Tony Hodgson reflects upon the legacy of Bishop Baddeley

In his perceptively written lead article of June’s edition of New Directions, Dr John Tomlinson provided both a fascinating and encouraging overview of the present condition of the Catholic Tradition across the north of England. From the perspective of one of the dioceses within the Province of York, Blackburn, I have always been intrigued how the county, where for much of the twentieth century the phrase ‘Lancashire low’ was a generic term, came to acquire such a ‘rich heritage of the Catholic Tradition.’  Certainly, during the episcopate of Alan Chesters, 1989-2003, the Diocese became strongly identified with Anglo-Catholicism and this identity was validated by the election of Nicholas Reade in 2004, so much so, that the expression ‘Chichester of the North’ became, for a time, ubiquitous in Anglican circles. How did this transformation occur?

Up until the 1990s, of all the English counties Lancashire had one of the highest percentages of adults regularly attending church. A contributing factor was the considerable Roman Catholic presence. After Merseyside, Lancashire had the highest county proportion of Roman Catholics who frequently attended Mass. Three Roman Catholic dioceses overlap with the Anglican diocese of Blackburn. Lancaster in the north, Salford in the south-east, and the Archdiocese of Liverpool in the south-west. The strong cultural identity of Roman Catholicism in Lancashire led Anglicans to a religious self-definition in opposition. Admittedly, in eighteenth and nineteenth century Liverpool and Manchester there were some high-Anglican churches, but these cities lie outside the boundaries of the Diocese of Blackburn, which in the religious culture of its parishes, was generally low-church.

In 1942 the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary, Sir Anthony Bevir, described Blackburn Diocese as ‘predominantly low-church with a strong strain of Ulster Protestantism… the Roman Catholics are strong in Preston and in other areas’ where ‘there is a tendency to militant Protestantism, and rather barren controversies.’

In 1954, out of approximately 265 parishes in the diocese of Blackburn roughly nine (3%) could be described as Anglo-Catholic. 

A remarkable transition appeared to take place within the dominant ecclesiological culture of Anglican Lancashire, which eventually resulted in the Anglo-Catholic ascendency of the years 1989- 2013. The explanation for this reshaping of religious geography seems to have occurred during the relatively short, and generally underestimated, episcopate of Walter Baddeley, 1954-60.

Coming from a Tractarian tradition, Keble then Cuddesdon, Baddeley was an unexpected choice for Blackburn. The Northern Daily Telegraph for August 13th 1954 carried a front-page photograph of Baddeley wearing cope and mitre. Here, as elsewhere, Baddeley presented a more high-church persona than either of his two predecessors, Percy Herbert or Wilfred Askwith.  Whereas Herbert was essentially ‘broad-church’, Askwith, like Baddeley had Tractarian sympathies. However, the way they projected their respective episcopal public images were very different. Askwith, like Herbert before him, generally appeared in rochet and chimere. Baddeley, on the other hand, had a preference for being photographed wearing cope, stole and mitre, which was, for the period, overtly high-church vesture. 

Baddeley inherited a severe shortage of clergy. In January 1955 he observed ‘there are now quite a number of vacant parishes… we are very short’ and ‘before long we shall be quite unable to fill the gaps.’

Part of his strategy was to develop links with Cuddesdon.  Not only was Baddeley an alumnus, but so too were Archdeacon Lambert, the diocesan director of ordinands, Arthur Picton, warden of the Fellowship of Vocation and Wilfrid Francis Browning, whom Baddeley appointed canon theologian of Blackburn Cathedral. Previously a lecturer at Cuddesdon, 1951-9, the Cuddesdon influence was extended in Lancashire because Browning also had oversight of Blackburn’s curates in training. 

Baddeley spearheaded several important initiatives involving Cuddesdon in the belief that through this ‘more young men from Cuddesdon will later come to work in parishes here.’ Baddeley not only saw Cuddesdon as a source of recruitment but also as a means of catholicising Blackburn’s low-church parishes. This was explained in a letter to a Cuddesdon ordinand, written soon after a party of Cuddesdon students had visited the diocese.  ‘I am so glad that you are keener than ever to go to Fleetwood… would that we could get another half-dozen good Cuddesdon men into the diocese – we’d get ahead then in some of the stony places.’

Baddeley must be credited with success in the area of clergy recruitment. During the seven years, 1954-60, 89 deacons were ordained in Blackburn, an annual average of 12.71, representing a 46% increase on the previous seven years, 1947-53, when 61 deacons were ordained, an average of 8.71.

There were to be 137 institutions during Baddeley’s episcopate, a turnover of 52% of which 58 (42%) involved appointments of clergy coming into the diocese of Blackburn and 79 (58%) being internal appointments. Baddeley continued Askwith’s policy of favouring clergy of moderate high-church sympathies. While the majority of these priests were not so ritualistic as to alienate low-church Lancashire congregations, they were sufficiently catholic and sacramentally minded as to change gradually the religious culture of Lancashire Anglicanism.

In 1954 the Diocesan Pastoral Committee reported that an additional twelve or thirteen churches would be required to serve new areas of housing. The majority of this programme was achieved during Baddeley’s time, with nine new church buildings completed. Expansion of the region’s  motor, fishing, holiday, aviation and  nuclear industries, in addition to the arrival of government agencies such as premium bonds, the Land Registry and Royal Ordinance attracted people to Lancashire from other parts of the country and many of these ‘incomers’ settled in the modern housing developments where the new churches were built. For this demographic reason, it may be conjectured that these new communities were less susceptible to the anti-Catholic prejudices that influenced many of the established Anglican congregations. To varying degrees, the nine new churches developed catholic complexions.

In late 1954 Baddeley had to appoint two new suffragans. Both men chosen came from a catholic sacramental tradition, though Anthony Hoskyns Abrahall, who went to Lancaster, was more overtly Anglo-Catholic than William George Holderness, suffragan bishop of Burnley.  Later, Baddeley appointed, another high-church priest, the rector of St George, Preston, Arnold Stanley Picton as Archdeacon of Lancaster. These appointments, although uncontroversial in Lancashire, did not go unnoticed at Lambeth Palace. Indeed, Geoffrey Fisher was to comment to Michael Ramsey:

The more I hear about Blackburn, the more I feel that the next Bishop must be one about whom nobody even asks what kind of churchman he is? Baddeley was pretty high: he appointed one suffragan who was also pretty high. And when the moderate Fallows went… he replaced him as Archdeacon by one not in the same way moderate.

Fisher’s comments echo the assessment of Sir David Stephens, the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary, who remarked that Baddeley had ‘incurred some criticism for having raised the level of churchmanship of the diocese, not least by his choice of people for diocesan appointments.’ 

Blackburn’s Anglo-Catholic legacy was secured at a high price. According to Sir David Stephens, Baddeley ‘was always trying to do too much himself so that the work got on top of him and finally killed him.’ Unquestionably, the impact of Baddeley’s short episcopate was reduced by the fact that from late 1956, deteriorating health necessitated his absence from duty for two lengthy periods. Nevertheless, seen in the context of the founding of the See of Blackburn in 1926, Baddeley played an influential role during a pivotal period in the life of a new diocese. 

Like an ambitious batsman on a score of 94, the Diocese of Blackburn is already confidently planning to celebrate its maiden century in 2026. En route to that impressive total let us pause for a moment and consider that this year, 2020, marks the sixtieth anniversary of Baddeley’s death, which occurred in harness in Bishop’s House, Clayton-le-Dale. Though cut prematurely short and hindered by ill health, Baddeley’s time at Blackburn achieved much and he accomplished most of what he intended. The numbers ordained significantly increased. Nine new churches were built. Work was resumed to extend the cathedral. The ambitious programme of aided schools was consolidated. Finally, he was personally instrumental in dissolving anti-Catholic prejudice and sowing in the North the seeds of Anglo-Catholicism, for others to reap later.

Fr Tony Hodgson is the Vicar of St Margaret of Antioch, Lytham St. Annes.