I wonder how many sons or daughters of Norfolk have been laid to rest in Westminster Abbey? None come readily to mind[*], and so it is all the more remarkable that the small village of Beachamwell can claim this honour for one of its own.
Although a figure of some standing in ecclesiastical circles during the first quarter of the 18th century, the Reverend Benjamin Ibbot is now largely forgotten. He was born in Beachamwell in 1680, the son of Thomas Ibbot, vicar of Swaffham and rector of Beachamwell. Like his father Benjamin also became a clergyman. He gained his BA at Cambridge University in 1699; was made scholar of Corpus Christi College in 1700 and graduated MA in 1703. He soon obtained a position with Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, first as librarian, and subsequently Cambridge chaplain. In 1707 he was installed as Treasurer at Wells Cathedral.
"an ingenious and learned writer, and a judicious and useful preacher" Chalmers Biographical Dictionary
In 1714 Benjamin Ibbot married Susanne Powell at the parish church of St Martin Outwich in the City of London. Two years later George I appointed him to be one of his chaplains and then in 1717 by Royal Mandate created him Doctor of Divinity. Further clerical appointments followed: assistant preacher at St James’s Piccadilly, rector of St Paul’s Shadwell and prebendary of the collegiate church of St Peter Westminster. In 1724 he retired to Camberwell suffering poor health “impaired by the fatigue of constant preaching to very numerous congregations.” He died there on April 5, 1725, and was buried in Westminster Abbey on 13 April in the east side of the south transept. Unfortunately he has no monument and his gravestone never had an inscription. Benjamin Ibbot had no children. He left all his worldly goods to his wife who died aged 78 in 1764 and was buried at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire.
After his death a selection of his writings was published for the financial benefit of his widow: Thirty Discourses on Practical Subjects.
Also the 16 sermons he preached for the Boyle Lectures in 1714 and 1715 appeared in book form. Robert Boyle founded these lectures to serve as a public forum in which to consider the relationship between Christianity and the new natural philosophy (in other words ‘science’) then emerging in European society. Benjamin Ibbot’s contributions were entitled On the Exercise of Private Judgment, or Free-Thinking. During his lifetime Ibbot had published a translation of Samuel Pufendorf’s De habitu religionis Christianae ad vitam civilem an important work in the development of natural law, tolerance and religious freedom. In a different vein he was also a writer of poetry. His poem A Fit of the the Spleen – in imitation of Shakespear appeared in the best selling poetry anthology of the 18th century: A Collection of Poems by Several Hands; edited by Robert Dodsley. However Ibbot’s pleasure at inclusion might have been soured by the satirical lines added to his effort by Alexander Pope.
Read A Fit of the Spleen
[*]Sir Cloudesley Shovell, born in Cockthorpe Norfolk, was a naval commander and ultimately Admiral of the Fleet. He drowned, together with all 800 men on board, when his flagship wrecked off the Isles of Scilly in 1707. Lurid tales are told about the fate of his body. He is buried in Westminster Abbey and commemorated by an impressive memorial by Grinling Gibbons.
The General Biographical Dictionary; compiled by Alexander Chalmers. 1761 and several subsequent editions. Available at Google Books
Leonard W. Cowie ‘Ibbot, Benjamin (1680 – 1725)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/14350, accessed 9 Nov 2017]
Online list of famous people buried at Westminster Abbey
History of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, by Robert Masters