Dolling, Robert William Radclyffe (DNB12)

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DOLLING, ROBERT WILLIAM RADCLYFFE, 'FATHER DOLLING' (1851–1902), divine and social reformer, born on 10 Feb. 1851 in the old rectory, Magheralin, co. Down, was the sixth of nine children and the elder son of Robert Holbeach Dolling, a landlord in co. Down, and at one time high sheriff of Londonderry, by his wife Eliza, third daughter of Josias Du Pre Alexander, M.P., a nephew of James Alexander, first earl of Caledon. Dolling's childhood was spent at Kilrea, co. Derry. After education at a private school, the Grange, Stevenage, Hertfordshire (1861-4), and at Harrow (1864-8), he matriculated in 1868 from Trinity College, Cambridge; but bad health and ophthalmia compelled his withdrawal in the spring of 1869, and he spent the next twelve months in foreign travel, mostly in Italy and Florence. His mother's death in 1870 recalled him to Ireland, where he assisted his father in land agency work. His spare time in Kilrea was devoted to Bible-classes and night schools for young men and clubs for working men, and he similarly occupied himself in Dublin, whither his family soon removed. On his father's death on 28 Sept. 1878, he made London his permanent home; there he became intimate with 'Father' Stanton and Alexander Heriot Mackonochie [q. v.], whom he had met at Cambridge. The two men were then engaged in stubbornly defending the ritualistic services which they were conducting at St. Alban's, Holborn. Through their influence he became in 1879 warden of the south London branch of the St. Martin's Postman's League, and in that capacity did much social and religious work. But 'Brother Bob,' as he was called by the postmen, found more congenial work among the poorest classes in Southwark, and exerted a magnetic influence over not only the respectable but also the disreputable poor. Early in 1882 he entered Salisbury theological college, where his Bohemian temperament revolted against both social and theological convention. Ordained on 23 May 1883, Dolling became curate of Corscombe, Dorset, and then missionary deacon of St. Martin's Mission at Holy Trinity, Stepney. Failing health and difficulties on questions of ritual with Frederick Temple, bishop of London [q. v. Suppl. II], led to Dolling's retirement from Stepney (1 July 1885). After a short stay at St. Leonards-on-Sea, Dolling became in 1885 vicar of the Winchester College Mission of St. Agatha's, Landport, where for ten years he did much to mitigate the evils of slum life, and was in frequent controversy with his diocesan concerning ritual observances. In 1895 the church of St. Agatha was rebuilt through Dolling's exertions. Fresh disagreements in regard to ritual with the newly appointed bishop (Randall Davidson) caused Dolling's resignation of bis living on 8 Dec. 1895. In his enforced leisure he wrote 'Ten Years in a Portsmouth Slum' (1896), which gave a full account of his work and experiences at Landport.

During 1896-7 Dolling stayed in London with his sister at Earl's Court, giving occasional addresses in various parts of England. In May 1897 he went to America, visiting many of the cities there. At Chicago in March 1898 he was offered the deanery of the cathedral by Bishop McLaren; but meanwhile he had accepted the living of St. Saviour's, Poplar, and returned to England in July 1898. At Poplar, as at Landport, he sought to solve the social and municipal problems of the district; the East London water famine of 1898, the evils of overcrowding, and the small-pox epidemic of 1901 roused all his energies and he fiercely denounced those responsible for the scandals.

In March 1901 Dolling's health failed, and after vainly travelling abroad in hope of relief he died unmarried on 15 May 1902 at his sister's house, South Kensington; he was buried at Wo king cemetery. In June 1902 a government annuity was purchased in his memory for his two sisters, Elise and Geraldine, who had helped him in his work, and the Dolling memorial home of rest for the working girls of Poplar and Landport was opened at Worthing under their management in 1903.

Dolling's missionary zeal curiously blended evangelical fervour with advanced ritual. Impatient of ecclesiastical authority, he was an unconventional and emotional preacher who appealed potently to the very poor. A radical in politics, he strongly advocated home rule, church disestablishment, and the labour movement. He had a liking for the theatre, and was a frequent play-goer.

A portrait of Dolling, painted from a photograph after death, is at the Dolling memorial home, Worthing, Sussex.

[The Life of Father Dolling, by Charles E. Osborno, 1903; Father Dolling, a memoir, by Joseph Clayton, with preface by Canon Scott Holland, 1902; Robert Dolling, et blad af den Engelske Statskirkes historic 1 Bet. 19 Aarhundrede, by Richard Thomson, Copenhagen, 1908; The Times, 10, 19, 21, 22 May, 10 June 1902; British Weekly, 22 May 1902 (with engraving of portrait taken in America); Lord Ronald Gower, Old Diaries, 1902.]

W. B. O.