John Sandford, Vicar of Dunchurch

St. Peter's, Dunchurch, c. 1845. Frontispiece to Sandford's "Parochialia".
Image supplied by Edward Reid-Smith

John Sandford (1801-1873) came from a typical upper-middle class family which included university professors, bishops, archdeacons, military men and holders of civil posts in government and education at home and abroad.  Both the men and the women of the Sandford family published books and pamphlets, a number of them being on education, religion, and about women in society.  A graduate of Oxford University and ordained in 1824, John served in Northumberland and London before becoming vicar of Dunchurch near Rugby in 1833, where he served for the next 21 years.  He left Dunchurch in 1854 to become rector of Alvechurch (Worcestershire), and died there on his 72nd birthday.

Archdeacon of Coventry

During his time in Dunchurch he was also appointed an Honorary Canon of Worcester Cathedral in 1844 and Archdeacon of Coventry in 1851, which involved him in visiting many other parishes in Warwickshire and preaching in a number of the parish churches.

If anyone still reads his books today, probably the best known are the 1837 biography of his father Daniel who had been Bishop of Edinburgh, and his 1845 publication Parochialia; or, church, school, and parish – which is actually more interesting than it sounds, especially for educational and social historians.  John Sandford believed that it was not only his duty and calling to save the souls of his parishioners, but to care for their bodily and educational needs.  Some chapters of Parochialia are devoted to the provision of parish schools for the children, and to ensuring that their health was promoted along with their learning.  Many of his illustrations are based on what was then available in Dunchurch – such as space in classrooms, playgrounds, and lending libraries.

Beginnings of a welfare system

True, much of this book is concerned with matters such as church services and ecclesiastical furniture, but there are the beginnings of a welfare system providing a loan fund for the poor, and benefit societies for medical aid in sickness.  He was certainly a product of his time, but also had visionary flashes of what could then be done on a local scale to care for the people of his parish.  It is easy for us to denounce our ancestors for what they neglected to do, but so will our descendants denounce us.

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