Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Jex-Blake, Thomas William

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JEX-BLAKE, THOMAS WILLIAM (1832–1915), schoolmaster and dean of Wells, was born at 2 Cumberland Terrace, Regent's Park, London, 26 January 1832, the eldest surviving son of Thomas Jex-Blake, of Bunwell, Norfolk, and Brighton, proctor of Doctors' Commons, and J.P. for Sussex, and grandson of William Jex-Blake, J.P., of Swanton Abbotts, Norfolk. His mother was Maria Emily, youngest daughter of Thomas Cubitt, J.P., of Honing Hall, Norfolk. He was educated at Rugby, where he was a pupil of Archibald Tait, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, and of Edward Meyrick Goulburn, afterwards dean of Norwich. He matriculated as a scholar of University College, Oxford, in 1851, and obtained a first class in classical moderations (1853) and a first class in literae humaniores (1855). During his undergraduate days at University College, Frederick Charles Plumptre was master of the college, Goldwin Smith and John Conington, fellows. In 1855 Jex-Blake was elected a fellow of Queen's College, and in the following year he was ordained deacon at Oxford, and in 1857 priest at Winchester.

The calling of a public-school master was Jex-Blake's chosen career, and he followed it for thirty-two years. His apprenticeship was served at Marlborough College, where, for one ‘half’, he was sixth-form master under George Edward Lynch Cotton [q.v.], an inspiring head. He married in 1857 Henrietta, second surviving daughter of John Cordery, India merchant, of London. After foreign travel with his wife, Jex-Blake became assistant master (1858–1868, taking the ‘Twenty’) at Rugby under Frederick Temple, his second experience of an inspiring chief. In 1868 he was elected principal of Cheltenham College, a tribute to his reputation, which his services to Cheltenham enhanced.

In 1874 Jex-Blake became head master of Rugby. He took the reins at a dangerous time. His predecessor, Henry Hayman [q.v.], had been unfortunate and unpopular, and internal divisions had dimmed the lustre of the school. By tact and wisdom, and with the help of old friends, Jex-Blake restored it to prosperity, his courteous manners and knowledge of the world being helpful to Rugby in its relations with parents and with the county. He was the first public-school head master in England to appreciate the value of art in a liberal education. Owing to his initiative Rugby had an art museum before any other school in England. That his taste for fine pictures owed much to John Ruskin is gracefully acknowledged in the introduction to his book, A Long Vacation in Continental Picture Galleries (1858). At Rugby Jex-Blake built the Temple reading-room and art museum, a new Big School with class-rooms under it, completed the new quadrangle, started the modern side, gave a swimming-bath in the Close, equipped school workshops under the gymnasium, and enriched the art museum with generous gifts, which he made ‘in the hope that leisure hours would be given by many boys to a delightful form of culture often too little thought of at home and school, and with the conviction that some few boys would draw great enjoyment, lifelong interest, and a new faculty from it’.

Jex-Blake's sermons preached at Cheltenham and Rugby (published under the title Life in Faith, 1876) illustrate the influence of Arnold, Jowett, and Temple on the school pulpit. He was in the school tradition which was derived from Thomas Arnold, cooled by the influence of John Stuart Mill and of Oxford liberalism of the 'fifties, energized a second time by Frederick Temple, and coloured by the culture of Ruskin. To his contemporary, Edward Thring [q.v.], of Uppingham, he stands as a portrait by Millais stands to a portrait by Manet. As a cultivated gentleman he recalled some of the attractive types sketched by Anthony Trollope.

In 1887, fatigued by his scholastic labours, Jex-Blake withdrew from Rugby, though not from his efforts on behalf of its further endowment, to the rectory of Alvechurch, Worcestershire. Four years later (1891) he became dean of Wells. Late in 1910 he resigned the deanery and passed the last years of his life in London, where he died 2 July 1915. He had striking beauty and grace of person, great dignity in address, and a kind disposition. He had two sons and nine daughters; two of the latter held high academic office, Henrietta being principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford (1909–1921), and Katharine mistress of Girton College, Cambridge (1916–1922). His youngest sister, Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake [q.v.], was a brave pioneer in the medical education of women. The best portrait of Jex-Blake, that by Sir J. E. Millais, is in the possession of his son, Dr. A. J. Jex-Blake. There is also a portrait by Hermann Herkomer at Rugby School.

[The Times, 3 July 1915; W. H. D. Rouse, A History of Rugby School, 1898; H. C. Bradby, Rugby, 1900; private information; personal knowledge.]

M. E. S.