Moulton family

The family counted John Bakewell among its antecedents. Beginning with William Moulton (1769-1835; e.m. 1794), there have been eight members of the family in the WM ministry. William's son James Egan Moulton I (1806-1866) married into the Fiddian family ofBirmingham and had four sons, two of whom entered the ministry.

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The oldest brother William Fiddian Moulton I (1835-1898; e.m. 1858) was born at Leek on 14 March 1835 and educated at Woodhouse Grove and Wesley College, Sheffield. At London University, he had a brilliant career, gaining his BA at 19 and his MA in 1856 with gold medals in both mathematics and natural philosophy. (Chemistry remained a favourite subject of study.) After four years on the staff of Queen's College, Taunton, he was appointed Assistant Tutor at Richmond College in 1858 and became Classics Tutor there in 1868, in succession to Benjamin Hellier, with whom he established a close friendship. His outspoken support for one of his students, Hugh Price Hughes, led to a lasting friendship. In 1875 he moved to Cambridge to found The Leys School, remaining there as Headmaster until his death. The Leysian Mission in London was established on his initiative. In 1872, at the early age of 37, he was appointed to the Legal Hundred on the nomination of Dr. George Osborn. His musical gifts enabled him to assist in the 1876 revision of the WM Hymn-book. As President of the Conference in 1890-1891, he preached the memorial sermon for the centenary of John Wesley's death.

His main scholarly work was his translation of G.B. Winer's Grammar of NT Greek (1870), which he augmented with valuable notes. He assisted A.S. Geden and his own son James Hope Moulton (see below) in the compilation of A Concordance to the Greek Testament (1897). He was a leading member of the committee which produced the NT section of the Revised Version of the Bible; he also compiled the marginal references, and worked on the RV Apocrypha with Westcott and Hort. His other publications included A History of the English Bible (1878), a commentary on Hebrews (1879) and, with William Milligan, A Popular Commentary on the Gospel of St. John (1880). He was awarded an honorary DD by Edinburgh University in 1874 (the first to be awarded to a Methodist minister by a British university) and received an honorary MA from Cambridge University in 1877. A polymath, he had a command not only of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, but of Arabic and Syriac; also Anglo-Saxon and several European languages. Following a stroke, in October 1897, he died suddenly at Cambridge on 5 February 1898.

The second brother, James Egan Moulton II (1841-1909; e.m. 1863), born at North Shields, was a missionary in Tonga and translated the Bible into Tongan. He died in Australia, where his descendants included a son of the same name (1869-1937).

The two youngest brothers had distinguished secular careers. John Fletcher Moulton (1844-1921) QC, described himself as a 'moderate Churchman'. He was born in Madeley on 18 November 1844. He had an outstanding academic career at Kingswood School and St. John's College, Cambridge, where he became Senior Wrangler by a record margin and was President of the Union in 1868. His scientific interests, including astronomy, led to a memorable controversy with the philosopher Herbert Spencer. He was called to the Bar in 1874, became Queen's Counsellor in 1885 and served on the court of appeal from 1906 to 1912. In 1875 he married the widowed mother of Elspeth Thomson, the future wife of the author Kenneth Graham. He was intermittently a Liberal MP (for Clapham 1885-1886, for South Hackney 1894-1895 and for Launceston 1898-1906) before becoming a life peer in 1912. He was created KCB in 1915 and GBE in 1917 in recognition of his wartime services in the manufacture of high explosives and poison gasses, despite his personal belief that their use was a departure from civilised warfare. After the war he was under pressure to lead the expansion of the British chemical industry, but chose to return to the law. He died on 9 March 1921.

The youngest of the four brothers, Richard Green Moulton (1849-1924) had an academic career, culminating in his appointment to the chair of English Literature at Chicago University, 1892-1916. He published The Literary Study of the Bible (1896; revised editions, 1899 and 1912) and edited The Modern Reader's Bible (1896).

Both of William Fiddian Moulton's sons entered the ministry. His older son James Hope Moulton (1863-1917; e.m. 1886) was born at Richmond College on 11 October 1863 and educated at The Leys School. With a First in Classics at Cambridge and the Chancellor's Medal, he was the first nonconformist minister to be elected Fellow of a Cambridge college (King's). The anthropologist J.G. Frazer was one of his friends. He taught at The Leys from 1886 to 1902, when he was appointed Tutor in NT Language and Literature at Didsbury College and in 1908 became Greenwood Professor of Hellenistic Greek and Indo-European Philology at Manchester University. He was among the first to recognize the importance of the Greek papyri discovered in Egypt for NT studies, popularizing the work of the German scholar Adolph Deissmann in From Egyptian Rubbish Heaps (1917). His outstanding achievements were the 'Prolegomena' to his Grammar of NT Greek (1906 3rd revised edition 1908, later completed by W.F. Howard and N. Turner) and The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament Illustrated from the Papyri (1914; completed in a second volume by G. Milligan, 1929). His pioneering book on Religions and Religion (1913) was considered at the time to be 'extremely dangerous'. He was also a pre-eminent expert on Zoroastrianism, knowing Persian and Sanskrit. His lectures in India on the subject were posthumously published as The Treasure of the Magi: a study of modern Zoroastrianism (1917), followed by Early Zoroastrianism in 1927. He was honoured by doctorates from the Universities of Edinburgh, Gröningen, Durham and Berlin. His more general interests included overseas missions and social reform. While returning from India, his ship was torpedoed in the Mediterranean and on 7 April 1917 he died from exposure after three days in an open boat.

William Fiddian Moulton I's son, William Fiddian Moulton II (1866-1929; e.m. 1897), was born in Cambridge on 5 August 1866. He taught at The Leys school before entering the ministry. He served mainly in rural circuits and then for thirteen years was on the staff of Cliff College. He was a fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge and an accomplished organist and wrote a number of hymn tunes, some of which are in the Sunday School Hymn Book. He died on 17 September 1929.

In the next generation, James Hope Moulton's son Harold Keeling Moulton (1903-1982; e.m. 1926), born at Didsbury, Manchester, was the last of the ministerial line. Educated at The Leys, King's College, Cambridge and Didsbury College, he was appointed to Findlay College, Mannargudi, S. India in 1929 and in 1932 moved to the United Theological College at Bangalore as Professor of NT Studies. He worked on the revision of the Tamil NT and contributed to the important CSI Liturgy. In 1957 he became translations secretary at the British and Foreign Bible Society. In retirement he revised the Moulton and Geden Concordance of the NT and was awarded an honorary DD by Serampore University.


'William Fiddian Moulton was a meek, lovely Christian. What depth of mind and soul he had! How sweetly approachable I always found him! Often he gave me words of cheer. Had he possessed a literary style akin to his friends, Bishop Lightfoot, Bishop Westcott and Professor Hort, his works might have rivalled theirs. He wrought laborious literary work which has obtained but scanty appreciation. But his whole life was a close and influential and affectionate walk with God.'

Dinsdale T. Young, Stars of Retrospect (1920) p. 76

'I have worked with other scholars whose attainments were as consummate as Dr. Moulton's, and who were bolder and more adventurous, but I have never known one more alert or of more balanced judgment. Dr. Moulton seemed to me to take an impartial account of every element in a critical problem, and to strive with unwearied patience to give it just weight. One thing which always touched me most deeply was his spirit of absolute self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness. He was wholly unaffected by the thought of recognition or recompense. No labour was too great if he could contribute anything to the completeness of another's work. The sense of thoroughness in the work itself was his reward, though the workman was unnoticed. It was in vain to protest, as I often did, against what I held to be an excess of care in the fulfilment of his share in our common task. He could not be satisfied with anything which he felt able to improve or make more sure…'

Bishop Westcott, quoted in John F. Hurst, History of Methodism, III pp.1419-20

'From the beginning as a Tutor [at Richmond College] he raised the level of ministerial training… His services to all the colleges and to ministerial training were very great indeed: he remodelled the examination system. It may be said that he began the transformation of the outlook at Richmond. Up to his time "Methodist Theology" held pride of place. Jackson and Osborn were both masters in this sphere, and that of Methodist history. With Moulton was begun Biblical study in the modern sense of the term. He was interested too in social reform, and regarded the Leysian Mission as the essential corollary of his work at the famous school. Hugh Price Hughes found in his shy tutor a warm friend and stout supporter.'

  • Frank H. Cumbers (ed.), Richmond College 1843-1943 (1944), pp.106-7

James Hope Moulton: 'Those of us who had the privilege of sitting at his feet during the three years before [the publication of the Prolegomena to his Greek Grammar] discovered, as his readers were then to find out, that James Moulton had the power of breathing life into the dry bones of grammar… It is quite impossible to describe for those who were not present the raciness of his style. His classroom was never dull. Who can forget that ocular demonstration with the aid of a poker to distinguish between the various kinds of aorist? One never knew whether some gem in the text would be given a setting of fine gold extracted from some Egyptian rubbish heap, or whether a passing reference would discover some intimate connexion between comparative religion and some half-forgotten nursery rhyme.'

Wilbert F. Howard, The Romance of New Testament Scholarship (1949) pp.129-30

  • Methodist Recorder, 10 Feb. 1898; 12 & 19 April 1917; 17 March 1921; 23 May 1935; 17 June 1982; 19 February 1998
  • William Fiddian Moulton, William F. Moulton: a memoir (1899)
  • G.G. Findlay, William F. Moulton, the Methodist Scholar (1910)
  • George Milligan, 'James Hope Moulton', in London Quarterly Review, July 1917, pp.115-18
  • E.E. Kellett, 'James Hope Moulton', in London Quarterly Review, July 1918, pp.100-109
  • William Fiddian Moulton, James Hope Moulton (1919)
  • J. Egan Moulton & W. Fiddian Moulton, Moulton of Tonga (1921)
  • Hugh Fletcher Moulton, Life of Lord Moulton [John Fletcher Moulton] (1922)
  • William Fiddian Moulton, Richard Green Moulton (1926)
  • Wilbert F. Howard, The Romance of New Testament Scholarship (1949) pp. 124-34
  • Harold K. Moulton, James Hope Moulton (1963)
  • A. Marcus Ward, 'James Hope Moulton', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, October 1963, pp.306-14
  • Frank Tice, Methodism in Cambridge (1966) pp.99-115
  • Harold K. Moulton, 'A Methodist Family', in WHS Proceedings, 43 pp.49-58
  • Gordon S. Wakefield, 'James Hope Moulton', in Epworth Review, 15:1 (January 1988) pp.45-51
  • Leslie J. Griffiths, 'Unsung Hero: William Fiddian Moulton, 1835-1898', in Methodist Sacramental Fellowship Bulletin, No 134, Epiphany 2007, pp.2-13
  • John A. Vickers, ' William F. Moulton, first headmaster of The Leys School', in Wesley's Chapel Leysian Mission Magazine, 20 (2008/2009)
  • Martin Wellings, 'An extremely dangerous book'?James Hope Moulton's Religions and Religion in Christianity and Religious Plurality (2015), pp.322-33
  • Oxford DNB
  • Dictionary of Australian Biography