Girdlestone, Charles (DNB00)

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GIRDLESTONE, CHARLES (1797–1881), biblical commentator, the second son of Samuel Rainbow Girdlestone, a chancery barrister, was born in London in March 1797. His younger brother was Edward [q. v.], canon of Bristol. He was educated partly at Tunbridge School, under Dr. Vicesimus Knox [q. v.], and in 1815 was entered as a commoner at Wadham College, Oxford, where he held two exhibitions, one for Hebrew, the other for botany. In 1818 he graduated B.A., with a first class in classics and a second in mathematics, at the same time as Edward Greswell [q. v.], Josiah Forshall [q. v.], and Richard Bethell (afterwards Lord Westbury), also of Wadham. In the same year he was elected to an open fellowship at Balliol, which had then begun (under Dr. John Parsons, afterwards bishop of Peterborough) to rank with the foremost colleges at Oxford. He was appointed catechetical, logical, and mathematical lecturer in the college. He was ordained deacon in 1820 and priest in 1821, taking his M.A. degree in the same year. About this time he became tutor to the twin sons of Sir John Stanley of Alderley Park; it was this connection which led to his being appointed rector of Alderley some years later. In 1822 he was curate at Hastings (then a small fishing town), and in 1824 at Ferry Hincksey, near Oxford. He was classical examiner for degrees at Oxford in 1825–6, and select preacher to the university in 1825 and 1830. Shortly after his marriage (1826) he was presented by Lord Dudley and Ward, on the recommendation of Dr. Copleston (then provost of Oriel) [q. v.], to the vicarage of Sedgley, a district of about 20,500 inhabitants, forming one parish, in the south of Stafford mining district. Here, with the assistance of his patron, he built several district churches, schools, and parsonages. The place suffered severely from the first invasion of cholera into this country. There were 1,350 cases of cholera and 290 deaths in six weeks in August and September 1832. Immediately after the epidemic was over, Girdlestone published ‘Seven Sermons preached during the prevalence of Cholera,’ with a map of the district, and a preface giving an account of the visitation and of the religious impressions produced by it at the time upon the people. Girdlestone henceforth took a lively interest in all sanitary matters. In 1843–4 he was one of the earliest supporters of the Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrial Classes, and in 1845 he published twelve very useful ‘Letters on the Unhealthy Condition of the Lower Class of Dwellings,’ founded on the official reports recently issued by the poor law commissioners and the health of towns commission. In 1837, when Edward Stanley [q. v.] was appointed bishop of Norwich, Girdlestone accepted the living of Alderley, Cheshire, which the bishop vacated. The offer was made to him through the influence of his former pupil, Edward John Stanley, then under-secretary for foreign affairs. But the advantages of comparative rest at Alderley after his severe work at Sedgley were marred by protracted litigation with the first Lord Stanley (patron of the living) and other landowners of the parish, caused by the Tithes Commutation Act of 1836. The arrangements made under the act were destined to affect not only himself, but also his successors, and Girdlestone felt bound to defend their pecuniary rights. The matter was practically decided in his favour, but the result of the dispute was the complete alienation of the Stanleys at the Park. He passed part of 1845 and 1846 in Italy and elsewhere on the continent in the hope of improving his delicate health. On his return to England he accepted the important rectory of Kingswinford in the Staffordshire mining district, offered him by Lord Ward, afterwards Earl of Dudley, cousin of his former patron. Here Girdlestone had to face the second great cholera epidemic of 1849, when Kingswinford suffered severely. He resigned in 1877; at the time one of his sons was his locum tenens. He had himself for many years resided at Weston-super-Mare in Somersetshire on account of his health, where he died in April 1881, at the age of eighty-four. In 1826 he married Anne Elizabeth, only daughter of Baker Morrell, esq., solicitor to the university of Oxford, who survived him about a year. By her he had one daughter, who died in infancy, and eight sons, of whom seven survived him, the sixth, Robert Baker, being principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, from 1877 to 1889.

Girdlestone was a man of sincere piety, and an energetic and enlivening preacher. Both as a politician and as a churchman he chose in early life the via media, but after middle age he sided with the evangelicals and conservatives, though always an advocate of church reform and reform of convocation, of revision of the prayer-book and also of the authorised version of the Bible. At Oxford, as select preacher, he advocated in a sermon, afterwards published, ‘Affection between Churchmen and Dissenters,’ and in later life he spoke of ‘those noxious errors, Tractarian and Neological.’ His principal work was his commentary on the Bible, which occupied him for several years. The New Testament was first published in 2 vols. 8vo, 1832–5, which was sufficiently well received to induce him to publish the Old Testament in 4 vols., 1842. It is intended for family reading, and is an excellent specimen of an explanatory and practical commentary written in the early period of modern biblical criticism and addressed especially to the moderate evangelical school. In later life he employed himself in thoroughly revising it on more distinctly protestant principles, and a new edition, in 6 vols. large 8vo, was published in 1873. He published also eleven small volumes of sermons and several single ones; these were once very popular. On one occasion Girdlestone heard one of them read from the pulpit by a preacher who was quite unconscious of the author's presence. Among numerous other works may be mentioned:

  1. Two volumes of ‘Devotions for Family Use and for Private Use,’ 1835.
  2. Two volumes of ‘Select Hymns for Public Use and for Private Use,’ 1835.
  3. Twenty-eight numbers of ‘Sedgley Church Tracts,’ 1831–6.
  4. ‘Concordance to the Prayer Book Version of the Psalms,’ 1834.
  5. The Bible version and the prayer-book version of the Psalms, in parallel columns, 1836.
  6. ‘Questions of the Day, by the Creature of an Hour,’ 1857 (anonymous).
  7. ‘Christendom, sketched from History in the Light of Holy Scripture,’ 1870.
  8. ‘Number, a Link between Divine Intelligence and Human,’ 1875.
  9. ‘Thoughts on Dying Daily,’ 1878.
  10. An expurgated edition of ‘Horace with English notes of a Christian tendency, for the Use of Schools,’ in conjunction with the Rev. W. A. Osborne, 1848.

[Personal knowledge and recollections; information from the family; a short memoir, with a photographic portrait, in the Church of England Photographic Portrait Gallery, London.]

W. A. G.