Archbishop William Patterson Whitebrook

W.P. Whitebrook

This extremely rare photograph shows William Patterson (Vergilius) Whitebrook (1871-1915), Archbishop of Whitby and a prelate of the first Old Roman Catholic mission to England initiated by Prince-Abbot Joseph III.

Whitebrook was born in St Pancras in 1871. His brother John Cudworth (1873-1961) would also become a bishop. Between 1899 and 1900 he was in business as a photographer, with a studio in Highgate, but his business did not prosper. Subsequently he read for the Bar, and was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, where he practiced at 5, New Court.

Whitebrook was involved with the Order of Corporate Reunion from an early age. He and his brother were acolytes at All Saints’, Lambeth, the church of Dr Frederick George Lee (1832-1902), who in addition to his priestly office in the Church of England was Archbishop and Primate of the Order of Corporate Reunion. In 1891 or 92 Whitebrook was consecrated bishop by Lee and George Nugée OCR (1819-92) (who as secretary of the Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom had presented to Pope Pius IX the reconciliation proposal between the Church of England and Rome that would form the foundation of the OCR in 1864.) On or before 19 February 1905, Whitebrook received additional episcopal commissioning from Andries Albert Caarel McLaglen (1851-1928) of the Ferrette succession, who was a bishop (later Primus) of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church and associated bodies. That date saw the formation of the Society for the Restoration of Apostolic Unity, which was a movement intended to revive the OCR that as well as the Whitebrooks involved Bishop Henry Bernard Ventham (Dom Columba Mary OSB, 1873-1944), a member of the OCR who had received consecration from Prince-Abbot Joseph III.

During 1906, Whitebrook was responsible for rescuing C.W. Montague Villiers (also known as Count Edward Rufane Benedict Donkin) (1871-1906), a suspended priest under Prince-Abbot Joseph III who subsequently made claim to have received the Episcopate. He had been tried at the Lewis Assizes in 1906 on grounds of being an imposter, whereupon the judge exonerated him fully and declared him to have been the victim of persecution. Villiers was abandoned by his family and, in poor health, was living on the streets. Whitebrook took him into his own home and nursed him there for the remaining three months of his life, also arranging for him to be received into the Catholic Church and funding the costs of his burial in Bexley cemetery.

On 27 December 1908, at his domestic chapel of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Bishopsthorpe, Stone Hill, Headley Down, Hampshire, Whitebrook was reordained by and exchanged consecrations with Archbishop Paolo Miraglia Gulotti (1852-1916) (Prelate-Commander of the Order of the Crown of Thorns for Italy), who had been consecrated by Prince-Abbot Joseph III in 1900. This action marked the initiation of the Independent Catholic Church under J.C. Whitebrook as Primate, based at W.P. Whitebrook’s chambers and counting a high proportion of legal men among its clergy. The church did not survive the First World War as an active organization, and Whitebrook was eventually received into the Roman Catholic Church.