Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bickersteth, Robert

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1307958Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 05 — Bickersteth, Robert1886William Hunt

BICKERSTETH, ROBERT (1816–1884), bishop of Ripon, the fourth son of the Rev. John Bickersteth, rector of Sapcote, Leicestershire, and Henrietta, daughter of Mr. G. Lang, was born at Acton, Suffolk. His father was brother of Edward Bickersteth [q. v.] After some medical training, he entered Queens' College, Cambridge, and graduated as a junior optime in 1841. He was ordained the same year to the curacy of Sapcote, where he remained until 1843. The next year he was appointed curate of St. Giles's, Reading, and the year after of Holy Trinity, Clapham. In 1845 he was appointed to the incumbency of St. John's, Clapham, which he held for six years. During this period he attained considerable popularity as an evangelical preacher. In 1846 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. J. Garde of Cork. On the death of his uncle, the Rev. Edward Bickersteth of Watton [q. v.], in 1850, he took up his work as an hon. secretary of the Irish Church Missions. He left Clapham for the living of St. Giles's-in-the-Fields, where he had a large congregation. In 1854 he was appointed canon residentiary and treasurer of the cathedral church of Salisbury. On the translation of Bishop Longley to the see of Durham in 1856 Bickersteth succeeded to the bishopric of Ripon, and was consecrated 18 June 1857. The bishop was a liberal in politics. He occasionally took part in the debates in the House of Lords. He opposed the disestablishment of the Irish church, and on 17 June 1869 spoke with considerable ability against the bill. He strongly advocated the legalisation of marriage with a deceased wife's sister. As long as his health allowed he was active in the discharge of his official duties. During his episcopate he consecrated 155 churches. The restoration of his cathedral church was begun in June 1862, and carried out at the cost of 40,000l. He preached constantly in different parts of his diocese, sometimes as often as three times in a single Sunday. Although he was not a total abstainer, he was zealous in promoting temperance. He was regarded as one of the leaders of the evangelical school, and was strongly opposed to the introduction of any ceremonies or doctrines not strictly in accord with the opinions of his party. At the same time his long episcopate seems to have been free from all actions at law on matters of ritual. During the last two years of his life he was disabled by sickness from active work, and some newspaper attacks were made on him for not resigning his see. As, however, eminent physicians assured him that he might hope to be restored to health, he did not see fit to resign. He died at his palace at Ripon 15 April 1884, leaving four sons and one daughter. Bishop Bickersteth published his speech on the Irish Church Disestablishment Bill, London, 1869, and several charges, sermons, lectures, tracts, and prefaces to books.

[Record, 18 April 1884; Leeds Mercury, 16 April 1884; Guardian, May 1883; private information.]

W. H.