James Bowstead (1801-1843)

James Bowstead

Written by David A Cross

Occupation: Bishop

Family and Early Life

James Bowstead was born on 1 May 1801, the second son of Joseph Bowstead [1759-1835], a yeoman farmer of Beck Bank, Great Salkeld and his wife Margaret Atkinson [1774-1834]. The family was descended from John Boustead [1622-1715] of Boustead Hill, Burgh-by-Sands and James’s paternal grandmother was Grace Rebanks [1726-1799], daughter of Capt. John Rebanks [1695-1756] of Salkeld Dykes.  A tradition in the family, recorded on his mother’s tomb, was her prophecy that James would be the bishop of two sees, though she did not live to see this realised. His elder brother John [1802-1865] inherited Beck Bank farm, in 1861 of 390 acres, and was a respected breeder of shorthorn cattle; his monument in the church was erected by public subscription to ‘a farmer, yeoman and kind neighbour’.  William [1805-1887], his second brother, farmed at Hackthorpe Hall, near Lowther, a farm of 400 acres.  His third brother Joseph [1811-1876], who also graduated from Cambridge, became a barrister and later an inspector of schools. Another brother, Thomas [1799-1816], died young.  James had three sisters: Elizabeth [b.1798], Ann [1808-1873] who married Joseph Wilson of Woodhorn Manor, near Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland and Margaret [1817-1897] who married Ann’s brother in law Thomas Wilson [1813-1899] of Riding Mill, Northumberland. 

James’s education began at Bampton grammar school under his uncle, the Rev. John Bowstead B.D. [1754-1841], former fellow of Jesus college, Cambridge, curate of Askham and later rector of Great Musgrave, who was headmaster at Bampton for fifty six years and taught dozens of young men who were destined for the priesthood.  Local farmers spoke Latin at market, decades later, which gave rise to the local saying that ‘Bampton lads ploughed in Latin and swore in Greek’ [Gregg].  His portrait is in Bampton church and there is a copy at Newark Park, Gloucestershire [National Trust].  A younger uncle was the Rev. Rowland Bowstead [1766-1843], also a schoolmaster, who taught John and Christopher Wordsworth at Hawkshead grammar school and boarded with Ann Tyson.  Rowland was for many years headmaster of Caistor grammar school, Lincolnshire and then vicar of Ulceby, in that county.  His latter years were spent at Littledale, near Caton, Lancashire but he died at Crackenthorpe Hall, having been briefly the incumbent of St Michael’s Appleby.  

In 1819 James moved to Liverpool to be further instructed by the Rev John Bowstead’s son, his first cousin the Rev Thomas Stanley Bowstead [1788-1852], a graduate of St John’s college, Cambridge, vicar of St Philip’s in that city and later of Tarvin, Cheshire.  Thomas Stanley had been for three years, until 1817, headmaster of Wigan grammar school where his popularity caused the school to grow immensely. 

Next James matriculated at St John’s himself in 1820 but after a year transferred to Corpus Christi college, where he graduated BA in 1824, as second wrangler, being awarded a Robert Smith prize for mathematics and a silver cup gifted by bishop John Green [1706-1779] of Lincoln for high performers.  Consequently he was elected a fellow of the college, which was then one of the most radical in Cambridge.  Priested in 1827, he became the curate of St Andrew’s Grantchester, a village two miles south of Cambridge on the river Cam.  Bowstead and his friend the Rev William Brett, later vicar of Linton, Cambridgeshire, were prominent in the Evangelical movement and opposed to the Tractarians.  James was also a tutor of Corpus from 1832, having been awarded his D.D. ad eundem at Oxford on 21 June 1832.  From 1834 he was examining chaplain to bishop Joseph Allen [1770-1841] of Bristol. Upon Allen’s translation to Ely in 1836, Bowstead retained that office and was presented to the living of Rettendon, near Chelmsford, Essex in 1837, which he held briefly until 1838.  

On a reading trip to the north of Scotland in 1829, he visited Oban, Mull and Iona, to explore the abbey ruins and stone crosses associated with St Columba, at this formerly renowned centre of Christian learning [6thc -8thc], where the Book of Kells was produced c.800 A.D.  On this tour he encountered the attractive young daughter of a Scots minster and planned to return the following year to propose to her. On his return, he discovered that she had just married another man; the shock of this failed romance apparently affected his attitude to marriage and led him to remain single.

The Isle of Man

Coming to the notice of the prime minister Lord Melbourne [1779-1848], who requested his first episcopal appointment on 25 June 1838, he was nominated at the age of 37 by the young queen Victoria to the see of Sodor and Man on 13 July 1838. The name Sodor derives from the Norse Sudreyjar, meaning southern islands, as distinct from the northern islands of Orkney and Shetland.  This small diocese was part of the archdiocese of Trondheim until 1266 and in 1334 the Scottish islands were detached from the see and the island ceded to England.  From then, until 1542, it was part of the province of Canterbury and after that, of York.  In 1836, two years prior to his nomination, an Act of Parliament was passed to subsume the diocese within that of Carlisle. In 1839 the earl of Ripon carried a motion in the house of Lords that the act should be repealed, a decision which brought great relief.  Rather like at Llandaff, the 12thc cathedral church of St German, at Peel on the west coast of the island, had been in ruins for many years, a symbol of the poor state of the episcopate and described by John Betjeman as ‘a beautiful ruin of green slate and red sandstone on an islet’.  This situation had been exacerbated by the frequent absence of senior clergy, until an act of 1697 required them to reside on the island or forfeit their income.

So Bowstead was consecrated bishop by the archbishop of Canterbury William Howley [1766-1848] on 22 July 1838, at Lambeth. The Christian Remembrancer opined: ‘We rejoice that so truly excellent an individual has been appointed to the see…….whose faith is sincere and whose unaffected courtesy and constant probity are well known’. So he sailed across to the island, which is not part of the United Kingdom but a crown dependency, like Jersey and Guernsey, and largely politically autonomous.  His residence was at the castellated Bishopscourt Palace on the west coast of the island, where the bishops had lived since medieval times.  This building, with its ancient tower named after King Orry, the 11thc Norse-Gaelic ruler, had been restored by Bishop Thomas Wilson [1663-1755] from 1698 and enlarged by Bishop Claudius Crigan [c.1739-1813] from 1784.  The priests on the island lived on low stipends and even the bishop’s annual income of £2,555 was only about half that of his mainland peers.  

As the successor to bishop William Ward [1762-1838], Bowstead held his post for only eighteen months. He was responsible for the seventeen parishes, led the convocation of clergy and was an ex- officio member of the Tynwald, the island’s legislative body. The convocation of Man continued undisturbed until 1877, though it had been largely suppressed after 1717 in England.  On arriving on the island he found ‘the large population inhabiting the mountains, dispersed among the glens and immured among the bowels of the earth, at so great a distance from the churches as almost to preclude any attendance of the means of grace’ [Chiverell]. There was a shortage of chapels, chaplains and parsonages following a huge population increase from 1792-1821 and the island became ‘the scene of his most active labours’ [Gent. Mag.].  In a short time he increased the number of curates in the diocese, following the establishment in 1839 of the Isle of Man Diocesan Association, a success recorded as being ‘mainly through the exertions of Bishop Bowstead’ [Moore] and he soon became much beloved by both clergy and laity.  

An assessment of 1837 described the clergy of the Isle of Man as ‘highly respectable’ and that they maintained ‘the faithful discharge of their sacred functions’, despite the low stipends allocated on the island.  In 1839 the Tithe Commutation Act settled the sums to be paid to the bishop and clergy, in lieu of the traditional tithes of wheat, barley and oats.  An agent was appointed on behalf of the bishop and clergy to collect the fee which ‘relieved them ‘from the odium and inconvenience of collecting it themselves’ [Moore].  Through this process the income of the diocesan clergy was increased.  Bishop Ward had inaugurated new church building, extensions and repairs, so Bowstead carried on with the programme and commenced the building of new chapels and clergy houses from 1839.  He also facilitated the founding of new schools, twenty nine being built between 1832 and 1868.

However, being so highly regarded nationally, it was not long before promotion beckoned and he was translated to the see of Lichfield on 23rd January 1840, as the successor to bishop Samuel Butler [1774-1839], grandfather of the novelist, the last bishop of Lichfield and Coventry.  The two dioceses had been administered together since 1228 and Bowstead was the first bishop of the Lichfield diocese to be appointed after the diocese had lost all its Coventry connections.  Founded by St Chad, who established a monastery there in 669, Lichfield had a complex history and in the medieval period was one of the largest dioceses in England. On leaving the Isle of Man Bowstead was presented with an address by three Methodist ministers and three circuit stewards, thanking him for his kindly attitude to the Methodists, whose numbers were increasing in this period. His successor on the island was Henry Pepys [1783-1860], a collateral descendant of Samuel Pepys, the diarist.

Translated to Lichfield Diocese

A keen horseman, Bowstead is said to have bought a new mount in Douglas, prior to sailing to Liverpool and travelling on to Lichfield. It appears that he was determined to ride on horseback to his new home.  Regrettably the horse had suffered during a rough crossing and soon after he mounted it, the creature stumbled, threw him and then rolled upon him.  Initially the bishop was thought not to have been badly injured but later he was found to have had damaged his spine, an injury which eventually proved fatal.

Lichfield cathedral stands on an 8thc site and was completed in c.1340 with three spires.  At Bowstead’s translation, the building had not yet been touched by the significant ‘restorations’ of George Gilbert Scott [1811-1878] and his palace at Eccleshall was a large late 17thc house built in the 14thc ruins of Eccleshall castle. Despite his injury, he bore his sufferings patiently and displayed great zeal at Lichfield being known for his ‘unaffected kindness of manner’. He rapidly secured the great regard of his numerous clergy and largely devoted his income to the furtherance of education.  Like his uncles John and Rowland, his cousin Thomas and his brother Joseph, the bishop fully understood the importance of good schooling, especially for those in rural areas. He was ‘a man of great intellectual powers, united with persevering industry’ and was also described as ‘an enlightened Christian of a clear perception and vigorous mind’ [Phillpot].  Noted for his humility, piety and charity he was strongly averse to Puseyite [Catholic] doctrines’ [Spectator].  As a Whig in his politics, he signed a petition for the abolition of religious tests for entry to universities, a reflection of the straightforwardness with which he approached most issues. Maintaining his interest in the provision of sufficient churches in his diocese, especially in the new industrial areas, Bowstead exchanged letters for example with Augustus W.N. Pugin [1812-1852], when the architect was about to complete his Roman Catholic church at Brewood, Staffordshire; a rather extraordinary link considering his evangelical leanings.  Having such connections with the Catholics and the Methodists, he might even be viewed as a precursor of 19thc Ecumenism.  

Aware of the need for reform in the church, Bowstead also drew up the rules for the office of rural dean, following hard upon the revival of that medieval office by Edward Stanley [1779-1849], the reforming bishop of Norwich in 1836-7. The appointment of rural deans as officers of the bishop, charged with the encouragement of lax clergy, was an important element of diocesan reform in the later 19thc.  As Bowstead’s ability to travel was limited by his physical condition, his plan to establish rural deans would have been a very evident benefit to him, though it was left to his successors to realise the plan. He was at any rate involved in litigation with regard to the building activities of the wealthy patron and incumbent of St Peter ad Vincula, Stoke-on-Trent, the Rev John Wickes Tomlinson, rector in 1838.  It was certainly a source of great satisfaction to him that he was able in 1841 to present his 86 year old uncle John and in 1842 his cousin the Rev Thomas Stanley Bowstead to prebendal stalls at Lichfield, a typical example of patronage in the period.

Following two years of suffering, the bishop died at Clifton, Bristol, aged only 42, on 11 October 1843.  Considering the distance of Clifton from Lichfield, it appears that he had kept in touch and was visiting members of Bishop Allen’s former diocese, his journey south being facilitated by the new train services.  As the bishop’s palace was near the cathedral in Bristol at that date, it seems unlikely he was staying with Allen’s successor Bishop Henry Monk [1784-1856].  So Bowstead’s coffin processed north, followed by the carriage of his brother Joseph, again travelling part of the journey by train.  The cortege was met at Stafford station by the rector, the Rev William E. Coldwell and the late bishop’s secretary R.W. Hand Esq.  His body then lay in state in Eccleshall castle until his funeral on 14 October when he was buried in the north-east corner of the chancel at Eccleshall church.  Numerous clergy processed and several were involved in the funeral, including the Venerable George Hodgson [1788-1855], archdeacon of Stafford; and the late bishop’s chaplain, the Rev. Henry Calthorp, another Corpus contemporary. Calthorp was rector of Great Braxted, Essex from 1841-1875 and also became a prebendary of Lichfield.  An alabaster effigy, showing the bishop wearing his episcopal robes and holding his crozier was later placed on top of the vault.  Bowstead’s successor to the see was bishop John Lonsdale [1788-1867], who served the diocese for 24 years.  Considering his own manifest ability, it is worth pondering what more Bowstead might have achieved were it not for his unfortunate accident.

Bishop Walter Shirley [1797-1847], a later Bishop of Sodor and Man had been made by James Bowstead in 1840 the archdeacon of Derby, then part of the Lichfield diocese.  He wrote to his parents in 1847: ‘I thank you for your allusion to my dear friend Bishop Bowstead, now with God.  He first raised me to a position of dignity in the Church and I am happy in the thought that in doing so, he prepared the way for my being brought ……. to preside over a diocese where he laboured so faithfully, though for a short period’ [Hill].  

Bowstead’s portrait was painted in 1837 by Sir Martin Archer Shee P.R.A. [1769-1850] for the college hall at Corpus Christi ‘by subscription of his lordship’s friends and former pupils’.  It was exhibited at the Academy in the same year and the canvas was engraved by Henry Cousins in 1842 [British Library] and published by Colnaghi.  A gold and enamelled mourning brooch of 1843 bearing his name was on the market c.2020.  


  • A.G. Bradley, Our Centenarian Grandfather 1790-1890, London 1925 [A life of Archdeacon Benjamin Philpot].
  • Gerald Bray, Records of Convocation: Sodor and Man 1229-1877, 2005, pp.361-382
  • Edmund Burke, ed., The Annual Register of World Events, vol.85, 1843
  • Henry Calthorp, A sermon preached at the chapel of Lambeth palace on Sunday June 22nd 1838 at the consecration of the Rt Rev James Bowstead DD, Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man, Cambridge c.1838 
  • Richard Chiverrell et al, A New History of the Isle of Man 1830-1999, 5 vols, 2005-6
  • J. Gelling, A History of the Manx Church, 1998
  • Jane Gregg,  Ploughing in Latin: A History of Bampton, 2000
  • John Guest, The Best of Betjeman, 2000
  • Thomas Hill, ed., Letters and a Memoir of Bishop Shirley, 1849
  • Joyce M. Horn, Fasti Anglicanae Ecclesiae 1541-1857, 2003, vol.11
  • J.J. Howard and F.A. Crisp, Visitation of England and Wales, vol.3 1898; this reproduces Bowstead’s signatures 
  • C. Roy Hudleston, Cumberland Families and Heraldry, 1978  
  • A.W. Moore, Diocesan Histories: Sodor and Man, 1983
  • T.W. Thompson, Wordsworth’s Hawkshead, 1970 
  • John Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, 1922
  • A Christian Remembrancer vol.21 p.22
  • The Exhibition of the Royal Academy, 1837, vol.69 p.13
  • The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1843, p.649
  • The Spectator, vol. 16, p.992 
  • www.ancestry.com   Bowstead pedigree and Burke’s Family Records for Wilson
  • www.corpuscam.ac.uk chapter 6
  • www.isleofman.com A Manx Notebook: People
  • www.lintonhistory.org.uk    Linton History Society website
  • James Bowstead’s ms diary 1829, Corpus Christi archive
  • Letter from AWN Pugin to Bowstead re Brewood church, British Library
  • Lord Melbourne’s request for the appointment of Bowstead to the bishopric of Sodor and Man 25 June 1838, National Archives Kew HO 44/31/104 ff.528-9
  • Bishop Bowstead vs Rev John Wickes Tomlinson, 1838 Kew C13/2984/2
  • Lincolnshire Chronicle 20 October and 15 December 1843
  • Newcastle Journal 21 October 1843
  • Westmorland Gazette 2 December 1843
  • Yorkshire Gazette 21 October 1843