(A victim of some strange illness these last months, I have not been officiating , but I wanted to honour on the anniversary of his heavenly birthday George Bell, one Bishop whom many of us consider great).
As a graduate, I was an ordinand at Chichester Theological College for just eight terms between 1957-1959. As the College was short of accommodation at the time, I spent my second year in a room on the top floor of the Bishop’s Palace. I was already well acquainted with the Bishop’s Chapel, as that served also as the College Chapel, where we assembled, except when we worshipped in the Cathedral. Later on we had our own Chapel and a new Building, the latter due to the generosity of many, till the C. of E. closed down our oldest Theological College. It was due to the kindness of Bishop George Bell, one of the great Bishops of Chichester, that for a time both my spiritual and bodily home was to be in the Palace. We did not see the Bishop very often, but memories remain vivid of both him and Henrietta, his splendid wife.
As I am one of a dwindling number of former students still alive who remember those days, Andrew Chandler, of the University of Chichester, George’s excellent biographer and defender against calumny, asked me among others specific questions about the Palace Building as it was. Of course, if the accusers had only spoken to George Bell’s former Chaplain, who was still alive at the time, a Chaplain never far from the Palace, they would have learned that the Bishop was abroad for much of the time they mentioned. Nor did he ever own a Rolls Royce, as was suggested. If George Bell were by any chance aware of allegations made against his name, I imagine he would raise a wry smile, for this good man had to face opposition for much of his life, not least from Bishops and Politicians.
In George Bell’s memory, the Arundel screen in the Cathedral has been restored and re-erected. On one side is a profile of Bell with the inscription – ‘GEORGE KENNEDY ALLEN BELL, BISHOP OF CHICHESTER 1929 -1958. A TRUE PASTOR. POET AND PATRON OF THE ARTS. CHAMPION OF THE OPPRESSED AND TIRELESS WORKER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY.’ Fresh flowers were placed underneath the bronze even before accusers apologised. One of George’s final acts was to dedicate in his honour Bishop Bell School, Eastbourne, now renamed St Catherine’s College, though I wonder which Catherine they mean (the Alexandrian ‘Wheel’ one or Siena) . I cannot find any answer to that, and have not heard of any plans to bring back the original name.
As far as I know, George Bell House at 4 Canon Lane, has not as yet had its proper name restored, although George’s fourth successor as Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, has apologised, (incidentally the previous three being Roger Wilson, Eric Kemp and John Hind, all of whom I have had the privilege to meet) .
We remain proud of George Bell’s connection with this glorious Church of St Mary, Hampden Park, which he consecrated on 24th October, 1953. As we enter the Church, we do not fail to see on the outer wall that tribute to a beloved Bishop.
A son of the Vicarage, winning the Newdigate prize at Oxford for a poem, then at Wells Theological College, George went to work in Leeds, where he greatly admired the social work of the Methodists. Later, as a Domestic Chaplain to Randall Davidson at Canterbury, George wrote his two volume official biography.
As a distinguished pioneer of the Ecumenical Movement, George befriended the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged by the Nazis on 9th April, 1945, at Flossenburg Concentration Camp. In 1938-9, Bell helped 90 people escape from Germany to Britain. He spoke passionately in the House of Lords against the blanket bombing of civilians in Germany, which did him no earthly favours with either Prelates or Politicians. Many people believe that he would have become Archbishop of Canterbury rather than Geoffrey Fisher, if he had not been opposed by the Archbishop of York, and if Winston Churchill had not vetoed the appointment.
We continue to honour George Bell as ecumenist and peacemaker. As Patron of the Arts as Dean of Canterbury he enabled, among other events, the staging of T.S. Eliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’. Later he supported the gift of murals to St Elisabeth’s, Eastbourne, the artist being Hans Feibusch, and also work by the Bloomsbury Group from Charleston on the walls of Berwick Church.
George and Hetty Bell left Chichester in 1958 for retirement in Canterbury but not for long. In that same year on October 3rd he died. Ronald Jasper, his first biographer wrote of George. ‘He will go down in history as one of the special glories of the Church of England: in days to come when the Catholic Church recovers again its lost unities, men will still remember the debt for that recovery owed to George Bell’.
When I lived in the Palace, very few of us could afford a car. One could and gave me lifts to Arundel for Sunday Evening Benediction. Another rose to owning a bubble car. Nevertheless, our parking by the Palace incurred the very voluble opposition of Hetty Bell, a marvellous sort of friendly dragon, whom we all loved. This outspoken lady was complemented by her husband who seemed almost shy at times. When we heard of the Bishop’s departure, some of us clubbed together to buy them a Kenwood food mixer. ‘Oh, excellent!’, was the immediate response of Hetty. ‘George was always a good mixer!’ And so he was, though subsequently I have also read into her remark, intended or not, that, when necessary, Bishop Bell was also prepared to stir things up. But then, in the words of the Prayer Book Collect, we are urged to pray:
‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded. ‘ Amen.
|Rev Michael Fullagar||Michael Fullagar was Rector at Freemantle for nine years, from 1978-87. Before coming to Freemantle he had worked in Zaire.
Priest-in-Charge at Westbury, he was appointed Chaplain to Wycombe General Hospital in 1994.
Now retired Michael helps out in the Benefice of St Mary Hampden Park and St Peter the Hydneye, Eastbourne