Victorian Bournemouth (168)

Victorian Bournemouth (168): A. M. Bennett’s legacy (2)

Big-Endians and Little-Endians


Victorian Bournemouth (168) continues the story of trouble rocking St Peter’s parish after its long-established vicar, A. M. Bennett, died. This article considers in detail the tactics used to oust the two new vicars appointed by the patron to replace him. It also considers the wider implications of resistance to the Lord of the Manor – the patron – as well as relative importance attached to religious worship at the time.

Victorian Bournemouth (168): Prebendary Harland

The first attack

The churchwardens and sidemen of St Peter’s wrote to Harland, suggesting that ‘a strange vicar would not be so acceptable to the congregation or parish as the vicar’s son’. In his reply, he reassured them that continuity in worship would prevail in the parish until he had a chance to observe matters. The opponents opened a second front without delay. They sought consent from the new vicar and the living’s patron (Gervis) to complete St Swithun’s, a new church. Furthermore, they wanted agreement to ‘its separation from St Peter’s district as a suitable memorial to the late Vicar’. They envisaged Bennett’s son as its first incumbent. Both Harland and Gervis refused this request. At a meeting to consider this reaction, a motion to deplore the patron’s actions, proposed by a magistrate, seconded by Rev J. P. Pretyman, no stranger to local controversy, only just avoided success.

The second attack

A second attack caught the hapless Harland in a web of controversy, setting him at odds both with his curates and the Bishop of Winchester. During Bennett’s ministry, a parishioner had complained to the Bishop about aspects of his ritual, but no changes had occurred. Now, a second letter of complaint went to the Bishop, who wrote to Harland. Although a Low Church man, Harland chose a strategy of saying that, while he had no difficulty with aspects of the ritual, several lay outside the Church of England’s required practice. A full extract of the letter he wrote to his parishioners found its way into the local press, but the matter attracted London papers. Conservative parishioners approached the Bishop, who became angry at his publicised involvement. The curates wrote to the paper, withdrawing their support from Harland. Having had his fill of controversy, Harland resigned.

Victorian Bournemouth (168): Bishop Ryan

Reception at St Peter’s

Vincent William Ryan will have accepted the appointment as vicar to St Peter’s in the knowledge of Prebendary Harland’s reception and rejection by his parishioners. ‘He held pronounced evangelical views, and had notable power of organisation.’ As the first Bishop of Mauritius, he had established churches there and in the Seychelles. St Peter’s parishioners perhaps did not appreciate the irony of an experienced missionary becoming their vicar. The press anticipated an incumbent quite different to Prebendary Harland. ‘Important changes [to the services] are to be expected.’ A large meeting, comprising both privileged and prosperous members of the community drew up a memorial requesting Ryan not to accept the living. They felt that other (sic) Low Churches in the locality would welcome him. Another deputation went to the diocese’s Bishop. They proceeded with the plan for a ‘breakaway’ parish, but both the patron and Ryan refused their assent provoking more consternation.

No-man’s land

During his short administration at St Peter’s, Bishop Ryan lost the support of his curates, all of whom resigned. Further problems beset him, though from an unexpected source. The press featured correspondence initiated by an Evangelical minister resident in Bournemouth. He had noticed that Ryan’s worship style at St Peter’s had changed little from the model established by Bennett. He wrote criticising the apparent arrival of ‘Neo-Evangelicals’ who intended to move their style of service towards the Romish, High Church ritual. Ryan received support from other clergymen, the matter raging until the editor refused to publish any further letters. Thus, Bishop Ryan found himself in no-man’s land. St Peter’s parishioners disliked his modifications to their liturgy, while some Evangelicals thought he had forsaken their Low Church worship methods. This development perhaps convinced Bishop Ryan, damaged in health from his Mauritius days, that he saw no purpose in staying in Bournemouth.

Victorian Bournemouth (168): analysis


The confrontation between St Peter’s parishioners and their patron, George Gervis-Meyrick, had a precedent at Bournemouth. A decade earlier, Bournemouth residents had resisted attempts made by Lord Malmesbury to establish a Volunteer Battalion that combined the resort with Christchurch.  They did not defer to Malmesbury, who allowed them to form their own militia organisation. Gervis-Meyrick owned much more land at Bournemouth than Malmesbury. His family had created the modern town. As Lord of the Manor, he had the right to present the living. In their meetings, the Improvement Commission showed suitable deference to him. The parishioners of St Peter’s, however, did not follow their example. On both occasions, they accepted neither of his candidates as vicar. They took direct action by deputations, but also manipulated Bournemouth’s parish and church structure. His third candidate proved acceptable, the appointment, perhaps capitulation by the patron, represents a form of social disorder.

Romish resistance

Prebendary Harland published details of St Peter’s liturgy that had become contentious. They included how the vicar moved his head, the colour of garments worn, mixing of water with communion wine. At a distance, they echo the satirical dispute about egg-breaking which Gulliver found had fractured Lilliput. Yet, the confrontation between High and Low Churchmen became an important part of Victorian religious behaviour and, even, of national identity. Hitherto, Anglican churchmen had on several occasions attempted to draw the Church of England closer to Rome. Adherents to the reasons creating the Reformation, the traditional Protestants, had always made a strong reaction against such moves or even suspicion of such. High and Low Church opposition became the Victorian version of that constant dynamic, seen as a matter of heresy. Events at St Peter’s 1880-1881 provide an example of the disruption that this opposition might cause to a locality.


Victorian Bournemouth (168) has analysed the tactics taken by parties within the ‘War of Bennett’s Succession’ which fractured St Peter’s parish 1880-1881. This period illustrates the importance that recognised worship methods had for parishioners. It also highlights their conservative nature and aversion to change. In this context, they saw change not as a symbol of progress but of reversion and, indeed, danger. In this respect, they stood apart from the wider aspects of Victorian culture which associated change with social and technological improvement. This incident also provides a rare example where a Lord of the Manor did not receive due deference to his decisions.


For references and engagement, please get in touch. Main primary sources: here and here (subscriptions needed). For more about Reverend Bennett see here, here, here, and here. For the first part of the story, see here.

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