RETIRED Winchester history teacher, David Taylor, has published a biography of a controversial Itchen Abbas clergyman who also served as a magistrate for 42 years.

Rev Robert Wright (1772–1850) was a well-known pluralist rector who rubbed shoulders with Wellington, the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos and Palmerston and was also an acquaintance of Jane Austen’s family.

He liked to project himself as the ‘friend of the poor’ but the evidence suggests he was a much more complicated character. He was traumatised by the agricultural Swing Riots of 1830 and subsequently adopted a rigid and unforgiving attitude to the labouring poor.

Wright was a conscientious magistrate and played a significant role in the administration of the county and the dispensing of justice. During the early 19th century, clerical magistrates came under fire from the radical press but this did not deter Wright from achieving an almost perfect attendance record at the Hampshire Quarter Sessions.

Much of Wright’s pastoral work in the parishes of Itchen Abbas, Ovington, Boarhunt and Southwick was carried out by his son, the Reverend Robert John William Wright, who acted as his curate until he became the Chaplain at the County Gaol and Bridewell in 1836. Wright (Junior) was still in post when the new prison on Romsey Road was opened in 1849. However, he was dismissed when a complaint he made to the governor about alleged mistreatment of inmates was leaked to the press.

Robert Wright was above all a staunch defender of the establishment and the agricultural interest which made him a target of William Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register.

Mr Taylor said that the book had been a ‘labour of love’ but it was high time a full account of Robert Wright’s remarkable life was placed on record to be built on and challenged by future historians. In researching the book, Mr Taylor said he had gained inspiration from local historians, Barry Shurlock and Ruscombe Foster, and his past students at the Henry Beaufort School in Harestock.

The Life and Times of the Reverend Robert Wright (1772–1850): Clerical Magistrate of Itchen Abbas is 208 pages long and has 10 maps and diagrams, 13 tables and 22 plates (many in colour). It is priced at £10.99 and is available from the Laurence Oxley Bookshop in Alresford or by emailing