The Trustees arranged a competition in February 1996 to celebrate the tercentenary of the death of Philip, 4th Lord Wharton on 4th February 1696:-

There were two categories

Earliest Lord Wharton Bible still extant:

The winner was Mr Don Waters from Tyne and Wear

Printed by W. Jackson and A. Hamilton in 1785, this Bible is well over 200 years old.

It was presented to Eleanor Cowling on the 24th November 1787.


Earliest Lord Wharton Bible still regularly being used by the original recipient:

Mrs Caroline Porter (nee Rhodes) from Buckinghamshire

The Bible was presented to Mrs Porter at the age of 12 in 1912 when she was attending Sunday School at-St. Mary’s Church in Walthamstow.

If you know of any earlier editions either extant or better still in use please let us know using our contact details.

Some 300 Bibles were identified during the course of the competition from all over the United Kingdom. Twelve of these were presented before 1850 and well over thirty before 1900. The vast majority of Bibles are of course the Authorised Version. Bound in leather, often with brass clasps to hold them shut, they regularly have a legend embossed in gold on the leather of the front cover acknowledging them to be the gift of Philip, Lord Wharton, distributed by his Trustees. Most are of standard size although many are a good deal smaller and were capable of being placed securely in a lady’s muff. Nowadays the cost of supplying such bindings would be exorbitant and standard editions are purchased. Inside each bible or book however a plate still acknowledges the fact that the award is given by direction of the Trustees in memory of Philip, Lord Wharton who ‘conveyed by Deed to Trustees certain property, the income from which was to be devoted to the free distribution of Bibles and other books. It was his express wish that the recipient should commit to memory the 1st, 15th, 37th, 101st, 113th and 145th Psalms’ – 7 psalms in full !

Many of those who wrote still recalled the effort involved in memorising such a large number of verses, often at a very early age. Nevertheless the effort for most proved worthwhile, many claiming that, in spite of declining memories, they could still remember some of the passages recited all those years ago. Indeed, the wisdom of the original benefactor in asking children to commit these particular psalms to memory was brought home to those of us who attended the Tercentenary Thanksgiving Service in February by the Revd. Alan Warrell, our preacher and a former Trustee, when he pointed out that they form a pattern of life and celebrate the greatness and goodness of God. It is interesting to recall that the terms of presentation appear not always to have been strictly adhered to even in earlier times. Some in addition to the seven set psalms claim to have been required to say by heart the Catechism, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Nicene Creed, others various verses from the Scriptures, prominent among them 1 Corinthians 13. Others again received their award for essays, as prizes for Sunday School attendance and one as an eight year old in her stocking on Christmas Day, though the recipient in question goes on to say that at the time she needed a bible to study for a forthcoming Scripture examination. One of the most unusual inscriptions recalls that the Bible was presented in October 1878 ‘in sad and painful remembrance of the recent terribly fatal disaster on the River Thames, in which your dear sister was involved. We trust that you will accept this Bible – partly purchased by her Sunday School tickets’. The disaster referred to was apparently the sinking of the paddle-steamer ‘Princess Alice’, hit by a collier on the 3rd September 1878 with the loss of some hundreds of lives.

Up to the 1960s these qualifications were still required, from about 1970 however the candidate could choose from a selection of scriptural passages; parts of the same psalms, appropriate passages from the Epistles and Gospels, from the Old and tie New Testaments – in all about 28 verses. Nowadays much more emphasis is placed on comprehension. To qualify a candidate must select an appropriate Biblical passage totalling a minimum of 15 verses approved by the applicant (normally a church minister or teacher), which passage must be studied until thoroughly understood and 5 verses at least learnt accurately and recited.

More than one of those who wrote marvelled that a young person could commit so many verses to memory but remembered the experience as a challenge, enjoying quite a triumph when it was successfully achieved. ‘It did me no harm however’, said another, ‘is I still remember many of the verses and it was a good discipline in memory training’. Many bibles are now well worn and no longer in pristine condition, having been regularly used. Sadly however one letter states that the recipient’s parents were so proud of their son that he was not allowed to use the book he had been awarded after such painstaking effort. All gave the impression that their Bibles are highly treasured.

A fair number of Bibles have been handed down from generation to generation within the same family and are often nowadays passed on as presents to godchildren or grandchildren. Others have been rescued from jumble and car boot sales. They turn up in places all over the world although by far the largest number seem to come from the original four counties in which Lord Wharton’s estates lay, in Yorkshire, Westmoreland, Cumberland and Buckinghamshire. They were awarded to evacuees away from home, have been used for study by teachers, preachers and students, were carried throughout their military service by those who fought both in 1914 and 1939 and no doubt in other conflicts both before and after, have survived house-moving, air-raid shelters and doodle-bugs and have been rescued when churches and other buildings have been pulled down.

In 1996, Over 300 years after his death, the Trustees of the Lord Wharton’s Charity still carry on the work begun in his lifetime;
as young people annually receive bibles awarded in accordance with his wishes.