Reverend Edward Bird MA was appointed vicar at St Alban’s Church in Tattenhall in 1834. He had moved to Tattenhall with his second wife, Dora (Dorothy), from Maidenhead. Dora was the daughter of Marmaduke Lawson, former MP for Boroughbridge The Birds brought with them their young daughter, Isabella Lucy Bird, who was born in 1831 at Mrs Bird’s family home of Boroughbridge Hall, North Yorkshire. Reverend Edward Bird was a middle class ‘mature entry’ to the clergy and was related to the Wilberforce family, sharing many of their values. He fiercely resisted both Sunday labour and Sunday trading. He did not enjoy good health and his cousin, John Bird Sumner, Bishop of Chester (1828-48) who was then elevated to Archbishop of Canterbury, presented him with ‘the quiet living of Tattenhall, in Cheshire’. Shortly after their arrival, the family had a further daughter, Henrietta.
An idyllic vision of life in Tattenhall is outlined in a book published in 1906 entitled ‘The Life of Isabella Bird’ by Anna M Stoddart. The following extract relates to the young family as they settled into their 8 year stay in the village Rectory . . .
Here, in the midst of beautiful scenery, amongst the sweet influences of garden and pasture, these little ones spent their early childhood. The country round consisted of large tracts of grazing-lands where the farmers were engaged in cheese-making. Chester was seven miles distant but three miles of the road were paved, and it was not pleasant for either walking, driving or riding. Nevertheless, Isabella was both walking and riding upon it when she was little more than four years old. As they rode, Reverend Bird would draw her attention to every feature of the wayside to the fields far and near, in grass, or crops, or fallow, to the farm-houses, their dairies and press-houses, telling her the uses of all and each, questioning her minutely as to what she saw. Long after, a friend asked her to what she traced her habit of accurate observation. ‘To my father’s conversational questioning upon everything’, she answered. ‘If we rode, he made me tell him about the crops in such-and-such fields whether a water-wheel were under-shot, or over-shot, how each gate we passed through was hung, about animals seen and parishioners met’.
In 1842, however, Reverend Edward Bird was forced to resign his living in Tattenhall, largely because of his views on Sunday labour which had resulted in a fall in church attendance at St Alban’s, particularly amongst the farmers of the locality. The following is a further extract from ‘The Life of Isabella Bird’ (1906) . . .
The church at Tattenhall had grown discouragingly empty, in consequence of Reverend Bird’s fearless protests against Sunday labour. Nearly as much work was done on Sundays as on week-days not in the open fields, but in the dairies and presses. It is difficult to understand the question in all its bearings, for it is obvious that cows must be milked on Sundays. Doubtless Reverend Bird did not oppose the necessary work but only the increase of unnecessary work in the manufacture of dairy produce on Sundays which had crept in and which to him was a manifest breach of a divine law, declared by God Himself to be the test of national righteousness and the condition of national prosperity. Reverend Bird’s point of view was the law of the living God; but he was powerless against the bidding of Mammon, and the convicted farmers left a church where there was no comfortable doctrine for their case.
How sad a leave-taking it must have been is borne in upon us when we note the beauty and peace of Tattenhall. Not only did the Bishop disapprove of his resignation but the people of Tattenhall felt the parting bitterly and for many years there lived in the parish godly men and women whom he had brought to Christ and who were known as ‘Bird’s saints’.
Reverend Edward Bird’s life became no less controversial in his new post at St Thomas’ Church, Birmingham.
The family took up residence in a house with a garden in Frederick’s Road and they employed their old Tattenhall gardener, who re-located with them.
The issue of Sunday trading reared its head again, however, and St Thomas’ Church (in a parish of some 16,000 people) remained almost empty.
Reverend Bird, however, remained committed to his struggle against Sunday trading. By preaching, by personal visits and by gentle and constant persuasion, he secured the promises of all but two of his parishioners to give up Sunday trading. These promises were conditional, however, upon the two parishioners also ‘falling into line’. The two remaining Sunday traders refused to close their shops and the law was brought to bear upon them. In fact, one of the Churchwardens not only took out summonses but served them himself.
This roused such fierce wrath in the parish of St Thomas’ that the character of Reverend Bird was brought into question. It was evident to many local individuals that the Reverend and his family had inherited money from their parents. Without this inheritance the transfer to St Thomas’ would have been impossible because the annual stipend at St Thomas’ amounted to only 60 pounds, whereas in Tattenhall, Reverend Bird received 300 pounds. So hostile was the local reaction that a crowd waylaid Reverend Bird and pelted him with stones, mud, and insults. The worst was still to come. Not only did he lose hold of those whom he had almost won but many of the members whom he counted as on the ‘side of righteousness’ forsook their Rector and left the church of St Thomas. The bitterness of the repulse lay in the fact that the very men and women whom he had led to his Master forsook him at the crisis.
This dispute impacted so negatively on the health of Reverend Bird that he resigned his post at St Thomas’ in 1848.
Should you wish to read the Webpage on Reverend Edward Bird’s daughter then simply click on ‘Isabella Lucy Bird’ to be directed to this section of the Website.