Open main menu

DURNFORD, RICHARD (1802–1895), bishop of Chichester, eldest son of the Rev. Richard Durnford and his wife Louisa, daughter of John Mount, was born at Sandleford, near Newbury, Berkshire, on 3 Nov. 1802. His childhood was passed at Chilbolton, near Andover, Hampshire, where his father acted as locum tenens for the rector. At the age of eight he was sent to the Rev. E. C. James's preparatory school at Epsom, and three years later was taken home by his father to be under his own instruction, with the view of standing for a scholarship at Winchester. Failing election at that school, he stood for a king's scholarship at Eton, where he was successful in 1814. There he became the pupil of the Rev. Charles Yonge, and a favourite with John Keate [q. v.], the head-master. At this time he showed great facility for Latin verse, two specimens of which are given in ‘Musæ Etonenses,’ and he was a contributor to the ‘Etonian,’ edited by W. M. Praed and Walter Blunt. While yet at Eton he matriculated on 24 March 1820 at Pembroke College, Oxford, and in July 1822 was elected to a demyship at Magdalen College. He was one of the founders of the Oxford Union (at first styled the Union Debating Society), and was president in the first year (1823) and again in 1825 and 1826. He graduated B.A. on 27 April 1826 and M.A. on 28 June 1827. He was elected probationer fellow of Magdalen College in 1827, and full fellow in the following year, and was ordained deacon at Oxford in 1830 and priest in 1831. From 1826 to 1832 he was private tutor to Edward Harbord, eldest son of Lord Suffield, and spent two years in travel on the continent, where he acquired unusual fluency in speaking French, Italian, and German.

In 1833 Durnford was presented to the living of Middleton, Lancashire, by Lord Suffield, but was not inducted until 1 July 1835. His connection with the parish, which continued for thirty-five years, was in every respect a happy one. From the first he obtained a wonderful hold of his flock, and he was successful in carrying out extensive improvements in educational institutions, in church extensions, and with the concurrence and help of his parishioners erected a new national school in 1842, developed the Sunday schools, in which his wife as well as himself was a zealous worker. He also restored the fine old parish church, abolished pew rents therein, and erected new churches at Thornham, Rhodes, and Parkfield. In the secular affairs of Middleton he was looked up to as leader, and he sat as chairman of the local board from its formation in 1861. The diocese of Manchester was formed in 1848, and soon afterwards Durnford was made rural dean and honorary canon. In 1867 he was appointed archdeacon of Manchester, and in 1868 canon residentiary of Manchester Cathedral.

When James Prince Lee [q. v.], bishop of Manchester, died in December 1869, Durnford's claims to be his successor were discussed by Gladstone, who, however, selected James Fraser (1818–1885) [q. v.] Two months later, February 1870, the see of Chichester became vacant, and it was offered to and accepted by Durnford. The consecration took place at the Chapel Royal, Whitehall, on 8 May 1870. He had then reached the age of sixty-eight, but he soon proved himself in body and intellect fully equal to his new duties. His episcopate began at a time of particular difficulty, in consequence, among other things, of the judgment on appeal in the Purchas case [see Purchas, John]; but he steered clear through all dangers, and by his impartiality, patience, sympathy, and forbearance won confidence throughout his diocese. These qualities were clearly shown in his visitation charges of 1871 and 1875, and by the manner in which he conducted the Church Congress at Brighton in 1874, and his first diocesan conference in 1877. He was a high churchman, but no ritualist. He had formed his opinions before the Oxford movement had begun, and was ‘convinced that such theologians as Hooker, Andrewes, Barrow… are the best guides even in these days.’ In the early days of his episcopate he resuscitated Bishop Otter's memorial college at Chichester as a training college for schoolmistresses, and revived the theological college in the same city. He also reorganised the Diocesan Association. He was an important member of the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 1888, and, in conjunction with Bishops Lightfoot and Stubbs, framed the encyclical letter which was issued by the bishops embodying the principal conclusions of their debates. In 1888 he was elected an honorary fellow of Magdalen College, and in 1890 his portrait, painted by Mr. Ouless, R.A., was subscribed for in his diocese. On 3 Nov. 1892, on the completion of his ninetieth year, he was presented with a Latin address by the dean and chapter of Chichester. In the following year he took part in a debate in convocation on the subject of fasting communion, condemning the extreme length to which the practice was carried by some of his clergy.

He was a delightful and lovable companion, full of life and vivacity to the end, a brilliant scholar, with a rare knowledge of botany and horticulture, and of natural history generally. Bishop Stubbs said: ‘He was, I almost think, the most wonderfully complete person I ever knew, and the same to the last.’

Durnford died at Basle on 14 Oct. 1895, as he was returning from a holiday spent at Caddenabbia, on Lake Como. He was buried at Chichester Cathedral, where an alabaster recumbent effigy to his memory was unveiled on 23 May 1898. In the chapel of Eton College he is commemorated by a brass, with a Latin inscription by his son Walter, one of the assistant masters. Portraits of Durnford are given in Stephens's ‘Memoir.’ He married in 1840 Emma, daughter of John Keate [q. v.], his former master at Eton. She died on 10 Oct. 1884, leaving a daughter and two sons.

His published writings are confined to three episcopal visitation charges and a few sermons, one of which was preached on the death of Dean W. F. Hook in 1875.

[Stephens's Memoir of Durnford, 1899 (with portrait), the first two chapters of which were written by Richard and Walter Durnford; Manchester Guardian, 15 Oct. 1895; Guardian, 1895, pp. 1551, 1654; Bloxam's Magdalen Coll. Reg. vii. 287; Macleane's Pembroke Coll. (Oxford Hist. Soc.) p. 479; Illustrated London News, 14 May 1870 and 19 Oct. 1895 (with portrait); Men of Mark, vol. ii. 1877 (with portrait).]

C. W. S.