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Reverend William Drury

Title: Reverend

Epithet: Founder of Braddan open air church services (1808-1887)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

The Braddan open air Sunday morning services were part of the Island's tourist scene for over 100 years. Attendances were huge; in 1933, for instance, when Dr Temple, Archbishop of York, was the preacher, the Mona's Herald reported over 15,000 people in the congregation. The man who began these services was the Revd William Drury.

In his original Manx Worthies Arthur William Moore wrote:

"No account of him can be given, owing to his eldest son, the Rev. William Drury Vicar of Burton-on-Trent, placing his veto upon it. Fortunately this is of small consequence, as the memory of this excellent Manxman will remain in the hearts of his countrymen without assistance from any pen."

Although that memory might still have been fresh in 1901, it cannot be so today and the time has now come to give the account William Drury's life deserves.

He was born in Port Erin and was ordained by Bishop Ward (as deacon 1832, priest 1834). From 1832 to 1834 he was curate of German and chaplain of St John's, then from 1834 to 1841 curate of Andreas. He became the first chaplain of St Jude's when it was built in 1841. In 1847, following the death of the Revd Thomas Edward Brown's father, Robert Brown, he became vicar of Braddan and began a ministry of 40 years which lasted until his death.

By the end of his life he had become known and loved all over the Island and everyone had heard of 'Parson Drury'. When he became vicar, the parish of Braddan included Douglas, the churches there being only chaplaincies, but Drury managed without a curate and it was widely believed that he knew everyone in the parish. He was a big strong man with a great capacity for work, and often began a busy Sunday by walking to St Luke's, Baldwin and back to take the 8am service. He regularly preached on Douglas quay to large numbers, many of whom did not attend church. His sermons in Manx Gaelic drew crowds of people. After a full day's work he would walk to Douglas to visit the sick.

In later years he rode a horse named Dumple, as well known in the parish as was Drury himself. It was in 1856 that the open air services were first held in the graveyard of the old Kirk Braddan and they remained there until Canon Rushworth, on becoming vicar in 1913, moved them to a field adjoining the new church. Drury's ministry had also seen the consecration of the new church in 1876.

An insight into the profound changes which came to Sundays in Braddan as a result of Drury's response to the expanding tourist trade is given in T.E. Brown's letter to his sister, Margaret Williamson, on 23rd August 1889. Morning service was held inside the new church while another was being held in the old churchyard.

"The second visit [to Braddan] was on a Sunday, last Sunday: church (new) and churchyard (old) crammed, like a fair, or a bazaar; people quiet, on the whole, but pressing steadily upwards from the lower gate, with a curious expectant look on their faces, as if about to be shown some monster - a two-headed parson, or something of that sort. We went into the church, and sat at a long service. The curate preached on Judas Iscariot; the vicar conducted a service in the churchyard. 'Judas did this, Judas thought that'; then from the churchyard, in stentorian chorus, 'Crown Him! crown Him! crown Him! crown Him Lord of all'. Thus, you see, there was an element of the comic; but oh, how sad it was to me, how incomprehensible! Verily, I am left behind; I can't, after all these years, adjust myself to the dimensions of such a change. The people behaved better than they used to do in our time; but the numbers! The systematization! the total absence of the native population! the show atmosphere! the Walk up, gentlemen' style of thing! Over all this Vanity Fair the dear old bells rang out precisely as of old. Ah, but the old life is gone, is 'hid with Christ in God' ... I saw old Drury's grave ..."

William Drury was involved in a long dispute with Bishop Powys (1854-77) over the patronage of St Thomas's Church, but there is no doubt that the bishop was right in wanting to detach the growing town of Douglas from Braddan. The dispute resulted in St Thomas's being closed from 1867 until 1872 when the English Church Commissioners made it a separate parish.

William Drury married Jane Wortley, from Rutlandshire, who died in 1872, leaving two sons W.F. Drury and T.W. Drury, the latter of whom became Bishop of Sodor and Man in 1907. A daughter died in infancy. Drury died on 19th September 1887 after being ill for a month, and his funeral was attended by over 1000 people, many of whom had come on foot from all parts of the Island.

Biography written by John Gelling.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.164-6.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 6 June 1808

Date of death: 19 September 1887

Name Variant: Revd William Drury


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