CHANCELLOR SIR DAVID CALCUTT

by
02 November 2006

AT a packed memorial service in the Temple Church on 6 December, we gathered to give thanks for the life of David Calcutt and, in the terms of the service sheet, “for the love he gave us all”. This was a man with no personal vanity, a man of natural charm and affability, who did, indeed, have a big heart, as well as enormous ability.

His successful career at the Bar, as the chairman of numerous inquiries and tribunals, and as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, has already been well documented elsewhere. There are, however,  two other aspects of his life that warrant recognition.

Music, and particularly choral music, was very important to David, from his schooldays as a chorister, and then as a choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge. It was in 1956, the year after he was called to the Bar, that he started the Edington Music Festival, bringing together six former choral scholars and four cathedral trebles to sing the daily services in the Priory Church at Edington, Wiltshire.

This festival will mark its 50th anniversary this year. It attracts people from all over the world to join in the worship, now led by three choirs at four daily services. David, its founder, saw it as “a festival in which God is worshipped through beauty — beauty of sight, shown or seen in stone or ceremony, beauty of sound, made or heard in the word sung or spoken”.

It is not surprising that this churchman became involved as a lawyer in the care of church buildings. In 1970, he was appointed Chancellor of the diocese of Bristol, in 1971 to Exeter, and in 1983 to the newly formed diocese of Europe. All three offices he held until his death, aged 73, on 11 August 2004. Europe, of course, presented a different challenge to that of the well-contained dioceses of Bristol and Exeter, and he entertained his friends by pointing out that geographically the Pope was within his jurisdiction as Chancellor.

The consistory-court judgments in Bristol and Exeter, which he gave over many years, are in the collection of consistory- and commissary-court cases now held in the Middle Temple library. They all reveal the clarity of thought and expression for which he was so well known, together with the degree of firmness that is sometimes necessary, and which on occasions he was prepared to use.

Thus, in a judgment shortly before his death, he granted a faculty to the rector and churchwardens to remove kerbstones and chippings from a grave that a lady had decided to embellish in breach of the churchyard regulations. David pointed out that the churchyard is maintained by the parochial church council for the benefit of the whole community, “and variations from the norm, save in exceptional circumstances, would be bound to be seen as unfair.”

A much earlier example of firmness occurred in 1983, in the case of St Michael and all Angels, Great Torrington, where the new incumbent had introduced an icon, popularly known as “the Black Madonna”, and other items, without permission, and had removed a painting and chairs to make way for them. The appeal from his refusal of a faculty became the first appeal to the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved. No “matter of doctrine, ritual or ceremonial” was in the event argued before the Court, although that was the reason for convening it. Somewhat disappointingly for the spectators, the appeal was dealt with as an ordinary faculty case, allowed in part, and remitted back to the Chancellor.

David’s most dramatic decision was probably the grant of a faculty, in 1989, for the sale of two very large paintings by Edward Burne-Jones, which had previously hung high up in the sanctuary of St John’s, Torquay. To the amazement of the Vicar and churchwardens, who attended the auction sale, the paintings achieved a figure more than double the estimate, and well in excess of £1 million.

David has left a fine record of service to the Church and to church music, and we are privileged to have known him.

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