John Charles Ryle

Evangelical Bishop

by Peter Toon and Michael Smout

Reiner Publications, 1976




I     Christian and Clergyman

      a.   Macclesfield, 1816 to 1828

      b.   Eton, 1828 to 1834

      c.   Oxford, 1834 to 1837

      d.   London and Macclesfield, 1838 to 1841

      e.   Exbury and Winchester, 1841 to 1844

II    Ministry in East Anglia

      a.   Evangelicals in the Church of England

      b.   Helmingham, 1844 to 1861

      c.   Stadbroke, 1861 to 1880

      d.   A National Ministry

III  First Bishop of Liverpool

      a.   The Appointment

      b.   The City and Diocese

      c.   Diocesan Strategy: More Living Agents

      d.   The Cathedral Project

      e.   The Case of James Bell Cox

      f.    The National Scene

      g.   Family Matters and Retirement

IV  Epilogue

      Notes (moved to ends of chapters)

      Select Lists of Tracts and Books by J. C. Ryle

      Books edited by J. C. Ryle



      One year ago the Autobiography of J. C. Ryle was published by Reiner Publications under the title: A Self Portrait (ed. Peter Toon).  In the Preface to that book there was promised a biography of Ryle upon which a group of three friends were already working.  Unfortunately, one of these, Eric Russell of the City of Sheffield College of Education, was compelled by pressure of work to withdraw from the enterprise, leaving it in the hands of Michael Smout and Peter Toon.

      The authors have carefully indicated the sources of their information and sought to maintain a reasonable academic standard, but all that they would wish to claim for their work is that it is a much fuller life of Ryle than has previously been available.  Due to soaring production costs the size of the total work was restricted to 50,000 words and the footnotes placed at the end.  The authors are convinced that the truly definitive life of Ryle (or, for that matter, of any leading Victorian Anglican Evangelical) can not be written until more is known about Evangelicalism in the Church of England in this period.  We await a replacement of G. R. Balleine’s History of the Evangelical Party, first published over sixty years ago.

      Why, then, is a biography of Ryle worthwhile?  First, there are thousands of people who have read, and benefited from the reading, one or more of the publications of Ryle, but to whom Ryle is a shadowy figure.  Further, Ryle was a leader of Victorian Evangelicalism and to begin to understand him is to begin to understand the ethos of that Evangelicalism and its continuing influence today.  Again, Ryle, drawing on the rich resources of Reformation and Puritan theology, had a firm grasp of Protestant, Evangelical Christianity.  He preached and wrote with remarkable clarity.  This is why his books are still read today.  Finally, Ryle was thoroughly committed to the National Church of England and he did not shirk the responsibility of sitting alongside men of different persuasions in the debating forums of the Church, the Church Congresses and Diocesan Conferences.  At the same time he showed a friendly attitude towards Scottish Presbyterians and English Nonconformists but remained an unrepentant opponent of Roman Catholicism.  Christians today have something to learn from this attitude.

      The authors would like to thank all their friends who have helped them and the Librarians in Liverpool, London, Oxford, Winchester and Ipswich who have given excellent service.  In particular they thank Canon G. C. B. Davies, Canon Michael Hennell, Dr. Ian Sellers, Rev. John Gladwin and Dr. A. Skevington Wood for reading all or parts of the original manuscript and making helpful comments.  Iain Mac Gregor is to be thanked for improving our style.


Latimer House, Oxford.

December, 1975


I – Christian and Clergyman

      Under the normal laws and expectations of English society, John Charles Ryle should have been an industrialist, a banker and a Member of Parliament by 1843.  In the event, he became a poor, lonely clergyman.  How this came about is recorded in this chapter set initially in the old England county of Cheshire.


a.  Macclesfield, 1816 to 1828

      Macclesfield lies in the shadow of the Peak district, the large and beautiful upland area of central England.  To the west are the sweeping pastures of Cheshire; to the east, a sudden sharp rise of hills toward Buxton.  But the town itself was dominated from the sixteenth century by a soaring industry – the silk trade.1  When weaving was begun in the 1790s, huge, gaunt rectangular mills were set up to satisfy a demand created by war.  France, hitherto the main supplier, was now engaged in bitter conflict with England, culminating in the battle of Waterloo, 1815.

      It was a time of prosperity for the employers more than the employees, though a post-war depression halved wages and put many out of work for some years.  Heavy duties levied on imported silk brought back the boom by the 1820s but conditions of labor did not improve.  Out of a total population of 21,000, Macclesfield provided 10,000 with employment in the mills for long hours, low income and brief family life.  Children were sent to work from the age of seven.  An apprentice’s indentures stated that he should be taught ‘the occupation, calling or business of a silk weaver’ and be given ‘good, wholesome and sufficient clothes ... meat, drink, washing and lodging.’  In return, the boy had to ‘behave himself honestly and orderly towards his master, his master’s family and his master’s employers.2

      Recession struck the town again in 1824 when the import duties were removed, causing 6,000 redundancies and widespread bankruptcies among the owners.  One of the few who survived the collapse was John Ryle of Park Green, in the centre of Macclesfield.

      The Ryle family had been long-established in Cheshire.3  Originally from Royle in Lancashire, the name first appears in the registers of Marple, near Stockport, at the time of the Norman Conquest.  Traditionally middle-class property owners, they went into silk and cotton manufacture in Macclesfield as well, in the eighteenth century.  Their venture was so successful that when much of the local farmland was put on the market toward the end of the century, John Ryle Senior was a major purchaser.4

      But he was known for more than that – for membership of a much-maligned society of Wesleyans, later to be termed Methodists.

      John Wesley’s first visit to the area was on 8th November 1745 and he came regularly thereafter till 1790.5  The leader of the local Methodists for many years was George Pearson, a tailor, converted in 1748 at the age of 28.6  He died in 1807 and was buried in Christ Church Graveyard where the epitaph on his stone describes a ‘man who, without inheriting from nature any superior strength or intellect, without possessing in the early part of his life much of this world’s goods, and without ever having been acquainted with the advantages resulting from a knowledge of letters, spent a life of nearly four score years and ten with a much more than common degree of happiness to himself, of usefulness to mankind, and of piety and devotion to his Maker.’7  Pearson brought Wesley to Macclesfield and the meeting took place in the bake-house of a farm.  Among several converted under his first sermon was a lady sitting on the bake-stone.  Through her influence, John Ryle Senior became a Christian.  She was his mother.8

      The Wesleyan claims gained sound support so that by 1762 when one of their first itinerant preachers, John Oldham, arrived, the meeting was pursued through the night with ‘loud and bitter cries’ and ‘shouts of gladness.’  Forty people professed conversion and Wesley was prompted to come and see for himself what was going on.9

      Though the Methodists held their own meetings, they continued to attend the parish church of St. Michael’s whose Vicar, Rev. James Roe, was a broad churchman of no particular convictions, concentrating on fostering good, honest citizenship.10  Thus his attitude toward local Methodism was neither for nor against.  But in 1764, a year before his death, he experienced an evangelical conversion.  He received an overwhelming vision of God and a severe blow – the premature death of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Charles Roe, a keen Wesleyan and regular worshipper at St. Michael’s.  Pondering the witness of her life, he was inspired to spend the remainder of his life emphasising evangelical doctrine.  His successor, the Reverend Mr. Henson, reverted to the previous policy.

      Charles Roe was ‘far from indifferent to evangelical religion’ but his priority was temporal.11  One of the country’s leading industrialists, he built the first silk mill in Macclesfield and later founded the Macclesfield Copper Company.12  His wife brought him into contact with Methodism to some extent, though Wesley had to note ‘after she was married to a rich man, she durst not own the poor, despised Methodists.’13  So Charles remained staunchly Anglican to the point of banishing two sons from home for becoming Methodist.  Yet he had a wish to have the gospel go forth from St. Michael’s pulpit once again and he was instrumental in bringing a young evangelical curate to the parish in 1773.  The Reverend David Simpson and Mr. Henson were soon seen to be at odds on theology and such matters were brought into the open with the election of John Ryle Senior as mayor – the first Methodist to hold this office.

      Initially suspect on account of his turn to Methodism, Ryle quickly proved himself a man of leadership and integrity, despite an early snub from Mr. Henson.  The custom was for the new mayor to proceed to St. Michael’s for service on Easter Sunday.14  Mr. Henson took his place on the walk only under protest, even though Ryle was a consistent worshipper in his church.  An unexpected addition to the procession was John Wesley, following behind.

      The rift between the Vicar and his curate extended eventually to the congregation, many of whom felt constrained to leave when the Vicar essayed to preach.  Viewing this development, Charles Roe decided the only way out was a new church, built specially for Simpson.  And this was effected within nine months, being called Christ Church.  Roe insisted that the tower should be higher than St. Michael’s.  His orders were carried out as far as measurements went, but these did not go far enough – Christ Church stood lower on the map than St. Michael’s which stood on a knoll.  So Roe had the builder add to the dimensions, but at the expense of its strength – as a result, only six of its peal of ten bells could ever be used.  Roe did not confine himself to the material aspect but also reserved the right to appoint both church wardens.  His mind, says the church memorial, was ‘vast and comprehensive, formed for great under-takings, equal to their accomplishment.’  His motives, of course, were the subject of contention.

      Nonetheless, Wesley described the edifice as ‘the most elegant I have seen in the kingdom’ when he came to preach there, and Simson ministered boldly to the dissidents from St. Michael’s.15  Unpopular with the local establishment, he was also pelted with stones and dirt for welcoming Wesley.  The church itself came under attack from more elemental forces in the form of an earthquake during a meeting in 1778.  Hester, daughter of the Reverend James Roe, remembered how ‘the new church ... rocked like a cradle, and nearly threw some of the people on their faces.’  But the believers stayed undaunted so that Wesley could record in his Journal:

Good Friday, March 29th 1782, I came to Macclesfield in time to assist Mr. Simpson in the services of the day.  I preached for him morning and afternoon and we administered the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to about one thousand and three hundred persons.

      Simpson feared no man.  When Sir William Meredith of Henbury Hall complained to the Bishop about one of his sermons on marriage, Simpson told the Bishop: ‘My method is to preach the great truths, doctrines and precepts of Christianity in as plain, earnest and affectionate manner as I am able.’16

      In a day when evangelical Anglicans were comparatively few, it was easy for Simpson to be identified as a Methodist.  His opponents, he realised, ‘stigmatised those doctrines with the epithet of Methodism which were in reality the doctrines of the gospel.’17

      Beside his pastoral responsibilities, Simpson did much social work and especially in education, becoming known as ‘the Good Samaritan.’18

      Though happy at Christ Church, the Methodists were still looking for a place of their own and in 1764, despite some attempts at sabotage, a meeting-house was completed on a site provided by John Ryle in Commercial Road.  In March 1779 a meeting with Wesley at Ryle’s house led to the opening of a chapel in Sunderland Street a year later, again on land provided by Ryle.  Eight years on, a beam collapsed during a meeting, killing one person and injuring seventy others.19  A new chapel was built, helped by a donation of £1,000 from Ryle.  At first, it was legally Ryle’s property but it then passed to the Trustees who comprised a baker, a tanner, four silk throwsters and ‘Mr. Ryle, Gentleman.’  Other leading Methodists in the town were the Brocklehurst and Daintry families.20

      John Ryle Senior died in 1808 and the family fortune passed to his son John.21  Though there were eight children, the others had little opposition to present.  Of his two brothers, Thomas died at the age of 21 and Joshua married a woman of ‘inferior rank’ and went to live in the South of England, being ostracised by the rest of the family.

      John rose fast.  Only a year after his father’s death, he was mayor.  Married to Susanna, a cousin of Sir Richard Arkwright, the inventor, he lived in a large house on Park Green, commonly known as Ryle’s Park, but formerly the village green with a trout stream, the Bollin, running through it.  The house had been built with a silk mill nearby when the land was bought by John Ryle Senior.

      Into this house at 4 a.m. on 10 May 1816 was born a son John Charles.  The Macclesfield Courier of next day stated: ‘Yesterday morning the Lady of John Ryle Esq. of Park House, Macclesfield, mother of a son and heir.’22  Other items on the page included a report on Chester races and statistics from the local dispensary noting that out of eighteen admissions there were fourteen cures, one incurable, one dead and two demented.

      The Ryle family remained at Park House until John Charles was aged eight.23  He and his three older sisters saw little of their father, due to the pressures of business, and almost too much of their mother who tended to fuss over them.  They seldom went on holiday and when they did, it was to Bridlington where their father had a yacht called the Seaflower.  John Charles was tied to the mast when out sailing lest he fall overboard.  Other times, there were picnics here on a high point of the Yorkshire coast, at Flamborough Head.  Every morning, there was a walk to the pier before breakfast.  Once a dog almost as big as himself snatched a biscuit from the hand of the young John Charles – an episode among many he never forgot.

      Another such was nearer home, on the way back from a visit to one of his father’s farms.  Aged four, he was perched on a donkey led by his father who didn’t notice when John Charles fell off with an enormous thud on the outskirts of town.  He was retrieved after some considerable backtracking.

      John Charles made his first speech at the age of seven, in the succinct manner he later eschewed, then revived.  Attending a children’s party at Astle, the home of a local landowner, before some fifty other youngsters and several adults, he stood on a chair after the midday meal and uttered: ‘Well, Colonel Parker, I had a good dinner!’

      Mr. Ryle also entertained fairly extensively, with the children unbidden spectators at the dining-room windows.  One guest came upon John Charles deep in thought by a window on one occasion.  Asked what he was thinking about, the boy replied: ‘I am meditating about an elephant.’

      Christmas was the children’s great annual event with a special yule log brought in on Christmas Eve and plenty to eat, topped by a big apple pie.  There was also dancing to the music of the dulcimer, with the servants in the kitchen.  They were allowed to stay up till midnight to hear the entire company of the estate workers – servants, gardeners and farm labourers – sing carols in the tenants’ hall.

      The most searing memory John Charles retained of these days was being washed in a wooden tub every Saturday night and having his hair combed with a fine tooth comb.  Finally it was time for schooling to begin and Macclesfield became merely the place he returned to for holidays.

      In August 1824 he was sent to a private school run by the Reverend John Jackson, a native of Macclesfield who had become Vicar of Over, a small village some twenty miles away.  He had taken over from the Reverend Thomas Crane in January 1821 after bad health had allowed both church and vicarage to fall into a state of disrepair.  Jackson put £590 of his own money into setting matters right and used the house for educational purposes as well as residential.  He was held in high respect by his pupils, drawn mainly from Cheshire county families, and when meeting one of his boys in later years, he would say with a smile: ‘Only think how often I birched you.’

      In passing, it is interesting to find that one of those renting pews at Over church during Ryle’s schooldays was Admiral Tollemache whose son John was to be Master of Helmingham Hall when Ryle was Rector of Helmingham.

      Jackson was in his mid-thirties when Ryle came to him, and died in 1863, still Vicar of Over.  Ryle began at the age of eight – ‘too early ... by at least two years’ he was to aver in later life.24  He was a reluctant schoolboy, taken thither by a determined mother and Miss Watson, an old friend of the family who had been responsible for introducing his parents to each other.

      Ryle found sixteen other boys at school, sleeping in two rooms.  They washed themselves downstairs in a stone sink at two iron basins.  John was not happy there.  He particularly disliked the general bullying that could masquerade sometimes as discipline.  As, for example, in blanket-tossing when carried out by the boys with a master’s permission, for failing to rise early enough.  Ryle became the victim once and suffered concussion when he hit the floor after a boy had let go one corner of the blanket.  The incident was hushed up.

      Though he was seen to be sick for some time thereafter, the family was never given the explanation.  He blamed his later illnesses on this accident but had even then believed he was of weak constitution and needed a lot of sleep.

      Academically, too, the school had its defects.  Some days when presumably Mr. Jackson was about his parochial duties, the boys were left to run wild round the countryside, stuffing themselves with green apples.  Among the subjects inadequately covered were Latin, Greek, writing, arithmetic, history, geography and French.  The two most popular sports were cricket and throwing stones.  Out of this came a sturdy, independent, combative, fearless young fellow, equipped in at least some facets for a stormy life ahead.

      During the school holidays, he spent his time at Macclesfield fishing, sailing, shooting with bow and arrow and doing some carpentry.  He also would do a spot of gardening and take to the hayloft with a good book and some apples.  Reading became one of his main pursuits throughout his life.  Toward the end of his life, he still looked upon himself as having been a rather disagreeable boy, preferring his own company and a scruffy mode of dress, his pockets full of knives and string.

      He left preparatory school in December 1827, afterwards claiming to have learnt more evil in that brief spell than he had done in the rest of his life.  ‘The first school a boy goes to when he leaves home is the most important thing in his life’ he was to aver in the autobiographical sketch.  He went on to declare that parents who thought that the first preparatory school was of little importance for a boy so long as he went to a good public school afterwards were ‘nothing better than short-sighted, foolish, unintelligent geese.’  These three years of mental and physical pain went with him through his long spiritual life to come.


b.  Eton, 1828 to 1834

      At the beginning of 1828, Ryle was sent to Eton College,25 across the River Thames from Windsor Castle, then as now a favorite home of the British Royal Family, and some twenty miles up river from London.  The school was founded in 1440 by Henry VI and had always been renowned for its exclusive service to sons of nobles and people of substance.

      Ryle arrived toward the end of a long reign by the Headmaster John Keate who had been in the position since 1809, but hardly in charge.  Despite their awesome backgrounds, the boys were rebellious and out of control, roughly using the under-manned staff and teaching faculty.  When Ryle was there, only nine masters had responsibility for 570 boys.  Over the years, Keate had managed gradually to bring some order to bear, being a firm disciplinarian at heart and using all that he had of height, five feet, and ‘the power of quacking like an angry duck.’26  Then in 1834, there was virtually no new intake of boys and Keate resigned, interpreting this as a vote of no-confidence in Eton.27

      Eton’s curriculum had not changed substantially for a hundred years when Ryle arrived.  There was little more than Homer, Virgil and Horace – and a subsidiary source of education in the private tutors who had no official connection with the school.  Religion, too, had little to commend it.  The Sunday sermons in chapel were ‘mumbled and jumbled by old men with weak, smothered voices.’  Light relief came in small doses such as the time when a bald preacher gave as his text: ‘My sins are more than the hairs of my head.’  The only sermons appreciated were those by a brilliant master, John Bird Sumner, later Archbishop of Canterbury.

      The pupils were classed as Oppidans and Collegers, the former being the sons of those rich enough to finance lodgings for them in town – the majority.  The fifty to seventy Collegers came from lower-class parentage and lived under unwholesome conditions on campus, one commentator suggesting: ‘In 1834 the inmates of a workhouse or a gaol were better fed and lodged than the scholars of Eton.’28

      The Ryles had no family connections with Eton though almost all the Arkwrights had gone there.  Eton was chosen on the suggestion of a friend, a professor at Cambridge.  Ryle was placed in Hawtrey’s House and academically this was fortunate.  Edward Craven Hawtrey, an outstanding figure there, was an assistant master from 1814 till 1834 and Headmaster from then till 1853 and Provost till 1862.  Ryle ever after could never speak too highly of Hawtrey though he had little to praise in others.  He ascribed to Hawtrey whatever success he had later.  This was in respect of the private tuition given.29  By this means he was able to study history, French and English literature, besides the regulation fare of Latin and Greek.

      Writing in 1890, Ryle had

... the most favourable recollection of Hawtrey.  The House was extremely well managed.  In the matter of food and attendance to all our wants, I could not find fault.  He took great pains with any boy that was disposed to read, gave excellent advice, encouraged private reading and helped me immensely in my preparation for Oxford.  Under his guidance, I read privately nearly all the books in which I was finally examined at Oxford...  I always found Hawtrey good tempered and good natured and though he was rather a prim old bachelor in ways, he was ready to give attention to any boy who would take pains.30

      Ryle did not think too highly of Keate who, although a good disciplinarian and scholar, was ‘a Tory of the old school and the worst sort,’ a man who wanted no reform.  Of Joseph Goodall, Headmaster 1802–1809 and Provost thereafter till 1840, he had an even lower opinion.  Ryle classed him with the majority of the staff as ‘an old fossil.’

      In this situation, there was little incentive in the way of scholarships to sit for, until the Duke of Newcastle founded one in 1829.  His Scholarship actually comprised of three, worth £50 a year each.  Until then, the only way of checking a boy’s proficiency was by going over his exercises in Latin and Greek verse.

      A boy who afterwards got a ‘double-first’ at Oxford was once asked what the Three Graces were and replied: ‘grace before a meal, grace after a meal and His Grace the Duke of Norfolk.’31

      Ryle did not distinguish himself in attempts for the scholarship, never coming higher than fourth.32  He considered this due to Hawtrey’s frequent illnesses and his own sporting activities.  But the scholarship did force Ryle to study the doctrinal basis of the Church to which he owed allegiance, the Thirty-Nine Articles.  He later claimed ‘the beginning of any clear doctrinal views I ever attained myself was reading up the Articles at Eton for the Newcastle Scholarship.’33

      The first six months at Eton were miserable for the shy young man, a complete stranger to everyone and everything, except perhaps a sophisticated form of old-fashioned bullying expressed in the fagging system.  Indeed, a blanket-tossing in 1832 almost caused a fatality.  The communal sleeping was merely a former trial magnified – here about fifty boys slept in a room 240 feet long.

      As for religion, he later noted ‘most of the boys knew far more about heathen gods and goddesses than about Jesus Christ.’

      The masters, apart from Hawtrey, showed little interest in the boys as emerging personalities and left them to settle their own affairs in their own way.  The frequent disputes were thus fought out with fisticuffs on the playing-fields before two or three hundred boys.  When Ryle was involved in one such episode with a school bully, he knocked his opponent down in the early rounds and was beseeched to do no more by the boy who soon became a very good friend.

      However, there was a more elevated sphere of activity called the Eton Society, founded in 1811.  This was a debating and social club run entirely by the boys with a membership limited to twenty-five.  Nickname ‘Pop’, it is thought such a name was derived from Mrs. Hatton’s ‘lolly-pop’ shop where the meetings took place.34

      Ryle became a keen member (as had William Ewart Gladstone before him) and here learned much of the basic art of public. speaking.35  However, his happiest times were spent in sport, especially hockey, played at a rougher level and with rougher sticks than nowadays.  Above all, however, he loved cricket, then in its infancy.  The famous Hambledon club had been formed around 1750 and the first match had been played at Lord’s in London, in 1787, but it did not become a national game until the 1860s and the spread of the railways.  After a controversy in the 1820s, Marylebone Cricket Club, who played at Lord’s, decided to legalise round-arm bowling.  Wides and no-balls did not count as runs until 1727 and the position of long-stop was especially important because of the bad pitches.  The top teams were quite used to playing opposition comprising twenty-two or even thirty-three men.  Dress included tall top hats, wide cotton braces, high collars and black ties.  Batting pads and gloves were non-existent.36

      Eton produced many great cricketers including the Lyttleton brothers, the Studd brothers and Thornton, the mighty hitter.37

      Ryle played for Eton against Harrow and Winchester in 1833, making scores of seven and three against Harrow and twenty and eleven against Winchester.  His scores did not improve in the following year when he was captain – he had twenty-one and one against Harrow and twenty-six and nil against Winchester.38  The matches that year apparently involved Eton playing Winchester and Harrow at the same time, the result being ‘whereas Winchester beat Harrow, and Harrow beat Eton, Eton in its turn beat Harrow.  It is recorded that in the 1836 Eton-Winchester game, a hundred wides were bowled.39

      Ryle saw his captaincy of the team as good training for the future, saying in after years that it gave him ‘power of commanding, of managing, organizing and directing, of seeing through men’s capacities and using every man in the post to which he was best suited, of bearing and fore­bearing, of keeping the men around him in a good temper.

      One summer, Ryle deserted cricket for rowing, a sport not formally recognized at the college until 1840.  ‘The boating set,’ he said, ‘are less refined, and more given to coarse habits than the cricketing set.40

      In the last year or so before he left in 1834, Ryle was one of the leading boys, taking part in most of the school activities and making a number of close friends.  Among the closest were the Coote brothers, Charles, John and Algernon, the latter being closest of all in the years that followed.  He became a clergyman.  Then there was G. W. Lyttleton who became fourth Baron Lyttleton in 1837 and later a prominent Member of Parliament, churchman, philanthropist and sportsman.41

      Ryle’s contributions to a better life at Eton included a moderation of the detested fagging system, so that it became little more than towing boats up the river or retrieving lost cricket balls.  However, he made use of what he saw as attributes of the system, having four fags to wait on him at breakfast and four at tea.  ‘A certain amount of fagging in large public schools does no harm at all,’ he concluded.  ‘It does good to young boys who have been petted and spoilt.  They learn not to have things all their own way.’

      Apart from one or two visits to Hastings, he spent holidays at home in much the same way as heretofore.  Though alone most of the time, he used to spend the evenings dancing or playing cards with young people in the district.  He was fond of all sorts of dancing – ‘anything that had steam and life and go in it.’  When not applying himself to anything else, he would go on reading in a random sort of way from his father’s library.  What he never did was spend time with his hands in his pockets, whistling and doing nothing, as he put it.

      For the last three years of Ryle’s time at Eton, his younger brother Frederick was also there but their differing temperaments kept them in their own spheres.

      Summing up, Ryle valued his years at Eton for teaching him he could not always have his own way, and how to get on with people.  A public school like Eton was ‘the best discipline a boy can be put through.

      Leaving in 1834, Ryle went to Ireland for a holiday, staying with the Cootes from June to October at Ballyfin and playing in numerous cricket matches.  He also accompanied John Coote to Cork to see him join the army.  Ryle’s outstanding memory of Cork was falling asleep in the cathedral during the sermon.  Then he came back to go up to Christ Church, Oxford.


c.  Oxford, 1834 to 1837

      The ancient university was in its last years as an unreformed institution.  Inspired by the progressive contents of the 1832 Reform Act, a Royal Commission in 1850 began to examine both Oxford and Cambridge Universities.  As a result, Acts of Parliament in 1854 and 1856 enabled non-Anglican students to enter the Universities, though their government was in the hands of clergymen.  Its object was to educate the young in virtue as well as in knowledge.  It advanced knowledge, but more as a byproduct of its activity in education than as an end.42

      Oxford’s seclusion was maintained somewhat by opposition to the coming of the railway which was held off until 1845.  It was a rare haven for eccentrics such as Dr. Buckland, professor of geology, whose house contained jackals, monkeys and bears and whose stomach had contained specimens of every member of the animal kingdom, if his claims were to be believed.43

      A contemporary description of arrival in the city by coach sets the scene:

It is said in those days that the approach to Oxford by the Henley Road was the most beautiful in the world.  Soon after passing Littlemore you came in sight of, and did not lose again, the sweet city with its dreaming spires ...  At once, without suburban interval you entered the finest quarter in the town, rolling under Magdalen Tower, and past the Magdalen elms, then in full unmutilated luxuriance, until the exquisite curves of the High Street opened on you, as you drew up at the Angel, or passed on to the Mitre and the Star.  Along that road, or into Oxford by the St. Giles’ entrance, lumbered at Midnight Ickford’s vast wagons with their six musically belled horses: and sped stage coaches all day – Long-Tantivy, Defiance, Rival, Regulator, Mazeppa, Dart, Magnet, Blenheim, and some thirty more; heaped high with ponderous luggage and with cloaked passengers, thickly hung at Christmas time with turkeys, with pheasants in October; their guards picked buglers, sending forth before them as they passed over Magdalen Bridge ... on the box their queer old purple-faced, many caped drivers – Cheesman, Stevens, Fowles, Charles Horner, Jack Adams and Black Will.44

      Christ Church was founded as Cardinal College in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey and was dominated by the Tom Tower, started by Wolsey but completed by Sir Christopher Wren at the considerably later date of 1681.  This tower housed the huge bell Great Tom which every evening at five minutes past nine rang out one hundred and one strokes – one for every scholar at Christ Church at the time the bell was hung.  Hobhouse wrote:

The tolling of Great Tom is like a symbol of the predominance of Christ Church over the University.  It is easily the most important, the most delightful of all Oxford’s foundations.  It has the largest revenues, it provides the best food and the most spacious rooms, and it sends forth the most successful alumni of any college.45

Beneath Tom Tower was the large Tom Quad with its Mercury pool, full of goldfish, as the focal point.  Compared to Tom Tower, nearly a hundred yards square, Christ Church Cathedral, the mother church of the Diocese of Oxford, seemed of insignificant proportion.

      Christ Church – or ‘the House’ – had about a hundred and seventy to a hundred and eighty students and about six of a staff when Ryle was there.  Initially, he lived in one of the large rooms round the Quad, being waited upon and generally looked after by one of the college scouts – servants – allotted to him.  Each morning, the scout woke him with washing water at the ready, drawn from the Mercury pool.  Then came chapel and a divinity lecture before breakfast.  Lectures in Greek and Latin took up the mornings, being held in the tutor’s rooms with about seven or eight young men present.  Afternoons were free for sport or recreation and dinner was served in the hall at 5 p.m.  The day ended in chapel at 9:15 p. m. – as it had begun at 8 a.m. – with prayers in Latin.46

      The Dean of Christ Church when Ryle arrived was Thomas Gaisford who had been in that post for three years and was to stay there until 1855.  Unlike a predecessor, Dean Cyril Jackson, who had introduced the Examination Statute some thirty years before, Gaisford was not too worried about such tests as the records showed: in the years between 1831 and 1835, Christ Church men took two hundred and eighty-one first-class degrees; from 1841 to 1846 they took only six.  Nonetheless Gaisford was a strong man who ‘knew his own mind’ and the all-round standards of ‘the House’ improved mightily during his years of office.47

      Ryle took an instant dislike to Oxford society as he found it, complaining about ‘the idolatry of money and aristocratic connection, toadying, flattery, and fawning on wealth.’  Whereas he had found Eton ‘the perfect republic’ in which background and breeding had mattered less than ability, here he was in the old world of privilege, and despising it.  Although leaving with high academic honours, he confessed he was ‘very glad to get away from it.’  Over thirty years elapsed from that day in 1837 before he returned.

      His first two years, he felt, were a complete waste of time.  He read anything he fancied at the moment, having neither plan nor system.  He had few friends and as he said, ‘contracted rather a soured misanthropical view of human nature, keenly observing men and things around me and thoroughly convinced the whole system needed a reform.’  Indeed, the only possible exception to his general condemnation of Oxford life was Oriel College where Edward Hawkins was Provost and John Henry Newman a Fellow.48

      Ryle’s first assigned tutor was Augustus Short, later Bishop of Adelaide, who was inadequate but left during the second year, being replaced by Henry Liddell, who became Dean from 1855 until 1889, and became famous in theological circles for the Greek Lexicon he compiled in collaboration with Robert Scott who had been a fellow-student with him.  In these days, a tutor took his group of pupils through a rather narrow range of subjects and of the experience with the thirteen who included Ryle and Henry Acland, Liddell commented: ‘they are a very good set who will keep all my wits at work.49

      Liddell was one of the few tutors interested in their pupils personally and Ryle was constrained to say that generally he found ‘the neglect of undergraduates pitiable and deplorable.”  He felt he would have done ten times as well if any tutor had taken a personal interest during his first eighteen months at Oxford.  Despite this, he won the Fell Exhibition in 1835 and the Craven Scholarship in the following year.50  Dr. Fell was a former Dean of Christ Church, perhaps better known then through the verse:

I do not love thee, Dr. Fell,

The reason why I cannot tell;

But this alone I know full well,

I do not love thee, Dr. Fell.

As for the Craven Scholarship, Ryle opined he could have taken it in his first year, if only someone had bothered to suggest it – he had to wait two years for Liddell to do so.51

      Meanwhile, his enthusiasm for cricket continued and he reached the University XI in his first year, captaining the side against Cambridge in the next two years.52  The side was chosen by three stewards who all had a say in the running of it and so it was not uncommon to find, for example, one placing the field and another changing the bowlers.53  The match – first p1ayed in 1827 – did not originally remain long on the fixture list until re-established in 1836.  Ryle had much to do with this in contacting some of his old Eton friends who were then at Cambridge.54  Cambridge did not win until 1839 – on a day when only ten Oxford men turned up.

      Early in 1837, Ryle got down seriously to work for his final examinations and to help effect this, he moved into lodgings in the High Street, opposite St. Mary’s, the University church.  He did most of his reading between ten in the evening and one in the morning, holding that the quiet enhanced his studies.  His hours on the field of sport now paid off in his fitness to last this pace and schedule.

      He never played cricket after becoming; a clergyman but retained his interest in it.  His entry in Who was Who: 1897–1916 read: ‘Cricket until ordained.’55  Later he wrote to one of his sons: ‘I am very glad that you are not giving up cricket.  Take my word for it, the time is not wasted.’  And again, after Eton had beaten Harrow in 1886, he wrote to Herbert: ‘I had begun to think they would never win again.’56

      To help in his studies, Ryle had a private tutor in Haywood Cox, Vice-Principal of St. Mary’s Hall, later to become part of Oriel College.  He was a liberal Protestant who had been chairman of a committee to get the conservative, Robert Peel, elected as Chancellor of the University, in 1832.  The liberal Duke of Wellington was the successful candidate.  At this time, the Principal of St. Mary’s Hall was the controversial R. D. Hampden, later Professor of Divinity and then Bishop of Hereford.57

      Ryle did not find Cox of much use, the latter predicting a similar end for Ryle with a possible second-class degree and a probable third.  This only made Ryle all the more determined to get a first.  Reports on his work up to then in the Collection book giving his tutor’s comments ranged from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘good’ and, more often, ‘very good.’58  For the final examination, Ryle had to be conversant with sixteen Latin and Greek authors and be prepared to take a test in any one of them.  Besides this, there were papers in logic, ethics, rhetoric, moral philosophy and general critical papers.  Further, he was expected to do Greek and Latin compositions.  The written tests were spread over five days, and were followed by one day of viva voce in which he had oral examination in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Bible, Prayer Book and Church History.  These tests had been drawn up by statute between 1800 and 1809 but by the time Ryle took them, many considered they needed revising as they did not contain any modern study.59

      The exhaustive academic probe was not the only source of trial for Ryle – besides the three examiners sitting behind a table, there were onlookers, composed of tutors and under-graduates.  Ryle came out of the sessions well – so well that some felt he, Arthur Stanley and Henry Highton should have been placed in a special class of their own in the first class in the school of ‘Literae Humaniores.’60  Apart from Ryle, the only one who took a first at that time and went on to win public acclaim or a position of some standing was Arthur Stanley who from 1864 to 1881 served as Dean of Westminster.

      In vacation time, Ryle pursued the same course as he had during the years of Eton.  The one exception was a reading-party he attended at Malvern in Worcestershire, in preparation for his finals.  As a reading-party it was a failure in his estimation, but he enjoyed the balls and dances with some young ladies he met at the Malvern home of Colonel Parker – the same Colonel Parker whom he had complimented on his board at the age of seven, when the colonel lived in Cheshire.  Ryle spent the rest of his time at Malvern playing billiards, reading Byron and ignoring study.

      But his days of leisure and to a great extent pleasure were numbered.  While reckoning he might have had a Fellowship at Brasenose or Balliol Colleges and might even have stayed in Oxford to finish up Head of a college, he was now almost face-to-face with one of the great crises of his life.61

      The main religious talking-point in some Oxford common rooms in the mid-1830s centered on the Tracts for the Times from Newman and his friends.  But it would be wrong to assert that ‘Oxford Evangelicalism was a slender growth, represented by a few senior members and small groups of under-graduates.’62  Its main strength lay at St. Edmund Hall where successive evangelical Vice-Principals in Issac Crouch (1783–1806), Daniel Wilson (1807–1812) and John Hill (1813–1851) gained Evangelicalism in the University the title of ‘the Religion of Teddy Hall.’63  One unsympathetic historian describes one of John Hill’s evening parties as ‘where prevailed tea and coffee, pietistic low church talk, prayer and hymnody of portentious length.’64  However, Evangelicalism was not confined to St. Edmund Hall for contemporary with John Hill were two staunch evangelicals in Dr. MacBride, the Master of Magdalen, and Dr. Symons, the Master of Wadham.  Also in that period were such men as W. W. Champneys, a Fellow of Brasenose and curate at St. Ebbe’s, and E. A. Litton, who became a Fellow of Oriel in 1836.  Although never as strong as at Cambridge, Evangelicalism in Oxford produced a hundred leaders of the party in the Church of England during the first half of the nineteenth century.65

      Until he left Eton, Ryle was able to say that ‘neither at home, nor at college, nor among my relatives and friends, had I anything to do good to my soul, or teach me anything about Jesus Christ.’  He had not read the Bible seriously or prayed since he had been seven years old.  For his family, Christianity was a mere matter of form or social convention.  They went through the ritual of going to church on Sunday and finishing the day with family prayers but beneath this veneer of respectability, this day was not unlike other days.  Newspapers were read and letters were written.  The only difference was at meal-times when there was plum pudding for dinner and occasionally oysters for supper.  In the evening some of the older members of the family would read sermons to themselves in a corner of the room but looked so miserable about it, young Ryle decided Christianity must be one of the most disagreeable occupations on earth, or in heaven.

      In church, he never understood the sermons and his religious education comprised reading Pilgrim’s Progress, reciting the Catechism to his mother and having his father show some illustrations in an old Bible, if he was not too sleepy on a Sunday afternoon.  The one picture to catch his imagination was of the devil dancing on the ruins of Job’s home.  Ryle’s godly grandfather having died while Ryle’s father was still young, the family was bereft of a guiding Christian example.  The father had left the Methodists to be a formal Anglican though the son suspected he knew more about Christianity than he would confess.  Though young Ryle had heard rumours about Evangelicals, he said later that he was brought up to regard them as ‘well meaning, extravagant, fanatical enthusiasts, who carried things a great deal too far in religion.66

      This assessment could not be true of evangelical Anglicanism as a whole for, in the Chester diocese, of which Macclesfield was apart, J. B. Sumner had become Bishop in 1828 and only twenty years later he was the first Evangelical to be enthroned Archbishop of Canterbury.  As far back as 1815 Henry Ryder had become the first Evangelical to be appointed Bishop when he became Bishop of Gloucester.  There were also Evangelicals in strategic places – Charles Simeon at Cambridge, John Venn at Clapham, William Richardson at York, Thomas Robinson at Leicester and T. T. Biddulph at Bristol.  A network of clerical societies spanned the country, stimulating theological discussion, consultation and fellowship.  It was estimated that by 1830 one in every eight Church of England clergy was an Evangelical.  They were often held in low esteem by their fellow-churchmen, suffering ridicule and opposition but knowing they were growing in strength.  This aspect will be covered at the beginning of the next chapter; here it can be averred that though labeled ‘Methodists’ by their fellow-clergy, the Evangelicals were unwavering Anglicans, loyal to their Church because of its Protestant doctrine as set out in the Thirty-Nine Articles, and because of the great freedom afforded in preaching the Gospel.  Thus while many of the soteriological emphases of the Evangelicals were similar to those of the Methodists, they could not be deemed Non-conformists in disguise!67

      While at Eton, Ryle had been confirmed by John Kay, Bishop of Lincoln (1827–53) but it had meant little to him.  Nonetheless, various other factors combined to produce in Ryle an evangelical conviction under God.

      The first was the building of a new church in Macclesfield – St. George’s, Sutton, erected in 1822–23 as a Congregational Chapel at a cost of £6,400 but re-opened for Church of England services on 8th October 1828.  It was consecrated in 1834.  The land for the church, churchyard and cemetery was given by Ryle’s father and John himself attended worship there where the ministry was evangelical, during his holidays.  The first minister of the church was the Reverend William Wales who was succeeded in July 1834 by the Reverend John Burnet.  Both men taught Ryle the essentials of the Gospel, with its emphasis on justification by faith and new birth by the Holy Spirit.

      The second factor in Ryle’s road to conversion was the effect of the St. George’s ministry on some members of his family.  Firstly, cousin Harry Arkwright was converted while studying for ordination under Mr. Burnet.68  Then followed Ryle’s sister Susan.  It made him ponder deeply on the faith.

      When he went up to Oxford, Ryle was also impressed by the ministry of Edward Denison and Walter Hamilton at St. Peter in the East.  Denison became Bishop of Salisbury in 1837 and was succeeded by Hamilton in 1854.  Although of evangelical sympathies while at Oxford, Hamilton later became an Anglo-Catholic.69  Ryle was not at all moved by the sermons at St. Mary’s, the University church, finding them ‘dull and lifeless.  Now the moral consciousness that made him feel guilty as an Eton fag going to a shop on a Sunday was turning into a test of the spirits.  But two years before his conversion in 1837, a minor incident brought momentum to an inexorable process.

      Ryle was out shooting with his old Eton friend, Algernon Coote, and some others.  In the course of the day, he swore in the hearing of Coote’s father, a keen Christian, who rebuked him sharply.  Ryle never swore again.  This incident led to a lifelong friendship with Algernon Coote, of whom Ryle wrote: ‘he was the first person who ever told me to think, repent and pray.’70

      Although he did not become a Christian forthwith, he was very much aware that his own standard of life and that of the Christians he knew were in sharp contrast.  Thus when the summer of 1837 came and with it Ryle’s conversion, the foundations had been laid.71  Just before he was due to take his final examinations, he became very ill with inflammation of the chest.  The tutor’s report on his year’s work simply states ‘Aeger’ (sick:).72  But he was able to go through with the examinations, and for this he credits Bible-reading and prayer.  His illness gave him more time to think, and the more he thought the more he realised Jesus Christ was not at the center of his life.

      Then one Sunday afternoon, he happened to go to a service in one of the parish churches.73  He remembered nothing particular about it, not even the sermon.  But he did respond to the manner in which the second lesson was read – by someone whose name he never knew.  The passage was from the second chapter of Ephesians and when the eighth verse was reached, the reader laid emphasis on it with a short pause between each clause.  Thus Ryle heard: ‘By grace are ye saved – through faith –and that not of yourselves – it is the gift of God.’

      This same truth which had so transformed Luther in his discovery of justification of faith now had like effect upon Ryle.  By the grace of God, he had become a Christian.  Henceforth, he would be doughtily upholding Reformation principles.

      In the beginning, it was not easy.  He had virtually no one to help or advise him on spiritual matters and so he had recourse to books.  One was by William Wilberforce, best known for his endeavours in the abolition of the slave trade.  In 1797 he had written a book entitled A practical view of the prevailing religious system of professed Christians in the high and middle classes in this country contrasted with real Christianity and by now it was into its nineteenth edition.  Ryle also read The Christian Student by the Reverend Edward Bickersteth which, according to the subtitle, was ‘designed to assist Christians in general in acquiring religious knowledge.  First written in 1829, it was in its third edition.  Bickersteth had been appointed Secretary of the Church Missionary Society in 1815 and was also responsible for the founding of the Evangelical Alliance in 1845.  He was the father of Edward Henry, Bishop and hymn-writer.  Then there was a book published only in 1837 by John Angell James called The Christian Professor.  James was a leading Congregationalist and a spiritual leader until 1859.

      In presenting reason for the hope that was in him, Ryle relied upon his earlier familiarity and renewed interest in The Thirty-Nine Articles and concluded that objectors to his own conversion ‘could not prove my views were not those of the Thirty-Nine Articles and of the Church of England.’  The opposition merely quickened his spirit and strengthened his grasp of the faith.  ‘Nothing roots principles so firmly in people’s minds as having to fight for them and defend them’ he said, and again, ‘What is won dearly is prized highly and clung to firmly.’

      Over the next few years he lost many of his previous friends but found new ones in what he called a ‘kind of immediate freemasonry.’  In this circle was Mrs. Tollemache of Over whom he came to know better when he was Rector of Helmingham, where her husband became Lord of the Manor.  Such friends ‘strengthened me in my principles, encouraged me in my practice, solved many of my difficulties, assisted me by their advice, counselled me in many of my perplexities, and cheered me generally by showing me that I was not quite alone in the world.’74


d.  London and Macclesfield, 1838 to 1841

      By the beginning of 1838, Ryle was securely Christian.  In his autobiography, he declared: ‘nothing to this day appeared to me so clear and distinct as my own sinfulness, Christ’s presence, the value of the Bible, the absolute necessity of coming out of the world, the need of being born again, and the enormous folly of the whole doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration: Such was the spiritual crisis, now came a material one.

      Ryle’s father had been one of Macclesfield’s leading agitators for Parliamentary reform.  He contended for universal suffrage on the principle of the natural rights of man, also advocating annual parliaments and the use of the ballot.75  He was therefore an enthusiastic supporter of the Reform Bill of 1832 which greatly extended the right of voting and re-organised Parliamentary representation.  In that year, he and his fellow silk manufacturer, Thomas Brocklehurst, were elected Members of Parliament for the new seat of Macclesfield.  He remained a Member for the town until 1837.76

      In an election speech said to have been made before fifteen thousand townspeople, John Ryle Senior declared himself ‘independent of and unconnected with any party.’  He said that he cared nothing about Whigs and Tories and that his only party was the country.  He also stated himself to be sincerely attached to the doctrines and discipline of the Church of England and was determined to fight such issues as the holding of pluralities of livings and non-residence of clergy in their parishes, besides removing the civil disabilities which Nonconformists suffered.77  All this made him a man of high esteem locally at the time of his son’s conversion.

      In 1837 the family moved house from Park Green to get away from the center of town and nearer to congenial society.  The new residence was Henbury Hall, three miles west of Macclesfield, and bought from the Jodrells of Jodrell Hall.  There were a thousand acres of it, with the house, woods and water out of all proportion to the size of the estate.  Nearby were such high-class families as the Thornycrofts of Thornycroft Hall and the Davenports of Capesthorne Hall.

      With a vast, potential inheritance ahead, John Charles went off to London to read law with a conveyancer in Lincoln’s Inn.  He lodged in Pall Mall but lived mainly at the Oxford & Cambridge Club.  He worshipped regularly at Baptist Noel’s Chapel in Bedford Row.  In 1848, Baptist Noel resigned the benefice of St. John’s, Bedford Row, during the Gorham Controversy and became a Baptist the following year.78

      As for Ryle, he left London and returned home after six months, having been once again brought low by illness – due, he said, to the after-effects of Oxford examination strain and the city air.

      He now began work in his father’s bank which like most other nineteenth-century banks, apart from the Bank of England, depended very much on the financial liability of the owner.  Although a joint stock-banking Act had been passed in 1826, the provisions it made for the setting up of the modern banking system were not taken up to any great extent outside of London, and the private banks were usually run by industrialists.

      The first bank in Macclesfield had been that of Hawkins & Mills but it failed in 1800 and was taken over by John Ryle Senior and his fellow silk manufacturer, Daintry.  Situated on Park Green, it prospered, as did one run by Thomas Brocklebank.  If trade prospered, so did the bank but even when recessions hit the town, the Macclesfield banks kept going.79  For example, in 1828, twenty silk factories went out of business locally but the banks survived the crisis.

      John Charles entered wholeheartedly into his work and looked set to take over this aspect of his father’s enterprises along with the rest.  Although never a partner, he did sign the bank-notes.80

      He became a county magistrate and also captain of the Macclesfield troop of the Cheshire Yeomanry, which comprised about six hundred men with most of the leading men in the county as officers.  Each year they marched to Liverpool on exercises, when on most mornings Ryle and his troop could be found parading on the beach at Crosby at 5 a.m. – the same beach where the young Ryle spent a summer when the family repaired there for the sake of his sister Susan’s health.81

      Ryle was also in demand as a speaker on politics and on religion.  At a political meeting in Macclesfield, he is reported to have spoken ‘with much ability – and at great length.’82  He could well have followed his father in sitting for Macclesfield in the House of Commons but when asked to take up a political career he declined on the basis of inexperience.

      He was constantly invited to be a guest at different houses but he found most of these visits boring in the extreme, apart from the many occasions in which he played cricket with the gentlemen of the counties of Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.  He spent his summer holidays in places such as Beaumaris, Scotland, and London.

      Ryle was by common consent one of the most eligible young bachelors in the county but he met no one who particularly attracted him and he saw himself as ‘desperately afraid of women’ and he ‘did not understand them.’  His father offered what incentive he could in the form of £800 and a house upon his marriage, to no avail.

      Spiritually, he was dissatisfied.  He was too concerned with his own problems and difficulties, to the neglect of others.  He took family prayers for his sisters and the housekeeper and her maid in the housekeeper’s room but flinched from doing the same for the men servants.  Occasional visits were made to the sick but on the whole this was ‘a time of patient learning, not active doing.’  He received no encouragement from his parents – merely tolerance – in his new faith.

      Then crisis came in June 1841 with the collapse of the bank.  The failure occurred through the losses of a Manchester branch, opened in a bid to recoup losses on an advance of £200,000 to Charles Wood, a friend starting a business enterprise.  When the loan had gone, Wood persuaded John Ryle Senior to try the Manchester venture as a means of filling the gap but this bad judgment was compounded by the appointment of a bad manager who made loans and advances to a variety of persons and finally squandered all available funds as they turned out to be bad debts.

      When this situation became known, Ryle’s bank associate in London stopped payment even though the Macclesfield bank was still solvent.  Overnight, the Ryle fortunes disappeared.  It was not exactly a surprise to John Charles who had suspected something wrong for about two years, but his father had never confided in him.  Nonetheless, as John Charles put it: ‘we got up one summer’s morning with all the world before us as usual, and went to bed that night completely and entirely ruined.’

      Everything had to be sold up to help meet the creditors’ demands.83  Only prompt government action saved £2,492 of the funds of the Cheshire Yeomanry deposited in the bank.  Ryle resigned his commission on 25th October of that year.  The family were now left with their mother’s personal dowry, their clothes and some personal property.  An income of £15,000 a year and property worth £500,000 to £600,000 were taken away.  John Charles sold two horses and his Yeomanry uniform to a man who bought them out of kindness for £100.  Henbury was sold and the servants dismissed.  Mrs. Ryle went to stay with family friends in London; the rest of the family were scattered; Ryle and his sister Mary Ann stayed on for six weeks to help their father wind up affairs.

      Ryle found the place full of the beauty of summer ‘but everything seemed as deserted and silent as a tomb.  If he had not been a Christian, he felt, he would have committed suicide.  Outwardly he went through some of his worst-ever days calmly but inwardly he thought his whole world had come to an end.  ‘I do not think there has been a single day in my life for thirty-two years that I have not remembered the humiliation of having to leave Henbury’ he was to write much later.

      Noting that trees were too old at twenty-five to be transplanted, so he considered he, too, could never happily take root anywhere else in the country.

      The last of the Ryles finally left Henbury in August 1841.  Even parting from his dog Caesar was a wrench.  John Charles wrote: ‘I remember he looked at me as if he did not understand it, and could not see why he might not go with me too.  Poor dog, for a whole month afterwards he made his way into the house every morning as soon as the doors were opened, and went up to my room; there he lay at the door from morning until night, and nothing would induce him to stir.  When the sun went down in the evening and it became dusk, he used to get up, smell at the bottom of the door, whine piteously and walk downstairs ... At last it affected the few people who were left in the house so that they could stand it no longer.’  Finally, Caesar was given away but died soon after.  Reserved Ryle might have been, but certainly not heartless.84

      Over the next twenty years John Ryle Senior did his best to settle his debts and in 1861 a last payment was made of nine thirty-seconds of a penny, making a total dividend of thirteen shillings and eightpence half-penny.85  His son, though not legally involved, felt morally bound to make every endeavour to help pay back money owed and this was obvious during his time as Rector of Helmingham when he went about in threadbare clothes – using as much of his stipend as he could to meet the claims of the bank’s creditors.86  He saw the failure of the bank in terms of his father’s easy-going nature and lack of toughness in financial dealings.  He concluded that the lessons to be learnt on running a bank were first, the ability to say no; second, stability of decision; third, no debits in bids to recover bad debts.

      After leaving Henbury, Ryle spent a few days with the rest of the family in London then went to stay in the New Forest with Colonel Thornhill, Deputy Ranger of the Forest.  He and his sister were old friends of the Ryle family and so John Charles and his sister Mary Ann stayed with them for three months.  The Ryle parents settled in the small watering-place of Anglesey, near Gosport and Portsmouth, in Hampshire, where they lived out the rest of their days.

      Faced with the opposition of circumstance at every turn, Ryle learnt that ‘submission to God’s will is perfectly compatible with intense and keen suffering under the chastisement of His will.’  He traced the family disaster back to spiritual declension by his father.  ‘Troubles ... not felt are not troubles at all’ he concluded.

      That autumn in the New Forest was spent pondering what sort of job he could do now.  There was an opening as private secretary to an up-and-coming politician called Gladstone but Ryle declined on the grounds that he ‘felt no confidence in him.’87  Then he began to wonder if he could possibly become a clergyman.


e.  Exbury and Wínchester, 1841 to 1844

      ‘John Ryle will be ordained on December 12th, and preaches his first sermon on the 19th,’ wrote a life-long friend, Catherine Marsh, to an acquaintance.88  So began a country ministry which was to cover thirty-nine years.  Ordained by the Evangelical Bishop, Charles Sumner of Winchester, at his home at Farnham Castle in 1841, Ryle became curate of Exbury in the parish of Fawley under the rectorship of the Reverend W. Gibson.89  The Rector’s main distinction in ecclesiastical circles was his first marriage to the Bishop of Chester’s daughter and his second to the Bishop of Winchester’s.  Gibson spent some time in Malta and Ryle saw only enough of him to form the opinion that he was a kind man but very much influenced by his wife – he was ‘eaten up with caution and seemed so afraid of doing wrong that he could hardly do right.’

      The parish of Fawley occupied a triangular section of the New Forest lying between Southampton Water and the Solent.  Ryle was put in charge of the chapel of ease in the district of Exbury.  He described the place as ‘dreary, desolate and solitary.’  The population numbered four hundred, mainly poor people, spread over seven square miles, most of it commons and heaths.  It was an unhealthy area due to the low-lying land and its undrained state.  Thus Ryle was pressed into practice as a doctor.

      The main scourge was scarlet fever with about a tenth of the populace, mostly children, falling victim, according to his own estimate.  His treatment was as much beef tea as they could swallow.  Others had ague or typhus fever.  His remedy for the former was quinine and for the latter, port wine.  Then a number of the people died from snakebites, as the reptiles inhabited the region in their hundreds and often could be found slithering about cottage living rooms.  Ryle’s cure was olive oil.90

      The situation was so serious that the Lord of the Manor was prepared to pay two pence per head for every snake killed.  It was a common sight for half-a-dozen dead snakes to be lying on the parish clerk’s doorstep, awaiting the recompense.

      Though both his grandfather and father had been involved in some form of social welfare, Ryle’s emergence as a healer was not quite in the family tradition nor was it a specific calling.91  There simply was no one else to do it as doctors would not deign to work in such as Exbury and the parishioners did not have the wherewithal to pay their fees.  Ryle just exercised care and compassion as a constituent of the Gospel.

      Many years later, speaking to members of the British Medical Association in Liverpool Cathedral, he outlined his beliefs in this respect:

He that endeavours to check disease, to alleviate suffering, to lessen pain, to help self-curative powers of nature, and to lengthen life, can surely take comfort in the thought that, however much he may fail, at any rate he is walking in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth.  Next to the office of him who ministers to men’s souls, none is really more useful and honourable than that of him who ministers to the soul’s frail tabernacle, the body.

This same sermon revealed his knowledge of ‘quinine, chloroform, vaccination, the carbolic spray, the stethoscope, the laryngoscope, and the opthalmoscope.’92

      Ryle also stood in as law enforcement officer on occasion.  For example, one night he was called upon to stop a fight between two men on the village green.  Some two to three hundred men were urging the antagonists on.  Quelling fear, the young curate stepped between them and demanded that they stop.  They did just that, to his great relief, and the crowd, deprived of their evening’s entertainment, drifted away.

      Otherwise, Ryle heeded the portent of I Corinthians 9:16 – ‘Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel.’  That was the text carved on the pulpit resented to Exbury Church by Ryle’s son Herbert in 1908.93

      Ryle soon filled the small village church to capacity though he thought the farmers of his congregation ‘a rich, dull, stupid set of people.’  Besides the Sunday services and Sunday school, Ryle conducted house meetings every Wednesday and Thursday in cottages he described as ‘reeking with peat smoke.’  Occasionally he lectured at the local Coastguard station, a mile and a half from his house.  The talk was given at 17 a.m. because the men were on call all night (‘rowing guard’) and so had to sleep in the daytime.  He also visited every house in the parish once a month, taking in thirty or forty homes a week.  Here he began his distribution of tracts, borrowed from the office of the Religious Tract Society in Southampton.  He covered them in brown paper and circulated them during his visits.94

      It was a novelty for the local people to look upon the parish church as a place of Gospel-preaching; hitherto those with strong religious inclinations had attended Baptist or Methodist meetings – but it was also a novelty for Ryle to be bringing things of the Spirit to a community where poaching and smuggling were considered the main occupations.  But his stay in Exbury was fairly short.  The first reason was money.  Becoming a clergyman had alleviated but not solved the financial troubles already detailed.  His stipend was £100 per annum but out of this he was paying his predecessor £16 a year for rental of the furniture in the house.  Then he did not like the house which was a mile from the church and reputedly haunted.  His household consisted of one maid servant, one boy, one cat, one dog and one pig.  The cat died of a bleeding nose, the pig died of string belt and the maid, aged thirty, married the boy, aged seventeen.  Further, the maid kept for herself the money given to meet the household bills.  And there were the bank’s debts.

      In addition, Ryle had the problem of his unsocial and unpopular trait about which he continued to be sensitive throughout his life.  His first row was with one of the few wealthy men in the parish, a Mr. Drummond to whom he complained over late-night cricket matches on Saturdays.  Mr. Drummond complained to the Bishop.  Nothing is known of the Bishop’s reply but the quarrel was resolved as Mr. Drummond later invited the curate to dinner twice.  When the guest refused to play cards or dance, the host dismissed him as ‘an enthusiastic, fanatical mad dog.’

      Such an episode would hardly qualify as a reason for leaving but it would certainly add to the general loneliness of a bachelor with few friends and away from his own choice of congenial company.

      The crucial factor in his decision to move on was his health, again a persistent hindrance.  He recorded later that ‘constant headache, indigestion and disturbances of the heart then began and have been my plagues and disturbed me ever since that time.’  Subsequent illnesses were a constant reminder of his curacy at Exbury.  Though ready to go, Ryle had no set destination but in November 1843 his Bishop offered him the living of St. Thomas in Winchester, the cathedral city of the diocese, some twenty miles away.  So for the first time in almost two years there, apart from a three-monthly visit to his father, Ryle left Exbury, stipulating that he must have two months of convalescence before going to Winchester.  He spent the break in Leamington with some friends, Mr. and Mrs. Bradley.  His host had inherited a fortune and had given himself over to keeping dogs and horses.  Of his wife, Ryle commented: ‘considering she had only been ladies’ maid to Mr. Bradley’s sister and he had run away with her, it would be vain to say she was a thorough lady.  However, he did allow she was the more religious of the two.95

      The invalid put himself under the care of Dr. Jephson who insisted on charging a fee for only every second visit and prescribed blue pills for a week, then sulphuric acid, dandelion, Leamington waters and frequent cold shower baths.  No wine, beer or spirits were allowed – nor were pastry, vegetables, puddings, cheese and fruits.  He could have mutton chops and a little boiled rice twice a day, but nothing to drink from 6:30 p.m. until bedtime.

      In due course, Ryle arrived in Winchester full of energy and vigour, at a time when it had been transformed from a sleepy and typical country cathedral city into a direct rail connection for London and Southampton, finished in 1838 and 1840.  City life was influenced in the main by Winchester College, the army barracks and the law courts.  Ecclesiastically, there had been a long spell of nepotism with Brownlow North from 1804 to 1820, and then George Tomline to 1827 as Bishop for the diocese of Winchester, which included Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.  However, the Evangelical, Charles Sumner, then came and stayed for forty years, ruling well though the prevailing churchmanship was of Catholic inclination.  The most prominent advocate of this persuasion in the diocese was Samuel Wilberforce, who had been appointed a Canon of Winchester Cathedral in the year 1840.

      Though John Keble lived near Ryle and George Moberley (later Bishop of Sarum) was head of Winchester School, the focus of this study must remain on Wilberforce for in 1841 he moved from his living at Brighstone to become Rector of Alverstoke, a parish of over 13,000 people including the naval station at Gosport and a ‘new watering place’ called Angleseyville.  Here lived the Ryle family and until he became Bishop of Oxford in 1845, Wilberforce not only revolutionised the work of the parish, he exercised considerable influence upon the Ryles.96

      In Winchester, Wilberforce tried hard to influence John Charles but gave up after a long and inconclusive argument over the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.  Whenever John Charles went to visit his family, Wilberforce would invite him to preach at the parish church though this would be more on account of a younger brother, Frederick Ryle, one of Wilberforce’s curates, than anything John Charles would have to say.  Frederick died in early 1845 after a brief illness.97

      Ryle suspected Wilberforce secretly disliked him as a person but his main worry was Wilberforce’s doctrine as it pertained to the family – only John Ryle Senior remained impervious to the ‘extremely pernicious’ High Church teaching.

      Wilberforce’s brother-in-law was H. L. Manning, the future Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, who often visited the parish.  Manning turned from Evangelicalism to Tractarianism and on into Roman Catholicism in 1851.  Writing to him in 1850, Emma Ryle addressed him as ‘my dear father in Christ’ and confessed about the ‘unhappy, unsettled state my mind is in.’  She found her brother’s book on Regeneration, recently published, as having ‘a very contrary effect to what he (John) would desire.’98  In the end, she remained an Anglican.

      Back in his parish, John Charles saw little to please him spiritually about the Anglican churches in the city.  He commented that ‘the whole place is in a very dead state’ and that, as far as the Cathedral was concerned, ‘worldliness reigned supreme in the Close.’  Even the evangelical clergy were ‘cautious, fearful men’ with no life in them.  When he had met the previous ‘evangelical’ incumbent at St. Thomas’s, he had found him dressed in slippers and dressing-gown in the middle of the day.  Indeed, the only spiritual vitality around emanated from a middle-aged lady in his congregation, Miss Althea Wickham.

      Ryle was undaunted and set to work with a will, keeping fit by rising before dawn for a three-mile walk along the Andover road before breakfast.  Some of his father’s friends had helped to furnish a house for him and the household consisted of a woman, a boy and a dog.  The church building was old and neglected with room for about 600 in its ancient pews but these were soon filled to the point of suffocation with a mixed congregation of rich and poor.  He next started midweek Bible lectures in an Infants’ School, became superintendent of a district visitors’ society and thrived upon house-to-house visiting.

      Eventually, the church building became too small to hold all who wished to attend worship and a decision was taken to enlarge it or rebuild.  The vestry meeting passing this resolution on 9 April 1844 went on to appoint a committee to determine the best course of action.  Thus a plan to rebuild St. Thomas’s on a new site in the city was approved – but by then the man who had caused it all was gone.99  John Charles Ryle had moved on to East Anglia, to the little village of Helmingham, in the county of Suffolk.


NOTES: Chapter One

 1.  C. S. Davies, History of Macclesfield, 1961, pp. 122–135.

 2.  Ibid, p. 130.

 3.  For references to the Ryle family see J. P. Earwaker, East Cheshire Past and Present, 1880, pp. 59, 106, 159.

 4.  Davies, op. cit., p. 97.

 5.  For Wesley’s visits to Macclesfield see The Journal of John Wesley (ed. N. Curnock, 1909–1916), Vol. 3. pp. 175 & 224; Vol. 4, p. 310; Vol. 6. pp. 100, 226, 386; Vol. 7. p: 300.

 6.  Davies, op. cit., p. 328 records that he was never happy without an apron on.

 7.  J. Earles, Old Macclesfield, 1915, p. 54.

 8.  B. Smith, Methodism in Macclesfield, 1975, p. 46.

 9.  Davies, op. cit., p. 330.

10.  For relations between the Church of England and the Society of Methodists in Macclesfield see Davies, op. cit., pp. 313–335; G. Smith, op. cit. pp. 78–231; J. Earles, op. cit., pp. 75–91.

11.  J. Johnson, A Memoir of the Rev. D. Simpson, 1878,. p. 24.

12.  W. H. Chaloner, .‘Charles Roe of Macclesfield (1715–81).  An Eighteenth-Century Industrialist’, in Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, Vol. 62. pp. 133–156, and Vol. 63. pp. 52–80.

13.  Journal of J. Wesley, Vol. 5, p. 86.

14.  This incident is recorded in Journal of J. Wesley, Vol. 7. p. 14, dated 3 April 1774.  Cf. A. S. Wood, The Burning Heart, 1967, p. 205.  C. S. Davies, op. cit., p. 313 wrongly states the procession was to the Methodist Chapel.

15.  Some would quarrel with Wesley’s observation.  From the outside the building is rather similar in appearance to many of the silk mills of the town.  This can perhaps be partly attributed to hurried planning and partly to the fact that Roe was a silk manufacturer.  Christ Church was the only Anglican Church in Cheshire in which Wesley preached.  See R. B. Walker, ‘Religion and Church in Cheshire, 1750–1850’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 17, April 1966, p. 85.  Today Christ Church is an ordinary parish church with the Church Pastoral Aid Society as patron.

16.  Coincidentally Henbury Hall became the home of the Ryles in 1837.

17.  J. Corry, History of Macclesfield, 1817, p. 271.  On p. 9. Ryle is given as Royle.

18.  This is part of the inscription on Simpson’s memorial in Christ Church.

19.  According to Davies, op. cit., p. 355 Simpson was preaching.  In Earles, op. cit., p. 91 he was sitting in Ryle’s pew.

20.  John Ryle Junior’s partner in the bank was Daintry.

21.  B. Smith, op. cit., p. 255.

22.  The Courier may be read in Macclesfield Library.

23.  J. C. Ryle, Self Portrait, chap. 1. is the basic source for this and following paragraphs.

24.  G. W. Hart, Bishop J. C. Ryle: Man of Granite, 1963, p. 3, and M. L. Loane, Makers of our Heritage, 1967, p. 21, are both wrong in stating that J. C. Ryle was educated in the local grammar school in Macclesfield.

25.  Ryle dates his entry as 28 January, but the entry in Dr. Keates MS Entrance Book is: ‘1828. 7 Feb. John Charles Ryle (birthday) 10 May, (age) 11’.  (This MS Book is in Eton College Archives.)  H. E. C. Stapylton, The Eton College Lists, 1791–1877,1885, only notes Ryle in 1832.

26.  H. C. H. Lyte, History of Eton College, 1899, pp. 385–400.

27.  C. Hollis, Eton: A History, 1960, p. 223.

28.  See the Quarterly Journal of Education, Vol. 8. p. 279.

29.  Self Portrait, pp. 18, 34.  See further F. P. How, Great Schoolmasters, 1905, p. 13.

30.  J. St. J. Thackeray, Memoirs of Edward Craven Hawtrey, 1896, pp. 51–2.

31.  H. C. M. Lyte, op. cit., p. 397.

32.  M. L. Loane, op. cit., p. 22 wrongly states that Ryle was third.  See Self Portrait, p. 19.

33.  J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (edition of 1902), p. 85.

34.  H. C. M. Lyte, op. cit., p. 415.

35.  W. Sterry, Annals of Eton College, 1898, p. 251.

36.  R. Webber, The Phoenix History of Cricket, 1960, pp. 10–15, and John Hadf1eld, A Wisden Century, 1850–1950, 1950, pp. 9–15.

37.  L. Cust, History of Eton College, 1890, p. 244.

38.  The first Eton-Harrow Match was played in 1805, Webber, op. cit., p. 18.  The information for 1834 was kindly supplied by Mr. S. Green, Curator of the M. C. C.

39.  M. C. H. Lyte, op. cit., p. 495.

40.  Self Portrait, pp. 29 ff.

41.  E. E. C. Stapylton, op. cit.

42.  O. Chadwick, op. cit., 2, p. 439.

43.  Dr. William Buckland (1784–1856) became Professor of Minerology in 1813, Professor of Geology in 1819 and a Canon of Christ Church in 1825.

44.  Quoted from C. Hobhouse, Oxford As it was and is today (1952 edition), p. 85.  For life in Oxford in the early 19th Century see W. Tuckwell, Reminiscences of Oxford, 1900, and G. Smith, Reminiscences, 1910.

45.  C. Hobhouse, op. cit., pp. 32–3.  When the bell tolled, all the other colleges shut their gates.

46.  H. L. Thompson, Christ Church, 1900, pp. 2147.

47.  Ibid, p. 194.

48.  E. A. Knox, The Tractarian Movement, 1933, pp. 22ff., & D. Newsome, The Parting of Friends, 1966, pp. 84ff.

49.  H. L. Thompson, Henry G. Liddell, 1899, p. 28.

50.  G. W. Hart, op .cit., p. 3, and M. L. Loane, op. cit., p. 22 give the date 1834 while the records in Christ Church give 1835 as also does Ryle, Self Portrait, p. 29.

51.  Self Portrait, p. 31.  M. G. Clark, J. C. Ryle, 1947 mistakenly gives 1837 for the Craven Scholarship.

52.  According to the M. C. C. Records at Lord’s, Ryle only played in the 1837 Varsity Match scoring 2 & 7 and taking a few wickets, and in the 1838 Match scoring 5 and 0.  M. G. Clark, op. cit., p.6, M. L. Loane, op. cit., p. 9 and G. W. Hart, op. cit.. p.4 all wrongly assert that he took 10 wickets.

53.  F. W. Swanton, World of Cricket, 1966, p. 137.

54.  J. Pycroft, The Cricket Field, 1922, p. 19.

55.  For clergy and cricket see P. Scott, ‘Cricket and the Religious World in the Victorian Period’, The Church Quarterly, Vol. 3. No. 2. pp. 134ff.

56.  M. H. Fitzgerald, Memoirs of Herbert Edward Ryle, 1928, pp. 14, 26, 64, 133.

57.  W. R. Ward, Victorian Oxford, 1965, p. 86.

58.  Liddell’s Latin comments on Ryle’s work can still be seen in the archives of Christ Church.

59.  W. R. Ward, op. cit., pp. 12–18.

60.  Henry Highton (1816–74) was at Rugby under Dr. Arnold and later Headmaster of Cheltenham College.

61.  Self Portrait, p. 34.  Perhaps Ryle was being a little less than modest.

62.  V. H. H. Green, Religion in Oxford and Cambridge, 1964, p. 202.

63.  G. R. Balleine, A History of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England, (3rd ed. 1951), p. 105.

64.  J. Tuckwell, op. cit., p. 96.

65.  J. S. Reynolds, The Evangelicals at Oxford, 1735–1871, 1953, pp. 58–100.

66.  A Self Portrait, pp. 35ff.

67.  See Pollard, ‘Evangelical Parish Clergy 1820-1840’, Church Quarterly Review, Vol. CLIX, 1958.

68.  He was a son of Ryle’s mother’s sister, Marianne.

69.  For Denison’s appointment see O. Chadwick, op. cit., I, pp. 122–4.  Hamilton was the first disciple of Dr. Pusey to be an English Bishop, the first English Bishop to carry a pastoral staff’.  Ibid, pp. 468–9.

70.  Record, 15 June, 1900, and Self Portrait, p. 39.

71.  G. W. Hart, op. cit., p. 3 and M. L. Loane, John Charles Ryle, 1953, p. 13 wrongly state that Ryle’s conversion was in 1838.

72.  Christ Church Archives.

73.  The account of Ryle’s conversion is from ‘Canon Christopher’s Reminiscences’ in the Record, 15 June 1900.  M. L. Loane, Makers of our Heritage, p. 24 is incorrect in stating that the service was a morning one and that Ryle arrived late.  His account is based on W. G. Thomas, The Work of the Ministry, 1913, p. 185.  Thomas, a curate of St. Aldate’s, Oxford, from 1889–1896 probably based his account on what he remembered Canon Christopher saying.

74.  Self Portrait, p. 44

75.  Macclesfield Courier, 31 December 1828.

76.  Although Brocklehurst is called a Liberal and Ryle and Grimsditch, the unsuccessful candidate, Conservatives (C. S. Davies, op. cit., p. 296) in the final election results in the Macclesfield Courier, 14 December 1832, Brocklehurst and Ryle are both given as ‘Reformers’.

77.  Macclesfield Courier, 15 December 1832.

78.  G. R. Balleine, op. cit., pp. 134 & 185.

79.  Macclesfield Courier, 24 May 1828.

80.  J. Earles, op. cit., p. 113 records: ‘I possess several of the five pound notes which were issued by Messrs Daintry, Ryle & Co.  One is headed “Macclesfield and Cheshire Bank” and is dated 19 January 1841.  It is signed at the bottom “J.C. Ryle”.’

81.  Liverpool Mercury, 24 July 1934.  The yeomanry was a semipolice force often used to quell riots.  R. Verdin, The Cheshire (Earl of Chester’s) Yeomanry, 1898–1967.  1971.

82.  G. W. Hart, op. cit., p. 4.  Self Portrait, pp. 46ff.

83.  Liverpool Post and Mercury, 24 July 1934.

84.  Self Portrait, Chap. VIII.

85.  C. S. Davies, op. cit., p. 239.

86.  Record, 15 June 1900.  The information was given to Canon Christopher by Canon Bardsley of Manchester.

87.  Self Portrait, p. 60.

88.  L. E. O’Rorke, The Life and Friendships of Catherine Marsh, 1917, p. 41.

89.  For the typical country church see O. Chadwick, op. cit., 2, chap. 4.  Ordinations in Cathedrals did not become the norm for another thirty years.

90.  Self Portrait, Chap. IX.  The 1847 Clergy List gives the population of Fawley as 1972, and Exbury, 400.  The income of the incumbent was £1,179.

91.  E. G., Ryle’s father had been one of the vice-presidents of the Macclesfield Society for the Relief of the Sick and Distressed Poor, founded in 1814.  C. S. Davies, op. cit., p. 254.  For Evangelicals and social work see J. Heasman, Evangelicals in Action, 1964.

92.  Ryle, The Upper Room (1970 reprint), pp. 31–2.

93.  M. H. Fitzgerald, op. cit., p. 14.

94.  For the R. T. S. see S. Green, The Story of the Religious Tract Society, 1900.

95.  Self Portrait, p. 64.

96.  For Wilberforce at Brighstone and Alverstoke see D. Newsome, The Parting of Friends, 1966, chap’s 5 & 6, and S. Mercham, Lord Bishop.  The Life of Samuel Wilberforce, 1805–1873, 1970, chap’s 2 & 3.

97.  Self Portrait, p. 74.

98.  E. S. Purcell, Life of Cardinal Manning, 1896, pp. 457–8.  Ryle’s booklet on regeneration was related to the Gorham Controversy.  See G. R. Balleine, op. cit., pp. 147–150.

99.  A. Thick, Some Notes on the History of the former Church of St Thomas and St Clement, Winchester Public Library, 1972, p. 3.  See further the appropriate parts of the Victoria County History of Hampshire.


II – Ministry in East Anglia

      Ryle’s ministry in East Anglia was undertaken in two rural parishes, Helmingham and Stradbroke, and lasted for thirty-seven years.  This period saw important developments within the Church of England and therefore within the Evangelical Party.  At this point these must be briefly outlined for Ryle was very much involved in them.


a.  Evangelicals in the Church of England

      The Tractarian movement – the cause of so much controversy from 1838 to 1843 – gradually gave way to the Ritualist Movement and the English Church Union was formed in 1859 to defend Anglo-Catholic emphases.  Partly in reaction, the Evangelicals created in 1865 the Church Association whose primary purpose was to preserve the Protestant character of the National Church.  Disestablishment of the Irish Church by Gladstone’s government in 1871 led to an increased zeal on the part of Evangelicals and others to preserve the Establishment in England and Wales.  Threat of disestablishment was accordingly an important factor in the attempts to give to the Church a working machinery.  The revival of Convocations, the creation of Diocesan Conferences and the formation of the Church Congresses all stemmed from this.  Evangelicals, however, were divided in attitude towards these bodies as they were on the various moves made from London in 1868 to unite them into a homogeneous body.

      This was also the period in which theological liberalism, heralded by the publication of Essays and Reviews (1860) and novel theories concerning the authorship of books of the Old Testament, which seemed to deny their divine inspiration and authority, appeared on the scene.  In general the Evangelical response was to reiterate the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Bible and to defend as biblical dogma the essential doctrines of the Creeds and Thirty-Nine Articles.

      Evangelicalism also had to face problems created by the evangelical movement of Europe and North America.  There were constant debates over eschatological doctrine and the right interpretation of the books of Daniel and Revelation; there were pastoral and theological difficulties arising from the revival of religion during 1859 to 1861 – the second general awakening; there were different attitudes expressed towards the Moody and Sankey Missions of the 1870s; there was bitter controversy over the question of Christian perfection and the teaching of the American couple, Mr. and Mrs. Pearsall Smith, and there was the constant problem of the correct mode and true recipients of baptism.  In a real sense Evangelicalism thrives on controversy and these problems strengthened rather than weakened the faith of the Anglican Evangelicals.

      However, the actual strength of Evangelicalism in the Church in the reign of Queen Victoria is not easy to determine.  W. J. Conybeare did some research into this matter and wrote in the Edinburgh Review of 1853 that ‘its strength and vigor is relatively, if not positively, diminished and that its hold on the public life is less than it was in the last generation.’  The last generation included such spiritual giants as William Wilberforce and Charles Simeon but at the diocesan level the heyday of Evangelicalism came in the period from 1855 to 1865.  In these years Lord Palmerston acted on the advice of the evangelical patron, Lord Shaftesbury, and appointed for the Crown several Bishops and Deans who were Evangelicals.  Notable among these were three Bishops – R. Bickersteth (Ripon, 1856), J. T. Pelham (Norwich, 1857) and S. Waldegrave (Carlisle, 1860) – and one Dean – Francis Close (Carlisle, 1856).  Through these appointments Evangelicals became both respectable and important.

      But a leader writer in the Times on 31 January, 1879, felt constrained to write that ‘the death of Dean McNeile removes a striking figure from that fast dwindling band of men who still represent the old Evangelical tradition of our Church in the midst of a generation which has sought other faiths than theirs.  He belonged to a school whose disciples are now few and far between, to a party whose influence has almost ceased to count in current controversies.  McNeile had been Dean of Ripon and had earned a reputation for a fiery anti-Catholicism.  The leader provoked protests from Dean Close and from Canon J. C. Ryle, these being printed on 6 February 1879.  Ryle argued that four facts pointed to the continuing strength of the party: the distinctive doctrines of Evangelicalism were preached in five times as many churches in England and Wales as had been the case fifty years earlier; at least ten times as many pulpits in large towns were occupied by Evangelicals as fifty years earlier; evangelical societies were the wealthiest of Anglican societies, and there had been a healthy growth of evangelical conventions and conferences, especially that at Islington Parish Church.  Indeed Ryle had put points in greater detail at the Islington Conference of 1879; his address appeared in print in the first number of the Churchman of that year.

      Despite Ryle’s enthusiastic defence the influence of the Party in the nation and Church in 1879 was certainly less than it had been twenty years earlier.  Numbers are assuredly important, but, key men in positions of influence maintain the power of a party.  At that time the Evangelicals had few men whose declarations counted in the world of theological scholarship or on the bench of Bishops or in the House of Commons.  Further, the policy of the Church Association had apparently been reduced to the punitive measure of taking to court as many ritualistic offenders as possible.  In short, the Evangelicals in England seemed to have lost the vision without which a nation perishes,


b.  Helmingham, 1844 to 1861

      Ryle had been at St. Thomas’ for only five months when he received from the Lord Chancellor the unexpected offer of the living of Helmingham, Suffolk, in the deanery of Claydon and the diocese of Norwich.  The Bishop of the diocese was Edward Stanley, father of A. P. Stanley, a contemporary of Ryle at Oxford from 1834 to 1837.1  The offer of the living, the richest in the gift of the Lord Chancellor in Suffolk, was probably due to the suggestion of Georgina Tollemache, an old friend of Ryle and wife of John Tollemache of Helmingham Hall.

      To leave Winchester at a time of renewal initiated by himself was no easy decision but Ryle had to note that Helmingham was worth about £500 a year.  With such a stipend he would be independent of his father and able to marry if he so desired.  Thus while professing not to like Suffolk people, he accepted.  He was, however, never fully convinced that he had made the right decision.  Indeed, immediately after the announcement of his departure his doubts were revived by a pledge from the people of St. Thomas’ of an increased stipend of £300 if he would stay.  He felt honor-bound to reject this, but as late as 1873 he could write: ‘... to this day I feel doubts whether the move was right or not.’2  So he came to Helmingham in May 1844.

      One name was synonymous with Helmingham – that of John Tollemache of Helmingham Hall.  The Hall was fine and large, built in the reign of Henry VIII.  Round it ran a moat full of fish and there was a draw-bridge which had been raised every night for several hundred years.  The house stood in the middle of large park-lands wherein roamed herds of deer and a grand avenue of trees ran from the main entrance of the park up to the Hall.  The Tollemaches were proud of their family history, claiming to have held land in England from before the Norman Conquest.  Lest anyone should forget it, they had the following lines inscribed on the Hall:

When William the Conqueror reigned with great fame

Bentley was my seat and Tollemache was my name.

John Tollemache was born in 1805, the eldest son of Admiral John Tollemache, who had commanded H.M.S. Repulse at the Battle of Toulon.  In August 1826 he married Miss Georgina Louisa Best, who was a committed Evangelical.  On the death of his father John inherited 26,000 acres of land in Cheshire and 7,000 in Suffolk.  Three years later, on the death of his great aunt, Lady Louise Tollemache, he moved into Helmingham Hall, where he immediately embarked on a major renewal of the fabric.  In the village his word was law for all the three hundred people worked for him in one way or another.  He determined to make Helmingham into a model farming village.  To this end he spent £280,000 on building cottages for the workmen on the estates.  These were built in pairs, each with an acre of land and a pig-sty.  In recognition of his stature as a model landlord, he was created a Baron in 1876.  Earlier Tollemache sat in the House of Commons as Tory Member for South Cheshire from 1841 to 1868 and for West Cheshire from 1868 to 1872.3

      Helmingham Parish Church, built originally in the fourteenth century, was situated on the edge of the park, looking up a gentle slope to the Hall some six hundred yards away.  Though small, it was cluttered with many monuments to the Tollemache family.  The rectory stood next to the church and was in such poor condition that Ryle lived in the Hall for some fifteen months while repairs were undertaken.  In this period he ‘had more time for reading and thinking and storing his mind’ than at any other in his life.  He also met and became acquainted with most of the Evangelicals of the county and as the Hall often had as many as twenty guests in residence together, he acted as chaplain there.  Some were well-known Evangelicals such as Archbishop Sumner, Admiral Harcourt and Admiral Hope.4

      One guest from the House of Commons was most probably John Pemberton Plumptre, Member for East Kent, whose name frequently appears in the Record newspaper in the 1830s and 1840s.  He had been converted under the ministry of Daniel Wilson while studying in the Inns of Court in London.  In Parliament during the 1830s he had been prominent in efforts to tighten Sabbatarian legislation and to restrict the political freedom of Roman Catholics.5  Possibly through Lady Tollemache’s mediation, Ryle met Matilda Charlotte Louisa, daughter of John Pemberton Plumptre, and he married her on 29 October 1845 in Helmingham Church.  To use his own words we must presume that Ryle believed he had found in Miss Plumptre ‘a real Christian, a real lady and not a fool.’6  Their first child was born in June 1847 and baptised as Georgina Matilda, not only signifying a relation of mother to daughter but also acknowledging the memory of a kind benefactor and friend, Lady Georgina Tollemache who had died in July of the previous year.7

      It was a sad blow to Ryle when the mistress of Helmingham Hall died.  She had always been frail in body and, out of the eleven children she had borne her husband, only two had survived.  Her husband was shattered and, in Ryle’s estimation, was ‘never the same again in religion.’8  However, he remarried soon afterwards and at the wedding wore a band of black crepe around his hat in memory of Georgina.  His second wife bore him twenty-four sons, twelve of whom survived infancy, and one daughter, whom he named Rhoda, after the famous Gypsy Queen of that name who was buried in Helmingham Churchyard.9

      Though Ryle regarded Georgina Tollemache as ‘the brightest example of a Christian woman I ever saw,’ his view of John Tollemache was bleak.  He considered that the people of the parish lived in a state of ‘servile subjection to Mr. Tollemache, not daring to have an opinion of their own about anything.’10  As a commentary from personal experiences the Rector told Tollemache’s mother-in-law that the family were good lovers and good haters too.11  Local people still tell how, on Sundays, when Tollemache thought Ryle had preached a long enough sermon he would stand up in his pew and look at his watch.12  One writer states that ‘their quarrel was a later recrudescence of the classical conflict between the emergent middle class and the old landed gentry’ and ‘probably had its confirmation if not its origin in their different social status.’13  The basic clash of personalities finally brought about the departure of the Rector, but in the meantime, their mutual concerns had to meet somehwere.  In 1853 Tollemache built a school, and then maintained it and the teachers, all at his own expense.  It was divided into an Upper School attended by sons of farmers and tradesmen, and a Lower School for the sons of the farm-labourers.14  Rector Ryle was responsible for religious instruction.

      Socially Ryle, by his own admission, continued to be a bad mixer during his first years at Helmingham.  Though he visited other parishes and neighboring towns as guest speaker he never made friends with the clergy families.  He gained a reputation, never fully lost, of ‘being unsociable, distant, reserved and indisposed to encourage friendship.’15  The pulpit and the platform were two of the very few places where he was genuinely happy.  Perhaps another place was in his study surrounded by books.

      Though Ryle’s marriage was a success and cured his loneliness, a series of tragedies now approached.  After the death of Georgina Tollemache came that of his brother Frederick, a severe blow to his mother, who regarded him as her favorite son.  As a curate under Samuel Wilberforce, he inclined towards the teaching of the Tractarians on such vital issues as the doctrine of the Church and the sacraments.  The two brothers were never very close and of Frederick John said that he ‘never had one enemy, without making any great mark in the world.’16  Then John’s wife fell ill ten days after the birth of their daughter.  Ryle blamed the illness on his mother-in-law who had come to stay with them for the birth.  One morning she had read her daughter fifteen letters from well-wishers, instead of allowing her to rest.  Ryle came to the conclusion that ‘mothers-in-law are seldom wise or add to the happiness of their daughters in reality.’17

      Doctors advised convalescence and so Mrs. Ryle went to a house in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, while her husband stayed at Helmingham and travelled down to see her for a few days every three weeks or so.  She was in such a weak condition that he could be with her for only twenty or thirty minutes at a time.  After making what seemed to be some progress she contracted a cough in October and this was diagnosed by a London doctor as an infection on the right lung.  So, in search of peace and good air, Ryle took a small house in Ventor, Isle of Wight for his wife.  However, it was winter time and the mist and fog were not conducive to regaining health.  In addition, the local Vicar, known as an Evangelical, ‘thought it was his duty to preach to invalids. .. expository sermons from the Book of Revelation or expatiate by the hour to poor dying creatures about seals, viols and trumpets.’18  Then Mrs. Plumptre arrived to help look after her daughter, who made little progress.  Eventually, after visits to the Ryle family at Anglesey-ville and a brief period in Tunbridge Wells, Matilda died at Fredville Manor in June 1847.  She was buried in Nonington Church, ten miles north-east of Dover, in the family vault.

      Overcome with grief at his loss, Ryle could not face going back to the empty rectory at Helmingham immediately.  So he stayed on at the Plumptre house in Fredville for three months, except for a three weeks holiday in Scotland with Mr. Plumptre whom he highly esteemed and his brother-in-law, Algernon Coote.  Leaving his daughter with her grandmother at Fredville, Ryle then went back to his parish and thereafter visited Georgina once a month.

      Ryle did not remain a widower too long for on 21 February 1850 at Tor Mohun, Torquay, he married Miss Jessie Elizabeth Walker, eldest daughter of John Walker of Crawfordjohn, in Lanarkshire, Scotland.19  He had known her for several years as she had been a close friend of his first wife and god-mother to Georgina.  After six months of happy marriage, Jessie began to feel sick and from that time until her death ten years later she was never really well for more than three months at a time.  Her pregnancies all proved difficult and on each occasion she went to London for expert medical help.  She had four children, Jessie Isabella (born 1851) Reginald John (born 1854), Herbert Edward (born 1856) and Arthur Johnston (born 1857).  In March 1860 she contracted Bright’s disease (kidney disease) and died two months later.  Herbert Edward’s only memory of Helmingham was being held up at an attic window by his nurse to see his mother’s funeral.20

      The strain of these years told on Ryle, who later said:

Few can have any idea how much wear and tear and anxiety of mind and body I had to go through for at least five years before my wife died.  I very rarely ever slept out of my own house, in order that I might be in the way if my wife wanted anything.  I have frequently in the depth of winter driven distances of twelve, fifteen, twenty or even thirty miles in an open carriage to speak or preach, and then returned home the same distance immediately afterwards, rather than sleep away from my own house.  As to holidays, rest or recreations in the year, I never had any at all while the whole business of entertaining and amusing three little boys in an evening devolved entirely upon me.  In fact the whole state of things was a heavy strain upon me both in body and mind, and I often wondered how I lived through it.21

What Ryle later wrote concerning the death of the wife of Henry Venn of Huddersfield was born in his own experience:

She was in fact her husband’s right hand.  When she died such a load of care and anxiety was accumulated on his head that his health gradually gave way.  People who have not been placed in similar circumstances may probably not understand all this.  Those who have had this cross to carry can testify that there is no position in this world so trying to body and soul as that of a minister who is left a widow with a young family and a large congregation.  There are anxieties in such cases which no one knows but he who has gone through them; anxieties which can crush the strongest spirit and wear out the strongest constitution.22

Certainly Ryle had a family of young children, and, by Suffolk standards, a large congregation.  A visitor in 1858 counted some one hundred and sixty people crowded into the church and noted that the rector preached for a long time and seemingly without notes.23  He probably also noted that about forty texts of Scripture were painted on the walls; over the entrance was the saying of Jesus, ‘I am the door,’ and over the pulpit were the words of Paul, ‘Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel.

      While Ryle was facing domestic difficulties and looking after the small parish, he made time to continue the Biblical and historical studies begun at Exbury.  Upon these was based the preaching ministry which attracted a full church in Helmingham and a large congregation in other parts of the county when he spoke on behalf of evangelical bodies such as the Church Pastoral Aid Society.  By now he had dropped the ornate manner of preaching used in his early days in Hampshire.  He had definitely cultivated a simple but powerful style of his own, suited to the needs of the average working man.  His sentences were usually short with no more than one subordinate clause; his carefully chosen material was divided into clear sections with definite sub-headings and with telling illustrations.  His sermons always ended with a practical application.  For example, in A Pastor’s Address to his Flock at the beginning of a New Year which he preached, had printed and then distributed in the last days of December 1846, began with three clear points: ‘There are very many among you whom I long to see awakened from sin’; ‘There are many among you whom I long to see as decided followers of Christ’; and ‘there are some true Christians among you whom I long to see more holy and more bright.  He closed by calling on the true believers to confess their sins of the past year, to seek to abide in Christ more thoroughly, to be on guard against false doctrines, to make conscience of the little things in religion, and to be more active in endeavors to do good in the world.

      Later in life he defined preaching in this way:

You preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ so fully and clearly that everybody can understand it.  If Christ crucified has not His rightful place in your sermons, and sin is not exposed as it should be, and your people are not plainly told what they ought to be and do, your preaching is no use.24

Such carefully organised Biblical themes, spoken sincerely and earnestly by a tall, well-built man, who had a clear and loud voice, obviously made a strong impression upon the hearers.  He was also in demand in London when, for the sake of his wife’s health he was in temporary residence there.25  During the 1850s he claimed to have preached in sixty London churches and to have received the offer of several livings in the city.  Omitted from his Autobiography is mention of speeches at Exeter Hall, where all the evangelical societies held their great public meetings.  The reporter for the Suffolk Chronicle, obviously an admirer of the country Rector, once wrote that Ryle spoke to a crowd of 4,000 ‘with a force and earnestness which have been rarely equalled, and which riveted the attention of the vast audience from commencement to finish.’26

      There is also no mention of being guest-speaker in August 1858 at the Aggregate Clerical Meeting, held under the presidency of Archdeacon Law at Weston-super-Mare.  Apart from sermons on II Cor. 2:17 and I Tim. 4:15 he gave an important address entitled ‘What is our Position?’27  In this he sought to diagnose the problems of the Church of England and of the Evangelical Party in the Church.  At the same time he expressed his thanks to God for the great work of the evangelical societies and for the Religious Worship Act of 1855, ‘the greatest boon which our Church has received since the days of the Reformation.’28  Also he reminded his hearers that it was at the last Clerical Meeting in 1856 that along with Archdeacon Law, Hugh McNeile and J. C. Miller he had helped to plan special meetings for the working classes, the first of which took place on six evenings in November 1856 in St. Martin’s Church, Birmingham.29

      Alongside Ryle’s preaching and lecturing ministry there existed a growing ministry through literature.  At Exbury he had borrowed tracts from the Religious Tract Society, but here in Suffolk he decided to write his own.  The first of these, entitled I have somewhat to say unto thee, was a summary of his first sermon at Helmingham.30  He printed it privately and then freely distributed it in the village and local countryside.  It had four simple points: that he had for the parish words of desire (the salvation of the parishioners), of sorrowful warning (that God is both loving and righteous), of stirring-up (that true believers will live as such) and of advice (to pray, read the Scriptures and attend regularly the means of grace).  For help in developing the earthy style which characterised this and later tracts he expressed indebtedness to John Bright, the Quaker orator, Thomas Guthrie, the Scot, William Cobbett, the political radical, John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, Matthew Henry, the Biblical commentator, and not least to William Shakespeare.31

      In Ipswich he found a printer, William Hunt, who agreed to work with him in the enterprise of publishing and distributing tracts and so began a partnership which lasted for nearly fifty years and which placed before the British public hundreds of tracts and pamphlets and over thirty books.32  Tracts published in the 1840s included Are you forgiven?, Are you regenerate?, Remember Lot, Living or Dead?, and Seeking the Lord Early.  During the 1850s, the momentum of publication increased and translations in Welsh and other European languages were made.  By 1859, William Hunt could offer seven volumes of collected tracts under the title of Home Truths together with many pamphlets.33  Why Ryle’s tracts were popular became a topic of discussion in the mid-nineteenth century and one writer explained simply ‘the spell which binds the eyes and thoughts and feelings to every page.’34  It was not the truth they contained, said this commentator, for other tracts were true but not popular; also it was not their clarity, for other tracts were just as clear.  Rather, it was something beyond their truth and clarity which worked ‘its way silently, yet powerfully into the reader’s mind.’  In fact it was ‘the unostentatious, but judicious use of the imaginative faculty.  Ryle called this into existence on subjects which all could comprehend and which therefore carried the most uninstructed mind along with him.  An example of this is to be found in the tract, On the Opening of the Present Year (1853).

A man may be a very ignorant man and yet be saved.  He may be unable to read a word, or write a letter.  He may know nothing of geography beyond the bounds of his own parish, and be entirely unable to say which is nearest, Paris or New York.  He may know nothing of Arithmetic and not see any difference between a million and a thousand.  He may know nothing of history, not even of his own land, and be quite ignorant whether his country owes most to Semiramis, Boadicea or Queen Elizabeth.  He may know nothing of the affairs of his own times, and be incapable of telling you whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Commander-in-Chief, or the Archbishop of Canterbury is managing the national finances.  He may know nothing of science and its discoveries – and whether Julius Caesar won his victories with gunpowder, or the Apostles had a printing press or the sun goes round the earth, may be matters about which he had not an idea.  And yet, if that very man has heard Bible truth with his ears, and believed it with his heart, he knows enough to save his soul.

These are simple words ‘but yet no man who had not a quick and lively fancy would have strung together so many forcible illustrations of his meaning in a way calculated to set the imagination of his humblest reader astir.’

      William Hunt also published several books for Ryle in his Helmingham days.  First, there were two hymn books, each of which went through eight or more reprints; Spiritual Songs selected by J. C. Ryle (1849) and Hymns for the Church on Earth selected and arranged by J. C. Ryle (1860).  The latter replaced the former and was itself enlarged in later editions.  In the preface he wrote: ‘I hold strongly that holy thoughts often abide forever in men’s memories under the form of poetry, which pass away and are forgotten under the form of prose.’  Secondly, there was a historical study entitled The Bishop, the Pastor and the Preacher in three biographical lectures (1854).  Each of the lectures, given originally to branches of the Young Men’s Christian Association, had been printed as separate pamphlets.  The three characters are Hugh Latimer, Richard Baxter, and George Whitefield.

      The most important publishing project begun at Helmingham was the Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, which ran to seven volumes and was not completed until 1873.  The first volume on Matthew appeared in 1856 followed by Mark in 1857, Luke in 1858–9 and John in 1873.35  It was Ryle’s hope that the volumes would be found suitable for use at the family prayers of the average Christian family, would be useful for private devotional reading, and would be an aid to those who visited the poor and sick in order to comfort them with the Gospel.  ‘In style and composition,’ wrote Ryle, ‘I frankly avow that I have studied as far as possible to be plain and pointed and to choose what an old divine calls “picked and packed” words.  I have tried to place myself in the position of one who is reading aloud to others.36  Before writing the comments on Luke and John, he claimed to have read over eighty commentaries, some written in Latin, others in English.  He was greatly impressed by the Latin Commentary on John by Robert Rollock, the Scottish divine of the sixteenth century.  He found Dean Alford’s comments quite clear but lacking in theological accuracy.37

      The three volumes of Expository Thoughts on St. John were published when Ryle was Vicar of Stradbroke.  He moved here in 1861, but had made his mark earlier in July 1858 when he had been guest speaker at a local Church Missionary Society Meeting.38  By 1860 there was in Ryle’s words ‘a complete suspension of all friendly relations’ between Ryle and Tollemache in Helmingham.  A sermon preached by Ryle in Helmingham in March 1858, sought to make a point about treasures on earth and treasures in heaven, and in illustration he asked, ‘Will Mr. Tollemache take Peckforton Castle or Helmingham Hall or his fine house in St. James when he dies?’39  Such a query had to presage imminent departure.  So when Bishop John T. Pelham, a Christ Church man, who had been consecrated Bishop of Norwich on 30 April 1857, offered Ryle the living of Stradbroke in 1861 he accepted without hesitation.  The living was worth twice that of Helmingham as William White, the incumbent in the 1830s, had won a long legal battle with the Bishop of Ely to recover endowments which had once belonged to the living.  White’s endeavours had thus made Stradbroke one of the wealthiest livings in the diocese and in making this offer Bishop Pelham, who was naturally sympathetic to Evangelicals, showed he thought highly of John Charles Ryle.40


c.  Stradbroke, 1861 to 1880

      It was fitting that a presbyter who would one day become a bishop should move to Stradbroke for the village was famous as the birthplace of Robert Grossteste (1175–1253), the Bishop of Lincoln.  Set in the midst of farm lands, which were intersected with narrow winding lanes, the village was large by Suffolk standards, having a population of about 1,300.  Unlike Helmingham there was no single, powerful landlord.  The majority of the people were poor and a fair number had emigrated to America.  The church, like others in the area, was built of flint and possessed a noble tower which rose as a landmark in the flat countryside.  With its five bays of perpendicular arches in the nave, its aisles and clerestory, and its lofty roof, it gave worshippers a sense of space combined with a singular beauty of proportion.  Between 1871 and 1879 Ryle put in hand a major restoration of the building, including the provision of new pews and the renovation of the chancel.  In a letter dated December 1870 he made his first public appeal for financial help from his friends:

After standing probably 450 years, almost every part of this noble fabric requires more or less repair and renovation...  It is quite impossible for the inhabitants of Stradbroke to raise such a sum as £2,700.  Stradbroke is a large, straggling parish on a clay soil and seven miles from a railway station.  There are no resident landlords or gentry and the population is made up of farmers, labourers, tradesmen and three professional men.  It is quite evident that without help from kind friends unconnected with the parish the work cannot possibly be done ...  I make bold to express a hope that many unknown friends in Great Britain and Ireland who have for 20 years read and approved the writings of the Vicar of Stradbroke will now kindly remember the church in which he preaches and generously aid him in the heavy work he has undertaken.41

The appeal had its effect for in a tract dated December 1871 he is only asking for £250.42  Part of the restoration included the removal of the old Jacobean pulpit and its replacement by a new one on which were inscribed the words: ‘Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel.’  It is said that Ryle supervised the carving of this text and when it was finished, in the presence of the workmen, he cut a deep groove, which may still be seen, beneath the word ‘not’.43

      The restoration work of 1871–2 did not deal adequately with the problems in the chancel and Ryle was found appealing again to his friends in a public letter dated December 1878.  He told how he had personally spent £500 on a new roof but needed another £500 to complete the work in the chancel.  Then he wrote:

Time is short and life uncertain.  Before the connection of the present Vicar of Stradbroke with his parish is ended he is anxious to leave every part of his church in such complete order that no fair excuse may be left to any succeeding Vicar for introducing ornaments or fittings of an un-Protestant character.  He wishes, in short, to leave his Church a complete pattern of what the house of God ought to be in the Reformed Church of England.44

These were the years when the ritualistic movement was gaining ground in East Anglia and some former Evangelical or Low Church parishes were introducing what Ryle considered to be Roman ceremonial.45

      Ryle grew very fond of Stradbroke, and years later, when he was Bishop of Liverpool, he looked back nostalgically to the village ‘with its grand Gothic church, and its little cluster of cottages round it and its two or three humble shops with its total absence of urban temptations – with its few hundreds of people within easy walking of the parsonage – with seats in the church for almost every inhabitant and places in the school for almost every child.’46  Within two years of his arrival he had supervised the building of this school which accommodated about 250 children and cost £1,300, raised mostly from Suffolk benefactors.47  It was connected with the National School Society which represented and coordinated the work of many parish schools.  Within it, a classroom was rented to a trust which ran a private school for the sons of the richer members of the locality.  The playground had a fence to divide the play areas of the two schools, for social customs then demanded that the different classes in society mix with their own kind.  The priority given to the provision of the school by Ryle (and by Tollemache in Helmingham) is related to the common evangelical approach to primary education which was well defined by John Venn of Clapham in the following way:

Man, it is true, cannot by education be made a real Christian; but by education he may be freed from prejudices and delivered from the dominion of dispositions highly favourable to temptation and sin.  He may, by education, be endued with qualities friendly to the growth of Christianity.  His mind may be enlightened by knowledge instead of being darkened by brutish ignorance.  His conscience may be awakened instead of being seared by insensibility.  He may be made attentive, docile, submissive, rational...  The soil may be cultivated and prepared for the reception of the heavenly seed.48

Proper education was thus a handmaid to evangelism and this is why such evangelical stalwarts as Hugh McNeil in Liverpool, Hugh Stowell in Manchester and Francis Close in Cheltenham poured so much of their energies into the struggle to preserve Christian and Protestant Anglican education in the parishes.49

      In providing religious instruction in the school, as well as in running the Sunday School, Ryle was assisted by his seven successive curates.50  He was also assisted in the Sunday School by his third wife, Henrietta, daughter of Lieutenant – Colonel Legh Clowes of Broughton Old Hall, near Manchester in Lancashire, whom he married in October 1861.51  Henrietta was a good organist as well as being an amateur photographer.  She took over the care of the five children and the management of the busy vicarage with a ready and loving spirit and soon won the affection of the children, as evidenced in the contents of the letters exchanged when the boys were away at schoo1.52  Life in the vicarage was disciplined but not dull.  The children looked up to their father as ‘every inch a man.  His tall robust frame was matched with a strength of purpose and directness of speech which was pre-eminently embracing.  No one could doubt he was one whose religion was intensely real.’53  S. R. James, later an Archdeacon, once visited the Ryle home when the two elder boys were teenagers.  He recorded that ‘Mr. Ryle with his gigantic figure and stentorian voice was perhaps rather a formidable figure to a youthful visitor but very kind and hearty and I soon felt at home.  The boys, each in his own way, were delightful companions.  The atmosphere of the house was, like that of my own, devotional: daily Bible readings, somewhat lengthy family prayers and a good deal of religious talk.  But all was quite wholesome and unpretentious, and I don’t think any of us were bored, much less inclined to cavil at the regime, at any rate at the time.’54

      Of the five children Herbert seems to have been his father’s favorite.  When in April 1866 Ryle took Reginald and Herbert back to the private school at Wadhurst, run by the Rev. R. H. Wace, father of the well-known Dean H. Wace of Canterbury, there was a sad parting.  Writing home to Stradbroke, Ryle told Henrietta that ‘poor little Herbert cried most bitterly at parting.  Reginald was more quiet.  Herbert’s life, from natural disposition, has been so easy and happy hitherto that he naturally feels this first wrench.  And he has been so accustomed to look up to me and be always with me, ever since he can remember anything, that the separation strikes him more.  It is a sad work, and nothing but the sense of positive duty and the wisdom of it would make me go through with it.’55  This last remark is explained in the Autobiography where Ryle emphasises the importance of a good preparatory school for young boys.56

      In due course Herbert followed his father’s example by going to Eton where he valiantly tried to be faithful to the evangelical principles taught him at home.  On one occasion he wrote home to tell how, in refusing the turn eastwards for the recital of the creed, he found himself staring into the faces of the other boys.  A few years later he was shaken by news of his father’s illness and wrote to his stepmother in the following words: ‘It all seems strange and dream-like to me; I have so very rarely seen any illness that I cannot well imagine it, and I must say that the idea of dear Father being in bed ill is the very last that I can conceive.  However I suppose it is all “good for us,” and will make us love and prize him more.  His father regained his health and was able to read a letter sent by Herbert to his step-mother on 2 June 1875 concerning the visit to Eton College of the American evangelists Moody and Sankey.  ‘I do not know that I was very much struck by either “Soody” or “Mankey”,’ he wrote.  ‘“Soody” preached not much different from what father would have done, except with slightly more coarseness, without heads and with rather long stories and illustrations.  “Mankey’s” singing would sound better in a building than in a garden, and otherwise I did not think much of it.  As a whole I doubt if it would do much good.  But really I am quite sick of the names of Moody & S. now.’  Later in this same letter he told of a boy who, believing that a man should not marry more than once, had criticised his father for marrying thrice.  In reply Herbert had told the fellow that he was glad that his father had not held the same view: such was his affection for his stepmother.

      From Eton Herbert went on to Cambridge where he missed taking a first-class degree following an injury in a football match.

      The father’s fondness for his son is revealed in the following incident.  Herbert wrote home to say that he would not be staying with the rest of the family on the annual holiday at Keswick but would be joining a reading party at Borrowdale.  In reply his father wrote: ‘We all like to see as much as we can of you and we should think it hard if we were at Keswick and you not in the same house with us.  I for one should hardly care to go.  At your age you can have little idea how much an old fellow like me, whose contemporaries and schoolfellows are all dead counts on seeing all he can of his children.’

      After a brief but successful Cambridge career, Herbert became successively Principal of St. David’s College, Lampeter, Wales, Hulsean Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, President of Queen’s College, Cambridge, Bishop of Exeter, Bishop of Winchester and Dean of Westminster.  Reginald, the eldest son, studied at Trinity College, Oxford, and became a medical doctor.  Arthur studied at New College, Oxford, and became an artist.  In deference to his father’s views about the moral dangers of Paris, he had foregone the advantages of studying art there.  Isobella stayed with her father and stepmother and, after the latter’s death, acted as her father’s secretary.57

      The regular pattern of village life was temporarily disturbed by both evangelistic and social movements.  During 1861, in the aftermath of the ‘second evangelical awakening’ Suffolk was visited by Reginald Radcliffe, a Liverpool solicitor who had preached to the colliers of Lancashire and had been imprisoned for preaching in the open-air at Chester races, and Thomas Shouldham Henry, son of the President of Queen’s College, Belfast, and a convert of the revivalist J. Denham Smith.58  Ryle acted as one of their sponsors at Ipswich and also invited them to Stradbroke, where in June they held special services in the Corn Hall as well as open-air meetings on the village green.59  Exactly nine years later at a conference in Ipswich, Ryle complained that full advantage had not been taken of the spiritual awakening; in asserting this he was admitting that he himself had not fully utilised the opportunities for evangelism that came his way during the years 1859 to 1862.60  With respect to Moody and Sankey, who enjoyed their first successful evangelistic tour of Great Britain in 1873–4, Ryle had mixed feelings.  Though he became a personal friend of Moody and believed his basic theology to be acceptable, he was never entirely happy with the techniques of mass evangelism.61

      The social movement was the arrival in Suffolk of the Agricultural Labourers Union whose leader was Joseph Arch, a Primitive Methodist lay-preacher.62  Ryle’s reaction was typical of the majority of the clergy.  He was proud to relate that when the movement reached his area it did not disturb the peace of his parish, where, in contrast, to other parts of Suffolk, it had only a few members.  When asked for his views he told the farmers to do unto others as they would have others do unto them, and the laborers he advised to accept their lot in life as there would always be rich and poor, and that sorrow and pain would always be the common inheritance of humanity.  He believed that the ‘minister of Christ must never interfere between class and class, masters and servants in temporal matters,’ which conclusion he based on the saying of Jesus, ‘Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?’ (Luke 12:14).  This was the sort of argument Arch commonly heard from clergy who either opposed or did not encourage the Union, claiming that it set one class against another and thus disturbed the peace of society.  The only Anglican Bishop to support Arch was Frazer of Manchester who defended his position at the Leeds Church Congress in 1872 as well as in letters to the Times.  Following one of the latter Ryle wrote to him personally defying him to prove that the laborers of Manchester were any better off than those who worked on the land in and around Stradbroke.63

      Ryle’s concern as a parish minister was primarily spiritual and this he made clear in an address to the Croydon Church Congress in 1877:

If the country clergyman will only live the life he ought to live and preach as he ought to preach, he will find as good friends amongst the poor as in any class in the land.  I have no fear whatever for the Church of England in rural districts if the clergy are only faithful to their ordination vows and to the Word of God.  The poor are not such bad judges as some people think and in the long run I believe they will not think the Chapel better than the Church if the clergy only do their duty.  But in the matter of the Unions my sentence is that the clergy had better not interfere with them.  Let them mind their own business and remember that business is to preach and live the Gospel.64

Herein lay both the strength and the weakness of Ryle, strength in commitment to the converting of men and women to Jesus Christ, weakness in having a negative attitude towards one of the most important social developments of modern times, the Trades Union Movement.

      As parish minister part of his evangelistic concern continued to flow into tracts which bore such titles as Are you converted?, Are you free?, Are you looking?, and Are you fighting?.  In 1865 when the country experienced a terrible outbreak of cattle plague, Ryle produced a tract entitled The Finger of God, in which he pointed out that the Egyptians recognised the hand of God in the plagues that affected them in the time of Moses.  Likewise, he continued, Englishmen should recognise the hand of God in the cattle plague, ‘a special national chastisement’ because of special national sins.

      When in 1870 he was appointed Rural Dean of Hoxne, an area of twenty-five parishes around Stradbroke, his pastoral responsibilities were extended, as now he had a certain amount of oversight of neighboring clergy and parishes.65  In 1872 his Bishop made him an honorary Canon of Norwich Cathedral, which meant in practice that he preached there occasionally.66  Being now well on his way to sixty years and recognising that he might not have much longer to live, he wrote his Autobiography, ending the account at the year 1860 to spare his third wife any embarrassment in a description of their life together.  He felt that the rest of his days would probably be spent at Stradbroke and so he was extremely surprised to be offered the Deanery of Salisbury by Lord Beaconsfield in March 1880 when he was sixty-three years of age.  After much hesitation he took the advice of his friends and accepted, hoping that the Evangelical cause would profit by his promotion.  On the Sunday following his decision he took as his text John 13:7, the words of Jesus to Peter – ‘What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.’  With many of the congregation in tears, he movingly explained that the appointment to Salisbury had come unsought and unexpected and he, as a soldier of Christ, fighting for the preservation of the Gospel within the Church had felt bound to accept.  His income at Salisbury would not be materially different from that at Stradbroke so he could not be accused of seeking financial gain.  Further he doubted if he ever could be as happy anywhere else as he had been at Stradbroke. He was leaving reluctantly.67

      A writer in the Times was favorably surprised at Ryle’s appointment and commented that most ‘Exeter Hall preachers’ were usually promoted when they had become ‘extinct volcanoes.’  Ryle was not in that category and so when he arrived at Salisbury he would not become ‘a bit of mossy wall in an old world garden’ but would be as controversial as ever.  Readers of the Times would be curious to see how ‘the eager and restless temperament of the controversialist will reconcile itself to becoming the central figure of a pre-arranged ecclesiastical pageant.’68  This curiosity was never to be satisfied for within a few weeks of becoming Dean-elect of Salisbury, Ryle found himself Bishop-elect of the new diocese of Liverpool.  The circumstances leading to the creation of the diocese of Liverpool and to the choice of Ryle as its first Bishop are set out at the beginning of the next chapter.  Here Ryle’s final days in Stradbroke are described.

      On 22 June 1880 Ryle preached his final sermons in Stradbroke parish church.  It was raining at the time for morning service and this had some effect on the size of the congregation.  After telling the people that he had no fault to find with them he soon moved on to look forward to his work in Liverpool.  ‘Pray,’ he urged, ‘that I may be a true Bishop of the Reformed Church of England ... Pray for the 1,200,000 people living in that diocese to which I go.’  After morning service the weather improved and so many people came in the evening that extra benches had to be put in the church.  Ryle’s affection for the parish could not be hidden as he began to preach:

The old street down which I walked so often, the school which I so often visited, the shops to which I have so often gone, the fields over which I have so often walked, the road with every yard of which I was so thoroughly acquainted, my own little garden in which I had meditation and prayer, my own little field shut out from the world, where I have had quiet walks and communion with God, my own beautiful little church in which I have often seen so many faces – all these things I am about to leave and leave for ever.  I go, called by God, to the noise, bustle, smoke and confusion of a great sea-port town.

His final word in the sermon was a request for prayer: ‘Pray for me, name me before the throne of grace and say, “Lord God, bless Bishop Ryle.”’

      Three days later the final presentations were made to Ryle and his wife in the Corn Hall.  He received a silver flower vase with a suitable inscription and she received an album containing pictures of all who had subscribed to the gift.  The churchwardens thanked the retiring vicar for his ministry and told him that his sermons had been ‘to the last, full of Christ,’ while Mrs. Ryle was thanked for her work among the sick, poor and needy as well as for her services in the school and on the organ.  The East Anglian ministry was now closed.69


d.  A National Ministry

      Ryle’s ministry in Stradbroke had been the important base for a larger ministry both on behalf of the Evangelical cause and to the Church of England itself.  Although Ryle referred both to ‘the evangelical school’ and to ‘the evangelical party’ there were no party headquarters from which instructions and information were sent out to card-carrying members.70  Certainly at the deanery and diocesan levels men of like-mind met together formally or informally but the only means whereby evangelicals from all parts of the country came together regularly was for the annual meetings of the great societies held in Exeter Hall.71  And their only concerted action was in supporting such as the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Church Missionary Society and the Church Pastoral-Aid Society.  Lines of communication were kept open through the editorials and correspondence columns of such papers as the Record and the Rock, which began in 1868, forty years after the Record.

      With the appearance of theological liberalism in connection with the higher critical views of the Old Testament and especially with the growth of the ritualist movement out of the Tractarian movement, many Evangelicals from the early 1860s onwards felt the need of a definite party machinery.  Following the formation in 1865 of the London Church Association, whose purpose was basically seen as that of preserving the Protestant character of the Church by opposing all forms of ritualism and all Romanist sacramental views, Ryle felt that the Association could become the basis of a league of Protestant and Evangelical Churchmen.  In a widely distributed tract, We must unite (1868), based on an address given in January 1868 to the Islington Clerical Conference, he warned of the great dangers facing the Church of England and, in his own trenchant style, wrote:

Is there a want of organized union among evangelical churchmen?  I answer that question, without hesitation, in the affirmative.  In the main we preach the same doctrines and hold the same opinions.  In the main we support the same societies, go to the same meetings, subscribe to the same charities, work our parishes in the same way, go to the same booksellers’ shops, read the same books, paper and magazines, and groan and sigh over the same evils in the world.  But here our union stops.

      For defending common principles, for resisting common enemies, for facing common dangers, for attaining common great objects, for harmonious conduct in circumstances of great perplexity, for decided, prompt, energetic action in great emergencies, for all this I say unhesitatingly, we have no organised union at all.  Every evangelical churchman does what is right in his own eyes and every district goes to work in its own way.  We have God’s truth on our side.  We have numbers, strength, good will and desires to do what is right; but from lack of organisation we are weak as water.....

      Does the machinery for forming such an organised union exist already?  I have a strong impression that at this moment there exists no better centre of union than the London Church Association.  It may be young in years, and at present comparatively weak.  It may have made mistakes at its beginning.  But all must allow that it has lately assumed a very much bolder and more decided position.  Its conferences in London are the most remarkable demonstration of evangelical feeling and opinion that has been made for many years.

It was Ryle’s friend, Edward Garbett, Oxford Bampton Lecturer for 1865 and Vicar of Christ Church, Surbiton, who supplied the driving force from 1870 to 1874 for such a League by working for the union of the independent local clerical and lay associations of evangelicals.  Relations with the governing committee of the Church Association were never entirely happy and Garbett’s sincere endeavors and lengthy travels achieved little.72  Evangelicals, it seemed, just did not want to be ruled from London and regarded as a homogeneous group.  In 1881 a second union of clerical and lay associations was formed and this did useful work in the provision of middle-class education and in supplying guidelines to the Royal Commission on ecclesiastical courts.  Two other attempts at union, the Evangelical Protestant Union of 1879, and the Protestant Churchmen’s Alliance of 1889 were less representative of evangelical opinion.  So despite Herculean efforts by a few evangelical leaders to create a unified and organised party, evangelicals remained as before.  For, as Henry Venn wrote in the Christian Observer in 1870:

Those who know them best regard the term ‘party’ as a misnomer.  There is very little disposition to adopt common plans, each follows his own convictions.  There is very little deference to leaders; they rely upon internal guidance; accessions to the body are not made by joining a party but by embracing principles.73

And as late as 1892 A. J. Robinson, Rector of Holy Trinity, Marylebone, called upon his brethren to ‘try to put aside the terrible reproach that Evangelical Churchmen are like a bag of marbles.’74

      Speaking at an important meeting of the London Church Association in 1867 Ryle defined Evangelicalism:75 this was in terms of the priority and emphasis given to such doctrines as the full inspiration and authority of the Bible, the sinfulness of man, the substitutionary Atonement of Christ and the inward, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, complete loyalty to the formularies of the Church of England being taken for granted.  To classify Ryle’s Evangelicalism is difficult since in some matters (mostly doctrinal and social) he was conservative while in others (mostly organisational and administrative) he was progressive.  He was certainly a conservative with regard to Holy Scripture taking the position advocated by Robert Haldane and L. Gaussen.  This was a full doctrine of verbal inspiration produced in part in reaction to the less strong doctrine of inspiration taught by Philip Doddridge in the eighteenth century and adopted by such Churchmen as Daniel Wilson and Thomas Scott.76  Though he did not believe that the writers of the Bible were completely passive agents in the hands of the Holy Spirit, Ryle did believe that each and every part of Holy Scripture was equally inspired, and he had little to say about the accommodation of divine truth in Scripture to ancient philosophical, political or social standards.

      When discussing the Church, Ryle followed the usual Protestant custom of speaking of the Invisible Church, the total number of elect believers who will be found in heaven at the end of the age, and the Visible Church, the mixed company of true and false Christians on earth and associated with a variety of denominations and parties.77  With reference to the doctrines relating to personal salvation he certainly may be termed a ‘Calvinist,’ since his views belong to the doctrinal tradition stemming from Calvin and Beza in Geneva.  When describing the career and views of Augustus Toplady, he expressed sympathy with Toplady’s Calvinism which was rather strong.78  In particular, Ryle held that God had definitely elected a given number unto eternal salvation and that the Holy Spirit caused these people, through the ministry of the Word, to feel their need of salvation and to trust in Christ.  Such elect believers could never fall entirely from the grace of God and would be among those who were with Christ at the end of the age.  Unlike Calvin, Beza and Toplady, Ryle did not teach a doctrine of double predestination, involving election to damnation, and unlike Beza and Toplady, he did not teach a doctrine of limited Atonement.  Rather, he held that the general preaching of the Gospel to all peoples was possible only because Christ had provided in His death a general redemption.79

      Related to his Calvinistic views of grace were his views on the sacraments.  These he interpreted in a manner similar to Calvin but, in the context of theological controversy with Anglo-Catholics, he naturally emphasised those aspects of the Reformed view which were either denied or forgotten by the Anglo-Catholics.  In particular he opposed the idea of the presiding minister as a sacrificing priest at Holy Communion, and also denied any doctrine of the real presence of Christ in or around the elements of bread and wine.80  That which he vehemently opposed in regard to baptism was the doctrine of baptismal regeneration; he was ready to defend what is now called indiscriminate infant baptism on the basis that the Church of England is a National Church and that those who sincerely request baptism for their children must be treated as if they were professing Christians.  However, he did hold the full Reformed view of infant baptism as applied to the offspring of Christian parents.81

      Ryle’s involvement, while a Suffolk clergyman, was deep in the work of, and issues facing the Evangelical party, and also in certain problems facing the National Church on which he acted, wrote or spoke as an Evangelical leader.  Throughout his ministerial life he remained a firm supporter of the union of Church and State and was quite prepared to stand and work alongside High or Broad Churchmen to achieve this.  He was wholly convinced that the National Church was superior to any of the Nonconformist denominations in England or Wales and thus believed that it was in the interest of the Nation as well as the Gospel to preserve the Establishment.82  When Gladstone announced on 28 March 1865 his conversion to the policy of disestablishment for the Church of Ireland he found in Ryle a lasting opponent.  With the majority of Evangelicals Ryle believed that if the Irish Church lost its special relation with the State then so would the English Church ere long.83  As a leader writer in the Record put it: ‘the Irish Church is the key of the position, and if that be carried by storm the whole fortress must be evacuated sooner or later.’84  Earlier the same paper’s editorial had stated that ‘the maintenance of the Irish Church is equivalent to the maintenance of God’s Truth.  It is on this that the controversy really turns.  It is on this principle of a national religion and a national Protestantism that we must take our stand and be prepared to struggle for it to the last.’85  Evangelicals certainly struggled at the national and local levels making every effort to oppose Gladstone and the Liberal Party during the elections of 1868 but with no success, for the Liberals went to Westminster with a majority of 110 and a clear mandate to disestablish the Irish Church.

      In a pamphlet, published soon after the result of the 1868 General Election was known, Ryle had the following to say:

I am one of those clergymen who actively opposed Mr. Gladstone’s supporters at the late Parliamentary election.  For doing this we are violently attacked in many quarters ...  I am not ashamed of what I did...  Ignorance was not my reason.  I have read the Times regularly for twenty years, I have read the Saturday Review, the Daily Telegraph, the Pall Mail Gazette repeatedly in 1868.  I have waded through yards of speeches against the Irish Church by Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Bright.  Yet, after all, I am utterly unconvinced that Mr. Gladstone’s policy about the Irish Church is right. ...  Tory politics were not my reason.  I am not a Tory and never was; if I have any politics I am a Liberal.

What then were his reasons?  First, he believed that the disestablishment of the Protestant Church in Ireland would be the establishment of a gigantic system of godless government in that country.  Secondly, he believed that disestablishment would be a direct breach of a solemn agreement made between England and Ireland in the Act of Union seventy years earlier.  Thirdly, he felt it would be a direct help to Popery.  Fourthly, he was convinced it would do no real good and fifthly, he knew it would do great harm: ‘It will cripple, weaken, and impoverish a Church which is far sounder than the Church of England.  It will disgust, annoy, and irritate the most loyal part of the Irish population.’  Finally, it would be the first of a series of actions leading to the disestablishment of the Church of England.  In conclusion he wrote: ‘While I have breath in my body I trust I shall never shrink from opposing by every legal and constitutional means any statesman who proposes to ignore religion in the government of my country or to encourage and help Popery.  Awful as the alternative may seem I would rather see another civil war in England than the re-establishment of Popery.’86

      The Church of Ireland was formally disestablished in 1871.  Naturally its loss was deeply felt by Ryle and his brethren and one effect of this was to cause most Evangelicals to do their very best to preserve the English/Welsh Establishment, even, for example, in such minor matters as the prohibition of burial services taken by Nonconformists in churchyards.  Though some London clergy were prepared to compromise with Dissenters on this matter Ryle, as leader of the country Evangelicals, was firmly opposed to the Burials’ Bill proposed by Osborne Morgan in 1870.  He denounced the bill in a pamphlet as ‘utterly subversive of the first principles of a National or Established Church.’87  However, being no opponent of Dissenters as such, he proposed the creation of a separate burial ground not attached to the parish church which Nonconformists could use.  By 1880, with the Liberals back in power, he decided it was no longer wise to oppose the amended Burial Bill and so he did not speak against it.88

      The movement to achieve unity within Anglican Evangelicalism which was noted above may be regarded as part of a general policy of consolidation which was being pursued by most sectors of British Christianity.  In the case of the Church of England the loss of influence in Parliament and in education as well as obvious divisions within the Church, the possibility of disestablishment and the need to recruit and keep middle-class laymen, served to hasten the move towards the creation of appropriate and working machinery for its self government and self expression.89  However, the revival of the Convocations of Canterbury and York was not greatly welcomed by Evangelicals – basically because they had little representation therein.  Since Evangelicals could not ignore the existence of Convocations the only sensible policy was to press for their reform.  At the annual conference of the Church Association in 1872 this matter was discussed, papers being given by Joseph Bardsley and Ryle.90  Later that same year at the Church Congress in Leeds, Ryle repeated his proposals for reform.  He wanted the fusion of the two Convocations, more parochial clergy present, the exclusion of ex-officio members and the admission of the laity.91  In 1887 he cautiously welcomed the adoption of a scheme for a House of Laymen to sit simultaneously with Canterbury Convocation and to be elected by Diocesan Conferences.92  York did not have a House of Laymen until 1892, some six years after Canterbury’s.

      At the diocesan level Ryle encouraged participation by Evangelicals in the annual Diocesan Conferences which by the late 1870s were taking place in most dioceses.  In a pamphlet of 1871, based on a paper read to the Home Counties Clerical and Lay Association, Ryle told his brethren that if they wished Diocesan Conferences to be really useful to the Church they ‘must come forward and labour incessantly to make them what they ought to be.’93  He also came down firmly in favor of what he called a collective Conference, that is with each parish represented.  In Norwich the first Conference in 1872 was on this basis and it was so large that it was divided into five parts and held on three successive days, the Bishop presiding on each occasion.  Ryle should have been one of the speakers but was taken ill and could not speak.  However, both Bishop Pelham and Canon Ryle changed their minds over the necessary constitution of the Conference.  The next Norwich Conference in 1879 was elective, with each Deanery sending representatives.  Ryle in Our Diocesan Conference (1879) confessed to a change of mind in that he now allowed that in some cases an elective Conference was the best that could be done.  On arrival in Liverpool as Bishop he was able to implement his ideas for a collective Conference as the diocese was not very big.

      Not all Evangelicals were happy about attendance at those Conferences for it meant sitting alongside Liberals and Ritualists.  A writer in the Rock complained that ‘Mr. Ryle’s leanings are evidently becoming more decidedly “churchy.”  The haze of Church idolatry is gathering more densely about him’;94 while at the Church Association Conference of 1879 James Bateman denounced Diocesan Conferences and Synods as ‘an essential part of the scaffolding by means of which the votaries of priestcraft hope to rear a temple to their own pride.’95

      At the national level we find that Ryle urged participation in Church Congresses, which were annual, voluntary assemblies, held from 1861 for discussion not decision and which gradually gained in importance.  Some Evangelicals held, as they were voluntary assemblies, duty to the Church did not necessarily require attendance, especially as many who attended were Ritualists; others, with Ryle and Edward Hoare in the vanguard, saw attendance as the opportunity for an Evangelical witness.  In attending and becoming a regular speaker, Ryle inevitably immersed himself in controversy within his party and thereby supplied the Rock and Record with plenty of copy.  Controversy surrounding the Croydon Congress of 1877 was particularly bitter since four members of the Society of the Holy Cross were listed as platform speakers.96  The following year Ryle commended attendance in a pamphlet, Shall We Go? but was attacked by the Rev. S. A. Walker in a reply entitled No.  The epithet ‘neo-evangelicals’ seems first to have been used to describe Ryle and his brethren for their alleged compromise with Ritualists and Liberals in Congresses.97  His first Congress was on home ground at Norwich in 1865, when he attended at the personal request of his Bishop, and from that year onwards his name regularly appears in the official Reports as one who gave a paper, responded to a paper given by another, addressed the public meeting at the end of the Congress or was just a registered member, having paid his 7s. 6d. fee.  As he once explained:

I do not particularly like Congresses.  I never expect them to do very much for the Church, or to add much to our stock of knowledge.  I have attended them purely as a matter of duty.  I have advised others to attend them for the same reason.  But one good thing, I am convinced they do.  They help Churchmen to understand one another, and in this way they are usefu1.98

The part he played in the Dublin Congress of 1868 won him the praise of Archbishop Magee, who had organised it;99 and, according to Eugene Stock, it was his speech at Southampton in 1870 pleading for Church Reform as a prerequisite of Church Reunion that established his reputation as a gifted platform speaker.100  At Nottingham (1871) he spoke on ‘Church and State’; at Brighton (1874) on ‘Diocesan Synods’; at Croydon (1877) on ‘Church and State’; at Sheffield (1878) on ‘Comprehensiveness in the National Church’ and ‘Candidates for Holy Orders’; at Swansea (1879) on ‘Internal Unity in the Church of England’ and at Leicester (1880) on ‘Churchmen and Dissenters.’  From 1881 he is listed in the Reports as a vice-president along with other Bishops, and he actually gave papers at the Wakefield, Derby and Hull Congresses.

      Following the publication of Essays and Review (1860) and Bishop Colenso’s The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua critically examined (1862) it was apparent that both the new theory of evolution and German higher critical views of the Old Testament were held by prominent Churchmen.  Being primarily a preacher and popular lecturer Ryle was not able to contribute to the academic debate which followed these and similar publications.  What he did, however, was to encourage others to reply, an example being W. Wickes, Moses or the Zulu?  A detailed reply to ... Bishop Colenso’s work (1863), to which he contributed a preface.  He also encouraged Churchmen to stand by old standards and walk in the old paths by publishing doctrinal tracts and books which explained traditional Protestant dogma, and by publishing biographies of Churchmen of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, urging like zeal and faithfulness in the nineteenth century.101  His favorite son, Herbert, however, adopted some of the higher critical views of Holy Scripture and even defended them both in Church Congresses and in print.102

      Ryle’s other publications from his East Anglian days chiefly related to internal matters of the Evangelical party and were connected with his involvement in its varied affairs.  Some activities on behalf of the Church Association included the writing of several tracts, one of which, What do we owe to the Reformation?, has often been reprinted.  Other titles included What is Ritualism and why ought it to be opposed? and The Eastward Position.  The latter referred, of course, to the practice of Anglo-Catholic priests facing the holy table with their backs to the congregation during the service of Holy Communion.  He was a member of the Association from its inception in 1865 and a Vice President from 1870 until 1880 when he felt he ought to resign, having accepted the offer of the Bishopric of Liverpool.103  In his letter of resignation he wrote: ‘I have altered no opinions that I have felt or expressed about Ritualism and have nothing to regret in having worked with your Association.  But I cannot be a judge (as Bishop) and a member of the Church Association.’104

      Apart from often speaking at meetings of the Church Association, Ryle was a regular speaker at the annual Islington Clerical Conference, including its jubilee meetings in 1877, and at the annual meetings of the Church Pastoral Aid Society and the Church Missionary Society.  In 1862 he preached the annual sermon of the C. M. S., an honor described by Magee as ‘the blue ribbon of the evangelical pulpit.’  On this occasion he preached from Acts 17, the account of Paul’s preaching in Athens, and stressed the absolute need of man for divine revelation.105  Two years later he was one of the platform speakers and took the opportunity to challenge the Broad Church with all their Essays and Reviews to produce a convert like Samuel Adjai Crowther, soon to be consecrated the first black Anglican Bishop of Niger.106

      On the educational front, Ryle was involved in the creation of both Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and Ridley Hall, Cambridge, as resident theological colleges.107  From 1865 he was a regular preacher at St. Aldate’s, Oxford, for his friend, A. M. W. Christopher, the incumbent.  Serving in a more official capacity he was select preacher at Cambridge in 1873 and 1874 and at Oxford in 1874, 1875, 1876, 1879 and 1880.  Before he could undertake the latter which came through the invitation of Dr. Liddell, his former tutor, he had to return to the University as a man of fifty-five in order to take his M.A. degree.108  Five of these sermons were later published, along with that preached to the C. M. S. in 1862, in The Upper Room (1888).

      A final illustration of Ryle’s participation in the affairs of the Evangelical party concerns the controversy on the nature of Christian holiness.  From 1856, an annual conference (later known as the Mildmay Conference), initially organised by William Pennefather, had met with the aim of promoting Christian fellowship and holiness.  No novel views of Christian perfection were propagated and the regular speakers included Horatius and Andrew Bonar, Lord Radstock, Reginald Radcliffe, Hay Aitken, and Pastor Theodore Monod.109  In June 1873 the Mildmay Conference was visited by Robert Pearsall Smith, a Quaker glass manufacturer from Philadelphia, and author of a book, Holiness through Faith (1870).  The latter had been critically reviewed by George Fox of Durham in the Record of 7 November 1870 and was further criticised in his book, Perfectionism (1873).  Ryle was in general agreement with Fox and watched the growing popularity of Mr. and Mrs. Pearsall Smith and their views, especially through the well attended Oxford Conference on holiness in September 1874, if not with horror then with regret.110  Hoping to check the advance of the new American views on Christian perfection, or instantaneous holiness through an act of faith, he proposed a conference in February 1875 at which careful study of the Scriptures on the matter would take place.  Due to serious illness he could not speak and so the traditional Calvinistic interpretation of the Christian life in terms of the gradual victory over sin through grace and faith was set forth by his friends, Canon Hoare and Sir Emilius Bayley.  Speakers who took a different line included Evan Hopkins, who was fast becoming a respected Evangelical speaker and leader.  No agreement was reached in the crowded room at the Cannon Street Hotel and so the way was open for the Pearsall Smiths to hold a further convention.111

      This took place in June 1875 at Brighton where the Corporation generously allowed the Dome, Pavilion, Corn Exchange and Town Hall to be used free of charge.112  Editorials and letters in the Record warned against the new teaching which made holiness easy to receive or achieve.  Stated in simple terms and in sermonic form the teaching went something like this: ‘You received a finished salvation through a crucified Saviour by simple faith in Him.  You did nothing; you merely took the free gift.  So walk.  Sanctification is from Him alone, by the Spirit.  You are to trust Him to do all in you, as He has done all for you.  You are the branches of the Vine; fruit comes only from the sap that flows from the parent stem; the essential thing is to abide in Him.’

      In a letter to the same paper Ryle compared the theology of Moody (then involved in a London mission) with that of Pearsall Smith, asserting that the difference was like that ‘between sunshine and fog.’  The latter’s teaching was crude, self-contradictory, one-sided and irreconcilable with Scripture.113  This letter, seemingly without Ryle’s approval, was reprinted and distributed at several doors of the conference buildings.114  The view of holiness contained in the letter (which Ryle later admitted brought him a large response)115 was later expanded in his books Holiness (1877) and Practical Religion (1878), and is in essence the view common to Puritan divines, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Evangelicals of the eighteenth century, Romaine’s Life, Walk and Triumph of Faith, for example.  Neither Ryle’s protests nor even the hasty and unexplained return of Pearsall Smith to America could halt the holiness movement which found in the Keswick Convention a permanent place in Evangelicalism.  Happily, however, the teaching of Keswick became more balanced than that of Pearsall Smith, especially with the arrival from 1886 onwards of H. C. G. Moule as a regular platform speaker.  Ryle himself never felt able to appear at the Convention but in 1892 on the Sunday following the Convention he did enter the big tent with Moody and before the evangelist preached Ryle offered prayer, a symbolic gesture suggesting that he wanted to live in peace with those who frequented the Convention.116  In the preface to the enlarged edition of [end of line in book is blank]

(1880) he had the following to say:

Towards those who think holiness is to be promoted by the modern so-called ‘spiritual life’ movement I feel nothing but charity.  If they do good I am thankful.  Towards myself and those who agree with me I ask them to feel charity in return.  The last day will show who is right and who is wrong.  In the meantime, I am quite certain to exhibit bitterness and coldness toward those who cannot conscientiously work with us is to prove ourselves very ignorant of holiness.

Charity led him both to criticise and then to visit the Keswick Convention.


NOTES: Chapter Two

1.  Both Bishop Stanley and his son Dean A. P. Stanley appear in the D. N. B.  Ryle refers to Stanley in Self Portrait when describing his Oxford life.

2.  Self Portrait, p. 68.

3.  The contents of this paragraph are based on E. D. H. Tollemache, The Tollemaches of Helmingham and Ham, Ipswich, 1949, and W. A. Copinger, The Manors of Suffolk, Manchester, 1908, Vol. II., pp. 307ff.  The archives at Helmingham Hall did not provide any further information.

4.  Ryle gives this information in Self Portrait, p. 71.

5.  There is a full genealogical survey of the Plumptre family in Sir J. B. Burke’s, History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland, 1937 pp. 1820–1.  According to Edward Hasted, History of Kent, 1790, Vol. 3, p. 710 the Plumptre family moved to Fredville Manor, one mile south of Nonington Parish Church, Kent, in the mid-eighteenth century.  There is some biographical information on J. B. Plumptre in the funeral sermon for him preached in 1864 by R. Glover and printed as The Friend of Jesus and the Inheritor of the Promises (1864).  His activities in Parliament are described in the thesis of I. S. Rennie in ‘Evangelicalism and English Public Life 1823-1850,’ University of Toronto Ph.D. thesis, 1962, chapter 3.  For his association with the Church Pastoral-Aid Society see E. J. Speck, The Church Pastoral-Aid Society, 1881.  His sons became active leaders in the work of the Church Association after 1865 and one of them was the President of the Canterbury Branch.

6.  Self Portrait, p. 73.

7.  Ryle’s funeral sermon for her was printed as Be not Slothful but Followers: A Sermon from Hebrews 6. v. 2. on G. L. Tollemache, Ipswich, 1846.

8.  Self Portrait, p. 75.

9.  E. D. H. Tollemache, op. cit., p. 168.

10.  Self Portrait, p. 71.

11.  E. D. H. Tollemache, op. cit., p. 171.

12.  G. E. Evans, Where Beards Wag All.  The Relevance of the Oral Tradition, 1970, pp. 200–201.

13.  Ibid, p. 201.

14.  Ibid, p. 204.

15.  Self Portrait, p. 72.

16.  Self Portrait, p. 74.  At his death Frederick was the new incumbent of Elson in Hampshire.

17.  Self Portrait, p. 76.

18.  Self Portrait, p. 77.

19.  See Burke’s Landed Gentry (17th edition, 1952) for the Walker family, s.v. ‘Walker of Morrington’.

20.  M. H. Fitzgerald, Memoir of H. E. Ryle, 1928, p. 11.  In the Bodleian Library, Oxford, there is a brief letter from Ryle to a Mr. Wilkins dated 24 April 1860 in which Mrs. Ryle is said to be ‘in so precarious a state of health’.  MS Autob b. 8 No. 1621.

21.  Self Portrait, p. 78.

22.  Ryle, Christian Leaders of the Last Century, 1899, p. 280.

23.  Suffolk Chronicle, 23 March 1858.

24.  Ryle, Simplicity in Preaching (1882), pp. 46–7.

25.  According to reports in the Suffolk Chronicle he spoke in Ipswich in 1858 for the C of E Young Men’s Society, the Colonial Church School Society, the Church Pastoral-Aid Society, and the Church Missionary Society.  See, e.g., the issues for 7 Feb., 17 March, 24 November.

26.  Suffolk Chronicle, 27 Jan 1858.  For a description of the services held at Exeter Hall see Christian Observer, 1859, pp. 352ff.  The order of service was Hymn, Litany, Hymn and Sermon and they were suited to the ‘enquirer’ not the committed Christian.

27.  All three addresses are to be found in Home Truths Vol. VII.

28.  The Religious Worship Act of 1855 was a modified form of the Bill proposed originally by Lord Shaftesbury.  Its purpose was to remove the provisions of the old Conventicle Act by which religious services of more than 5 people could not be held in an unlicensed building.  See further Eugene Stock, The English Church in the Nineteenth Century, 1910, pp. 52–4.

29.  For details of the involvement of Evangelicals in Missions and Revival Meetings in this period see B. Hardman, ‘The Evangelical Party in the Church of England, 1855–1865’, Ph.D. Thesis, Cambridge, 1964.

30.  Though we could not find one of the original printing, we noticed that the tract is reprinted in Home Truths, Vol. III.

31.  Ryle, The Upper Room (1882), pp. 46 & 53.

32.  W. Hunt later became the secretary of the branch of the Church Association in Ipswich.  Annual Report of the Church Association, 1869, p. 15.  In 1883 the firm of Wm. Hunt went into liquidation with debts of over £18,000.  Ipswich Journal, 19 June 1883.

33.  There are engravings of Helmingham Church, Helmingham Rectory, and Helmingham Schools in the volumes of Home Truths, Vols I, II, III, IV & V.  Vol. VI has an engraving of Exbury Church.

34.  Christian Observer, 1853, pp. 217ff.  The author of the article is not supplied.

35.  The Expository Thoughts on John came out in monthly installments of 48pp. at the price of 6d a month.  There is an interesting letter from Ryle to Sir Richard Acland, the surgeon, dated 21 Dec 1872 in which Ryle requests advice concerning John 19:34 where ‘blood and water’ is said to have come from Christ’s side.  Ryle tells Acland that he is preparing his comments on John 19 for the press.  Bodleian Library MS Acland d. 60 f. 78–9.

36.  Preface to Expository Thoughts on Matthew.

37.  Preface to Expository Thoughts on John.

38.  Suffolk Chronicle, 31 July 1858.

39.  Suffolk Chronicle, 23 March 1858.

40.  This information was taken from the church records by the late Canon Florance, incumbent of Stradbroke.  In the Norwich Diocesan Calendar for 1869 Stradbroke is valued at £1057 a year.

41.  The letter was printed on the inside cover of the tract Are you fighting? (1871).

42.  The letter was printed on the inside cover of Have you a Priest? (1872).  In the Norwich Diocesan Calendar for 1873 there is a note on p. 107 to the effect that the Bishop preached at Stradbroke on 3 April 1872 on the occasion of the reopening of the church after restoration.

43.  G. E. Evans, Where Beards Wag All, pp. 201–2.

44.  The letter is printed on the inside cover of If Any Man (1879).

45.  See Public Men of Ipswich and East Suffolk, 1875, pp. 224–5.

46.  He actually said this at the Wakefield Church Congress in 1886.  Report, p.118.

47.  The figures are taken from the letter in the tract, Are You Fighting? (1871).  See also G. E. Evans, op. cit., p. 204.

48.  The quote is taken from M. Hennell, John Venn and the Clapham Sect, 1966, p. 137.

49.  See further J. Murphy, The Religious Problem in English Education: the Crucial Experiment, Liverpool, 1959, and S. E. Maltby, Manchester and the Movement for National Elementary Education, 1800–1870, Manchester, 1918.

50.  They were M. S. Jackson, A. Washington, C.O. Mules (who became a Bishop in New Zealand), R. Washington, J. D. Toolis, C. B. Sneyd, and E. D. Stead.

51.  Lt-Colonel William Legh Clowes who had served in the Peninsular War held Broughton Manor from 1846 until 1862 when he died.  He succeeded by his son, Samuel William Clowes.  See further The Victoria History of Lancashire, Vol. IV, 1911, p. 218.

52.  Fitzgerald, Memoir of H. E. Ryle, pp. 10ff.

53.  Ibid, p. 11.

54.  Ibid, p. 11.

55.  Ibid, p. 17.

56.  Self Portrait, p. 18

57.  The contents of this paragraph are based on Fitzgerald, op. cit., pp. 11ff.  The M. D. dissertation of Reginald on ‘Morbid Inheritance’ (1894) is in the Bodleian Library.  MS Radcliffe Trust, d. 52.

58.  J. E. Orr, The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain, 1949, p. 212 and the Suffolk Chronicle, 12 February 1861.

59.  Suffolk Chronicle, 10 June 1861.

60.  Record, 20 June 1870.  See E. Stock, My Recollections, 1909, p. 83 for a similar sentiment.

61.  Ryle, Holiness, 1900, p. 107.

62.  For Arch see J. G. O’Leary (ed), Joseph Arch, 1966, and O. Chadwick, The Victorian Church, Part II, pp. 155–7.

63.  Report of the Croydon Church Congress of 1877, pp. 111–2.

64.  Ibid, p. 112.

65.  Pelham expected each Rural Dean to hold two meetings each year of the clergy in the Deanery.  These were during Lent and Michaelmas.  Also the Rural Dean had to send a report of each parish to the Archdeacon for the Bishop.  See further the Charges of Pelham for 1858 and 1879.

66.  The Norwich Diocesan Register for 1873 lists three new Canons: Ryle, L. A. Norgate, Rector of Foxley, and W. A. Ormsby, Rector of Smallburgh.

67.  Suffolk Chronicle, 13 March 1880.

68.  Times, 13 March 1880.

69.  The last 2 paragraphs are based on reports in the Suffolk Chronicle, 26 June 1880.

70.  It has often been asserted that the Evangelical school hardened into the Evangelical party during the controversy with Ritualists during the 1860s.  The distinction between school and party is however merely a matter of emphasis, the word ‘school’ emphasising the common ethos and doctrines of Evangelicalism and ‘party’ emphasising the common opposition to ritualism and liberalism and the common loyalty to the various societies and associations of Evangelicalism.

71.  See Christian Observer, 1859, pp. 352ff.

72.  For details of these matters see Anne Bentley, ‘The Transformation of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England in the later Nineteenth Century’, Durham Ph.D. thesis 1971, Chapter 4.

73.  September 1870 issue.

74.  Record, 12 August 1892.

75.  At his meeting it was decided to begin a fund of £50,000 to support litigation to establish the Protestant character of the formularies and ceremonies of the Church in the face of the interpretation favoured by Anglo-Catholics.  This policy is detailed on the cover of the printed edition of Ryle’s speech: Evangelical Religion.  What it is and What it is not (1867).  In a revised edition this pamphlet became a chapter in Knots Untied (1877), and has been an influential definition of Evangelicalism.

76.  Controversy within the governing committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society concerning whether or not the Apocrypha should be bound in the Bibles distributed in Europe by the Society led to fierce debate concerning the inspiration of the Bible between 1828 and 1832.  Robert Haldane published The Books of the Old and New Testaments proved to be Canonical and their Verbal Inspiration maintained and established (1827)  Later books in the same conservative tradition included Alexander Carson’s The Inspiration of the Scriptures (1853) and L. Gaussen Theopneustia: the Plenary Inspiration of the Scriptures (1841).  For details of the controversy see I. S. Rennie, ‘Evangelicalism and English Public Life, 1823-1850’, Ph.D. thesis Toronto University, 1962, Chapters I & II.

77.  See Ryle’s definition in Knots Untied, Chapter X.  Part of this definition was pirated by the American editors of The Fundamentals (1908–1915) and is printed in Vol. IX.  See further E. R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism, 1970.

78.  Ryle, Christian Leaders of the Last Century, 1899, p. 379.

79.  His clearest statements on general redemption occur in his Expository Thoughts on John and his comments on John 1:29 and 3:16.

80.  See especially Knots Untied, Chapters VIII, IX, XI & XII.

81.  See especially Knots Untied, Chapters V, VI, VII.  It was because he held that the Prayer Book taught baptismal regeneration that Spurgeon attacked Anglican Evangelicals.  See Spurgeon, Autobiography, 1897–1900, Vol. III, pp 82ff. and I. Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon, p. 133.

82.  See his collected papers in Principles for Churchmen (1884) and Yes or No!  Is the Union of Church and State worth preserving, 1871.

83.  His views appear in popular form in the brief tract, A Word for the Irish Church, 1868.

84.  Record, 14 December 1868.

85.  Record, 15 April 1868.

86.  Strike: but Hear!  A defence of those clergymen who opposed Mr. Gladstone at the last Parliamentary Election, (1868). pp. 4, 15–16.

87.  Shall we Surrender? or, Thoughts for Churchmen about Mr. Morgan’s Burials Bill, 1876, p. 5.

88.  This was in York Convocation.  Record, 9 July 1880.

89.  See K. A. Thompson, Bureaucracy and Church Reform, Oxford, 1970.

90.  Record, 10 May 1872.

91.  Ryle, Convocation Reform, 1872, and Report of the Church Congress at Leeds 1872.

92.  Ryle, A Charge delivered to the Clergy of the Diocese of Liverpool 1887, pp. 40–41.

93.  Ryle, A Churchman’s Duty about Diocesan Conferences, 1871.

94.  Rock, 25 April 1879.

95.  Record, 14 May 1880.

96.  See Christian Observer, February 1877; Record, 25 July, 15 October 1877; Rock, 7 Sept., 19 Oct. 1877.

97.  E. Stock, History of the Church Missionary Society, 1899, Vol. III, pp. 9 & 659.

98.  Ryle, Principles for Churchmen, p. 78.  At a Church Association Conference in May 1868 he told an amusing anecdote of his experience at the Congress dinner at Norwich in 1865 when he was comparing J. H. Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua with Thomas Scott’s Essays only to find that E. B. Pusey was sat very near him.  Church Association Monthly Intelligencer, Vol. II, No. 4. June 1868, p. 74.

99.  J. C. MacDonnell, The Life and Correspondence of W. C. Magee, 1896, Vol. I., pp. 195–6.

100.  E. Stock, My Recollections, 1909, p. 90.

101.   The two obvious examples are Knots Untied, (1874), Bible Inspiration: Its reality and Nature (1877) and Christian Leaders of the Last Century (1869) and Bishops and Clergy of other days (1868).

102.  The Congresses were those of 1894 in Exeter and 1900 in Newcastle-on-Tyne.  An example from his writings may be found in his introduction to the Commentary on Genesis which he wrote for the Cambridge Bible Series.

103. A survey of the contents of the Church Association Monthly Intelligencer for this period reveals that, though critical on minor points, Ryle was wholly in sympathy with the aims of the Association and was a committed supporter.

[104 not in book]

105.  E. Stock, History of Church Missionary Society, Vol. II., p. 342.

106.  Ibid., p. 455.

107.   F. W. B. Bullock, The History of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, Cambridge, 1941, Vol. I.

108.   J. S. Reynolds, Canon Christopher, Abingdon, 1967, pp. 75 & 187, and Record, 15 June 1900.

109.   See the annual reports of The Mildway Conference for the 1870s.

110.  Account of the Union Meeting for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness held at Oxford, August 29 to September 7, 1874, 1874.

111.   Record, 18 November, 4, 28 December, 1874 and 19, 22 February 1875.  A year later on 10 and 11 February 1976 a holiness conference was held at St. James Hall with Ryle and Garbett emphasising the doctrine of sin.  Record, 11.14, 16, 18 February 1876.

112.   Record of the Convention for the promotion of Scriptural Holiness held at Brighton, May 29th to June 7th, 1875, 1875, and Record, 7 April 1875.

113.  Record, 28 May 1875.

114.   Sussex Daily News, 10 June 1875.

115.   Record, 16 June 1875.  He claimed to have received many letters, some from friends, some from foes and added that when he was in the theological company of men like McNeile and Close he was not worried by criticism.

116.   J. C. Pollock, The Keswick Story, 1964, pp. 77–8.


III – First Bishop of Liverpool

      In 1880 John Charles Ryle, first Bishop of Liverpool, arrived in that great sea port.  He was a big man, weighing two hundred and twenty pounds and over six feet in height, a gifted public speaker and writer, a noted opponent of Ritualism and Romanism, and a convinced Evangelical; he had learned in Church Congresses and elsewhere to listen to the views of those with whom he disagreed.  However, he was sixty-four years of age, set in his ways and his thoughts, past his best, and with vital experience only of rural ministry; his knowledge of city and industrial life was secondhand.  How, therefore, and why was he appointed?


a.  The Appointment

      In February 1880 after six years of government, Lord Beaconsfield, better known as Benjamin Disraeli, went to the polls and suffered a crushing defeat.  Just before handing over the office of Prime Minister to Gladstone, he made sure that J. C. Ryle, Dean-elect of Salisbury, went to the new diocese of Liverpool as the first Bishop.  On 10 April he wrote to Queen Victoria telling her that ‘the people of Liverpool are very anxious about their new Bishop.  The Tories subscribed the whole of the endowment and bought the palace.  Lord Sandon (M. P. for Liverpool) says his seat for Liverpool depends upon the appointment being made by Your Majesty’s present advisers.  The whole city is most anxious that Your Majesty should appoint the present Dean of Salisbury, Canon Ryle.’1  Disraeli had thought of Dean Bickersteth of Lichfield for the new see but under pressure from Lord Sandon he had agreed that Ryle was the man for the staunch Protestants of Liverpool.  The Queen acquiesced and on 16 April Ryle received a telegram summoning him to London to meet the Prime Minister.  He was met at the station by Lord Sandon.

      Ryle asked Lord Sandon why he had been summoned, and his Lordship replied: ‘We have sent for you for one purpose, to ask you to accept the Bishopric of Liverpool.’  Somewhat dumbfounded, Ryle replied, ‘Well, you strike me all of a heap.  I don’t know what to say.  It takes me unawares; it is a very serious matter.’  Then Sandon told Ryle the reason for the haste, saying, ‘We go out of office only next Monday, and when we go out of office Mr. Gladstone may come in our place, and you must give us your answer as soon as you possibly can.  You see if you don’t make up your mind we will lose the Bishopric of Liverpool.’  Ryle responded by reminding his Lordship that he was now sixty-four years of age and by no means a rich man who could afford to be a Bishop.  Lord Sandon replied: ‘We know all that.  We made up our minds about that.  Now will you be Bishop of Liverpool or not?’  Ryle quickly decided.  ‘My Lord,’ he said, ‘I will go.’  Sandon jumped in the air for joy saying that he was delighted with the decision.  He had been afraid that Ryle would want to go home and think about it.  The Bishop-to-be then had a brief interview with Beaconsfield whom he found very courteous.  He stressed that he was getting on in years and would find it very hard in a diocese which had never had a bishop before.  ‘I think you have a pretty good constitution,’ Beaconsfield replied, ‘and I think you will live a few years yet.’

      After the interview Ryle sent a telegraph to his wife.  Then he caught his train from Liverpool Street Station and, arriving back in Stradbroke, greeted Mrs. Ryle with the words, ‘I am Bishop of Liverpool.’  His wife told the housekeeper, who in turn told someone whom Ryle called ‘that famous inhabitant of Stradbroke, Master Brown.’  Master Brown was an excellent village gossip and soon the whole street knew.  By that night many in the community knew.  On the next day the flags were hoisted, the bells rung, and the Ryles were a happy couple.2  On 19 April letters patent were issued appointing the new Bishop, just three days before Gladstone took office as Prime Minister.3

      During his six years of office Beaconsfield had been fair and comprehensive in his distribution of patronage.4  In 1880, however, the temptation was great to put a leading Evangelical into his opponent’s home town.  Thus he would not have needed much persuading about Ryle, arguably the leader of the Evangelical Party.

      On 26 April the Bishop-designate was in Liverpool to meet the Bishopric Committee, which had worked so hard in the previous years to raise the finance needed to justify the foundation of the Bishopric.  Ryle stayed with the Rev. J. Bardsley, Vicar of St. Saviour’s Church, and a prominent speaker at evangelical gatherings.  Within a few weeks Bardsley was to become Archdeacon of Warrington.  Ryle told members of the Committee he was still overwhelmed by the events.  He was coming to Liverpool as a Protestant and Evangelical Bishop of the National Church; he was prepared to hold out the right hand of fellowship to all loyal Churchmen, but at the same time would hold firmly to his own opinions; he would not be ‘a milk and water bishop.’

      After this meeting and a visit to the Mayor to be introduced to some of the leading citizens, he took a train for Oxford, where he had been booked as ‘Select Preacher’ for that year.5  On 4 May he became a Doctor of Divinity of Oxford.

      His appointment was hailed with enthusiasm among the Evangelicals, so that when Ryle rose to move a resolution at a meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society in early May he was greeted ‘with loud and prolonged cheering.’6  He noted that since he had accepted the Bishopric he had been given all sorts of advice.  ‘I have been recommended not to haul down the old colours or to show the white feather.’  He expressed regret that in not becoming the quiet Dean of Salisbury he would not be working in the home territory of Lord Shaftesbury, who was chairman of the meeting.  (The hereditary seat of Shaftesbury was St. Giles’s House, near Winborne, in Dorset.)

      Ryle again received a tumultuous applause at the May meeting of the Church Missionary Society.  In response he said: ‘I thank you with all my heart for the kind and flattering reception you have given me.  I tried to hold the fort for Christ during the past thirty-five years in the comparative seclusion of Suffolk and I hope by God’s grace to hold the same fort in the giant city of Liverpool.’  And to the amusement of the audience, he also pointed out that Liverpool was the largest, not just the second largest city in Great Britain since the city of London strictly defined had only about 80,000 inhabitants whereas Liverpool had around 500,000.  The editorial writer for the Record newspaper was also delighted and suggested that the appointment was one of the best things that Lord Beaconsfield had ever done for the Church of England.7

      Others in the Church were less than pleased.  On 17 April Lord Halifax, the chairman of the Church Union, wrote to H. P. Liddon in the following words: ‘I must relieve my feelings.  Canon Ryle Bishop of Liverpool!  As I told Lord Devon last night, I rejoice beyond the expression of words that we have got rid of Lord Beaconsfield, Lord Cairns and all their works.’8   But he could not rejoice over Ryle’s appointment.  Neither could a writer in the Liverpool Liberal Review who with sarcasm stated that ‘our Bishop is quite a Blue Beard in the matter of wives, and he is temporarily indulging in a fourth wife.’9  Another Liverpool paper regretted the fact that Ryle talked too much about himself and added that ‘a Low Church divine menaced with the fate of vegetating the rest of his vigorous days in the Deanery of High Church Salisbury might be forgiven for forgetting himself in the joy of being removed to the oversight of a diocese in which Anglicanism is for the most part of a rather Puritan pattern,’10  However, Richard Hobson, the Vicar of St. Nathaniel’s, Windsor, Liverpool, saw the appointment as an answer to prayer.  In saying this he was not to know that the Bishop would make his parish church his spiritual home in Liverpool.”  Another Evangelical, William Atkinson, a layman from Southport, was so delighted that he gave £1,000 towards the removal expenses of the new Bishop.12


b.  The City and Diocese

      Liverpool had first been granted a charter by King John in 1205.  By the time Ryle arrived it was a great city teeming with people and bursting with life.  The population of 77,000 at the beginning of the nineteenth century had reached nearly 400,000 fifty years later and had almost doubled again by the end of the century.  Gradually it had become the first port in the country and was like a vast whirlpool, drawing in all possible commerce.  By 1850 its trade was double that of the port of London and virtually half that of the whole nation.  One out of ten ships in the world came from Liverpool, this being largely due to the prosperity of the cotton trade.  In 1857 the Dock Board was formed and soon the Mersey riverside was dominated by seven and a half miles of docks.  Apart from cotton, Liverpool also flourished through its underwriting and insurance interests as well as the trade in sugar, soap and salt.13

      The rapid growth in population brought many problems and attempts at their solution forced Liverpool into taking the lead in municipal reform.  During the potato famine of 1845–6 nearly 400,000 Irish fled to Liverpool.  By 1850 there were also about 40,000 Welsh people, many of them speaking no English.  Liverpool became virtually the capital of Ireland and Wales!  Then there was a considerable number of Scots, Chinese, Jews and Negroes.  Housing conditions for the working classes were appalling with many families living in dirty cellars.  As the second half of the century proceeded so did the social improvements but they remained totally unsatisfactory, despite great efforts by the corporation.  Some of the wealth generated by the port went into public buildings – the great St. George’s Hall, the Walker Art Gallery, the William Brown Library and the Picton Library – and into the provision of parks – at Sefton, Newsham and Stanley.

      The first church in Liverpool was built near the waterfront in 1356 and dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sea-farers.  In 1699, by an Act of Parliament, an actual Liverpool parish was carved out of the ancient large parish of St. Mary, Walton, some four miles from the center of modern Liverpool.  The same Act gave the town council the right to appoint two Rectors and build an additional church.  This it did in 1704 dedicating it to St. Peter.  In 1738 St. Peter’s and St. Nicholas’ were united into one benefice.  Later, as the growing port expanded villages became part of greater Liverpool and new churches were built so that by the end of the nineteenth century the city had many churches.  Until 1880 all these churches were part of the Diocese of Chester.

      Churchmen in Liverpool felt very strongly that such a thriving and prosperous commercial center should have its own Diocese and Bishop.  The Bishop of Chester with his large oversight could not be expected to give leadership to the Church of England in the port of Liverpool.  One who strongly pressed the case of Liverpool was John Torr, M. P. of Liverpool who sat on the Additional Bishoprics Committee.  Under the Additional Bishoprics Act of 1878 provision was made for the formation of the Dioceses of Liverpool, Newcastle, Southwell and Wakefield.  Before any of these could be created it was required that endowments and investments to the value of £100,000 be raised in order to provide a minimum income for the bishop of £3,500 a year.  Liverpool was the first to fulfill this condition.  In December 1876 the Liverpool Bishoprics Fund had been started in anticipation of the 1878 Act, and although John Torr died early in 1880 A. B. Forwood was able to report to the Bishopric Committee in February 1880 that almost £89,000 had been promised, of which £72,000 was already invested.14

      So the Diocese was established by an Order in Council of 24 March 1880 to come into effect on 19 April, the same day Liverpool became a city.  It stated that the annual value of the endowment together with £300 transferred from Chester reached the necessary minimum figure of £3,000 and that further promised contributions would make the income £3,500.  St. Peter’s would be the cathedral church and the diocese would take in not only the port of Liverpool but ‘the whole of the hundred of West Derby in Lancashire with the exception of Leigh, at Chat Moss, adjoining the hundred of Salford.’  It also included the ‘township of Aspull, which is part of the parish of Wigan although actually in the Salford hundred.’  Put in modern terms this meant that the diocese consisted of Liverpool, Southport, Ormskirk, Skelmersdale, Wigan, St. Helens, Warrington and Widnes.  However, it was in the old formal terms that the diocese of Liverpool became a living reality.

      Ryle was consecrated at York Minster by Archbishop Thomson on 11 June 1880, on the feast of St. Barnabas.  The Archbishop had been willing to consecrate Ryle in St. Peter’s, Liverpool, but the church was considered too small.  Thomson was assisted by Bishops Lightfoot (Durham), Jacobson (Chester) and Fraser (Manchester).  The sermon was preached by Ryle’s old friend, Canon Edward Garbett, from Acts 11:24, ‘he was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost and faith.’  Tall, with a high forehead and white beard, Ryle looked a patriarchal figure and certainly conveyed in his look the demeanor of an episcopal presence.  True to his Reformed convictions he refused to dress in an embroidered cope and mitre and carry a pastoral staff.  Speaking after the solemn service, Ryle confessed that ‘it is an easy matter to criticise the actions of bishops, but it is a far more difficult thing to be a bishop and to enter on the responsibilities of the appointment.’  These words now appear as prophetic for within five years he was to be involved in a legal case which caused him no little anxiety.  He also referred to the beauty of York Minster and the need of a new cathedral for Liverpool.  He believed that the merchant princes of the city would finance it.  Again, in the coming decade he was to find that providing of a cathedral raised problems.15

      Before taking up residence in Liverpool, Ryle returned with his wife to bid farewell to the parishioners of Stradbroke and to receive their gifts.  Then on 1 July, with suitable ceremony, and in the presence of civic leaders and over one hundred clergy, he was enthroned in the pro-cathedral of St. Peter’s.  In his first Pastoral Letter issued on that day he called for the prayers of his clergy.  He asked them to help him by making the means of grace as efficacious as possible since the prosperity of the visible church, his diocese, depended greatly, under God, on the manner and spirit in which its ordinances were administered.  He requested of them accurate information about the needs of the diocese and then wrote:

I ask you, in the last place, to assist me by cultivating and encouraging a spirit of brotherly love, charity and forbearance among Churchmen.  In a fallen world like ours, and in a free country like England, it is vain to expect all men to see things alike and to interpret the language of the formularies precisely in the same way.  Let us on no account be colourless Churchmen destitute of any distinct opinions.  But so long as any brother walks loyally within the limits of the Articles and the Prayer Book, let us respect him and treat him courteously, even when we do not altogether agree with him.

What Ryle had previously told the Bishopric Committee during his visit on 26 April he was now telling his one hundred and eighty incumbents and one hundred and twenty assistant curates.  They in turn had pastoral care of 1,100,000 people.

      By an Order in Council of 21 July 1880 a small amount of patronage was transferred from Chester to Liverpool and the new Bishop was empowered to appoint sixteen canons and to receive those canons of Chester who were now resident in his diocese.  One Archdeacon, the Archdeacon of Liverpool, J. H. Jones, continued in his office and Ryle appointed his friend, J. W. Bardsley as Archdeacon of Warrington.  Each archdeaconry came to have five deaneries within it.  A study of the appointments of Archdeacons, Canons and Rural Deans over the next twenty years reveals that while Ryle consistently appointed Evangelicals as Archdeacons, he was prepared to have other loyal Churchmen as Canons and Rural Deans.  In 1891, pressure of work and ill health, caused him to appoint as assistant bishop the Right Rev. Peter Sprenson Royston, who had been a missionary with the Church Missionary Society and Bishop of Mauritius.16

      Bishop Ryle, Mrs. Ryle and Miss Jessie Isabella Ryle took up residence in the large house which had been purchased for the Bishop’s Palace in Abercromby Square.  This house is now part of the University of Liverpool, the present Palace being at Woolton.  Into this house he moved his large Library, perhaps his most prized earthly possession.


c.  Diocesan Strategy: ‘More Living Agents’

      Formal contact with the clergy and laity of the diocese was made when Ryle delivered his Episcopal Charges once every three years.  Less formal contact came on visits to churches and at the annual Diocesan Conference. The latter included all licensed clergy and two lay representatives from each parish, and thereby fulfilled the ideas set forth by Ryle in his tract on such conferences published in 1871.  The Liverpool Conference met in the stately St. George’s Hall and began with an address by the Bishop.  These addresses, which were usually printed afterwards, usually took the form of a review of the state of the diocese followed by comment on current social, political and theological issues.  Then came discussion and debate on a series of topics which had been previously announced.  Experience at Church Congresses had convinced Ryle of the need for frank exchange of views.

      The first Charge was delivered both in St. Peter’s, Liverpool, and in All Saints Church, Wigan, during October 1881.  This address set the scene as he saw it and gave his hopes for the future.17  The new diocese was the smallest in area in the whole country except for London.  This had its advantages in that with the help of the excellent railway system the Bishop could reach any part of the diocese in about one hour.  However, the small area was packed with people, many of whom were not covered by proper pastoral care.  Not only the density of population but also its cosmopolitan character impressed him: ‘Perhaps there is hardly a district in Great Britain in which you will see such an extraordinary variety of classes,’ he remarked.  And he went on:

In Liverpool itself you have an enormous body of inhabitants connected with our docks and shipping and an incessant stream of emigrants from the Continent to America.  You have smoky manufactories and squalid poverty at one end of the city, and within two or three miles you have fine streets and comparative wealth.  In Wigan, Warrington, St. Helens, Widnes, and the districts round these places you have swarms of people employed in collieries, iron founderies, cotton manufactories, glass-houses and chemical works.  Around Ormskírk, Sefton, Hale and Speke you will see admirable farming.  In no part of England, perhaps, will you find such a variety of callings and all are followed with restless activity.

The Church of England had to provide a spiritual aspect to this ‘restless activity’.  It had to be done at least with equal zeal to that shown by the Church of Rome in a similar task.

If the Established Church of this country claims to be ‘the Church of the people’ it is her bounden duty to see that no part of the people are left like sheep without a shepherd.  If she claims to be a territorial and not a congregational church, she should never rest until there is neither a street, nor a lane, nor a house, nor a garret, nor a cellar, nor a family, which is not regularly looked after, and provided with the offer of means of grace by her officials.

Throughout his episcopate, Ryle sought to fulfill this challenge by recruiting and employing what he called more ‘living agents,’ by encouraging the building of halls and churches, and by creating suitable diocesan machinery.

      The need for more clergy and lay workers was impressed upon him not only by the needs around him but by the knowledge that his old diocese of Norwich had about 1160 clergy for a population of 660,000.  So he made repeated efforts to increase the number of his parochial clergy.  But he did not make admittance to ordination easy.  Apart from requiring suitable testimonials from a College, he stipulated that men sit both Deacons’ and Priests’ ordination examinations.  ‘I cannot sympathise,’ he said in his Charge for 1884, ‘with those who press Bishops to bring into the ministry men who know little or nothing about Latin, Greek, Church History, the English Reformation, the Prayer Book, Church Catechism, or Evidences of Christianity, and are only godly men who know the Bible and can talk about the Gospel.’18  Among his examining chaplains were H. C. G. Moule, the first Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, C. H. Walter, Tutor and later Principal of St. John’s College, Highbury, and his own son, Herbert Ryle, Principal of St. David’s College, Lampeter.  Before the service of ordination the ordinands lived with the Ryle family for three days and received a series of addresses from Scripture.  Then after their ordinations the young men were called together again a year later for a conference at which the Bishop presided at Holy Communion and a visiting speaker expounded an appropriate portion of Holy Scripture.  Other clergy were invited to call on the Bishop on any Tuesday morning when he made himself available in the office of the diocesan registrar.19

      Although he valued and encouraged the work of Scripture Readers (who were paid lay workers) he saw their work as different from, but complementary to, that of the ordained ministers.  He held that ‘the lay agent may do excellent service by sowing the seed and cutting down the corn.  But if the crop is not to rot on the ground, the sheaves must be bound up and stored away in the barn, and this is the presbyter’s work.  The Scripture Reader may gather together recruits and persuade them to enlist in the King’s service.  But the presbyter must drill and train and discipline them and show them how to act together, move together and form an efficient regiment.’20  In all there were about fifty licensed Readers who took services in Mission Rooms, organised Sunday Schools and visited the sick.  They were assisted by the Lay Helpers Association founded in 1882, which had about five hundred eighty members who worked in Sunday Schools and Bible Classes.  Each year at a public service the Bishop admitted new members into the Association.  Then there were the thirty or so Bible Women who worked in the poor areas among the women caring for both body and soul.

      Emphasis upon living agents did not remove the need for church buildings in the strategic areas.  It was Ryle’s aim to have the urban areas divided into parishes of not more than 5,000 people.  When a parish was larger, he argued, ‘you might as well send out of the Mersey a Cunard or White Star steamer, with a crew of only twenty men all told, and expect her to cross the Atlantic and reach New York in safety’ as ask clergy to work such parishes.21  As parish churches were costly an obvious way to begin to provide buildings was by means of Mission Rooms or Halls.

      During his first ten years in Liverpool he saw the completion of twenty-seven churches and forty-eight mission halls, all of which he dedicated to the glory of God.  During the same period the number of incumbents rose by twenty-two and that of assistant curates by sixty-six.  Confirmation candidates rose from 4,500 in 1880 to 8,300 in 1890 and there were nearly 100,000 children attending Sunday Schools in the diocese.22  The work of living agents in the Day Schools and the Sunday Schools was always commended and encouraged by Ryle and his Charges and Conference Addresses often refer to it.

      In both 1881 and 1891 the influential Liverpool Daily Post organised a survey of church attendance in Liverpool, collecting comparative statistics for morning and evening services.  This showed that the total number attending services had risen from 147,000 to 165,000 over the ten years; but, of course, the population had risen and out of a total population of half a million this meant that only one third at the most attended a church.  In the Church of England attendance had risen from 54,000 to 66,000 but the greater part of this increase was in the middle-class areas.  One church in a working-class district had a congregation of eighteen.23

      Following the publication of the results of the census, W. E. Gladstone used parts of it in the House of Commons to criticise the Bishop and Diocese of Liverpool.  In a debate on a bill to create a new bishopric in Bristol he used the example of Liverpool to argue against the bill.  He considered that ‘the religious census of Liverpool was a disgrace to Liverpool and to the country.  In reply, Ryle complained that men like Gladstone were expecting too much in too short a time.  As a Bishop of a new Diocese he was like ‘a captain of some huge steamship who is suddenly called upon to start a voyage across the Atlantic with half a crew, half the engineers, and half the coals the ship requires.24

      It was of course in the difficult working-class areas that little progress was being made and it is hard to imagine what any Bishop could have done in the 1880s to promote such progress.  Some clergy did, however, possess the gifts and grace to make a success of ministry in working-class areas and such men Ryle greatly admired.  There was Major Lester who became Vicar of St. Mary’s, Kirkdale, in 1855 and here he remained until his death in 1903.  During this ministry he founded three other churches in Kirkdale, several ‘Ragged Schools’, a Home for girls and the Stanley Hospital.  He was also influential in starting the local public library.25  Across the city another Evangelical, Richard Hobson, had become curate in charge of Saint Nathaniel’s, Windsor, in 1864.  Because of the atrocious local conditions the parish was known as the ‘little hell’.  When Hobson began it was with a cellar meeting consisting of five people.  When he retired in 1901 he left behind a church which, in a parish of about 7,000, had a communicants’ roll of 811, an average Sunday attendance of 2,000, with a further 800 attending services in mission rooms, 1400 Sunday School pupils, 1400 men linked to the church through its various societies, and the care of 300 widows and 1,000 waifs and strays.  During Hobson’s ministry the social evils of the community significantly declined; temperance causes flourished, illegitimacy became rare and the city police certified that they knew of no disorderly house in the parish.  This was the kind of parochial work which Ryle understood and not only did he take his family to worship at St. Nathaniel’s he also described this church as an example of how the working-classes could be reached, when he was a speaker at the Derby Church Congress of 1882.26  Hobson often wondered why his Bishop should become his parishioner and he could only conclude that it was because of ‘the pure Gospel, a simple hearty service and the manifest power of the Holy Spirit working in our midst.27

      At the hub of the diocese were the Archdeacons, the senior clergy and advisers, who were men chosen for similar faith and vision to Ryle’s own.  John Jones was Archdeacon of Liverpool from 1855 to 1886, then J. W. Bardsley held the post for a year before becoming the Bishop of Sodor and Man.  He was followed by Benjamin Clarke, Vicar of Christ Church, Southport, a leading evangelical church.  Clarke was in office from 1887 to 1895; then came W. F. Taylor, who had a Doctor of Divinity degree from Trinity College, Dublin.  Taylor’s son, Austin Taylor, was a leading Protestant layman and a local shipowner, as well as being an associate of John Kensit, founder in 1890 of the Protestant Truth Society.  The first Archdeacon of Warrington was J. W. Bardsley and he remained so until 1885 when he moved into the office of the Archdeacon of Liverpool.  Following him at Warrington was William Lefroy, who left in 1889 to become Dean of Norwich, where he achieved fame by making the nave of the cathedral one of the most popular places of worship in the country.  Then there was W. F. Taylor who moved to Liverpool in 1895, being succeeded by Thomas Madden, incumbent of St. Luke’s, Bold Street, Liverpool.  The Archdeaconry of Liverpool was the oldest and therefore the senior position and that is why two men were moved from Warrington to Liverpool.

      The financial position of his clergy was always of major concern to Ryle and he took active steps to have their needs supplied.  From the Diocese of Chester he inherited a Diocesan Finance Association but he added to it a Sustentation Fund.  The idea for the latter came from the Free Church of Scotland and its aim was to help those clergy in livings which offered a poor income.  Ryle began it in 1891 and by the end of the century it provided an income of about £1,000 a year, from which seventeen grants were made.  The minimum stipend was set in 1899 at £275 a year.  What happened to a clergyman when he retired was also of concern to Ryle and he began in 1886 a Diocesan Clergy Pension Fund.  Mrs. Charles Turner of the Dingle provided £20,000.  Her late husband had been a wealthy man and a keen Christian and she had decided to use his fortune for Church purposes.  Four years earlier she had given £40,000 to establish a hospital for incurables.28

      As a further part of diocesan machinery Ryle founded five institutions: for the building of churches and mission rooms; the augmentation of small livings; aiding church extension and meeting church expenses in large, poor parishes; for promoting and assisting education; and for maintaining the Warrington charities for the widows and daughters of clergy.  He was, however, very disappointed that as many as eighty parishes were making no contribution to these institutions in 1885.29  Two years later, on the same matter, he expressed the hope that when asked to preach in a parish he would not have to reply, ‘I cannot give you a sermon if you do not have an annual collection for Diocesan purposes.’30

      While the major portion of his time and energy went into his own diocesan affairs and he had ceased to write new tracts and books, he still participated in such activities as he believed would further the work of Christ in the city.  Thus in 1883 he welcomed Moody and Sankey to Liverpool and remarked that he was ‘one of those who thank God extremely for Mr. Moody.’31  The local Liberal Review was less enthusiastic about the Americans, stating that ‘the Bishop of Liverpool seeking the assistance of Mr. Moody is in the position of a properly qualified physician calling in the aid of an unauthorised practitioner who, in medical phraseology, would be termed a quack.’32  Twelve years later he sponsored what was called the Liverpool General Christian Mission, led by the Rev. W. Hay Aitken and Prebendary W. E. Askwith.  Before the Mission began he sent out a pastoral letter urging his people to take part.  After it ended he told the Diocesan Conference of November 1895 that it had been a success in bringing new people into the fellowship of the Church and of intensifying the commitment of Churchmen to the cause of Christ.33  In 1896 the Student Volunteer Missionary Conference was held in Liverpool and Ryle was asked to give the opening address.34  About 1,000 students attended the five day conference and of these seventy-seven were from abroad.  During this period both Ryle and Royston made themselves available for counselling.  Whenever possible he cooperated with the Nonconformists, especially the Methodists.  During the period of the Wesleyan Conference in Liverpool he invited the senior ministers and laymen to his palace.35  Furthermore, he was a personal friend of the minister of the Methodist Central Hall, Charles Garrett, author of a widely read book of sermons entitled Loving Counsels.  He also supported the Mersey Mission to Seamen, being the chief speaker at the opening of its Institute in Hanover Street in 1885.36


d.  The Cathedral Project

      Although Ryle had mentioned at his consecration his desire to see a new Cathedral built in Liverpool, that desire was not very strong.  And the plan was not his own.  Three years earlier Sir James Picton had suggested the site of St. John’s Churchyard, behind St. George’s Hall, as the right place to build and Mrs. Turner had promised £5,000 towards its cost.  The matter went no further for it was at first thought that St. Peter’s could be pulled down and a new cathedral built on the site.37  Then £576 was spent on improvements to St. Peter’s so that it would suffice as a temporary cathedra1.38  However, it was not to be such a temporary edifice, after all.

      The Bishop made his position plain from the start.  In his Charge of 1881 he recognised that there were good reasons for building a cathedral but warned that the cost had to be counted.  Whilst other cathedral cities had either a parish church fit to be ‘promoted’ or endowments that could go toward building a cathedral, Liverpool was in a different position.  Truro had been quoted as a diocese proceeding with raising a grand edifice, but Ryle pointed out that the diocese of Truro hardly needed another church to be erected and therefore could concentrate all available resources on the cathedral.  He had no objection to a cathedral for Liverpool but made it clear that his ‘first and foremost business as Bishop of a new Diocese was to provide for preaching the Gospel to souls’ whom no cathedral would touch.  This remained his basic position over the coming years.  He did allow discussion of the matter, however, and invited Dean Hanson of Chester to read a paper to the Diocesan Conference of 1882 stating the case for the cathedral.

      A committee was formed in 1883 to discuss possible sites – St. Peter’s, Monument Place, St. James’ Mount and St. John’s Churchyard.  At length the latter was agreed upon but not unanimously and in 1885 the Liverpool Cathedral Act received royal assent.  The Bishop himself was in favor of the site though he well knew that not everyone in Liverpool would agree with him.  At least St. John’s site was in the city center.  ‘As to the capabilities of the site for the erection of a building worthy of the second city of the empire, I shall not trust myself to give an opinion,’ he said, ‘I will only say it is declared to be such by one of the most experienced architects of the day.’  He believed that there were wealthy families in the Diocese who could give £100,000 and hardly miss it.  He concluded: ‘I am quite content to leave the whole affair in the hands of Him who has all hearts under His control.  If we mean to have a cathedral it is our duty to begin work and if we do not live to see it completed, I believe those who come after us will place the top stone upon it.’39  The Committee held a competion for the best design, which was won by William Emerson.  His plans showed ‘a gothic building with a large dome reminiscent of Brunelleschi’s dome at Florence Cathedral.’40

      The plans were never put into operation.  Even though Sir Andrew Walker donated £10,000 there was little support for the project, so many considering St. John’s a bad site where the cathedral would, at least in part, be obscured by the massive St. George’s Hall.41  Also there was a trade recession in the early 1880s.  In the end the three years allowed by the Act for work to commence ran out and thus the whole scheme was dead.  Facing his Conference in 1888 Ryle said: ‘I admit that the position of the scheme is rather humbling after such a large expenditure of time, talk, controversy and not a little money on the subject.  I am not surprised that Churchmen at a distance who do not understand Liverpool, speak rather sceptically of us.’42  In his Charge for 1896 he looked back and recalled how he was at ‘many wearisome meetings’.  Constant attendance at them convinced him there was no prospect of agreement among the inhabitants of Liverpool about the site of the Cathedral and there was not the least likelihood of the necessary endowment being available for a suitable building ‘worthy of the second city of the empire.’43  Sir William Forwood, who also sat on the Committee, took another view stating that ‘the Bishop did not help the cause for though in a way he was anxious that a cathedral should be built, he freely expressed his opinion both in public and private, that additional churches and mission halls would be more useful.’44  Sir William was near the truth.  Had Ryle really believed that it was right to erect a cathedral he would surely have raised the money and carried the committee with him.

      Among Ryle’s supporters was William Groves who gave £10,000 for the building of new churches rather than to a cathedral fund because he believed ‘it was more important to provide pastoral superintendence and spiritual instruction to those perishing multitudes than to erect a material building, however splendid, to justify the tastes and wishes of a few.’45

      When the building of the cathedral was obviously going to remain only a hope in his time as Bishop, Ryle turned in his last few years to the erection of a much-needed Church House.  As the Organisation of the Diocese grew, so the rooms in Commerce Court became inadequate.  The situation was so bad that the official diocesan papers had to be kept in Chester.  The subject was raised at several Conferences until 1896 when Archdeacon Madden suggested to Ryle that some leading clergy and laity should meet to discuss the matter.  From the meeting a committee was formed.  They were instructed by Ryle to find or build a place ‘in the central position and containing one or two large committee rooms, a diocesan registry, a room for Bishop’s interviews, offices for some of our chief societies, and a reading room where Churchmen could meet one another.  The following year a suitable site became available and the foundation stone was laid by the Countess of Derby in 1899.  When Ryle died in the following year his will conveyed his huge library to the Church House, the first part of which was opened by the Archbishop of York in 1901.46


e.  The Case of James Bell Cox

      Ryle was never short of criticism from such Liverpool papers as the Liberal Review and the Porcupine.  Their editors regarded Ryle as not very different from the members of the powerful Liverpool branch of the Church Association.  So to them he stood for conservatism, persecution and indefensible values.  The Church Times, the national organ of the Anglo-Catholics, was also always ready to provide adverse reports about him.  For example, it printed the false report that he had threatened not to consecrate St. Chad’s Church, Everton, unless the incumbent, J. W. Rhodes, promised not to hold daily services in the side chapel.47  However, the sarcasm and ridicule of the Liverpool press, and the opposition of the London press, were as nothing to the abuse and criticism which Ryle received over the prosecution of the Ritualist, James Bell Cox.48

      The aggressive Protestants of Liverpool were incensed because on 21 January 1885 Ryle consecrated St. Agnes’ Church, Toxteth, though he and others fully expected that illegal, ritualist practices would begin in the Church.  He felt that he had no right to refuse to consecrate on the basis of what had not yet occurred.  The Protestant Standard of 24 January immediately concluded that ‘the heaviest blow that Protestants have received since the dawn of the Reformation has been inflicted on it by the Bishop of Liverpool.  It bemoaned ‘the mournful death of Bishop Ryle’s Evangelical and Protestant principles.

      Having lost the battle for St. Agnes’, James Hakes, a physician and leader of the Liverpool Church Association, brought his forces into the battle for the ‘deromanizing’ of St. Margaret’s Church, Princes Road.  He had previously complained to the Bishop of Chester about the illegalities of this church, but now he hoped for a positive response from the new Bishop, author of Where does this Road lead to?  A Question about Ritualism, published in 1879 and still in print.  In this brief tract Ryle had argued that ‘Ritualism is a Romeward movement and a departure from the Reformation.’  In support of this assertion he had referred to the writings of the leading Ritualists and to their paper, the Church Times, to the repeated secessions to Rome, and to ‘the unvarying character of all the ceremonial novelties which Ritualists have thrust into Church worship...’  These had ‘all been in one direction, whether of dress, or gesture, or posture, or ornament ... as un-Protestant as possible.

      Naturally Hakes expected his Bishop to support him and so on 29 January he formally complained to Ryle about twelve illegal practices of James Bell Cox at St. Margaret’s; these were using lighted candles when not required, elevating the paten, mixing water with wine in the chalice, prostration by the priest during the prayer of consecration, bowing towards the crucifix on the communion table, making the sign of the cross while giving the bread and wine to the communicants, wearing illegal vestments, singing the ‘Agnus Dei’ immediately after the prayer of consecration, standing with the back to the congregation during the administration of Holy Communion, obscuring the manual acts of breaking the bread, ceremonial washing of the chalice, and kissing the Bible at the reading of the Gospel.49

      For the peace of his diocese Ryle had no alternative but to visit Bell Cox.  This he did, accompanied by his legal advisor.  Bell Cox was in no mood to make any concessions and Ryle had no wish to see this matter go to an ecclesiastical court.50  Therefore Ryle sought an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, E. W. Benson, who recorded that ‘he was very earnest and oppressed about it ... But these people like B. (Bell Cox) who are so excellent in the theory of obedience, never obey a Bishop even when he speaks of his own authority.’51  Ryle could not prevent the Church Association instituting proceedings in the Provincial Court at York.  But under the Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874 a diocesan bishop had the right to veto any prosecution which affected a clergyman in his diocese.  Therefore, had he wished, Ryle could have used the veto, just as certain other bishops had done.  But he had long considered it ‘a first principle of our country’s constitution that every British subject has a right to bring his complaint before those who administer the laws of the country.  So when influential laymen and a large number of clergy asked him to exercise the veto he refused.52

      The court of Lord Penzance did not convene until 31 July and Bell Cox, because he claimed not to recognise the jurisdiction of the court, did not put in an appearance either on this or later occasions.  Eventually, on 11 December Bell Cox was found guilty of contempt and disobedience and was suspended from office for six months.  He took no notice of the suspension and continued to assist his curate, A. H. Paine, whom Ryle had appointed curate in charge.  Criticism of the Bishop appeared in Liverpool, Manchester and London papers, and in the Convocation of York Dean Lake of Durham brought a motion regretting the prosecution of Bell Cox.53  Ryle hoped that Hakes would leave the matter at this stage since he had received legal judgment in his favor.  Hakes, however, pressed on with the case and eventually after it had been through various courts, Bell Cox was arrested on 4 May 1887 and put in Walton Prison, not for ritualism but for contempt of court.  His stay there was brief, only seventeen days, for a ‘Habeas Corpus’ was granted on a technicality of law and he was released.  Even now the case was not completed for Hakes appealed and the Court of Appeal decided in his favor and against Bell Cox.  The latter, in turn, appealed to the House of Lords, which after nine months gave judgment in his favor.  Accordingly, he returned to St. Margaret’s to continue his ritualistic practices.

      With hindsight it is easy to say that Ryle should have exercised the veto even if for the sake of the peace of the diocese he offended against his own conscience.  Though in sympathy personally with James Hakes’ point of view and thoroughly opposed to the practices of James Bell Cox, he did act legally and in accord with accepted Anglican practice.

      If he had used his veto, he would have had intense criticism from the ardent Protestants of the city and while his refusal to use the veto was not connected with their possible reaction that reaction has to be taken into account in evaluation of this whole matter.  The troubles that fervent Protestants could cause were well illustrated in 1898 when there were riots in the city during the visit of John Kensit, founder of the Protestant Truth Society.54  However, Ryle knew the Church of England well, he knew that Bell Cox was a popular parish priest, he knew that court cases were unpopular with the majority of Churchmen, and he knew the love of the English for the under-dog.  On these grounds he could have exercised his veto and done more in trying to persuade Bell Cox and those like him to compromise with their consciences, as he had with his own.  He knew well the case of S. F. Green, Vicar of Miles Platting Manchester, another Ritualist who, because Bishop Fraser of Manchester had refused to use his veto, had been prosecuted, found guilty and sent to Lancaster Prison for eighteen months.  Prosecutions and imprisonments made martyrs and only aided the cause of ritualism.  As Bishop E. H. Bickersteth said: ‘In the present state of the law, I fear that prosecutions in the courts on such matters as ritual only aggravate the evils they are intended to suppress.’55

      However, as Bishop, Ryle had a solemn duty to prevent the use of illegal ceremonies and vestments.  Following his refusal in 1897 to license a curate to St. Thomas’, Toxteth, because the young man taught auricular confession, he issued a Pastoral Letter on ‘lawlessness’ in public worship.  He requested his clergy to abstain from the use of incense, of lighted candles on the Communion Table, of priestly vestments, of catechisms which taught Mariolatry, of prayers for the departed, of the ‘reserved sacrament’ for invalids, of auricular confession by prospective communicants and of the word ‘mass’.56  It is not recorded what effect this Letter had on the ritualistic clergy, of which there must have been at least thirty in 1897.


f.  The National Scene

      With the weight of work in Liverpool and his conviction that a Bishop should reside in his diocese, Ryle was not as free to pursue outside activities as he had been in Suffolk.  Besides, he was now an old man and failing health forbade too much travelling.  However, he did manage to maintain an interest and involvement in many non-diocesan matters.  Some of these were in fact obligatory; one was attendance at the Convocation of York, whose records reveal that he took a full and regular part in the debates, often emphasising matters on which he had written his booklets on Church and Convocation reform.  Another was attendance at the House of Lords of which he became a member in 1884; here his presence and participation was minimal for he only went when it was his duty to read prayers.  It would appear that this strong National Churchman felt a long absence from the diocese would not be justified by any good he could achieve in Parliament.  And he could rightly claim this viewpoint was not new since he had argued in Church Reform (1870) that the number of Bishops in the Upper House should be greatly reduced so that diocesan work would not suffer.

      Attendance at the Pan-Anglican Conferences (Lambeth Conferences) did not appear high on his list of priorities.  He missed the 1897 gathering because of illness but his absence in 1888 led, by his own action, to some controversy.  A copy of the Encyclical Letter produced by the Conference reached him while he was on holiday in Scotland.  This was the letter containing the famous Lambeth Quadrilateral (Scriptures, Two Creeds, Two Sacraments and the Historic Episcopate), and material relating to relationships with other Churches (Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic, Roman, etc.).  In a letter to the Times Ryle complained: ‘I myself for one had no voice or hand in drawing up the Encyclical.  I saw no rough draft of it after it was drawn up.  I never read a line of it before it appeared in the columns of the Times.  In short, I must disclaim any responsibility for its contents.  For him the Encyclical was not the ‘united and harmonious voice of all Bishops of the Anglican Communion’ and it papered over the differences concerning Scripture and doctrine which actually existed in the Anglican fold.  To have told the truth would have ‘greatly strengthened the Church of England and cheered the hearts of myriads of loyal Churchmen.’  The Archbishop of Canterbury was quick to reply stating that only eight out of one hundred and forty-five bishops were absent when the Encyclical was drawn up.  He then added: ‘we did not unfortunately have the advantage of his (Ryle’s) presence for cooperation and criticism on that day.’  This prompted a Liverpool paper to entitle an article on the controversy ‘Our Bishop Ryle’d.  Replying to the Archbishop’s letter, Ryle claimed that he had been detained in Liverpool by ‘pressing diocesan engagements’ but this would have been less than convincing for most readers.57

      During the first ten years of his episcopate he attended several Church Congresses.  These being important gatherings of Churchmen of all types, he felt, as he had always done since 1865, that the voice of Evangelicals should be heard.  In 1880 he spoke to the meeting for working men at the Leicester Conference.  Two years later he was at the Derby Congress speaking on ‘Evangelism at Home’ (when he commended the work of Richard Hobson) and to the working men again.  At Wakefield in 1886 he gave a paper on ‘the Church in rural areas,’ and naturally used his long experience in Suffolk as the basis for his remarks.  Four years later he was at the Hull Congress taking part in the discussions on foreign missions and opposing the formation of monastic brotherhoods to work in working-class areas of cities.  He did not participate in the 1890s because of failing health.  Other Evangelicals like Henry Wace, for example, continued to represent the cause.

      Apart from attempting to press Evangelical truth and insights in Convocation and Congress, Ryle also tried to influence the Prime Minister, the Earl of Salisbury, with regard to appointments in the Church.  Amongst the two dozen letters which he wrote to Salisbury and which remain in the Salisbury Papers are several which relate to ecclesiastical preferments, of his Archdeacon Bardsley to the Bishopric of Sodor and Man, and of Archdeacon Lefroy to the Deanery of Norwich.  One argument used by Ryle to enforce his right to be heard by the Prime Minister was that he was Bishop of a diocese which had returned seventeen Conservatives (the party to which Salisbury belonged) at one election.  On several occasions he urged the claims of Principal Moule (who eventually became Bishop of Durham in 1901) of Dr. Wace (who became Dean of Canterbury in 1903) and of Archdeacon Straton of Huddersfield (who became Bishop of Sodor and Man in 1892 when Bardsley moved to Carlisle.)  It is difficult to estimate the extent of Ryle’s influence, but he certainly tried his best, using every argument he knew.58  Some of Ryle’s official correspondence with Archbishops Benson and Temple is still extant in Lambeth Palace but it is not very illuminating, referring to such matters as prosecutions of Ritualists and the formation of the Bishopric of Bristol in 1897 as a separate diocese from Gloucester.59

      Ryle also kept strong ties with the Evangelical Societies.  In 1882, for example, he preached the annual sermon for the Church Pastoral Aid Society in St. Dunstans, Fleet Street, London.  Then he was deeply concerned about the affairs of the Church Missionary Society.  In 1894 he was disturbed to hear a report that C. M. S. missionaries were going to have a united ‘dismissal service’ with those being sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which was Anglo-Catholic in sympathy.  Accordingly, he wrote to headquarters to enquire whether the report was true.  If it was, he believed it would do great harm ‘for to pray together for blessing on missionaries is one thing’ but ‘to proclaim by a public act that men trained in two different systems of principles are equally deserving of confidence is quite another.’  He was only pacified by the Secretary’s reply that in fact the suggestion for such a service came from some of the bishops and that the C. M. S. would leave it to the discretion of their missionaries whether they took part or not, but the C. M. S. would still hold its own valedictory services.  Three years later in 1897 Ryle bitterly complained about the appointment of Dr. Awdry, the suffragan Bishop of Southampton, to Osaka, a bishopric in Japan.  He blamed his appointment on the English bishops and added that men like Awdry ‘write and speak like men up in a balloon who do not know what is going on upon earth.’  It was not the fault of the C. M. S. which a year earlier had refused to bow to pressure regarding the appointment.60

      Ryle’s leadership of Evangelicals continued through his books and tracts which, though coming from different publishers following the collapse of his Ipswich publishers, continued to be reprinted.  By 1897 it was reliably estimated that more than twelve million copies of his tracts had been sold, and in addition to these in the English language, many tracts had been translated into Welsh, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Hindi, Chinese, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish, adding perhaps another million.61  During the episcopate the only truly new productions were the printed forms of his sermons, addresses and Charges.  Such books as Principles for Churchmen (1884) incorporated material he had written years earlier.

      His pen was also busy in writing to the newspapers.  He wrote regularly to the Record which in 1882 became a weekly instead of a bi-weekly paper.  The letters appeared as from ‘An Old Soldier’ or ‘A Northern Churchman’ and related to a variety of topics, including the Lambeth Encyclical of 1888, mentioned above.62  Perhaps his most important letters came in 1890 and 1892 following the Lincoln Case.  This Case resulted from complaints made by the Church Association concerning the Bishop of Lincoln, who celebrated Holy Communion from an eastward position, lit candles on the holy table, mixed water with wine and pursued other ritualistic actions.  In a Judgment of 1890 Archbishop Benson ruled that the Bishop of Lincoln was wrong in various particulars – e.g. in mixing water and wine during the service – but that the eastward position was legal.  The Judgment was notable in that it ignored previous decisions of the secular courts and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.  The Church Association, however, took the Case to the Court of Appeal where the Archbishop’s Judgment was upheld in nearly every particular.  The fight of the Church Association through the courts here came to a bitter end, for the Lincoln Judgment marked a final defeat of the methods of the Church Association.  Henceforth, Evangelicals had to rely on out-preaching, out-praying and out-working their opponents in the parishes.  Writing to the Record in August 1892 Ryle charged his brethren not to listen to those who counselled secession.  ‘So long as the Articles and Prayer Book are not altered, we occupy an impregnable position,’ he continued, ‘we have an open Bible and our pulpits are free.’63  On the same subject he told his Diocesan Conference that while he submitted to the ruling in the Lincoln Judgment, he could not approve its contents.64

      He also addressed this Conference of 1892 on the subject of the higher criticism of the Old Testament.  This part of the Conference address was reprinted as a separate booklet in 1893 entitled, Higher Criticism.  Some Thoughts on Modern Theories about the Old Testament.  Its importance lies not only in its contents which include the total rejection of all recent German theories about the origin of the Pentateuch and the Psalms, but also in its timing.  In 1892 Herbert Ryle, the Bishop’s son, had published his Narratives of Genesis and The Canon of the Old Testament.  Some of his advanced views were criticised in the Guardian and about the same time the Times carried a series of letters on Higher Criticism.65  It was in this period of intense interest in the subject of the authorship, authority and inspiration of the Old Testament that the old Bishop felt he must be forthright and give clear leadership to his brethren.  In 1891 he had also felt the need to reprint part of chapter one of Old Paths in an extended form under the title Is all Scripture Inspired?

      Yet another area of dispute was the doctrine of Holy Communion.  Debate continued over the nature of Christ’s presence in the service, over the meaning of the words, ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ over what it means to feed on the body and blood of Christ, and over the place of the celebrant in the service.  Here again a strong presentation of the traditional Reformed interpretation of the service of Holy Communion was needed by Evangelicals and at the Islington Conference of 1889 the Bishop gave that message.66  Another area in which Ryle spoke for the majority of Evangelicals and spoke very strongly was in opposition to the disestablishment of the Church, especially the Church in Wales, which was threatened in this period.  In 1885 he published his Papers on Disestablishment and spoke at several public meetings in Liverpool in support of the Church in Wales remaining established.67

      From 1880 to 1900 Ryle was not the only evangelical Bishop, however.  Apart from Bardsley and Straton there were three others, A. W. Thorold, Bishop of Rochester from 1877, E. H. Bickersteth, Bishop of Exeter from 1885, and W. Boyd Carpenter, Bishop of Ripon from 1884.  None of these men, however, commanded the allegiance the evangelical ranks accorded Ryle.  But he was the leader of a party slowly and perhaps painfully recognising that they were in a Church becoming more comprehensive in both its doctrine, ceremonies and liturgical practices.  If the Gorham Judgment of 1850 be interpreted in favor of Evangelicals, the Essays and Reviews’ Judgment of 1864 in favor of Liberals, and the Bennett Judgment of 1871 with the Lincoln Judgment of 1890 in favor of Anglo-Catholics, then the National Church was truly comprehensive.68  This was a fact with which to live.


g.  Family Matters and Retirement

      Although his friendship with Hobson was unique, many other clergy in the diocese had reason to be grateful for the Bishop’s interest in their welfare.  This was expressed in an illuminated address given to him on his eightieth birthday which recorded their ‘warm appreciation of your Lordship’s personal work, your kindly feeling with and for us in times of sorrow and joy alike, and your active interest in all that makes for the well-being of the community.’69

      During the last ten years of his life, Ryle began to rely more than ever before on his favorite son, Herbert, especially after the death of Mrs. Ryle in 1889.  In 1887 Herbert had ceased to be an examining chaplain because of his changed theological position.  Once, while staying at the Palace in Liverpool, he wrote: ‘I write in a land where ... German criticism has not obtained much foothold, even in the bookshelves.’  But this was not allowed to affect the relation of father and son.  Indeed, Herbert was able to say that ‘much as he differed from me in many points, he never suffered the shadow of a difference to come between us in the intimacy of our affection.’70

      When Mrs. Ryle died and was buried in Childwall Churchyard, a large crowd attended.71  A rumor went around that Ryle would retire but he told the Diocesan Conference later that year he would probably get a Suffragan Bishop to assist him.  In the event, his daughter became his personal secretary and Bishop Royston was appointed Assistant Bishop.  Both served him faithfully until his retirement.

      Family holidays were always highly valued by the Bishop and the places he loved to visit were Perthshire, the Lake District and Lowestoft.  When at Pitlochry, Perthshire, Ryle worshipped in the parish church of the Church of Scotland.  He did this out of conviction believing that the Church of Scotland was the authentic National Church of Scotland.  So he was not moved by the complaint of a Scottish Episcopalian about ‘Bishop Ryle who rusticates in our Perthshire Highlands and preaches in the Geneva toga in the parish kirk of Pitlochry, preferring this sort of thing to legitimate Episcopacy.’  Ryle was in fact somewhat angry with the Scottish Bishops for they had never accepted the Gorham Judgment of 1850 which established the right of Evangelicals to interpret the Baptismal Service as not teaching baptismal regeneration.  He told the Episcopalian Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Pitlochry, that ‘so long as the synodical Declaration of your Church ... regarding the Gorham Judgment is not withdrawn or cancelled’ he would find ‘the difficulty in worshipping in the Scottish Episcopal church insuperable.’72

      During a holiday in Keswick in the Lake District, Ryle, with his daughter, renewed an old friendship with Catherine Marsh, who had been so pleased by his ordination in 1841.  She recorded in her diary: ‘Before we left he prayed with us such a patriarchal, patriotic and personal prayer.’73  On another occasion he was able to renew friendship with Moody and to appear with him on the platform at the end of the Keswick Holiness Convention.74

      For a miscellaneous glimpse, M. J. Fitzgerald, with access to the correspondence between the aged Bishop and Herbert, wrote:

Meanwhile the aged Bishop welcomed Herbert and his wife to Liverpool on every possible opportunity, and, in their absence inquired eagerly, as of old, after all their doings, and detailed to them his own ... He reports to Herbert his difficulties about Candidates for Ordination.  He has been obliged to reject three men for Priest’s Orders ‘for utter ignorance and inefficiency,’ and, he is afraid, two for Deacon’s, one from Ely Theological College, ‘for sad unsoundess in doctrine.  Such things trouble me greatly.’  He sends Herbert £100 to help him at a time of financial stress, and later offers to lend him £500 free of interest, to help him with the expenses of entering into residence at Queen’s Lodge (Cambridge).  He pours out the wrath and apprehensions aroused in his mind by the policy of Gladstone.  ‘That unhappy man has got such a craze for pulling everything to pieces, and is so totally unable to see anything except from his own point of view that men of business never know what to expect, and shrink from everything which involves any risk.  He is a terrible infliction on this country.’  Letters reach Cambridge full of details of events in the Diocese of Liverpool – with news of a painful charge brought against a curate, and dismissed as ‘not proven’; of a great School Board Election, of recent appointments to livings.  Or there is a contemptuous description of a Bishop’s Meeting, which, in the writer’s judgement, reached ‘a weak, evasive and impotent conclusion’; – ‘I came away vexed and annoyed, and I am not at all disposed to go up to London for one night for such a waste of time.’ As this correspondence shows, time had done nothing to rob the old Bishop’s pen of its trenchant vigour.  The old interest in sport peeps out, too, at times.  ‘Stoddard and Co. made a sad business of the last Australian match.  How is it explained?’...  And the veteran cricketer hands on the teaching of experience to his small grandson: ‘You may tell him from me that he will never make a good batter, unless he learns to bring forward his left shoulder and play with a straight bat.  The last innings I ever got was at Lincoln, when I got 88 runs, not out, and played with left shoulder forward the whole time.’75

Nothing is known about Ryle’s relationship with the other sons.

      After a serious illness in 1891 from which he made a good recovery, Ryle wrote to Herbert: ‘I am a wonder to myself in my ability to do so (i.e. to work and write) much without fatigue.76  But as time went on it became obvious that he could not continue much longer.  In April 1899 he chaired a centenary meeting of the C. M. S. at the Queen’s Hall, and later that year went to Lowestoft for a rest.77  Bishop Royston now took over most public duties, but in October Ryle did summon enough energy to take a service of ordination in St. Peter’s for P. S. Margoliouth, the Professor of Arabic at Oxford.  A little later, while at Lowestoft, he was visited by Herbert who found him ‘so evidently enfeebled in step, hearing and memory.’78  He urged him to resign.  Within twenty-four hours the aged Bishop had made up his mind and he wrote to the Archbishop of York telling him he had made up his mind to resign as from 1 March 1900.

      Back in Liverpool he spent most of his time in bed but on Christmas Day, 1899, he insisted on going to Saint Nathaniel’s, Windsor, to receive communion.  Describing the visit Canon Hobson wrote:

As we were about to commence the 11 o’clock service on Christmas Day a tap was heard at the vestry entrance to the church, and on the door being opened, to our utter amazement, there was the Bishop, quite bent, with his family ... They all sat in the vicar’s pew.  The Bishop, as was his custom, sat in the corner where good Mrs. Ryle used to sit. ...  At the sacrament, the Bishop came to the rail followed by his children who knelt on either side of him.  For a moment I felt almost overcome, which he must have perceived for, looking up at me, he said softly, ‘Go on.’  They remained till the congregation had gone, when I went to him.  He reached out his poor hand and drew me to him saying, ‘This is the last time: God bless you; we shall meet in heaven.  The big tears trickled down his furrowed cheeks.

As he left the church. the Bishop turned to the eighty-two year old sexton and said, ‘Well, my old friend, you have not gone to heaven yet?’  ‘No, my lord,’ came the reply, ‘Well,’ went on the Bishop, ‘you may be sure so long as there is anything for us to do, God will leave us here to do it.’79

      Canon Hobson’s last interview with the Bishop was at the Palace in January 1900.  On this occasion Ryle gave him the Bible which he had used as his study Bible for over fifty years.  Handing it to Hobson he quietly said, ‘Now let us have a parting prayer.’  This done the two men parted.  In the same month Ryle also said farewell to Charles Garrett, the Methodist minister, who had written to him when the retirement was announced.  It pleased Ryle to tell Garrett that he had learned to respect John Wesley when he was only a boy and that now at eighty-three he retained his high feelings for him.80

      Ryle issued his Farewell to the Diocese on 1 February 1900.  Addressing his ‘reverend and dear brethren’ he told them:

Almost the last words of the great Apostle to the Gentiles are before the eyes of my mind today: ‘I have finished the course; the time of my departure is at hand.  After filling unexpectedly the office of your Bishop for nearly twenty years, I am about to resign a post which years and failing health at the age of eighty-three told me I was no longer able to fill with advantage to the diocese or the Church of England.

      I have resigned my Bishopric with many humbled feelings.  As I look back over the years of my episcopate, I am conscious that I have left undone many things which I hoped to have done when I first came to Liverpool.  I am equally conscious that the many things I have had to do with – meetings, ordinations, confirmations, and consecrations – have been done very imperfectly.  I only ask you to remember that I was sixty-four, and not a young man, when I first came here, and to believe that, amidst many difficulties, I have tried to do my duty.  But I am thankful that our God is a merciful God.

      I can truly say that my approaching separation from Liverpool will be a heavy wrench for me.  I shall never forget you.   I had ventured to hope that I might be allowed to end my days near the Mersey, and to die in harness; but God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts, and He has gradually taught me, by failing health, that the huge population of this diocese requires a younger and stronger Bishop.

      Before I leave you I ask you to accept a few parting words from an old minister who has had more than fifty-eight years’ experience, and during that time has seen and learned many things.  It is written, ‘Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom’ (Job 32:7).  Let me, then, charge all the clergy whom I am about to leave behind me never to neglect their preaching.  Your districts and population may be comparatively small or large, but the minds of your people are thoroughly awake.  They will not be content with dull, tame sermons; they want life, and light, and fire and love in the pulpit, as well as in the parish.  Let them have plenty of it.  Never forget that a lively, Christ-exalting minister will always have a churchgoing people.

      Last, but not least, cultivate and study the habit of being at peace with all your brother ministers.  Beware of divisions.  One thing the children of the world can always understand, if they do not understand doctrine; that thing is angry quarrelling and controversy.  Be at peace among yourselves.

      May God bless you all!

      To the many lay Churchmen whom I shall leave behind in this diocese (knowing far less of them than I should have done if I had come among them a younger man) I can only send my best wishes, and add my prayers that this diocese may have God’s blessing, both in temporal and spiritual prosperity.  Cling to the old Church of England, my lay brethren – cling to its Bible, its Prayer Book and its Articles.  Let no charitable institution suffer.  Consider the many poor and needy.  Help the underpaid clergy.  Never forget that the principles of the Protestant Reformation made this country what she is, and let nothing ever tempt you to forsake them.

      In a little time we shall all meet again – many I hope on the King’s right hand, and few on the left.  Till that time comes I commend you to God and the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among them that are sanctified.’

In response the diocesan clergy presented an address to him expressing the belief that ‘nothing will afford you truer joy or more lasting satisfaction than to be permitted to witness, though from a distance, the strengthening of diocesan life and activity, and the extension of the Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the sphere of your own more recent labours.’81

      Ryle had chosen Lowestoft as the scene of his retirement, along with his daughter, Jessie Isabella.  He had learned to love the seaside town during his time in Suffolk and so it was appropriate that he should name his new home, ‘Helmingham House.’  The Ryles were due to arrive in Lowestoft on 6 March but it was the middle of the month before they arrived, further illness having delayed them.  The house was pleasant and overlooked the North Sea, but Ryle was in no condition to appreciate the view.  He slept badly and had little energy to talk.  The end came suddenly.  It was 9 June, a Saturday evening, when the doctor was called.  He found Ryle partly unconscious.  His sons were sent telegrams asking them to come immediately but only Herbert, not far away in Cambridge, came in time.  At 2:15 p.m. on the Sunday afternoon, the Lord’s Day, John Charles Ryle went to be with that same Lord.  Herbert wrote: ‘The sudden blow – however long expected – comes suddenly and is a blow to which nothing can be compared.  I to whom it was an intense stimulus to think of pleasing my father as a boy and a young man, feel how greatly he had always filled up the picture of my life.’82

      On the Wednesday morning a small crowd gathered at Lowestoft station to pay its last respects.  The huge oak-panelled coffin was put in a special funeral car attached to the 7:57 a.m. train for Liverpool.  Arriving in Liverpool the coffin containing the old Bible from which he had preached was taken to All Saint’s, Childwall.  As yet there were no crowds; only the Vicar and Bishop Royston were there to receive it.  The ivy-clad church stood on the slope of a hill looking out south over the Mersey and into Cheshire.  The Bishop had known it well for he had visited the grave of his wife there each week since she had died.

      The morning of the day of the funeral began grey and drizzly but by the afternoon the weather had brightened up and people in their thousands came out from the center of Liverpool in the special trains.  The service was quite simple.  Archdeacon Taylor read the first lesson from Psalm 90.  ‘Rock of Ages’, Ryle’s favorite hymn, was sung.  The second lesson was from I Corinthians 15 read by Archdeacon Madden.  It had been planned to end the service by the graveside but the rain came on.  Therefore after the service in church only the words of committal, said by Bishop Royston, and the benediction, given by Bishop Chavasse, were said by the graveside.83  The body of J. C. Ryle, with Bible clasped in his hands, at last lay next to that of his third wife.

      On the gravestone were engraved two texts.  The first was a reminder of the conversion which set him off on the Christian pilgrimage; Ephesians 2:8, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith.’  The second testified that he had now finished that earthly pilgrimage; II Timothy 4:7, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.’  In a memorial sermon Canon Hobson declared that ‘few men in the nineteenth century did so much for God, for truth and for righteousness among the English speaking race, and in the world, as our late Bishop.’  More simply, his successor, Bishop Chavasse, described him as a man ‘who lived so as to be missed.’84


NOTES: Chapter Three

1.  G. E. Buckle, Letters of Queen Victoria, 2nd Series, Vol. III, p. 78.

2.  This account was given in the form of an address given at St. Leonard’s Bootle, in January 1897 and is quoted by W. F. Machray in his brief The First Bishop of Liverpool, 1900, pp. 13ff.

3.  O. Chadwick, The Victorian Church, Pt. 2, p. 336 wrongly states that Ryle was appointed by Gladstone.

4.  See G. E. Buckle, Life of Disraeli, 1920, Vol. 6., pp. 74–80 and 548.

5.  For the speech to the Committee see the Guardian, 28 April 1880.

6.  Record, 7 May 1880.

7.  Record, 15 June 1880.

8.  Quoted by M. L. Loane, Makers of our Heritage, 1967, p. 46.

9.  Liberal Review, 12 June 1880.

10.  Liverpool Mercury, 10 June 1880.

11.  R. Hobson, What God hath wrought, 1914, p. 139.

12.  Liverpool Mercury, 8 May 1880 & Times, 4 May 1880.

13.  For Liverpool’s history see M. C. Borer, Liverpool, 1971; R. Muir, History of Liverpool, 1971, P. H. Williams, Liverpolitana, 1 1971; E. Midwinter, Old Liverpool 1971 and G. Chandler, Liverpool, 1957.

14.  For the background to the creation of the new bishoprics see Chadwick, op. cit., II, pp. 342ff.  For the Liverpool Committee’s work see Times, 3 January 1880.

15.  For his speech see Liverpool Courier, 13 May 1880.

16.  E. Stock, History of the C. M. S., Vol. 3, p. 548.

17.  It was published as The Charges delivered at his Primary Visitation... 1881... By J. C. Ryle, 1881.

18.  A Charge delivered to the Clergy of the Diocese by J. C. Ryle... at his Second Visitation... on October 21st, 1884, 1884.

19.  R. Hobson, op. cit., p. 279.

20.  The Charges, 1881, p. 13.

21.  Ibid, p. 15.

22.  Ryle gave these figures in his Address to the Diocesan Conference, 1890.

23.  Liverpool Daily Post, 17 October & 15 November 1881, and 18 November 1891.

24.  A Charge... 1884.

25.  Liverpool Albion, 25 September, 1886 and A. H. Grey-Edwards, A Great Heart; Canon Major Lester, 1906.

26.  Report of the Derby Congress, pp. 102ff & R. Hobson, op. cit., p. 153.

27.  Hobson, op. cit., p. 145.

28.  Machray, op. cit., p. 17 and Ryle, Address to Diocesan Conference, 1890.

29.  Address to Diocesan Conference, 1885, p. 8.

30.  A Charge... 1887, 1887, p. 25.

31.  Liberal Review, 14 April 1883.

32.  Ibid.

33.  Address to Diocesan Conference 1895, 1895, pp. 6ff.

34.  J.C. Pollock, A Cambridge Movement, 1953, p. 33.

35.  W. F. Machray, op. cit., p. 20.

36.  M. R. Kingsford, Mersey Mission to Seamen, 1856–1956, 1957, p. 23.

37.  F. Radcliffe, ‘Some Notes on Liverpool Cathedral’, Liverpool Review, Vol. V., No. 3 July 1930, p. 292.

38.  E. Baines, History of Lancashire, 1867, Vol. 1, p. 363.

39.  A Charge... 1884, pp. 40–44.

40.  V. Cotton, The Book of the Cathedral, 1964, p. 1.

41.  Liverpool Mercury, 15 February 1887.

42.  Address to Diocesan Conference, 1888, 1888, p. 15.

43.  Machray, op. cit., p. 21.  Ryle, A Charge... 1896, 1896, p. 10.

44.  W. Forwood, Recollections of a Busy Life, 1910, p. 10.

45.  Liverpool Mercury, 10 November & 14 November 1882.

46.  J. B. Lancelot, F. J. Chavasse, 1929, pp. 147–8.  The House was destroyed by a bomb in 1941 and Ryle’s books with the diocesan records burned.  However a Catalogue of the Library was printed and there are copies in the University Library, Liverpool, and in the City Central Library.

47.  Church Times, 9 May 1885.

48.  There is a mass of material on this case in the seven volumes of paper cuttings in the custody of the Librarian, Institute of Education Library, Liverpool, in the extant correspondence relating to Bell-Cox in the Library of Pusey House, Oxford, in the Hickleton Papers at the N. Yorks Library in York, and in the records of the English Church Union at Lambeth Palace.  There are also a host of printed pamphlets and tracts relating to the case; e.g. Romanizing at St. Margaret’s ...; Statement by Mr. Hakes and a Correspondence, 1887.  This booklet of 50 pages was distributed by the Church Association.

49.  Liverpool Daily Post, 29 & 30 January 1885.

50.  Liverpool Mercury, 11 February 1885 and Pallmall Gazette, 18 Feb. 1885.

51.  A. C. Benson, E. W. Benson, 1899, Vol. II., p. 243.

52.  Liverpool Daily Post, 7 March 1885.

53.  The Manchester Guardian of 22 January 1886 has a letter from Lake setting out his view of Ryle’s handling of the matter.

54.  These were outside St. Catherine’s and St. Thomas’, Toxteth.  There are many paper cuttings from local papers concerning the activity of the extreme Protestants, the Laymen’s League etc. in the Bartlett Papers, Vols 16 & 17 in the William Brown Library, Liverpool.

55.  Quoted by Chadwick, op. cit., II. p. 349.  See Chadwick for details of the troubles over ritualism.

56.  The Letter was partly reproduced in the Liverpool Courier, 1 March 1900.

57.  Times, 16, 17, & 21 August 1888.  The Porcupine, 18 August 1888.  For the Conference of 1888 see D. Morgan, The Bishops come to Lambeth, 1957, pp. 82–90.

58.  The Salisbury Papers are in the Library of Christ Church, Oxford.

59.  The correspondence is indexed and can be easily be consulted.

60.  The MS letters between Ryle and E. Wigram, seven in all, are in the C. M. S. archives in London.  See further E. Stock, op. cit., Vol. 4. pp. 397–8.

61.  G. R. Balleine, A History of the Evangelical Party, 1911, p. 183.

62.  Record, 10, 17, 24 August 1888.

63.  Record, 12 August 1892.

64.  Address to the Diocesan Conference... 1892, 1892, pp. 6ff.

65.  See further Sir Robert Anderson, The Bible and Modern Criticism, 1905.  pp. 115ff and M. H. Fitzgerald, H. E. Ryle, 1928, p. 43.

66.  Ryle, What is written about the Lord’s Supper, 1889. Balleine, op. cit., pp. 187ff.

67.  He refers to this involvement in his Diocesan Conference Address of 1895.

68.  The Bennett Judgment related to the doctrine of the Eucharist.  For W. J. E. Bennett see Chadwick, op. cit., II, p. 314.

69.  Liverpool Daily Post, 10 May 1896.

70.  Fitzgerald, op. cit., pp. 131 & 134.

71.  Church Times, 28 January 1889.

72.  Scottish Guardian, 31 August 1883, the Liverpool Courier, 10 March 1900, the Church Times, 29 January 1886, the Liverpool Daily Post, 31 August 1883.

73.  L. E. O’Rorke, The Life... of Catherine Marsh, 1917, p. 324.

74.  J.C. Pollock, The Keswick Story, 1964, p. 77–8.

75.  Fitzgerald, op. cit., pp. 132–3.

76.  Ibid, p.133

77.  Stock, op. cit., IV, pp. 8 & 428.

78  Fitzgerald, op. cit., p. 134.

79. Hobson, op. cit., pp. 286-7.

80.  Ibid.

81.  The address was printed in full in the Churchman, March 1900, pp. 335-6.

82.  Fitzgerald, op. cit., p. 134.

83.  Liverpool Daily Post, 15 June 1900.

84.  Hobson, op. cit., pp. 325-8 and Lancelot, op. cit., p. 147.


IV – Epilogue

      A man who holds strong views and convictions, especially if these run counter to the spirit of the age, takes the risk of antagonising not only his children but most others of his acquaintance as well.  If his presence bespeaks the age-old patrician graces, or if he shields his dogmatism behind a winsome personality then he may not upset too many.  John Charles Ryle began his ministerial career thoroughly committed to evangelical doctrines but he seems to have lacked a convivial personality and the ability to talk to people about anything other than the state of their souls.  His undoubted success in Exbury and Winchester and later in Helmingham may be attributed, humanly speaking, to his forthright personality, his enthusiasm, and his regular visiting of parish homes.  Never particularly affluent himself, he bore the air nevertheless of the newly-rich industrial classes from which he had sprung; and in a country or town parish, where the local squire, the high-born or clergy were normally respected, his authoritative manner and preaching, coupled with his obvious sincerity, had an immediate effect, attracting large congregations.

      As Ryle grew older and married he seems to have been able, at least on some occasions (when his children were young, for example) to allow the warmth of his heart to reach those by whom he found himself surrounded.  However, throughout his life, except with his son, Herbert, and a few friends such as Richard Hobson, he appears to have remained mentally aloof at most times from most people.  (Perhaps his towering physical stature did not help in this respect.)  Indeed, one sadness in his life was that not one of his sons came to share his evangelical convictions, though they always respected him.  Respect is perhaps the key word in describing the mutual relations of Ryle, the father, presbyter and bishop, and his family and flock.  His undoubted ability, his strong convictions, his commanding appearance, his faithfulness and his sincerity created respect in parsonages, parish church, Exeter Hall, Church Congress and St. George’s Hall alike.  Even those who were deeply opposed to his theology and were not consciously biased could find a certain respect for him in their hearts.  But few really knew him.  To most his inner spirituality remained a mystery.

      In the New Testament the Church is described as ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’ and part of the duty of the Visible Church, and therefore of its ordained ministry, is to pass on to future generations not only the Scriptures but also the doctrinal tradition received from earlier generations.  For the Church of England this doctrinal tradition is an important part of her general heritage – the contributions of the sixteenth-century reformers, Cranmer and Ridley for example; of the seventeenth-century Puritans, Sibbes, Baxter and the others; and the eighteenth-century Evangelicals, Whitefield, Romaine and their brethren.  Ryle gave valuable service both in the National Church and in Evangelical Christendom by helping to preserve, interpret and pass these on.  Likewise he rendered sterling service to his Church by constantly reminding her of her duty to submit to the authority of Scripture in all essential matters of doctrine.

      A prime reason for Ryle’s strength lay in his steadfast theological convictions which did not change perceptibly throughout his life.  They certainly deepened as his reading and meditation progressed and they were applied to changing situations, as, for example, his decision to attend the Church Congresses, his concern to reach the working men of England with the Gospel, and his recognition of the implications of the Lincoln Judgment.  Before his ordination he had come to believe that a moderate Calvinism in a National Episcopal Church was the religion of the Thirty-Nine Articles and to this theology he remained true for the whole of his ministry.  The commitment caused him to concentrate on the rich teaching on salvation found in the Reformers, Puritans and first Evangelicals.  However, in one aspect of this abundant faith – sanctification – his commitment to the Puritan tradition meant strong opposition to the novel doctrine (as most Evangelical Anglicans found it) regarding the pursuit of holiness taught by the founders of the Keswick Convention.  This tended to increase his isolation because from 1890 onwards the Keswick Convention became a rallying ground for Anglican Evangelicals with H. C. G. Moule at its head.  Men of Ryle’s theology and outlook were unable to reconcile their view of holiness to that of the growing Keswick tradition and while the latter rapidly gained the ascendancy among Evangelicals the theology of Ryle claimed fewer and fewer adherents.

      So the Calvinistic Evangelicalism of William Romaine, Hugh McNeile and J. C. Ryle has had few adherents in the Church of England in the twentieth century despite the Calvinistic tradition of Tyndale Hall, Bristol.  The evangelical tradition has been related more to the theological ethos of Arminianism, the Wesleys and D. L. Moody.  Certainly Ryle’s books have continued to be sold in the twentieth century but while the readership of the oft-reprinted Knots Untied has been primarily Anglican that of Holiness, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, and Christian Leaders has been otherwise.  Indeed many North American readers of these last-mentioned titles find it hard to imagine Ryle as a committed member, let alone a Bishop, of a National Episcopal Church.  To their mind Calvinism and high office in the Church of England simply do not cohere.  This is partly due to the predominantly Anglo-Catholic churchmanship of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

      Essentially, J. C. Ryle, the Calvinistic, committed Churchman and Bishop was the last of his particular school.  His combination of vigorous Protestantism, anti-Catholicism and defence of the Establishment have not been seen in any marked intensity on the episcopal bench since his death.  However, just as essentially his Evangelicalism is still proclaimed and defended by more than a minority in the Church which he loved and served.



1.  Regeneration: a tract for the times (1850)

2.  The Bishop, the Pastor and the Preacher (1854)

3.  Home Truths. Being miscellaneous addresses and tracts. 8 vole. (1854–71)

4.  Plain Speaking. Forty Short Tracts. 2 vols (1854–5)

5.  Expository Thoughts on Matthew (1856)

6.  Expository Thoughts on Mark (1857)

7.  Expository Thoughts OD T.uke. 2 vols. (1858–9)

8.  Baptism (1865)

9.  The Cattle Disease (1865)

10.  What is Ritualism? (1866)

11.  Coming Events and Present Duties (1867)

12.  Bishops and Clergy of other days (1868)

13.  We must Unitel (1868)

14.  A Word for the Irish Church (1868)

15.  The Christian Leaders of the Last Century (1869)

16.  Church Reform (1870)

17.  A Churchman’s Duty about Diocesan Conferences (1871)

18.  Words for All (forty-five tracts) (1871)

19.  Convocation Reform (1872)

20.  Expository Thoughts on John. 3. vols. (1873)

21.  Knots Untied (1874)

22.  Bible Inspiration (1877)

23.  Holiness (1877)

24.  Old Paths (1877)

25.  What do we owe to the Reformation? (1877)

26.  Shall We Go? Being Thoughts about Church Congresses (1878)

27.  Annual Charges to the Diocese of Liverpool (1881–1899)

28.  Boys and Girls Playing and other addresses to children (1881)

29.  Facts and Men. Being pages from English Church History (1882)

30.  Simplicity in Preaching (1882)

31.  Principles for Churchmen (1884)

32.  Our Position and Dangers (1885)

33.  Disestablishment Papers (1885)

34.  The Upper Room (1888)

35.  Light from Old Times, or Protestant Facts and Men (1890)

36.  Is all Scripture inspired? (1891)

37.  Consider. Papers on important subjects (1891)

38.  The Christian Race and other sermons (1900)




1.  Spiritual Songs, selected by J. C. Ryle (1849)

2.  Remember the Sabbath Day, a Catechism, with preface by J. C. R. (1856)

3.  Hymns for the Church on Earth, selected and arranged by J. C. R. (1860)

4.  ‘Sermons... of Samuel Ward’ with biographical memoir by J. C. Ryle in The Works of Thomas Adams, Vol. III. (1862)

5.  The Sabbath, by Andrew Thomson, with preface by J. C. R. (1863)

6.  The Bird’s Nest: Missionary addresses, by A. C. R. Dallas and J. C. Ryle (1863)

7.  Moses, or the Zulu?  A detailed reply to... Bishop Colenso, by W. Wickes, with preface by J. C. Ryle (1863)

8.  The Christian in Complete Armour, by W. Gurnall, with biographical introduction by J. C. R. (1864)

9.  Temper: a treatise on its use and abuse, with preface by J. C. R. (1865)

10.  Devout Thoughts for Deep Thinkers, by S. Coalbank, with preface by J. C. R. (1867)

11.  The Story of Madame Therese, by E. Erckmann & P. A. Chatrian, introduced and edited by J. C. R. (1869)

12.  The Keepsake Scripture Text Book, with preface by J. C. R. (1870)

13.  Recollections of the late Colonel Holden of Nuttal Temple, Nottingham, with an introductory memoir by J. C. R. (1873)

14.  A. B. C. Scripture Texts, selected and arranged by J. C. R. (1874)

15.  The Additional Hymn Book (1875)

16.  Christ the true Altar, by S. Waldegrave with introduction by J. C. R. (1875)

17.  Texts misquoted and applied, by R. D. L. B., with preface by J. C. R. (1877)

18.  Morning Bible Readings, ed. by William Edwards, and introduced by J. C. R. (1878)

19.  The Words of the Angels, by E. R. Stier, with preface by J. C. R. 0886)

20.  The Authoritative Inspiration of Holy Scripture, by C. H. Waller, introduced by J. C. R. (1887)

21.  The Imperial Bible Dictionary, ed. Patrick Fairbairn, with introduction by J. C. R. and C. H. Waller (1888)

22.  A Popular Commentary on the Book of Revelation, by Th. Graham, with preface by J. C. R. (1888)

23.  The Protestantism of the Prayer Book, by Dyson Hague, and preface by J. C. R. (1893)


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