Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
LADY BLANCH, who died on 16 February, aged 89, was for 50 years wife of
Stuart Blanch, Bishop of Liverpool 1966-75 and Archbishop of York 1975-83.
A wonderful partner to her husband, and frequently his chauffeur, Brenda
Blanch was part of the substance of his ministry. Her character and gifts,
however, gave her an importance not fully defined even by that splendid role.
Her father, William Arthur Coyte, was an inventive engineer, whose baking
and packaging systems helped make up for labour shortages in Britain’s wartime
food industry. His practical creativity was part of her deeply spiritual
nature, and she could well be described as a practical mystic. Her hopes of
becoming a concert pianist were frustrated by an accident to a finger; she was
dissatisfied with university life during the London Blitz; and she abandoned
English studies to work with the YWCA in London, and later to join the Land
Here she learned to muck out pigs, feed hens, and grow vegetables. It was at
this stage that she became engaged to Stuart Blanch, a childhood friend, soon
to leave for RAF aircrew duties in India and Burma. In the enforced
two-and-a-half years’ separation that followed their wedding, they worked out a
great deal of their growing faith in a remarkable weekly correspondence. It was
an experience that lay beneath much of their respective capacities for
discerning personal problems and putting faith into words.
As mother of five children, she coped brilliantly with domestic life, in a
wide range of houses from a huge vicarage, to college housing in Oxford when
her husband was Vice-Principal of Wycliffe Hall, to the gatehouse of Rochester
Cathedral, where he had become the first principal of a theological college for
older students, to Liverpool’s Bishop’s Lodge, and to Bishopthorpe Palace at
At Rochester, she was a great friend to student families, and active in the
college’s annual wives’ week, at a time when the need for such concerns was
still new. While she was a bishop’s wife in Liverpool, her gift of wise,
practical, non-judgemental counselling continued to grow, as her many diocesan
duties were mixed with community work. She was a magistrate, a governor of both
a training college and a high school, and a founder board member of Liverpool’s
first independent local radio station.
At Bishopthorpe, she combined warm hospitality with supporting her husband
on many of his working trips. With him, she visited Ireland, Scandinavia,
America, Canada, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, and
On one occasion in India, where Stuart was daily addressing 100,000 people
at a week-long open-air convention, she was asked to address a “small” women’s
meeting. Confronted by a crowd of 40,000, she rose to the occasion. Through all
this, she kept in close and loving contact with the family, specially enjoying
time spent with them at their Pembrokeshire cottage in Marloes.
In their active retirement, her ability as a writer — till then exercised
mostly in a huge correspondence — found an outlet in two books, which revealed
a good deal about her inner life. Learning of God was a compilation of the
writings of Amy Carmichael. Heaven a Dance brought some of Evelyn Underhill’s
Later years brought the shared grief of losing their eldest daughter Susan
in 1992, and the death of her husband two years later. Then came the further
and sudden loss of their youngest daughter Alison. In these dark days, her
faith was constant, and her concern for others was undimmed.
Her final years were happily spent in Crickhowell, Powys, where, a few weeks
before her death, pondering the small group in which she studied the Bible, she
wondered how many such gatherings would achieve the critical mass required to
bring new life to the nation. In her book about Underhill, she wrote: “her most
important gift . . . is placing the essentially mystical life in the context of
normal ordinary everyday living.” The same might well be said of Brenda Blanch.
She is survived by three children and six grandchildren.