Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Aitken, Robert

AITKEN, ROBERT (1800–1873), popular preacher, was born at Crailing, near Jedburgh, 22 Jan. 1800. Almost before he had attained to manhood he became a school-master in Sunderland, and, whilst living in the village of Whitburn near that town, was ordained as deacon in 1823 by Bishop Van Mildert. He was for some time resident in the Isle of Man, and was married there; but in consequence of some irregularities in preaching, he fell under the displeasure of the Bishop of Chester, and withdrew from the church of England. Although he was never properly received into the Wesleyan ministry, he was permitted to occupy the pulpits of that body, and remained in sympathy with them until the Warren controversy arose. Subsequently he preached at Liverpool and elsewhere in chapels of his own, but finally, on 20 Dec. 1840, took leave of his congregation at Zion Chapel, Waterloo Road, Liverpool, and returned to the church of England. Mr. Aitken officiated from 1842 to 1844 as curate of the little parish of Perranuthnoe, near Marazion, in Cornwall, and then became the first incumbent of the new parish of Pendeen in the same county. In this remote district, on the borders of the Atlantic, there was erected, from his own designs and under his own personal supervision, a fine cruciform church on the model of the ancient cathedral of Iona, the labour being supplied entirely by the people of the neighbourhood, and chiefly in their own leisure hours. He never held any other preferment, but his services were often sought by the incumbents of other churches in large towns, and he was well known throughout England as a preacher of almost unrivalled fervour. A fine presence and a commanding voice, combined with untiring zeal and sympathy for others, concealed his rashness of judgment. His religious creed was taken partly from the teachings of the methodist church, and partly from the views of the tractarians: he wished the one class to undergo the process of ‘conversion,’ the other to be imbued with sacramental beliefs. Whether his opinions were in accord with the principles of the established church or not, was fiercely disputed both before and after his death. His sermons and pamphlets, as well as the replies which they provoked, are described at considerable length in the first and third volumes of the ‘Bibliotheca Cornubiensis.’ Worn out with labour Mr. Aitken died suddenly on the Great Western Railway platform at Paddington 11 July 1873.

[Church Times, 6 Aug. to 24 Sept. 1875: Guardian, 23 July 1873; Parochial Hist, of Cornwall (1868), ii. 294.]

W. P. C.