John W. Festing was the son of Richard Grindall Festing and Eliza Mammatt. Festing was born at Brook House in Stourton, Somerset (now in Wiltshire) and educated at King's School, Bruton and King's College School, London. His younger brother was Major-General Edward R. Festing (1839–1912), a Royal Engineer and chemist who became the first Director of the Science Museum in London.
Festing received a BA degree from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1860. He was vicar of Christ Church, Westminster, London, from 1860–73. In 1873, he became vicar of St Luke's Church, Berwick Street, close to Seven Dials. On 19 May 1878, he was appointed vicar of Christ Church, Albany Street. In 1887, he became rural dean of St Pancras. On 26 June 1888, he became prebendary of Brondesbury in St Paul's Cathedral. His final clerical appointment was as Lord Bishop of St Albans on 24 June 1890 and he received a DD degree in the same year. He was President of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa (1892–1902).
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