Almanac quickly sold 20,000 copies. As the publishing project rapidly expanded the creation of a Literature Committee became necessary and was established in 1906 to oversee the movement’s publishing activities, with Diocesan Literature Representatives appointed to recommend educational texts. At the height of its influence the Mothers’ Union maintained a public library for members and their children at Mary Sumner House in Tufton Street, as well as a bookshop.

The Lending Library at Mary Sumner House
The Lending Library at Mary Sumner House. Image taken from ‘This is the Mary Sumner House’, London : Mothers’ Union, [196-?]
In June 2008 the central archives of the Mothers’ Union – including the records from Mary Sumner House, minutes, correspondence, accounts, pamphlets, architectural plans, photographs and slides – were transferred to Lambeth Palace Library. This valuable historical collection is publicly accessible thanks to the diligent work of our archives team and a glance at the archives catalogue will give you an idea of the thousands of items now held at the Palace. In addition to this archival material are the many boxes of printed books currently being sorted through by our library assistants prior to cataloguing.

While the collection numbers many hundreds of books it by no means represents a complete publication history of the Mothers’ Union, again demonstrating the sheer volume of materials produced by the group. The books came to us in boxes which had been grouped by Cordelia Moyse (who worked on the material while it was still at Mary Sumner House, and who has written the brilliant A History of the Mothers’ Union 1876-2008: Women, Anglicanism and Globalisation) in to a number of broad categories including – but not limited to – prayer books, prayer calendars, orders of service, children’s books, moral & social issues, Mothers’ Union lectures, families & parenting, overseas diocesan histories, overseas vernacular literature, annual reports and many variants and sub-categories in between. This list in itself gives an overview of the range of topics and issues addressed by the Union, the organisation of the group, and moreover asserts the central importance of literature within the Union historically.

Children's prayer book.
Childrens prayer book in an unidentified African dialect.

Sorting through the books the range of production values is striking. There are, as you would expect, beautifully bound volumes with glossy illustrations celebrating and documenting the history of the Union. There is also a wealth of pamphlets and publications which have been produced using low cost printing techniques such as lithography or photocopying, presumably to keep cover prices low where applicable and to enable larger runs and reach more people. Some of the ‘overseas vernacular literature’ has been produced on a typewriter and hand stitched with colour images from another source glued in. This D-I-Y approach brings us again back to the relationship between ‘deeds’ and ‘words’; the deed itself manifested in the physical act of labour involved in setting down the words required to support and educate others.

The Mothers' Union Centenary Brochure
‘The Mothers’ Union 1876-1976 : the Mothers’ Union centenary brochure’, [London : Mothers’ Union, 1976]


[1] Quoted in Violet B Lancaster. A Short History of the Mother’s Union. London: The Mothers’ Union, 1958
[2] Mary E Thompson. Ten Years More: 1926-1936. London: The Mothers’ Union, [1936]

The First World War and the Bishops

This is a further blog post in a series to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. The Library and Record Centre together hold substantial material relating to the War, which is summarised in the research guide available on our website.

The records include minutes of Bishops’ Meetings. This was a gathering of diocesan and suffragan bishops in England and Wales, held biannually. The meetings were chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury: during the War, Randall Davidson. The minutes provide an insight into the issues facing the Church following the outbreak of War.

The first wartime meeting took place in October 1914 (ref: LPL BM 6/57) and show its impact on Church activities, for instance the postponement (for a year, it was thought – in the event it eventually took place in the 1920s) of a proposed Mission of Help to the Church in India.

The agenda of the first wartime Bishops’ Meeting, 20 October, 1914 (ref: LPL BM 6/57)

Wartime subjects which already commanded the attention of the Bishops included preparation of special forms of prayer for public use and the possibility of a National Day of Intercession.

The minutes include a copy of a circular letter sent out by Archbishop Davidson on the subject of clergy as combatants, expressing his view that to volunteer as a combatant was “incompatible with the position of one who has sought and received Holy Orders”: the special calling of the ordained ought to be regarded as their “special contribution to their country’s service”. Offers to serve as chaplains in the Army or Navy were at that time “far more numerous than could possibly be accepted”. Those not yet ordained but nearing the end of their time at theological colleges were encouraged to complete their training, but those at an earlier stage of study could be encouraged to enlist as it was thought that “great advantages” could be gained from service, and the fact of having borne arms would not subsequently disable a man from receiving Holy Orders. There was, given the “unprecedented” state of affairs, extensive discussion on the work of Army chaplains (in both the Territorial Army and the new Kitchener Army) and the position of the Chaplain General.

Fees for marriage licences (which enabled greater flexibility in the location and timing of weddings) for soldiers and sailors summoned at short notice to go on active service were discussed. It was advocated that officials adopt some liberality and sacrifice some fees “as only the reality of the crisis and its temporary character can justify”. The Archbishop counselled, however, that such reduction ought not to be used to “expedite marriages otherwise unsuitable”.

Further discussion involved the role of the clergy in facilitating the issue of Government assistance (in the form of separation allowances) to the wives and families of men in the Army and Navy on active service. Dissemination of information on this had been done at the personal request of Lord Kitchener. The question of assistance to unmarried partners of soldiers and sailors ensued, a “difficult and delicate question”. Resolution of this issue the Bishops explicitly considered in some degree as being of a private character within their meeting; but they endorsed this approach of supporting unmarried women, “where there was evidence of a settled home” and unless “such a course would gravely imperil the standards of moral life, both among the men of His Majesty’s Forces and in the nation”.

Use of school buildings and churches by the troops, already requisitioned by the military in a few cases, was mentioned. More specific were prospective requests to use parish churches for the celebration of the Roman Mass for Belgian refugees which, it was argued, could not easily be granted.

The subject of War memorials was raised, and attention called to the importance of parish clergy keeping lists of those from their parishes who served during the War.

Brief reference was made to the peculiar difficulties in which certain ecclesiastical industries (for instance organ building and the making of stained glass) found themselves owing to the War.

A “long and important” discussion followed on the subject of increased drinking, especially among the wives of absent soldiers and in some cases among army recruits. The implications for the opening hours of public houses and on alternative recreations in the camps were raised. Similarly, “moral dangers and difficulties” with regard to the camps and billeting were of concern to the Bishops, with attention paid to means of “helping the young girls of the country”, perhaps by the provision of “women patrols”.

Discussion on these subjects, and on additional topics such as precautions in case of invasion and the moral and spiritual care of German prisoners, continued to resonate in the records as the War proceeded.

Descriptions of the Bishops’ Meetings records are available in the archives catalogue. Other items in this series are featured in the Library’s First World War timeline.

The response of the Church of England to the War was featured on the Radio 4 Sunday programme.

The Society of Saint John the Evangelist archive now catalogued

Fr. Benson SSJE
Fr. Benson SSJE

The end of November marked the completion of an 11-month project to catalogue the records of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE). The Cowley Fathers, as SSJE were more popularly known, were founded by Richard Meux Benson in Oxford in 1866, when Benson and two other Fathers took vows of silence, poverty and obedience and began the first Anglican male monastic order since the Reformation. The brotherhood would last almost 150 years before, sadly, coming to a close in England in 2011 (although a thriving community still exists in America).

The Society expanded from its Oxford base and established houses in London, India, South Africa, America, Canada and Japan. From each of these houses the Fathers ventured out into the community, ministering wherever asked, as well as welcoming people into their midst – providing safety and education for children and places of retreat and contemplation for clergy and lay people alike.

It is from India and South Africa that perhaps some of the most fascinating material in the collection emanates, with letters sent back from the ‘missionary frontier’ by pioneering Fathers in the 1870s and 1880s providing a vivid recollection and glorious image of the early work of the missions of the Society. Under particularly harsh conditions – cholera was just one ever present threat – the Fathers would cover large swathes of land carrying out the work of God wherever and whenever the opportunity arose.

A SSJE mission poster
A SSJE mission poster

That is not to say the activities of SSJE were well received in all quarters, with letters revealing confrontations with the Indian establishment arising when Fathers took to the streets to distribute ‘religious material’. Further challenges came from within the life as a monk living under Rule, with Fathers tasked to undertake ‘active evangelicalization’ whilst at the same time adhering to their vow of silence. Nevertheless, the legacy left by SSJE is clear across several continents, with many of the schools and churches built by the Fathers still fulfilling the same functions as they had so many years ago.

In addition to the wonderful correspondence, the collection also features a comprehensive set of the Society’s Rule and Statue books and minute books which combine to explain the governance of the Society, a large number of photographs and slides showing the Fathers at work at the missions, and a large volume of religious texts, particularly from its renowned leader Fr. Benson, in the form of sermons, addresses and meditations.

The project was jointly funded by the charitable trust administering SSJE funds, the Fellowship of St. John, and the Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library, and the collection is housed at the Church of England Record Centre, South Bermondsey.  To access the material, please consult the Lambeth Palace Library archives and manuscripts catalogue.