St Mary’s Church – Vicars 1798-1899

Read about Vicars 1602-1798

Richard Slade was Vicar of Thornbury 1798-1823 (but see earlier page).  He was the son of Richard Slade senior of Westwell, Oxford.  He matriculated to Christ Church on 24th May 1783 aged 16.  He gained his BA in 1787 four years later.  He married Bidlake Hiron in 1798 in Bristol.  Sadly Mrs Slade died “after a lingering and painful illness” on 14th August 1810.  Richard then married Joanna Robinson on 28th September 1812 in Thornbury.  Joanna Robinson was the daughter of Colonel Beverley Robinson and his wife Susannah.  Joanna was born September 22nd 1763.  She came to Thornbury with her mother and sister after her father’s death in 1792.  Read about the Robinson family.

In 1806 Richard Slade wrote to the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church suggesting that he as incumbent should hold the tithes due for the rectory as well as those for the vicarage.  This offer seems to have been accepted and by 1823 Richard Slade was letting the tithes together at £733 6s 8d.  We do not know if this was an increase in his overall income but the records held by Christ Church note that Slade spent much money improving the vicarage.

Rev Richard Slade died on May 5th 1823 aged 55.  His death was reported in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of May 17th 1823;

On Monday died after a short illness, at his house in Thornbury, universally beloved and regretted the Rev Richard Slade, A.M. (late student of Christ Church vicar of that parish, with the Chapels of Oldbury on Severn and Falfield annexed, Rural Dean of Dursley Deanery and one of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the county of Gloucester.

His widow Joanna Slade went to live in Thornbury Cottage.

Maurice Fitzgerald Townsend Stephens Vicar of Thornbury 1823 -1872 was a student of Christ Church Oxford.  In many records the spelling of Townsend appears as Townshend.  We have chosen the former spelling for simplicity.  He was born about 1792 in Ireland and he was the third son of Richard Boyle Townsend MP and his wife Henrietta nee Newenham.  Maurice was born with an unlikely link to Thornbury Castle as both his parents could claim descent from the Duke of Buckingham who caused Thornbury Castle to be built.  His home in County Cork also had more than one spelling in the records we have seen – being Castle Townsend, Castletown or Castle Townshend.  The family also owned property in Dingle in County Kerry.

We understand that whilst still at Oxford Maurice and his brother Boyle went to Portugal to visit their brother John Townsend who was a Lieutenant in the 14th Light Dragoons serving under the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular campaign.  It seems that he again visited his brother in Paris in July 1814.

After Maurice’s graduation he apparently spent much of his time in London.  According to one account we have found he was a member of the famous Almack’s which was a social club in London for the aristocracy.  He is reputed to have danced there in the first quadrille ever performed in England.

The Clergy of the Church of England Database says that Maurice was appointed on 12th September 1823.  A letter of January 10th 1824 held in the archives of Christ Church Oxford shows that Maurice was settling into his new vicarage and was involved in “all the horrors of painting and furnishing.”  He was beginning to collect the Great Tithes owed from the year before when his predecessor died.  Maurice commented that he was getting to know his parishioners and that many of them were Dissenters of all kinds but not Roman Catholics.

Maurice Townsend married Alice Elizabeth Shute in Thornbury on 16th May 1826.  Alice was described as niece and heiress of the late H Stephens of Chavenage House near Tetbury in Gloucestershire when the marriage was announced in the newspapers.  This was a reference to Henry Stephens who died intestate in 1822.  The estate passed to his sister’s children, first Richmond Shute who died in 1823 and then to Alice, the only daughter of Henry Richmond Shute of Iron Acton.  A provision in the will made by last of the elder line of this family, Henry Stephens (who had died in 1795), stipulated that an heir through the female line was to drop his or her own name and adopt by Royal Licence the arms and name of the Stephens family.  We understand that Maurice Townsend did this officially on 27th January 1827.

The couple’s first child was therefore baptised Henry John Townsend Stephens on 1st November 1827.  A daughter Geraldine Henrietta followed and was baptised on 12th February 1829.  Alice Gertrude Stephens was baptised 18th October 1830.

Maurice’s wife Alice died of a fever on 1st November 1831 at Castle Townsend in County Cork.  She was aged only 29 years.

In 1836 the Tithe Commutation Act replaced the paying of tithes in kind with sums of money.  Many meetings were held between Rev Stephens and the local landowners to sort out a deal.  Letters held by Christ Church Oxford show that it was agreed in February 1838 that £1061 was a reasonable representation of what the tithes amounted to and the tithe apportionment showed how this was to be divided amongst the property owners.  This could not be finally assessed until a new map was drawn up (the Tithe Map of 1840).

Letters held by Christ Church College between Rev Stephens and Dr John Bull give small insights into family life at this time.  We know that in October 1837 for example (which appears to have been a beautiful autumn with trees “groaning with fruit”) the children were all sent to Brighton for a month to get a a change of air and sunbathing!  Maurice’s son Henry had been sent to Brighton in March that year too, which was also the year in which he was sent away to school.  Maurice’s letter however shows how close he had got to Henry after his wife had died.  He calls Henry a “blessing and a comfort” and praises his “gentle nature.”  The same letter also mentions that he as “imported” a French governess for the girls.

Maurice seems to have involved himself in many aspects of parish life.  He was President of the Horticultural Society and according to a letter of November 1838 had planted 300 “tulip roots” in his garden.  The same letter talks of his involvement in music and that he is organiser (or as he puts it “head man, I want to say first fiddle”) of an oratorio to help pay for the new organ.

It is interesting to see that in a letter of 10th May 1839 from Maurice to Dr John Bull of Christ Church there is another insight into his life.  Maurice refers to the fact that he is knitting stockings.  This is not just a new hobby but, seemingly because he is headmaster of the school, he is teaching the girls at the National School to knit.  He writes that his own “three little lambs” have got over the measles.

The 1841 Census shows the family in the vicarage at Thornbury.  He was a widower aged about 45 years who lived with his two daughters; Geraldine aged 12 and Alice aged 10.  At the time of the Census his mother Henrietta was staying with the family.  The family had eight servants.

In 1844 Joseph Leech wrote “Rural Rides of the Bristol Churchgoer” which described a trip to Thornbury at Christmastime to attend the service at St Mary’s.  He gave us a brief description of the Rev Townsend Stephens and his sermon at that time.

“I hardly remember ever hearing a better reader…..he delivered in a distinct and sonorous voice, and with a clearness and correctness of enunciation …..He had other advantages too ..a good head and shoulders and he stood something like six feet, honest measure in his shoes.  His sermon, whether a holiday one or not, was a good one; and on the whole in pulpit and reading-desk, the Rev Townsend Stephens may take a very respectable stand amongst country parsons.”

Joseph Leech was not able to say more than what Mr. Stephens looked and sounded like because as he explained;” I know nothing about the vicar of Thornbury beyond what I saw and heard of him on Christmas Day and what a man told me on the road that personally he was exceedingly popular amongst his parishioners.

On April 22nd Maurice’s brother, Colonel John Townsend died aged 56 at Castle Townsend.

On 3rd October 1845 the Morning Post reported that the late Colonel Townsend of Castle Townsend in Cork had left the whole of his estates in England and Ireland to his brother the Rev Maurice Fitzgerald Stephens Townsend and appointed his sole executor of his will.  Colonel Townsend had left his brother Maurice his estate and asked him to make provision for his sister and younger brother.

The 1851 Census shows that Maurice was 60 years old.  His son Henry aged 25 was in the Guards and Geraldine was 22 years old and living at home.  They had six servants.

By 1861 Maurice was 69 years old.  His daughter Geraldine was 26 years old.  They had six servants John Chitts Gastrell aged 25 a groom, Edwin aged 14, Hannah May aged 29 a cook, Charlotte Gaze aged 23 a lady’s maid, Elizabeth Smith and Ellen Payne both house maids.

The Society of Thornbury Folk Bulletin of April 1966 has extracts from the Thornbury Journal of 1869.  This tells us that the Rev Stephens who had at this point been vicar of Thornbury for 40 years was presented with a “testimonial” from the trades people of Thornbury who wanted to show their appreciation of the fact that he had spent his money in Thornbury rather than in Bristol.

As he was a rich man with “extensive estates in Ireland” this was much appreciated.  It seems from the article that the people of the Irish town of Skibbereen had also benefitted from his generosity as he had provided that town with amenities such as gas and water at no cost and in granting long leases at reasonable cost to themselves.  This is interesting as Thornbury people were experiencing a long struggle to get clean drinking water in their homes and the gas supply was neither cheap not reliable.  The inhabitants of Thornbury may have been hoping to benefit from similar generosity from their vicar.

The photograph here appears to show Rev Stephens in later life.  

The 1871 Census shows that he was aged 80 and his daughter Geraldine was 32.  At this time they had seven servants.

He died aged 81 on 21st March 1872 at the Vicarage, having been vicar in Thornbury for 48 years.

His daughter Geraldine married General Pierrepont Mundy.  Read about Geraldine Mundy

His son Henry John Townsend Stephens inherited the Manor of Horsley from 1848 when he attained his majority but he served in the army until 1857 after which he spent much of his life at Castletownshend.  He married Jane de Burgh on 29th September 1864.  He died on 7th September 1869 at Castle Townsend.  His will was proved by his widow Jane Adeliza Clementina Hussey de Burgh Townsend.  <p id=”waters”></p>

Alice Gertrude Stephens married the Rev Courtney John Vernon, the son of Robert Vernon Vernon Baron Yveden of Lyvden on 25th March 1856.  She died in May 1913.

Thomas Waters, Vicar of Thornbury 1872-1886, was the second son of Randle Jackson Waters of St Margaret’s Westminster who was also a clergyman.  Thomas was a student at Christ Church Oxford and then vicar of Maiden Bradley in Wiltshire from 1864 to 1872 before coming to the parish of Thornbury, to which he was appointed in July 1872.  He married Barbara Bass Vessey the daughter of Samuel Vessey on 29th August 1872.  Barbara was born in Spilsby in Lincolnshire in 1845.  The register of visitors to the seaside town of Llandudno show that Barbara visited the town in July 1859 with a lady who appears to be her elder sister and who was described as Miss Vessey.  Their address was given as Halton Manor Lincolnshire.  It is also described as Halton-Holegate Manor House in Spilsby.

On 5th October 1873 George Thorold Waters, their first son, was baptised in St Mary’s Church.  Richard Vessey Waters was baptised the following year on 20th December 1874.  Two years later a third child Barbara Isabel Waters was baptised on 24th December 1876.

On 29th October 1873 Thomas Waters obtained a loan of £400 from the charity known as Queen Anne’s Bounty for “enlarging and altering the parsonage house and offices of the said Vicarage upon the glebe.” This was not paid off until 1901.

The 1881 Census shows that Thomas Waters was then aged 41 and living at the Vicarage in Thornbury with his wife Barbara aged 35 and from Lincolnshire.  Their three children were at that time; George aged 7, Richard aged 6 and Barbara aged 4.  The family had two visitors staying with them at the time of the Census.  Annie Warburton a rector’s wife from Lincolnshire and a widower Patrick King a clergy man without care of souls.  A newspaper article of 1886 shows that he was a member of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society and of the Ancient Order of Foresters.

In 1886 Thomas Waters left Thornbury to go to Staverton in Wiltshire, where they appeared in the Censuses until that of 1901.

Barbara Waters died on 25th December 1903 aged 58.  Thomas Waters died in Wendover in Buckinghamshire at Ailsa House on 18th February 1909.  Administration was granted to his son George Thorold Waters who was a schoolmaster.

We know that Richard Vessey Waters the son of Thomas and Barbara Bass Waters joined the 69th Sussex Company Imperial Yeomanry on February 24th 1900 when he was aged 24 years.  He took the oath at Eastbourne.

Henry Bernard Hodgson was Vicar of Thornbury 1886-1897.  According to Wikipedia Henry Bernard Hodgson was born in Penrith on 10 March 1856.  He was educated at Shrewsbury School and Queen’s College Oxford and Christ Church College Oxford (1878 to 1885), being ordained in 1880.  He began his career as school chaplain of Elizabeth College, Guernsey after which he was Vicar of Staverton Northamptonshire then Headmaster of Birkenhead School from 1885-1886.

He married Penelope Maria Warren the daughter of Richard Laud Warren on 1st June 1882 in Leamington Priors in Warwickshire.  Their children were Harry Courtenay Hodgson (baptised in Thornbury on March 2nd 1887, Stella Hodgson (baptised in Thornbury on 10th February 1891), William Noel Hodgson (baptised in Thornbury on 12th February 1893) and Arthur Bernard Hodgson who was born in the Daventry area in 1884.

In 1896 Rev Hodgson had a new vicarage built on the site of the older one which was considered insanitary.

The Pall Mall Gazette of 31st January 1900 announced the appointment of Rev Hodgson “who a couple of years ago resigned the vicarage of Thornbury” to the living of Berwick on Tweed to be an honorary canon of Newcastle.  The 1901 Census confirms that the family had moved to Berwick upon Tweed in Northumberland. Henry was then aged 45 and his wife Penelope was 41. At that time they had two children in the household; daughter Stella aged 10 and son William aged 8 both of whom were born in Thornbury.  We have above on the right a photograph of  the Rev Hodgson.

He was the Archdeacon of Lindisfarne from 1904 to 1914 when he was elevated to the Episcopate as Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich a post he held until his death on 28 February 1921.  There is a memorial to him at St Edmundsbury Cathedral which is in Bury St Edmunds.

His son William Noel Hodgson, the youngest of his children, volunteered for the army at the outbreak of war in 1914.  He served gallantly but was killed at the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916 aged 23.  His last poem ‘Before Action’ was written on the eve of the Battle.  His book “Verse and Prose in Peace and War” was published after his death in 1917.  The last line of his best known poem is “Help me to die, O Lord.”     Read about William Noel Hodgson

Alexander Nairne Scott was Vicar of Thornbury 1897-1899.  He was born about 1855.  He was ordained deacon in 1880 and a priest in 1881.  He was curate of St Mark’s New Swindon from 1880 to 1888.  He then became Vicar of Newland in the Forest of Dean, the church traditionally known as “the Cathedral of the Forest”.  In 1891 while Vicar at Newland and Redbrook he married Edith Jane Shute the second daughter of the Rev G H Hall and adopted daughter of Rev Harwicke Shute.  The 1891 Census shows that Edith had been living at South Lodge in Newland with her brother Lewis Hall before her marriage.  She was living there on her own means.

In 1898 Alexander Scott was made Vicar of St John in Redland, Bristol.  The 1911 Census shows that he was living in Kempsford in Gloucestershire aged 56.  His wife Edith was aged 63 by this time.  They had no children and had been married 19 years.  He died on 26th January 1921 at Ozleworth Rectory near Wotton under Edge.

Read about Vicars after 1899