The Latter Glory of This House: A history of two
Christian Commonwealths in modern Britain, 1828-1890
TWO ecumenical endeavours came to a head in England at the end
of the 1960s. One of them, the Anglican-Methodist reunion scheme,
failed to achieve a large enough majority vote when it came before
the Church of England's Church Assembly in July 1969. The other,
the proposal to unite the Anglican Queen's College, Birmingham,
with the Methodist Handsworth College, was triumphantly
The fusion of Birmingham's two theological colleges forms the
climax to this definitive but highly readable account by a
professional historian who is now the Director of the George Bell
Institute at the University of Chichester. It is a success story
likely to rejoice the hearts of those still depressed by the
failure of the national scheme to win through. The college merger
may not have amounted to all that much in the national scheme of
things; but it is at least a pointer to what may be accomplished at
the local level.
Andrew Chandler points out that the individual problems of the
two colleges throughout the years present many similarities. The
Anglican Queen's College was 50 years senior to its Methodist
counterpart; indeed, it was one of the oldest theological colleges
in Britain. But, like Handsworth, it suffered many ups and downs,
and fluctuating numbers of students caused grave logistical
problems. It was even closed down for years at a time - and not
only in both world wars, when Handsworth likewise was unable to
Both colleges were rescued at crucial moments by dominant
characters who exerted enormous personal influence for long spells
at a time. John Cobham at Queen's, an idealist with a liberal
Catholic outlook, was paralleled at Handsworth by William Lofthouse
("Lofty"), a self-disciplined academic who was viewed by his
students with something like veneration.
And then, of course, there were the problems peculiar to
England's second city, with its own university so different from
the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. Indeed, a precursor to the
merger was the drawing together of the staffs of both Queen's and
Handsworth by the presence of Birmingham University's theological
department, whose lectures accorded both Anglicans and Methodists
complete equality of status. Before long, Queen's was declaring all
its courses open to any Handsworth student who cared to attend.
From there it seemed only logical to turn the two colleges into
The merger took place in October 1970, when John Habgood, the
future Archbishop of York, was Principal of Queen's (he was to be
the first Principal of the combined college). Thereafter,
experimentation in the college chapel ended with the creation of
the daily "Queen's Rite", and with the celebration of Anglican and
Methodist eucharists on alternate Sundays. Throughout the book, the
flavour of Birmingham comes through successfully - and we see the
migration of Queen's to Edgbaston from its original site in the
centre of the city.
Its lecturers at one time included Leslie Paul, him of the
famous report on the deployment and payment of the clergy. Another
staunch ally was Geoffrey Lampe, the distinguished theologian and
regular Church Times book-reviewer. Even Bishop Barnes of
Birmingham makes, as it were, a guest appearance. His "decidedly
non-catholic views on the eucharist", we are told, "went down well"
with the Methodists.
Once, Chandler says, the amalgamation of Queen's and Handsworth
Colleges had looked like the harbinger of a new age. With the
collapse of the Anglican-Methodist reunion scheme, "it simply stuck
out like a sore thumb." That is perhaps to take too harsh a view.
It is good, nevertheless, that the history of the two sides of this
ecumenical equation should have been put together in so clear and
concise a way. It was a story that needed to be told, and now it
has been in all its fullness.
Dr Palmer is a former editor of the Church Times