Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Venerable Charles Thorp (NZ151648)

When you hear the name Charles Thorp muttered in and around the parish of Ryton these days, it is almost always in connection with the secondary school bearing his name in the heart of the town. The recent renaming process of the said institution has helped, if nothing else, to bring back to the fore the distant memory of a man who led a quite extraordinary life – and most certainly put Ryton well and truly on the map in his day.

Born in Gateshead in 1783, Thorp led an admittedly privileged life. The son of an archdeacon of Northumberland, he was educated at Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School and Durham School, before spells at both Cambridge and Oxford Universities. He became a tutor at Oxford, before eventually returning to Tyneside as Rector of Ryton in 1807. He remained in the post for 55 years.

Rising through the ranks, he was also created Canon (1829), and then Archdeacon (1831) at Durham, before becoming the very first Warden of the University of Durham in 1832 – playing a major role in the founding of the institution. He also became, simultaneously, the university’s first Master. As if that wasn’t enough, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1839.

Even that, in fact, wasn’t anywhere near enough. He was years ahead of his time in many other spheres of society. Firstly, of course, there was education, where he set up a free school in Ryton; then there was the establishment in the town of the country’s very first ‘penny bank’ (enabling those on low incomes to save and borrow at reasonable rates); and he was also a bit of an environmentalist, planting trees in the churchyard as well as purchasing the Farne Islands and appointing a wildlife warden.

Just as notable were his activities on the international front where he campaigned tirelessly against slavery. In Sierra Leone his efforts were especially worthy – to the extent of setting up a university for freed slaves in the country’s capital, Freetown.

He was married twice, and died in Durham in 1862. He was buried in Ryton churchyard.

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