Edward Betham’s career

Compass detail of a survey of Great Greenford parish by R. Binfield, 1775 (GRE/20).
Compass detail of a survey of Great Greenford parish by R. Binfield, 1775 (GRE/20).

Edward Betham was born in Silchester, Hampshire, and baptized on 17 November 1709. His father, Robert Betham, rector of Silchester, was murdered in 1719, when Edward was just 10 years old.

Having studied at Eton College, Edward came up to King’s College in 1728. He gained his BA in 1732 and his MA in 1736. While at King’s, he held various roles. He became a Fellow in 1731. He was also Third Bursar (1745-7), Second Bursar (1748-69) and First Bursar (1770-71).

He is credited with anonymous contributions to Henry Malden’s An Account of King’s College Chapel. Saltmarsh suggested that Betham may have been the first person by whom the chronology of the building had been worked out. He is believed to have identified features such as the change in the stone used to build the Chapel as a way of dating the work of the first period of its construction, although it was first noted in William Cole’s manuscript on the building, dated 1741. Cole had acknowledged Betham elsewhere but not in relation to this. In a footnote within his King’s College Chapel: A History and Commentary (p. 192), John Saltmarsh noted further observations by Betham, which indicate the extent to which the Chapel had been built by 1485 (the end of the second period of building works):

...the toothings in the brickwork in the north wall of the passage on the north side of the roof, and on the decayed state of the western face of the roof truss at the same point and the remains of moss formerly visible upon it. These indications seem to have been first observed and interpreted by Edward Betham, Bursar of the College in the mid-eighteenth century, who described them in his anonymous contribution to Henry Malden, An Account of King’s College-chapel, in Cambridge, Cambridge, 1769 p 21n; ... they are in fact approximately in a line with the west side of the fifth buttress from the east – that is, at the junction of the fifth bay from the east with the seventh from the west...

Betham balanced his considerable College duties with his vocation. In 1751 he became vicar of Teversham, Cambridgeshire. But even within College, he took care over religious observance on 24 May 1767, he wrote to Provost Sumner expressing his concern about undergraduates who were neglecting to attend Chapel.

In 1770, he was presented by King’s College to the living of Greenford Magna.