Atlay, James (DNB01)

ATLAY, JAMES (1817–1894), bishop of Hereford, was the second son of the Rev. Henry Atlay by his wife, Elizabeth Rayner Hovell. Born on 3 July 1817 at Wakerly in Northamptonshire, he was educated at Grantham and Oakham schools, and entered St. John's College, Cambridge, as a foundation scholar in 1836. He was elected to a Bell university scholarship in 1837, and graduated B.A. in 1840 as a senior optime and ninth classic. In 1842 he was elected to a fellowship, and he proceeded M.A. in 1843, B.D. in 1850, and D.D. in 1859. After being ordained deacon in 1842 and priest in the following year, he held from 1843 to 1846 the curacy of Warsop in Nottinghamshire, and from 1847 to 1852 the vicarage of Madingley near Cambridge. In 1856 he was appointed Whitehall preacher, and in 1858 and the following year was one of the select preachers before the university; but it was by his work and influence as tutor of St. John's from 1846 to 1859 that he made a mark among his contemporaries which spread far beyond the walls of his own college.

In 1859 the trustees of the advowson of Leeds elected Atlay as vicar in succession to Walter Farquhar Hook [q. v.] The outgoing incumbent had raised Leeds to the position which it still occupies as the most important parochial cure in the north of England, and Atlay carried on the work of his predecessor with conspicuous success. His businesslike qualities won him the respect of a great mercantile community, and his sincerity and earnestness of character proved irresistible to churchmen and nonconformists alike. He initiated a great scheme of church extension, and his organising capacity made Leeds the best-worked parish in the kingdom. He was appointed canon-residentiary at Ripon in 1861; in 1867 he refused the bishopric of Calcutta, but in 1868 he accepted the offer made him by Disraeli, the prime minister, of the bishopric of Hereford in succession to Renn Dickson Hampden [q. v.]

Atlay brought to the management of his diocese the same thoroughness which had marked his career at Leeds and Cambridge. Rarely quitting it except to attend the House of Lords or convocation, he lived and died among his own people. He made a point of officiating in every church of a wide though sparsely populated diocese; his great parochial experience rendered him the trusted counsellor and guide of his clergy; his geniality and frankness, united to a fine presence, endeared him to all who were brought near him. Archbishop Benson described him as 'the most beautiful combination of enthusiasm, manliness, and modesty.' A conservative in politics, he exercised in convocation by his strong commonsense and sagacity an influence which was scarcely suspected out of doors, and in 1889 Archbishop Benson selected him as an assessor in the trial of Bishop King of Lincoln for alleged ritual offences. Atlay was a high churchman of the old school, but he enjoyed the respect of all parties in the church, and the peace of his diocese was unbroken during the stormiest ecclesiastical controversies. He died on 24 Dec. 1894, after a long illness, and was buried in 'the ladye arbour' under the walls of his cathedral.

Atlay was married in 1859 to Frances Turner, daughter of Major William Martin of the East India Company's service, by whom he left a numerous family. One of his sons, the Rev. George William Atlay, attached to the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, was murdered by natives on the shores of Lake Nyassa in August 1895; another, Charles Cecil, died in March 1900 of wounds received at Wagon Hill, Ladysmith, while serving in the imperial light horse.

There are two portraits of Atlay: one by E. A. Fellowes Prynne (1882), the other by the Hon. John Collier (1893). The latter was a presentation from the diocese, and there is a replica of it in the palace at Hereford. There is also a fine recumbent effigy in Carrara marble in the north transept of Hereford cathedral, erected by public subscription.

[Times, 25 Dec. 1894; Leeds Mercury, 25 Dec. 1894; Chronicle of Canterbury Convocation, February 1895; personal information.]

J. B. A.