Bustling Intermeddler?: The Life & Work of Charles James Blomfield
Gracewing, Leominster, 2001, £14.99
(price at publication of review)
Reviewed May 2002; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2002
Charles Blomfield was Bishop of London from 1828 to 1856. He was lauded by many of his contemporaries for his energy and administrative zeal, and for being a powerful orator both in the pulpit and in the House of Lords. He was the scourge of ‘lax clergy’. He had an evangelical fervour for the Church to face the social challenges of the increasing urban poverty of his day. He believed too in the Church reforming its own structures, and was also a great advocate of creating Anglican bishoprics overseas. He was the only bishop of his day to be associated with the founding of a Religious sisterhood – the Nursing Sisters of St John the Divine in 1848 – although only on the condition they did not take vows. (They finally broke the condition in the 1930s.)
Yet strangely, despite his impact on the Church of England and his influence in the political events of his day, he has been neglected by historians over the past century. So a new biography is very welcome. The author provides plenty of factual material along with anecdotal stories of the bishop’s life, and the context in which Blomfield worked is given detailed attention. He does not neglect the down side of Blomfield’s fervent approach, which typically for his time was revealed in a harsh moralism. The bishop was as fiercely condemning of unmarried mothers as he was of incompetent bureaucrats.
Life for this bishop was a matter of rules and structures and ‘getting things done’. This was all admirable in its way. But sadly, it did not make Blomfield as intriguing a character as agonies and self-doubts and failures made, for example, John Henry Newman. Hence perhaps the neglect of Blomfield as a subject for research and comment. I hope this book may begin to ignite an interest in a forgotten Victorian reformer.
Petà Dunstan, University of Cambridge
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