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George Forrest Browne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

George Forrest Browne
Bishop of Bristol
Gaorge Browne, from a 1907 carte de visite
ChurchChurch of England
In office1897–1914
PredecessorCharles Ellicott
SuccessorGeorge Nickson
Personal details
Born(1833-12-04)4 December 1833
Died1 June 1930(1930-06-01) (aged 96)
Previous postBishop of Stepney

George Forrest Browne (4 December 1833 – 1 June 1930) was an English bishop, the first Anglican Bishop of Stepney from 1895[1] until 1897[2] when he was appointed Bishop of Bristol.

Early life

Browne was born in York 1833[3] and educated at St Peter's School, York and St Catharine's College, Cambridge. He became the 30th wrangler in 1856.[4] In 1857 where he obtained 2nd class Honours degree in Theology and was ordained in 1858.[5]


After a spell of school mastering in Scotland, he returned to his college in 1863 as a Fellow. He then held various appointments and spent some time as a parish priest. He became a distinguished archaeologist, and was Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge 1887–92.[Note 1]

After an Incumbency at Ashley, Cambridgeshire he rose steadily in the Church's hierarchy. From 1891 until 1895 he was Canon Residentiary at St Paul's Cathedral before elevation to the suffragan bishopric of the Diocese of London (from now on named Bishop of Stepney), a post he held until he attained diocesan bishop status with promotion to the See of Bristol.

Taking retirement from his Professorship at the age of 62, Browne went on to become Bishop of Stepney in 1895, and Bishop of Bristol in 1897. He remained at Bristol until 1914. After leaving Bristol, Browne went on to publish no less than six more books in the final years of his retirement. He died at Bexhill-on-Sea in 1930. Browne is commemorated in Bristol Cathedral by a fine bronze bust signed K Scott. It is to be found in the north choir aisle.


An enthusiast for climbing, Browne was President of the Alpine Club early in the 20th century.

The Rev Browne is known amongst speleobibliophiles for his book, Ice Caves in France and Switzerland. Published in 1865, it is one of the most delightful travel books ever written, because of the scientific accuracy and humour of the author.

The Browne family was evidently accustomed to spending their summer holidays abroad, and in the summer of 1861 George was with some members of his family at Arzier in the Jura mountains near Geneva. The son of the house, an intelligent man spoke of a glacière not far distant. At first Browne supposed this to be a glacier, but on visiting it with the son, he found it was a limestone cave containing permanent ice. Browne was intrigued as to the reason for this phenomenon, and during the next several years spent part of his holidays visiting a number of these ice caves, mainly in the Jura. Altogether he examined 14 or 15 caves personally, heard accounts of several more which he was unable to visit, and studied any accounts he could find in literature.

His book, Ice-caves of France and Switzerland was the result of his studies, and was published in 1865. After reviewing previous theories of the origin of subterranean ice, Browne came to the conclusion that the explanation was simple: provided that the chambers of the cave were below the level of the entrance, cold air would sink into the cave in the winter and be unable to escape; water in the cave would freeze, and would remain as ice provided that the interior was not exposed to direct solar radiation. He reported that all the caves which he had examined fulfilled these necessary conditions.

Although Browne did not make detailed surveys, he gave some measurements, or at least estimates, of size, and described the interiors of the caves in careful detail, despite the fact that his lighting was very primitive – sometimes a candle, often just an oil lantern which did not always function properly. He would resort to magnesium wire when large chambers had to be illuminated and he regularly provides sketches and plans or sections of some of these.

Browne's descriptions of the caves, with the fantastic ice 'dripstone' formations to be found in some of them, are very vivid. The most entertaining parts of the book, however – and indeed the greater part of it – are devoted to his experiences reaching the caves themselves. Most of them are, or were in those days, far from a town of any size, and the privations endured were considerable. Although the recital of the difficulties of travel and of finding accommodation perhaps becomes a little repetitive, Browne writes with a graphic turn of phrase and gives a spirited idea of the problems of travelling off the beaten track in the 1860s. Food was often a problem, as, for instance, in the small town of Die, in the Dauphiné, where the ravenous Browne, after rejecting various other offerings, faced up to the cold mutton, not withstanding the footprints of mice in the cold gravy, only to find that it was so strongly flavoured with garlic that he could not eat it. It must not be thought that he was squeamish. He was evidently a well-seasoned traveller, and some of the hardships, such as wearing wet clothes for days on end, are mentioned almost as a matter of course.

After his book had gone to press, Browne revisited three ice-caves near Annecy, on this occasion having as a companion T G Bonney, a geologist from the Department of Geology at University College London. Finally, he had determined to visit the caves again in the winter and did so in January 1866 when he managed to revisit two of the caves that he had previously studied. These researches resulted in two more articles (see list below).

Browne does not seem to have undertaken any more speleology after 1866, but he was also a keen mountaineer, a founder member of the Alpine Club, and a friend of Charles Hudson, who was killed on the way down from the first ascent of the Matterhorn, and of Edward Whymper, who survived the same expedition. He was President of the Alpine Club in its Jubilee year of 1905.[6]


  • The Venerable Bede, 1879
  • The Ilam Crosses, 1889
  • Lessons from Early English Church History, 1893
  • The Christian Church in these Islands before the Coming of Augustine, 1894
  • History of St Catharine's College, 1902
  • The Continuity of the Holy Catholic Church in England. A Lecture Delivered at St. Columba's Church, Haggerston, in 1896., 1903
  • The Recollections of a Bishop, 1915
  • The Importance of Women in Anglo-Saxon Times, the Cultus of St. Peter and St. Paul, and other addresses, 1919


  1. ^ The Disney Chair of Archaeology was founded in 1851 by John Disney Esq of Hyde, Ingatestone, Essex, a barrister, collector of antiques and a benefactor of Cambridge University.


  1. ^ The Times, Wednesday, 10 April 1895; p. 5; Issue 34547; col D New Title for Suffragan Bishop of London
  2. ^ The Times, Friday, 17 September 1897; p. 4; Issue 35311; col C New Bishop of Bristol
  3. ^ "Who was Who" 1897–1990 London, A & C Black, 1991 ISBN 0-7136-3457-X
  4. ^ "Browne, George Forrest (BRWN852GF)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  5. ^ Malden Richard (ed) (1920). Crockford's Clerical Directory for 1920 (51st edn). London: The Field Press. p. 1694.
  6. ^ "The Rev George Forrest Browne". Retrieved 5 June 2014.

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Percy Gardner
Disney Professor of Archaeology, Cambridge University
Succeeded by
William Ridgeway
Church of England titles
Preceded by
Inaugural appointment
Bishop of Stepney
Succeeded by
Arthur Winnington-Ingram
Preceded by
Charles Ellicott
as Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol
Bishop of Bristol
Succeeded by
George Nickson
This page was last edited on 3 March 2021, at 17:21
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