17 May 2021

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
90, High Leigh Conference Centre, Hoddesdon

The Barn Chapel in the grounds of the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week, we are in an ‘in-between week’, between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost. My photographs this week are from places I associate with the life of USPG. Earlier in this series, I introduced the Chapel in the USPG offices in Southwark and its stained glass windows (20 March 2021).


This morning (17 May 2021), my photographs are from the High Leigh Conference Centre, outside Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire. High Leigh is the planned venue for the USPG conference once again this year (20 to 22 July 2021), and I still have hopes that the roll out of the vaccine and the easing of travel restrictions may mean I can take part in the conference this year, the last year in my six-year term as a trustee of USPG.

I have taken part in many USPG conferences here in the past (2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019), sometimes leading workshops, taking part in council and trustee meetings, and I presided at the Eucharist at the end of the 2012 conference. I was also the chaplain in 2006 at a joint conference of the Friends of the Church in China and the China Desk of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), when I led daily worship and celebrated the Sunday Eucharist.

The High Leigh Conference Centre is a beautiful Victorian country house, set in extensive parkland and landscaped gardens, surrounded by some of Hertfordshire’s most beautiful countryside. The house was built in 1853 by Charles Webb, a gold lace manufacturer, and was bought in 1871 by Robert Barclay, a member of a well-known banking dynasty and a committed Christian, who renamed it High Leigh.

For generations, members of the Barclay family were leading Quakers, and there is a Friends’ Meeting House on Lord Street, leading from Hoddesdon out to High Leigh. By the time they came to live at High Leigh, the Barclays were committed Anglicans.

On the stairs to the room where I was staying in High Leigh on the last occasion, the walls are lined with Victorian photographs of the Barclay family and their staff, and a stained-glass window in the original parts of the house shows an impaled Barclay coat-of-arms that has a bishop’s mitre as one of the two crests.

Robert Barclay (1843-1921) was the son of Joseph Gurney Barclay and Mary Walker Barclay; his wife, Elizabeth Ellen Buxton (1848-1911), was a granddaughter of the 19th century reformer and campaigner against slaver, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, and their large family included many missionaries. Joseph Gurney Barclay (1879-1976), who was born at High Leigh, left Barclay’s Bank to be become am Anglican missionary in Japan, where his wife Gillian died in 1909.

Another son, the Revd Gilbert Arthur Barclay (1882-1970), was a vicar in Cumbria, Leicester and Essex, and an army chaplain and hospital chaplain. A daughter, Rachel Elizabeth Barclay (1885-1932), who was born in High Leigh, was a missionary in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Her sister, Clemence Rachel Barclay (1874-1952), married Bishop Edward Sydney Woods (1877-1953) in Hoddesdon in 1903. He was the Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, Suffragan Bishop of Croydon, and Bishop of Lichfield (1937-1952).

Robert Barclay continued to live at High Leigh until he died in 1921. His family then sold the property on favourable terms to First Conference Estate, a company he had been a director of, so that the house could become a Christian conference centre. The generosity of the Barclay family is celebrated in a plaque in the Oak Room.

Hoddesdon is a parish is in the Diocese of St Alban’s, and the parish church, the Church of Saint Catherine and Saint Paul, is in Paul’s Lane.

The High Leigh Conference Centre is a beautiful Victorian country house, long associated with the Barclay family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 16: 29-33 (NRSVA)

29 His disciples said, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.’ 31 Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’

An image of the Virgin Mary in a quiet corner at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (17 May 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the relationship between the Anglican Church in Korea and USPG.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The impaled Barclay and Buxton coats-of-arms with an episcopal mitre at High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The parish church of Saint Catherine and Saint Paul in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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