Bishops are found in many denominations of Christianity. The Bishop of London is the third most senior figure in the Church of England, coming after the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.
There have been 132 Bishops of London. A bishop is responsible for the organisation of his church within a geographical area, known as a diocese. The present Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, is responsible for episcopal areas including Stepney, Willesden, Kensington, and the Cities of London and Westminster. He is a life-peer and sits in Parliament in the House of Lords. His church is St Paul’s Cathedral.
The servants of the Church have always worn a distinctive dress. Historic portraits of Bishops usually show them in what is known as ‘Convocation Dress’, worn for preaching or Parliament. The symbols most associated with bishops are the cope and the mitre which form part of the vestments worn for the services.
In the past, bishops served both Crown and Church, often acting as Chancellor or ambassadors to foreign courts. In the 16th century these connections grew stronger as religious wars engulfed Europe. Once England became a Protestant country all clergymen were free to marry. Bishops’ residences now had to accommodate their families and bishops could pass on their wealth to their heirs.
Rapid changes between Protestant and Catholic monarchs in England were mirrored in their bishops. In Edward VI’s reign the Catholic Bonner was sent to Marshalsea prison, but his successor, Ridley (1550-53), was burned at the stake when Queen Mary restored the Catholic faith. Bonner is known to have kept prisoners at Fulham where some were tortured and forced to work his land. His ghost is supposed to walk in the north rooms of the courtyard.
Bishop Laud (1628-33), Charles I’s unpopular placeman, also came to a violent end. When Charles I was executed, Laud’s successor, Juxon, attended him on the scaffold. Juxon survived the Civil War to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Porteus (1787-1809) took his responsibilities for the Diocese of London overseas seriously. This led him to agitate for the abolition of the slave trade, and urge improvements in the living conditions on the plantations. As the population of London increased dramatically in the 19th century the Bishops of London became even busier. The Bishop’s wife became prominent in diocesan work, and social causes. Thus in the 1890′s Mrs Creighton emerged as a strong supporter of education for women, although opposing their right to vote.
Bishop Winnington-Ingram occupied the Palace from 1901 to 1939 when he retired aged 81. Much criticised for filling in the moat, he was at the same time eager to share the Palace with the community whether it be for football, pageants or garden parties.
The relationship between the Bishops and the community at Fulham changed over the course of time. As Lord of the Manor, the medieval Bishop was a feudal landlord. He was entitled to tithes from his tenants, a proportion of the fishing and ferry dues, owned a local mill and through the court presided over by his steward, regulated the lives of the people. For instance no more than two pigs could be kept without a fine and only bakers living on the Manor could supply tenants. When the Ecclesiastical Commission took over the land in 1836, the Bishops were freer to concentrate on their philanthropic duties. In 1908 Bishop Creighton House in Lillie Road, Fulham, was founded by Mrs Creighton in memory of her husband. It still exists today as a community centre.