John James Stewart Perowne (1823-1904) was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter; he later became dean of Peterborough cathedral and then bishop of Worcester.
Perowne came from a family with Huguenot origins. His father and mother, Revd. John Perowne and his wife Eliza née Scott, were missionaries serving with the Church Missionary Society. He was born at Burdwan, in Bengal, the eldest of three brothers who each became eminent churchmen. He was taught by his father, before attending Norwich Grammar School. After that, he won a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He was Bell university scholar in 1842, members’ prizeman in 1844, 1846 and 1847, Crosse scholar in 1845 and Tyrwhitt scholar in 1848.
Perowne was awarded his BA in 1845 and his MA in 1848; he later achieved a BD in 1856 and a DD in 1873. He worked for a short time as assistant master at Cheam School, before being ordained deacon in 1847 and priest in 1848. He worked as curate of Tunstead, Norfolk, for two years, before becoming a master at King Edward’s School in Birmingham in 1849. He next went back to Cambridge, where he was appointed a Fellow and assistant tutor of Corpus Christi. Alongside this, he was able to lecture in divinity at King’s College London and to be assistant preacher at Lincoln’s Inn.
In 1862, Perowne married Anna Maria Woolrych, the daughter of Humphrey William Woolrych. They went on to have four sons and one daughter.
Perowne’s first acquaintance with St David’s College, Lampeter, came as external examiner in 1851 and 1852. Ten years later, in 1862, he was appointed Vice-Principal, replacing the controversial Rowland Williams. He arrived at Lampeter unable to walk, having broken his leg climbing in the Alps! Unlike Williams, Perowne had little sympathy with Welsh traditions and would have liked to remove the Welsh language from the college syllabus. In terms of churchmanship, he came from an evangelical background. However, while at Lampeter, he was strongly influenced by Connop Thirlwall, the broad church Bishop of St David’s. Perowne was made a canon of St David’s Cathedral in 1867 and of Llandaff in 1869. He was also Rector of Llandysilio, about nine miles north-north-west of Welshpool, from 1870 to 1871.
Perowne’s most important academic work was done at Lampeter. In 1864 and 1868, he published a two-volume commentary on, and translation of, The Psalms, (Bell and Daldy). This became a standard work, securing Perowne’s reputation as an Old Testament scholar. He delivered the Hulsean lectures in Cambridge in 1868; his subject was ‘immortality.’ In 1870 he was selected as one of the Old Testament Revision Company. He later supervised the publication of the Cambridge Bible for Schools and the Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools.
Perowne returned to Cambridge in 1872; he became Hulsean Professor there in 1875. Sadly, he was to become a critic of Lampeter. He told Lord Aberdare’s 1880 inquiry into higher and intermediate education in Wales that Lampeter was isolated and lacking in good social influences. The college should be moved to Llandaff or some similar accessible and populated place. He believed that the Lampeter B.A., which he had helped to obtain, had some value, but not that of a university degree!
Perowne was appointed Dean of Peterborough in 1880. He was faced with the urgent task of restoring the cathedral; in particular, its central tower appeared likely to collapse. After this was rebuilt, the central and eastern area of the church needed refurbishment. As well as carrying on this work, Perowne developed the worship services and cultivated friendly relations with nonconformists.
Perowne was considered for the role of bishop of Bangor in 1889, following James Colquhoun’s resignation. However, despite his time in Ceredigion, he could speak no Welsh. Relatively soon after this, he was nominated as bishop of Worcester, following the death of Henry Philpott. He was consecrated on February 2 1891 in Westminster Abbey. However, by this time he was 68 years old, and his new diocese was a difficult one.
The bishop’s palace, Hartlebury Castle, was remote, ten miles north of Worcester and twenty-two miles south-west of Birmingham. Unusually, there was not yet a diocesan conference. More significantly, it was becoming obvious that the city of Birmingham needed to become a separate diocese. However, it had proved difficult to raise the necessary funds for this. Perowne was ambivalent; his solution was to strengthen the machinery of the existing diocese. He created the Archdeaconry of Birmingham and installed a suffragan bishop. This was a cheap alternative to forming a new bishopric, but it could only be a temporary expedient. In the event, the new diocese was created in 1905; Perowne’s successor at Worcester, Charles Gore, became its first bishop.
Controversially, Perowne was a supporter of closer ties between Anglicanism and Nonconformity. He attended the Grindelwald Reunion Conferences held between 1892 and 1895. These were the first formal, although not official, discussions between British church leaders about reuniting British Protestantism. At the 1892 conference, Perowne repudiated the theory of apostolic succession. He also said he felt it unnecessary for Nonconformists to be re-ordained if they united with the Church of England. In addition, he led a communion service in the local Zwinglian church for the participants in the conference, administering the sacrament to leading nonconformists. This provoked widespread criticism from the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church. A letter in The Church Times, signed Vox Querentis, read ‘Dr Perowne has busied himself … in offending the susceptibilities of Churchmen, but at Grindelwald he has altogether surpassed himself. No word lighter than “treason” can adequately characterise his most unhappy proceedings there.” In retrospect, Ruth Rouse has argued that the Grindelwald Conferences were one of the factors that made possible the modern ecumenical movement. She believed they ‘began a new phase in the growth of the ecumenical idea.’
After his retirement in 1901, Perowne moved to Southwick Park, near Tewkesbury. He died on 6 November 1904. His funeral service was held at Hartlebury and he is buried in the churchyard there.
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Price, D.T.W. (1977). A History of Saint David’s University College Lampeter. Volume One: to 1898. Cardiff: University of Wales Press
In Memoriam. Bishop Perowne. (1904, November 11). Church Times. Retrieved March 2 2021 from https://www.ukpressonline.co.uk/ukpressonline/view/pagview/ChTm_1904_11_11_623
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Morrish, P.S. (1980). The struggle to create an Anglican diocese of Birmingham. Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 31(1),59-88. Retrieved March 5 2021 from https://www-cambridge-org.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/core/journals/journal-of-ecclesiastical-history/article/struggle-to-create-an-anglican-diocese-of-birmingham/214B9BECABEEED3C2C47EE9682401514
Oldstone-Moore, C. (2009). The forgotten origins of the ecumenical movement in England: the Grindelwald Conferences, 1892-95. Church History, 70(1),73-97. Retrieved March 5 2021 from https://doi.org/10.2307/3654411
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