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Rev. William Gildea (1833-1925) – former Vicar of West Lulworth

a Rector … held in deserved admiration and esteem throughout the diocese

William was born in Torquay, Devon. He was the second son of the Very Rev. George Robert Gildea (1803-1887), Provost of Tuam Cathedral in Ireland, and Esther Gildea neé Green (1802-1894). More information about William’s siblings is provided later.

William went to Marlborough, unlike his brothers who were educated in Ireland. Marlborough had just been founded as a school (1843) to educate the sons of clergy. Soon after he arrived, there was a riot because conditions were poor, and William wrote an account of it which is in the Marlborough archive. He went on to study at Exeter College, Oxford and obtained his B.A. in 1856.

William was ordained as a deacon by the Bishop of Salisbury in December 1856. He was Curate of Compton Valence in Dorset from 1856 to 1861 and was ordained by the Bishop of Salisbury as a priest on Trinity Sunday 1858, with his M.A. being conferred at Oxford the same year.

Rev. William Gildea was Vicar of Holy Trinity, West Lulworth from 1862 to 1879. He married Sarah Caroline Simes (1838-1924) in 1862. ‘Caroline’ was the eldest daughter of Nathaniel Phillips Simes (1805-1899) and Ann Simes neé Walker. Nathaniel had a large and important collection of bibles, now believed to be in the safekeeping of the British Library.

William and Caroline had nine children, five boys and four girls.

  • George Stanhope Simes Gildea (1864-1936)
  • John William Simes Gildea (1866-1936)
  • Robert Antony Simes Gildea (1867-1902)
  • Ethel Angelina Gildea (1869-1909)
  • Esther Theodora Gildea (1870-1962)
  • Henry Percival Simes ‘Harry’ Gildea (1872-1896)
  • Gertrude Marian ‘Marian’ Gildea (1874-1957)
  • Wilhelmina Philippa Caroline ‘Minna’ Gildea (1875-1950)
  • James Frederick Simes ‘Fred’ Gildea (1884-1972)

The first eight children were born while William was Vicar at West Lulworth. More information about William and Caroline’s children is provided later. Apparently William owned a boat called ‘The Water Sprite’ but no further details are known.

In 1865, five coastguards from Worbarrow, near Tyneham, tragically lost their lives off Lulworth Cove. William wrote to The Standard and his letter was published on Saturday 11 March 1865:  

The Boat Accident off Lulworth
To the Editor
Sir – The distressing accident off Lulworth Cove on Saturday last, by which the crew of the Warborough galley were lost in sight of their homes, has thrown five widows and 16 or 17 children on their own resources. Well known and respected as the men were in the neighbourhood their case has excited great sympathy, and local subscriptions have been set on foot; it is hardly likely, however, that any local subscription can meet the necessity of the case, and I am sure that if the circumstances were widely known many throughout the country would gladly contribute. Subscriptions to the “Warborough Widows and Orphans’ Fund” will be thankfully received by Captain Broad, inspecting commander, Weymouth: the Rev. W. Irwell, Tyneham Rectory, Warborough, Wareham: and the Rev. W. Gildea, West Lulworth, Wareham.
I am – Sir, yours faithfully
W. Gildea
West Lulworth, March 8

In 1867, at the last quarterly meeting of the Salisbury Diocesan Church Building Association, the general committee considered an application from the parish of West Lulworth. The following account was published:

It was stated by the applicant, the Rev. William Gildea, that the old parish church has fallen into such a state of general decay that it was deemed advisable to pull it down, and to replace it by an entirely new building more adequate to the wants of the parish. The existing edifice, it appeared, only afforded seat room for 174 out of a population of 460, and of those sittings 119 were appropriated. It was, therefore, decided in the new church that there should be accommodation provided for 272 persons, 153 of the seats being free, and it was to carry out the proposed works that the present application for a grant in aid was made. The cost of the new edifice was estimated at £1,800, and as it appeared there were very great difficulties in the way of raising the requisite funds, the incumbent, after much exertion, having only succeeded in obtaining £750 of the required amount, the committee voted a grant of £150.

By 1869 the old Church had become dilapidated and inadequate for the needs of the inhabitants of West Lulworth. It was very close to cottages on either side and the Rev. William Gildea arranged for the building of the new Church and Vicarage on a far more convenient site.

The foundation stone was laid on 1 June 1869 by Lady Selina Bond, wife of Nathaniel Bond. Esq., of Holme Priory, the fifth daughter of the Second Earl of Eldon. The new church (pictured right) was consecrated by the Bishop of Salisbury, Dr. George Moberley, on 11 May 1870. The Rev. William Gildea was a keen amateur woodworker. Helped by Mr. Basil Sprague, who turned the wood pillars, capitals and bases, and by Mr. John Chaffey, he executed the altar, reredos woodwork, altar rails and the stem of the lectern.

The Rev. William Gildea was obviously a man of great character and many talents. His wife, five sons. and four daughters, together with his large staff at the Vicarage, centred village life around the Church. There is no doubt that he largely financed the building himself, with the aid of loans from Lord Eldon, the Rev. Eldon Bankes, and Nathaniel Bond, Esq. The Incorporated Society for Building & Churches also granted £50 towards the building of the new church on the condition that all the sittings be free as recorded on a plaque (left) that hangs in the church.

In 1879 Rev. William Gildea became Vicar of Netherbury-cum-Salway Ash. While at Netherbury he was appointed Rural Dean of the Beaminster portion in 1890 and as Canon with the title ‘Prebendary of Stratton’ in 1893.

From 1891 to 1894 William was also Chairman of Governors of Beaminster and Netherbury Grammar School. In ‘The History of Beaminster’ published in 1914, the author Richard Hine commented that the school’s ‘brilliant progress is undoubtedly mainly due to Canon Gildea, late of Netherbury, and to the untiring labours of the late Rev. A. A. Leonard’, who succeeded him.

For a short period in 1897/1898 William was Anglican Chaplain at Valparaiso, Chile before returning to Netherbury.

In 1901, William was appointed as Rector of St. Laurence, Upwey. He was an active and energetic parish clergyman, sitting for 15 years on the Weymouth Rural District Council and Board of Guardians. In the rectory grounds he had a carpenter’s shop, where he made church furniture. The whole of the choir stalls, lectern, and the woodwork of the chancel at Upwey were his handiwork. One of his last works was to carve the war memorial in oak which stood outside the church at Upwey.

The Southern Times of 10 November 1917 reported that Canon Gildea bought two ruined cottages at the top of Elwell Street, Upwey, at his own expense, widened the road and set the walls back, greatly improving the approach. In appreciation, Weymouth Rural District Council had a carved stone panel set in the wall:

Among other improvements at Upwey, he secured a water supply for the parish.

In 1912 the golden wedding of the Canon coincided with the addition of two new bells at Upwey and ‘afforded the people of the parish just the opportunity needed to enable them to give expression to the love which they feel for the Rector and his life’s partner – the venerable lady whose heart of gold has endeared her to those among whom she has lived and moved’. The newspaper report continued in its admiration ‘What Canon and Mrs. Gildea were to the people of Netherbury in West Dorset for so many years they have been in even added measure to the parishioners of Upwey. Canon Gildea is a man of strong convictions, and he has the capacity of expressing his views with a rugged sort of eloquence which sometimes brings him into sharp collision with those who differ from him. But no one can withstand his sterling honesty and absolute frankness, and it is this fact which makes some of his strongest opponents in politics his best friends and warmest admirers. On the illuminated address which accompanied the handsome gifts presented on Monday the names of no fewer than 520 adults were inscribed, a fact which speaks volumes.’ The new bells, one given by the Canon Gildea’s children, sounded their first peals in celebration of the event.

On 23 September 1921, the following announcement appeared in The Times:

The REV. WILLIAM GILDEA, who is about to relinquish the rectory of Upwey, near Dorchester, which he has held for 20 years, has been presented by his parishioners with a cheque for £100 and an album containing the names of the subscribers. Mr Gildea was ordained priest in 1858, and has spent practically the whole of his ministerial life in Dorset.

In their final years, William & Caroline lived at Innellan, Rodwell, Weymouth and they celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary in 1922. Caroline died on 22 November 1924 aged 86 leaving an estate valued at £3,666. William died just over a year later on 11 December 1925 aged 92, leaving an estate valued at £4,518. They were both buried at Upwey.

Among William’s possessions was a wooden case (right) that he made and which was inscribed with his name. This has been handed down to his great-great-grandson Charles Walmsley.

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