Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Northcote, James Spencer

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NORTHCOTE, JAMES SPENCER (1821–1907), president of Oscott College and archæologist, born at Feniton Court, Devonshire, on 26 May 1821, was second son of George Barons Northcote of Feniton Court and of Somerset Court, Somerset, by his wife Maria, daughter and coheir of Gabriel Stone of South Brent, Somerset. Educated at Ilmington grammar school (1830–7), he matriculated in 1837 as a scholar from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he readily yielded to Newman's influence. Graduating B.A. in 1841 with a first class in the final classical school, and marrying next year, he took holy orders in 1844, and proceeded M.A. Serving as curate in Ilfracombe, he there became intimate with Dr. Pusey, and his doubts of the Anghcan position increased.

In 1845 his wife with three of her sisters joined the Roman communion. Thereupon Northcote resigned his curacy, and he followed their example next year. He was at once appointed master at Prior Park College, Bath, and explained his spiritual perplexities in 'The Fourfold Difficulty of Anglicanism' (Derby, 1846; reprinted 1891; French translation by J. Gordon, 1847). A three years' stay in Italy (1847-50), where Northcote became intimate with G. B. de Rossi, the historian of the catacombs, developed a warm interest in the archaeology of Christian Rome.

The next three years were spent at Clifton, and were devoted mainly to literary work. From June 1852 to September 1854 he acted as editor of the 'Rambler,' to which he had contributed since its foundation by his lifelong friend, John Moore Capes, in January 1848, and he helped to edit the 'Clifton Tracts.' On the death of his wife in 1853 Northcote studied for the priesthood at the Oratory, Birmingham, in 1854 and later at the Collegio Pio, Rome, where he pursued his study of Christian antiquities. Ordained priest on 29 July 1855 at St. Dominic's, Stone, near Stafford, he spent the greater part of 1856 in theological studies in Rome, and on his return to England took charge in 1857 of the mission at Stoke-on-Trent. In 1860 he was made canon of St. Chad's Cathedral Church, canon theologian of the diocese of Birmingham in 1862, and on 2 March 1884 he was installed provost of the cathedral chapter of Birmingham. In January 1861 he received from Pope Pius IX the degree of D.D.

Meanwhile in January 1860 Northcote was appointed vice-president of St. Mary's College, Oscott, becoming president in July following. Through the early years of his presidency Oscott College prospered. Imbued with Oxford culture, and holding wise views of education, he remodelled the studies and the life on the lines of the chief English pubhc schools. A swimming bath was provided in 1867, and a gymnasium erected in 1869; and a cricket ground and pavilion were added. In July 1863 he entertained at Oscott Cardinal Wiseman and Monsignor (afterwards Cardinal)Manning at the twenty-fifth anniversary of the college. But difficulties beset the later period of Northcote's career at Oscott. The competition of the Oratory School, Birmingham (opened in May 1859), two epidemics in 1862 and 1868, and the success of Fitzgerald, a dismissed student, in a lawsmt brought against Northcote in 1865 for technical assault, depressed the fortunes of the college. Northcote retired through ill-health in 1877, and from 1889 the institution was used as an ecclesiastical seminary. Northcote went back on leaving Oscott to his first mission at Stone, removing in 1881 to the mission at Stoke-on-Trent. After 1887 creeping paralysis withdrew him from active work, and he died at the Presbytery, Stoke-on-Trent, on 3 March 1907, being buried at Oscott cemetery, which he had opened in 1863. Northcote married on 10 Dec. 1842 his cousin Susannah Spencer (d. June 1853), daughter of Joseph Ruscombe Poole, solicitor, of Bridgwater, and had issue three sons and three daughters, all of whom predeceased him.

Northcote published much on the early Christian antiquities in Rome. Articles on the Catacombs in the 'Rambler' (Jan. and July 1860) gave rise to much discussion. His 'Roma Sotterranea; or an Account of the Roman Catacombs' (1869; 2nd edit. 1878) (with Bishop William Robert Brownlow) was compiled from G. B. de Rossi's Italian work 'Roma Sotterranea;' it remains the standard work in English on the subject. It was translated into German in 1873 (2nd edit. 1879) and into French. Other works by Northcote on the subject are: 1. 'The Roman Catacombs,' 1857; 2nd edit. 1859. 2. 'A Visit to the Roman Catacombs,' 1877; reprinted 1891. 3. 'Epitaphs of the Catacombs,' 1878. He also published: 4. 'A Pilgrimage to La Salette,' 1852. 5. 'Mary in the Gospels' (sermons and lectures), 1867; 2nd edit. 1885; new revised edit. 1906. 6. 'Celebrated Sanctuaries of the Madonna,' 1868 (articles reprinted from the 'Rambler,' 1850-2). 7. 'Sermons,' 1876. With Charles Meynell he published in 1863 'The "Colenso" Controversy from the Catholic Standpoint.' A portrait in oils, executed by J. R. Herbert, R.A., in 1873, hangs in the breakfast parlour at Oscott College. Northcote is commemorated by the 'Northcote Hall' at Oscott, which he inaugurated in 1866.

[The Times, Birmingham Daily Post, and Tablet, 9 March 1907; funeral sermon by William Barry, D.D., entitled The Lord my Light, 1907; The Oscotian (Northcote number), July 1907; Report of case Fitzgerald V. Northcote, 1866; Catholic Encyclopædia (s.vv. Northcote and Oscott); Cath. Univ. Bulletin, Washington, March-April 1909; Gasquet's Acton and his Circle, pp. xxi and 300-1.]

W. B. O.