Rogers, William (1819-1896) (DNB00)

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ROGERS, WILLIAM (1819–1896), educational reformer, born in Bloomsbury on 24 Nov. 1819, was the son of William Lorance Rogers (d. 1838), a barrister of Lincoln's Inn and a London police magistrate, by Georgiana Louisa, daughter of George Daniell, Q.C. His father, who owed his appointment as magistrate to Sir Thomas Plumer [q. v.], was the second son of Captain John Rogers, by Eleanor, a niece of Sir Horace Mann [q. v.], and was a direct descendant of Captain Thomas Rogers, who distinguished himself by repelling the assault of a Biscay privateer upon a transport ship under his command in 1704 (London Gazette, 8 Feb. s.a.)

William was sent to Eton in September 1830, and was four years under the sway of Dr. Keate (Reminiscences, pp. 8–15). From Eton he went to Oxford, matriculating from Balliol College on 8 March 1837, and graduating B.A. in 1842 and M.A. in 1844. While at Oxford he obtained no academical distinction, but became well known on the river. He had in May 1837 rowed in the Eton boat against Westminster. He took an active part in founding the Oxford University Boat Club, and rowed number four in the fourth contest between Oxford and Cambridge in 1840. On leaving Oxford he went with his mother and sisters on an interesting tour abroad, staying mainly in Florence, and on his return entered the university of Durham (October 1842) for theological training. Though he had often said that nothing would induce him to become a London clergyman, he was ordained to his first curacy—at Fulham—on Trinity Sunday 1843. Rogers, by his independence, soon displeased his vicar, who, in the summer of 1845, induced Bishop Blomfield to appoint him to the perpetual curacy of St. Thomas's, Charterhouse, a parish containing ten thousand people, with an income of 150l. In this district, which he denominated ‘Costermongria,’ Rogers remained for eighteen years, and devoted himself earnestly to the work of ameliorating the social condition of his parishioners by means of education. At Balliol he had formed intimacies with many who subsequently rose to high places in church and state, including Lord Coleridge, Stafford Northcote, Lord Hobhouse, Dean Stanley, Jowett, Archbishop Temple, and many others, and he ‘eternally dunned’ his friends, as he admits, for his great educational work, but never for his own advancement. Within two months of his arrival he opened a school for ragamuffins in a blacksmith's shed. In January 1847 he opened a large school building, erected at a cost of 1,750l., ‘which,’ he says, ‘I soon put together.’ In five years' time he was educating eight hundred parish children at the new school, but was determined to extend his operations. He was encouraged by the sympathy of the Marquis of Lansdowne, president of the council, who in 1852 laid the foundation of new buildings in Goswell Street, completed in the following year at a cost of 5,500l. Rogers had obtained 800l. from the council of education; the remainder he raised by his private exertions. But before the debt was extinguished he had projected another new school in Golden Lane, and contrived to extract nearly 6,000l. from the government for the purpose. This was opened by the prince consort on 19 March 1857. Before he left St. Thomas's, Charterhouse, the whole parish was a network of schools (cf. Reminiscences and the official reports on the schools published by Rogers successively in 1851, 1854, 1856, and 1857).

In June 1858 he was appointed by Lord Derby a member of the royal commission to inquire into popular education. The commission recommended the extension of the state grant on the basis of school attendance, and the formation of county and borough boards of education. Upon the passing of Forster's Act, for which the commission had somewhat cautiously prepared the way, Rogers was in 1870 returned at the head of the poll as a representative of the London school board. Meanwhile, in 1857, he had been appointed chaplain in ordinary to the queen, and in 1862 Bishop Tait, formerly his tutor at Balliol, gave him a prebendal stall at St. Paul's, but ‘with no provender attached to it.’ In the following year, however, Tait presented him to the rectory of St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate, of which Rogers took possession, as sixty-third rector, in June 1863. There he devoted himself largely to the foundation of middle-class schools. His advocacy of secular education in these schools, and the relegation of doctrinal training to parents and clergy, earned him the sobriquet of ‘hang theology’ Rogers, and much bitter opposition from the religious newspapers. But the work went on, and the Cowper Street middle-class schools were built at a cost of 20,000l. His next important work was the reconstruction of Alleyn's great charity at Dulwich, of which he was appointed a governor in 1857. The sale of a portion of the estate to the London and Chatham and London, Brighton, and South Coast railways for 100,000l. enabled the board, which was greatly under Rogers's guidance, to satisfy his aspirations, and on 21 June 1871 the new school was opened by the Prince of Wales. At the same time, in Bishopsgate, Rogers was active in the restoration of the church of St. Botolph, and at all times, both in his own and adjoining parishes, the erection of baths and wash-houses and drinking fountains, the extension of playgrounds, and the provision of cheap meals, industrial exhibitions, picture galleries, and free libraries had his heartiest support. His labours in his own parish culminated in the opening of the Bishopsgate Institute (which combined many of these aids to civilisation) upon 24 Nov. 1894. Upon the same day (his seventy-fifth birthday) a presentation of his portrait, by Arthur S. Cope, and of a gift of plate was made to him at the Mansion House, in the presence of the prime minister (Lord Rosebery), the lord chancellor, the lord chief justice, the lord mayor, and many other distinguished friends. He died at his house in Devonshire Square on Sunday, 19 Jan. 1896, and was buried at Mickleham, Surrey, on 23 Jan. His sister Georgiana, the companion of his ministerial life, died at Mickleham on 24 May 1896, aged 75.

A man of great social gifts, of broad views, and irrepressible humour, Rogers, like his lifelong friend Jowett, dispensed a large hospitality. Many persons were ready to detect the inconsistency between his indifference to church doctrine and his position as a beneficiary of the national church. But his geniality overcame those of his opponents with whom he came into personal contact (‘He may be an atheist,’ said one, ‘but he is a gentleman’), while the great results he achieved disarmed the hostility of the remainder.

[The outlines of Rogers's life are graphically sketched in his Reminiscences, with portrait, London, 1888, 8vo, compiled by the Rev. R. H. Hadden, formerly curate at St. Botolph's. See also Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1888; Times, 24 and 27 Jan. 1896, and 26 May 1896; Guardian, 27 Jan. 1896; Spectator, 29 Jan. 1896; Illustrated London News (with portrait), 25 Jan. 1896.]

T. S.