Reverend Joseph Robert Diggle (12 May 1849 – 16 June 1917) was a Church of England clergyman and educationist most famous for his nine-year chairmanship of the London School Board.[1]

Early lifeEdit

Born near Manchester, Diggle was educated at Manchester Grammar School and Oxford before being ordained in 1874. His elder brother, John William Diggle (1847–1920) was to become Bishop of Carlisle. Following a curacy in Liverpool he moved to London as curate of St Mary's Church, Bryanston Square in 1876.

London School BoardEdit

In 1879 he resigned his living "to devote himself to public work" and in November of the same year he stood as a "Moderate" candidate for the London School Board (LSB). Diggle was described as "a Churchman of Liberal views" who had campaigned to improve the condition of the masses on a social, moral and religious basis. With seven seats in the Marylebone Division, Diggle came second in the poll and was comfortably elected.[1]

At the 1885 general election Diggle decided to test the law which prohibited anyone in holy orders in the Church of England from election to the House of Commons. His nomination was accepted but he won only 101 votes.[1]

Chairman of the School BoardEdit

The London School Board elections of November 1885 saw Diggle running in a group of four clergymen; he finished fifth. However the results in the rest of London elected many more clergymen and when the new board met he was elected as its chairman and became leader of the governing Moderate Party.[1] He again had to stand up to pressure from other members to slash spending, but by 1887 he was able to report progress in reducing the charge on the rates while educating more children. Diggle was also noted for his chairmanship skills through which he successfully prevented disorder despite the presence of several members predisposed to it. The Progressive Party, led by Edward Lyulph Stanley formed the opposition to the Moderate majority. The Progressives adopted the pejorative term "Diggleism" to describe the board's policy, which they saw as the deliberate underfunding of secular education in order to favour Anglican schools.[1]

Departure from officeEdit

It was the subject of religious education which provoked one of the fiercest controversies within the Board during Diggle's chairmanship. When the Progressive group put down amendments to a board circular, Diggle quickly accepted a motion to close all debate on the subject. Going into the 1894 elections, the opposition pointedly opposed the motion that the chairman's annual address be printed and distributed, which had previously gone through without opposition. At the last meeting of the old board, the Progressives also divided against a vote of thanks to the Chairman. The 1894 school board election saw the Progressive Party make large gains at the expense of the Moderates who however retained a narrow majority of 3. Diggle retained his seat in the seven-member Marylebone division, but slipped from first to fourth place, with the Progressive leader, Lyulph Stanley topping the poll.[2] The election had been a bitter and hard fought, even sectarian campaign. It was clear that Diggle, who had been a highly partisan chairman and campaigner, was too divisive a figure to head the finely balanced board. Accordingly he stood aside at the new board's first meeting on 4 December, instead nominating the less controversial Lord George Hamilton to the post.[1][3]

Moderate split and departure form the school boardEdit

Using his experience of administering the Board, Diggle wrote a manifesto suggesting ways of reducing expenditure. He opposed the Moderate Group leadership's support for voluntary schools set up by nonconformists and formed a faction within the Moderate group in equal opposition to the administration of Lord George Hamilton and to the Progressive group. In the 1897 election, Diggle was the leading personality, leading his own group into the elections. He was largely blamed for the Moderate split and saw his vote drop by nearly two-thirds from over 31,000 to less than 10,500, losing his own seat by 4,000 votes.[4] He was nominated as a candidate in the 1900 elections but withdrew before the poll.

Later lifeEdit

Diggle moved Tenterden in Kent, of which he was mayor in 1895-1896 and 1901-1902.[5][6] In 1898 he was elected to Kent County Council, and was appointed chairman of the county council's Elementary Schools Education Committee in 1908.[1]

1900 general electionEdit

At the 1900 general election he was the Conservative Party candidate for Camberwell North, opposing Thomas Macnamara who had been a teacher in a Board School and later served on the Board together with Diggle; Diggle lost by 1,335 votes a seat where the Conservatives had won the previous election by 693.[1]

Financial difficultiesEdit

Diggle had lived largely on his wife's earnings since 1878, and lived beyond his means including spending considerable sums on repairing his homes in Regents Park and Kent. After 1904 he was forced to go to moneylenders to borrow money at high rates of interest. In October 1905 he was given a certificate for 1,000 Metropolitan Three per Cent. Consolidated stock in order that he might trace the owner; instead, Diggle gave it to his banker as a security for his overdraft.[7] On November 23, 1909 he was adjudicated bankrupt with debts of £12,763 3s 7d;[8] two years later his creditors had received 1s 3d in the pound.[7]

In 1910 Diggle moved to Oxford, where he died aged 69 in January 1917.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Donald P. Leinster-Mackay (2004). Diggle, Joseph Robert (1849–1917). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  2. "School Board Election". The Times: p. 5. 24 November 1894. 
  3. "London School Board". The Times: p. 9. 4 December 1894. 
  4. "The London School Board Elections". The Times: p. 8. 27 November 1897. 
  5. "Election of Mayors". The Times: p. 7. 11 November 1895. 
  6. "Election of Mayors". The Times: p. 7. 11 November 1901. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "In Bankruptcy. School Board Ex-Chairman's Discharge, In Re Diggle.". The Times: p. 3. 12 May 1911. 
  8. "Creditors' Meetings". The Times: p. 4. 7 December 1909. 

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