Obituary: The Rt Revd Peter Nott

by
31 August 2018

As part of the diocese of Norwich’s 900th-anniversary celebrations, in May 1995, the Rt Revd Peter Nott, retraced the journey of Herbert de Losinga, a prior of Fecamp in northern France, who built Norwich Cathedral

As part of the diocese of Norwich’s 900th-anniversary celebrations, in May 1995, the Rt Revd Peter Nott, retraced the journey of Herbert de Losinga, a...

The Rt Revd John Pritchard writes:

WITH the death of the Rt Revd Peter John Nott on 20 August, aged 84, the Church of England has lost one of its most likeable and talented bishops. He was a rounded priest, highly competent in all the disciplines, rooted in prayer, and, above all, a first-rate pastor. There was a lightness of touch about him and a ready smile. He made the faith attractive.

Peter served with distinction in many capacities in his years as assistant curate, college chaplain, rector, and suffragan and diocesan bishop. He took on wider positions in the Church and in civic life, but always it was the same Peter: modest, thoughtful, and discreet.

Crucially, he listened excellently and earned the confidence of all, giving the same attention and care to everyone who needed him. He inhabited his calling as priest and bishop as naturally as anyone, and through it, brought wisdom and joy to many, including himself.

Peter John Nott was born in Belfast in 1933. He studied at Bristol Grammar School and Dulwich College, and then went to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and was commissioned into the Royal Artillery. In spite of his love of the army, he came to realise he had another calling, and arrived at Westcott House to take a degree in theology at Fitzwilliam House (later College) and train for ministry.

This was a good move in several ways, chief among them being that he met the irrepressible Betty, then teaching in a prep school, and so began a wonderfully complementary partnership that brought fun and fulfilment for the rest of his life.

Peter much enjoyed his curacy in Harpenden from 1961 to 1964, but Fitzwilliam College had noted his gifts and sought him as Chaplain. Such was his success there in the heady days of student protest that he was made a Fellow after two years. Students loved his approachability, his preaching, and his skill at mediation, and Peter gave himself endlessly to those able young men — and women at New Hall — helping them to shape their self-understanding.

Peter was appointed to the benefice of prosperous Beaconsfield in Oxford diocese in 1969, and the family took up residence in a fine Queen Anne rectory where the new incumbent was delighted to chug around the large lawn on a tractor mower. (He had once sold tractors in Cornwall.) Changes were needed in this somewhat conservative parish, but, soon enough, the people loved him, and a very happy ministry followed for more than seven years; ideas, including the development of a new parish centre, fired off in all directions.

The Rt Revd Peter Nott

Peter’s talent had not gone unnoticed in the wider Church, and, in 1977, he was called to be Bishop of Taunton to join the ebullient diocesan Bishop, John Bickersteth. It was not an easy transition for the family, but Peter took to the position with natural grace and was quickly trusted by the clergy and people.

He became involved in the protests against the ending of music tuition in schools, and, as a result, became the first president of the Somerset Rural Music School. He was also president of the Mencap south-west region, and the Archbishops’ adviser to the Headmasters’ Conference. He memorably mimicked “Monty” at clergy conferences, and was a stylish opening batsman for the diocesan cricket team.

Inevitably the call came for him to move on to become a diocesan bishop, and the particular call was to Norwich in 1985. The diocese welcomed a new style of ministry, but it presented considerable problems in finance and pastoral organisation which called for the new Bishop’s clear leadership. He gave it, and the diocese responded. It was a very satisfying period of ministry, though not without its crises.

Duties in the House of Lords were a regular call on his time. He made notable contributions, especially on rural policy, and was appointed vice-chairman of the Commission that produced the under-used report Faith in the Countryside.

Peter decided to mark the 900th anniversary of Norwich Cathedral by travelling round the diocese on foot, by train and bike, and, exotically, in a helicopter and a tank. He took a sketch book with him; the resulting book, Bishop Peter’s Pilgrimage, is an affectionate and beautifully illustrated account of one of the activities that he, and his clergy and people, most valued in the diocese.

The Bishop of Norwich has a special relationship with the royal household since Sandringham is in the diocese, and it was clear that the relationship was a valued one of trust. Peter officiated at the wedding of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys Jones in 1999, the year that he retired to the diocese of Oxford.

Peter had a rich hinterland, centred on a secure, loving family life nurtured by Betty with their three daughters and one son. He loved cricket, fly-fishing (he once caught an 18-pound salmon), painting, jazz, cinema, and much more.

He will be remembered as a wise, kind, intelligent, humble, and, above all, prayerful bishop. Taizé, where he was made a lay brother, was an inspiration to him throughout his ministry. He keenly wanted to help people to pray, knowing prayer to be the source of life for all believers.

Many people will be offering prayers of thanksgiving for such a good man, who lived life fully, gave of himself endlessly, and inspired countless people to see faith as credible, interesting, and joyful.

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