Joseph Wilcocks, Dean of Westminster, was born on 19 December 1673 in Bristol, son of Joseph Wilcocks, a physician, and his wife (whose name seems not to be known). He was educated in London and at Oxford and became Doctor of Divinity. For a while he served as a chaplain in Lisbon, Portugal and he married Jane Milner, daughter of the British Consul in that city. On his return to England Joseph was made a chaplain in ordinary to George I and in 1721 was installed as a prebendary of Westminster and also Bishop of Gloucester. In 1731 he was appointed Dean of Westminster and Bishop of Rochester. Three of his children, Anne, Joseph and John, were baptised at the Abbey but it seems that John died young. Jane and Anne were first buried in the north transept of the Abbey but on 20 March 1755 they were moved to a specially built vault for the family in what was then the Consistory Court and is now St George’s chapel. (Jane’s sister Catherine married John Lodge in the Abbey and another sister Elizabeth was buried with her in 1782).
Dean Wilcocks was buried with his wife and his son Joseph erected a large monument for him in south aisle of the nave, by the sculptor Sir Henry Cheere. This is of white and red marble with the inscription on a scroll, with small figures of Faith and Hope. On the relief below is a depiction of the west front of the Abbey as the towers were completed in the Dean’s time. A cartouche of arms shows: “Ermine, a chief chequy azure and or”, for Wilcocks, quartered with the arms of the see of Rochester, the Order of the Bath and the Abbey.
Joseph junior was born in Dean’s Yard in the Abbey precincts on 4 January 1724 and attended Westminster School. He became very wealthy and was known for his piety and interest in many charities. He died unmarried on 23 December 1791 and was buried in the family vault. By his will Canaletto’s painting of the Abbey with a procession of Knights of the Bath (in which Dean Wilcocks appears), was bequeathed to the Dean and Chapter.
The inscription on the gravestone reads:
“Here lies the body of MRS JANE WILCOCKS late wife of the Right Revd. JOSEPH LORD BISHOP OF GLOUCESTER who exchanged this life for a better March ye 27 1725 aged 28 years. As also that of MISS ANNE WILCOKS her daughter who died December ye 15 1729 in the 8th year of her age. His LORDSHIP was afterwards preferred to the SEE of ROCHESTER and the DEANERY of this COLLEGIATE CHURCH where he died Feby. 28 1756 in the 84th year of his age and was here interred.”
(The surname is spelt in two different ways on the stone). The Latin inscription on the monument, written by Joseph junior, can be translated:
“Near here lies buried Dr Joseph Wilcocks, Doctor of Theology and Chaplain to George I, by whom he was appointed a prebendary of this Church and Bishop of Gloucester. By George II he was created Bishop of Rochester and Dean of this Church and also of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. Under the auspices of the King and at the cost of the British Parliament, he completed the unfinished western front of this building together with the towers and window and finished it with consummate beauty. He also gave glory and stability to a building already dilapidated by providing the whole roof with new rafters. Not forgetful of divine learning and worship he adorned this College with his example and governed it by his rules ie. he induced the willing prebendaries to establish a laudable rule of residing by the Calendar and, having obtained Royal confirmation from the King as Visitor, with the agreement of the Chapter, made it permanent. He lived in peace, affection and friendship with his brothers the prebendaries and was a frequent preacher as long as his age permitted and afterwards a not infrequent attender at public prayers. His wisdom and success in choosing teachers made the Abbey School celebrated. Finally, full of years, as his powers gradually diminished, he fell asleep in the Lord in A.D. 1756 aged 83. Under the same stone reposes (together with her seven year old daughter) Jane, daughter of John Milner the British Consul in Portugal. She was a woman famous for her winning manners and died on the 27 March A.D. 1725 aged 28.”
A photograph of the monument and photo of the painting of the coat of arms can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.
His will is in the National Archives (under Joseph, Bishop of Rochester)
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