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History Overview

Celebrated Rectors of St Mary-le-Bow

Samuel Lisle (1683-1749; Rector from 1721 to 1744)

Samuel Lisle was born in Dorset and educated at Salisbury School and later at Wadham College Oxford. He became a Fellow of Wadham and after ordination served from 1710 to 1716 as chaplain to the Levant Company in Smyrna. In 1716 he was appointed chaplain of Aleppo. During his time there he made a number of journeys throughout the Holy land until he returned to England in 1719 to become Bursar of Wadham. In 1720 he became chaplain to Thomas, 2nd Baron Onslow, and in 1721 he became Rector of Holwell in Bedfordshire, Tooting in Surrey, and St Mary-le-Bow, the last being a benefice to which he was presented by George I.

In 1725 Lisle also became Archdeacon of Canterbury (under Archbishop Wake), Rector of Fetcham in Surrey, and Vicar of Northolt in Middlesex. 1725 was a golden year for Lisle in that he also became Prolocutor of the Lower House of Convocation in that year as well. In March 1738-39 he became Warden of his old Oxford College and in 1744 was appointed Bishop of St Asaph. He was translated to Norwich in 1747-8 and died in Lisle Street (sic) in Leicester Fields on the 3rd of October, 1749. Lisle was buried in Northolt. A portrait of him survives in Wadham College Oxford.

Thomas Newton (1704-82; Rector from 1744 to 1760)

Thomas Newton was born in Lichfield and educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge. Richard Bentley, the celebrated protégé of Sir Isaac Newton, who had delivered the first Boyle Lectures at a number of London churches including St Mary-le-Bow in 1692-3, was Master of Trinity whilst Thomas Newton was a student there. Newton was ordained in 1730 by Bishop Gibson of London and became successively curate at St George Hanover Square, reader at Grosvenor Chapel in South Audley Street, and chaplain to Pulteney when the latter became Earl of bath in 1742. Newton was deeply involved in various intrigues to overthrow Walpole as First Lord of the Treasury and de facto Prime Minister and in order to reward him Pulteney had him appointed Rector of St Mary-le-Bow, an appointment which was then in the King’s presentation. To create the necessary vacancy at St Mary’s, Pulteney had Newton’s predecessor Lisle (also a strong Whig) appointed Bishop of St Asaph.

Newton preached a series of loyal sermons during the Rebellion of 1745 and in 1747 he was appointed Lecturer at St George’s Hanover Square. As his biographer records:

'On the death of Frederick, prince of Wales, in 1751, he preached a pathetic sermon upon the 'most fatal blow that the nation had felt for many, many years' and a copy was sent to the princess who thereupon made him her chaplain.'

He wrote a celebrated Dissertation on the Prophecies in 1754 and his Boyle Lectures were published in 1758. The Dissertation is panned by his biographer who calls it 'a very poor reply to the deists'. By 1756 he had been appointed a chaplain to the King and in 1757 became Prebend of Westminster Abbey. In 1759 he became Precentor of York. Bute had him appointed Bishop of Bristol in 1761 and in 1764 Grenville recommended him (unsuccessfully) for London and subsequently offered him the Primacy of Ireland, which he declined through illness. He became Dean of St Paul’s in 1768 but was very ill in his later years, buying a house on Kew Green where he died on the 14th of February 1782. He was buried in St Paul’s and a monument - where 'Religion and Science, in sculpture, by Thomas Banks, deplore his loss, and beneath are lines by the 'ingenious Mrs Carter'' - was erected to him by his widow in St Mary-le-Bow. This monument must have been destroyed during the bombing of 1940).

Newton’s biographer in the D.N.B. takes a dim view of this one-time Rector of St Mary-le-Bow. He was '(a man who) combined good domestic qualities with the conviction that the whole duty of a clergyman was to hunt for preferment by flattery'.

William Van Mildert (1765-1836; Rector from 1796 to 1820)

William Van Mildert’s family came from Amsterdam to England sometime around 1670. His grandfather had served as Deacon of the Dutch Church at Austin Friars in the City and William was born in London and educated at Merchant Taylors’ School and Queen’s College Oxford. He was ordained priest in 1789 and became successively Curate of Witham in Essex, Rector of Brayden near Towcester, and Chaplain to the Grocers’ Company. In 1796 he was presented by the Grocers to the Rectorship of St Mary-le-Bow but as there was then no parsonage at St Mary’s he lived at 14 Ely Place Holborn until 1812. Van Mildert was sued for non-residence within his parish and lost the case, but he and other clergy who were similarly affected were relieved of the consequences of their conviction by a special Act of Parliament.

In 1802-04 Van Mildert delivered the Boyle Lectures at his own church, speaking on the theme of An Historical View of Infidelity, with a Refutation. This was a particularly High Church set of lectures, disclaiming anything that might qualify as 'natural theology' and insisting of the primacy, clarity and inerrancy of Christian revelation. As well as his appointment at St Mary’s, Van Mildert held the vicarage of Farningham in Kent from 1807 to 1813. He held the preachership of Lincoln’s Inn in 1812 and in 1813 became Bampton Lecturer at Oxford and later that year he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.

In 1819 Van Mildert was appointed Bishop of Llandaff and the following year he declined appointment as Archbishop of Dublin. In 1820 he became Dean of St Paul’s and in 1826 was appointed Bishop of Durham where he served as the last Count (or Prince) palatine of Durham. He enjoyed a huge income from this appointment and was equally generous in how he disbursed that income. He founded the University of Durham in 1832 and gave the bishop’s residence at Auckland Castle for the university’s use. An impressive preacher, Van Mildert fiercely opposed the 1832 Reform Bill when it came before the House of Lords. He died on the 21st of February, 1836.