William John Blew

William John Blew served as a curate at Cocking for a short period in the 1830s. He later moved to London, where he purchased St John the Baptist church at Gravesend, installing himself as priest. In 1851, he was suspended by the Bishop of Rochester for alleged sympathies to the Roman Catholic Cardinal Wiseman, following which he sold the church to Wiseman and ceased activity as a priest. He then settled into a scholarly life, translating classics from Greek and Latin, as well as writing and translating hymns, many of which came into common use.

William John Blew was born on 13 April 1808 in St James parish, Westminster, the son of William Blew (1773–1845) and his wife, Sarah née Winchester (1775–1841), and baptised at St James’s Church on 11 May.

William Blew was born in London, the son of John Blew, a perfumier trading in partnership as Bayley & Blew (“perfumiers to the Royal Family”) at Cockspur Street, Charing Cross, joining the family business after his education. He married Sarah Winchester at St James’s on 30 June 1796 and had two children: Sarah, born in April 1799, and William, born nine years later. At the time of William’s birth, his parents were living at  Warwick Street in the Charing Cross area, approximately ½ mile from the business premises.

William was educated at Great Ealing School (then Nicholas’ School) where a fellow pupil was John Henry Newman. He matriculated in October 1825, and attended Wadham College, Oxford where he was elected Goodridge exhibitioner in 1826, graduating as Bachelor of Arts on 13 May 1830 and obtaining his Master of Arts on 13 June 1832.

Shortly after graduating, in August 1831, William Blew published his translation of the first book of Homer’s Iliad, including Battle of the Frogs and Mice, Hymn to the Delian Apollo and Bacchus, or the Rovers.

On 23 December 1832, at Chichester Cathedral, William was ordained as a curate by the Bishop of Chichester, Edward Maltby. The following day he was installed as curate at both Cocking and Nuthurst, near Horsham, where Thomas Valentine was vicar and rector respectively. His parents had a home in Nuthurst at this time. A year later, on 22 December, William was ordained as a priest, at Chichester Cathedral.

It is unlikely that William Blew spent much time at Cocking; his name does not appear in the parish registers, and by May 1833, Henry Garrett Newland was officiating at baptisms, weddings and funerals. During this period, William lived in Nuthurst rectory and was in receipt of a stipend of £100 per annum.

In September 1834, William was appointed as a domestic chaplain to William, Earl Amherst, a former Governor-General of India. His wife, Lady Sarah Amherst, was a naturalist after whom Lady Amherst’s pheasant and the tree Amherstia nobilis are named.

The Oxford Movement

At Oxford University, William became a supporter of the move towards the reinstatement of some older Christian traditions of faith and their inclusion into Anglican liturgy and theology. Fellow Oxford graduates, John Henry Newman and John Keble  were leading proponents of the concept of the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic” Christian church, which by 1833 became known as  “Tractarianism” or the Oxford Movement.

In 1834, William was a signatory to a declaration opposing the government’s bill which sought to change the constitution of the University of Oxford, to permit non-conformists to become students. His fellow signatories included Newman and Keble.

It is probable that during his time at Nuthurst from 1832 to 1840, William began to demonstrate his Tractarian sympathies, re-introducing High Church ideas such as wearing surplices, the burning of candles, etc. into the service.

Career in London and Kent

Towards the end of 1840, William left Nuthurst and moved to London, where he took up the curacy of St Anne’s, Soho for two years, before being installed as incumbent of St John the Baptist Church in Gravesend, Kent in September 1842.

St John’s church had been built in 1834 as a proprietary chapel with 1200 seats, at a cost of £7200. The church’s revenue was derived mainly from pew rents, which were insufficient to cover the expenditure, and,  by 1842 the church was effectively bankrupt and was placed up for sale. The highest offer, of £3500 came from the Diocese of Rochester, until William Blew’s offer of £4000 for the building complete with its furnishings and fittings was accepted.

William Blew introduced new ideas into the church, and at his own expense founded a library and school for the education of 12 choristers, appointing Henry Gauntlett as choirmaster. William commenced “an active and unwearied career in the development of the church system, by means of frequent services and communion”.

William Blew continued to minister to an increasing congregation until April 1851, when the following report appeared in The Times of 9 April.

Suspension of a Clergyman of the Established Church. A strong sensation has been excited in the town of Gravesend in consequence of the suspension for six months of the Rev. Mr. Blew, minister of the Church of St. John, by the Bishop of Rochester.

The suspension was ordered by the Bishop of Rochester, George Murray (an opponent of the Tractarian movement), following a complaint from Lieut. Lewis Duval, churchwarden at nearby Holy Trinity Church (which was consecrated in 1844), that William and other High Church clerics had written to the newly-appointed Roman Catholic Cardinal Wiseman regretting the way he had been treated by the Church of England. William was accused of addressing Cardinal Wiseman as “your Eminence”, and expressing “respect for his person and office as a bishop of the church of God” and stating that the “clamour of the many … is not to be regarded as the unequivocal voice of religion and of the Church of England”.

Over the following few weeks, there was regular correspondence in the local press both from William’s supporters and opponents. One supporter wrote:

The reverend gentleman has ministered in this town many years, and the moderate tone in which he has exercised his ministry, together with his candour, his unobtrusive conduct and benevolence, entitle him to the warmest respect … from every liberal-minded soul.

During the suspension, the affairs of St John’s were looked after by deacons, and the activities began to deteriorate, with the girls’ school being closed in May. Despite a petition of over 1000 signatures (including the Mayor of Gravesend) being presented to the bishop, which was countered by a letter to the bishop supporting his actions with 90 signatures including 22 members of the clergy, Bishop Murray was unrelenting in his decision to suspend William Blew.

On Trinity Sunday, 15 June 1851 (St John the Baptist’s Day), it was announced that St John’s Church would close after evening service on Tuesday 24 June. This notice came as a shock to the congregation, many of whom tried in vain to persuade William to change his mind. The final communion service was well attended and was arranged by Dr William Gauntlett and conducted by Revd. D. Wright. After the service, nearly 100 guests attended a dinner in William Blew’s honour at the New Inn at which many highly emotional speeches and toasts were made. The crowd then adjourned until the final evening prayer after which they returned to the New Inn for more toasts and speeches.

St-John the Evangelist Church

In September 1851, William Blew completed the sale of St John’s to Cardinal Wiseman, on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, for the sum of £4000. After some modifications, the church was re-opened on 30 October as the Roman Catholic church of St John the Evangelist with the service conducted by the newly-appointed Lord Bishop of Southwark, Thomas Grant. Cardinal Wiseman, now Archbishop of Westminster, preached the sermon, in which he praised William Blew (who was in attendance) for “his courage in the protest he had made which led to his suspension when the country rang with the basest and most atrocious calumnies upon the Catholic religion”.

Marriage and children

William’s mother and father died in October 1841 and July 1845 respectively. On 20 July 1846, William (aged 38) married 28-year old Mary Anne Read Walker at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Milton by Gravesend. Mary was the eldest daughter of Henry Walker, who was for many years the British Consul to the islands of Fayal and Pico in the Azores. Her mother was Mary Anne née Chandler.

Prior to the marriage, William lived at 100 Milton Road, Gravesend, but following the death of his father and his marriage, the couple moved into the family home at 16 Warwick Street, Charing Cross.

The couple had three children:

William Charles Arlington Blew, baptised 21 September 1847 at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Milton by Gravesend

John Walker Bernard Blew, baptised 18 December 1849 at St Martin in the Fields, London

Mary Charlotte Blew, baptised 11 December 1851 at St Martin in the Fields, London

Hymn writing and translation etc.

In 1845, during his incumbency at St John’s, Deptford, William started hymn writing, with the hymns printed on fly-sheets for the use of his congregation.

In 1852, he and Henry Gauntlett published The Church Hymn and Tune Book, which reached a second edition in 1855 and became the Tractarian Society’s hymn book. The hymns, which are chiefly translations from the Latin, were described as “terse, vigorous, musical, and of great merit”. The volume also contained several original hymns by Blew. This was followed by a pamphlet, Hymns and Hymn Books in 1858,  and in 1877 by an edition of the 1548 Altar Service of the Church of England.

William Blew’s hymns were in common use for a short time, but were overlooked in more recent hymn collections. The only hymn still in regular use is his translation from the Latin of A shameful death He dies to the tune Troytes Chant.

William has been described as “a scholar of some repute”. Following his translation of the “Iliad” in 1831, he translated Aeschylus‘s Agamemnon in 1855 and EuripidesMedea into English verse in 1887. He also edited two plays from the 17th century: Queen Mary: The Famous History of Sir Thomas Wyatt by Thomas Dekker & John Webster and If you Know not me, you Know Nobody, or, The Troubles of Queen Elizabeth by Thomas Heywood. In 1854, he published what has been described as “his most solid work”, his edition of the 16th century Aberdeen Breviary for the Bannatyne Club.

Later life and death

Following the sale of St John’s church, William never held another living and dedicated the rest of his life to the writing of books and pamphlets and the composing and translation of hymns. He continued to live with his wife Mary at 16 Warwick Street. At the 1861 census, William (described as a “clergyman without cure of souls”) and Mary were resident there with their two sons and Mary’s mother, plus a cook and two other servants. Their daughter, Mary, was staying with her aunt Charlotte Walker in Chiswick.

Ten years later, William and his two adult sons were again resident at Warwick Street, with his sister-in-law Charlotte and her aunt, Margaret Chandler, plus three staff. Mary and her daughter were staying with friends at Marine Parade, Brighton.

In July 1872, William unveiled a memorial window to his parents in the chancel at St. Andrew’s Church, Nuthurst.  The window, by Thomas Baillie & Co, has two lights, containing images of St Luke and St Swithin.

On 23 June 1876, Mary died at home in Warwick Street, aged 58. The cause of death was recorded as “heart disease terminating in congestion of the lungs”.

In 1881, William was at 16 Warwick Street, with his two unmarried children and Charlotte, plus a cook and three other servants.

In the 1888 overseers return (voters’ list) for the Strand polling district, William is recorded as living at 6 Warwick Street, but owning the properties at 3,5,7,9 & 11 Warwick Street.

By the 1891 census, the numbering of the properties in Warwick Street had been revised so that the family home was now 6 Warwick Street, where William and his sister-in-law were living with William’s 43-year old son William, with a cook, two housemaids and a footman. William junior’s wife, Martha, and their son were staying at the Feathers Hotel in Ledbury, Herefordshire.

William John Blew died at home on 27 December 1894, aged 86; the cause of death was “Morbus Cordis” (heart failure). His estate was valued at £10,281. He was buried alongside his wife at St Andrew’s Church, Nuthurst on 2 January 1895.

The Tablet, the Catholic church newspaper, published an obituary on 12 January 1895. After a “sketch” of his life, the article concluded:

As a large-hearted man, Mr. Blew’s learning, work, and advice were at the service of all his friends who needed them, including his very rare and fine liturgical library. Quiet and retiring, in social life cheerful and affectionate, his memory will be cherished by his friends and his friends’ children for many days to come.

Other family members

William Charles Arlington Blew followed his father into the University of Oxford, graduating as Bachelor of Arts in 1871, before qualifying as a barrister in 1876, practicing on the south-eastern circuit. As well as working as a barrister, he wrote books including Brighton and its Coaches, A History of Steeple-chasing and Light Horses – Breeds And Management. He married Martha Thomas in March 1883. Their only child, William Walker Humphreyson Blew was born shortly after the wedding; in the First World War, he served with the 9th Battalion London Regiment and died on 12 September 1916 of wounds incurred at the Battle of the Somme. William senior died in June 1904, aged 56.

John Walker Bernard Blew worked as an architect in Bedford Row, London. He married Isaline Brown in August 1873, with whom he had two children. He died in May 1879, aged 29.

Mary Charlotte Blew married George Blench Mason (1845–1901) at St Martin in the Fields on 11 April 1882. The marriage service was conducted by Revd. John Ommaney McCarogher, who had succeeded Thomas Valentine as rector at Nuthurst. George was a graduate of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and served as a Royal Navy instructor on board HMS Brittania. The couple had three daughters, none of whom married. Mary died in August 1928, aged 76.


See here for list of works and hymns by William John Blew.




1841 England Census

1851 England Census

1861 England Census

1871 England Census

1881 England Census

1891 England Census

1901 England Census

1911 England Census

County genealogies : pedigrees of the families of the county of Kent

England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966

England, Pallot’s Marriage Index, 1780–1837

London, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813–1906

London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813–1920

London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754–1936

London, England, City Directories, 1736–1943

London, England, Electoral Registers, 1832–1965

London, England, Freedom of the City Admission Papers, 1681–1925

London, England, Overseer Returns, 1863–1894

Oxford University Alumni, 1500–1886

UK, City and County Directories, 1766–1946

UK, Crockford’s Clerical Directories

UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories, 1770–1941

UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538–1893

Westminster, London, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1558–1812

Westminster, London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813–1919

Westminster, London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754–1935

BlueLetterBible.org               William John Blew

Brighton Gazette: 23 April 1840. Horsham

Brighton Guardian: 20 December 1865.  On the New Latin Prayer Books (Review)

Bristol Times and Mirror: 24 September 1842.  University and Clerical Intelligence

British History Online:     A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6: Nuthurst

Church of England Clergy Database:        Blew, William John (1832–1833)

Commonwealth War Graves Commission: Lance Corporal William Humphreyson Blew

Discover Gravesham       Gravesend

English Chronicle and Whitehall Evening Post: 2 January 1834.  Ecclesiastical Intelligence

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette: 31 December 1894.  General Information


St Peter & St Paul, Milton-next-Gravesend Marriage Register. Blew-Walker (1846)

St Peter & St Paul, Milton-next-Gravesend Baptism Register. William Charles Arlington Blew (1847)

St Andrew’s, Nuthurst Burial Register: Mary Anne Read Blew (1876)

St Andrew’s, Nuthurst Burial Register: William John Blew (1895)

Hampshire Advertiser: 4 January 1834.   Church News (Chichester)

Hampshire Telegraph: 15 April 1882.  Marriages

Hymnary.org                  William John Blew

Hymntime.com                William John Blew (1808–1894)

Illustrated London News: 20 July 1872.  The Church

Kent Archaeology:           R. H. Hiscock, LL.B.1977.The Proprietory Chapel of St. John, Gravesend. Archaeologia Cantiana. 93:1-24

Kentish Independent:

5 April 1851.                  The Papal Aggression

12 April 1851.                 The Bishop and the Rev. W.J. Blew

26 April 1851.                 The Bishop of Rochester and the Rev. W.J. Blew

3 May 1851.                   The Bishop of Rochester and the Rev. W.J. Blew

3 May 1851.                   Rev. Mr. Blew and the Bishop (Correspondence)

10 May 1851.                 Church Alms & Christian Education (Correspondence)

17 May 1851.                 Suspension of the Rev. W.J. Blew

31 May 1851.                 The Bishop of Rochester and the Rev. Mr. Blew

14 June 1851.                Correspondence Relative to the Suspension of the Rev. W.J. Blew

21 June 1851.                The Suspension of the Rev. W.J. Blew

28 June 1851.                The Bishop of Rochester and the Rev. W.J. Blew

28 June 1851.                Closing of St. John’s Church

28 June 1851.                The Rev. J. Blew and the Bishop of Rochester (Correspondence)

5 July 1851.                   The Pope, the Cardinal, the Bishop, the Priest, and the People in Gravesend (Correspondence)

4 October 1851.              St. John’s Church

4 December 1858.          Reviews: Hymns and Hymn Books, with a few Words on Anthems

London Evening Standard:

14 May 1830.                 University and Clerical Intelligence (Oxford)

6 July 1845.                   Deaths

Longford Journal: 19 April 1851.    Suspension of a Clergyman of the Established Church

Manchester Courier: 31 December 1894.   Deaths

Morning Chronicle:

24 May 1850.                 Church Movement at Gravesend

26 April 1851.                 The Suspension of the Rev. W.J. Blew, of Gravesend

Morning Herald:

15 June 1832.                University and Clerical Intelligence

31 December 1832.        Ecclesiastical Intelligence

Morning Post:

19 September 1842.       University Intelligence

24 May 1850.                 Church Movement at Gravesend

The National Archives:     Add Mss 27,532 – 27,555. Records of farm in Nuthurst

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: William John Blew (1808–1894)

Oxford Journal: 3 May 1834.   The Oxford Declaration

Oxford University and City Herald:

15 May 1830.                 University Intelligence

27 August 1831.             Just Published (Advertisement)

12 January 1833.            Clerical Intelligence

Project Canterbury          William John Blew

Saint James’s Chronicle:

11 September 1834.       Ecclesiastical Intelligence

25 July 1846.                 Marriages

Spiritual Songsters:              William John Blew, 1808–1894

Sussex Advertiser: 27 April 1840. Horsham

The Tablet: 12 January 1894.  Obituary

Taking Stock:                 Catholic Churches of England and Wales: Gravesend – St John the Evangelist

Weekly Despatch: 13 April 1851. Suspension of the Rev. William J. Blew, of St. John’s Church, Gravesend

Wikipedia                             William John Blew