Fraser, James (1818-1885) (DNB00)

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FRASER, JAMES (1818–1885), bishop of Manchester, eldest son of James Fraser, of a branch of the family of Fraser of Durris, a retired India merchant, by his wife Helen, a daughter of John Willim, solicitor, of Bilston, Staffordshire, was born 18 Aug. 1818 at Prestbury, Gloucestershire. His father lost money in ironstone mines in the Forest of Dean, and dying in 1832 left his widow and seven children poorly provided for. Fraser's early years were chiefly spent at his maternal grandfather's at Bilston, but when his father removed to Heavitree, Exeter, he was put to school there. In 1832 he was placed under Dr. Rowley at Bridgnorth school, Staffordshire, and in 1834 removed to Shrewsbury school, where, first under Dr. Butler and then under Dr. Kennedy, he remained till 1836. Though entered at Balliol, and an unsuccessful competitor for scholarships at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, he was elected a scholar of Lincoln College and matriculated 16 March 1836, and went into residence in January 1837. He was a strong athlete, and had a passion for horses; but his poverty compelled him to deny himself the gratification of such tastes. As an undergraduate he lived a very recluse life, and no doubt acquired then his remarkable self-mastery. In 1837 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Hertford scholarship, but in 1838 he all but won, and in 1839 did win, the Ireland scholarship. In November 1839 he took a first class in final honour schools, graduated B.A. 6 Feb. 1840, and was elected a fellow of Oriel. At this time he impressed his friends as shy and immature. At the end of his year of probation at Oriel he became reader of sermon notes, and tutor from 1842 to 1847; he graduated M.A. on 18 May 1842, and in January 1844 became subdean and librarian. Though in no respect a great tutor, his sympathies gave him unusual popularity among the undergraduates. On 18 Dec. 1846 he took deacon's orders, and, having indulged himself with a last fortnight's hard hunting in Leicestershire, forswore that pleasure for the rest of his life. He took some parochial work in Oxford, entered priest's orders Trinity Sunday 1847, and in July accepted the college living of Cholderton, Wiltshire, which on this occasion was made tenable with a fellowship. Till 1856 he took pupils, and for twenty years occasionally was examiner at Oxford and elsewhere. In 1858 he examined for the Ireland, and in 1866 for the Craven scholarship at Oxford. On 12 Dec. 1851 he preached his first sermon as select preacher at Oxford, and was select preacher subsequently in 1861, 1871, 1877, and, though he did not preach any sermon, in 1885. In 1854 he became examining chaplain and subsequently in 1858 chancellor to Dr. Hamilton, bishop of Salisbury. Several of his sermons at Salisbury were published. On Bishop Hamilton's recommendation he was appointed assistant commissioner to the Royal Commission on Education in 1858 for a district of thirteen poor law unions in Dorsetshire, Devonshire, Somersetshire, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire. His report, made May 1859 and published in 1861, is, according to Mr. Thomas Hughes, ‘a superb, I had almost said a unique, piece of work.’ In 1860 he resigned his fellowship, on accepting the rectory of Ufton Nervet, Berkshire. In this parish, where he accomplished many parochial improvements, he developed his great capacity for business and for leadership. In March 1865 he was appointed a commissioner to report on education in the United States and America, and was in Canada and the United States from May till October. His report, made in 1866, stamped him as a man who was destined for ecclesiastical promotion, and in that year Lord Cranborne made him the offer of the bishopric of Calcutta, which he declined. In 1867 he prepared for the Commission on the Employment of Children in Agriculture, on the recommendation of the home secretary, a masterly report on the south-eastern district, comprising Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Sussex, and Gloucestershire. In June 1869 he preached before the queen, and on 18 Jan. 1870, expressly on the ground of his authority on educational questions, he received the offer of the bishopric of Manchester, and accepting it was consecrated on 25 March.

His new sphere was the most difficult of its kind in the kingdom. It was almost a new diocese. Its late bishop, Dr. Prince Lee, had lived a retired and a comparatively inactive life. It was a huge industrial community, with little interest in ecclesiastical affairs. Nonconformists of all denominations were numerous, and the district was in the crisis of the education question. To a new bishop the nonconformists' attitude was critical, and on the part of many hostile. The machinery of diocesan organisation was defective, and little was being done for church extension. Fifteen years afterwards Fraser died universally lamented. During his episcopate ninety-nine new churches, containing fifty-seven thousand sittings, nearly all free, and costing 685,000l., were consecrated, twenty churches were rebuilt at a cost of 214,000l., a hundred and nine new district parishes were created, and the whole fabric of diocesan machinery—conferences, board of education, and building society—had been created and was in perfect working order. The labour which his mere episcopal duties involved was prodigious; for the number of persons he confirmed was counted by scores of thousands. But in addition to this he threw himself into almost every social movement of the day. He was to be seen going about the streets on foot, his robe-bag in his hand; he addressed meetings several times a day; he spoke to workmen in mills, and to actors in theatres; he was diligent in attending his diocesan registry; he was a member of the governing bodies of Manchester and Shrewsbury grammar schools and of the Owens College, visitor of the high school for girls and of the commercial school, and president of the College for Women. ‘Omnipresence,’ said his foes, ‘was his forte, and omniscience his foible.’ Not being a born orator, or even a very good one, and speaking constantly on all topics without time for preparation, it is true that he said some rash things and many trite ones, and laid himself open to frequent attack; but his absolute frankness and fearlessness of speech won the heart of his people, and his strong good sense and honesty commanded their respect. He earned for himself the name of ‘bishop of all denominations.’ In 1874 he was chosen umpire between the masters and men in the Manchester and Salford painting trade, and his award, made 27 March, secured peace for the trade for two years. He was again umpire in March 1876, and in 1878, during the great north-east Lancashire cotton strike, the men offered to refer the dispute to him, but the masters refused. He always protested against the unwisdom of strikes and lockouts, and sought to make peace between the disputants. Outside the co-operative body he was the first to draw attention to that movement, having described the Assington Agricultural Association in his report on agriculture in 1867. When the co-operative congress was held in Manchester in 1878, he presided on the second day, and appeared in 1885 at that held at Derby.

He never was a professed theologian, but his views were on the whole of the old high church school. He had little sympathy with the tractarian high churchmen, and in all matters of practice he was extremely liberal, and more disposed to take a legal than an ecclesiastical view of such matters. His first appearance in convocation was to second Dean Howson's motion in favour of the disuse of the Athanasian Creed; his first speech in the House of Lords was on 8 May 1871, in support of the abolition of university tests; and he said characteristically to his diocesan conference, in 1875: ‘If the law requires me to wear a cope, though I don't like the notion of making a guy of myself, I will wear one.’ Yet he was fated to appear as a religious persecutor, to his own infinite distress. When first he went to Manchester the extreme protestant party looked to him for assistance in suppressing ritualism in the diocese. For some time he succeeded in pacifying them, and it was not until after the Public Worship Regulation Act was passed, of the policy of which he approved, that strife began. In 1878 complaint was made to him of the ritual practice of the Rev. S. F. Green, incumbent of Miles Platting. The first complaint the bishop was able to disregard, as wanting in bona fides; but in December the Church Association took up the case and made a formal presentation to him, and after some persuasion had been tried to induce Mr. Green to alter the matters complained of, the bishop felt obliged to allow the suit to proceed, upon a refusal to discontinue the use of the mixed chalice. The case was tried by Lord Penzance in June 1879, and was decided adversely to Mr. Green, who was eventually, in 1881, committed to Lancaster gaol for contempt of court. It was upon the motion of the bishop that he was at last released. The living meantime had become vacant, and the patron, Sir Percival Heywood, would present no one but Mr. Green's former curate, the Rev. Mr. Cowgill, whom the bishop had already refused to license. Mr. Cowgill declining to undertake not to continue Mr. Green's ritual, the bishop in December 1882 refused to institute him. The patron thereupon commenced an action against him for this refusal, which was eventually tried by Baron Pollock on 10 and 11 Dec. 1883, and judgment was given for the defendant. The bishop then presented to the living, and the contest closed.

On 24 April 1880 his mother, who had hitherto lived with him, died. Three months before he had married Agnes (to whom he had become engaged in 1878), daughter of John Shute Duncan of Bath, sometime fellow of New College, Oxford. In September 1885 he suffered from congestion of the veins of the neck, caused by a chill. He was obliged to curtail his work, and was thinking of resigning his bishopric when, on 22 Oct., he died rather suddenly. He was buried at Ufton Nervet on 27 Oct. Nonconformists of all denominations, with the Jewish and Greek congregations of Manchester, sent flowers to his funeral. On the same day a memorial service was held in Manchester, which was attended by prodigious crowds. Many places of business were closed; transactions on 'Change were for a time suspended; and a procession of magistrates, mayors, and members of parliament from all parts of Lancashire marched from the town hall to the cathedral. His charities were many. Though then a poor man, he expended on his parish of Cholderton 600l., and on Ufton Nervet 2,000l.; while the strict accounts which he kept showed benefactions to his diocese to the extent of 30,000l. Yet, thanks to his habitual thrift and sound sense, he left over 70,000l. Except his reports to parliamentary commissions, and a few sermons and addresses, he published nothing. In 1888 his sermons (2 vols.) were edited by J. W. Diggle (afterwards bishop of Carlisle). His portrait was painted in 1880 by Sir J. E. Millais. There is a full-length figure of him in the Fraser chapel of Manchester Cathedral, with an inscription by Dr. Vaughan, and a statue in Albert Square, Manchester.

[Life (1887) by Thomas Hughes, Q.C. (to whom all Fraser's letters, &c., were committed by his family); The Lancashire Life of Bishop Fraser, 1889, by J. W. Diggle (bishop of Carlisle); Manchester Guardian, 23–9 Oct. 1885; London Guardian, 28 Oct. 1885.]

J. A. H.