JAMES IRVINE presided over the parish of Leigh, in Lancashire,
with an iron discipline from 1839 to 1874. There he introduced
those high-church pastoral principles that were initially confined
to Oxford, London, and the south-east.
Never straying from the rubrics of the Prayer Book, he
nevertheless interpreted them strictly. Like Pusey, Keble, and
Newman (in the latter's Anglican days), he never wore eucharistic
vestments. His services contained no additions from Rome or other
sources. It is true that he gave encouragement to those whose
ritualistic practices brought them into collision with the
authorities, both ecclesiastical and civil. But he went no
In the week after his death, the church newspaper The
Guardian wrote: "The practical side of Church Principles was
to him the strongest attraction. He saw in it a powerful instrument
for the correction of abuses. Amongst the very first in the
province of York, he began daily prayers, weekly celebrations, and
exact conformity to the rubrics in other respect, and preaching in
Then the obituary added a little verse:
Uplifted high in heart and hope are
Until we doubt not that for one so true
There must be other nobler work to do
Than when he fought at Waterloo
And victor he shall ever be.
Fought at Waterloo? Yes, he had served at the Battle of Waterloo
in one of the Scots regiments (possibly the Gordon Highlanders),
most probably as an ordinary soldier. Afterwards, he went on to
study at Marischal College, Aberdeen (where there was a tradition
of Episcopalianism), before ordination in the Norwich diocese.
Irvine's vision of the Church was certainly "militant". He
expected military-like discipline from both himself and his fellow
clergy. In a published sermon, he said: "I cannot see much of that
spirit which in other times has made other men confessors and
martyrs. I see a great disposition to accommodate themselves to the
circumstances of the times, and exercise their ministry with as
little trouble as possible to themselves, and as little offence as
may be to their ungodly or worldly-minded parishioners."
Preaching in Leigh Parish Church on the day before Irvine's
death, Bishop Fraser (of Manchester) commented that Irvine was "an
old soldier - a Waterloo man", noting that they were generally
reputed to be somewhat strict disciplinarians. "How was a regiment
to be managed if strict discipline was not pursued in its
government?" Fraser asked.
In Leigh, Irvine had introduced practices that gave his
parishioners some idea of discipline. The Bishop described him as
"undoubtedly a loyal minister" of the C of E.
Indeed he was. In 1867, one of his curates "went to Rome"; on
hearing of this "perversion", Irvine's uncompromising observation
was that a man deserting the Church to which he had taken an oath
of allegiance might as soon expect to be shot as a deserter from
Diligent research has produced the only known photograph of
Irvine, in the Wigan Record Office; it depicts him proudly wearing
his Waterloo medal: "Victor he shall ever be."
The Revd Dr Gray, Canon Emeritus of Westminster, was a
curate at Leigh Parish Church, 1956-60.