Sunday, 20 April 2014

Canon Rowsell : Rector of Beccles 1882 - 1910

Last week I purchased two historical Beccles postcards. Both were in relation to the late Canon Rowsell. My first thought was, "Great, I can write a blog post about him". When the postcards arrived in the post on Thursday I thought how timely it was as I could use the images as part of a special Easter blog post. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Canon Rowsell's first sermon at St Michael's Church, Beccles was on an Easter Sunday!

John Rowsell was born in Kennington, county Surrey on 4 January 1853, the second known son of Nicholas Henry Rowsell (solicitor) and Mary Ann, nee Bishop. John was baptised one week later at St Mark's Church in Kennington. The Rowsell family resided in Foxley Road, North Brixton up until 1860 when Nicholas Henry Rowsell died, aged just 33. His solicitor's firm was situated at the Verulam Buildings of Gray's Inn Road, in London.

From the 'Cambridge University Alumni, 1261 - 1900'

ROWSELL, John: Adm. pens. at TRINITY, July 8, 1871. S. of Nicholas Henry,
solicitor, of 7, The Croft, Hastings. B. [Jan. 4], 1853, in Kennington, London. School,
Hastings (private). Matric. Michs. 1871; B.A. 1875; M.A. 1878. Ord. deacon
(Chichester) 1876; priest, 1877; C. of St Mary-in-the-Castle, Hastings,
1876-8. C. of St Clement's, Halton, Hastings, 1878-9. Asst. P.C. of Beverley
Minster, 1879-82. R. of Beccles, Suffolk, 1882-1910. Hon. Canon of Norwich,
1895-1910. Married, July 2, 1879, Alice Lucy, youngest dau. of the Rev.
Richard Wilson Greaves, deceased, formerly R. of Tooting. Died June 7, 1910.
(Crockford; The Times, June 9, 1910.)

John Rowsell married Alice Lucy Greaves in the English Church of Bruges. They had seven children:

Alice Myra Rowsell        b. 1880 Beverley, Yorkshire
Irene May Rowsell         b. 1881 Beverley, Yorkshire
Ruth Margaret Rowsell        b. 1883 Beccles, Suffolk
Monica Bishop Rowsell        b. 1884 Beccles, Suffolk
John Bishop Rowsell        b. 1886 Beccles, Suffolk
Herbert Greaves Rowsell        b. 1888 Beccles, Suffolk
Keith Alfred Rowsell        b. 1890 Beccles, Suffolk

The 1881 census returns show John Rowsell with his wife and their daughter Alice Myra residing in Beverley, county Yorkshire. John's occupation reads thus: "MA Camb. Perpetual Curate in Beverley Minster". The Rowsell family moved to Beccles the following year, in 1882. The Beccles Paper of 14 February 1882 states: "NEW RECTOR: Rev. John Rowsell, minister of St John, Beverley, Yorkshire accepted after resignation of Rev. F.F. Tracy." On 28 March 1882 the Beccles Paper reported that Rev. John Rowsell had preached his farewell service in Beverley Minster, where for three years he had been Perpetual Curate.

The Reverend John Rowsell

On Sunday 9 April 1882, Rev. John Rowsell preached for the first time at St Michael's, Beccles and was warmly recieved. So much so that newspapers and documents of the day consistently reported Rowsell to be "a kindly and sympathetic clergy-man of liberal views." In 1887, Rowsell was appointed Surrogate of Norwich Diocese. The 1891 & 1901 census returns show the Rowsell family residing in Ballygate, Beccles. As he was the Rector of Beccles, Rowsell and his family would have been living in The Old Rectory (now a Grade II listed property). In February 1895, John Rowsell was appointed as Honorary Canon in Norwich Cathedral.

John Rowsell and his family were all productive members of the Beccles community, participating in many societies such as the Temperance Society of Beccles and were staunch advocates for good education for all children. In 1899, four of Canon Rowsell's children took part in a Juvenile Fancy Dress Ball. One of these children in particular, Monica Rowsell, went on to taking part in Church fundraising concerts where newspaper reports claimed she sang "in a pleasing and most splendid manner."
Before Canon John Rowsell died on 7 June 1910 (King Edward VII had died just one month previous), he had presided over many meetings for the community at large including the Public Library, Agricultural and Horticultural Societies, Church of England Society as well as presenting prizes at Caxton Annual Sports, Regattas, and Schools. The East Suffolk Gazette of 14 June 1910 reported that Rowsell: "Introduced parish magazines, also kneelers; Organ renovated & decorated, erection of brass tablets encouraged. Reredos [altar-piece] 1884; East Window, Memorial to Queen Victoria's Jubilee 1887 (£500 public subscription); Trained surpliced Choir." He was indeed a very altruistic and industrious man, who was no doubt sorely missed by the people of Beccles when he passed away, aged 57.

In November 1909, a Dedication Service was held for
the Church Bells of St Michael's Church,
which had been re-tuned and re-cast.

It is interesting to note for posterity that the above photograph shows a total of eight men. In all of my Beccles local history books there are similar images but they all show only five of the eight men. The five given names, which correspond to the large bell shown above on the right, indicate the men standing third in from the left: 
The Rev. John Rowsell (Rector)
A.R. Clatworthy (Augustine Richard) (Churchwarden)
Womack Brooks (Churchwarden)
Henry Hopson (Bell Ringing Captain)
W.J. Money (William James) (Mayor of Beccles)
(The two men standing on the left, and the last man on the right, are currently unknown.)

Caxton Sports was postponed in June 1909 due
to a very wet summer. Instead it was held
in July 1909, presentations seen above.

East Suffolk Gazette January 1911: Death of Canon Rowsell, the Rector. “Universally beloved” died on 7 June 1910. He took his share in the Church Services on the Sunday, two days before his death, and preached. He attended the business meeting of the Hospital committee, and was seized by fatal illness while he was on his way to the house of a sick parishioner. Struck down by paralysis of the brain, he died the next day. He had been Rector of the Parish for 28 years, identifying himself with the life and varied interests of the town. “His wide sympathies, his broad mindedness, his readiness to spend and be spent for all those needing his ministrations, endeared him to all his fellow townsmen, and no religious or social or class distinctions were ever allowed to interfere in any way with his efforts for the moral and spiritual good of his people.”

In July 1911, after a committee meeting earlier in the year in which it was agreed that a three-light window on the south-side of the church should be filled with a stained glass design in his memory, a Memorial Window dedicated to Canon John Rowsell was erected in St Michael's Church.