Half a century at St Andrew’s House

Continuing our research into the history of St Andrew’s House, we’ve recently glimpsed a little of the history of one of the longest serving Deans of Rochester.

In days gone by it was not uncommon for the Dean of a Cathedral to hold the post until their death, which was the case for Robert Stevens, who died in his early 90s, having been Rochester’s Dean for 50 years.

Robert Stevens
by William Say, published by James Anthony Molteno, after Isaac Pocock
mezzotint, published 18 May 1817
NPG D42132
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, Robert Stevens’ career began on 3rd May 1801, when he was ordained a deacon at Norwich. He became a priest in London just over a year later, before being named Chaplain of the House of Commons in 1816. Prior to this, on 15th July 1906, he married Elizabeth Mason.

In 1820 he took up the post in Rochester, as well as acting as vicar at West Farleigh. Records indicate that although it was comparatively small, he favoured the Maidstone parish with much of his time.

According to documents cited in Faith and Fabric: A History of Rochester Cathedral 604-1994 – edited by Nigel Yates and Paul A. Welsby, and part of the Kent History Project – Robert Stevens was described as “an old man oppressed with infirmities” as an explanation for why he only infrequently preached at Rochester Cathedral. The text quotes Ralph Arnold, adding that the Dean was “easily led, essentially honest, but rather simple-minded”!

The Church Times was much kinder when reporting Robert Stevens’ death, focusing on the previously-mentioned infirmities as a reason for his inability to perform clerical duties at the Cathedral.

In 1837 Dean Stevens published a book entitled “An exposition of the counsel of God for the redemption of the world for the use and instruction of the young”. It’s free to read online.

When searching the census, we encounter Dean Robert Stevens in 1861. An 83-year-old widower, he lived with his 50-year-old unmarried daughter Harriett and two granddaughters, Mary and Emma, 26 and 24.

On the day of the census, they had a 17-year-old visitor, Mary Bingham. The rest of the household comprised five household staff and the butler’s wife: James Foster (butler), John Hoadley (under-servant), Sarah Bonny (cook), Anna Whibly (upper maid), Mary Ann Newman (housemaid), and Eliza Foster, the aforementioned wife.

Dean Stevens was succeeded by Thomas Dale, who held the post for just a few months before himself dying. It appears one of the longest standing Deans was replaced by what must surely have been one of the shortest tenures.

You can read our earlier post about the renovation work on St Andrew’s House here, or find out about another former Dean of Rochester here.