Robert William Radclyffe Dolling (1851–1902)

Image: White Friars House, formerly Carmelite House, Carmelite Street, Temple, London EC4.

From Wikipedia:

“Robert Dolling, often referred to as Father Dolling, was an English Anglo-Catholic priest.

Dolling was born on 10 February 1851 in Magheralin, County Down, the son of Robert Dolling and Eliza (née Alexander). His father was a land agent. At the age of ten, he was sent to school at the Grange in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. In 1864, he went to Harrow School and then Trinity College, Cambridge, but left about a year later due to health problems. He lived abroad for a while, principally in Florence, but returned to Ireland upon the death of his mother in 1870, and assisted his father in the land agency work.

From 1878 to 1882 he was warden of one of the houses of the Postmen’s League, started by Arthur Stanton of St Alban’s, Holborn. He was ordained in 1883 to a curacy at Corscombe, Dorset, but resided in London as head of St Martin’s Mission, Stepney.

In 1885 a difficulty as to the relation of his mission to Holy Trinity Parish, Stepney, led to his resignation, and he next accepted the charge of St Agatha’s, Landport, the Winchester College mission. The reforms he accomplished there were described in his Ten Years in a Portsmouth Slum (London 1896). In 1895 he again resigned owing to the refusal of Randall Davidson, the new Bishop of Winchester, to grant him a licence to officiate at the parish’s new church on account of his intention specially to associate a third altar with masses for the dead. During his time at the mission he spent a little over £50,000. Despite extensive fundraising when he resigned there was still an outstanding debt of £3,090, for which Dolling was responsible. He paid this off through sales of his book and further fundraising.

In 1897 Dolling visited the United States, where his preaching made an impression. He returned to the UK in the following year as vicar of St Saviour’s, Poplar, and retained the living until his death in South Kensington, London, on 15 May 1902.”

From: The Life of Father Dolling, by Charles E. Osborne (1903):

“His unfailing joy was in the camps, especially the boys’ camp at Broadstairs, the entire cost of which was borne, as we have already told our readers, by Mr. Alfred Harmsworth, proprietor of the Daily Mail, who had become in the later years of Dolling’s life one of his closest friends. This friendship is all the more remarkable as in former years at Portsmouth Father Dolling had opposed Mr. Harmsworth’s candidature for Parliament when the latter stood for that borough.

We print the following recollections of Father Dolling from the pen of this the most intimate friend of his last years:



‘My friendship with Mr. Dolling was not of as great a duration as that of many of his friends. I first met him in 1895. He appealed to me, primarily, by reason of his great and somewhat unequalled power of organization. He not only knew how things ought to be done, but he was able to make the most unlikely people do them. He knew how to make weak people self-reliant, how to check the zeal of the exuberant. He was able to take a man who had been a failure the greater part of his life and make him a success towards the end of it. It is not necessary to particularise, but I feel sure that all who were intimately connected with his career will agree that the human material employed in the development of his numberless schemes was of the most unlikely nature. Mr. Dolling never said, “That is an unsuccessful man; I will avoid him.” He would rather take an unsuccessful man, and see what could be made of him. Nor was it all done by kindness.

‘Of the religious part of Mr. Dolling’s work it is not for me to speak. The methods he adopted for controlling the many forms of human mechanism which he had at hand were just those that are adopted by any great organiser. Firstly, he inspired confidence in himself. Then he persuaded the human instrument that he, too, was worthy of confidence. Finally, he adopted the somewhat rough but effective method of throwing him into the swimming-bath, and letting him get out as best he could, if I can use such a metaphor. People did things for Father Dolling because they had to do them. I was associated with him in a very small degree in the management of a camp for poor boys at the seaside. In this matter, as in all other things he undertook, he had a really first-class man at the head, Mr. Matley. He also had the assistance of his clergy, and one or two active lay-helpers. But for the rest, the services of all kinds of persons were called in, not excluding some of his human derelicts–those odd, mysterious people with histories who were often to be found at his table at S. Agatha’s or Poplar.

‘An immense worker himself, he was a perpetual example to those around him to do likewise. The seaside camp was situated at a promontory of land at Broadstairs, some seventy-seven miles from London. He had also at the same time a camp for girls at Hayling Island. I have known him to get through such a day’s artillery as this: Leave Broadstairs in the morning at seven o’clock, go to London, transact business, then down to Hayling Island and settle some knotty point in connection with the management of the children, return to London, and then back to Broadstairs, arriving by a slow train on the London and Chatham Railway. He would, that same night, be full of life and energy at 10 p.m., and able to sit up and amuse people long after others had gone to bed. But it was that kind of thing, in my judgment–and I saw much of him in his latter days–that eventually killed him. I have known him go through such a day as that, and be down at the camp, a mile away from the house, shortly after daybreak next morning.

‘Insight and foresight were two of his great attributes as an organiser. He was always ready for the unexpected. In designing a camp, he knew where it should be put, what kind of tents would stand a gale, the kind of provision that should be made for the superintendents, the system of delegation and organisation by which a certain number of the lads could rule the rest. He knew instinctively the kind of danger that should be avoided in managing so great a number of boys.

‘The test of all was that, throughout a number of years, in good weather and in bad, amidst all the various amusements of the usual games (which had to be taught to these boys, by the way), amidst the dangers of sea-bathing, and of trips to France, not one of the hundreds of lads ever experienced any mishap. He was among the very best men of business I have ever met, the dearest and most loyal of friends, a unique personality.


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