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A local history and genealogy site for Wimpole, a village and parish in South Cambridgeshire
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Home     Parish Register Hub     "Wimpole As I Knew It"     David Ellison
A Biographical Note
Alexander Campbell Yorke
Rector of Fowlmere in Cambridgeshire

From the introduction by David Ellison to "Wimpole As I Knew It"
Alexander Campbell Yorke, Rector of Fowlmere
Revd Alexander Campbell Yorke
Antiquary and Rector of Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire, 1897-1925

A Biographical Note
An Introduction by David Ellison
Written in 1979
The Introduction and Preface to "Wimpole As I Knew It":
Alexander Campbell Yorke was born in 1852, fifth son of the Reverend Henry Yorke and Flora Elizabeth, née Pemberton, at Aspenden, near Buntingford in Hertfordshire. His father was the second son of Sir Joseph Yorke, a distinguished sailor and a Vice Admiral in the Royal Navy; his father's elder brother was Charles Philip Yorke, who had also entered the Navy as a young midshipman, and later, when a Post Captain, had inherited the title of the 4th Earl of Hardwicke and the Wimpole Hall estates after five nearer heirs to the earldom had all died before the death of the third earl in 1835.
The new earl - who rejoiced in the nickname of 'Blowhard' from his Navy days - presented Alexander's father, his brother, to the Rectory of Wimpole which stands to this day in the grounds of the Hall alongside the parish church. Alexander thus grew up in the shadow of the great house, but saw it from a different and at times illuminating point of view. From his mother, daughter of a distinguished soldier, a veteran of the siege of Gibraltar and commander of one of Wellington's divisions in the Peninsular war, he took his names, Alexander Campbell; and he also inherited, it seems, a love of adventure.
After an education at Cheam school, Rugby and Trinity College, Cambridge, the young Alexander emigrated to Australia in 1873. Two of his cousins had visited the colonies there in 1870, and must have fired his enthusiasms on their return. The country was still in the pioneering stage, and Queensland was being explored and settled. Unfortunately Alexander's account of his time there has not yet come to light, and he gives in this essay only a hint or two of them; the location of Eyre's creek is some nine hundred miles from the coast and on the edge of the central Australian desert. Its waters vanish into salt flats and it has no outlet to the sea, lying well beyond the Great Dividing range.
On the seaward side of this range sheep farming had begun, and great tracts of land were being allotted to applicants with security and capital; over the range the rates were less. And it was while he was staying at Aramac, just over the range, that he applied for, and was granted in December 1876, a license over two properties containing 150 square miles.
These he named Wimpole North and Wimpole South. They lay on Farrars Creek, nearly 700 miles inland from Brisbane. In the following year an agent of his, H Clewett, applied for a further 100 square miles in the area, known as McKinlay Downs. By this time Alexander had removed to Tarroom, on the coastal side of the range, and near that township he acquired in August 1877 two more properties, Cavebrook (35 square miles) and Sportsman's Vale (135 square miles). Thus for a few brief months Yorke owned 410 square miles of land. Was he prospecting, or had he visions of becoming one of the sheep barons? The land was marginal, and it seems that drought caught him. Late in that year he forfeited one of the properties on the seaward side, Cavebrook; while he transferred one of the distant properties soon after he acquired it to two other settlers.
The next year he parted with Sportsman's Vale in March, to the Queensland National Bank; but even this step did not save his first investment, and Wimpole North and Wimpole South were forfeited for non-payment of rent in December 1878. So much the records of the Queensland Land Office tell us; what we would dearly love to know is the effect the failure had upon him. Many years later one of his English parishioners, still living, recalls his preaching a sermon on Psalm 84, and illustrating it with his own adventures in seeking water in a drought and finding it behind some rocks:
      Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee;
      In whose heart are the ways of them
      Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well;
      The rain also filleth the pools.
At all events Alexander abandoned adventure for the church; in early 1883 he was ordained a deacon in Brisbane, and a bible, bearing the date 8 March 1883 and annotated with his study notes, is still treasured by the parishioner in Fowlmere. Crockford's Clerical Directory lists his church appointments: he was ordained priest in 1984 while a curate in Rockhampton, 300 miles to the north of Brisbane, and took charge of North Rockhampton and St Lawrence, fifty miles further north again, until 1885. He then left Queensland for New South Wales and was incumbent of Bodalla, on the coast south of Sydney, until 1886; while there he met an old man who had worked as a boy building the Wimpole stables for his uncle, the earl. In 1887 he moved again to become curate of St Marks, Fitzroy, Victoria. It was one of the suburbs of the then booming town of Melbourn. It was, we believe, while he was there that he met and married his wife, Cecil Charlotte Russell on 16 April 1885. They had no children of their own, but later two of her nieces came to live with them in Fowlmere.
Then the Reverend Yorke moved across to New Zealand, and was the incumbent of St Matthew, Dunedin, in the South Island between 1887 and 1890. This was followed by three further years up-country at Queenston with Arrowtown on the north shores of Lake Wakatipu under the towering 6,000 foot mountains of the south New Zealand Alps. Finally the Yorkes moved to the North Island, to Masterton, on the plains some fifty miles north of Wellington for the three years prior to their return to England in 1898.
They found great changes in Cambridgeshire. Alexander's cousin, the fifth earl, had had to sell the Wimpole estate in 1894, and the sixth earl had just succeeded to the title; the great days of the Hardwickes of Wimpole were over, and the new owners, the Clifdens, seldom lived permanently at Wimpole, preferring their other property Lanhydrock in Cornwall, now also in the possession of the National Trust.
But Alexander and his wife were fortunate in obtaining the living of Fowlmere, less than ten miles away; the church there is also a fine example of the flint-built style of the area, and the Old Rectory is still standing, built by the Victorian architect, Kendall, whose father had done much work at Wimpole Hall in the 1840s; it is a huge, unusual design, well worth study.
Into his parish work at Fowlmere, Campbell Yorke, as he liked to be known, threw himself with zest. His experiences had made him a vigorous proponent of the Empire and the Church of England, and he often declared his intention of making 'Fowlmere Merry England'. Well over six foot tall, he was to the end of his days a striking and handsome figure of a man, erect in bearing and distinguished in his manner of dress. In church he sometimes wore a small black skull cap, and he habitually carried his cane on his walks around the village, dressed in ulster cape and occasionally sporting plus-fours.
Fowlmere, like many other South Cambridgeshire villages, had strong nonconformist traditions; as the village school was run by the Church of England, rivalry for adherents was sometimes keen, to the point of acrimony. But after some protest, the 'Dissenters' - as Yorke habitually spoke of them - were assured of their right to withdraw children from religious instruction in school. This made Sunday schools the more important to many. Yorke too introduced teaching methods in advance of his day. Besides new books and chairs, provided at his own expense, sand-tables and plasticine modelling enlivened the lessons. Still living in Fowlmere are two remarkable ladies, Miss Ruth Pluck and Miss Dorothy Pluck, who taught in his Sunday School, and speak highly of his kindness and charity.
They recollect their mother having told them that Miss Ruth was the first child to have been baptised by the Rector on his return from New Zealand. Miss Dorothy retains to this day a series of warmly encouraging letters of good wishes for her progress through the Cambridge County School for Girls on her way to becoming a teacher herself. All are most charmingly signed 'Your affectionate old Rector'.
Campbell Yorke felt the tragedy of the Great War deeply, though he was an unswerving patriot. He composed a Litany in Time of War, which was published by Heffers of Cambridge and distributed through Simpkin Marshall in London - price one half-penny for words only, 2d with music: the sincerity is apparent. A photograph shows him at the dedication of the Fowlmere War Memorial in 1920, and a last view of him at the age of 70, shows him about to set off in an open charabanc on an outing in 1922. Full of years and wisdom he died in church while taking an early morning service in 1925. The obituary notice in the Cambridge papers, while paying tribute to his activities in local Conservative politics and with the archaeological society, does him less justice than the very real affection with which the Misses Pluck still speak of his colourful character and charitableness.
David Ellison
October 1979
Alexander Campbell Yorke
Born: 12 January 1852
Died: 7 June 1925 (aged 73) at Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire.
Son of the Venerable Hon. Henry Yorke and Lady Flora Elizabeth Campbell.
Husband of Cecil Charlotte Yorke [Russell].
Brother of Colonel Philip Sydney Yorke, Susan Amelia Hambro, Flora Caroline Currie, Henry Eliot Yorke, Reginald Beauchamp Yorke and 1 other.
From the 'Cambridge Evening News' June 1925:
"While reading the Athanasian Creed on Sunday morning, the Rev A Campbell Yorke, rector of Fowlmere, was seized with a heart attack and expired almost immediately. He was 74 and, by a tragic coincidence, was making preparations to retire from active ministry. He had ministered in Australia and New Zealand until 1897 when he came to England and took the living in Fowlmere."

This page was last updated on: 14 March 2020.

Aerial View of St Andrew's Parish Church 2016
Aerial View of St Andrew's Parish Church 2016.
© John Fielding 2016, all rights reserved.

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