Obituary: The Rev Gordon Huelin

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"It's not Valentine's Day but Saint Valentine's Day," insisted the Rev Gordon Huelin during a service held on 14 February in the bookshop opposite Great Portland Street Underground station.

Most Tuesday lunchtimes for more than a decade, Huelin celebrated the Eucharist in the former church which is now the headquarters of the religious publisher SPCK. The congregation, which could number around 20 people, occasionally heard the buzz of a cash register. Some found this strange but not Huelin, for the setting, a redundant church packed with old and new books, embraced his passions. He was an expert on churches, a scholar and a prolific author.

Last year his book Vanished Churches of the City of London, already recognised as the definitive work, was published by the Corporation of London. He had been familiar with the Guildhall Library archives since childhood and the book was the result of research over 25 years into such forgotten names as All Hallows, Honey Lane, St Mary Magdalen, Old Fish Street, and St Michael, Crooked Lane.

His deep affection for the City made him well suited to be Vicar for 21 years of the City church of St Margaret Pattens. He was also chaplain to the Mercers' Company and was thrilled to be granted the livery. This gave the London historian greater pleasure than all his academic honours.

Huelin had graduated from London University in 1942 and was ordained priest the following year. He was one of Tubby Clayton's curates at All Hallows-by-the-Tower before becoming Curate-in-Charge at St Bartholomew's, Gray's Inn Road. The church had been demolished but the appointment enabled him to be Chaplain to London House, the London University student residence in Guilford Street, with services held in a hall. The congregation included R.H. Tawney, whose funeral was conducted by Huelin.

By the time he left in 1959 to lecture at King's College London he had become a Master of Theology and completed a doctorate. His association with King's as Fellow and official historian continued during his incumbency at St Margaret Pattens when he was fortunate in being able to remain living in Gray's Inn.

At the City church he formed the St Margaret's Historical Society which attracted a hundred members. On Tuesdays the church became a Christian Study Centre with famous speakers. Although chaplain to several livery companies, he found time to be a member of the University of London Senate, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Professor of Divinity at Gresham College. He was also author of Archbishop Michael Ramsey's 1972 Lent Book The Cross in English Life and Devotion.

"I've not retired, I've retreaded," he would say after leaving St Margaret's in 1984 and becoming the SPCK Librarian and Archivist. This he combined with being Associate Professor, in London, of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

During the latter half of the Eighties he lived at Thaxted in Essex, where for 18 months the city priest happily filled an interregnum at Great and Little Bardfield. But, as a non- driver, he needed to be near London and he and his wife, Megan, decided to settle at Wanstead, where he took up his final appointment as honorary Curate at St Mary's.

At St Margaret Pattens he had revived the observance of Charles I's execution anniversary and always used a 1649 chalice at the Eucharist on 30 January. This year he was unexpectedly invited back to St Margaret Pattens to preach and celebrate at the Royal Martyr Service.

Looking back at the last few weeks it seems that Huelin may have been preparing for death. His funeral service had been written and he was working furiously on a livery company history as if its 1999 deadline was almost upon him. He had also expressed pleasure that a successor had been found to continue the bookshop service.

Gordon Huelin, priest; born London 31 May 1919; ordained deacon 1942, priest 1943; married 1951 Megan West; died London 27 February 1997.