Oakley, John (DNB00)

OAKLEY, JOHN (1834–1890), dean of Manchester, son of John Oakley, estate and land agent, of Blackheath, Kent, was born at Frindsbury, near Rochester, Kent, on 28 Oct. 1834, and educated first at Rochester Cathedral school, and afterwards at Hereford grammar school. At Hereford he won a Somerset scholarship, and, going to Oxford in 1852, entered Brasenose College. He had obtained an exhibition tenable at that college from Rochester Cathedral school. He was president of the Oxford Union in 1856. His father intended him for a civil engineer, and for some short time he worked in an engineer's office at Chatham; but his own leanings were strongly towards the church. In 1857 he graduated B.A., and in the following year was ordained deacon, his first curacy being at St. Luke's, Berwick Street, Soho, London, under the Rev. Harry Jones. He took priest's orders and proceeded M.A. in 1859. He was afterwards curate at St. James's, Piccadilly, and acted with great zeal as secretary to the London diocesan board of education, and as a promoter of the lay helpers' association. In 1867 he was appointed vicar of St. Saviour's, Hoxton, which post he held until 1881. For over twenty years he was one of the most zealous and active of the clergy of the metropolis. He was a decided high churchman, but his ritual gave little offence. In many things he was a disciple of Frederick Denison Maurice [q. v.], of whom he once wrote an interesting estimate in the ‘Manchester Guardian.’ His views in politics and social questions were essentially liberal. His courage was unfailing when he believed that he had a righteous cause, and, though he always valued the good will and sympathy of friends, he was utterly indifferent to the scoffs of those who resented his incursions into new paths. With the working man he had genuine sympathy, and he was not a little proud of the compliment of a costermonger who called him ‘the poor bloke's parson.’ He acted as chairman of several important conferences between members of trade unions and others both in London and elsewhere, and some action which he took on behalf of the men in a great gas-workers' strike at Manchester was typically generous. Some of his acts and utterances were deemed indiscreet, and caused distress to his friends; but they are among the incidents of his career which are most honourable to his memory.

In 1865 he was offered the bishopric of Nelson, New Zealand; in 1876 he declined the living of Tewkesbury, and in 1880 that of Ramsgate, which was offered to him by Archbishop Tait. In 1881 he accepted the deanery of Carlisle at the hands of Mr. Gladstone. Before leaving London he received an address and valuable testimonial from a large number of clergy and laity. He remained at Carlisle for only about two years, but the time was long enough for him to make his mark there both inside and outside the cathedral. In November 1883 he was appointed dean of Manchester. It was a time of peculiar local difficulty, on account of vexatious legal disputes between the cathedral chapter and the Manchester rectors, and of the prosecution of the Rev. S. F. Green, whose cause he espoused in opposition to Bishop Fraser. Here, as in London and Carlisle, every movement that promised to elevate the condition of the working classes had his hearty support. In education generally he took great interest; he was a governor of the Victoria University and of the grammar school, as well as one of the Hulme trustees. He constantly attended and read papers at the church congresses, and was a prolific contributor to the press. Among other articles in the ‘Manchester Guardian,’ written under the nom de guerre of ‘Vicesimus,’ was a long memoir of his friend, Henry Nutcombe Oxenham [q. v.], and an admirable series of papers on Dean Burgon's ‘Lives of Twelve Good Men,’ 1888–9. Besides many separate sermons and papers, he published ‘The Christian Aspect and Application of the Decalogue,’ 1865, and ‘The Conscience Clause: its History,’ 1866.

Oakley was of a commanding figure, and his fine countenance impressed all who met him. He was one of the most approachable of men.

He died, after a tedious illness, at Deganwy, near Llandudno, North Wales, on 10 June 1890, and was buried at Chiselhurst, Kent. A stained glass window was erected by public subscription to his memory in the south aisle of Manchester Cathedral. He married, on 21 Jan. 1861, Clara, daughter of Joseph Phelps, of the island of Madeira and had a large family.

[Guardian, 18 June 1890, p. 973; Manchester Guardian, 14 Nov. 1883, 11 and 16 June 1890; Health Journal (Manchester), June 1887, with portrait; London Figaro, 24 Nov. 1883; information supplied by Mr. F. P. Oakley of Manchester.]

C. W. S.