Friday, 27 April 2018

A window that links
Lichfield Cathedral with
a church in Cambridge

The window in the north aisle of Lichfield Cathedral commemorating Herbert Mortimer Luckock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

As I was walking around Lichfield Cathedral this week, a colourful, three-light window in the north aisle reminded me of an interesting link between Lichfield and one of my favourite churches in Cambridge.

The window, showing Saint Peter in chains preaching, commemorates the Very Revd Herbert Mortimer Luckock (1833-1909), who was instrumental in building All Saints’ Church on Jesus Lane, Cambridge, and later was Dean of Lichfield (18-19).

Herbert Luckock was born at Great Barr, Staffordshire, on 11 July 1833, the second son of the Revd Thomas George Mortimer Luckock (1797-1880) and his wife Harriet, daughter of George Chune of Madeley, Shropshire.

The future Dean of Lichfield was educated at Marlborough College (1848-1850) and Shrewsbury School (1850-1853), and was elected to a scholarship at Jesus College, Cambridge. He graduated BA with a second class in the classical tripos in 1858, and proceeded MA (1862) and BD and DD (1879).

In 1859, 1861, and again in 1862, Luckock won the members’ prize for an essay. In 1860, he was placed in the first class of the theological examination (middle bachelors) and won the Carus and Scholefield prizes for proficiency in the Greek Testament and the Septuagint. He also received the Crosse scholarship (1861) and the Tyrwhitt Hebrew scholarship (1862).

Luckock was ordained deacon in 1860 by Samuel Wilbeforce, Bishop of Oxford. For a time, he worked at Clewer with Canon Thomas Thellusson Carter (1808-1901) and Mother Harriet Monsell from Limerick, and then as a private tutor at Eton.

He was elected to a fellowship at Jesus College in 1862, and was ordained priest by Thomas Turton, Bishop of Ely, that year, when he was appointed to a college living as Vicar of All Saints’ Church, Cambridge.

He was the Rector of Gayhurst with Stoke-Goldington, Buckinghamshire, in 1863-1865, but returned to All Saints as Vicar in 1865. He remained at this parish in Cambridge for 10 years, and built a new church for the parish in Jesus Lane. Although Gilbert Scott was the first choice as architect, All Saints’ Church was designed by George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907), who was one of the most important architects of the Tractarian Movement.

All Saints’ Church is one of the best-preserved Victorian Anglo-Catholic Gothic Revival churches in England, with some of the finest interior decorations of the period. Although this was Bodley’s first church in the Decorated Gothic style of the early 14th century (1300-1320), it was one of his most successful and would become his favourite.

The church stands opposite Jesus College, beside Westcott House and just a few steps away from the Jesus Lane Gate which is below the rooms where I have stayed in Cloister Court, Sidney Sussex College.

The foundation stone for the new church was laid on 27 May 1863, the church was consecrated on 30 November 1864, and the new church, with its tower and spire, was completed between 1869 and 1871. When the spire was completed, All Saints was the tallest building in Cambridge.

Luckock was the select preacher at Cambridge on seven occasions: 1866, 1874, 1875, 1883, 1884, 1892, and 1901.

James Woodford, Bishop of Ely, appointed Luckock one of his examining chaplains in 1873, made him an honorary canon of Ely Cathedral in 1874, and entrusted him with the organisation of Ely Theological College, which had a strong Anglo-Catholic tradition. Luckock was the first principal of Ely Theological College from 1876 to 1887, and remained a canon of Ely until 1892, when he was appointed Dean of Lichfield.

At Lichfield Cathedral, he advanced the character of the cathedral services, and promoted the restoration of the fabric, and he rebuilt Saint Chad’s Chapel at his own cost.

He died at the Deanery in Lichfield on 24 March 1909 and was buried in the Cathedral Close. Dean Luckock and his wife Margaret Emma (Thompson) were the parents of eight children, of whom six survived them, including Canon Arthur Mortimer Luckock (1880-1968), Major-General Russell Mortimer Luckock (1877-1950), and Alice Pease, wife of the politician Herbert Pike Pease (1867-1949), Baron Daryngton of Witley.

A plaque under his memorial window in Lichfield Cathedral reads: ‘In grateful memory of the life and example of Herbert Mortimer Luckock, DD, Dean of Lichfield 18 December 1892 to 24 March 1909. This window was dedicated 31 May 1911, the united gift of many in honour of one to whose loving care and generosity this cathedral church bears witness.’

The monument to Dean Luckock in the West Wall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Dean Luckock is also commemorated in All Saints’ Church, Cambridge, in a Carrara marble memorial on the West Wall that shows him vested in choir robes and kneeling at prayer, and with an inscription in Latin that recalls his links with Jesus College, Ely Cathedral, All Saints’ Churc and Lichfield Cathedral, as well as his many publications, and records that he died on the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation.

In his theological outlook, Luckock was a High Church Anglican, but he stood aloof from party organisations. Beyond Cambridge and Lichfield, he had a wide influence, largely through his many books, including books on liturgy, preaching and Biblical studies. He edited studies of both TT Carter (1902) and Samuel Johnson (1902) James Woodford, Bishop of Ely, edited three volumes of his sermons.

When the memorial window to Dean Luckock was being unveiled in 1911, the anthem I believe verily was written to mark the occasion by the composer and organist Sir William Henry Harris (1883-1973), three years before he became the Assistant Organist at Lichfield Cathedral (1914-1919).

This work was largely forgotten and unknown until it was found recently in a pile of music in the cathedral library and was recorded by Lichfield Cathedral Choir for the CD Inservi Deo as Track 8.

The CD features exclusively music that was either written for the Cathedral Choir or by musicians closely associated with Lichfield Cathedral and was a celebration of the 700th anniversary of the Choral Foundation at Lichfield Cathedral.

Harris also wrote the setting for Almighty and most merciful Father (Track 13) for Richard Greening while he was the Organist (1959-1977) at Lichfield Cathedral:

Almighty and most merciful Father,
Grant that my hope and confidence
may be in Jesu’s merits and thy mercy;
confirm my faith, stablish my hope,
enlarge my charity; pardon my offences, and receive me at my death to everlasting happiness,
for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.


This is a contraction by Harris of the final prayer of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), who was the subject of a biographical study by Dean Luckock. He was born in Lichfield within sight of the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral. He compiled the first Dictionary in the English language, became one of the most important writers of the 18th century, and is often commemorated among the saints of the Anglican Communion.

In his last prayer, on 5 December 1784, before receiving Holy Communion and eight days before he died, Samuel Johnson prayed:

Almighty and most merciful Father,
I am now, as to human eyes it seems,
about to commemorate for the last time,
the death of thy Son Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer.
Grant, O Lord, that my whole hope and confidence may be in his merits,
and thy mercy; enforce and accept my imperfect repentance;
make this commemoration available to the confirmation of my faith,
the establishment of my hope, and the enlargement of my charity;
and make the death of thy Son Jesus Christ effectual to my redemption.
Have mercy on me, and pardon the multitude of my offences.
Bless my friends; have mercy upon all men.
Support me, by the grace of thy Holy Spirit, in the days of weakness,
and at the hour of death;
and receive me, at my death, to everlasting happiness,
for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Samuel Johnson’s statue in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

When Tolkien and his
friends put war aside
and met in Lichfield

The story of JRR Tolkien and the ‘Council of Lichfield’ is told at the ‘Consequence of War’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

When Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin set off from the Shire together as a band of friends into ‘lands wholly strange to them’ to fight the forces of evil, they may not have known what truly lay ahead of them.

The Fellowship of the Ring is probably the best-known and most famous of JRR Tolkien’s books in The Lord of the Rings epics. But were the four friends inspired by a pre-war reunion organised by Tolkien and his friends in Lichfield before they set off for World War I?

This is one of the many questions posed in the literary themes that are part of the ‘Consequence of War’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral, marking the centenary of the end of World War in 1918.

Other literary aspects of the exhibition include the poetry of Wilfred Owen, who was born in the Diocese of Lichfield, and the works of Rupert Brooke.

The story of JRR Tolkien’s visit to Lichfield adds an interesting dimension to this part of the exhibition.

On 25 and 26 September 1915, four young men – John Ronald Reuel (JRR) Tolkien, and his friends Robert Quilter Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith and Christopher Luke Wiseman – met in Lichfield before they were separated by war.

For Tolkien, this group was significant in shaping his future as a writer. They met at school at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, then located on New Street. The group was known as ‘TCBS,’ an acronym for Tea Club, Barrovian Society, because they once met regularly at the Barrow Stores in Birmingham, a department store with a cafĂ© on the corner of Bull Street and Corporation Street.

The four friends shared the ideal that they could change the world for the better through art and writing. When they met in Lichfield on 25 and 26 September 1915, Gilson and Smith visited the Samuel Johnson Birthplace, where their signatures in the visitors’ book remain as evidence of this gathering. Gilson and Smith appended the initials TCBS to their names, although they incorrectly give the date as 24 September.

Smith’s and Gilson’s signatures were found three years ago in 2015 by Joanne Wilson of the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum after an inquiry from Marty Smith of the Ridware History Society, who had heard about the ‘Council of Lichfield.’ The visitors’ book is part of the current exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral.

Tolkien was going through his military training nearby at Whittington Barracks, and Gilson, Smith and Wiseman travelled to Lichfield to meet in the George Hotel for what they called the ‘Council of Lichfield’ on 25 September.

This was the last meeting of these four intellectual and aspiring young friends before they were sent to the front. But they continued to stay in contact with each other and to correspond about their literary work until 1916.

Gilson was the first to be killed. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, he was killed by a shell. Tolkien’s shock and grief infuses one of the first items in The Letters of JRR Tolkien: ‘His greatness is … a personal matter with us – of a kind to make us keep July 1st as a special day for all the years God may grant to any of us …’

Smith never returned from the Somme either. He joined the 19th Service Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, the ‘3rd Salford Pals,’ and too part in the Battle of the Somme. He was hit by shrapnel on 29 November 1916, and died four days later, on 3 December. A collection of Smith’s poetry, A Spring Harvest, was published in 1918, with a preface by Tolkien.

Tolkien writes in his Foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings: ‘One has personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.’

Only Tolkien and Wiseman, a naval officer, had survived the war. Later, Tolkien named his son Christopher Tolkien after Wiseman.

In a panel nearby is the poem Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Tolkien died on 2 September 1973 at the age of 81, and was buried in Oxford. Wiseman survived until 25 July 1987, when he died in Milford-on-Sea.

There is no proof that these four young men inspired specific characters in Tolkien’s work, and Tolkien never confirmed that Middle Earth was analogous to the world he confronted at war. But there are reflections of their last meeting at the ‘Council of Lichfield’ in the George Hotel in that scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin set off from the Shire together to fight the forces of evil, not knowing what lay ahead of them.

Signatures in the visitors’ book from the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum in the ‘Consequence of War’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)