Chambers, John Charles (DNB00)

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CHAMBERS, JOHN CHARLES (1817–1874), warden of ‘the House of Charity,’ London, was born at the Tything, Worcester, on 23 Nov. 1817. When not quite seven years old he was sent to the grammar school at Norwich, to which place his parents had removed; he was the last head-boy who, according to ancient custom, made a Latin speech from the top step of the school to the mayor and aldermen, and who was taken in the mayor's coach to the Guild dinner. After reading for a year or two with a tutor, Chambers entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he gained distinction in Hebrew and classical studies, and took his degree of B.A. in 1840, and of M.A. in 1843. While still an undergraduate he founded the first Sunday schools in Cambridge. In 1842 he was ordained deacon, and became curate of Sedbergh, Yorkshire, where he helped to build a district church. He was ordained priest in 1846, and about this time proceeded to Perth and founded the work of the church there. When, in 1855, the statutes and appointments of St. Ninian's Cathedral, of which he was the founder, had been settled, he retired from Perth and became vicar of St. Mary Magdalene's at Harlow. This vicarage he exchanged in 1856 for a London living, the perpetual curacy of St. Mary's, Crown Street, Soho, a benefice which he held until his death, together with the wardenship of the House of Charity, Soho, to which he was appointed in November 1856. Here, in the Soho district, Chambers spent many years of earnest labour and useful organisation. His religious views were those of the ‘ritualist’ school. On coming to Crown Street, Chambers found the church of St. Mary attended only by a scanty congregation, and the parish provided with an insignificant day-school. The benefice was worth 70l. per annum, but by his exertions it was raised to 300l., and became a vicarage. Under his auspices new schools were built in place of hired rooms, and the number of children under efficient instruction was raised to nearly one thousand. A large clergy house was established, and the church was practically rebuilt. Chambers got together a large staff of volunteer workers to help in the ragged schools and elsewhere, and his was the first parish in which church guilds and dinners for sick children and invalids were set on foot. The House of Charity, founded in 1846, originally occupied a hired house in Rose Street, Soho, but in 1863, under Chambers's wardenship, the institution acquired, at a cost of upwards of 3,000l., and fitted up, the freehold premises in Soho Square and Greek Street which it now occupies, and where formerly Alderman Beckford resided. Chambers was instrumental in building the beautiful chapel attached to the House of Charity. He died in London on 21 May 1874.

Chambers contributed to various papers and serials, and published, among other writings, ‘Sermons preached in Perth and in other parts of Scotland,’ London, 1857, 8vo; ‘The Union of the Natural and Supernatural Substances in the Holy Eucharist,’ a sermon, corrected and enlarged, with notes and appendix, London, 1863, 16mo; ‘Reformation, not Deformation’ (lectures in defence of church principles, &c.), 1864, 8vo; ‘The English Reformation’ (a lecture), London, 1871, 8vo; and ‘The Destruction of Sin, being Thirteen Addresses delivered … in Advent, 1872’ [edited by J. J. E(lkington)], London (1874), 8vo.

[Information mainly derived from the Rev. J. J. Elkington, his friend and fellow-worker, and now chaplain to the House of Charity; and from his sister, Miss Chambers.]

W. W.