Wilberforce on the difficulties of completing his chapel, St. Paul’s Church, Mill Hill – ‘I scarcely need say that it is a sad disappointment to me to find myself mistaken in the hope I had indulged’ WILBERFORCE WILLIAM: (1759-1833) British politician and philanthropist, leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. A.L.S., W Wilberforce, four pages, 4to, Missenden, 30th July 1832, to Dr. Stephen Lushington. Wilberforce writes to his correspondent to seek information ‘which I know not where else to obtain’, continuing to explain ‘You may remember that about 4 years ago, an Act of Parliamt. was passed, empowering certain Parliamentary Commissions for building new churches and chapels, to give a perpetual right of Patronage over such new Churches & Chapels, to such individuals as should build & endow them on the Conditions there specified. My house at Highwood Hill & the neighbouring tenements being between 3 & 4 miles from the parish church of Hendon, which of course was attended only by those who keep carriages, no sooner had the Act passed than I proceeded to avail myself of it. Entre nous, the Rector, Mr. Williams, had given me reason to believe he would befriend my design. In fact however he opposed me to the utmost of his power, but the want of a place of worship was so urgent, that all his hostility was unavailing, & above 3 years ago, the Commissrs. promised me the perpetual patronage of the chapel I should build & endow & also that a district should be assigned to it. Consequently I proceeded to build & by the kind aid of a wide circle of friends, the Chapel was above a year ago all but quite completed. Meanwhile I was surprised to hear, some few months ago, that the management of the business, in the case of my chapel at least, had been transferred from the Parliamentary Commrs. & had been vested entirely in the Bp. of London, who was himself indeed so obliging as to inform me that he had put all the papers relating to my chapel into the hands of Mr. Shepherd, his Deputy Registrar, desiring him, if it should be necessary to take farther advice, to apply to Dr. Lushington’. Wilberforce adds that he then applied to his agent to see how matters were progressing, who then informed him that they were obtaining the certificate required by the Act of Parliament as to the number of inhabitants within a two-mile radius of the parish church, remarking ‘This answer surprised me greatly, for several years ago at the very outset of my application, to the Commissrs. my son had obtained & presented to them a particular account of the population within the required distance from the chapel. It seems hard to be compelld to go over the same ground once more & deliver in the same circumstances as when I originally set on foot this design, I should make no objection. But as you may probably have heard from rumour, that my eldest son, who, when compelld by ill health some few years ago to quit the profession of the law had taken a large dairy farm, in connection with a friend on whose skill he depended, had incurred so heavy a loss that I was compelld to let my house & reduce my establishment & expenditure very greatly to enable me to continue to my children the allowances necessary for their comfort & to which some of them indeed were entitled by law. Thus circumstanced, I scarcely need say that it is a sad disappointment to me to find myself mistaken in the hope I had indulged, that I should have no more to pay for my chapel, and I resolved to apply to you to inquire whether the Bp of London if he were so disposed, could not under the powers he already possesses, or in short whether or not he could not in any way give me the patronage of my chapel witht. requiring the same conditions exacted from those who apply to him for ye first time & on the ground of the Act recently passed by the legislature. Really my dear Dr. if you could put me in the way of getting my chapel business completed with. much farther expense, you would oblige & serve me very greatly’. A lengthy letter of interesting content. Some very light, extremely minor age wear, VG Dr. Stephen Lushington (1782-1873) British judge, Member of Parliament and a radical for the abolition of slavery and capital punishment. On leaving Parliament Wilberforce purchased a 140-acre estate at Highwood Hill, in the northern extremity of Hendon Parish which, at the time, comprised a group of hamlets which collectively form the Mill Hill of today. The parish church was some three miles distant, in the south, and bisected by a small river which became prone to winter flooding and made north south travel difficult. Wilberforce, convinced of the importance of religion and a supporter of the evangelical wing of the Church of England (believing that the revitalisation of the church would lead to a harmonious, moral society), determined to build a chapel for his and his neighbours’ benefit at his own expense. The actual siting, patronage and materials used in its construction caused such controversy and delay that, although the building commenced in 1828-29, the chapel was not consecrated until a few days after Wilberforce’s death in 1833. Whilst the building was in progress, Wilberforce’s financial circumstances changed dramatically when he undertook responsibility for heavy losses incurred by his son, as explained in the present letter. He refused all offers of assistance from his many friends other than gifts for his new chapel.
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