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How, William Walshamlocked

  • J. H. Overton
  • , revised by M. C. Curthoys

William Walsham How (1823–1897)

by Samuel Alexander Walker

How, William Walsham (1823–1897), bishop of Wakefield, was born on 13 December 1823 at College Hill, St Chad's parish, Shrewsbury. He was eldest son of William Wybergh How (d. 1862), who belonged to an old Cumberland family and practised at Shrewsbury as a solicitor, and his first wife, Frances Jane, daughter of Thomas Maynard of Wokingham. She died when her two sons were infants; they were brought up by their father's second wife, the only daughter of Samuel Allsopp of Burton upon Trent. He was educated at Shrewsbury School, and went into residence at Wadham College, Oxford, in the summer term of 1841. He was Goodridge exhibitioner at his college in 1842, and Warner exhibitioner 1842–3. He graduated BA in the university with third-class honours in literae humaniores in 1845, and he proceeded MA in 1847.

How then passed through the theological course at Durham University, was ordained deacon in December 1846, and became curate at St George's, Kidderminster, under Thomas Legh Claughton, afterwards bishop of St Albans, from whom he received an excellent training for his ministerial work. He was ordained priest in December 1847, and in 1848, for family reasons, returned to Shrewsbury, where he acted as curate in the parish of Holy Cross. On 6 November 1849 he married Frances Ann, daughter of Henry Douglas, rector of Salwarpe and residentiary canon of Durham.

In 1851 How became rector of Whittington in Shropshire, and remained there, an exemplary parish priest, for twenty-eight years. From 1852 until 1870 he was a diocesan inspector of education. In 1854 he was appointed rural dean of Oswestry, in 1860 honorary canon of St Asaph, in 1868 proctor for the clergy in convocation, and in the same year select preacher at Oxford. Although not a disciple of the Tractarians, he acknowledged their beneficial influence in the parishes, and in an important speech on church ceremonial, at the church congress of 1867, restated the Catholicity of the Anglican church.

How soon became known as a devotional writer, an efficient conductor of parochial missions, quiet days, and retreats, and a congress speaker. His Daily Family Prayers for Churchmen, which he published in 1852, soon after becoming rector of Whittington, was his earliest contribution to devotional literature and instantly secured a general circulation which it enjoyed for fully thirty years.

How's growing reputation led to a long series of offers of preferment, both in the colonies and at home, but he was in no haste to abandon his parochial labour in the country. He was offered and declined the bishoprics of Natal (1867), New Zealand (1868), Montreal (1869), Cape Town (1873), and Jamaica (1878), besides a canonry (with superintendence of home mission work) at Winchester (1878), and the livings of Brighton (1870), All Saints, Margaret Street (1873), and Windsor, with a readership to Queen Victoria (1878). The first offer he accepted was that of suffragan to the bishop of London, with episcopal supervision of east London. He had to assume the title of bishop of Bedford, because the only titles which could then be used by suffragan-bishops were those specified in the Suffragan-Bishop Act of Henry VIII. That act had fallen into abeyance since the early years of the seventeenth century, and had been revived only in 1870, when the first two suffragan-bishops, Henry Mackenzie, bishop-suffragan of Nottingham, and Edward Parry, bishop-suffragan of Dover, were appointed.

How was consecrated on St James's day, 1879, and on the following day was instituted to the living of St Andrew Undershaft, which supplied the income for the bishop, and a prebendal stall in St Paul's Cathedral; in the same year he was created DD by the archbishop of Canterbury, and on 15 June 1886 by Oxford University. He lived at Stainforth House, Upper Clapton, which was generously put at his disposal by the owner, and became, as a co-worker said, 'the leader of an east London crusade'. Exploiting the general feeling that the spiritual destitution of east London was appalling, he obtained assistance from all quarters. His first policy was 'to fill up the gaps in the ministry, both clerical and lay' (How, 155), and for this purpose he founded an east London church fund, which met with a ready response. The Princess Christian showed the deepest sympathy with his work. He secured pulpits and drawing-room meetings in the rich West End to help the poor East, and awakened an interest in the subject in rich watering-places such as Brighton, Tunbridge Wells, and Eastbourne, and also in the public schools and universities. In 1884 he was appointed a member of the royal commission on the housing of the working classes, chaired by Charles Dilke. Being recognized as a spiritual force, he attracted all spiritually minded people round him, and especially the clergy and laity in his own diocese. A teetotaller and supporter of the Church of England Temperance Society, he preached on two occasions to the Salvation Army (1883 and 1885). He received his clergy daily at Clapton, visited them at their own homes, and spent every available Sunday with one or other of them. But perhaps the work he loved best was that among children. There was no title that he valued more than that of ‘the Children's Bishop’, which was popularly accorded him, and no one of his compositions that he wrote with greater zest than his volume of sermons to children. His wife shared in this work, taking a particular interest in ‘purity’ missions, and she was a strong supporter of the Girls' Friendly Society. She founded a home in Walthamstow for the rescue of young prostitutes.

The bishop of London appointed in 1885, Frederick Temple, was less willing than his predecessor to allow How a free rein in east London. Temple's assertion of authority, followed by the death of How's wife, on 28 August 1887, probably influenced How's decision when, in 1888, he accepted the offer of the new bishopric of Wakefield. He soon became as great a power in the north as he had been in the south. He met, perhaps, with more troubles in his new sphere than in his old. His tendency to promote high-churchmen created ill-feeling in Yorkshire, and an appeal which he promoted in 1889 to raise £50,000 to build new churches in this industrial diocese produced a disappointing result. The building of a modest house for the bishop in Wakefield became the subject of an unpleasant public row, local critics wanting their bishop to be accommodated (against How's wishes) in a grander edifice. He moved into the house, Bishopsgarth, in 1893, having in 1890 declined Salisbury's offer of the see of Durham. He preferred to complete his reorganization of the Wakefield diocese, and did not wish to leave in an atmosphere of acrimony. His effort to mediate in the coal strike, in 1893, was a failure. He was an outspoken critic of indecent or irreligious literature, publicly declaring in a letter to the Yorkshire Post (8 June 1896) that he had thrown his copy of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure into the fire in disgust. How died during his August holiday at Dhulough Lodge, Killary Bay, co. Mayo, in the west of Ireland, on 10 August 1897. He was buried at Whittington, and the enlargement of Wakefield Cathedral was decided upon as a fitting memorial to him. He left a family of five sons and one daughter.

How was a keen fisherman, an accomplished botanist, and a most popular writer, both in prose and verse. His writings include Plain Words, four series of admirable short sermons, the first of which appeared in 1859 and passed through more than fifty editions; several other volumes of sermons, published at various times; a Commentary on the Four Gospels for SPCK, begun in 1863 and finished in 1868, which had a sale of nearly 300,000; Pastor in parochiâ (1868; 5th edn 1872) and Pastoral Work (1883), which also had a very large sale; Manual for the Holy Communion (SPCK, 1868), of which some 700,000 copies were sold; and Daily Family Prayers (1852; 4th edn 1872), which was very widely used. In 1854 he published, in conjunction with the Revd T. B. Morrell, a compilation of Psalms and Hymns; he was one of the original compilers of Church Hymns, brought out by SPCK in 1871, and Frances Carey Brock's Children's Hymn Book (1881) was published under his revision. His own original hymns were very popular. He is now best remembered for his hymn 'For all the saints who from their labours rest', sung to Vaughan Williams's fine tune.


  • F. D. How, Bishop Walsham How: a memoir (1899)
  • private information (1901)
  • personal knowledge (1901)
  • O. Chadwick, The Victorian church, 2 (1970)
  • E. F. Hatfield, The poets of the church: a series of biographical sketches of hymn writers (1884)


  • BL, letters to Royal Literary Fund, loan 96
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters to E. H. Bickersteth
  • LPL, corresp. with Frederick Temple; letters and papers on alleged ritualistic practices
  • NL Wales, letters to Louisa Lloyd
  • W. Yorks. AS, Wakefield, corresp.


  • E. Taylor, oils, 1879; presented to How by the clergy of St Asaph diocese, 1879
  • H. L. Norris, oils, 1897, Wadham College, Oxford
  • J. N. Forsyth, marble statue, exh. 1902, Wakefield Cathedral
  • C. Butterworth, woodcut, BM
  • S. A. Walker, photograph, NPG [see illus.]

Wealth at Death

£72,574 13s. 3d.: probate, 30 Oct 1897, CGPLA Eng. & Wales