Last month I wrote about Rev Coulthurst, Halifax’s vicar 1790-1817, and his support for the abolition of the dreadful Slave Trade. This month I introduce his successor.
Samuel Knight was born on 9th March 1759, a younger son of Titus Knight and his second wife Elizabeth Mellor. A sickly baby, six days later he was presented by his parents at the Parish Church font. There, the vicar, Rev. George Legh, initially refused to baptise Samuel, believing he had actually died before being placed in his arms. Little did the vicar of Halifax imagine that the infant he nearly excluded from baptism was one day destined to occupy his own position!
Titus Knight, originally a collier, was soon to become a Congregationalist, and went on to found Square Chapel. From a young age, Samuel showed a tendency to religious study, and although brought up a dissenter, he leaned towards the Established Church. At twelve he was placed at Hipperholme Grammar School, returning home after two years for private study, before again proceeding to Hipperholme as an assistant to the Master there. In due course, Samuel was noticed by George Burnett, a founder of the Elland Clerical Education Society. This group of evangelical clergymen was started in order to fund the university education of poor but gifted young men who otherwise could never have trained for the ministry. With the assistance of this group, aged twenty, Samuel went up to Magdalen College, Cambridge, where he excelled at Literature, the Classics, and Mathematics.
Finally he graduated Master of Arts. At Cambridge, various students combined to hold private evangelical religious services, and it was through these that Samuel came to know William Wilberforce. The two men held similar views, especially regarding the abolition of slavery.
Having taken Holy Orders, Samuel served initially as a curate in north Lincolnshire; there he married and had a family. In April 1798, Samuel was nominated by Rev. Coulthurst, vicar of Halifax, to the living of the new Holy Trinity Church, just erected at his own expense; and the Knight family moved to Halifax in July. They settled at Blackwall Lodge, and Samuel proved an ideal and popular minister at the new church, also taking many pupils at his vicarage. Although usually boys, these included Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, whom he taught Greek and mathematics, and who greatly respected him.
In December 1817, his patron, vicar Coulthurst, died suddenly. Almost immediately, a petition signed by many local parishioners was presented to the Earl of Liverpool, then Prime Minister, requesting Samuel Knight’s appointment to the vacancy at Halifax. This was an extraordinary occurrence, and almost unprecedented. Initially, Liverpool disapproved, as it seemed to infringe the Crown’s patronage, and – if accepted – might establish an undesirable precedent. But, swayed specifically by the influence of Wilberforce, and supported by the recommendation of the Archbishop of York, the Prime Minister waived his objections; and on 29th December 1817, Samuel received formal notice of his appointment as vicar of Halifax.
Samuel’s pastoral and other qualifications in office were many; he is described as “a Christian minister – an exemplary churchman – an able scholar – a sound divine – a kind neighbour, and a truly good and valuable member of society.”
In 1823 the vicar’s health began to fail, and on Christmas Day 1825, he preached his last sermon. A year later, his sons – both vicars – were summoned to his bedside, and he was attended by Dr Kenny, a character some will recall from “Gentleman Jack.” Samuel died on 7th January 1827; he was buried in the chancel of the Parish Church, though today his tombstone may be seen near the Minster’s nave-altar dais. In the north-west chapel is his fine wall-mounted memorial. His widow Frances died in 1832.
David C Glover