The Chavasse Family
The family of Bishop Francis James Chavasse, founder of St Peter's College, and his wife, Edith, was one of the most remarkable of late-Victorian Britain. They include among their number Olympic athletes, leading churchmen, and some of the most decorated soldiers of the First World War, including the only person to win the Victoria Cross twice during the conflict.
Francis James Chavasse (1846-1928) was born on 27 September 1846 at Sutton Coldfield. He was frequently ill as a child and was largely tutored privately rather than going to school. He matriculated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1865, where he gained a first class degree in law and modern history.
He was ordained at Manchester in 1870, held a curacy (1870-1873) at St Paul's, Preston, became vicar of St Paul's, Upper Holloway (1873-1877) and rector of St Peter-le-Bailey, Oxford (1877-1889) – now the Chapel of St Peter’s College.
It was in Oxford that he married Edith Maude, with whom he had seven children.
His work in Oxford was greatly admired and lead to him being appointed principal of Wycliffe Hall in 1889. In 1900 he became Bishop of Liverpool, a position he held for 23 years.
He is best remembered in Liverpool for founding Liverpool Cathedral, but also for his compassion and sensitivity at a time when the city was experiencing sectarian tension. The Chavasse family’s impressive record during WWI further endeared him to the people of the city.
He retired to Oxford in 1923 and lived in the rectory of St Peter-le-Bailey, now known as Linton House. He and his son, Christopher, began to consider using the surrounding buildings on New Inn Hall Street for the foundation of a new Oxford College with an Evangelical ethos. Francis died in March 1928, shortly before their idea came to fruition in the form of St Peter’s Hall, which opened in October 1929. He is buried at the Founder’s Plot at Liverpool Cathedral – St Peter’s remains effectively a memorial to him.
Christopher Maude Chavasse was born on 9 Nov 1884 and baptised at St Peter-le-Bailey, now the Chapel of St Peter’s College. He went to Magdalen College School and Liverpool College, before matriculating at Trinity College, Oxford, with his identical twin, Noel. He gained blues for lacrosse and athletics, and represented England at the 1908 Olympic Games. However, he struggled academically and did poorly in his final examinations.
After Oxford, he went back to Liverpool to study for Holy Orders at his father’s hostel for ordinands. He was ordained in 1909 and served as curate of St Helen’s until 1913, when he became a chaplain to his father.
On the outbreak of war he immediately volunteered as an Army Chaplain. By the end of the month he was involved in the retreat from Mons. He was wounded at Cambrai in 1917, and awarded the Military Cross and Croix-de-Guerre. He entered Germany with the 9th Corps in 1918 and left the Army in 1919 with the rank of Second Class Chaplain.
After the war, he returned to Oxford as rector of St Aldates and built a reputation as a gifted preacher, gaining prominence in Evangelical circles. He worked with his father on plans to establish an Evangelical-friendly Hall in Oxford. When he became rector of St Peter-le-Bailey in 1928 he was able to use the rectory and surrounding buildings for this purpose, leading to the opening of St Peter's Hall in 1929.
In 1939, he became Bishop of Rochester - by this time he had established St Peter's on a sound financial footing and felt that he was able to move on. As Bishop, he was notable for his fundraising efforts for parts of Kent that had been badly damaged by bombing during WWII, and for his contributions to the Evangelical wing of the Church of England.
He was made an honorary fellow of St Peter's (1949) and of Trinity College (1955) and retired to Oxford in 1960. In 1961, he was able to see St Peter's Hall become a full College of the University of Oxford. He died at Oxford on 10 March 1962.
Noel Godfrey Chavasse was born on 9 Nov 1884 and baptised at St Peter-le-Bailey. He went to Magdalen College School and Liverpool College. At Liverpool College he excelled at sport, playing first XV Rugby and establishing school records for the 100 yards and quarter-mile.
From the age of 16, he was a regular volunteer at the Grafton Street Industrial School, where he ran a Bible class, attended annual camps and otherwise supported boys from disadvantaged backgrounds. He maintained his connection with the school throughout his life.
He matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford, in October 1904. There he won a blue for the 100 yards and quarter-mile and played lacrosse for Oxford. He also competed in the Olympic games of 1908.
He gained a First Class degree in the School of Natural Science in 1907. He then studied at the University of Liverpool and Royal Southern Hospital under Sir Robert Jones.
After the outbreak of WWI, he went to France as a Royal Army Medical Corps doctor attached to the Liverpool Scottish Regiment. There he won the Military Cross at Hooge in May 1915, and the Victoria Cross at Guillemont in August 1916. He was famous for his dedication to the wellbeing of his men and his bravery when rescuing wounded soldiers from no-man's land. He made several innovations in the methods and procedures for the medical care of soldiers, and took progressive steps to help men suffering from the mental pressures of trench warfare. He frequently clashed with his superiors in his attempts to improve military hygiene.
He was seriously wounded by a shell on 2 August 1917 while attending to wounded men in no-man's land. He subsequently died on the 4 August and was buried at Brandhoek military cemetery. He was posthumously awarded a second Victoria Cross. He was the only man to receive two VCs in WWI.
Edith Marjorie and Mary Laeta, known as Marjorie and May, were born in 1886 at Oxford.
Early in the war they volunteered at a convalescent hospital for soldiers at Rednal, Worcestershire, run by their Aunt Frances. Marjorie supplied books, clothes and food to her brothers in France. She cashed postal orders for men under Noel Chavasse’s care, and was also Noel’s first port of call when he needed advice about his future fiancé, Gladys.
May (pictured right) travelled out to France in March 1915 to work as a ward maid at the Liverpool Hospital – a fully equipped, mobile hospital paid for by the citizens of Liverpool. It was constructed in a modular fashion that allowed it to be moved as required, and provided beds for 156 Officers and 196 other ranks. May worked there until 1918 and was mentioned in despatches.
Marjorie later worked at Barnardo’s. May qualified as a nurse and served in WWII as a part of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.
They both celebrated their 100th birthday in 1986. Marjorie died a year later, while May lived until 1989.
Francis Bernard Chavasse, known as Bernard, was born at Wycliffe Hall on 2 Dec 1889 and baptised at St Peter-le-Bailey.
He was educated at Liverpool College and Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied Natural Sciences. Like Noel, he achieved a First Class degree, also winning the prize for Anatomy.
At the time of the outbreak of WWI, he was near completion of the medical course at Liverpool University. Upon qualification as a doctor, he was sent first to Egypt, then to France with the 17th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment. He was wounded and awarded the Military Cross.
He later practised as an eye specialist in Liverpool. He died in a car accident in 1941.
Aidan Chavasse was born at Wycliffe Hall in 1891 and baptised at St Peter-le-Bailey. He went to Liverpool College where he played for the first Rugby XV and won the Challenge Cup at sports.
He won an exhibition to study Mathematics at Corpus Christi, Oxford, his father’s old College. He later switched to reading History. He was due to go on to Wycliffe Hall to read Theology, but his plans were interrupted by the outbreak of WWI.
He went out to France with the 11th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment. He later transferred to the 17th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, to which his brother Bernard was Medical Officer.
His Brigade-Major (Bernard Paget) considered him to be the bravest man in the Brigade due to his willingness to volunteer for dangerous missions. It was during such a mission to inspect German wire near Sanctuary Wood in July 1917 that he was wounded in the thigh. He sent his patrol back to safety and took cover in a shell hole. Subsequent attempts to find him, including three separate attempts by his brother Bernard, were unsuccessful and Aidan was never found.