Edward Atkinson (1819-1915) – Master of Clare College for 59 years, under whose mastership the institution changed its name from ‘Clare Hall’ to ‘Clare College’
Born 6 August 1819, Atkinson was the son of a ‘haircutter and perfumer’ of Commercial Street, Leeds. He attended Leeds Grammar School, after which he studied in Germany for two years before coming up to Clare Hall as a ‘Sizar’ (i.e. a student receiving some financial assistance) in 1838. He received his BA in Classics in 1842, and was immediately elected a Fellow and Lecturer in Classics, becoming a Tutor eight years later. He received his MA in 1845, was ordained priest in the Ely diocese in 1846, received his Bachelor of Divinity in 1853 and Doctor of Divinity in 1859. He was also a Fellow of Winchester College 1875‒90.
In 1856 he was appointed Master of the college, succeeding William Webb, who had been Master since 1815. The college’s finances were in a poor state when he took over, and it fell to him to put them into good order. His 59-year mastership was the longest in the college’s history, and during it ‘Clare Hall’ (the name it had been given in the 14th century) became ‘Clare College’, the college choir was founded, financial support for needy students was consolidated, and the size of the college increased to 16 fellows and 70 undergraduates.
It is said that Atkinson ‘lived to see the old order replaced by a new. On the whole he was conservative, and fought hard against much that was destined to triumph. In his later days he appeared a survivor of a past age, keeping up the old traditions of aloofness and Olympian dignity which had been associated with the Headship of a House’ (History of the College). He served also as Vice-Chancellor of the University in 1862/63, 1868/70 and 1876/78.
He married Frances Hester Smith (1827‒1908) on 3 June 1856 at St Dunstan’s Church, Stepney, where her father, Richard Carter Smith, was curate. Her mother’s brother, the Rev. William Williamson, who had been a fellow of Clare College from 1827 to 1850, officiated at the marriage.
Atkinson died on 1 March 1915 and was buried in the cemetery four days later. His papers remain with the college, and he left his collection of rare liturgical books to the University Library.
Ada Elizabeth Kent nee Allard was born on 15 February 1886 in Stafford, Staffordshire. In 1911 she was working as a live-in domestic servant at Clare College. The Master at the time was Edward Atkinson. She is buried in this Cemetery along with her husband William Kent.
Parish : St Edward
History, Directory & Gazeteer of the County of York, vol. I, p. 38
Alumni Cantabrigienses, ed. J. Venn
History of the College and its Alumni, pp. 198‒99
Burial Register and Grave Book of the Church of St Edward King and Martyr
Communication from Denis Mollison, great grandson of William Loudon Mollison, who succeeded Atkinson as Master of Clare College in 1915.
By Ian Bent, translation of inscription by David Ganz