CFHS code : HT325

Parish : Holy Trinity

Inscription : In Memory of THOMAS RAWSON BIRKS MA Trin Coll Professor of Moral Philosophy & Theology and for 11_ years Vicar of Holy Trinity Church Cambridge d July 19th 1883 aged 72 In Loving Memory of LAURA MARY BIRKS widow of EDWARD BICKERSTETH BIRKS d April 24 1950 aged 81 also In Loving Memory of EDWARD BICKERSTETH BIRKS d Jan 23 1926 aged 77 Fellow of Trinity College 1870-1893 Vicar of Trumpington 1880-1885 Vicar of St Michaels Cambridge 1885-1892 Vicar of Kellington Yorkshire 1892-1914 Rector of Kelshall Herts 1914-1923

Monument : Celtic cross/Kerb stones

Above information from Cambridge Family History Society Survey



Rev. Thomas Rawson Birks (23 September 1810 – 19 July 1883)

Thomas was born in Staveley in Derbyshire and was the son of Thomas and Sarah (née Rawson) Birks. He was baptised at Soresby Street Non-Conformist Church on 1 July 1813.  Thomas Birks (Snr) was a tenant farmer  under the Duke of Devonshire. Thomas was educated first at Chesterfield and then at the Dissenting College at Mill Hill in London.  At the age of 19, he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in October 1829 having been awarded both a sizarship and scholarship.  Thomas got his BA (2nd wrangler) in 1834, his MA in 1837 and was appointed as a Fellow in 1834.   In his third undergraduate year he won the English declamation prize and as the holder of the prize delivered a speech entitled  ‘Mathematical and Moral Certainty’ and his skills as a powerful speaker were noted at the time.  He worked as a Tutor at Trinity College from 1834-36.  He was ordained as a deacon in 1837, and as a priest in 1841.

He worked as a curate at Watton, in Hertfordshire early in his career.  The Rector there was Edward Bickersteth, a leading light in the Evangelical movement and who was very influential on the later thinking of Thomas Birks.   Thomas married his daughter Elizabeth Sarah (1820-1856) on 10 January 1845 in Hertford.  The couple eventually moved to Kelshall in Hertfordshire where Thomas was the Rector from 1844-1866. Thomas and Elizabeth had eight children: Sarah Frances (1846-1864), Edward Bickersteth (1849-1926), Arthur Rawson (1850-1923), Anna Katherine (1852-1926), Emily Georgina (1853-1929), Albert Henry (1854-1854), Ernest Albert (1856-1856) and Rev. Herbert Albert (1856-1923).

The twins Ernest and Herbert were born on 24 January 1856 and Elizabeth Birks died a week later on 31 January, most probably as a complication from childbirth. Ernest, one of the twins died aged less than 6 months old.   Kelshall had a small population of less than 300 people which is said to have allowed Thomas enough time to write extensively. During his years at Kelsall he  published books such as ‘Modern Rationalism’ (1853), ‘Modern Astronomy’, ‘The Two latter visions of Daniel’ and The Inspiration of the Scriptures’ (1853).  In 1843 and 1844 he won the Seatonian Prize at Trinity, which was awarded for the best poem on a sacred subject. However the death of Elizabeth meant he did not publish for several years until 1861  which saw the publication of ‘The Bible and Modern Thought’ an important work on theological thinking.

On 17 May 1866 Thomas Birks  Georgiana Agnes Douglas (née Beresford) (c.1829-1921) at  Christ Church, Clifton, Bristol.  Georgiana had been born in Halifax in Nova Scotia, and was the widow of Major James Douglas (1818-1858). In 1866 he also took up the position of Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, a position he held until 1877.  He worked as an examiner for the Theological Tripos (1867-1868) and was appointed the Knightsbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy (1872-1883), which came with an annual salary of £300.  Thomas Birks was highly influential within the church at the time and a gift orator, but his views were controversial as he sought to resolve the relationship between theology and science. His inaugural lecture as Professor was on the subject of  ‘The Present Importance of Moral Science’.  He continued to publish works such as ‘Modern Physical Fatalism and the Doctrine of Evolution’ (1876) and ‘Supernatural Revelation (1877).  He was the Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance for 21 years, and it was said that he wished to stop ‘as he believed the tendency of so many of the clergy of the Church of England towards Romanism’.  So great were was the power of his speeches that he was reported to say as much in half an hour as an ordinary speaker would say in an hour.  He was said to be ‘a most effective platform speaker, his thoughts finding expression in works which flowed so rapidly as to make him almost a terror to the reporters’.

The last years of his life were spent in poor health.  He suffered a seizure in 1875, and a stroke in 1877, after which he resigned his post at Holy Trinity Church.  He was still able to dictate his thoughts, and continued to publish.  However in April 1880 he suffered a third more serious seizure which left him paralysed.  He died on 19 July at 6 Salisbury Villas and was buried at Mill Road Cemetery on 24 July 1883.  His funeral was attended by many of the leading members of the university including The Vice Chancellor, the Master of Corpus Christi, the Regius Professor of Divinity, professors of the university and parishioners of Holy Trinity.  The Trinity College Choir sang Psalms 80 and 89 at the service.

His widow Georgiana continued to live with her step-children Anna and Herbert.  Herbert was Curate of Chigwell (1891), and then Vicar of Kingsbridge in Devon (at least 1901 onwards).  She died at Kingsbridge in February 1921 aged 92 years old.  She left an estate valued at £38,625 16s and 9d (£1.3m at 2019 values).

Rev. Edward Bickersteth Birks (13 January 1849 – 23 January 1926)

Edward was the eldest son of Thomas Rawson and Elizabeth Birks, and was born at Kelshall.  He  went to Cholmeley School in Highgate and then up to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1866.  He was awarded a BA in 1870 (21st wrangler) and an MA in 1873.  He was awarded the Chancellor’s Classical Gold Medal in 1870 which was awarded to undergraduates who ‘show themselves the greatest proficients in classical learning’.  He was made a fellow of the college in 1870 and was ordained as a priest in 1879.  He worked as a curate at St Mary’s Nottingham (1879-1880) and Holy Trinity Greenwich (1880).  In 1880 he returned to live in Cambridgeshire and was Vicar of Trumpington until 1884 and then St. Michael’s Church (1885-1892).  He was then Vicar of Kellington in Yorkshire for many years (1892-1914) before returning to his childhood home at Kelsall to be the Vicar there (1914-1923).  He wrote several hymns including ‘Light from the dark abyss’.

On 10 May 1893 he married Laura Wiltshire at Christs Church in Westminster.  They were married by the Bishop of Exeter.  They had one son: Rev. Christopher Thomas Edward (1895-1961).  After retiring from Kelsall Edward returned to live in Yorkshire and died at his home of 22 Nether Edge, Sheffield aged 77 years.

Laura Mary Birks (née Wiltshire) (13 September 1868 – 24 April 1950)

Laura was the daughter of George Henry and Mary Ann Wiltshire.  She was born in Cambridge, and her father worked as stonemason.  George Wiltshire died when Laura was 15 months old.  Aged 12 she was living with her maternal grandmother, mother and siblings at 8 Rose Crescent, where Mary Ann Wiltshire was a ‘fancy shopkeeper’.  Rose Crescent was in the Parish of St. Michael, which is where her future husband was the Vicar from 1885-1892. Laura married Rev. Edward Birks when she was 24 years old.

After being widowed she returned to live in Cambridge, and lived at 5 Grantchester Road (at least 1935 onwards). She died at home aged 81.



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Edward Bickersteth Birks; Laura Mary Birks; Thomas Rawson Birks