Webb, Benjamin (DNB00)


WEBB, BENJAMIN (1819–1885), ecclesiologist and parish priest, eldest son of Benjamin Webb, of the firm of Webb & Sons, wheelwrights, of London, was born at Addle Hill, Doctor's Commons, on 28 Nov. 1819. On 2 Oct. 1828 he was admitted to St. Paul's school under Dr. John Sleath [q. v.], and proceeded with an exhibition to Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1838. He graduated B.A. in 1842, M.A. in 1845. While still an undergraduate he, together with his somewhat older friend, John Mason Neale [q. v.], founded the Cambridge Camden Society, which played an important part in the ecclesiological revival consequent upon the tractarian movement, and of which Webb continued to be secretary, both at Cambridge and afterwards in London (whither it was removed in 1848 under the name of the Ecclesiological Society), from its beginning to its extinction in 1863. With Webb and Neale were associated in this enterprise Webb's intimate and lifelong friend Alexander James Beresford-Hope [q. v.] and Frederick Apthorp Paley [q. v.] The society restored the ‘round church’ at Cambridge, and Webb had the honour of showing the restored edifice to the poet Wordsworth. Webb was early recognised as a leading authority on questions of ecclesiastical art (see Liddon, Life of Pusey i. 476–480). He was ordained deacon in 1842 and priest in 1843, and served as curate first under his college tutor, Archdeacon Thorpe (who had been the first president of the Cambridge Camden Society), at Kemerton in Gloucestershire, and afterwards at Brasted in Kent, under William Hodge Mill [q. v.], who, as regius professor of Hebrew, had countenanced and encouraged his ecclesiological work at Cambridge, and whose daughter he married in 1847. He was also for a while curate to William Dodsworth [q. v.] at Christ Church, St. Pancras, London. In 1851 he was presented by Beresford-Hope to the perpetual curacy of Sheen in Staffordshire, and in 1862 by Lord Palmerston, on the recommendation of Mr. Gladstone, to the crown living of St. Andrew's, Wells Street, London, which he retained till his death. Under him this church obtained a wide celebrity for the musical excellence of its services, and became the centre of an elaborate and efficient system of confraternities, schools, and parochial institutions, in establishing which his powers of practical organisation found a congenial field of exercise. Among these may be especially mentioned his catechetical classes for children and young women of the upper classes, which may be compared with those held by Dupanloup at Paris; and also the day nursery or crèche, said to have been the first of its kind in London. Webb was appointed by Bishop Jackson of London in 1881 to the prebend of Portpool in St. Paul's Cathedral. From 1881 to his death he was editor of the ‘Church Quarterly Review.’ He died at his house in Chandos Street, Cavendish Square, on 27 Nov. 1885, and was buried in the churchyard of Aldenham in Hertfordshire. A fine monument by Armstead has been placed to his memory in the crypt of St. Paul's.

Webb was throughout his life a consistent high-churchman, although his policy in matters of ritual differed from that of many of his party. He refrained from the adoption of the eucharistic vestments, not from any objection on principle, but, as he stated in his evidence before the royal commission of 1867, on grounds of ‘Christian charity, expediency, and prudence.’ On the other hand, he laid great stress on the ‘eastward position,’ and took an important part in the preparation of the very successful ‘Purchas Remonstrance.’ His refined artistic culture, and his deep conviction that the best of everything should be offered in God's service, prevented him from sharing the prejudice felt by many who otherwise agreed with him against the performance of elaborate modern music in church. He was a good Latin scholar and an accomplished liturgiologist and antiquary. The words of many anthems published by Messrs. Novello, Ewer & Co., and not a few inscriptions, among them those on the windows placed to the memory of Dean Stanley in the chapter-house of Westminster, are from his pen. His discovery, as it may be called, of James Frank Redfern [q. v.], and his encouragement of George Edmund Street [q. v.] in the early stages of his career, should not be forgotten.

He published: 1. ‘Sketches of Continental Ecclesiology,’ 1847. 2. ‘Notes illustrative of the Parish of Sheen’ (a supplement to the ‘Lichfield Diocesan Church Calendar,’ 1859). 3. ‘Instructions and Prayers for Candidates for Confirmation’ (3rd edit. 1882). He contributed numerous articles in the publications of the Cambridge Camden Society (especially on the monogram I.H.S., 1841; on the crypts of London, 1841; on the adaptation of pointed architecture to tropical climates, 1845); and of the Ecclesiological Society, in the ‘Ecclesiologist,’ ‘Christian Remembrancer,’ and ‘Saturday Review.’ He was joint author (with J. M. Neale) of an ‘Essay on Symbolism’ and a translation of Durandus, 1843; editor of Dr. W. H. Mill's ‘Catechetical Lectures,’ 1856, of the second edition of his ‘Mythical Interpretation of the Gospels,’ 1861, and of his ‘Sermons on the Temptation,’ 1873; joint editor of Montague's ‘Articles of Inquiry,’ 1841, of Frank's ‘Sermons’ in the ‘Anglo-Catholic Library,’ and (with W. Cooke) of the ‘Hymnary,’ 1870–2; and one of the editors of ‘Hierurgia Anglicana,’ 1848, the ‘Hymnal Noted,’ 1852, and the Burntisland reprint of the ‘Sarum Missal,’ 1861–83. There is a portrait in oils by E. U. Eddis, A.R.A., in the possession of his widow.

[Private information; obituary notice by A. J. B.-H. in the Guardian, 2 Dec. 1885; Gardner's Admission Registers of St. Paul's School, p. 277. See also an article on Webb in Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology, which gives list of hymns composed by him.]

C. C. J. W.