Chapter 8: Bishop Hildesley and the Manx Bible (1755-1772)

THE diocese was to be again fortunate in its new bishop, Mark Hildesley, who was educated at the Charterhouse, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his B.A. degree in 1720 and M.A, in 1724, having become a fellow in 1723. In the same year, he became domestic chaplain to Lord Cobham, and ten years later we find him holding this office in the household of Lord Bolinbroke. In 1731, he was presented to the college vicarage of Hitchin, and, in 1735, he also received the neighbouring rectory of Holwell. He proved a most capable and industrious parish priest, being especially interested in educational work. On the 24th of April, 1755, he was consecrated bishop, in Whitehall chapel, by Dr. Hutton, Archbishop of York, and, on the 6th of August following, he was installed in St German's cathedral. His first care was to require the clergy to produce their "Letters of Orders, Institution and Induction, and all other Licences or Faculties whatsoever". He then ordained that they should wear [232] "a dress to distinguish them from the laity", and that they should not appear outside their own house or lands "in brown or light-coloured cloaths, but only in black or dark-gray and wearing a wig".[note 1] It was fortunate for the clergy that these sumptuary laws were accompanied by some increase in their incomes, the two rectories being worth £100, and the vicarages from £30 to £50.[note 2] "Upon such humble incomes," says a contemporary writer, "the frugality of the insular clergy, much to their honour, has enabled them to live very decently, to maintain themselves, and sometimes to bring up comfortably pretty numerous families.[note 3] Their conduct seems to have been, generally speaking, irreproachable.[note 4]

Another point to which the bishop paid great attention was the maintenance of the fabrics of the churches, which seem to have been neglected during the latter days of Bishop Wilson; for we find many entries in the Records relating to their lamentable state of disrepair, as well as their too small size for the rapidly increasing population of the island.[note 5]

This, in 1762 "Trinity Rushen" was in a very [233] ruinous condition. It was consequently ordered that a new church was to be built to the north of the old building. The rain had "been pouring down into Ballaugh Church", which was repaired. A similar condition of affairs obtained at Andreas, which was likewise repaired, and the rectory,[note 6] which was in ruins, rebuilt. In 1757, Arbory church was rebuilt. In consequence of constant complaints about the want of accommodation, it being stated that some of the churches were unable to contain half the people who would come, and others only two-thirds, galleries were added to the churches of Bride, Malew, Braddan, and Conchan; the latter church was also enlarged, and Malew church received a new steeple. "By some benefactions," writes Bishop Hildesley to Archbishop Drummond in 1726, "from the living and the dead, the people have been enabled to rebuild and enlarge three of their parish churches. And there we stop, and must stop, till Providence shall be pleased to raise up more friends to assist us in so desirable and so charitable work as this, of erecting places moderately convenient for the reception of a well-disposed people to attend the offices of religious worship, in a country where there is no law for briefs, for the purpose of rebuilding churches, as in England; and where, if there were any such method appointed, the circumstances of the inhabitants, especially in the country parishes, are far too low to raise a sum [234] of any significance towards it. This is one of the grievances which the diocese of Mann at present labours under."[note 7] One result of this state of affairs was that the bishop expended considerable sums for the enlargement or rebuilding the Manx churches out of his own pocket. To give one example of this, the chapel of St Mark's was built almost entirely at his expense, and he contributed more than half the sum then collected for the endowment of a chaplain for it. Its consecration, on the 23rd of June, 1772, was almost his last public act.

But it was not only the fabrics of the churches that were in a state of disrepair, as the condition of their contents also left much to be desired. This, at Lezayre, and this is not a solitary instance, "the Font wants a new cover. . . a new Communion table is necessary, the present table being worm-eaten and loose in the mortises . . . the corporal and two napkins for the Communion Service are very old and scarcely fit for use, the Church Bible is loose in the binding and much decayed. . . there is no homily book and no herse cloth for the more decent intermt of the Dead . . . the floor of the altar is uneven and rugged . . . its rails are loose and tottering; and the steps thereto in very bad order . . . there is no dish for the service of the Communion, nor any offertory Bason, and the Flagon is loose". To pay for making all this good, the parish was cessed at fifty shillings per quarter-land. The wardens had previously reported that the Bible and Prayer-book for service were "so [235] scandalously torn, defective, and out of repair that our Rt Revd Ordinary who lately officiated in that Church was unable to proceed with the service".

There were sedulous efforts to maintain the discipline of the Church during this period, though the penalties for its infringement gradually became lighter. Indeed such entries as "Dismissed as frivolous and admonished" are often found. There are signs, too, that the whole system was falling into contempt. This, a man who was performing penance for behaving irreverently in church took "the sheet off himself in the church isle (sic)," and threw it in a scoffing manner on the sumner's shoulders".[note 8] As a means of tightening the loosened bonds of the discipline, the bishop ordered "that no person who is either under Church censure, or who has not received the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, be admitted to enter in the holy state of matrimony (unless the Ordinary for sufficient reasons shall think proper to dispense with the same for a limited time)"; and to show that they have received it, "it is required that certificates be given by the several clergy of the diocese as they shall respectively be concerned".[note 9] No person could be married without one of these certificates, but, if the clergyman of the parish could not grant it on personal knowledge, [236] "a moral certainty (sic) from any two credible persons may suffice".

In 1757, Bishop Hildesley had succeeded in getting an Act to prevent clandestine marriages passed through the Legislature.[note 10] It would seem that he found in his arrival that such marriages had been very common, and, in consequence of a strongly-worded reproof from him, the clergy assured him that they would use "all means in their power to bring to condign punishment those who contracted such marriages". Presentments for non-observance of Sundays and Saints' days were common, and there was a vigorous effort made to check the neglect of attendance at church on Ash-Wednesday[note 11] and Good-Friday, which seems especially to have shocked the bishop.[note 12] For we find him telling his clergy that he was "aggrieved as well as surprized" to see men "following their ordinary occupations on these days in yoking [237] their cattle and tilling their land . . . during the whole time of Divine service". To this the clergy replied (1) that it was the general custom of the people to work on those days; (2) that they had the "late Bishop's and Vicar-general Walker's example for it" (!); and (3) that prayers were read as early as 8 a.m. on those days, so that people went to work afterwards.

We now come to that great work of Bishop Hildesley's episcopate, viz. the publication of the Bible in Manx. As a preliminary to this great work, he encouraged the publication of devotional works, of the New Testament, and of the Prayer-book. Thus, at Convocation, in 1758, we find him "declaring a great desire of having the Church catechism printed in the Manks tongue by itself", and earnestly recommending the clergy that they are to use their best endeavours to improve the use and practice of the Manks tongue". He also expressed his desire of having "the ordinary service of the Church, together with the several occasional offices, translated into Manks," and "a select number of the singing psalms translated into Manks verse, fitted to the tunes used in churches, for the instruction and comfort of such persons as do not understand the English language".[note 13] He soon [238] found willing translators of the above, but, when they were ready for publication, he was confronted with the difficulty of providing the necessary funds.

To obtain these funds for publication, he approached the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, who, in July 1762, handed him £100 "for the purpose of printing the Scriptures and other good books in the Manks tongue". He also obtained money from the same purpose from various charitable persons in England. In August of the same year, he received a letter from the Archbishop of York urging him to procure "a plain translation of the liturgy", and condemning the practice of translating "the Scriptures and Luturgy off-hand out of English into the language of the Island." He also suggested that "such parts of the Scriptures as are the most necessary should be carefully translated by some able clergyman".[note 14] In the following year the S.P.C.K. issued a "Proposal for printing the Holy Bible, Common Prayer, and other religious Books, in the Manks language", and, in consequence of this, the bishop was shortly able to announce the publication of the Gospels and Acts to his clergy,[note 15] "with great pleasure", and [239] to inform them that he had "likewise satisfaction to acquaint" them, "that our friends in England are still successfully exerting their endeavours for increasing the fund of contributions toward the expence of printing a larger and more correct edition of the holy Oracles, and our excellent Liturgy". He then urged them "to take into consideration some method of proceeding with the Liturgy already begun, and which our benefactors are so frequently inquiring after", and to "prosecute that more necessary work of translating the remainder of the New Testament into the Vulgar Tongue".

In this year, 1763, were also published The Christian Monitor, and Lewis's Exposition of the Catechism, with Bishop Wilson's Form of Prayer for the Herring Fishery. These books were evidently greatly appreciated, as the bishop wrote to the Rev. Philip Moore: "The blessings of many are now upon me, for what I have already procured, and they seem almost ready to eat the Manks Monitors which are now come among us".[note 16] This must have been a great encouragement to him, but, on the other hand, there was much opposition; for shortly afterwards he wrote to the same correspondent – "If I were not fraught with full conviction of its[note 17] utility, and with resolution to pursue my undertaking, what with the coolness of its reception [240] by some, and the actual disapprobation of it by others, I should be so discouraged as to give it up. This, I believe, is the only country in the world that is ashamed of, and even inclined to extirpate, its own native tongue."[note 18] Some of those, too, in England, who were applied to for subscriptions to the printing of the Manx Bible, said, "They are nothing but a nest of smugglers, and can have no religion".[note 19]

Yet the good work went on. In 1765, there appeared an edition of the Prayer-book,[note 20] in quarto, for the use of the clergy, also a larger edition of the Gospels and Acts. In 1767, there followed the Epistles and Revelations; and, in 1768, an edition of the Christian Monitor, and Lewis's Catechism. It was in 1765 that the bishop, encouraged by the number of subscriptions he had received from England, determined to expedite the translation of the Old Testament, which had been already begun, and so he addressed his clergy as follows: "I earnestly pray God . . . to inspire every Minister of His word in this Diocese, with a feeling sense of the importance and necessity of the undertaking proposed, of furnishing the Church of Mann (the only Church in the Christian world destitute of them) with [241] the divine oracles in the Vulgar Tongue". Three years later there occurred an incident which threatened greatly to retard this publication of the Old Testament. It is thus related by John Kelly: "I began to revise, correct, and transcribe the Gaelic translation of the Bible on the 1st of June, 1768. The Pentateuch was soon after nearly ready for the press; and we arrived at Whitehaven, where the work was printed, on the 13th of April, 1770. On our next return from the island to Whitehaven, the 19th of March, 1771, charged with another portion, from Deuteronomy to Job inclusive, we were shipwrecked in a storm. With no small difficulty and danger the manuscript was preserved, by holding it above the water for the space of five hours; and this was almost the only article saved."[note 21] The printing of the first volume of the Bible to the end of Job was completed in 1771;[note 22] the second, to the end of the Old Testament, with a portion of the Apocrypha, in 1773; and the third volume, the New Testament, in 1775. The translators of the Bible, Prayer-book, etc. were in effect, the whole of the clergy of the island, though the most arduous share of the work had fallen to the Rev. Phillip Moore, who revised nearly the whole of the Bible,[note 23] and to John Kelly, afterwards Dr. Kelly, who assisted him and also corrected the whole Bible [242] for the press.[note 24] Lewis's Catechism was translated by the Rev. Henry Corlett, and the Christian Monitor by the Rev. Paul Crebbin.

Though, as we have seen, the publication of the Bible and Prayer-book and other religious works continued after Bishop Hildesley's death, their production was retarded, instead of forwarded, by his successors. Indeed, but for the support of the S.P.C.K., and the earnest zeal of a few of the Manx clergy, it seems probable that no further Manx books would have been published.[note 25]

Education also received a large share of the bishop's attention. This he cloathed and educated twenty poor children at Bishop's Court, who formed the chapel choir, entirely at his own expense. "For these he built a school-house, with a handsome stipend for a master and mistress"; and we constantly find him exhorting the clergy to visit the schools.[note 26] He also took a keen interest in the grammar schools, and more particularly in the [243] academic school, the boys of which "he personally examined . . . in the Classicks, the Greek Testament, and the Thirty-nine Articles".[note 27]

It was at this time, too, that Peel obtained a mathematical school through private benefactions, and that other educational and charitable funds were added to by the bequest of Mrs. Catherine Halsall.[note 28]

In 1769, the long-pending question of fish tithe was finally decided by the Privy Council in favour of the clergy, by affirming the judgment of the Manx Spiritual Court in 1767, which decided that fishermen were liable to pay full tithes for fish even though sold "many leagues from the island". But though the legal question was thus settled, the fishermen seem still to have made difficulties about the payment of the tithe, as there was a resolution passed at Convocation in 1772, "that the rights of the Church be vigorously defended with respect to the tithe of herrings and other fish;" and, in the following year, the clergy complained, in an address to the bishop, that they (the fishermen) still continued "obstinate," and had involved them "in fresh suits". They then proceeded to beg him to give them "his assistance" in "craving the countenance of his Grace of Atholl, in protecting and recovering the rights of the Church from the injurious attacks of those infatuated and misguided men".[note 29]

[244] Having thus given a brief account of the diocese during this period, we will now refer more especially to the bishop himself. We have seen how zealously he entered into every department of his work, and it is significant of this that he took the trouble to acquire something of the Manx language so that he might make himself understood by the people.[note 30] As regards personal appearance, he "was somewhat but not much above the middle stature; with features rather small and very regular, of a fair complexion, and as he himself often tells us, in constitution 'tender and weakly'. His voice, though not deeply sonorous, was in an eminent degree clear and distinct . . . his countenance attractive, lively and benign".[note 31] This good man died on the 7th of December, 1772, and was buried at Kirk Michael, near Bishop Wilson. Twenty-five years after his death, Bishop Crigan wrote of him, that "as no pastor was more loved in his diocese, by both the clergy and laity, during his life, so no one could be more sincerely regretted at his death. His memory is yet fresh in the hearts of his people."[note 32] His only literary production, apart from his sermons and charges, is a small tract entitled "Plain instructions for young persons in the principles of the Christian religion; in six conferences between a minister and his [245] disciple; designed for the use of the Isle and Diocese of Man". The most distinguished of the clergy during this period, with, perhaps, the exception of the Rev. Phillip Moore,[note 33] was the Rev. James Wilks, vicar-general, a man of sterling and upright character, with some literary power.


1. Even the students of sixteen and seventeen years were obliged to wear wigs.

2. This increase largely arose from the bishop appointing the clergy as his proctors, in their several parishes, to collect his tithes and dues, they getting a percentage for themselves.

3. MS. letter.

4. Only two presentments are recorded against them, one being or a rector and curate for non-residence, and the other of a curate for drunkenness.

5. It had increased by one-third since 1726.

6. It appears that John Kippax, archdeacon from 1727 to 1760, had never resided there.

7. Memoirs, p. 241.

8. For this he was condemned to forfeit bonds of £3, and to perform the penance "in a becoming manner".

9. This was, in effect, the third ecclesiastical constitution of 1703, which was at this time ordered to be read in the churches (see pp.209-10).

10. Statutes, pp.381-5.

11. It is an old custom to use proper lessons on Ash-Wednesday, and at the meetings of the Tinwald Court, when assembled to promulgate new laws. There were no proper lessons for Ash-Wednesday, in England, before 1871.

12. A few of the presentments made during this period may be of interest: "For neglecting to attend diving service." "The wardens present to the Court that there was no divine service in the parish church on St Matthew and St Luke's days last." "For not having an oiel verrey (Christmas Eve) service." "For not attending to be examined in the principles of the Christian religion." "For not qualifying for confirmation." "For not raising and signing psalms in the church at the time of Divine Service, upon the Lord's Days, as has been always used and accustomed in out Parish Church in times past; and we do likewise present the Revd. John Gill, Vicar of our Parish, for restraining and forbidding our sd parish clerk to raise and sing psalms in the church."

13. So anxious was he that the people should have the psalms in Manx that copies were sent round to the country clergy that they might transcribe them for the use of their congregations. He ordered at the same time that "No more than one psalm, or portion of a psalm, in English, be sung in any of the country churches, on each Lord's day or holy day, which I think full sufficient for ye use and gratification of ye minority who are supposed to understand it;" and he gave notice that "Whereas I find some doubts have arisen among some of the clergy concerning the sense in which they are to observe my late injunction, 'To instruct the people in a language they best understand,' I here think fit more explicitly to declare my meaning to be that Manks should be preached as a rule."

14. Memoirs, pp.425-6.

15. A few copies were issued to the clergy only, with a request "that they would insert freely their remarks on the blank pages, as to the best method that can be proposed for furnishing from the whole one correct edition.

16. Memoirs, pp.444-5.

17. Printing the Bible in Manx.

18. Memoirs, p.450.

19. Ibid., p.452.

20. It is remarkable that, in preparing this translation, no use seems to have been made of Bishop Phillips's translation made in 1610. See pp.135-7.

21. Memoirs, p.231.

22. The statement of Bishop Hildesley's biographer, that the bishop received the last volume before his death, is incorrect (Memoirs, p.51).

23. The Rev. Matthias Curghey assisted in the revision of the Pentateuch.

24. The Manx translation of the Bible is considered a very good one. Thus Vallancy in his Grammar, p.119, writes, "The beautiful expression of the Manx, superior to the Irish translation, is visible to every Celtick scholar."

25. For full particulars about benefactions towards the publication of the Scriptures in Manx, see Hildesley's Memoirs, pp.257-60, or Isle of Man Charities, pp.51-56.

26. If satisfied they were to issue the following certificate: "I do hereby certifie that, according to the Constitutions of 1703, I have visited the petty school of this parish, A.B. licensed master/mistress. That the children under his/her care have been carefully taught, and do improve in learning and good manners; that they are taught their prayers and catechism, and do duly attend the public service of the Church. Witness my hand this — day of — C.B. Rector/Vicar of —."

27. Memoirs, p.81.

28. Isle of Man Charities, pp.42-3, 61 and 69, which see for other bequests.

29. Fish tithe continued to be paid up till the end of the century, when all mention of it in the Records suddenly ceases, and in the Act of 1839 (see pp.261-2) it is not dealt with in any way, though all tithes are there mentioned.

30. He had conducted his diocese successfully through a very difficult time, as, till 1765, the people were demoralized by the smuggling trade, and after its suppression there was a period of dis-content and restlessness before they settled down.

31. Memoirs, p.102.

32. Ibid., p.111.

33. See p.224.

34. For brief biography of him see Manx Note-Book, vol.xii pp.178-181.