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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 and obtained the Newcastle medal. 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 in 1844 as one of the assistant-masters, and whilst there was selected in 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

The Prince Consort had an interview with Mr. Birch in August 1848, and says in a letter to Lord Morpeth, “The impression he has left upon me is a very favourable one, and I can imagine that children will easily attach themselves to him.” Writing to his stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Gotha, in April 1849, Prince Albert observed:

“Bertie will be given over in a few weeks into the hands of a tutor, whom we have found in a Mr. Birch, a young, good-looking, amiable man, who was a tutor at Eton, and who not only himself took the highest honours at Cambridge, but whose pupils have also won especial distinction. It is an important step, and God’s blessing be upon it, for upon the good education of Princes, and especially of those who are destined to govern, the welfare of the world in these days very greatly depends.”

Henry,referred to as "Victoria's Birch", found his pupil difficult to teach. Albert arranged for an examination of his son, The Prince of Wales, by George Combe the phrenologist. George 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 also reported to have disagreed with the religious teachings of Birch, and it was also said that although Victoria had the highest respect for Rev Birch, the opinion was that he was not being strict enough with her son (or her son was too much of a handlful).

In June 1852 Viscountess Canning wrote from Windsor Castle:—

“Mr. Birch left yesterday. It has been a terrible sorrow to the Prince of Wales, who has done no end of touching things since he heard that he was to lose him three weeks ago. He is such an affectionate, dear little boy; his little notes and presents, which Mr. Birch used to find on his pillow, were really too moving.”

Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales 1852 (aged 11)

Prime Minister Disraeli became involved and Birch resigned the position in 1852, after tutoring the Prince for 3 years. The Earl Of Wilton sponsored Rev. Birch to the position of Rector/Vicar of Prestwich in 1852, at the time one of the richest parishes in England.

Henry still remianed firm friends with the Royals, and was appointed Chaplain to the Queen and to the Prince of Wales.

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 his friend Henry on further occasions.

Henry was invited to the weddings of the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1868, and that of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Princess Louise Maragret of Prussia, both held at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle(1879). Henry was also still described as Chaplain to the Queen in 1884, the year of his death.

It may be added that Henry was present at Edward's wedding breakfast, and they were presented with them a souvenir, a copy of the Holy Scriptures, handsomely bound, and containing an inscription in His Royal Highness’s own handwriting.

A brother of Henry, Sir Arthur Nonus Birch KCMG (1837-1914) was Lieutenant Governor of Ceylon, Colonial Secretary for Ceylon and acting Lieutenant Governor of Penang and Province Wellesley (1871-1872), and Mount Birch in British Colombia is named after him.

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 also 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 in 1854. Harriet was the daughter of Thomas Drinkwater (of Irwell House, and Lord of the Manor of Prestwich) by his wife 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 died in infancy(1857), Albert E (1868-1954) (Eton, Kings College, J.P. & Norfolk Councillor), and Constance (1869-1952).

[Constance married her 1st cousin Maj. Francis Mildred Birch in 1907, son of governor of the Bank of England- John William Birch, Henry's brother. 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 on the South side 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, depicting The Ascension, it 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