Death of Canon Stewart – Rector of Liverpool for 34 Years

Liverpool Courier – 31st March 1916

A Notable Career

By the death of the Rev. Canon Alexander Stewart, formerly Rector of Liverpool, which occurred at his residence at Sandon-street yesterday, there is closed a notable and useful career in the Church life of Liverpool and its various diocesan activities. He has died full of years, being close on 90. He retired from the Rectorship of Liverpool in 1904, a position he held for 34 years. For some years afterwards he enjoyed good health, his sound physical powers enabling him to live a fairly active life. For some months past, however, his advancing years began to tell, and he has been practically invalid. Last Christmas some anxiety was felt as to his condition, but his remarkable vitality resisted the attack, and he rallied. He, however, passed away peacefully yesterday morning.

Sketch of his Career

A Liverpool man, Canon Stewart was born in Islington about 90 years ago, when Islington was one of the fashionable thoroughfares of the city. His father was a builder, with an extensive business in the city, who entered the City Council, and occupied the Mayoral chair in 1856. The Canon was educated at Clare College, Cambridge, becoming a Bachelor of Arts in 1848 and a Master of Arts in 1852. In 1849 he was ordained deacon, and a year later priest. His first curacy was at Smalley, which was followed by one at Spalding, Lincolnshire, under that distinguished divine, Dr. Moore. He then proceeded to South Cadbury, and afterwards to Chilton Cantelo, Somerset. In 1868 he was appointed vicar of Cogges, near Witney, from which he came to Liverpool two years later as Rector. He married Miss Weale, whose father, a very able man, was one of the Poor Law Commissioners.

The Rectory of Liverpool had previously been acquired from the Corporation of Liverpool by Mr. John Stewart, father of the Canon, the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 compelling municipal bodies to dispose of church patronage within their possession. Mr. John Stewart purchased the Liverpool rectory at a cost of something over £9,000, and he also acquired the livings at Hale and West Derby, all three of which he placed in the hands of his sons. The Rev. Percy Stewart, nephew of Canon Stewart, now holds the rectory of West Derby. Some years ago the rectory of Liverpool passed out of the hands of Canon Stewart to the Gladstone family, who now hold the advowson, the Rev. Stephen Gladstone being regarded as the patron of the living. The parish of Liverpool was formed in 1699, up to which time it had been part of Walton. It was singular in that it always had two rectors in office together up to 1855, when Archdeacon Brookes, who was then the senior rector, died at the age of 80. His co-rector was the Rev. Augustus Campbell, who died in 1870, aged 84, and was succeeded by Canon Stewart. One would almost gather from these facts, in conjunction with the age at which Canon Stewart retired, that the presentation to the rectory of Liverpool was equivalent to the grant of a long lease of life.

As Rector of Liverpool Canon Stewart was ex-officio chairman of the Liverpool Select Vestry, in the doings of which body he took an active interest during the whole of his chairmanship, which lasted for a period of 24 years. His connection with the Vestry ceased in December, 1894, when the Local Government Act of that year came into force. The Vestry was a different body in those older days than in the present year of grace. At that time, when the qualification of a vestry-man was an assessment of £50, the personnel of the Board included such names as Rathbone, Cropper, Fowler, Tate, Peet, Steel, and others. The Act of 1894, which brought some sort of order into the chaos of local government, threw wider open the doors leading to public life and brought changes good and bad. Those were the days when the 21 members, excluding the chairman, overseers, and churchwardens, were elected in vestry meeting by show of hands, or, if a poll was demanded, a week was occupied by the slow and open system of voting. A good deal of work was done under Canon Stewart’s chairmanship, although the larger schemes of the Vestry, due chiefly to the more exacting requirements of modern times, were carried forward in later years. In 1893 the jubilee of the Select Vestry was celebrated, and Canon Stewart, as chairman, was presented with a handsome portrait of himself, painted by Mr. R.E. Morrison. The late Bishop Ryle unveiled the picture, and due expression was given to the esteem in which the chairman was held by his colleagues on the board and the parishioners at large. Canon Stewart returned the portrait to the Vestry, and it now adorns the walls of the boardroom. The curious in such matters may compare it with a portrait of the late Mr. John Stewart, his father, which hangs within the Town Hall.

Present Diocese Formed

With the severance of his connection with the civil government of the parish Canon Stewart devoted himself to the work of the Church. Ten years after his accession to the rectory he saw the present diocese of Liverpool, comprising the southwest corner of Lancashire, formed from the ancient diocese of Chester, with Dr. Ryle as its first bishop. The parish church of St. Peter thus became the cathedral, and the Canon worthily upheld the dignity conferred upon his charge. He became an honorary canon of the Cathedral church in the year of the formation of the diocese, and also one of the bishop’s chaplains. In 1886 he was appointed Pluralist Act Commissioner for the Liverpool Chapter. In all matters affecting diocesan work he took a close interest, although his labours were always quite unobtrusive. In various ways the Canon gave assistance to practically every branch of diocesan activity, and he was a member of many of the diocesan societies, including the Finance Association, the committees for church building, benefices, church aid, and education. In addition to such work the business appertaining to the rectory required close attention, but, fortunately for himself, the Canon was a better business man than perhaps the majority of his cloth. It was very natural that at the age of 78 years, including over half a century of active participation in the work of the Church, he should seek relief from such manifold activities. He several times expressed desire to take the step, owing to advancing years, but deferred to the wishes of the Bishop of the Diocese, Dr. Chavasse, and postponed the resignation. When, in 1904, he retired from active participation in Church work the inevitable step was regretted by Church people throughout the city, and by none more than those who had the privilege of an intimate acquaintance with him.

As Rector

His devotion to the Church is well known, and few will be found to deny that he exercised a wholesome influence upon Church life in the city, and that the Church was the poorer by the cessation of his ministrations.

As Rector of Liverpool Canon Stewart was since 1880 virtually, although neither in title nor by emoluments, dean of what was formerly spoken of as the cathedral church of St. Peter. It had ever been his aim to uphold a pure and majestic service, and ever since the creation of the Liverpool diocese, when St. Peter’s Church became the cathedral church, the services at that place were of a suitable and worthy character. For over 20 years he had practically the sole responsibility of the musical service, the cost of which he defrayed himself. This, of course, entailed the expenditure of some thousands of pounds, and in 1902, at the instigation of the Bishop, a committee was formed to partially relieve the rector of this financial responsibility. It may suitably be mentioned that despite the multifarious duties attached to the rectorship, Canon Stewart was invariably an attendant, and generally a ministrant, at the daily service. He often conducted also the services at St. Nicholas Church, the chapel-of-ease. Another part of religious work in which Canon Stewart took a deep interest in that which concerned seamen. The St. Andrew’s Waterside Mission engaged much of his attention, and on the secular side he was a trustee of the Molyneux and Warbrick Charities, which are both concerned with the relief of seamen’s widows.

Canon Stewart leaves a widow and three sons and three daughters. Mrs. Stewart, who has also attained a venerable age, happily still enjoys fairly good health. Amongst the professions which the sons adopted both the Church and the Army are represented. The deepest sympathy will be extended to the widow and family in their bereavement.