Papers of James Maurice Wilson

Scope and Content

The papers comprise Wilson's sermons, addresses and writings, including material on the relationships between science and religion, theology, educational and social issues. Many of these date from his period as vicar of Rochdale. There are also 21 letters from the bishop of Manchester, James Moorhouse, to Wilson, which discuss theological matters in passing, and a set of newspaper cuttings.

Although a comparatively small collection, the Wilson papers provide interesting information on an articulate Anglican's views on contemporary science, social issues, church schools, and aspects of liberal theology.

It is believed that many of the published items in the collection were formerly the personal copies of his daughter, Edith Wilson.

Administrative / Biographical History

Rev. James Maurice Wilson (1836-1931) was a notable clergyman, theologian and educator of the late Victorian period. He was active as a writer and lecturer in many fields including science, mathematics, theology, and education.

Wilson was born on the Isle of Man, where his father was headmaster of King William's College. He was later educated at the school and at Sedbergh School. In 1855 , he entered St John's College, Cambridge. In 1859, Wilson was named Senior Wrangler for his performance in his mathematics finals. He became a fellow of St. John's and was employed as a schoolmaster at Rugby School. Here he taught science and maths, and became a great admirer of its reforming headmaster, Frederick Temple.

In 1868, he published a textbook Elementary geometry, which updated the subject for school students. Wilson was also known as an astronomer, particularly for his work on double stars. In 1879, he left Rugby to become headmaster of Clifton College, Bristol. From this period, he published widely on theological subjects. His theological views tended to be liberal and Broad Church in sympathy, and he wrote on social and political issues as they related to Christianity, and also on the connections between religion and science. Wilson believed that a reconciliation between Christianity and Darwinian evolution was both possible and desirable. He was ordained a deacon in 1879, despite some concerns about his unorthodox views on Biblical miracles. His theological views were summed up in Some contributions to the religious thought of our time (1888). Wilson was Hulsean lecturer (1898) and Lady Margaret preacher (1900) at the University of Cambridge.

In 1890, he was appointed vicar of Rochdale and archdeacon of Manchester, a move occasioned in part by a growing interest in social and economic issues. On leaving Rochdale in 1905, he became a canon of Worcester cathedral, a post he held until 1926. At both Rochdale and Worcester, he was active in civic life, promoting church schools and social amenities for local people.

Wilson was twice married, and had eight children. He died in 1931. Two of his children, the politician Arnold Wilson, and the operatic singer, Steuart Wilson, helped publish his autobiography posthumously in 1932.


The collection currently only has a box order arrangement. It will be arranged into archival order in future, although this is unlikely to differ significantly from current arrangement.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated to the University in 1936 by Wilson's daughter, Edith Wilson, a former tutor for women students at the University.

Separated Material

Wilson's papers have been dispersed, and collections have been recorded at the following locations: Bodleian Library, Oxford [uncatalogued], London Library [uncatalogued], Rugby School, Warwickshire, papers as head of science [uncatalogued] and Worcester Cathedral Library, correspondence, notes, and papers [uncatalogued]

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.


None expected.


A. T. Wilson and J. S. Wilson , ed. James M. Wilson: an autobiography, 1836-1931, (London 1932)