It is a thing most wonderful,
almost too wonderful to be,
that God’s own Son should come from heaven,
and die to save a chld like me.
William Walsham How, known as Walsham How, was the son of a Shrewsbury solicitor. How was educated at Shrewsbury School, Wadham College Oxford and University College Durham, and was ordained in 1846. In 1848 he began more than thirty years of parish work in Shropshire, as curate at the Abbey Church in Shrewsbury.
He refused preferment on several occasions, but his energy and success made him well known, and on 25 July, 1879 he was consecrated a bishop, by Archibald Campbell Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury, at St Paul’s Cathedral. He became the first modern suffragan bishop in London, under the title of Bishop of Bedford, his province being the East End. There he became the inspiring influence of a revival of church work. He founded the East London Church Fund, and enlisted a large band of enthusiastic helpers, his popularity among all classes being immense. He was particularly fond of children, and was commonly called the children’s bishop.
When he came to East London in 1879 “he found great need of women’s help for the poor in the huge parishes of his diocese”. He founded the East London Diocesan Deaconess Institution at Sutton Place, Hackney. Deaconess Sisters worked in various East London parishes and eventually the Institution became the All Saints Deaconess Home at Meynell Crescent. As part of his work with the poor and destitute, Bishop Walsham How met and confirmed Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man) at the London Hospital, and was mentioned in the book recounting his life. How appears as a significant character in Bernard Pomerance’s 1979 Broadway play ‘The Elephant Man’, and was played by William Hutt in a 1982 television adaptation.
He died at the age of seventy-three during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee year of 1897. As Bishop of Wakefield he had performed one last task of importance. Sir Arthur Sullivan refused to set the words of the Poet Laureate, Alfred Austin, saying they were unworthy of his music for the Jubilee service. Bishop How stepped into the breach, and so became the writer of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee hymn.
He died while on holiday in Ireland, on 10 August 1897 in Leenane, County Mayo. Although there is a marble memorial to him in Wakefield Cathedral, he was buried in Whittington, Shropshire, where he had been rector for 28 years. There is also a memorial plaque to him inside the London city church of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate bearing the line “Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest” from his hymn, “For all the saints.”