Perks family

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The Rev. George Thomas Perks (1819-1877; e.m. 1840) was born in Madeley on 29 August 1819 of an old Methodist family: his grandfather was John Fletcher's churchwarden. He entered the WM ministry and became a notable preacher, and was minister of Wesley's Chapel 1862-1865. He was a secretary of the WMMS from 1867 to 1877, Secretary of the Conference in 1872 and President in 1873 (a year in which W. Morley Punshon, Alexander M'Aulay and Gervase Smith were runners-up). He was one of the founders of the Methodist Recorder as a more Liberal rival to the Watchman. As a Secretary of the WMMS from 1867 to 1877, he went on a visit to Africa which took its toll of his health. He collapsed in the pulpit while on a preaching visit to Rotherham and died on 28 May 1877.

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His son Sir Robert William Perks (1849-1934), corporate lawyer, company promoter, property developer and politician, was born at Brentford on 24 April 1849 and educated at Kingswood School and London University. Failing to enter the Indian Civil Service, he qualified as a solicitor in 1875 and in 1876 became a partner of Sir Henry Fowler. He became proficient in railway law at a time when the rail network was expanding fast. As solicitor to the Metropolitan Railway and later Chairman of the London Metropolitan District Railway, he played a significant part in the development of the London Underground. Although he did not train as an engineer, he was an associate of the Institute of Civil Engineers. He was closely associated with T.A. Walker of Westminster in the Manchester Ship Canal project and from 1898 was a partner with Charles Hay Walker in a number of projects, including the Transandine railway and tunnel. In 1888 he strongly supported the unsuccessful Channel Tunnel scheme.

R.W. Perks' wife Edith was the youngest daughter of William Mewburn of Wykham Park, Banbury, a property her husband acquired in 1902, though he already owned 11 Kensington Palace Gardens (a magnificent house built in 1852 for a merchant banker in a road known as 'Millionaires' Row') and a holiday home at Littlestone-on-Sea, Kent.

His first public speech as a Methodist was at the centenary of the stonelaying at Wesley's Chapel in 1877, and he later played a prominent part in the dedication of Wesley's house as a museum in 1898 and the re-opening of the renovated Chapel in 1899. He served as senior society steward at the Denbigh Road chapel in Bayswater. Having long advocated lay representation, he was one of the first lay representatives to Conference in 1878 and proposed a motion that year on Methodist Union. He was a lay delegate at the World Methodist Conferences of 1881 and 1891. As Secretary of the Committee of Privileges from 1882 to 1892 he helped bring about the Burials Acts of 1880 and 1900, enabling Nonconformists to be buried in churchyards. He was also involved in promoting the Nonconformist Marriage Act of 1898. He advocated disestablishment of the Church of England and supported the second Boer War, earning the sobriquet 'Imperial Perks'. He was treasurer of the London Mission Fund and the Twentieth Century Fund (of which he was the instigator) and was instrumental in purchasing the prestigious site of Westminster Central Hall, whose triumphalism reflects his ideas.

As Liberal MP for Louth, 1892-1910, he saw himself as 'the member for Nonconformity' and in close collaboration with Hugh Price Hughes and the leader of the pro-Rosebery Imperialist faction created a Nonconformist Parliamentary Council (1898). As Treasurer of the National Council of Evangelical Free Churches he unsuccessfully opposed the 1902 Education Act, though his efforts contributed to the Liberal triumph of 1906. He became a baronet in 1908. In 1920 he published The Re-union of British Methodism and in 1932 at the age of 83 was elected Vice-President of the Uniting Conference as the man most responsible for Methodist Union. He was chairman of the Methodist Recorder's Board of Governors. He died in London on 30 November 1934.

His son, Sir Robert Malcolm Mewburn Perks (1892-1979), a civil engineer, was born on 29 July 1892 at Chislehurst and educated at The Leys School. He was involved in the building of Broadcasting House, London, the Singapore Naval Base and the Nag Hammadi Dam on the Nile. He continued his father's involvement with the London Mission, Westminster Central Hall and the Methodist Recorder, but resigned as senior circuit steward of the West London Mission in 1950 because of differences with Soper's views on war and Communism. He died in Kensington on 23 September 1979.


'Mr. [G.T.] Perks had preached with almost more than his customary solemnity and force, from the strangely significant text, "I am he that liveth and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of hell and death," and towards the end of his sermon was observed to falter, and not feeling well, he stopped and asked the congregation to sing "Rock of Ages".

'After the last verse he pronounced the Benediction, and descended to the vestry, and was at once joined and attended by Drs. Crowther and Lyth from the congregation, and then removed to the house of his host, Mr. Henry Wigfield. Dr. Lyth remained with him till lateā€¦ The family were at once summoned, and his son, Mr. R.W. Perks, arrived in time the next day to receive in whisper his father's last words. He passed peacefully away at midnight.'

Samuel J. Russell, Historical Notes of Wesleyan Methodism in Rotherham and Circuit (1916) p.130)

'The Twentieth Century Fund had been launched and the Bayswater Circuit raised between six and seven thousand pounds. First of all Sir Robert stimulated our circuit generosity by promising cent for cent. Then there was his own splendid contribution. Then he gave ten shillings to every child in the Sunday School who took a collecting-card. How much of the Bayswater total was subscibed by him will never be known. He gave with a royal hand, while he appealed for the movement all over the British Isles.'

J.T. Wardle Stafford in Methodist Recorder, 15 September 1932

  • Methodist Recorder,1 June 1877; 9 May 1907; 6 & 13 Dec. 1934; 28 September 1967; 4 Oct.1979; 13 December 2013
  • Methodist Times, 11 January, 8 February 1894
  • Wesley and his Successors (1895) pp. 221-23
  • Denis Crane, The Life Story of Sir Robert W. Perks (1909)
  • Conference Handbook, 1932
  • R.W. Perks, Notes for an Autobiography (privately published, 1936)
  • Stephen E. Koss, Nonconformity in Modern British Politics (1975)
  • David Jeremy, Dictionary of Business Biography
  • Oxford DNB
  • Owen E. Covick, 'Mapping the career of a businessman who was an "independent operator" and who left no substantial papers: the case of Sir R.W. Perks': paper presented to the 2005 Conference of the Association of Business Historians
  • Owen E. Covick, 'R.W. Perks and the Barry Railway Company, in Journal of the Railway and Canal Historical Society, 2008-2009
  • John Singleton, 'The Wesleyan who joined up the Underground', in Methodist Recorder, 13 December 2013