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Archbishop Whiteside

Cousin - not the main line
Text by Frank Lupton

Robert Cuthbert Whiteside & Isabel Shaw

Robert and Isabel lived on St George's Quay in Lancaster. Robert, born in 1830 in Ashton, next to Conder Green and Glasson (sometimes listed as Thurnham as this was where most of the Whiteside family were baptised, married and buried), was the 3rd child and 3rd son of John Whiteside and Barbara Shaw Taylor.

Isabel, daughter of John and Elizabeth Shaw, also of Ashton, was born in 1831. The Shaw relationship indicated by Robert's mother, Barbara Shaw Taylor's middle name, has not yet been established but it is possible they were near, though not first, cousins.

Robert and Isabel were married on 4 Jun 1855 at St Peter's Catholic Church (later the Cathedral), in Lancaster. Perhaps the Shaws had by then moved to Lancaster. Apart from those indicated they were all buried in Lancaster.


St Peter's, Lancaster, now the Catholic Cathedral, looking west.. On the skyline is the castle on its hill.
Robert is listed in 1845 as a communicant of St Peter's in Lancaster along with his parents and two brothers. Later he managed the corn chandlers, Whiteside and Leeming on Damside. An 1881 Trade Directory lists him as a 'bookkeeper'. He and Isabel had 8 children, the girls being known to the rest of the family as 'the girls on the Quay'. They lived in the house pictured here on the right, next door to a warehouse (now converted into flats). The houses face the river which would at one time have had quite large sailing vessels moored along the river bank.

Children of Robert & Isabel

1. John Whiteside 1856-1923 had 4 daughters, Barbara, Margaret, Lilian and Catherine.
2. Thomas Whiteside 1857-1921 - the Rt Rev Thomas Whiteside, Archbishop of Liverpool, d. Liverpool bur. Thurnham
3. Elizabeth Whiteside 1859-1925, (unm.)
4. Mary Whiteside 1861-1941, a 'well-known Catholic lady' d. at the house on the quay.(unm.)
5. Barbara Whiteside 1864-1946, a teacher at the Cathedral school. (unm.).
6. Robert Whiteside 1866-1938, the Rev. Robert Whiteside d. in Hindsforth, Manchester where he had been parish priest for 46 years
7. Isabel Whiteside 1873-1947 m. Thomas Wilfred Wells of Lancaster, 1864-1944. Isabel was also a teacher at the Cathedral school (no issue)
8. Margaret Ann Whiteside 1877-1959


Robert's gravestone in Thurnham churchyard

Thomas, the second son, was born in 1857 in the house on St George's Quay. The first school he attended was the one at which his younger sisters later became teachers, the school attached to St Peter's, later the Cathedral School. From there he went at eleven years old, as was customary for boys wishing to become priests, to St Edward's College, Liverpool in 1868 and then on 20 Sep 1873 to Ushaw, the seminary in Yorkshire. He won prizes for Classics and Mathematics and it was as a teacher of Mathematics that he returned to Ushaw as a master in 1877, a position he occupied in 1881 when the census records him there aged 23.

Thomas was on dormitory duty one night when he heard someone talking, which was forbidden. He found Francis Thompson, later famous as a poet, reciting Latin poetry in his sleep. He wakened him and told him he was disturbing the others. Everard Meynell in his biography says that shortly afterwards there was another disturbance: this time Thompson was quoting Greek poetry. Presumably Thompson was not Thomas's favourite pupil since he said of his mathematics 'the less said the better'! (Life of Francis Thompson, by E.Meynell, p.26)

Thomas spent a total of eight years at Ushaw. He was known as a keen cricketer, as a knowledgeable botanist and as an enthusiastic fisherman. He was often to be seen on half holiday afternoons 'hurrying off to some stretch of the Browney or the Deerness to enjoy his favourite sport'.

In 1881 Thomas went from Ushaw to Rome to finish his studies. He was ordained priest in St John Lateran on 30 May 1885 and returned as Vice-President of the newly founded seminary of St Joseph's College, Upholland.

A story is told of the bell at St John's church in Poulton which is inscribed 'Ralph Robinson me fecit, 1741'. The bell was buried after the persecution of Catholics following the Jacobite rebellion in 1745. 'A certain Mr Whiteside and Father Whiteside (later Archbishop of Liverpool) went at dead of night, dug up the bell and brought it into the new church. It now rings at every service in the present church'. (Blundell, 'Old Catholic Lancashire', p.202)

St John's Chapel 1813
now the parish centre
The bell, now in the organ loft of the church (right) St John's Church, 1912
The main graves in front are of parish priests.

On 15 Aug 1894 Thomas was consecrated as Bishop of Liverpool, a diocese which at that time included the whole of Lancashire. He had never worked in his life as a parish priest and was plunged into a round of visitation and administration in a rapidly growing and building diocese. Many of the church buildings now used by Catholic parishes in the north-west of England have foundation stones blessed by him in his years at Liverpool. He took as his ecclesiastical motto, 'In fide et caritate' - In faith and love, and he was known to take the word 'Faith' very seriously. He was strongly opposed to mixed marriages - that is marriages between Catholics and those of other faiths - and refused to grant dispensations. He also fought all attempts to secularise Catholic education, seeing the future of the church being the children in its schools and also, in those days, the orphanages. of the diocese, and he worked tirelessly to further their interests. His reputation for this intransigent attitude lasted beyond his death. Bishop Amigo of the Southwark diocese is quoted in discussions about the Hadow report in 1926: 'We shall have to agitate if we are to get our rights,' adding darkly, 'I wish we had a Whiteside in Liverpool!' (see T.Moloney, 'Westminster, Whitehall and the Vatican', p.158)

Thomas, Archbishop of Liverpool

'Bishop of the poor'
and
'Children's Bishop'

The second word of Thomas's motto was never forgotten however, and his reputation for the the care of the downtrodden thousands in Liverpool and Lancashire generally earned him the title of 'Bishop of the poor'.

On 28 Oct 1911 the Pope issued a document 'Si Qua Est' setting up Westminster, Liverpool and Birmingham as metrapolitan sees, so Thomas became the first Archbishop of Liverpool.

Thomas died ten years later on 28 Jan 1921 aged 63. He was first buried in Ford cemetery in Liverpool, then his body was removed and re-buried in the crypt on Brownlow Hill. The ambitious plan was to raise a vast cathedral over the tomb as a memorial to him as first Archbishop. The fundraising was to last for years but the plans always outstripped the collections and in 1939 the building was stopped. Then in May 1957 Archbishop Heenan, newly appointed Archbishop of Liverpool opened the crypt for services and began the process which built the new cathedral of Christ the King above it. (See John C.Heenan, 'A Crown of Thorns', p.281)

In his autobiography Heenan comments as follows:- "Religious intolerance was a feature of social life in Liverpool until the second world war. Archbishop Whiteside was a hated figure among illiterate Protestants and was was regarded by the Catholic poor as a saint and hero." (op.cit. p.222)

A final tribute can be taken from David Mathew's 'Survey of Catholicism in England', 1535-1935 pp.243-244,

"It is pleasant to remember that the most obvious quality of the episcopate of the last generation was a straightforwardness which they shared with the strong parish priests of their then new dioceses. At Birmingham there was a virile tradition radiating from Ullathorne and subsequently kept alive with his memory; while perhaps the most remarkble prelate of the post-Manning epoch was Archbishop Whiteside. He came early to power and held it firmly, ruling the see of Liverpool from 1894 till 1921. His was a character of enduring strength, fearless and rigid. Every interest was concentrated on his pastoral office. An intense sense of duty, tireless energy and a life of self-chosen poverty governed his outlook. He could on occasion be extremely hard; he was probably more determined than imaginative; certainly self-sacrificing. In him character common to many northern Catholics reached a development approaching sanctity. He was little affected by his contemporaries but much by his heredity. When considering the Edwardian south and its gay pretty tivialities the figure of Catholic Lancashire is arresting."

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March 2004