The Rev James Atcherley, Head Master of Shrewsbury – Part 1

I Roger Atcherly of Frankwell within the Liberties of Shrewsbury Tanner (in health of body and of sound mind) do make this my Will … to my Son James Atcherly for as much it hath cost me as much money in Education in bringing him to the ministry therefore I do give to him five pounds to be paid to him one whole year after my decease … — Will of Roger Atcherley, 17 September 1755

James Atcherley’s education began in earnest some 16 years before his father’s last will and testament was made, at Shrewsbury’s Royal Free Grammar School. Shrewsbury School was “a cherished institution in which Town and County alike took pride”, where “Most of the leading citizens of Shrewsbury and many of the gentry of Shropshire and the adjoining counties of England and Wales had been educated”. Having been baptised at Shrewsbury St Chad on 18 November 1730, James must have been 8 or maybe 9 years old when he entered the Third School in 1739.

Some ten years later, on 15 March 1748-9, 18-year-old James Atcherley was admitted to Cambridge University’s Magdalene College (the college’s chapel is shown right). In 1753 the university granted James his B.A., and the title of ‘Wrangler’ – a student who had gained first-class honours in the third year of the University’s undergraduate degree in mathematics. An indication that James retained an interest in maths and related fields is the fact that he was a subscriber to Edward Wareing’s 1762 publication Miscellanea analytica de aequationibus algebraicis, et curvarum proprietatibus, and to Dr Robert Smith’s 1778 work Compleat System of Opticks, selected and arranged for the use of students at the universities. James obtained his M.A. from Magdalene in 1763.

As James’s education had been paid for by his father to “[bring] him to the ministry”, a church career beckoned once James had secured his B.A. He was ordained as Deacon on 23 June 1753 and was appointed Curate of Smethcott in Shropshire on 24 September that year. His curacy there may have been only temporary however. Certainly, the marriage register shows that weddings in the parish from 1754 to 1774 were carried out exclusively by David Rice, Rector of Smethcott, who also signed the main parish register below the entries made for 1753 and 1754.

In 1755 a second field of employment opened up for James. I wonder what thoughts went through the mind of this former pupil of the Third School at Shrewsbury when, on 25 November that year, he returned as its Master? He was appointed to this post by the Mayor of Shrewsbury, Edward Blakeway Esquire, and the ‘chief schoolmaster’, the Rev Charles Newling.

Shrewsbury School – the upper school room

The clerical career of James Atcherley continued alongside his duties at Shrewsbury School. He became Curate of Montford, conducting his first marriage ceremony there on 12 May 1756, and five of the next eight weddings at that church up to 26 June 1758. James also began officiating from time to time at marriages which took place closer to home and at a much busier church, that of Shrewsbury St Mary. His first marriage there, on 3 August 1756, was followed by seven others, in 1758, 1762, 1767, 1775, 1779 (two in that year) and 1781. He was one of a number of Ministers who occasionally ‘filled in’ for the incumbents during that period.

Within the parish of Shrewsbury St Mary – the boundaries of which extended well beyond the town – lay the chapelry of Astley. Its register includes the following entry, dated 22 October 1761:

The Rev’d Mr. Samuel Betton dyed & James Atcherley succeeded him in this Curacy of Astley, being nominated thereunto by Henry Adams Esq. Mayor of Shrewsbury & The Revd. Mr Charles Newling chief Schoolmaster.

It is unlikely that the Curacy of Astley took up a great deal of James’s time. From the introduction of the new marriage registers in 1754 up to the end of 1812 there were but ten marriages held at the chapel. James Atcherley conducted only one of these, on 23 May 1763. The Perpetual Curacy of Grinshill, to which James was also appointed in 1761, was a little busier. After he officiated at two marriages at Grinshill on 23 February 1762, James conducted 16 of the next 24 weddings to take place at the church, the last one on 28 February 1797.

Why have I have concentrated on James Atcherley’s role of performing marriages at the churches and chapels where he was Curate? Simply because it was those ceremonies which, from 1754, required the officiating minister to sign the records made in connection with them, in the marriage register. Entries in the main parish register for baptisms and burials were not signed. As Curate, James would I am sure have conducted these ceremonies, in addition to church services at which he would have preached to his parishioners, led them in singing hymns, and taken collections.

There was another, less well-known aspect of James Atcherley’s life as a ‘man of the cloth’. James was one of many ‘visiting clergymen’ who attended the Salop Infirmary. The number of weeks in the period from 1756 and 1791 in which he “Visited the Infirmary in rotation” was 104, a total which, as of 1847, had been exceeded by only eight others.

In 1762, James Atcherley was made a burgess of the town of Shrewsbury. There were four ways in which a person could gain admission as a burgess – James would have qualified by virtue of the fact that he was born in the town. As for the four rights and privileges accorded to burgesses, the rights to trade in the town, and of pasturage in the Quarry and at Kingsland, were of little value to our reverend schoolmaster. However, James certainly made use of his right to vote in Borough elections. In addition – as we will shortly see – he also took advantage of the burgess’s privilege of “Free education for his sons at the Royal Free Grammar Schools”.

The marriage of “The Reverd. Mr. James Atcherley of the Parish of Saint Mary and Miss Eleanor Griffiths of this Parish” took place at Shrewsbury St Chad on 15 December 1766. The couple were wed by the Rev Charles Newling – then Head Master of Shrewsbury School. Eleanor’s siblings Richard and Catherine Griffiths signed the marriage register as witnesses.

A marriage notice in the London Public Advertiser stated that Eleanor was “Daughter of the late John Griffiths, Esq; of Bicton near Shrewsbury” (she was baptised at St Chad on 11 February 1736/7). Tracing her ancestors back a few more generations reveals that she had Atcherley forebears too: her great grandparents were Shrewsbury alderman Roger Griffiths and his wife Mary – nee Atcherley – of Marton.

The London Public Advertiser also noted that James Atcherley was “second Master of the Free Grammar School” in Shrewsbury. He had been “admitted into the second school” (appointed Second Master) following the death of the previous holder of that position, the Rev John Brooke, on 29 Nov 1763. Four years after James’s marriage to Eleanor, on Christmas Day 1770, Head Master Rev Charles Newling resigned from his post. James Atcherley was then admitted to Shrewsbury School’s top job by the town’s Mayor, William Smith Esquire.

Shrewsbury School – from The Shropshire Gazetteer, 1824

Everything seemed to be going well for the Rev James Atcherley. By the time of his appointment to the position of Head Master, his wife Eleanor had delivered two children, Roger and Eleanor, who were baptised at Shrewsbury St Mary on 23 February 1768 and 12 May 1769 respectively. Six more children followed. John (see The Rev John Atcherley and his naval chaplaincy), Arabella and Dorothy were baptised at St Mary on 1 April 1771, 18 June 1771, and 29 July 1774. (The short interval between the dates for John and Arabella’s ceremonies suggest that John’s was held quite some time after his birth.) Sadly, Dorothy died within a year of her birth, and was buried at St Mary on 17 May 1775.

James and Eleanor’s sixth child, James junior (see An Atcherley at Trafalgar), was probably born in the year in which their daughter Dorothy died. However I have found no evidence to show that James was ever baptised. Nor have I found any trace of baptisms for Mary Atcherley, born around 1781, or Ann Atcherley, born about 1787, the last two children born to the Rev James Atcherley and Eleanor.

Why would a clergyman, of all people, fail to have three of his own children baptised? It is of course possible that these three were sickly children at birth, who were privately baptised (perhaps by James himself) at home. But such private baptisms were usually followed by ceremonies at which the children in question were ‘publicly received’ into the church. There is no evidence that this happened in the case of James, Mary or Ann. I can’t help but wonder whether the death of his daughter Dorothy had affected the Rev James Atcherley rather profoundly.

James’s apparent failure to baptise his last three children is not the only puzzle about this part of his life. History has not painted a particularly flattering picture of James Atcherley’s tenure as Head Master of Shrewsbury School – allegations of intemperance and lack of discipline on James’s part are on record. Furthermore, the register of admissions to the school dating from 1664, which had been handed over to James by his predecessor Charles Newling, was lost while James was in charge. Among the many scholars whose names were recorded in that precious volume was at least one of James Atcherley’s own sons.

> On to Part 2.


Picture credits. Magdalene College Chapel: Photo by David Iliff, taken from Wikimedia Commons, adapted, used and made available re-use under a Creative Commons licence. Shrewsbury School – the upper school room: image from page 93 of A History of Shrewsbury School (at Internet Archive), published 1889 and therefore out of copyright. Shrewsbury School: Image from The Shropshire Gazetteer, published 1824 and therefore out of copyright.


References.

[1] Will of Roger Atcherley of Shrewsbury, tanner. Proved 22 Oct 1756. Typed transcript viewed at Society of Genealogists, London. Electronic transcript supplied by Barbara Lang. Indexed at Staffordshire Name Indexes.
[2]
W E Heitland (1896), Dr Butler of Shrewsbury School. In: The Eagle, volume XIX, pages 417-8. Originally viewed in full at Google Books, but now snippet view only.
[3] J E Auden (1909), Shrewsbury School Register 1734-1908. Pages 6 and 12. Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
[4] St Chad, Shrewsbury, parish register covering 1730. Entry for baptism of “James S. of Rog Atcherley”. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1916), Shropshire Parish Registers, Diocese of Lichfield, Volume XVI, St. Chad’s, Shrewsbury (volume II, page 960); copies viewed at Internet Archive and Mel Lockie’s website. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P01575-2, Film 908236.
[5] John Venn, J A Venn (1922), Alumni Cantabrigienses. Part I, volume I, page 51. Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
[6] Edward Kelly Purnell (1904), Magdalene College. Page 166. Copy viewed at Internet Archive and Mocavo.
[7] Wrangler (University of Cambridge). At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 28 Jun 2015).
[8] Edward Waring (1762), Miscellanea analytica de aequationibus algebraicis, et curvarum proprietatibus. Page v (A list of the Subscribers). Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
[9] Robert Smith (1778), Compleat System of Opticks, selected and arranged for the use of students at the universities. Page vii (Subscribers). Copy viewed at Google Books.
[10] Atcherley, James (1753 – 1804). At: Clergy of the Church of England database (website, accessed 29 Jun 2015).
[11] Smethcott, Shropshire, marriage register for 1754 to 1811. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Parish Register Browse.
[12] Smethcott, Shropshire, parish register for 1747 to 1812. Page 5. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Parish Register Browse.
[13] Thomas Phillips, Charles Hulbert (1837), The history and antiquities of Shrewsbury. Pages 130-1. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[14] Montford, Shropshire, marriage register for 1755 to 1812. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Parish Register Browse. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1909), Shropshire Parish Registers, Diocese of Lichfield, volume VII. Montford, page 127. Copy viewed at Internet Archive, Mocavo and Mel Lockie’s website.
[15] St Mary, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, marriage register covering the years 1756 to 1781. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1911), Shropshire Parish Registers, Diocese of Lichfield, volume XII, pages 648 to 683, copy viewed at Mel Lockie’s website.
[16] John Brickdale Blakeway and W G Dimmock Fletcher (ed.) (1890), History of Shrewsbury Hundred or Liberties. In: Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. 2nd series, volume II (1890), part I. Page 353. Originally viewed in full at Google Books, but now snippet view only.
[17] Grinshill, Shropshire, marriage register for 1757 to 1811. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Parish Registers Browse.
[18] Henry Bevan (1847), Records of the Salop Infirmary, from the Commencement of the Charity to the Present Time, Being a Period of One Hundred Years. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[19] Herbert Edward Forrest (ed.) (1924), Shrewsbury Burgess Roll. Page 9. Copy viewed and photographed at Shropshire Archives.
[20] Anon (1796), The Poll for the Borough of Shrewsbury 1796. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538-1893.
[21] St Chad, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1766. Entry for James Atcherley and Eleanor Griffiths. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Marriages (James indexed as James Archerley). Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1918), Diocese of Lichfield, volume XVII, St Chad’s, Shrewsbury (volume III), copy viewed at Shropshire Archives.
[22] Public Advertiser (London, England), issue 100031, 25 Dec 1766, page 4. Copy viewed at 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.
[23] St Chad, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, parish register covering 1766. Entry for James Atcherley and Eleanor Griffiths. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire
[24] Joseph Morris (1906), The Provosts and Bailiffs of Shrewsbury. In: Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, 3rd series, volume VI, page 193. Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
[25] St Mary, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, parish register covering 1768. Entry for baptism of Roger Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1911), Shropshire Parish Registers, Diocese of Lichfield, volume XII, page 438; copies viewed at Internet Archive, Mocavo and at Mel Lockie’s website. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P00681-1, Film 908234.
[26] St Mary, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, parish register covering 1769. Entry for baptism of Eleanor Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1911), Shropshire Parish Registers, Diocese of Lichfield, volume XII, page 442; copies viewed at Internet Archive, Mocavo and at Mel Lockie’s website. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P00681-1, Film 908234.
[27] St Mary, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, parish register covering 1771. Entry for baptism of John Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1911), Shropshire Parish Registers, Diocese of Lichfield, volume XII, page 448; copies viewed at Internet Archive, Mocavo and at Mel Lockie’s website. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P00681-1, Film 908234.
[28] St Mary, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, parish register covering 1771. Entry for baptism of Arabella Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1911), Shropshire Parish Registers, Diocese of Lichfield, volume XII, page 448; copies viewed at Internet Archive, Mocavo and at Mel Lockie’s website. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P00681-1, Film 908234.
[29] St Mary, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, parish register covering 1774. Entry for baptism of Dorothy Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1911), Shropshire Parish Registers, Diocese of Lichfield, volume XII, page 458; copies viewed at Internet Archive, Mocavo and at Mel Lockie’s website. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P00681-1, Film 908234.
[30] St Mary, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, parish register covering 1775. Entry for burial of Dorothy Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Burials. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1911), Shropshire Parish Registers, Diocese of Lichfield, volume XII, page 461; copies viewed at Internet Archive, Mocavo and at Mel Lockie’s website.
[31] George William Fisher, John Spencer Hill (1899), Annals of Shrewsbury School. Page 252 et seq.

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