Kenilworth’s Famous Faces: John Bird Sumner, Archbishop of Canterbury

  Posted: 04.04.21 at 01:01 by The Editor

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Alongside our 'Rewind' history series, Kenilworth Nub News is now launching a monthly column called 'Famous Faces' where we will be profiling a notable person from Kenilworth, both past and present.

Second in the series is Kenilworth-born Archbishop of Canterbury John Bird Sumner.

Sumner was born in Kenilworth on February 25 1780; the eldest son of the then Vicar of Kenilworth Robert Sumner, and Hannah Bird who was a cousin of the great emancipator William Wilberforce.

Having grown up in the town, Sumner went on to Eton College in 1791, before progressing to study at King’s College Cambridge.

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Whilst at Cambridge he won the Browne Medal for a Latin ode, before he graduated in 1803. He later completed Masters and Doctorate degrees in 1807 and 1828 respectively.

Sumner was educated and then later was a master at Eton College

Having returned as a master at Eton, Sumner following in his father’s footsteps and was ordained by the Bishop of Salisbury in March 1803.

That same month he married Marianne Robertson in Bath, the couple are believed to have had at least nine children together.

John and Marianne actually met in Kenilworth; John’s father had even baptised Marianne’s younger brother in St Nicholas Church in 1789.

Sumner stayed on at his old school for 15 years, becoming a fellow, but became increasingly frustrated that the school’s draconian leadership prevented him from sharing his faith with the boys there.

Between 1815 and 1829 he published a number of theological works on Church of England evangelicalism having left Eton to become a canon in the Durham Diocese. He stayed in the north east until 1828 when he was made the Bishop of Chester.

Sumner's tomb

Sumner served in Chester for the next 20 years, opening some 200 new churches in the diocese and surrounding areas. He was also instrumental in opening many new schools, and served on the poor-law commission in 1834.

In February 1848 Dr Howley, the Archbishop of Canterbury, died leaving the position vacant.

John Bird Sumner was elevated to the role by premier of the Whig Government Lord John Russell. He was formally made Archbishop of Canterbury on April 28 1848.

Having been made archbishop, Sumner was open to the idea of legalising divorce, but opposed to changing the language of the prayer-book.

In the House of Lords he was also noted for wishing to protect the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship, speaking against the expansion of Sunday trading.

Canterbury Cathedral

He also called for convocation to meet for the first time in 135 years to deal with important changes to Church of England

Having fought illness for over a year, Sumner passed away on September 6 1862 in Addington, London.

A portrait of him now hangs in the halls of Castle College, Durham, and effigy can be seen at Canterbury Cathedral.

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