A Life of William Moore-Ede
By Anne Spurgeon
In April 1882 a young woman employed in a Tyneside factory died from lead poisoning caused by the shocking conditions in which she worked. The following week the Rector of nearby Gateshead wrote an outraged letter to local MP Thomas Burt, hoping to draw political attention to what he considered to be ‘murder – nothing less’. It was a typical response from the Rector, the Reverend William Moore-Ede, whose concern with the many social problems of the area was already well known.
With strong family roots in the maritime world and destined from a young age for a career in the Royal Navy, William Moore-Ede was an unusual candidate for the Anglican priesthood. As a student, however, he encountered the teaching of Frederick Denison Maurice, a founder of the Christian Socialist movement, an experience which caused him to set a rather different course for his life. His subsequent lifelong dedication to the poor and the underprivileged in society was, as he so often noted, inspired by the ‘politics’ of Christ. These he maintained, with typical recourse to maritime references, were ‘the chart and the compass’ of his life.
William Moore-Ede (1849–1935) is primarily remembered in Gateshead for his ‘penny dinners’ scheme, a forerunner of the school meals system, while his later legacy as Dean of Worcester centres on the foundation of the Friends of Worcester Cathedral. Yet his work covers a much larger canvas, much of which has been neglected in the collective memory of the Church of England. Education, housing, industrial conciliation and, following the horrors of the Great War, the promotion of peace at both a national and an international level, were all matters to which he applied his considerable talents. This is the story of a remarkable man who tirelessly preached and, more importantly, practised Christian socialism in a way that demonstrated its power and relevance to the problems that continue to beset modern society. As such it is a story that has significant resonance for us today.