Henry Venn

Posted on 02nd March 2021 under The Rectory Bulletin | Church History


One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. (Psalm 145:4)

On the 2nd March 1725, one Henry Venn was born in the Surrey town of Barnes. As a son, nephew, grandson, great-grandson and great-grandson of Anglican clergy his future looked pretty pre-determined. In 1747, to what I suppose was a surprise to no-one, he was ordained. Eight years later, he became curate at Clapham. As it happens, in time his son was also ordained and later became Rector of that parish.

Venn was a founder of the ‘Clapham Sect’, a grouping of Evangelical Anglicans which included William Wilberforce, Charles Simeon and the Governor-general of India. They were mocked in their day, and dubbed the ‘Clapham Saints’, but their energy was profound. They founded the Church Missionary Society, and the Bible Society but their most enduring legacy is their relentless campaigning for the abolition of slavery. Spearheaded by Wilberforce, the abolitionist cause finally came to fruition in 1833 with the Slavery Abolition Act.

Venn didn’t live to see the end of slavery, having died in 1797. The family business of producing clergy continued. His son, as we have seen, was Rector of Clapham. His grandson, another Henry, worked tirelessly for the Church Missionary Society. Another grandson - John Venn - was vicar of St Peter’s in Hereford, and was responsible for setting up Hereford City Mission, a corn mill, a model farm, a school, a boys’ home, a library and brought the YMCA to the City!

So much for the men, you might be thinking, what about the women? Well, Henry Venn’s grand-daughter, Charlotte Elliot, penned the popular hymn “Just as I am”. Oh, and the Venn Diagram? That was the product of a great-grandson!

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