Fowle, Thomas Welbank (DNB12)

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FOWLE, THOMAS WELBANK (1835–1903), theologian and writer on the poor law, born at Northallerton, Yorkshire, on 29 Aug. 1835, was son of Thomas Fowle, solicitor, and of Mary Welbank, both of Northallerton. After education at Durham school (1848–53) and at Charterhouse, he entered Exeter College, Oxford, in 1854; after a term's stay there he gained an open scholarship at Oriel College, graduating B.A. in 1858 (M.A. 1861). As an undergraduate he took an active part in the debates at the Union, and was president in 1858. His intimate associates included Thomas Hill Green [q. v.] and Prof. Albert Venn Dicey, and his sympathies, like theirs, were democratic. After rejecting thought of the bar, he took holy orders in 1859, becoming curate of Staines in Middlesex. In 1863 he was appointed vicar of Holy Trinity, Hoxton. Under his influence new schools were built, which, managed by a committee of churchmen and non-conformists, were the first to be governed under a conscience clause. Here in a poor and populous parish his advanced political ideas gathered strength, and he studied closely economic conditions. In 1868 he became vicar of St. Luke's, Nutford Place, and in the same year he reached a wider public through an essay on 'The Church and the Working Classes' in 'Essays on Church Politics,' to which Profs. Seeley and Westlake also contributed. In 1875 he was presented to the rectory of Islip, and there he gave practical effect to his theoiies on social questions. He instituted and successfully managed an allotment system for agricultural labourers, and as a poor-law guardian helped to reduce out-door relief, to which he was strongly opposed.

Meanwhile Fowle's pen was actively devoted to both theology and social economy. An active-minded broad churchman, he endeavoured to reconcile new scientific discoveries with old religious beliefs in three articles on Evolution in the 'Nineteenth Century' (July 1878, March 1879, Sept. 1881), as well as in a pithy and suggestive volume called the 'New Analogy,' which he published in 1881 under the pseudonym of 'Cellarius.'

To social economy his most important contributions were an article in the 'Fortnightly Review' for June 1880 advocating the abolition of out-door relief and a concise manual on 'The Poor Law' in the 'English Citizen' series (1881; 2nd edit. 1890), a work which took standard rank at home and abroad.

Fowle actively supported the extension of the franchise to the agricultural labourer in 1884, but he declined to accept home rule in 1886 and for the next ten years was prominent among the liberal unionists. His authority on social questions was undiminished. To his advocacy was largely due the creation of parish and district councils under the local government act of 1894. In 1892 he urged the prudence of old-age pensions in a pamphlet called 'The Poor Law, the Friendly Societies, and Old Age Destitution—a Proposed Solution' (new edit. 1895).

The sudden death of Fowle's only son by his second wife in 1895 broke his health, and he was compelled by illness in 1901 to retire from Islip to Oxford, where he died on 14 Jan. 1903. He was buried at Islip by the side of his son.

Fowle was twice married: (1) in 1861, to Sarah Susannah (d. 1874), daughter of Richard Atkinson, medical practitioner at Richmond, Yorkshire, by whom he had seven daughters; (2) in 1876, to Mabel Jane, daughter of Jacob Isaacs, a West Indian merchant; she survived him with a daughter.

Fowle, by virtue of his liberal culture, his thorough knowledge of social conditions, especially in rural districts, and his persuasive eloquence, influenced public opinion alike among political leaders and the working classes. His published works, besides magazine articles, reviews, and books already mentioned, were:

  1. 'Types of Christ in Nature: Sermons preached at Staines,' 1864.
  2. 'The Reconciliation of Religion and Science,' 1873.
  3. 'An Essay on the Right Translation of αἰών and αἰώνιος, regarded as exhibiting the Silence of the New Testament as to the Conditions of the Future Life,' 1877.
  4. 'The Divine Legation of Christ,' 1879.

An enlarged photograph is in the debating hall of the Union Society, Oxford.

[Memoir by Prof. J. Cook Wilson, Oxford, 1903; Oxford Mag. 28 Jan. 1903; St. Luke's, Nutford Place, Parish Mag. Feb. 1903; Charity Organisation Rev. Sept. 1892; private information.]

W. B. O.