Oxford, Ely, Ponds and Fungi

Peter is in Northumbria, on a mission to the North East, with the Diocese. He was on Lindisfarne last evening, and met with folk and old friends – including Pete, now Bishop of Sheffield. He also fell into conversation with Bishop John Packer, who used to be archdeacon of West Cumberland – at the time of the fire at St Michael’s Church in 1994. Bishop John was wearing a wooden cross – and Peter was thrilled to hear it had been made from wood from the remains of the Church, made by Malcolm Stilwell, a local priest here in Workington. Bishop John says he wears it all the time.


With Peter away, some peace and quiet and the chance to blog, after a while.

He’s not the only one to be off and away. I’m now back in Workington after a jaunt to Oxford for the Maude Royden dinner.

Who was Maude Royden? A devout Anglican all her life, born in 1876, by 1913 she was campaigning for women to be ordained in the Anglican Church, having already helped establish the Church League for Women’s Suffrage in 1909.

After the First World War, campaigning resumed in all seriousness against the Anglican Church’s refusal to consider women’s participation in Church Councils above parish level. Maude argued that given their work as missionaries, women should have an equal voice – and not only that, priesthood was the only thing that would do in the long run.

At William Temple’s suggestion (he was then Rector of St James’ Piccadilly) Maude was appointed to the council of the National Mission of Repentance and Hope, formed of Missioners, men and women, who were to speak to groups to inspire and re-kindle faith. Archbishop Davidson said each bishop should decide how women Missioners should speak. Winnington-Ingram, Bishop of London, said he would only permit women to speak in church if there were no other suitable place, only while the Mission was taking place, and only to women and girls in the aisle in front of the chancel step.  The Bishop of Chelmsford said he would not sanction women to do even this and the Bishop of London changed his mind and followed suit. This was only a hundred years ago.

Maude continued through her life, campaigning and arguing for women in the priesthood, and today the Maude Royden Club meets on an annual basis, made up of equal members of ordained and lay women, to celebrate her achievement and honour her passion and determination. There’s more about her here and here.

We began with a Eucharist in Corpus Christi College, at which Professor Sarah Foot presided, and over dinner, Sarah told me the story of her faith, and said she’d be delighted if I included it here.

She’d chosen Newnham, Cambridge, to read history, a devout atheist then. She recounted how angry she’d been, when the chaplain accosted her in the corridor, welcoming her by name. He’d learnt all the names of the new students. She found this a real invasion of her privacy – how dare he! She had chosen Newnham because it had no chapel, after all.

Then late one night, she had come back to her room from the library, and gazing out over the garden, she had seen a door, open ajar, with a light shining through. A voice had called to her, ‘Sarah, come home!’ The experience was so profound that she began to explore what it might mean, and found herself at St Ben’et’s Church, where the Francisan monk, the vicar, Brother Tom (whom I remembered from my time at Westcott when I was on placement at St Ben’et’s) – enabled her to discover more.

She told me how much she loved the Frost Prayer that often is used as the post-communion prayer at the end of the Eucharist, with its reference to home.


Sarah now is based at Christ Church, and presided at the Eucharist the following morning, and used the prayer. I think it’s one of the best.

The Cathedral in Oxford is also the rather grand Chapel for Christ Church. Tom Quad looked particularly wonderful in the early September morning sun.


Then as one enters the Cathedral, the light comes through, down the choir and nave, from the East window.


I loved the halos of red in the Lady Chapel,


and the memorial stone to Fridsewide.


There was John Locke as I left, reminding me of the PhD ahead – a key figure, between Richard Hooker and Edmund Burke.


Being in Oxford offers the opportunity to look for books – particularly on Richard Hooker. My host Edmund showed me his library and made some suggestions (as well as kindly lending me the top book) and I headed off for Blackwells and bought the rest.


After a coffee and catch up with Dean Martyn, I admired the pond in the centre of Tom Quad. It’s about the same size as ours


in the Rectory Garden at St Michaels – one of the reasons I haven’t blogged for a while, is the effort that’s gone to creating it! Hopefully, before long, it will rival this. There’s a way to go!


I met Kate Charles, the author, at the Maude Royden club. We talked of Dorothy L Sayers, as I was reading The Nine Tailors on the train journey down.


– largely because, for the Larkrise to Skipton book of the canal journey, I want to use her description of the flooding fen, after the sluice gate gave way. Her Fenchurch St Paul is based on the church in Upwell, near Salter’s Lode, on Well Creek where Viv and passed on our way to Prickwillow at the beginning of May.

Dorothy L Sayers – hard to beat for writing style, for intelligence, for her Lord Peter. Rachel Mann reflects on his post-war experience in Fierce Imaginings.

DLS would have known Maude Royden. The Nine Tailors has Lord Peter supporting the young Hilary Thorpe in her desire to go to Oxford and be a writer – against Hilary’s prejudiced old fool of an uncle.

DLS also gives us a portrait of a parish priest, such as her father was at Bluntisham, near Earith, for a while. How hard he worked to care for the souls of the parish. When she was born, he was headmaster of the Choir School at Christ Church.

The love of campanology runs through the book as the bells chase themselves through changes.


The train from Workington to Carlisle, at the beginning of the six hour journey to Oxford, had come to a stop at Maryport. We were told that there was a broken rail ahead and that the guard would keep us informed.

Opposite me was a woman about my age, reading Five Red Herrings. ‘Where are you off to?’ she asked, as I evidently looked worried at the delay. ‘Oxford,’ I replied. ‘The connections are eight minutes in Carlisle, eleven minutes in Wolverhampton. I’m not sure I’m going to make it.’ There was little slack. The train was stationary for a good half an hour. It became clear I wasn’t going to arrive when I hoped I would. I emailed Edmund, to say I’d be an hour late, if all was well. (It was.)

So we got talking. She was off to Dumfries, to pick up a picture she’d painted, a self-portrait, that had won a competition in an exhibition. We found more and more in common – including friendship with Pete Wilcox and Catherine Fox. She’d read PPE at Oxford, and then done a PhD, and then gone to art school, and now lived near Workington, copy-editing and proof-reading to support her painting. She showed me the picture that had won. It was really good. We exchanged names, mobile numbers and addresses, and delighted in the fact we were both reading DLS. I texted her later to ask if she minded if I blogged about our encounter – ‘Not at all’, came the response.

Her name: Fliss Watts – her website shows how good she is. She’s coming for supper next week.

It’s been a while since the last post. Life has been full – particularly with the work we’ve done on Theological Reflection: Methods. David at SCM is pleased.


Full of Character is at the proof reading stage, and they wanted a photo of me for the back cover.

Frances Ward 20180830_081548

Then, I’ve been to Cambridge for a meeting of the Littlemore Group, to take forward our writing of the next book, on preaching, for Canterbury Press, which Richard Sudworth and I are editing. The publishers would like to launch it at the colloquium on preaching, planned at Christ Church next September.

I stayed in Ely, which gave me the opportunity to hear Choral Evensong in the Lady Chapel. The girls’ choir was stunning in that fantastic acoustic. There was an exhibition of sculpture  which was rather good, I thought.


But, oh, I can’t get on with the Madonna. I really can’t. I’m not sorry the photo is so dark.


The little imp is still there (of course) so I paid my respects – a familiar face from the 1970s.


The Littlemore Group said ‘good bye’ to Sarah Coakley. On her retirement as the Norris Hulse Professor, she had decided to step down from the group too. It was her inspiration, with Sam Wells, that had led to the invitation to a number of theologians to gather in 2005 to Littlemore, to reflect with Archbishop Rowan, on how best to re-capture the imagination of the nation. Pete Wilcox was a member of the group then too. We gave her a copy (4th Edition) of John Henry Newman’s Grammar of Assent  and an ornate silver spoon, made in the 1870s.

Visiting Ely gave me the chance to catch up with old friends – Louise and Cat from Bury St E, and Philly Jane – who is soon to visit us in Workington. Her mother was a Curwen – the oldest family from hereabouts, who owned Workington Hall.

Workington feels more and more like home. I’ve preached and presided a number of times lately, over the summer. Peter is going down really well, as he does a great baptism, and finds his stride with funerals too.

The pond has emerged – a real labour of love.



And now with a liner, and some water, beginning to fill …


A warm spot for dogs, particularly our Cleo, now formally adopted as ours …




There’s me, in the background, lugging rocks and stones around.

We’ve planted it around, so hopefully by next spring it will explode into life. There’s a water lily too, which should take off next year.


We’ve continued to walk – including old favourites, such as along the Duddon River,


from Seathwaite, to the Airman’s bridge, under Wallowbarrow Crag


where traditionally, we take pictures of our dogs …

Here’s Phoebe, from years ago


Cleo now. She wouldn’t sit and stay, so you’ve got me too …


and Cora, Tilda and Al’s springer spaniel, who is much more obedient.


Peter, Hugh, Tilda and I walked to the stepping stones, submerged in the flow


to the watersmeet, where the Seathwaite Burn joins the Duddon.


Had Jonty been with us, he would have thrown himself in. He always does, what ever the season.


The path diverged. Guess which we took.


This walk was punctuated with the most wonderful fungi. Peter knew them better than I, but as he’s in Northumbria, I can’t name them, I’m afraid …





and beauty of beauties


Today, I’m going to concentrate on the book from the Larkrise to Skipton blogs. A day of writing, with some exercise up over the slag bank at some stage. These days of September are ‘given’ days – and must be enjoyed. The wind and the rain, the wild sea and cold, dark nights will soon be upon us.

Our blackite jam will keep us going.


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