Henry Francis PELHAM (1846–1907)
His wife Laura Priscilla PELHAM, née Buxton (1852–1918)
and their children Arthur John PELHAM (1878–1883)
and Catherine Harriet PELHAM (1885–1894)
St Giles (Ss Philip & James) section: Row 2, Grave B43

Pelham grave

The above grave, which is made of Peterhead granite, was restored in 2019, and the broken pieces as they were before restoration are shown below. It is a low headstone, originally put up for a little boy who died aged four in 1883 and a little girl who died aged nine in 1894. In the fullness of time their father (who was then President of Trinity College) and mother were buried here with these two of their five children.

Henry Pelham grave

[On cross]
BORN DEC. 4, 1878. DIED AUG. 11, 1883

[On front of base]
BORN SEP. 19, 1846, DIED FEB. 12, 1907

[On left side of base]
BORN SEP. 8, 1885, DIED NOV. 20, 1894

[On right-hand kerb]

Life of Pelham (Trinity College)

See the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for more on Henry Francis Pelham, historian and President of Trinity College, Oxford


Henry Francis Pelham was born at Bergh Apton in Norfolk on 19 September 1846. He was the eldest son of John Thomas Pelham (who in turn was the son of the Second Earl of Chichester) and Henrietta Tatton (daughter of Thomas William Tatton of Wythenshawe Hall, Cheshire).

At the time Henry was born his father was Rector of Bergh Apton, and the 1851 census shows the family living at the Rectory House there with six servants. Henry, then aged four, already had two younger brothers: John Barrington Pelham (3) and Sidney Pelham (1). His next two siblings were born in Hampstead: Fanny in 1853, and Herbert near the beginning of 1855.

In 1857 Henry’s father became Bishop of Norwich, and his family moved to the Bishop’s Palace there.

Henry entered Harrow in 1860 and was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Trinity College on 22 April 1865, aged 18, He was awarded a First in Literae Humaniores in 1869, and was immediately elected a Fellow of Exeter College. At the time of the 1871 census he was at home with his mother at the Bishop’s Palace at Norwich, where there were nine servants.

Laura Priscilla Buxton was born in London on 21 March 1852 (reg. St George's, Hanover Square district), probably at Upper Grosvenor Street, where her parents were living in 1851. She was one of the one of the twelve children of Sir Edward North Buxton, second baronet, and his wife Catherine Gurney, who were married at St Marylebone Church on 12 April 1836. She had two younger sisters: Sarah Evelyn (born in London in 1854) and Rachel Jane (born in Nice in 1857).

Laura's father died in Cromer on 11 June 1858, around the time of her sixth birthday. His effects came to under £500,000.

At the time of the 1871 census Laura (19) was living at Catton Hall, Norfolk with her married brother Samuel (32) and his wife and children. Also living with him were Laura's mother (57) and her siblings Charles (25) and Sarah (17). The family had eleven servants: a cook-cum-housekeeper, nurse, housemaid, two footmen, groom, nurserymaid, lady's maid, under-housemaid, and two kitchen-maids.

On 30 July 1873 at the parish church in Cromer, Norfolk, Henry Pelham, with his address given as the Bishop's Palace at Norwich, married Laura Priscilla Buxton of Cromer, and the marriage meant that he lost his fellowship at Exeter College. They had five children, all born in Oxford:

  • Edward Henry Pelham (born at 20 Bradmore Road, Oxford on 20 December 1876 and baptised at Cromer on 25 March)
  • Arthur John Pelham (born at 20 Bradmore Road, Oxford on 4 December 1878 and baptised at St Mary-in-the-Marsh Church, Norwich on 14 January 1879)
  • Herbert Sidney Pelham (born at 20 Bradmore Road, Oxford on 25 June 1881 and baptised at Cromer on 17 August)
  • Catherine Harriet Pelham (born at 20 Bradmore Road, Oxford on 8 September 1885 and baptised at St Giles’s Church on 20 October)
  • Laura Grace Pelham (born at 20 Bradmore Road, Oxford on 20 September 1888 and baptised at St Giles’s Church on 14 November)

In 1873 the Dowager Lady Buxton, Pelham’s mother-in-law, had taken out the first lease on 20 Bradmore Road, and the Pelhams lived there for the rest of their lives (apart from a ten-year period in the President’s Lodgings at Trinity College from 1897).

Pelham played a leading part in the development of higher education for women, being a member of the Committee set up to establish the non-denominational Somerville Hall in 1879. He then became a member of the Council of Somerville, subsequently Vice-President and then, in 1893, President of the Council of Somerville College until his death in 1907.

At the time of the 1881 census Henry and Laura Pelham appear to have been on holiday with Edward (4) and Arthur (2), as they were staying at 2 Victoria Villas, Kirkley, Suffolk. Laura’s sister Fanny (27) was staying with them, and the only servant was a nurse for the children. Henry described himself in that census as a Classical Tutor at Exeter College, but the following year was re-elected to a full fellowship there under the statutes of the second university commission, which allowed dons to marry.

Pelham’s second son died in 1883:

† Arthur John Pelham died at 20 Bradmore Road at the age of 4 years 8 months on 11 August 1883 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 14 August (burial recorded in the parish registers of both St Giles’s and Ss Philip & James Church).

In 1887 Henry Pelham was appointed Reader in Ancient History, and in 1889 Camden Professor of Ancient History, which meant a transfer to Brasenose College.

He supported women’s education in Oxford: he did some tutoring at Somerville and pressed for women’s admission to Oxford lectures, examinations, and degrees.

At the time of the 1891 census the Pelhams were on holiday, staying with their four surviving children and Laura Pelham’s sister, Miss Catherine Buxton (40) at Colne House, Cromer, Norfolk: the house had ten servants.

Henry Pelham’s father died at Blofield in Norfolk on 31 December 1893, and his father on 1 May 1894. His elder daughter Catherine died later in 1894:

† Catherine Harriet Pelham died at 20 Bradmore Road at the age of nine on 20 November 1894 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 23 November (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church).

In 1897 Pelham was elected President of Trinity College, and the family moved into the President’s Lodgings in Broad Street. He became especially concerned with the college’s mission at Stratford, east London.

G. B. Grundy in Fifty-Five Years at Oxford (1945) wrote of Pelham as follows:

Of his position in Oxford, I think I may say that from the time at any rate that I first knew him up to his death in 1907 he was the most influential member of the University, a liberal in politics, and a strong advocate of the reform of the University from within, that is to say, without interference from a government commission. He supported strongly the claims of science and of the women’s colleges, both of them with effects which were not realized till after his death. But he paved the way for their realization. He was the most effective speaker in Congregation that I have ever heard. Even his most stubborn opponents admitted that reluctantly. His speeches were clear and to the point, brief, unadorned by rhetoric or verbosity, a survival of the style which was most effective in the senate of the Roman Republic.

After his death certain obituary notices commented on the fact that he had made hardly any written contribution to ancient history. This comment was due to the fact that Oxford gossip had attributed to him the design of writing a history of the Romans under the Empire. In the last seventeen years of his life I had, not unnaturally, many conversations on Roman history with him without his even hinting that he ever had such a design….

But in some more important respects Pelham was the best and most effective professor of Ancient History I have known in Oxford. His lectures were attended by almost every man who read for Literae Humaniores during the time he was in office. More than that, if he published but little himself, he was zealous in support of any young man who was keen on research.

In 1895 his son Edward Henry Pelham, who had been at Harrow School, went up to Balliol College, obtaining a First in Mathematics in 1898 and a Second in Modern History in 1899.

At the time of the 1901 census Henry was probably abroad, and his wife was staying with her children Herbert (19) and Laura (12) at Colne House in Cromer, Norfolk, the home of her aged mother, who had no fewer than eleven servants.

Their eldest son Edward was married in 1905:

  • On 5 December 1905 at Westminster, Edward Henry Pelham married the Hon. Irene Lubbock, the youngest daughter of the 1st Baron Avebury.

Pelham died in 1907, and although Trinity College is in St Mary Magdalen parish, his burial is recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church, because the family grave purchased when his two small children died was in their section of the cemetery and he was buried with them:

† Henry Francis Pelham died at the President’s Lodgings, Trinity College at the age of 60 on 12 February 1907 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 15 February (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church).

The following description of the funeral appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 23 February 1907:


The funeral of the late President of Trinity College (Professor Henry Francis Pelham) took place on Friday, and the large attendance of members of the University and others testified to the very high regard in which the deceased was held. The first part of the service was held in St. Mary-the-Virgin Church, and for some time the west gallery, which was set apart for the public, was filled, while the body of the church, with the exception of that portion reserved for the mourners, was also fully occupied, and during the service these seats were also filled.

The members of the college and others assembled in the hall at 2 o’clock and walked in procession to St. Mary’s Church in the following order: The Vice-Chancellor (the President of Magdalen), the Senior and Junior Proctors, the Rector of Lincoln and the Master of University (representing the Hebdomadal Council), the Registrar of the University (Mr. Leudesdorf), the Principal and Fellows of Brasenose, Undergraduate Commoners, Scholars, and Exhibitioners of Trinity, the Fellows of Trinity, representatives of Exeter College; and there were also present Dr. Evans (Ashmolean Museum, representing the British School at Athens), Dr. Haverfield (representing the British School at Rome), Prof. Holland (representing the British Academy), Prof. Egerton (representing the League of the Empire), Prof. Gardner (representing the Hellenic Society), Mr. E. W. B. Nicholson (Bodley’s Librarian), Mr. A. B. How (Bursar of Exeter), Dr. H. A. Miers, Dr. Farnell, Prof. Dicey, Mr. A. Hassall, Canon Wood, Rev. F. J. Dyson, Dr. Butler, Rev. C. W. Alington, Mr. A. Hilton, Mr. C. Brooks, and Mr. Holdsworth (representing the College mission), Mr. F. W. Hall (St. John’s), Mr. W. C. Crittenden, Mr. B. W. Henderson (Exeter), Mr. C. H. Ridsdale, Mr. G. H. Wakeling, Mr. D. H. Wilson, Mr. H. M. Lindsell, Mr. Hugh L. Bell, Mr. Hugh Legge, M. C. H. Howarth (Trinity), Dr. E. Mallam, Capt. C. S. Harris, Mr. M. M. Brown, Mr. W. E. B. Walton, Mr. H. G. Gibson, Mr. E. Whitley, Mr. F. D. How, Mr. L. Armitage, Mr. C. Cannan, Mr. G. E. Godson, Mr. J. G. Russell, Rev. H. Couchman, Mr. C. H. Sampson, Mr. A. B. Heberden, Mr. W. N. Stocker, Rev. H. C. Wace, Mr. F. Madan, Mr. C. E. Brownrigg, Mr. A. J. Jenkinson, Dr. Bussell, Mr. H. F, Fox, Mr. H. Balfour, Mr. F. T. Wylie, Mr. R. W. Leage, Mr. A. F. Clarke, Mr. Anson, Mr. John Parsons, Mr. G. H. Bown, etc.

The coffin was conveyed in an open hearse, and upon it were placed several beautiful wreaths, and a number of the servants of the college walked on each side of the hearse. The body was met at the door at the south-east side of the church by the Bishop of Hereford, the Rector of Exeter, and the Junior Bursar of Trinity (the Rev. H. E. D. Blakiston). The opening sentences were said by the Bishop of Hereford, and when the mourners had taken their places the hymn, “O God our help in ages past,” was sung. The 90th Psalm was said by the Bishop of Hereford, the lesson was ready by the Rector of Exeter, and the service concluded with the hymn, “Peace, perfect peace.” As the mourners and congregation left the church, Dr. Iliffe, the organist, played Mendelssohn’s Funeral March, and the procession started for St. Sepulchre’s cemetery in Walton-street, where the interment took place in a grave in which the remains of two of the late President’s children are buried.

The mourners were Mrs. Pelham (widow), Mr. E. H. Pelham (son), and the Hon. Mrs. Pelham, Rev. H. Pelham, son, Miss Pelham (daughter), Canon John Pelham (brother) and Mrs. Pelham, Miss Pelham (sister), Lord and Lady Avebury, the Hon. Mrs. Grant Duff, Sir Fowell Buxton, Mr. and the Hon. Mrs. Francis Buxton, Mr. Edward North Buxton, Mr. R. V. Buxton (Trinity), Mr. C. Buxton (Balliol), Miss F. Buxton, and Mrs. and Miss Gurney.
The coffin was of polished oak with brass furniture, and bore the following inscription:–

Born September 19, 1846,
Died February 12, 1907.

Among those who assembled in St. Mary’s Church were the Provost of Queen’s, the Warden of Wadham, the Principal of Jesus, the Principal of Brasenose, the Principal of Hertford, the Warden of New College, the Provost of Oriel, the Provost of Worcester, Canon Ince, Canon Driver, Canon Sanday, Canon Bigg, Canon Ottley, Canon Clayton, Canon Carnegie (Birmingham Cathedral), the Warden of Radley, the Principal of Marcon’s Hall, the Principal of Manchester College, Prof. Stewart, Prof. Wright, Prof. Elliott, Prof. Raleigh, Prof. Esson, Prof. McDonald, Prof. Osler, Prof. Napier, Prof. Oman, Prof. Gotch, Prof. Clifton, Prof. Schlich, Prof Vinogradoff, Prof. Thomson, Prof. Cook Wilson, Prof. Ritchie, Prof. Margioliouth, Prof. Bywater, Prof. Firth, Dr. Grundy, Dr. Hutton, Dr. Jackson (Cambridge), Dr. Freeborn, Rev. Dr. Hastings Rashdall, Dr. Williams (High Sheriff of Flintshire), Dr. Rambout (Radcliffe Observer), Dr. Collier, Dr. Baker, Dr. Moyle, Dr. Dixey, Dr. Pope (Non-Collegiate Delegacy), Sir David Hunter Blair, Sir William Herschel, Sir E. L. O’Malley, Monsignor Kennard, Mr. H. G. Grissell, Revs. C. A. Whittuck, C. F. H. Johnston, C. M. Blagden, Dr. Williams, W. Allen, A. W. F. Blunt, F. C. N. Hicks, A. H. Johnson, H. H. Gibbon, L. R. Phelps, W. M. Merry, G. C. Richards, D. Thomas, E. M. Walker, W. Warner, C. Plummer, A. J. Carlyle, T. T. Blockley, W. D. R. Curry, G. B. Cronshaw, R. F. McNeile, Col. Waller, Capt. Slessor, Messrs. P. F. Willert, P. E. Mattheson, S. Ball, W. B. Skene, C. C. J. Webb, Stevenson, Farquharson, Robertson, J. Sidgwick, Craig, Thatcher, Clarke, Fox, C. Ord, Greene, M. Underhill, R. G. Cruwys, W. B. Gamlen, A. L. Smith, S. M. Burrows, H. Buxton (Calton), M. Mount (Superintendent of the Parks), F. H. Hall, G. Mc.M. Rushforth, H. B. Leate, J. Walker, W. Blackburn, G. E. Baker, P. V. M. Benecke, Ward Fowler, Pickard-Cambridge, J R. Munro, Hugh Hall, A. B. Poynton, Davis, Hilliard, L. Dyer Grant, J. A. Smith, H. A. L. Fisher, A. D. Lindsay, H. B. Hartley, Young, W. W. Fisher, A. E. Zimmern, R. F. McNeile, R. B. Townshend, A. C. Clarke, R. L. Poole, Sidney Owen (Reader in Indian History), S. G. Owen (Christ Church), W. R. Linton, B. H. Streeter, W. S. Hatch, A. J. Herbertson, A. H. Pilkington, Armstrong, J. A. R. Marriott, J. D. Peel, G. G. Peel, H. T. Gerrans, W. H. Hadow, G. Wood, M. N. Tod, J. G. C. Anderson, Vere Bayne, H. Le B. Lightfoot, W. H. Stevenson, F. E. Brightman, Horace Hart (Controller of the University Press), P. Molyneux, E. A. Burroughs, A. M. Bell, R. Fleming Strutthers, G. C. Druce, W. T. Pownall, I. U. Powell, J. B. Baker, M. W. Keatinge, Gough, Tracey, A. D. Godley, Campbell, Norman Moore, J. H. Morgan, C.V.O., Lady Hawkins, etc.

The arrangements were left to the care of Messrs. Elliston and Cavell.

He is buried close by some of his fellow Somerville supporters:

  • Thomas Hill Green (Philosopher and Fellow of Balliol) who was a member of the original Committee in 1879, then a Council member from 1881 until his death, aged 46, in 1882 and his wife Charlotte Byron Green who was a Council member from 1908
  • Edward Caird (Philosopher and Master of Balliol 1893–1907) Vice President of Council from 1894 until his death in 1908. He invited Somervillians to Sunday evening concerts at Balliol
  • Elinor Mary Dicey (wife of Albert Venn Dicey, formerly Law Fellow of Trinity and then of Balliol) who was a Council member from 1888 to 1904.
  • Benjamin Jowett (Regius Professor of Greek, Master of Balliol 1870–1893, Vice Chancellor 1882–1886) who was a mentor to the Somervillian Cornelia Sorabji, the first woman to read for the BCL in Oxford, and who introduced a resolution to enable her to sit the BCL exams with the other students in the Examination Schools.

Pelham’s wealth at death was £15,332 6s. 8d. His friends founded in his memory a Pelham studentship for Oxford men or women at the British School at Rome.

At the time of the 1911 census Mrs Laura Pelham, a widow of 59, was living with her mother Mrs Catherine Buxton (97) and her nephew Noel Edward Buxton (a Member of Parliament) at Colne House in Cromer. They were looked after by nine servants and a secretary, and Janet Isabel Vernon Harcourt, a schoolmistress from Oxford, was paying a visit.

After the death of her mother later in 1911, Mrs Pelham evidently returned to her former home in Oxford with her daughter Laura, who was married in 1915:

  • On 2 September 1915 at St Giles's Church, Oxford, Laura Grace Pelham married David Francis Bickmore, 6th K.E.O. Cavalry, Indian Army (marriage pictured in the Oxford Journal Illustrated of 15 September 1915).

Mrs Pelham died in Oxford in 1918:

† Laura Priscilla Pelham died at 20 Bradmore Road at the age of 66 on 2 November 1918 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 6 November (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church.

Her effects came to £10,980, and her executor was her eldest son Edward Henry Pelham. She gave her husband’s library of works on Roman history and archaeology to Brasenose College.

Members of Trinity and Somerville Colleges celebrated the life of Pelham following the restoration of this grave:

Surviving children of Henry Francis and Laura Priscilla Pelham
  • Edward Henry Pelham (born 1876) and his wife Irene had five children: Henry John Pelham (1907), Alice Catherine Pelham (1911), Irene Joan Pelham (1912|), Eric Thomas Pelham (1915), and Susan Pelham (1918). He was Permanent Secretary of the Board of Education from 1931 to 1937, and was knighted. He was living at Currant Hill, Westerham, Kent when he died in the Radcliffe Infirmary as a result of an accident on 18 December 1949 at the age of 72. His effects came to £27,660 13s. 7d., and his executors were his widow (the Hon. Dame Irene Pelham) and the Hon. Maurice Fox Pitt Lubbock. See his Wikipedia entry
  • Herbert Sidney Pelham (born 1881) took a degree at University College, Oxford. He was ordained, and his first posts were at inner-city missions. He was then Chaplain to the Bishop of Birmingham, and at the time of the 1911 census he was living at Cathedral House, Birmingham with three boarders in his house, plus a butler and housekeeper. After a period serving as Vicar of Barking, in 1926 he was appointed Suffragan Bishop of Barrow-in-Furness, a position he held until his death on 11 March 1944. He never married. See his Wikipedia entry
  • Laura Grace Pelham, Mrs Bickmore (born 1888) and her husband David had one son, John David P. Bickmore (born in the Kensington district on 18 September 1917). She had moved to 13 Winchester Road in Oxford by 1958, and died in Oxford in 1980.

More on the Pelham family history on The Peerage website



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