Death of the Rector of West Derby

The Daily Post 24th June 1889

It is with deep regret we have to announce the death of the Rev. Canon John Stewart, M.A., the rector of West Derby, in his sixty-eighth year, which took place at the Rectory, on Saturday morning about seven o’clock. The deceased, as has been known, keenly felt the death of his wife, which took place nearly twelve months ago. He has, however, since the sad event, continued constant in his devotion and attention to pastoral and other duties, and up to the date of his last illness was always ready to take his part on any public or private occasion requiring his services. Those who heard him read the first lesson at the consecration of St. Dunstan’s Church a few weeks ago, were struck with the clearness of his voice and the exquisite feeling which he manifested in the reading of the appointed Scripture. It is only a week past last Thursday since the late rector, according to previous appointment, presided at a concert held in West Derby Hall. In the course of these proceedings he fainted, and it was some time before he could be brought round. On the succeeding days in the same week considerable anxiety was felt with reference to his condition. At the beginning of last week, however, the patient somewhat rallied, and sanguine hopes were again entertained that with care and rest ultimate recovery was certain. About the middle of the week the symptoms became less hopeful, and Canon Stewart fell into a sinking condition until the end, the immediate cause being heart disease.

The late Canon John Stewart was a graduate of St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he took the B.A. degree (sen. opt.) in 1844, and proceeded to M.A. in 1847. He was ordained deacon in 1844 and priest in 1846 by the then Bishop of Lincoln. His first curacy was that of Coddington and Langford, where he laboured with much acceptance until 1846, when he entered upon the rectorship of West Derby. He has thus held this important position for a period of about forty-three years. The late rector has all along been a prominent diocesan worker. He was rural dean of Liverpool South, 1865 to 1884, when he was appointed rural dean of Prescot, proctor for the archdeacon of Liverpool 1866 to 1885, honorary canon of Chester Cathedral 1872, and transferred canon to Liverpool 1880. He was again appointed proctor for the archdeaconry of Liverpool in 1886. The late canon was quiet and unostentatious in all his actions, but everything he did was thorough, while his advice and counsel at committee and other gatherings was much valued. His rectorship at West Derby dates back to about the period when the parish was formed from that at Walton, and was constituted a chapelry. He has thus been a connecting link, as it were, between the local ecclesiastical past and present. Commencing his ministry in the small edifice which had served the village for many generations, he was also greatly instrumental in the raising of the present elegant parish church, which was, in 1853, built from designs of Mr. Gilbert (afterwards Sir Gilbert) Scott. The church, as is well-known, stands out conspicuous, with its prominent central tower, and by the striking landscape scenery surroundings.

The rector’s work in the parish was in keeping with his actions as a diocesan. He was greatly beloved, esteemed, and respected, and was a true pastor to the poor as well as to the rich, while his visitations to the afflicted, the sick, and the dying, were always appreciated. His well-known familiar figure, so dignified, so gentlemanly, and so prominent will be felt wanting at many future conferences and assemblies, and his removal from our midst has created a blank which will not be easily filled. The deceased was the patron of several benefices in the diocese, in all of which he displayed unwearied interest. His last illness prevented him from being present at the recent ceremony of laying the foundation-stone of St. Anne’s, Stanley, of which church he was patron. St. Mary’s, Edge-hill, and the parish of Knotty Ash were also greatly benefited by his numerous acts of quiet benevolence. A few weeks ago, when the foundation-stone of the chancel, &c., at Knotty Ash was being laid, Canon John Stewart was a prominent figure amongst the clergy present, when he also took part in the solemn services of the day. His removal by death will create some important vacancies: 1. a canonry; 2. a proctorship; and 3. a rural deanery.

The benefice is a family living. The late Mr. John Stewart, father of the deceased, whose name is closely associated with Liverpool annals, and who filled the civic chair 1855-56, and died on the 9th April, 1871, in his eightieth year, purchased the three advowsons West Derby, Liverpool, and Hale, which, as they respectively became vacant, were given to the three sons. The two brothers of the late rector of West Derby who still survive are the Rev. Canon Alexander Stewart, rector of Liverpool, who was appointed in 1870, and is one of the chaplains to the Bishop of Liverpool; and the Rev. Richard Benson Stewart, vicar of Hale, who has held this living since 1856. The late Canon John Stewart leaves a family of two sons and five daughters to mourn his loss. Another daughter died about two years previous to the decease of Mrs. Stewart. One of the sons is a clergyman, who, it is anticipated, will succeed his father to the vacant benefice.

Through the preferment of Archdeacon Lefroy and the death of Canon Stewart, the Bishop has at present two honorary canonries at his disposal.

Pulpit References

At St. Mary’s Church, Edge-hill, yesterday, the Rev. Andrew Wilson, M.A., incumbent, alluded to the death of the rector of West Derby, morning and evening, and in concluding his evening service, said: The rector of West Derby, who was patron of this church, died on last Saturday evening, after a short illness – so short that on only one Sunday was he absent from his place in the parish church between its beginning and its fatal termination. A member of a well-known and much-respected Liverpool family, he was educated at Cambridge. His college career was not an undistinguished one. He took his B.A. degree in 1844, his name appearing in the list of senior optimes in the mathematical tripos. In the same year he was ordained by the late Bishop Kaye, of Lincoln, and after serving in a Nottinghamshire country parish, he became the first rector of West Derby in 1846 when it was separated from the older and very large parish of Walton-on-the-Hill. The parish church was then the old and rather mean building known as Derby Church, but through his exertions the present parish church was built at West Derby – a noble work by one of our greatest ecclesiastical architects, the late Sir Gilbert Scott. For many years he has been one of the leading clergy in this neighbourhood, especially during the episcopate of the late Bishop Jacobson. His dignified presence, his courtly bearing, his great knowledge of ecclesiastical law, his sound judgment, and his unusual business capacity made him an important public personage in the local world; and those who have been intimately acquainted with him know that to these more striking qualities he added others of a different kind – a sincere piety which shrunk from anything like an ostentatious display of itself, and a scrupulous sense of the responsibilities of his sacred office. In the Church of England there is room – as there ought to be, for clergy of different types of character and training to cope successfully with the great variety of situations and emergencies which belong to the care of the moral and spiritual necessities of the English nation; and the late rector of West Derby was a good sample of a class which is, perhaps, not so fully represented in the ranks of the clergy at the present time as it was in some former periods – the class in which the special virtues of this profession are accompanied by the results of a liberal education of the highest kind in the country, by a noble courtesy, and polished manliness. The “Dead March” in “Saul” was played, the congregation standing.

At the Cathedral Church the flag was hoisted half mast. The “Dead March” was played at the close of the afternoon service.

The Rev. H.G. Vernon, incumbent of St. Stephen’s Church, Byrom-street, also referred last evening at the close of his sermon to the rector of West Derby in a most feeling manner, reminding his hearers that Canon John Stewart took part in the consecration of the new St. Stephen’s Church on the 5th August, 1870, reading the lesson at the morning service and preaching the sermon in the evening. At the close of the service the Dead March” in “Saul” was played by the organist.