25 May 2023

You never know what you
can find at the back of
an old railway station

The Mitre behind the railway station in Knaresborough … but which bishop is it named after? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Knaresborough railway station is a Grade II listed station at the north side of the Knaresborough Viaduct. The traditional buildings on the east-bound platform have been turned into commercial use, including a café in the old booking office and a shop selling old memorabilia. The unusual station signal box was built in 1890 built onto the end of an adjoining row of terraced houses.

But while Charlotte and I were waiting there earlier this month to catch the train back to York, my eyes were caught by the Mitre Hotel beside the station.

The Bishops of Ripon are suffragan bishops in the Diocese of Leeds, but were known as the Bishops of Knaresborough from 1909 until 2015. The Bishops of Knaresborough included Frank Weston (1935-2003), who was Bishop of Knaresborough in the then Diocese of Ripon and Leeds in 1997-2003, and a nephew of the leading Anglo-Catholic bishop, Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar.

The Mitre sits on the site of a former public house, the Wheatsheaf, that was rebuilt ca 1923. I wondered which Bishop of Knaresborough the pub had been named after. But a plaque on the wall soon explained: ‘The name is an acknowledgement to the high churchman Bishop William Stubbs (1825-1901), distinguished theologian, ecclesiastical historian and Bishop of Oxford, born in the town.’

William Stubbs (1825-1901) was Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford in 1866-1884, Bishop of Chester (1884-1889) and Bishop of Oxford (1889-1901).

William Stubbs was born on 21 June 1825 in a house on the High Street, Knaresborough, the son of William Morley Stubbs, a solicitor, and his wife, Mary Ann Henlock. He was educated at Ripon Grammar School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated MA in 1848, obtaining a first-class in Literae Humaniores and a third in mathematics.

Stubbs was elected a Fellow of Trinity College Oxford while he was the Rector of Navestock, Essex (1850-1866). He married Catherine Dellar, daughter of John Dellar of Navestock, in 1859, and they were the parents of several children. He was librarian at Lambeth Palace, and in 1862 was he an unsuccessful candidate for the Chichele Professorship of Modern History at Oxford.

Stubbs was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford in 1866, and with the post he was ex officio a Fellow of Oriel College. He held the chair until 1884. His lectures were thinly attended, and he found them a distraction from his historical work. Some of his statutory lectures are published in his Lectures on Mediaeval and Modern History.

He founded the Oxford University School of Modern History in 1872, allowing postclassical history to be taught as a distinct subject for the first time. He accepted the patronage of the Stubbs Society during his time at Oxford.

Stubbs was rector of Cholderton, Wiltshire, from 1875 to 1879, when he was appointed a canon of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. He served on the ecclesiastical courts commission in 1881-1883 and wrote the weighty appendices to the report.

William Stubbs, who gives name to The Mitre, was Bishop of Chester and of Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

He became Bishop of Chester in 1884 and was Bishop of Oxford from 1889 until his death. As Bishop of Oxford he was also Chancellor of the Order of the Garter. He was a member of the Chetham Society, and served as vice-president from 1884.

Stubbs was a High Churchman, and he acted as an assessor to the archbishop in the trial of Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln.

An attack of illness in November 1900 was serious blow to Stubbs. However, he attended the funeral of Queen Victoria on 2 February 1901, and preached before King Edward VII and Kaiser Wilhelm II on the following day.

Stubbs’s illness became critical on 20 April. He died in Cuddesdon on 22 April 1901, and he was buried at All Saints’ Church, Cuddesdon, next to the palace of the Bishops of Oxford.

In England, the US and throughout Europe, Stubbs was regarded in his day as the leading English historical scholar. Among his many distinctions he was DD and honorary DCL of Oxford, LLD of Cambridge and Edinburgh, held honorary doctorates from Heidelberg and Kyiv, and he was an honorary member of academies in Prussia, Bavaria, Denmark, France and the US.

Stubbs argued that the theory of the unity and continuity of history should not remove distinctions between ancient and modern history. He believed that work on ancient history is a useful preparation for the study of modern history, but either may advantageously be studied apart. He also believed that the effects of individual character and human nature will render generalisations vague and useless.

While arguing that history is useful as a mental discipline and a part of a liberal education, he recommended its study chiefly for its own sake.

Stubbs published his Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum in 1858, with a second edition in 1897, setting forth episcopal consecration data in England from the year 597. This was followed by many other later works, and particularly by his share in Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents, edited with the Revd AW Haddan. He also edited 19 volumes for the Rolls series of Chronicles and Memorials.

However, Stubbs is best remembered for his three-volume Constitutional History of England (1874-1878), once the standard authority on the subject. It was followed by a companion volume, Select Charters and Other Illustrations of English Constitutional History.

In his day, Stubbs was regarded as being in the front rank of historical scholars, both as an author and a critic, However, his work is not entirely unquestionable. Some modern historians question his acceptance of some mediaeval chronicles, written by monastical scribes whose views were influenced by Church politics at the time.

Stubbs’s ideas of a confrontational political framework have been superseded by KB McFarlane’s ‘community of interest’ theory. He is seen by many today as an historical scholar with little or no experience of public affairs, with views of the present that were romantically historicised. They say he was drawn to history by an antiquarian passion for the past, as well as a patriotic and populist impulse to identify the nation and its institutions as the collective subject of English history.

The Mitre in Knaresborough was also the birthplace of local philanthropist and entrepreneur George A Moore (1928-2016), whose was the landlord. Moore formed a joinery and coach building business that expanded the company into manufacturing high quality kitchen furniture, and Moore’s Furniture Group employed hundreds of people near Wetherby.

The George A Moore Foundation began as a staff welfare fund in 1970 and has become a well-respected grant-making foundation. It continues to support charities, mainly in the Yorkshire area.

As for the Stubbs Society for Foreign Affairs and Defence, commonly known as the Stubbs Society, it remains Oxford’s oldest officially affiliated paper-reading and debating society. It is the university’s forum for scholarship in international history, strategic policy and foreign affairs, and has welcomed many prominent speakers, including Home Secretaries, Lords Chancellor, Archbishops of Canterbury, world leaders, Nobel laureates, Victoria Cross recipients, journalists and academics.

The Railway Station in Knaresborough maintains its traditional appearance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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