Birch, Rev Thomas

Thomas Birch, the vicar of Preston from 1682 to 1700, was born in 1633 the son of Samuel Birch of Ardwick and brother of John Birch, the Parliamentary colonel and MP. On his appointment he was still rector of Hampton Bishop in Herefordshire and for some time he was non-resident. Pressure was brought to bear by the corporation and he moved to the town.

In 1692 the Preston mayor complained to the Bishop of Chester about the way Birch conducted services and accused him of making his son his curate. The bishop refused to give credence to any of the charges. Birch died in 1700 at the age of 67, his critics having failed to dislodge him. [1]

Such complaints characterized his time as vicar, some it was suspected were directed at his Presbyterian patrons the Hoghtons. This is well brought out by Mullett:

Birch had the marked whiggish views to be expected in a [brother] of the parliamentarian colonel John Birch but it seems clear that in its campaign against him the corporation was attempting to undermine the Hoghton patronage and even attempting to control the actual bestowal of the living. Shortly after his appointment tories in the corporation, especially Thomas Hodgkinson, were seeking Birch’s removal. In the process they brought into question Hoghton’s patronage, which was clearly not being exercised in the interests of high churchmanship, so much so that the government was brought in. But the ruthless campaign against Birch had no success and Birch stayed where he was, preaching faction and denouncing the liturgy from the pulpit of the parish church. [2]

Hodgkinson was soon back on the attack using the hostility against the Whigs in the wake of the Rye House Plot to order an arms search at the home of Birch and other Preston Whigs. [3]

That Birch should fall foul of the town’s High Church Anglicans is hardly surprising given his Presbyterian upbringing and possible early contacts with the ‘little Genevas of Lancashire’ and the fact that he was a correspondent of the puritan theologian Richard Baxter. The DNB notes that he became a fellow of Manchester collegiate church and that his second son inherited Col John Birch’s extensive estate by marriage with the colonel’s daughter. [4]

[1] Henry Fishwick, The History of the Parish of Preston (Rochdale: The Aldine Press, 1900), 187–88.
[2] Michael Mullett, ‘“To Dwell Together in Unity”: the Search for Unity in Preston Politics 1660-1690’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 125 (1975): 71, http://www.hslc.org.uk/documents/PDFS/1974.pdf.
[3] Ibid., 75.
[4] Newton E. Key, ‘Birch, John (1615–1691)’, in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Lawrence Goldman (online) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/2429.