Sunday 19 February 2023

So Who Was the Revd James Bickham?

I have to confess that my research skills have let me down a bit on the search for James Bickham – or maybe it’s just that I don’t have [easy] access to the resources I need!

So, who was James Bickham?

I’ve managed to establish that he was born in March 1718, in Evercreech in Somerset, but the actual date of his birth is not clear to me. Here’s why: 

  • a memorial constructed around the time of his death in 1785 suggests his birth was 22 March:
  • writing in 1882 in ‘Rectors of Loughborough’, W.G.D. Fletcher says Bickham was born on 2 March:
  • in his article ‘The parochial visitation of James Bickham D.D. Archdeacon of Leicester in the years 1773 to 1779’, which appeared in the ‘Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society’, Vol.59, 1984-5, W.A. Pemberton writes that Bickham was born on 19 March. 

Hence my confusion, given that I can’t find a record of his birth in the usual genealogical sources.

Nor have I been able to establish who James’s parents were, nor if he had any siblings. There are a number of families with the surname Bickham in Evercreech around the same time as James Bickham, but I cannot say conclusively which, if any, are related to him.

Anyway, I’ve already given you an oblique clue about who James Bickham was, and why we in Loughborough might be interested in him! So, let’s have a closer delve into Bickham’s life.

On 30 March 1737, at the age of 19 (no matter which birth date is correct!), James Bickham was admitted to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, graduating in 1740, with a B.A.. In 1743 he became a Fellow of Emmanuel College, and in the following year he gained an M.A.. In September 1744, he was ordained Deacon by Richard Reynolds, the Bishop of Lincoln, at Buckden, Huntingdonshire, prebendal church. In the same year, he subscribed to ‘A critical commentary upon the book of the Wisdom of Solomon; being a continuation of Bishop Patrick and Mr Lowth.’ by Richard Arnald. The Rev. Alleyne, also of Loughborough, was also listed as a subscriber.

On 9 June 1745 James Bickham was ordained a priest by Thomas Gooch, the Bishop of Norwich, at Gonville and Caius Chapel. After gaining his Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) from Emmanuel College in 1751, by 1753, James Bickham was a tutor at the same college. Keen to broaden his knowledge, in 1753 Bickham subscribed to ‘A critical commentary on such books of the Apocrypha, as are appointed to be read in Churches, viz. Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, History of Susanna, and Bel the Dragon, with Two Dissertations on The Books of Maccabees and Esdras, being a continuation of Bishop Patrick and Mr Lowth.’ by Richard Arnald.

Meanwhile, back in Somerset, in a little place called Ash Priors, in 1754 we find a Mr Bickham as curate of Holy Trinity church, where the living was £10 per year. However, in my opinion, this Mr Bickham is most unlikely to be our James, but is more likely to be either Hugh or John Bickham, sons of Hugh Bickham, who died in 1723 and bequeathed the rectory in Ash Priors to his eldest son, Hugh.

Back to our James Bickham! In 1757, Bickham subscribed to ‘The history of the Saracens …’ and he had obviously enjoyed reading the 1753 book, ‘A critical commentary on such books of the Apocrypha…’ as in 1860, he subscribed to the new edition. 

But the big news is …

… we read in contemporary newspaper reports that on 25 August 1761, “the Rev. Mr. Bickham, B.D., Fellow of Emanuel College in Cambridge, was presented to the Master and Fellow of that Society to the Living of Loughborough in Leicestershire, worth £400 per Ann.”  (London Evening Post). This role as Rector of Loughborough was made vacant upon the death of Thomas Alleyne, the previous incumbent.

More good news for Bickham followed, as on 22 December 1761, he married Miss Sarah Williams of London, in St Andrew’s church, Cambridge. The home in Loughborough the couple would have shared was the rectory, at the time a relatively modest building, which was extensively re-modelled during the time Richard Hardy was rector (1798-1826), by the local architect, Christopher Staveley. From the research that I’ve done, as far as I can find out, the couple had no children.

What is now known as the Old Rectory, as it was in 2014

Bickham continued to enjoy reading and improving his mind and his knowledge, and in 1770 he subscribed to ‘Poems on several occasions’ by Miss Priscilla Pointon of Lichfield, as did rather a lot of other people. Those subscribers from Loughborough included Thomas Allsopp esq., Mrs Penelope Alleyne, Mr William Boot, Mr John Capp – amounting to about 37 copies coming to our town! According to the Preface to the volume of poetry, Miss Pointon had suffered “a deprivation of sight” during her thirteenth year, and her story is briefly told over on the Lichfield Lore website.

Back to Bickham who, on 17 December 1772 was collated to be Archdeacon of Leicester, by the Bishop of Lincoln, becoming, apparently, the fifteenth such archdeacon. As part of that role, between 1773 and 1779 Bickham undertook the customary parochial visitations. On 24 September 1773 he preached a sermon at St Margaret’s church in Leicester, in aid of the General Infirmary at Leicester. This was the annual meeting of the governors, and included the opening of the new organ which accompanied the singing of various songs and choruses. The event was followed in the evening by a Grand Concert, held in the New Rooms in the Haymarket, which was completed with a ball at the Town Hall. The Concert Room had had four new ventillators installed to avoid the audience overheating!

On 5 July 1774, Bickham was awarded his Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) and he appeared in the 1775 poll book for the Hundred of West Goscote, entitled to vote on account of him residing in Loughborough. This poll book also contains some of the names of folk we have seen before, who subscribed to Priscilla Pointon’s poems. In 1777 Bickham’s name appears on a document in relation to the Act to make and maintain a navigable cut or canal from the River Trent to Langley Bridge, and in 1779, Bickham, along with Nathanial Palmer Johnson, Rev. William Farnham, and William Cradock, and led by the latter, opposed the marriage of William Whatton of Loughborough Parks and Elizabeth Watkinson, but upon the testimony of Sir John Danvers, William Pochin, Edward Dawson, William Clayton, and William Pochin, they came round.

Sadly, Sarah, James’s wife died on 28 May 1781, and was buried a couple of days later, on 31 May. Again, the date of James’s own death is cited differently in various places. According to the monumental inscription that was originally placed on the south wall of the chancel, James Bickham died on 23 December 1785. Pemberton suggests the date was 2 March 1785, and more recent publications quote simply 1786.

According to W.G.D. Fletcher in 1882, James Bickham died on 23 December 1785, he was buried on 27 December 1785, and his will was proved in January 1786. Fletcher also tells us that the memorial to James Bickham was moved and placed on the south wall of the tower in 1864. This is what Nichols had to say about the memorial:

“On the south wall: Argent, a chevron Gules, between three leopards faces Azure; on a chief, per fefs [fess? sess? sefs?] Argent and Gules; in the upper part a greyhound courant Sable, Bickham; impaling, Gules, a chevron Ermine between three men’s heads in profile, and couped at the neck, Argent. Crest, an eagle displayed, Or; fig 34.

‘Underneath lie the remains of

James Bickham, D.D. archdeacon of Leicester,

and rector of Loughborough,

He was born March 22, 1719;

and died December 23, 1785.

Near his lie the remains of

Sarah Bickham his wife.

She was born June 15, 1715;

and died May 28, 1781’

The memorial is now to be found in the Burton Chapel.

It’s interesting to note also, that Rev. James Bickham is mentioned on the gravestone of his servant, John Smith:


lieth the body of


late servant to the Revd. Mr. Bickham

Rector of this Parish

He died Novr 18th 1764

Aged 37

Bickham was succeeded as Rector of Loughborough by Rev. Mr Blackall, B.D. Senior fellow of Emanuel [sic] College, Cambridge, who was appointed to the Rectory of Loughborough, Leicestershire, now worth £900 per annum.


posted by lynneaboutloughborough

With apologies for typos which are all mine!


Thank you for reading this blog. You are welcome to quote passages from any of my posts, with appropriate credit. The correct citation for this looks as follows:

Dyer, Lynne (2023). So Who Was the Revd James Bickham? Available from: [Accessed 19 February 2023]

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