Henry Philpotts—that devil of a bishop

If the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells out of Blackadder was a grotesque fiction—the reign , centuries later, of Henry Philpotts, one of whose letters is reproduced here,  is something we might associate more with  tyrannous Tudor bishops than with their supposedly anodyne Victorian successors.

Philpotts (1778 - 1869 ) was Bishop of Exeter between 1830 and 1869—the longest episcopacy since the 14th century. One of 23 children of an innkeeper, he is said to have been elected a scholar of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, at just 13, and  graduated five years later. In 1802 he was ordained and by 1809 had held four livings, cementing in that time  a lucrative connection with the diocese of Durham, where he became a Canon. Some idea of his aggrandising nature may be gained by the fact that after his election to the bishopric of Exeter in 1830 he asked that he be allowed to retain his former living of Stanhope, Co Durham which, due to the value of church land in such coal-rich territory, was then worth the enormous sum of £4,000 p.a.—amazingly £1,000 more than his new bishopric. This happy arrangement was refused, but Philpotts was permitted to keep a residentiary canonry at Durham, which brought with it a similar sum to that which he had lost, and which he retained until his death. The distance between Durham and Exeter is around 350 miles, which raises the question as to how often he, as Bishop of Exeter, was able to satisfactorily fulfil his obligations as a residentiary canon at Durham.

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The MP’s Chart 1964 (Andrew Roth)

Andrew Roth

The left leaning American-born political satirist Andrew Roth (1919 – 2010) produced these handy guides to the Commons personnel from 1955 and this particular issue, which seems to have been hurriedly hammered out on an electric typewriter (it is full of typos) is interesting in that it includes the first long-term Labour cabinet for over a decade and also a few MPs who became prominent in subsequent Tory administrations and who ended up being elevated to the Upper House. It also has something to say on a certain recently departed former PM, then a little known Tory backbencher of some 5 years standing.

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The real Downton Abbey

Every fan of ITV’s Downton Abbey will know that is filmed at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, the ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon. The third Earl built the present Castle, but it was his son, the fourth Earl (1831 – 90), who in his second term as a Tory Secretary of State for the Colonies achieved notoriety as the man who, through his policies of the enforced confederation of South Africa, indirectly caused the Boer Wars.

Earl of Carnarvon ('Twitters')

Carnarvon was clearly not a man to be trifled with. In January 1864 he had a number of fliers printed and circulated to his neighbours, informing them that 'the want of definite regulations for  admission to or through' his park had obliged him to revise the 'rules'. One of those who received a flier* was the Rector of Highclere, Philip Menzies Sankey, a graduate of Oxford who claimed among his friends, the influential proto-aesthete, Walter Pater. Presumably Rev. Sankey had been obliged to traverse the park in order to get to his church and so a copy of the new 'rules' that governed access would have been useful. Unfortunately, Sankey’s copy of the amended rules, together with his pass-card, which were originally included with the flier, are now missing, which means that we don’t know what these new rules were. However,  I’m sure that 'Twitters', Carnarvon’s nickname on account of his various nervous tics, was scrupulously fair to his neighbours.

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