Seth Ward: Bishop, Scientist, Administrator

Seth Ward (1617-89) Bishop of Salisbury, is one of he many people I stumble upon who screams to be famous and I am at a loss as to how he has been forgotten.

He was at Oxford University during one of its most creative ages, with Robert Boyle and others who founded the Philosophical Society there, a forerunner of the Royal Society.

He became Savilian Professor of Astronomy before Christopher Wren and speculated on how Kepler’s ideas on planetary  motion could be produced.

He  believed that all human thoughts could be broken down to simple concepts, so paved the way for Liebnitz’s lifelong speculation about a universal, philosophic language in which the words represented their meaning. His work was based on introspective analysis rather than empirical investigation, hypothesising an alphabet of human thought so could be suggested as a precursor of modern computer programming.

But he is best known as an important clerical administrator, which is not as sexy as all the above, so probably why his name is not on all our lips.

His appointment to Salisbury improved relations between the church and the city, and he was active in promoting local good causes. Unfortunately he was also very strict on the closure of conventicles, or non conformist houses of worship.

In July 1623, five men including John Taylor (1578-1653) the waterman poet left London in a wherry to Christchurch harbour then up the Avon to Salisbury. Taylor described their journey in his usual doggerel until their destination when he exhorted support for the navigation to help feed the poor and increase access to markets for the city’s trade.

Following an early plan to make the Avon navigable, he encouraged the 1669 Act for the Britford Navigation, one of many that failed to happen, to which Ward donated and he cut the first slipway near Longford House.

As bishop of  Exeter and then Salisbury he did much to repair the vandalism of the disruption of civil war and to rebuild both the cathedrals. He left many benefactions including  Salisbury’s Matron’s college – so named to remove the taint of poverty associated with the term hospital which it was.

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