21 February 2007


From the high seas to Hyde Park: the Revd Cuthbert Scott

From the high seas to Hyde Park: the Revd Cuthbert Scott

A correspondent writes:
CUTHBERT SCOTT, who died on 31 December, aged 93, had two successful careers, spanning more than 60 years: first, as a naval officer, then as an Anglican cleric.

He was born the second of three sons of Albert and Agnes Scott, both London schoolteachers. His mother was of the Guernsey Le Messurier family, and the sea was in his blood. His grandfather and previous forebears were sea captains, who scattered their families to Australia, India, Canada, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. Educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s School, Scott joined the training ship Erebus in September 1931.

His early naval years were spent in a succession of ships, the Exeter, Renown, Neptune, and Hussar, and in 1937 he volunteered for Australasia and the Pacific Islands on the cruiser HMNZS Leander. He returned to England in 1941, straight on to the Gunnery Long Course at Whale Island, coming out top of the class. Scott then joined the battleship HMS King George V at Scapa Flow as Assistant Fleet Gunnery Officer, succeeding Desmond Dreyer. In 1943, he was relieved by Michael Le Fanu to become Gunnery Officer of the new battle cruiser, HMS Black Prince. Scott survived the war without mishap, seeing action on the Russian convoy route to Murmansk, in the Mediterranean, at the Normandy landings, and in the Pacific.

In his first command, the frigate HMS St Bride’s Bay, he took part in the Korean War. His ship came to international attention after dramatically rescuing a merchant ship, SS Tefkross, adrift in a typhoon off Hong Kong. After a spell ashore, working at the Admiralty, and at Portsmouth on drafting and weapons procurement, he was appointed Senior Officer of the Reserve Fleet at Chatham. He retired as Captain in 1959, after 28 years’ service.

Scott attended Wells Theological College in 1960, where he made a new set of life-long friends. In London, after a curacy in Highgate, he was appointed to the combined parishes of St Michael’s, Paddington, and St John’s, Hyde Park Crescent, in 1964. There he transformed a meagre congregation into a full church buzzing with activity. It was a lucky choice.

In the parish were many remarkable people whom he persuaded to join in. A former Editor of Time Life edited his parish magazine; the Beatles’ producer George Martin introduced him to musicians who enlivened events; and the 19-year-old Richard Branson stored his Student magazine in the crypt, while Scott preached freedom of expression to an initially doubtful congregation.

The stables in the mews behind the church were enlisted to create a Horseman’s Sunday, which has since become an institution. It was a curious parish, half in the still quite deprived area north of Sussex Gardens, half in the prosperous and rising area between that street and Hyde Park. Scott largely succeeded in bringing together those very different worlds.

This was a theme he took to his last parish at Shamley Green in Surrey, where he stayed for 11 years. There, his church became a focus of village life, and his skills of persuasion enabled many to contribute and show their talents. Some village-parson eccentricities began to show, but these were never without serious purpose, and he was held in lasting affection.

He retired to Kemptown in Brighton in 1983, having been a vocal proponent of compulsory retirement in the Church of England. But he was still energetic. After adopting him as ad hoc chaplain to the Brighton RNLI lifeboat, the crew would strap him in and take him out in rough weather, which he loved. Under the command of Admiral Sir Henry Leach, he became chaplain to the St Dunstan’s Hospital and Home for blinded service men and women, where he was inspired and humbled by the fortitude of the inhabitants.

In 1996, he moved to Manormead Church of England Retirement Home at Hindhead, where he arranged numerous concerts and other entertainments. In this final period of his life, his skill as a watercolourist, which had always been more than just a pastime, developed and flourished. His still-lifes increased in intensity and clarity to reveal a strong affinity with Morandi.

Scott had an extraordinary ability to get people to want to do productive things. Wherever he saw a talent, he harnessed it. One of his first aims as an officer was to maintain an efficient and happy crew, and the same went for his parishes. He had little time for bureaucracy, and blithely swept aside objections to his plans to make his churches (which were always open) workable and welcoming.

His experience with admirals and sea lords stood him in good stead with deans and bishops. His theology was uncomplicated, rooted in Donne, Herbert, Taylor, and Bunyan; his learning he took from his friends Professor Christopher Evans and Canon Reggie Askew. But his callings both to the Navy and to the Church of England were profound, and valued by the many people whose lives he touched.

He married Peggie, eldest daughter of Air Commodore William Helmore MP, in 1942. She died in 2003. Without her, he would not have lived such a full and rewarding life, and he adored her. They leave a daughter and two sons.

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