John Owen Parr — vicar (part 1)

For an account of Parr’s private life and the shame and scandal that marred the end of his life and career:
The many wives of the Rev John Owen Parr

John Owen Parr, the vicar of Preston from 1840 until his death in 1877, was born 8 August 1798 and baptised at St George’s, Bloomsbury, London. His father, also named John Owen, was a member of a Liverpool merchant family who had transferred his operations to London. His grandfather was lord mayor of Liverpool and one of its principal slave traders: a Liverpool-registered slaver owned by the family and named Parr was the largest vessel in the British trans-Atlantic fleet, built to accommodate 700 slaves. The family was reputed to have been involved in 72 slave voyages between 1727 and 1804. John Owen Parr senior would seem to have continued his involvement in slave trading after moving to London, for he was secretary to the committee of the company of merchants trading in Africa. 1

Parr arrived at Oxford University at the age of 16 as a Hulmeian exhibitioner at Brasenose College. The scholarship was funded by the Hulme Trust, an educational charity founded in 1691, initially to support four poor students, the sons of Lancashire clergy, through their studies and for four years after graduation. 2 The Hulmeian connection was to prove useful to the mature Parr, for in 1827 the trust began buying Anglican benefices, including Preston. This gave the trustees the right of presentation when the town’s vicar Roger Carus Wilson died in 1839. They stipulated that his replacement should be a Hulmeian exhibitioner, so Parr was in a very small field of suitable candidates. One of the trustees was Robert Townley Parker, a future Tory MP for Preston, for whom Parr supplied consistent support from the time of his appointment. 3

For a wider political and religious context:
Nigel Morgan’s Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60
Jack Hepworth’s Anglo-Irish relations in mid-nineteenth-century Preston

Parr married in the parish church of St Pancras in London in 1821, at the age of 23, when he was a newly-ordained priest of the Church of England. A special dispensation had had to be sought because he was under the official age for ordination. Possibly the reason for the special dispensation was that Parr and his 23-year-old bride, Maria Elizabeth, were due to sail to India where Parr had been nominated to a vacant chaplainship at Madras by the chairman of the East India Company. 4

The couple did not spend long in India, for by 1824 they were back in England and Parr had been instituted as the vicar of Durnford in Wiltshire. They were there for just over six months before they moved to Berkshire where Parr became stipendiary curate in the parish of Remenham, ‘Stipend: £75 + glebe house, garden and offices’. 5 The couple’s next move took them to London where Parr became headmaster of the newly-established Islington Proprietary School. 6

And finally they came to Preston, where they settled themselves in a large house on the corner of Fishergate and Chapel Street, with their nine children, eight pupils under the care of the Rev Parr and four servants. It appears Parr brought some of his pupils with him from London, including the future Liberal Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer William Harcourt, who stayed with Parr in Preston until 1844. One of the servants was Jane Proctor, a young woman in her early 20s who quite probably became the second Mrs Parr a few years later. 7 Shortly after Parr’s induction as vicar his wife died, on 1 March 1841, just before the census return from which the above household description is taken. 8

Clearly shouldering a huge personal burden, Parr had to establish himself as vicar of the parish, which entailed considerable civic duties in addition to ministering to his flock. So, for example, he swiftly became chairman or president of a number of local institutions and societies, such as the Preston Dispensary, the charitable body that was the precursor to the Preston Infirmary, to which he was appointed president shortly after his arrival in town. 9

His parish duties alone would have proved administratively taxing, for the ancient parish of Preston had been pulled into the 19th century by the consecration of new churches throughout the town, starting with Holy Trinity in 1815, followed by St Peter’s in 1825, St Paul’s in 1825, Christ Church and St Andrew’s at Ashton in 1836, St Mary’s in 1838, St Thomas’s Church in 1839. A further six churches were consecrated in the following years under the direction of the Rev Parr. 10

Parr had the right of nomination to nearly all these churches, an exception was Holy Trinity, which was under the control of laymen led by Thomas Batty Addison, where vicar and parishioners took it in turns to nominate the minister. This power of nomination to the churches in the parish meant that Parr could shape the ecclesiastical direction of the town at a time when the Church of England was being riven by intense doctrinal struggles instigated by the Oxford Movement that culminated in Newman and then Manning entering the Catholic Church.

There was no question of the direction that Preston would follow under the guidance of the Rev Parr. Thus when the leadership of the Oxford Movement passed to Edward Pusey, professor of Hebrew at the university, following Newman’s departure, Parr was among those Oxford graduates resisting what came to be labelled Anglo-Catholicism. When the Puseyites attempted to secure the poetry professorship at Oxford for one of their number, Parr was rallied to oppose the appointment. 11 The critics of the Oxford Movement saw it as leading the Church of England to Rome and to the abandonment of everything that had been achieved by the English Reformation; the liturgical differences leading to the emergence of a form of Anglo-Catholic ritual referred to disparagingly as ‘bells and smells’. Parr became increasingly virulent in his attacks on Catholics both within and without the Church of England, culminating, at mid-century, in a ferocious opposition to the reintroduction of the Catholic hierarchy in England (separate article in preparation).

The political direction Parr would be urging on the parish clergy became clear soon after his arrival when he offered his support to the Preston Operative Conservative Association, formed five years earlier and closely associated with the town’s Tory MP Robert Townley Parker. Parr had been unable to attend the association’s annual meeting, but he ‘wrote a letter to the chairman, expressing his cordial approbation of the objects of the association’. 12

Parr was as fierce a supporter of property rights as he was of Anglican orthodoxy. One of his first actions as vicar was to instigate an action against the estate of his predecessor Carus Wilson. The case arrived at the Lancaster midsummer assizes in 1842, which was reported as follows:

This action was brought by the Rev. John Owen Parr, against the Rev. Roger Carus Wilson, the late Vicar of Preston, for expenses of dilapidation into which the parsonage houses had fallen. The damages were laid at £5,000. It appeared that the profits of the benefice arose out of certain houses upon the glebe lands which had been left in a very decayed state by the defendant. A verdict by consent was taken subject to a reference to Mr. Armstrong. The assets were £600. 13

More usually, Parr resorted to the courts to secure payment of the Easter dues and parish tithes that supplied a large portion of his annual income. Parr was one of the examples chosen to show the unfairness of tithe exactions in The British Friend, a Quaker publication, and the report was reproduced in the Preston Chronicle:

Within Preston meeting, a case equally deserving of notice, occurred last year. Demands were made upon our friend, John Wilcockson, for tithe commutation, amounting to £4 14s. 10d., claimed by J. O. Parr, vicar, and Sir H. B. Houghton, Bart. Proceedings were taken for the recovery of this sum by distraint, and two cows, valued at £26, were sold under process, and fetched only the sum of £14 17s. 6d.

In addition to the tithe demand, Wilcockson was charged £4 3s. 4 ½d for distraint and sale costs.

The report continued:

In all the foregoing cases, it appears that the officers took by distraint an unnecessary amount of property, and thus occasioned an unreasonable amount of loss. The hardship of all these cases has obviously been much increased, by the lavish expenditure and utter disregard of the value of property, on the part of those engaged in conducting the proceedings. 14

Such actions were strongly condemned and resisted by the Preston social reformer and total abstinence campaigner Joseph Livesey: see Chapter 10 of his Autobiography.

When not chasing tithe defaulters, Parr could be found urging moral probity on his fellow townsfolk, singling out for particular note what he described as profane swearing, as in an open letter he caused to be published on behalf of the clergy of Preston. In it he admonished his readers:

What an awful thing it is for any one to call for damnation on themselves others; and yet it is a common custom with many. They may not have considered it as they ought to have done; but every one of their oaths is, in fact, a prayer to the holy and almighty God, that either they, or their fellow-creatures, may be for ever lost, for ever shut out of heaven, and doomed to eternal torment in hell! Such is the swearer’s prayer.

And he urged, ‘Let masters of factories positively forbid swearing among their workpeople, on pain of the offenders being removed from their employment if the offence be continued’. 15

At the end of 1845 Parr received a splendid gift on Christmas day when the Earl of Derby presented him with £105 towards the building of a new vicarage. Several other contributions, including many from the town’s principal mill owners, took the total to £900. The vicarage was shortly after built at East Cliff. 16

One of the great Radical causes at this period was the ‘Ten Hours’ campaign, which sought to cut the time worked by women and children in the mills by two hours. One of the principal proponents of the reform was Lord Ashley, who was invited to Preston to address a packed public meeting in the town’s theatre at the beginning of 1846. The meeting was chaired by Parr and the audience was composed mainly of factory hands, but ‘with a fair sprinkling of master manufacturers and gentlemen’. Parr himself addressed the meeting, speaking eloquently and at length in support of the measure, arguing that it ‘is the last two hours of the day which kills’. In fact, he went further, extending his arguments to include a robust condemnation of the evils of mill work, not only for women and children but for all factory hands. He said he recognised that the measure would result in some reduction in wages and profits, but that he was not basing his support on economic grounds, rather he argued that:

… the present long hours of labour injure health, indispose the mind for devotion, and debar the operatives from all instruction. I repeat that the long hours of factory labour injure health, destroy domestic relations, and I say it is visible it is so. It is impossible to see the hands turn out of the mill and watch them as they pass along the street, and not perceive that languor, that pallor and debilitation which mark an occupation unhealthily pursued. I was particularly struck, on coming into this county, five years ago, with the marked contrast presented by the people of this district with those of the agricultural counties in the south of England. I was, and still am distressed to see the great apparent difference between the agricultural labourers and the factory operatives. No one could reside long in Preston and fail to see that the factory operatives are subject to a variety of diseases to which persons not employed as they are, are not so liable. In the first place it is notorious that the eye sight fails at an early period of life; that their teeth decay; and their lungs are soon affected; and that they fall easily under the power of fever, and a variety of other disorders … You cannot take a human being at a very early period of life, and consign it, when growing to maturity, – and confine such a being, I say, within the walls of a factory, for twelve hours a day – however clean, however well ventilated and well regulated such a place may be at the best … and expect that an infant, so confined for years, will not dwindle and fade, and lose part of its natural health and vigour.

What do the statistical tables drawn up by a very valuable and enlightened member of the church to which I have the honour to belong state on this subject? That the average duration of life among the gentry of Preston is 47 years and a decimal fraction, while that of tradesmen Is 32 years and a fraction, and that of the labouring population, who chiefly find employment in the factories, is but 18 years and a fraction. The reason assigned for this disparity is the ill condition of the dwelling houses of the poor in this town; that their abodes are not properly ventilated; that the streets are not efficiently drained; and that they have not that ample supply of water which they should have; but, although there Is much truth in this, I think there Is something more to be taken into the account. I find it asserted, and I believe, from my own experience, that Preston, from its situation, is, naturally, a very healthy town, and I cannot attribute the immense disparity In the average duration of life between the higher and lower classes solely to the defects of the drainage, sewerage, and dwellings of the latter; for at least one half of their lives are not passed in their dwellings, such as they are said to be; indeed, only their hours of eating and sleeping. I cannot but attribute much of the sickness and mortality of the poor to the excess of their labour, acting upon them in conjunction with the circumstances under which it Is performed. The tables I have alluded to give 17½ per cent. as the average yearly mortality of the children of the higher class in Preston, and 55½ per cent, as that of the children of the operatives; and that result I attribute to the unnatural division which takes place between the mother and her offspring under the factory system as it at present exits.

(Loud cheers)

… When you tax the frame as you do for ten hours a day, you exhaust the energies of the operative; but when you insist that the same labour shalt be continued for two hours longer, you depress It to the dust.


… Then, I say, the present system annihilates home and all domestic comforts. The factory operative rises early to his work; he has half an hour to his breakfast, an hour to his dinner, and he is not dismissed again to his home till night. Its many cases it takes a long time to reach that home; in all it occupies some time. … But, on reaching home, if the man be married, his wife, like her husband, has been all day at the factory, In order to increase the earnings of the family, and the children who were In bed when their parents went out in the morning are, or ought to be, in bed when they return home.

Parr then tackled those who saw only doom in the enactment of such legislation as proposed by the Ten Hours Bill, reminiscent of the arguments that were marshalled more recently against minimum wage legislation:

… There are some here who will remember that formerly factory hours were as long as fifteen a day (‘yes, yes’) and when it was proposed to reduce them to twelve, the greatest alarm was expressed that it would injure all the manufacturers, and that the whole factory system would crumble to dust if it was touched. I was not here at that period, but I think it natural and probable that the same alarm would exist now. 17

Later in the year Parr chaired a meeting to promote the closure of public houses on Sundays, and in his address waxed eloquently on the evils of drink, including the following:

For the last six months he had been building a house, and of the men employed in building that house, he would state that in more than one case, as much as 20s. a week was expended in liquor; in others, from 10s. to 20s., and in many from 1s. to 10s. The custom seemed to be for a married man to give his wife what he thought would be sufficient for the support of the family for the week, and then go and spend the rest at the pot house. 18

The new house would provide a home for his new bride, Jane Proctor, the young woman who was probably the servant employed in his household at the time of the 1841 census. They were married in September 1846. Their neighbour was the Preston prison chaplain the Rev John Clay, the source of the statistics quoted by Parr above.

In the following year, when he chaired a meeting of the Religious Tract Society in the town, he made clear his evangelising position with regard to Catholicism, ‘He had received a letter from a relation in France, from which it appeared that the natives there were determined to throw off the yoke of Rome, and embrace the principles and doctrines of Protestantism’. 19 His opposition to Catholicism was expressed much more forcibly a few years later when he defended Protestantism against the fears of papal evangelising at the time of the Catholic hierarchy controversy. The violent and inflammatory language Parr and his fellow clergy used at that time in expressing their detestation of Roman Catholicism was decidedly unchristian: it is the subject of a separate article.

John Owen Parr — vicar (part 2)

1 “London, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812 – Ancestry.Co.Uk,” n.d.,; Eng Grammar school [from old catalog Manchester and Jeremiah Finch Smith, The Admission Register of the Manchester School ([Manchester] Printed for the Chetham society, 1866), 187,; “Parr (1797 Ship),” in Wikipedia, September 20, 2021,; “Old Swan Then And Now – 1700s Georgians and Plantation Slavery,” accessed May 3, 2022,

2 “Oxford University Alumni, 1500-1886 – Ancestry.Co.Uk,” accessed April 12, 2022,; “Hulme Trust,” in Wikipedia, September 7, 2021,

3 “Wikipedia”; Preston Chronicle P5, February 17, 1877, British Library Newspapers,

4 “London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936 – Ancestry.Co.Uk,” n.d.,; “CCEd Person ID: 89031,” n.d.,

5 “CCEd Person ID: 89031.”

6 The Times P7, November 15, 1830, The Times Digital Archive.

7 HO107/498/12 f.18, n.d.,; “William Harcourt (Politician),” in Wikipedia, March 1, 2022,

8 “Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk Project,” accessed April 10, 2022,

9 Preston Chronicle P3, October 31, 1840, British Library Newspapers,

10 Henry Fishwick, The History of the Parish of Preston (Rochdale: The Aldine Press, 1900), 154–59.

11 Preston Chronicle P2, January 29, 1842, British Library Newspapers,

12 Blackburn Standard P1, September 23, 1840, British Library Newspapers.

13 Preston Chronicle P3, July 30, 1842, British Library Newspapers,

14 Manchester Times P3, November 18, 1843, British Library Newspapers,

15 Preston Chronicle P4, March 9, 1844, British Library Newspapers,

16 Preston Chronicle P2, January 3, 1846, British Library Newspapers,

17 Preston Chronicle P3, March 7, 1846, British Library Newspapers,

18 Preston Chronicle P5, May 2, 1846, British Library Newspapers,

19 Preston Chronicle P6, October 9, 1847, British Library Newspapers,

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