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Jenkins, Claude (1877–1959), historian and Church of England clergyman, claimed to have been born on 26 May 1877 (his birth certificate counter-claimed 24 May) in Handsworth, Staffordshire, the eldest son of Oswald Jenkins, cashier and later land agent, and his wife, Sarah, daughter of William Palmer. He was a foundation scholar at King Edward's School, Birmingham, and was elected to a classical exhibition at New College, Oxford, in 1896. He obtained second classes in classical honour moderations (1898), literae humaniores (1900), and theology (1901), and was awarded a Liddon exhibition in 1900 and a Denyer and Johnson scholarship in 1902. After studying palaeography with Robinson Ellis, he assisted C. H. Turner with a projected edition of Eusebius; his research in France and Italy yielded his edition of catena fragments of Origen (Journal of Theological Studies, 9/34, January 1908, 231–47; 9/35, April 1908, 353–72; 9/36, July 1908, 500–14). For a year he taught at Magdalen College School, and after ordination in 1903 became curate of St Martin-in-the-Fields and assistant chaplain at Charing Cross Hospital. His abilities impressed A. C. Headlam, principal of King's College, London, who secured lectureships in ecclesiastical history (1905–11) and patristics (1911–18) for him and made him sub-editor (1903–18) and later joint editor (1921–7) of the Church Quarterly Review.

In 1910, with Headlam's support, Jenkins became librarian of Lambeth Palace Library, where he extended the foundations of his immense erudition. Constitutionally disinclined to surrender preferment, being, as he once observed, ‘of a modest if not of a retiring disposition’ (private information), he remained librarian until 1952. He was chaplain to Archbishop Randall Davidson from 1911 and helped to revise the coronation service, but was not closely involved in church affairs. In 1918 he became professor of ecclesiastical history at King's, where he wished to integrate historical studies with the collections at Lambeth, and in 1931 professor of ecclesiastical history at London University. He was canon of Canterbury from 1929 to 1934, when he was appointed regius professor of ecclesiastical history and canon of Christ Church, Oxford. He published little except a few articles and reviews, notably his devastating critique of A. S. Barnes's Bishop Barlow and Anglican Orders (1922) (Journal of Theological Studies, 24/93, 1922, 1–32). His learning, which was perhaps too diffuse, was that of the antiquarian rather than the historian.

At Christ Church Jenkins's eccentricities, which became celebrated, recalled an earlier generation. With his low-crowned hat and antiquated clerical costume, his broad scholarship and unenthusiastic divinity, his uncompromising insistence on ancient rights (especially in chapter), his belief that land and ‘the funds’ were the only proper investment for the college and industrial shares a new form of the South Sea Bubble, he seemed to have stepped out of the eighteenth century. In term he usually lectured continuously three mornings a week, often to an audience of one, an ancient alarm clock reminding him to change the subject, perhaps from the Paston letters to the puritans or from Greek epigraphy to the Oxford Movement. He was very discursive: his lectures on Augustine, the date of whose birth he was still discussing at the end of term, contrived to include a list of books on the law of tort. Similarly his sermons were memorable less for their theology than for digressions ranging from the price of second-hand books to a dramatic reading from Macbeth. In the late 1950s the congregation was startled to be apostrophized with the words, ‘Those of you who remember the siege of Mafeking’ (private information). His only luxury was the purchase of books, which filled his canonical lodgings almost to the point of impenetrability—even the bath contained the files of the Church Quarterly Review—but his library was unsystematic and lacked bibliographical distinction.

Often exasperating to colleagues, he was always courteous and never bore personal rancour. He delighted in the young and was assiduous in attendance at the Oxford Union, where he was senior librarian. In private life he was very generous, and gave a large sum anonymously to St Edmund Hall, the first £10,000 characteristically arriving in a dirty used envelope. He led a remarkably frugal existence but his idiosyncrasies, which embraced the recycling of cigar butts, were from preference rather than parsimony. Said to have an equal aversion to women and cats, he left most of his library to a women's college, St Anne's. To Christ Church senior common room he bequeathed a fund for the purchase of snuff, of which he was inordinately fond. He died at 1 Clarence Road, Tunbridge Wells, on 17 January 1959 while on holiday.

E. G. W. Bill, rev.


The Times (19 Jan 1959) · WWW · private information (1993) · personal knowledge (1993) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1959) · b. cert.


Bodl. Oxf., Faculty Office register [transcripts] · Christ Church Oxf., corresp. and papers · LPL, corresp. and papers |  LPL, corresp. with Lord Gladstone · LPL, corresp. with Montagu Rhodes James


H. Roland White, photograph, c.1957, Christ Church Oxf. · photograph, 1957, Christ Church Oxf. · photograph, Christ Church Oxf.

Wealth at death  

£29,250 5s. 11d.: probate, 4 June 1959, CGPLA Eng. & Wales