I have written about the startling discovery that my husband descended (through an out-of-wedlock birth) from the Reverend Roger Kedington (1750-1818), a Cambridge educated clergyman who came from a line of lawyers, clergy, and land owners. Although Roger held a series of clerical appointments in the Anglican church, including a prebendary position with Lincoln Cathedral, he doesn’t seem to have had a lifelong commitment to religious life.
Apparently, when he was passed over for an promotion within the church, he stopped wearing his black clerical garments and answering to the title of Reverend. He pursued friendships and a number of activities that point to interests outside of theology (including a dalliance with a local farm girl which produced two children, one of them my husband’s 3rd great grandfather John Martin).
He was a close friend of Arthur Young, an Englishman who investigated and wrote about improvements in British farming methods. Young was a correspondent with George Washington, in letters from the period following Washington’s presidency, when Washington retired to Mount Vernon to focus on quieter agricultural pursuits. Even Young complained about Kedington’s liberal habits as a sign of irreligious times:
“Kedington called on me in the morning, the present Reverend, and took the name of God in vain five times in a quarter of an hour; nor is a man in the small degree, less respected for such opinions; but he is liked the better for them.”
In spite of any reservations Young may have had for Kedington’s soul, Roger was added as an honorary member of the British Board of Agriculture in 1811. Arthur served as secretary for the Board, from when it was formed in 1793 until his death in 1820. Two years earlier, an 1809 issue of the Bury and Norwich Post included an account of an award given to Kedington by the Agricultural Board, for his paper on the hot topic of whether horses or oxen were the most efficient and economical for farm work.
Another facet of Roger Kedington’s broad scholarly interests was evident in his days at Cambridge University, when he received his Bachelors degree in 1771 and his Masters in 1773. In 1771, as a college senior, he placed second in the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos exam competition. A notoriously long and difficult exam, a first place result in the Tripos was considered the highest academic achievement in Britain. The first place winner was called the Senior Wrangler (from the idea that taking the examination required intellectual struggling and wrangling with the test questions), while the student who placed second, like Roger Kedington, was given the title of Second Wrangler. In the traditional ceremony for making public each year’s Wrangler winners, the examiners announce the rankings from a balcony in Cambridge’s Senate House building. After the results have been read, the campus official flings the papers off the balcony to the crowd below.
While many Senior and Second Wranglers went on to teaching positions at Cambridge and other top universities, others went on to careers in law, finance, medicine, politics, and even to religious orders, like Roger Kedington. With his early brilliance in mathematics, later interest in agriculture, and an apparent detachment from his clerical occupation, one wonders why he chose to become a clergyman at all.
- Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, The Rougham Estate and Rougham Hall by Sir George Agnew, James Bettley, and Edward Martin, Volume 43 Part 3, 2015
- George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Arthur Young, 2023
- Arthur Young, Agriculturalist and Traveller, 1741-1820. Some Biographical Sources by John G. Gazley, Philadelphia Philosophical Society, 1973.
- Economic History Association EH.net, Arthur Young, by David R. Stead
- Biographical History of Gonville and Caius College, 1349–1897 by John Venn, 1897
- What became of the Senior Wranglers? by D. O. Forfar, Mathematical Spectrum Vol. 29 No. 1, 1996