Spencer, Thomas (1796-1853) (DNB00)

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SPENCER, THOMAS (1796–1853), writer on social subjects, son of Matthew Spencer (1762–1827), was born on 14 Oct. 1796, at Derby, where his father kept a large school. William George Spencer [q. v.] was his brother. For some time he taught at Quorn school, near Derby, and in October 1816 entered St. John's College, Cambridge. He graduated as ninth wrangler in 1820, and, after taking pupils for a term, was ordained deacon. While at Cambridge he fell under the influence of Charles Simeon [q. v.] For eighteen months he acted as curate at Anmer in Norfolk, residing in the house of the village squire, to whose son he was tutor. For a while he held the college living of Stapleford, near Cambridge. He was also a curate in Penzance, and had sole charge of a church at Clifton for a year or two. He was elected to a fellowship of St. John's College in March 1823, which he retained until his marriage in September 1829. In March 1826 Spencer was presented by his college friend Law, afterwards archdeacon of Gloucester, to the perpetual curacy of Hinton Charterhouse, between Bath and Frome. He took pupils, among whom was the Rev. Thomas Mozley [q. v.], whose ‘Reminiscences, chiefly of Towns, Villages, and Schools’ (1885, ii. 174–85) contain anecdotes of Spencer. The population of the parish of Hinton was about 737, and there had been no clergyman and no parsonage since the Reformation. The income was about 80l. Spencer built a house, erected cottages, and established a school, a clothing club, a village library, and field gardens. He fought against intemperance and pauperism; through his efforts the rates were reduced from 700l. to 200l. a year. The labourers learnt habits of thrift and industry instead of depending upon parish pay. Wages increased and outdoor relief gradually diminished. When Hinton was incorporated in the Bath Union, Spencer was elected a guardian, and was the first chairman. His energies were not confined to local claims. He travelled about the country preaching and lecturing, chiefly as a temperance advocate. He was a member of the anti-slavery conference; he said grace at the first as well as at the last banquet of the Anti-Cornlaw League; and he was chairman of the conference of ministers of religion. His pamphlets, which are always practical and written in a plain and lucid style, had an immense circulation; of some, as many as twenty-seven thousand copies were printed. He resigned his curacy in September 1847, removed to London, and devoted himself to the pulpit and platform. In March 1851 he was appointed secretary of the National Temperance Society and editor of the ‘National Temperance Chronicle.’

He died at Notting Hill, London, on 26 Jan. 1853, in his fifty-seventh year, and was buried at Hinton. There is a crayon portrait as a youth by his brother, William George Spencer. A life-sized head (1842) was modelled by his nephew, Mr. Herbert Spencer. He was a ‘decidedly fine-looking man, with a commanding figure, a good voice and a ready utterance’ (Mozley, ii. 176).

Spencer took no share in party politics, but devoted himself with much determination and self-denial to the welfare of the people. He ‘was born before his time. He was a reformer in church and state, and he really anticipated some great movements’ (ib. ii. 177). Thoroughly English, with the qualities and defects of his race, he had an independent mind and great powers of application. A conscientious attention to the appeals of duty and justice was his ruling sentiment. As a churchman he regarded the church as a growth which called for a new reformation from time to time.

Besides an account of ‘The Successful Application of the New Poor Law to the Parish of Hinton Charterhouse’ (1836), and ‘Corn Laws and Pauperism; or the fourfold Pressure of the Poor Laws upon the Ratepayers’ (1840), he published a couple of temperance tracts (1843) and a sermon (1851).

His other pamphlets, which were issued as a series, are: ‘The Pillars of the Church of England,’ 1840; ‘Religion and Politics,’ 1840; ‘Practical Suggestions on Church Reform,’ 1840; ‘Remarks on National Education,’ 1840; ‘Clerical Conformity and Church Property,’ 1840; ‘The Parson's Dream and the Queen's Speech,’ 1841; ‘The Prayer Book opposed to the Corn Laws,’ 1841; ‘The Outcry against the New Poor Law,’ 1841; ‘The New Poor Law: its Evils and their Remedies,’ 1841; ‘Want of Fidelity in Ministers of Religion respecting the New Poor Law,’ 1841; ‘Reasons for a New Poor Law considered,’ 4 parts, 1841; ‘The Reformed Prayer Book of 1842,’ 1842; ‘The Second Reformation: proposals for the Formation of a Church Reformation Society,’ 1842; ‘The People's Rights, and how to get them,’ 1843; ‘Observations on the Diocesan School Return,’ 1843; ‘What David did: a Reply to the Queen's Letter,’ 1843.

[Information kindly supplied by Mr. Herbert Spencer. See also biographical notices in National Temperance Chronicle and Gent. Mag. March 1853, p. 317.]

H. R. T.