Second Worshipful Deputy Master

The second Worshipful Deputy Master was described by the London Times in his obituary as “a well-known man of letters”.[1]

James Beresford Atlay was born in 1860, the son of a vicar later to become Bishop of Hereford who was a friend of Benson, Wellington’s first Master, one a small group of trusted confidents who visited the Master’s Lodge in Benson’s early years.[2]

Atlay went to Wellington in 1872, and was appropriately enough in the Beresford. He was in the same year as fellow Lodge members Colonel George Onslow, Maj Edward Kelaart, and the wonderfully named Rev Manley Power, both the latter being fellow East Block boys from the Blucher.

James Atlay was installed in November 1910, having been the Founding Senior Warden of the Lodge.

He had much in common with his predecessor as Deputy Master: he too was made Head of College, in this case in 1878, he also gained a first XV cap (where he is shown in the above image), and he also went up to Oxford, winning an open scholarship to Oriel (having also won a scholarship place at New College), taking a First in Modern History in 1883. Atlay was called to the Bar in 1887, a member of Lincolns Inn, and appointed Registrar of the Diocese of Hereford in 1888.

Given this his profession as a barrister it is unsurprising that he was initiated in to a legal lodge, the Midland and Oxford Bar Lodge No 2716, which later merged with the South Eastern Bar Lodge No 4332, a ‘cousin’ of the OW Lodge. Sadly the combined lodge no longer exists. He also joined the Public Schools Chapter, and was an advocate of Royal Arch in general and this chapter in particular.

He was a member of the Garrick, the Athenaeum and the New University.

His great contribution lay in legal and biographical literature of which the best known were “The Trial of Lord Cochrane” (published in 1897), “Famous Trials of the 19th Century” (1899), and the “Lives of the Victorian Chancellors”. With a nod to his time up at Oxford he also wrote the authorised biography of Sir Henry Acland (of the circle of Liddell and Ruskin), and the authorised biography of Bishop Wilberforce. This was his last work, completed in the year before his death in 1912.

Combining his two professional past times Atlay also edited the two standard books of the time on International Law by Hall and Wheaton, and he was a copious and “very useful contributor” to the Dictionary of National Biography. In 1910 he was made a Special Commissioner of income-tax.

Recalling the man in a letter to the Times on the day of his funeral, a friend wrote that he had “a strong bent towards serious history, and his wide reading and retentive memory, his quick grasp of facts, and his power of marshalling them, all fitted him, as did his sane outlook on life, to make his mark as an historian…a man of much social charm, of humour, and of a warm and kindly nature[3].

A gentleman who lived respected and died regretted.

Wellington College XV Caps 1877-1878. J B Atlay front row 2nd from right. Courtesy of Wellington College Archive

[1] The Times, Saturday, Nov 23, 1912; Issue 40064; pg. 11; col C

[2] History of Wellington College, D Newsome Pg 91.

[3] Letters. The Times, Tuesday, Nov 26, 1912; Issue 40066; pg. 15; col E — Mr.J.B. Atlay