by Marcus Braybrooke
from Signs of the Times No. 69 - Apr 2018

There was, as he wished, no Memorial Service for Edward Carpenter, who was Dean of Westminster from 1974-1985.

This biography is a fitting memorial. It was written by the distinguished biographer Michael De-la-Noy in 2000, but was unpublished at the time of Michael’s death in 2002. It has now been published by the family who have made minor corrections.

There are three appendices: an obituary by Trevor Beeson, former Dean of Winchester; some quotations from The Old Boys’ Network by John Rae, who was Headmaster of Westminster School while Edward was Dean; and a very interesting glimpse of Lilian Carpenter’s childhood as a member of a family that, she says, neighbours described as ‘very poor’.

The book gives a good account of Edward’s childhood, his curacy and his first parish in Stanmore, where the Attlee family lived. It was Prime Minister Attlee who recommended his appointment as a Canon at Westminster Abbey. Edward, at the age of forty, brought with him 15 years’ experience of parish work and, with several books already published, his great scholarship.

A Liberal and Godly Dean concentrates on Edward’s long ministry at the Abbey. De-la-Noy does not hide the tensions there or Edward’s bitter disappointment that he was not offered the Deanery of St Paul’s Cathedral, when Walter Matthews retired. Eventually, in 1974, Edward did become Dean at Westminster Abbey. (The first one, as some dignitaries commented, not to have been educated at a public school or at Oxbridge). Trevor Beeson says:
Most of the old formalities that gave the impression of stuffiness were dispensed with, and visitors were warmly welcomed.

I remember myself, when I was asked to preach there, being surprised by how relaxed and friendly all the staff were – much more so than in many parish churches. Edward had a gift for friendship and showed real care for all the Abbey family.

De-la-Noy brings to life Edward’s individuality. He could be very forgetful. He and Lilian married in 1941, almost in secret. Edward, a keen sportsman, dashed off to referee a football match and then to conduct a study group on whether ‘Eternal damnation is compatible with an all-loving God.’ Meanwhile Lilian was left to make her own way to the house in Harrow where Edward was living. The housekeeper asked who she was. ‘I am Mrs. Carpenter,’ Lilian said. ‘But he’s not married,’ the housekeeper replied – Edward had forgotten to inform her about his wedding! He quickly discovered how his life was enriched by Lilian’s love and unfailing support.

Edward’s interests were so wide-ranging that to do justice to them would have required a book as long as Edward’s biography of Archbishop Fisher - 876 pages - but as I first got to know him when, in 1966, he became President of the World Congress of Faiths, of which I had just become a secretary, I was disappointed that WCF only gets two pages, although there is some mention of the multi-faith Commonwealth Day Service. Likewise, the Modern Churchmen’s Union (as Modern Church was then known), of which Edward also became President in 1966, and his concern for animal welfare also get two pages. The Week of Prayer for World Peace, the United Nations Religious Advisory Committee and many other good causes which Edward and Lilian actively supported are not mentioned. The titles of his book are given, but there is little discussion of their content.

This very readable biography of a ‘liberal and godly Dean’ needs a sequel about ‘Edward, a campaigning visionary.’


The Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke is joint President of the World Congress of Faiths.