Centenary of Edmund Bishop’s Death

On the 19th February 1917, one of Downside’s great friends and partners, Edmund Bishop died. As Bishop was such a patron and benefactor of the Downside library collections, indeed much of our rare book collection was owned by Bishop, we felt it only right to mark the centenary of his passing

A Devon man, Bishop was born in Totnes in 1846 and received early schooling at Asburton and Exeter before being sent to a Catholic school in Belgium. He spent some time as a secretary to Thomas Carlyle before working for twenty years at the Education Department of the Privy Council. In 1867 he was received into the Catholic Church.

In 1885, he decided to try his vocation as a monk and came to Downside as a postulant until 1889. Unfortunately, as the Downside Review of 1917 states, ‘His fragile physique prevented him from taking the monastic habit.’ Yet he made many friends at Downside, friendships which lasted until the end of his life, in particular with the future Cardinal Aidan Gasquet. 

The two worked together at Great Ormond Street, Gasquet’s London residence, from 1893 until 1901 producing many publications. Bishop retired to Barnstaple in 1902, but spent much time at Downside from that time until his death, making frequent visits of up to two or three months at a time. 

The Downside Review perhaps sums up Bishop best. ‘Only those who have known Edmund Bishop personally, and have enjoyed the privilege of working with him, can fully realise his loss. His personality was no less remarkable than were his rare gifts of mind.’ By Bishop’s own request he was buried at Downside in the monastic cemetery. 

The Bishop collections in the library contain some of our most rare in intriguing items, including our 14th century Vicenza Antiphonal. 

To mark this centenary Downside will be holding a conference focusing on Edmund Bishop at some point later this year. 

The images below show the Downside community of 1897 with Bishop back left sporting a black beard; Bishop outside the monastery here at Downside on a visit in the 1900’s; Bishop in his library at his home in Barnstaple; the memorial to Bishop situated on the steps to the Lady Chapel within Downside Abbey Church; Edmund Bishop’s gravestone here at Downside.