With illness, isolation and hopefully recovery very much on our minds at this difficult time, here is a story of an Archbishop of Canterbury suffering a serious illness early in his term of office, at the same time as the King was suffering similarly.

Cosmo Gordon Lang was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury on 4th December 1928 at the age of 64. King George V had fallen seriously ill with septicaemia in November, and Lang’s enthronement coincided with a crisis in the monarch’s condition. Lang is believed to have spent the morning of the enthronement day awaiting news of the King, receiving reassurance that he was recovering as he himself was about to set off for Canterbury Cathedral, and which he later announced to the congregation.

Although Lang’s health had generally been good up to this point in his life, his early years at Lambeth were beset by periods of illness, the first of which came later that December. On Sunday 23rd he felt a sharp pain during a dinner with some ordinands whilst he was reading out sections of the Pilgrims Progress. Lang struggled to his room whilst medical assistance was called for, with the eminent surgeon Sir Henry Rigby arriving around 1am having travelled by car from the King’s bedside. He and the King’s physician, Lord Dawson of Penn, decided against operating, even though they had the equipment available to do so. This decision may well have saved Lang’s life, as the operation would have created great pressure on Lang’s heart.

The pain had probably been caused by a blood clot, and Lang was ordered to spend four months recuperating. Initially this time was spent at Lambeth Palace, where Lang fretted over not being able to begin his period as Archbishop of Canterbury properly, and tried from his bed to intervene in as much work as possible. In early 1929 he required a period of convalescence, and this is the subject of an album of photographs held by the Library (MS 5049) taken by Lang’s private chaplain Lumley Green-Wilkinson, who had also been Lang’s chaplain during his time as Bishop of Stepney. Green-Wilkinson was not normally resident at Lambeth Palace, and was responsible for Lang’s accounts and financial affairs amongst other tasks.

The album provides a revealing insight into the privileged circumstances of Lang’s recovery. He spent time at The Moorings, a house at Aldwick in Sussex, which had been lent by the Cowdray family, and is pictured here:

MS 5049, f.1
MS 5049, f.1
MS 5049, f.3

Lang had been hesitant about accepting the offer to stay there, as coincidentally King George V was occupying Craigweil House nearby. Aldwick was part of the town of Bognor, and it was this stay by the King which led to the town being renamed Bognor Regis (and the probably apocryphal suggestion that his last words on his death in 1935 were “Bugger Bognor”). But the Queen’s approval had been received and the King and the Archbishop began to see each other frequently, which Green-Wilkinson captured briefly on camera:

MS 5049, f.26

Lang had other noted visitors such as the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin and pictured here on the right, William Temple, the new Archbishop of York (the role which Lang had vacated to go to Canterbury):

MS 5046, f.18

Lang described The Moorings, which he was to visit regularly in the years to come, as “a charming little house, beautifully furnished, at the end of a quiet avenue and on the very beach, with its long stretches of sand.” He certainly looks to have made himself comfortable in this photograph, although one senses the urge to return to carrying out his new role properly was strong:

MS 5049, f.17

Lang was to spend the last part of this period of convalescence in the Mediterranean on board the yacht Corsair, owned by the American financier and philanthropist J. Pierpont Morgan. He joined the ship at Venice on 2nd April 1929, and the cruise took in the Dalmatian coast and Greece.

Changing traditions in Archiepiscopal signatures

The papers of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s administrative officers are normally released after around 30 years, and to achieve this, there is a continuous programme of cataloguing by the archives team at Lambeth Palace Library. While cataloguing, it has been noticeable that an Archbishop does not always sign his name in the same way. We might expect a signature to read: + Justin Cantuar

From Debretts:

“When signing their name on official documents, archbishops preface their signature, written in capital letters, with a cross.

The Archbishop of Canterbury usually signs his first name and ‘Cantuar’ (from the Latin for Canterbury), eg + Justin Cantuar:”

Lambeth Conference autograph book 1908
Image 1 & 2 ref: LC 103
In the autograph book for the Lambeth Conference of 1908, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York sign without a cross. Only three bishops sign with a cross before their names, all from the Anglican Communion.Enter a caption

image2lc103.jpgWe know which Archbishop’s signature it is from the use of the personal name. Episcopal and Archiepiscopal signatures are rich in symbolism, and you can tell a great deal about their relationship to a recipient simply from how they signed a letter.

Archbishop George Carey often signed his name with a preceding cross, but sometimes without one, and a more personal note might simply be signed ‘George.’ Rowan Williams signed with a cross before his name in forewards to books published for Lambeth Palace Library. It seems that how an Archbishop chooses to sign their name relates to what capacity they are writing in, and like all of us, the familiarity they have with the recipient.

An Archbishop’s signature is built on the conventions of that of bishops, and we have long received enquiries about episcopal signatures. Sadly, little has been written on the subject, and perhaps the conventions that do exist are a matter of uncodified tradition. An enquiry to Lambeth Palace Library in the 1970s asked about the use by some modern bishops of a Latinised first name, and the use of the cross before the signature. In the response it was noted that there has always been considerable variation, for example in the seventeenth century, in the same document, bishops used both Latinised and English forms of first names, with many using an abbreviated form that would work equally well for both.

It was noted that the use of the cross before the first name was a recent development and an innovation from the international Anglican Communion. They pointed to the 1908 Lambeth Conference autograph book where just three bishops used a cross before their name, from Quebec, Olympia and Salina. Records in the archive towards the end of the nineteenth century indeed show bishops signing their name without a cross. For example, in a note of 1891 by Randall Thomas Davidson on how he signs as Bishop of Rochester, he writes ‘Randall T. Roffen,’ with Roffen a Latinised form of Rochester. His signature contains no cross before it, and neither does that of his predecessor on the same page, Anthony Wilson Thorold [ref: MS 2028 p.79]. In 1899 William George Peel, Bishop of Mombasa, (later accused of heresy in the Kikuyu controversy of 1913), wrote asking how he should style himself.  His diocese was founded as the diocese of Eastern Equatorial Africa (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) in 1884, and here he pointed out that, as there were now multiple bishops in the region, there would be less confusion if he signed his name W. G. Mombasa. At no point does he suggest using a cross before his name [ref: F. Temple 32, f. 251].

The 1970s enquiry tells us that in 1934 Archbishop Lang himself forwarded a letter on the subject of episcopal signatures from Canon Ollard to Bishop Frere, the exchange published in the Alcuin Club’s collection of Frere’s correspondence on Liturgical Revision and Construction, edited by Dr Jasper. Frere points out that bishops added their names to documents before people regularly had surnames, and the origins of the form of episcopal signatures lay before there really were signatures, and when the entire document was in Latin. Even after surnames became more regular, bishops continued to use their first name or an abbreviation with the Latin adjectival form of the see, and sometimes just the initial of their first name; ‘his having a surname tended to reduce the importance of his Christian name; so he signed with an initial instead of a Christian name in full, followed by the adjective of his see instead of a surname.’ He does say that a cross might be used for clarity. He does not indicate a date for this, but it is a tradition in the Roman Catholic Church (the enquirer initially assumed this was the origin) and I have not found examples of Church of England bishops doing so between the reformation and the twentieth century. My search has in no sense been exhaustive, and there may be examples of just such signatures, but it certainly does not seem to have been common.

The use of a single cross preceding the name of the Archbishop of Canterbury seems an even more recent development. I have not yet found an example predating Michael Ramsey, who became Archbishop in 1961. His predecessor was Geoffrey Fisher, who presided at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1947 the secretary of the General Churches Group of the National Council of Social Service wrote with a dilemma. In publishing a pamphlet, they had been advised to place a cross before the name of the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Bernard Griffin. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury had simply signed ‘Geoffrey Cantuar.’ The secretary of the General Churches Groups gives us his understanding of the situation; “I believe it would be incorrect to print a cross before the signature of the Archbishop of Canterbury: I understand that it contravenes some ecclesiastical regulation (which is not always observed).” He can also see the difficulty in putting a cross before one and not the other. Sadly, the response does not elaborate as much as we would like, but does say the following: “As to whether there should be a cross before the signature of the Archbishop of Canterbury. To that the Archbishop’s answer is ‘no’. His Grace, therefore, considers that there should be no crosses, either before his signature or that of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.” (ref: Fisher 36 ff.233-4).

Image3Fisher330 f.79
Image 3 ref: Fisher 330 f.79
The signature of Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1945 to 1961, without a cross. Fisher asked for a cross not to be put next to his name on a letter co-signed with the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Bernard Griffin, although Anglican Bishops in England were doing so by now.
Image4Fisher36 ff.236
Image 4 ref: Fisher 36 ff.236
The Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Bernard Griffin did use a cross in this letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, on 25 January 1947.

His successor, Michael Ramsey, was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, from 1961 to 1974, and he did use the cross regularly in his signature. One record shows the remarkable transformation since the turn of the twentieth century. In 1974, amidst national crisis and the three-day week, Ramsey and other leaders of the church wrote a letter to The Times calling for a peaceful solution and reconciliation, and all had their name preceded by a cross. The records even include a telegram confirming this is the signature of the Archbishop of Canterbury [ref: Ramsey 283, ff. 118-124].


Image 5 ref: Ramsey 283, ff. 118-124
Letter in The Times in 1974, all the Anglican Church leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey, felt it was appropriate to use a cross before their name.

What the records suggest is the emergence of the use of the cross in episcopal signatures in the Anglican Communion from the turn of the twentieth century, and this innovation was gradually adopted in the Church of England and spread, so that by the second half of the twentieth century it became part of the signature of successive Archbishops of Canterbury. There may have been other influences as well as emerging practice in the Anglican Communion, including Roman Catholic practice. It has parallels to the wearing of mitres, first worn by Anglican bishops in the nineteenth century, and in the twentieth century adopted for the first time since the reformation by an Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Lang. It would be difficult to confirm the exact point at which the cross was first used in Archiepiscopal signatures without a far more thorough examination of the records, which might also trace how the practice spread, but such a search is beyond the scope of this blog post.


Further reading:

Bishop Frere goes into far more depth in his short letter on early episcopal signatures than I have covered here, and is well worth reading:

Walter Howard Frere : his correspondence on liturgical revision and construction edited by Ronald C.D. Jasper, available at Lambeth Palace Library, reference number G170.(A5) [R]

Item of Interest: “A flame of love” – the Revd Dick Sheppard and the First World War

This month’s Item of Interest post by Tom Kennett (Assistant Archivist) delves into the archive of the Very Revd Hugh Richard Lawrie “Dick” Sheppard (MSS 3741-3750), one of the most inspired and gifted Anglican churchmen of the 20th century.

Born in 1880 at Windsor Castle (his father was a Minor Canon of Windsor and later Sub Dean of the Chapels Royal), an unhappy education culminated in graduation from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1904. Sheppard later confessed he had a “mis-spent University career”; one of his primary achievements was earning membership of the Bad Eating Club by ingesting jelly through his nose. Sheppard’s gregarious character was matched by a reputation for outstanding generosity. Post-graduation, he spent four formative years working with the poor in the East End of London before being ordained in 1908. Having made a name for himself by reviving the moribund St Mary’s, Bourdon Street (curate-in-charge 1911-1913) and the Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street (1913-1914), in July 1914 he was offered the living of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square.

The Revd Dick Sheppard, early 1920s
Dick Sheppard by Howard Instead, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery NPG Ax25005

St Martin-in-the-Fields, the parish church of the Royal Family, was known as a church with a great past but no future: Charles II’s baptism had taken place there and George I had been a churchwarden. After two discouraging visits to the church, Sheppard spent a day and night walking the parish, visiting Charing Cross Hospital, the tenement buildings, pubs, and shops. As night descended he continued his tour, speaking with the sad and the lonely and those with no home to go to. He watched dawn break whilst sitting on the steps of the National Gallery: “that night’s impressions persuaded me that no square mile could provide a more thrilling or adventurous pitch”. In August he accepted the living, the same month that the First World War broke out, and the courtyard of St Martin’s soon became crowded with men waiting to enlist. As Sheppard was not due to be instituted as vicar until November, for the intervening three months he agreed to serve as chaplain to the Australian Voluntary Hospital on the Western Front.

Recruits wait for their pay in the churchyard of St. Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, August 1914, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum Q 53234

On 23 September he sent a long letter to Cosmo Gordon Lang, Archbishop of York (Lang 189 ff.315-20). On first arrival he had to bury six men and felt “like some kind of hideous cemetery chaplain”. Though he was often “very, very miserable” he soon found his purpose in comforting dying soldiers: “when doctors can only give pain I – with God’s help, can give peace”. He ended his missive to Lang in a typically effervescent style:

I’ve sat, on a box expecting the Germans at every moment all through one night, I’ve held a leg & several other limbs while the surgeon amputated them, I’ve fought a drunken Tommy & protected several German prisoners from a French mob, I’ve missed a thousand opportunities & lived through a life’s experience in 5 weeks.

Unfortunately, the last statement proved only too true, as by October Sheppard’s health had completely broken down and he was forced to return to England to recuperate. As an army doctor at the time stated, he “identified himself with every dying man, and in consequence nearly killed himself”. Such overwork was to be a running theme throughout Sheppard’s ministerial career.

During his induction sermon on 14 November, Sheppard outlined his vision for St Martin’s as it had come to him whilst lying in a trench, waiting for the firing to cease:

I saw a great and splendid church standing in the greatest square of the greatest city in the world. […]I saw it full of people, dropping in at all hours of the day and night. It was never dark, it was lighted all night and day, and often and often tired bits of humanity swept in. And I said to them as they passed: “Where are you going?” And they said only one thing: “This is our home. This is where we are going to learn of the love of Jesus Christ. This is the Altar of our Lord, where all out peace lies. This is St Martin’s.

Sheppard instigated sweeping reform, removing the moribund churchwardens, opening the pews and introducing shorter services of no more than an hour. Never a popular preacher, Sheppard’s delivery was nevertheless a departure from the usual, and one disgruntled parishioner commented: “what with air raids outside the church and you inside there’s nothing but explosions”. Nevertheless Sheppard made a profound impact. From an average of seven attending Matins and twelve Evensong, Sheppard soon had hundreds attending, drawn by his unique approach to ministry. Sheppard’s archive contains numerous examples of letters from congregants drawn by his preaching: “I have never been in your church before but from the first minute was conscious of something real”; “your sermon appealed to me as being one of the best I heave heard for a long time in its breadth of view & its spirit of going straight to the sort of things that matter”.

Sheppard also oversaw the transformation of the Crypt, removing coffins from the vaults and refurbishing the whole to the tune of £12,000. For the duration of the war the Crypt was used as an air-raid shelter. As one of Sheppard’s team commented:

“Five minutes after the ‘Take Cover’ sounded the Crypt would be crowded, mostly with girls from the streets and soldiers. … Air raids gave us many a welcome introduction to residents in the parish, but they were noisy, horrible affairs, and it was not always easy to control some of those who sought refuge in a state of excessive stimulation”

Sheppard took inspiration from the tale of St Martin and his cloak, depicted on the lampposts of Trafalgar Square. His aim was to make the church reflect its namesake and spread its cloak over those who had fallen down, and it soon came to be known as the “Church with the ever open door”, an appellation it retains to this day.

Lamppost detail, Trafalgar Square

An instigator of church reform, pioneer of religious broadcasting and popular religious journalism, and a leading pacifist, Sheppard became known as ‘the People’s Padre’ and a friend and supporter of the down and out. Following his death in 1937, his body lay in state in St Martin-in-the-Fields for two days and nights as 100,000 people filed past paying their last respects, a testament to the extraordinary impact Sheppard had on the religious life of England. Lang, by then Archbishop of Canterbury, commented: “he burnt his way through this world in a flame of love”.

Lambeth Palace Library holds Sheppard’s correspondence and papers (MSS 3741-3750), and his correspondence also appears in several other collections including the Lang and Bell papers.