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Kensit, John (DNB12)

KENSIT, JOHN (1853–1902), protestant agitator, born in the City of London on 12 Feb. 1853, was only son of John Kensit by his wife Elizabeth Anne. Educated at Bishopsgate ward schools, he became, in 1868, a choir-boy at the church of St Lawrence Jewry, under Benjamin Morgan Cowie [q. v.], afterwards dean of Exeter. He subsequently entered the warehouse of Messrs. J. and R. Morley as draper's assistant, but found the work uncongenial. About 1871 he opened a small stationer's shop in East Road, Hoxton, and soon extended his business by becoming a sub-postmaster. From an early age he was interested in the cause of militant protestantism, and actively engaged in agitation against what he deemed romanising tendencies in the Anglican church. In 1885 he started the City protestant book depot in Paternoster Row. The bookshop rapidly expanded into a publishing house. Profits were derived not only from evangelical sermons and ultra-protestant pamphlets but from strongly anti-sacerdotal publications which exposed regardless of decorum alleged procedure of the confessional, and paraded isolated instances of monastic asceticism as practices generally prevalent in the Church of England. To advance his views he instituted and edited 'The Churchman's Magazine.' In 1890 the Protestant Truth Society was founded, of which Kensit became secretary. Subscriptions flowed in, and the credit of the society was not shaken by the attacks in the press on the failure of the secretary to issue a balance sheet (Truth, 14 Feb. 1895). In 1894 and again in 1897 Kensit was an unsuccessful candidate for the London school board.

The ecclesiastical agitation of 1898, 1899, and 1900, caused by the growth of ritualism, gave Kensit his opportunity. He now organised a band of itinerant young preachers, named 'Wicliffites,' who created disturbances in ritualistic churches throughout the country. In January 1897 he first attained general notoriety by publicly objecting in the church of St. Mary-le-Bow to the confirmation of Mandell Creighton [q. v. Suppl. I] as bishop of London. Early in 1898 he began an organised anti-ritualist campaign in London. Selecting St. Ethelburga's, Bishopsgate, as the object of an attack, he qualified himself by residence as a parishioner, and frequently interrupted the services. On Good Friday 1898 he protested against the adoration of the cross at St Cuthbert's, Philbeach Gardens. He was fined 3l. for brawling in church, but was acquitted on appeal to the Clerkenwell quarter sessions. Bishop Creighton forbade the extreme practices to which Kensit objected, but disregarded his threats of further interference. In the same year at the Bradford church congress Kensit denounced the bishop's weakness.

At the general election of 1900 Kensit unsuccessfully contested Brighton as an independent conservative, and made the district the scene of frequent anti-ritualist disturbances. In 1901 he again achieved prominence in London by his public protests in the church of St. Mary-le-Bow against the elections of bishop Winnington-Ingram to the see of London, and of Charles Gore to that of Worcester. In the autumn of 1902 he and his followers transferred their activities to Liverpool, where their propaganda excited violent outbreaks. After addressing a meeting at Claughton Hall, Birkenhead, Kensit was returning to Liverpool, when a chisel was flung at him and severely wounded him in the left eye-lid. Kensit was removed to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary, and died on 18 Oct. 1902 of double pneumonia, unconnected with the wound. He was buried in Hampstead cemetery. John Mackeever, who was charged with flinging the chisel, was tried for manslaughter and acquitted at the Liverpool assizes on 11 Dec. 1902. A sincere but narrow-minded fanatic, Kensit was unfitted by education and judgment to lead the protestant cause. On 14 Sept. 1878 he married Edith Mary, daughter of Alfred Eves of the Corn Exchange, Mark Lane, who survived him with two daughters and a son, Mr. J. A. Kensit, who carried on his father's propaganda.

[J. O. Wilcox, John Kensit, 1903 (portrait frontispiece); J. Britten, A Prominent Protestant, 1899; The Times, and Liverpool Post, 9 Oct. 1902; Churchman's Magazine, 1892 and 1902; Louise Creighton, Life of Mandell Creighton, 1904, ii. 288 seq.]

G. S. W.