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Canon Birch



With credits to Martin Harper & Alan Jennings


Henry was the eldest son (of nine children) of the Rev. Henry W Rous Birch and Lydia Mildred of Southwold, Suffolk, born 12th January 1820. He was educated at Eton, where he became Captain Of School. He then proceeded to King's College, Cambridge, where he succeeded to a Fellowship, obtained the Craven Scholarship,several other medals, then graduated B.A. in 1843. He then returned to Eton as one of the assistant-masters, and whilst there was selected, 1848 as tutor to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (Later King Edward the VII) and was chaplain to Queen Victoria herself.

Canon Birch

Henry,refered to as "Victoria's Birch", found his pupil difficult to teach. Albert arranged for an examination by George Combe, the phrenologist, who reported that the prince's cranium suggested that ‘strong self-will, at times obstinacy’ would be characteristic. It was decided that a stricter tutor was required. Prince Albert is reported to have disagreed with the religious teachings of Birch, it was also said that although Victoria had the highest respect for Rev Birch, she thought he was not being strict enough with her son, so she arranged his removal from the court, but she made sure that he was given the richest living in all of England. Prime Minister Disraeli became involved and Birch resigned, 1852. The Earl Of Wilton made Birch Rector/Vicar of Prestwich, 1852, at the time one of the richest ‘livings’ in England. Edward, Prince of Wales was entertained to lunch at the Rectory in 1857, whilst in Manchester for the opening of the Art Treasures Exhibition, and went on to visit the Rectory again.

The Victorian Prestwich Rectory stood on Rectory Gardens.

Henry was later appointed by the Crown to a canonry in Ripon Cathedral in May 1868. He was elected Proctor in Convocation for the Dean and Chapter of Ripon, in 1868, and again in 1874, and was also honorary canon of Manchester Cathedral.

Henry married Harriet Julia Drinkwater, daughter of Thomas Drinkwater (of Irwell House, and Lord of the Manor of Prestwich) and Sarah Hyde.

Julia Drinkwater



They had four children Henry Arthur Drinkwater Birch, who died of scarlet fever aged 8 in 1863, Ernest Albert Albert who dies in infancy, E (Eton, Kings College, J.P. & Norfolk Councillor), and Constance.

[Constance married her 1st cousin Maj. Francis Mildred Birch in 1907, son of governor of the Bank of England- at this event the deceased Henry became the father-in-law of his nephew]

Their children were born in Watlington Hall, Norfolk, " handsome mansion, with a fine park and plantations, where he occasionally resides". He also owned much of the land in the area.

In 1859 Rev. Birch donated over £5 to the raising of a volunteer Rifle Corps.

Canon Birch

The Manchester architects, Travis & Mangnall, designed a new Chancel and Vestry in 1861. The east window was filled with stained glass as a public memorial to Mary Margaret, Countess of Wilton, who died in 1858. A stone reredos carved by the London sculptor, James Forsyth, was erected by Canon and Mrs Birch as a memorial to their son, Henry Arthur Drinkwater Birch, who died of scarlet fever aged 8 in 1863.

Reredos, St Mary's

It was described in the Illustrated London News of Jan 26th:

Reredos, St Mary's

Reredos, St Mary's

The Reredos is still in place today

Mrs Birch agreed to increase the number of canopied choir stalls in 1889, so long as the Reredos was retained.

A book case in St Hilda's School bears the inscription "This Bookcase was presented to this Institution by James Chadwick Esq., High Bank, Prestwich" and goes on to record "This Reading Room was built and the School enlarged at the joint expense of the Rev. Canon Birch, B.D. Rector of Prestwich and James Chadwick of High Bank, 1871."

Frances Ashton of Barnfield, died on the 18th May 1870 in Leamington, Warwickshire and was buried at St Leonards by Canon Birch.

Canon Birch was the Vicar of St Mary's in 1874, presiding over the funeral of Sir William Fairbairn.

A small chapel was built east of the Lever Chapel of St Mary's in 1875 and it was named The Birch Chapel, after Canon Birch The architect was John Lowe.

The Chapels of St Mary's

Henry died at St. Leonard's Lodge, Windsor on June 29th, 1884, aged 64, and is buried in the family plot with his first two sons. The Prince sent a wreath for Canon Birch’s funeral, inscribed “From the Prince of Wales, as a token of affection and respect.”

Canon Birch's Grave

The west window of St Mary’s,was funded by public subscription, depicts The Ascension and is the work of Ward and Hughes. It is deliberately brightly coloured to catch the light of the setting sun. The glass is a public memorial from 1885 to Canon Birch, whose former pupil, the Prince of Wales, headed the subscription list.

The West "Birch" Window of St Mary's