Sir Stuart Knill 1824 – 1898

Stuart Knill was the first Catholic Lord Mayor of London since the Reformation.


It is with deep regret that we announce the death of Alderman Sir Stuart Knill, which occurred early on Saturday morning at his residence, The Crosslets, The Grove, Blackheath, after an illness of about a month’s duration. We have dealt elsewhere with the lesson of his life, and we here avail ourselves of the source used by most of our contemporaries for the main facts of his career.

Sir Stuart was the son of Mr. John Knill, of Blackheath, and was born in 1824. He succeeded his father as head of the firm of Messrs. John Knill and Co., wharfingers and warehouse-keepers, of Fresh Wharf and Cox’s Quay, London Bridge. He took no part in municipal or official life until 1885, when, on the death of Sir Charles Whetham, he came forward in response to an influential requisition as a candidate for the Aldermanry of the ward of Bridge Within, in which his business was carried on. His opponent was Mr. (now Sir) John Voce Moore, the present Lord Mayor, and after a keen contest Mr. Knill was successful. He served the office of Sheriff of London in 1889, in the mayoralty of Sir Henry Isaacs, having as his colleague Mr. Walter H. Harris, C.M.G. In the ordinary course of civic rotation his turn for being elected Lord Mayor arrived in 1892.

St Paul’s Cathedral

Prior to the election an angry controversy was set up as to the desirability of electing as Chief Magistrate so fervent a Catholic as Mr. Alderman Knill, (who carried his religion to the extent of abstaining from attending official services at St. Paul’s Cathedral and other churches of the Establishment while holding high municipal position. Mr. Alderman Knill, however, in a letter to the then Lord Mayor (Sir David Evans) made it quite clear that to this conscientious attitude of his he intended scrupulously to adhere, whatever might be the consequences, but he promised, if elected, to appoint a clergyman of the Church of England as chaplain to the office of Lord Mayor—and in every other way to carry out the ancient duties and traditions of his position. At the election Mr. Alderman Knill was severely catechized on behalf of the Protestant citizens, but he never flinched from his decision. His name and that of Mr. Alderman (now Sir) George Faudel-Phillips—the one a Catholic, the other a liberal-minded Jew—were selected by the Livery for submission to the Court of Aldermen, who chose Mr. Alderman Knill.

Duke and Duchess of York 1897

His term of office was useful and dignified, and though he never attended church in state he escorted the Judges to the doors of St. Paul’s Cathedral and received them on their return from service. He paid a state visit to Dublin on New Year’s Day, 1893, for the inauguration of the Lord Mayor of that city, and was enthusiastically received by the Catholic populace. On the occasion of the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of York the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs met the Royal couple at St. Paul’s, and escorted them through the City. The King and Queen of Denmark, who were in London for the wedding of their grandson, visited the Guildhall and were received by Lord Mayor Knill on the part of the Corporation. The Lord Mayor and Sheriffs also paid a state visit to Edinburgh in connection with the Congress of the British Institute of Public Health, and while there his lordship received the honorary degree of LL.D. of Edinburgh University.

A painful national event in Sir S. Knill’s mayoralty was the loss of her Majesty’s ship Victoria with over 400 lives, necessitating the raising of a Mansion House fund for the relief of the widows and orphans, to which £ 68,000 was subscribed. The Lord Mayor was appointed a Royal Commissioner of the Patriotic Fund for the administration of that and other kindred subscriptions. His hospitality was unbounded. Among other entertainments out of the usual sort he gave a dinner to M. Waddington, the French Ambassador, another to Field-Marshal Lord Roberts on his return from the Indian command, a third to the members of the Comedie Francaise, then visiting London, as well as a banquet in honour of music.

A notable banquet was that to Cardinal Vaughan and the Catholic Bishops of England. It was an exclusively Catholic gathering, but the Lord Mayor got into trouble over it with the Corporation and others for proposing as the first toast “The Holy Father, and the Queen.” No one doubted his loyalty, and his explanation that it was the usual Catholic formula—equivalent to the time-honoured toast “Church and Queen ” —was generally accepted. The almost concurrent announcement, through Mr. Gladstone, that the Queen had conferred on the Lord Mayor the honour of a baronetcy, in celebration of the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of York, showed at all events that no permanent, if any, umbrage was taken at the incident in high quarters. In 1897, on the death of Sir William Lawrence, Sir Stuart Knill accepted the sinecure aldermanry of the ward of Bridge Without, and the electors of his old ward—Bridge Within—paid him the compliment of choosing as his successor his son, Mr. John Knill. Father and son were thus aldermen of two adjoining wards.

Sir Stuart was a distinguished archeologist and antiquary, and a considerable traveller. He was last year president of the dilettanti society known as “The Sette of Odd Volumes.” He was a magistrate for Kent and London. At the first election of the London County Council he was a candidate for the Greenwich Division, but was unsuccessful. He was a leading member of the Plumbers’ Company, of which he had been Master, and took a principal part in the scheme for the examination of plumbers which has had such good results in sanitation. He was also on the Court of the Goldsmiths’ Company, and would have been Prime Warden (had he lived) next year, which would have been also the year of his golden wedding. As will have been gathered, he was a distinguished and respected member of the Catholic laity in this country, and he supported the charities of his faith with great liberality.

The Pope created him a Knight of St. Gregory, and the King of the Belgians an officer of the Order of St. Leopold. He was married nearly fifty years ago to Mary,daughter of Mr. Charles Rowland Parker, of Blackheath, and by her (she still survives him) had several children. His only surviving son and successor in the baronetcy is Mr. Alderman John Knill, who was born in 1856 and educated at Beaumont College. He is a magistrate for the City and County of London, and, like his father, a Catholic and a Conservative. He married, in 1882, Mary Edith, daughter of the late Mr. John Hardman Powell, of Blackheath, and grand-daughter of Augustus Welby Pugin, the distinguished architect and antiquary. They have one son.

Sir Stuart Knill’s death has occasioned great regret in the City, where he was universally popular and highly esteemed. The vacancy in the Ward of Bridge Without will be filled by one of the present aldermen, and in his ward, whichever it may be, an election of a new member of the Court will be necessary. In consequence of Sir Stuart’s death the annual banquet of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers, which had been fixed for the 23rd, was postponed. The Master and Wardens felt that to hold a social meeting under the shadow of such a loss would be alike repugnant to the sentiments of the members of the Livery and the guests who revered and admired Sir Stuart in his personal and public relations, especially those connected with the technical education and registration of plumbers, which Sir Stuart greatly aided in fostering in the interests of the health and comfort of the community.


On Sunday at the different Masses in all the churches of the archdiocese of Westminster and the diocese of Southwark the customary prayers for the dead were offered up for the repose of the soul of Sir John Stuart Knill; and at St. Mary’s, Moorfields, which, during his year of office as Lord Mayor the deceased regularly attended from the Mansion House, St. Mary’s being the only Catholic place of worship in the city proper. Before the sermon at High Mass, which was celebrated by the Rev. Father Power, the Rev. Father M. Condon referred to the great loss which the Catholics and the Catholic charities of London had just sustained by the lamented death of Sir Stuart Knill, who was probably best known to his co-religionists throughout the British Empire as the second Catholic Lord Mayor of London since the Reformation. Exalted and coveted as that position was, it should not be forgotten that his entry upon such a distinguished civic office in a city like London, the largest and most Protestant city in the world, was, as it was only reasonable to suppose under the circumstances, beset with many difficulties and many embarrassments. But great as these difficulties were, the new Chief Magistrate of London successfully overcame them all ; and his manly fortitude and sterling independence of character, but more especially his uncompromising fidelity to the principles of his religion and unswerving obedience to her laws and mandates won for Sir Stuart Knill the respect and admiration of his fellow-citizens, Catholic and Protestant alike. And whilst expressing their deep sympathy with his sorrowing family in their sad bereavement, Father Condon said he could not help thinking that the best tribute they could pay his memory was the tribute of their sincere and earnest prayers to Almighty God for his eternal repose. May he rest in peace. The deceased baronet and alderman was a liberal supporter of the various charitable institutions connected with the Catholic Church in the metropolis, the preacher mentioning particularly his munificent contributions to the Providence-Row Night Refuge and the generous aid he always rendered its founder, the late Right Rev. Mgr. Gilbert, in the maintenance of that very useful charity. R.I.P.


His Eminence Cardinal Vaughan has addressed the following letter to the clergy of the diocese of Westminster : “There is special reason why I should commend the soul of Sir Stuart Knill to the prayers of the faithful. He stood forth in public life, a bright and conspicuous example to his fellow-countrymen of a fervent an consistent Catholic. Raised by the confidence and good will of the Corporation of the City of London to the pinnacle of civic honour, he never at any time sacrificed, or even compromised, perfect uprightness and loyalty to his religion in order to win worldly favour. It is as honourable to the character of the City of London as to himself to say that the simplicity and consistency of his Catholic conduct, far from alienating, won public admiration and esteem. Sir Stuart Knill as Lord Mayor of London has left us this lesson— that the English people appreciate thoroughness in religion and unswerving fidelity to principle, when not dissociated from kindliness and consideration for the feelings of others ; and that, in England, there is no reason why any man should abate his Catholicity in order to discharge efficiently the highest duties in public or civic life. ” The Times, in its obituary notice, records that Sir Stuart Knill carried his religion to the extent of abstaining from attending official services at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and other churches of the Establishment, while holding high municipal position; and it states that he got into trouble with the Corporation and others for proposing at a Catholic festivity in the Mansion House, as the first toast, “the Holy Father and the Queen.” But it generously and truly adds that no ones doubted his loyally: and his explanation that it was the usual Catholic formula, equivalent to the time-honoured toast “Church and Queen,” was generally accepted ; and the almost concurrent announcement that the Queen had conferred on the Lord Mayor the honour of a Baronetcy showed at all events that no permanent, if any, umbrage was taken at the incident in high quarters.

“While deploring the loss of one whose long life was marked by charity to the pour, generous support of Catholic works, and many conspicuous civic and public -virtues, such as the Church delights to honour, I beg that Masses and prayers be offered to the all-merciful God for the eternal repose of his soul, if it be still in need of our suffrages.

“I take this opportunity to recall to your minds, Rev. Fathers, if it, be necessary-to do so that, in accordance with the directions given in the 32nd Diocesan so, of Westminster, page 40, a Novena or a Triduo for the souls in Purgatory is to take place during the month of November in every public church. Do not fail in this great act of charity towards those who suffer.”

The Bishop of Southwark has also asked the prayers of the faithful in the following circular to his priests : “We beg the prayers of the faithful for Alderman Sir Stuart Knill, who passed from this life yesterday. The noble Catholic life that he always led, the zeal that he ever manifested for Catholic interests, and the special ties that attached him, to our Cathedral and our diocese, so often and in so many ways befriended by his charity, make it a grateful duty for us all to remember him in our prayers, and to beg our Lord to grant him everlasting peace, and to console those who are left to mourn him.”

The above text was found on p.27, 26th November 1898 in “The Tablet: The International Catholic News Weekly.” Reproduced with kind permission of the Publisher. The Tablet can be found at .

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