Events before Westcott House
Now it is time to begin to write about life at Westcott House, Cambridge. Apart from the obvious handicap of my stammer, it was not yet clear that I should go there. I did for a time hope, by joining the national staff of Toc H, to give back to the movement something of what I had gained from it. I knew many of the staff of Chaplains and Secretaries because, under Michael Coleman, Mark XIV was reckoned to be Toc H's brightest jewel. It was part of the training of each new Staff member to come up to our Mark for a few nights' stay. But, although Toc H HQ valued my services as an 'honorary warden', and were glad to put up with my deficiencies (such as never bothering to get my weekly accounts exactly right!), I found that they did not want me 'full-time'. In fact I learned a few home-truths from a Staff member who, up to then, had never said anything to me in the way of criticism!
I had also wondered whether Mirfield Theological College might be the right place for me. I still wonder whether Kelham, the other Anglo-Catholic college, which made a point of having a very varied entry, including young men who had not yet had a 'college education', might have made a better priest of me!
But they would not have me. They were sure that Westcott House would be more suitable for me: and they were quite right. I had paid several visits to Westcott when Ben Dakin was a student there, and so I knew something of the House and was known there. This was just as well because, after I had written to ask for an interview with the Principal, B.K.Cunningham, and was invited to stay the night and go to see him in his Study, he failed to get a single word out of me! B.K. was a saint who really loved people; but he was virtually stone deaf. He was also a conservative Scottish gentleman, and he was strongly convinced that the Church of England needed more priests who were gentlemen and had been to Public Schools. Westcott was a place for training an 'elite' to be priests, and a high proportion of its graduates became Bishops. But he trained us well, and his influence in our Church was immense, and, I believe, really good. Adrian Hastings, however, whose book on the recent history of the Church of England is wise and fair as well as learned, does, however express some reservations.
B.K. interviewed me over a cup of tea in his study. I knew about his extreme deafness, and that, when he was not using the "black box" that he had at meetings, you had to take into your hand the microphone that he carried on the lapel of his coat, and speak plainly into that, as into a telephone mouthpiece. This did not trouble the majority who were happy on the phone, though, even with them, there were some phrases that he did not properly hear; but I was never happy on the phone, and the need to speak into that hand-microphone made me tongue-tied! (That "Black Box", by the way, did not always serve B.K. well! When he was presiding at one of the meetings after 'Hall' when distinguished visitors would speak to the students under the "half hour rule", you would often see that he was not 'getting the message' and would surreptitiously turn off the machine. He did not hear the 'Click' that this made; but everyone else did, and politely took no notice).
So, when B.K. thought he had made me at home and asked his first Question (it may have been about my age), I stammered and stammered and failed to achieve one syllable! And, for the whole half-hour of that interview, (which, of course seemed much longer) I never did get out a word!
But B.K. accepted me. He must have thought that if God had put it into my head to want to do this quite impossible and unsuitable thing, then God would provide a way! It was before the days of Selection Committees; no Committee would have been mad enough to select me. However my father, like B.K., was willing to back me.
So the time came for me to book a date to start at Westcott, and I was told that I could begin in October 1936. So I left Mathers in May, and spent the summmer mainly at Hatfield, where my friend Gerry Harmer, who had visited Mark XIV when joining the Toc H Staff, was then Curate.
I stayed in good lodgings that had formerly been enjoyed by a distinguished lady aviator. To tackle my stammer I went twice a week to Harley Street to be trained by Mr Lionel Logue, who was then also doing his best for the Duke of York, later King George VI. I had previously been seen by various experts, notably a 'Coué' man, who relied on the repetition of the phrase; "Every day and in every way I am getting better and better". Mr Logue helped me more than any of these; but, as with the Duke, he could not provide a complete cure. After Mr Logue had done all that he could for me, we decided that we ought to stop the sessions for the time being, and in fact I never did take up the last few sessions that we had paid for.
My stammer was in some degree with me right through my ministry; but my best tutor was a rather 'cranky' Norfolk Rector, introduced to me by my Westcott friend, John Hargreaves, who was also a stammerer. He encouraged me to make the best of my resonant voice, and so to go forward for Ordination. My stammer continued to be a nuisance to me, and a trial on the patience of those who have to wait for me; but it never again brought me to a full stop.
I went into London by my lovely 'Morris Eight', and, in those days could always park it at the 'blind end' of Harley Street, and afterwards outside the Lewises front door in Bayswater. Brian and Hilary, with their son 'Tiger', had a ground floor and basement near 'Whiteleys', and I can still visualize their bathroom. Their bath was in a cupboard beside the passage through the house, and, to use it, you blocked off the passage by opening the cupboard doors. They were very kind indeed to me on these bi-weekly visits.
One of my life-time regrets is that, although they did me the honour of asking me to be the Godparent of Clare (who was then 'on the way'), I did almost nothing of the things that a Godparent should do. We did not keep in touch after my frequent visits and then they went to Australia and I have never succeeded even in meeting Clare! I have to admit that Clare was not the only God-child whom I have let down. Peter Maclver and his first wife also paid me the same honour by asking me to be their daughter's Godfather; but again, I did not do my duty. Even Sally Morgan, now Isabel Benfield, did not have a good Godfather in me, though we have been very happily in touch with her and her mother in the intervening years. I fear that the glamour of going into the Ministry, with its general call to love and serve ALL whom God has made my neighbours, prevented me from loving and serving these individual souls as I could and should have done. Almost anyone else might have done better!
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