Forty years ago, having achieved good “A” and “S” level results in maths and sciences, I decided to apply to Oxford (rather than “the other place” where I now live), and put Keble College as my first choice, in part because it is opposite the Physics department (so I could stay in bed longer) and in part because my dad had been there (although that should not infer any advantage in selection). Some months after sitting the Oxford entrance exams I received a phone call, with my music playing full blast, and could just make out that they were offering me a place and also the “Gibbs Scholarship”!
I had remained blissfully ignorant of the full extent of family connections to Keble until that time. Coming up to college I realised that there were portraits of 3 elderly Gibbses adorning the dinning hall walls, and I could no longer hide from the links. While wealthy relatives helped to found and fund the college, numerous less financially advantaged family attended as students, many the descendants of the clergy branches.
The founding of Keble College:
John Keble (1792–1866) was born in Fairford, Gloucestershire where his father, the Rev. John Keble 1745-1835, was Vicar of Coln St. Aldwyns and perpetual curate of Poulton, Wiltshire, from 1783 until his death in 1835 (his grandfather, also John Keble, was a maltster from Fairford). His mother was Sarah Maule, the daughter of John Maule, Vicar of Ringwood, Hampshire.
Both John and his younger brother matriculated at the age of 14 at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, took holy orders and married two sisters. John Keble was a brilliant scholar, took a double first at the age of eighteen in 1811 and was elected to a fellowship at Oriel College. He was ordained deacon in 1815, priest in 1816 and was appointed college tutor in 1817.
In 1827 he published “The Christian Year” which was probably the best selling book of poetry in the nineteenth century. In 1831 he was elected professor of poetry at Oxford, a post he held for ten years. A sermon that he preached in 1833 is regarded as the beginning of the religious revival known as the Oxford Movement of High Church Anglicans. They were also known as Tractarians. In 1835 John Keble married Charlotte Clarke and in 1836 accepted the offer of the living of Hursley from Sir William Heathcote, where he stayed for the rest of his life working as a parish priest. He continued to write and lead the Tractarian Movement until his death in 1866.
For some years there had been a group of scholars at Oxford who wished to make an academic education more accessible to the sons of poorer parents and they also wanted to train men for the Christian Ministry. Shortly after his funeral it was resolved that the sum of £50,000 should be raised for the new college and donations to the Keble Memorial Fund were requested. Land was purchased and William Butterfield chosen as architect. The foundation stone was laid by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 26th April 1868, the college was opened on 25th June 1870 and the first thirty students were admitted. However due to lack of funds the building of the gateway, chapel, hall and library was postponed.
Gibbs family funding of Keble College:
A letter in the Keble College archives dates 11th July 1872 reads “My dear Warden, Have you heard the glorious news – The result of a correspondence between Mr Butterfield, Sir John T. Coleridge & Mr W. Gibbs is this – the latter proposes to build our Chapel at a cost of from £25,000 to £30,000 …”. On 5th September 1872 a meeting took place at Tyntesfield to discuss the project and on 31st October William Gibbs planted the Keble Oak at Tyntesfield to commemorate the event (in a previous post).
William Gibbs was a devout Christian and dedicated supporter of the Anglican Church. Denied the usual education by his father’s financial difficulties, he started work at the age of thirteen and for the rest of his life was involved in the family business. In the latter part of his life he became a very wealthy man and gave generously and frequently anonymously to numerous causes. He contributed to the restoration of at least nineteen cathedrals, churches and chapels and in addition to the Chapel of Keble College he gave the money for the construction of five churches including St Mary, Flaxley and St Michael and All Angels, Mount Dinham, Exeter.
One of William’s lifelong friends was Sir John Taylor Coleridge who had been a student at Oxford with John Keble and was one of the leaders of the campaign to build Keble College. Letters show that it was probably John Coleridge who influenced William Gibbs to become the benefactor of Keble College.
Keble College Chapel was opened on 25th April 1876. At a ceremony in the Chapel in the morning Antony Gibbs represented his father and presented the key of the Chapel to the Warden and the Council. In the afternoon the foundation stone of the new hall and library was laid. These buildings were opened at a ceremony on 25th April 1878 and it was only during the speeches after the following luncheon that Henry Hucks Gibbs revealed that the buildings were the gift of Antony and Henry Martin Gibbs in memory of their father. Matilda Blanche Gibbs in 1881 offered £20,000 to endow Gibbs Scholarships.
Until 1952 Keble was governed by a Warden and a Council of nine to twelve members, the first Council members being the men who had served on the Committee of the Keble Memorial Fund. Henry Hucks Gibbs was a Council member from 1873 until 1907, his son Vicary Gibbs from 1906 until 1921 and his nephew John Arthur Gibbs from 1925-1945.
Gibbs family students at Keble College:
Which brings me back to my ‘Gibbs Scholarship’, available to “sons of former members of Keble College”, which I calculated amounted to a pint of beer each evening during term, but also entitled me to a superior room and the right to wear a long under-graduate gown for dinners. I have no idea which other family members held this scholarship, but quite a few did attend the college, including my father and his two brothers, my grandfather and great-grandfather!
Margaret Wilcock (who’s husband is also a Keble alumni) came up with a list of alumni from researching the Keble College Centenary Registry, with their Matriculation years (entry into college):
Descendants of George Henry Gibbs (William’s older brother)
- The family of John Lomax Gibbs
- John Arthur Gibbs 1879 (Council Member 1925-1946)
- Reginald Gibbs 1886
- Michael McCausland Gibbs 1919
- John Michael Francis Gibbs 1947
- Michael Alban Gibbs 1974
- Denis Dunbar Gibbs 1948
- Peter McCausland Gibbs 1953
- John Michael Francis Gibbs 1947
- Christopher Purvis 1970
- Michael McCausland Gibbs 1919
- Francis Lomax Gibbs 1888
- Dudley Julius Medley 1880 married to Isabel Alice Gibbs
Descendants of Joseph Gibbs (William’s younger brother)
- The sons of Rev William Cobham Gibbs
- John Stanley Gibbs 1898
- Edward Reginald Gibbs 1904
- The sons of Emily Harriet Gibbs and Ven. Alfred Pott
- Charles Percival Pott 1879
- John Arthur Pott 1884
Descendants of Mary Gibbs (William’s Aunt) and Rev. Charles Crawley
- Thomas William Crawley 1872
- Charles William Daubeny 1878
Descendants of Catherine Crawley (Sister to Rev. Charles Crawley) and Rev. Duke Yonge
- Ernest Duke Yonge Pode 1881
- Arthur Crawley Pode 1889
- Charles Burrell Yonge 1885
- Geoffrey Yonge 1888
- James Upton Yonge 1894
- Roger Upton Yonge 1929
- Cyprian Herbert Yonge 1933
- George Arthur Twining Yonge 1935
Long may that family tradition of attending Keble College continue, though regrettably I am not aware of any further alumni from the next generation down from me.