Obituary: The Rev Len Addicott

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Len Addicott was one of two men who alerted public and parliamentary opinion to the realities of torture, slave labour and a planned massacre of black Angolans following an uprising against Portuguese rule in 1961.

Distressed that reports from missionaries were not reaching the public, Addicott and his fellow Baptist minister in Southend, Eric Blakebrough, set up the Angola Action Group in their own homes. With enormous energy they set about their campaign, printing leaflets on an electric duplicator, handing them out to bemused shoppers and tourists on Southend's "Golden Mile", and dashing up to London between pastoral duties to harry Portuguese diplomats and Foreign Office officials.

They spoke at meetings up and down the country and the campaign made the front page of the Guardian. A petition calling on the Government to halt arms sales to Angola attracted 37,524 signatures in five days and was presented to the House of Commons by George Thomas MP (later the Speaker and now Viscount Tonypandy). Such was the momentum behind the campaign that the Government could not avoid a major Commons debate. The sale of arms to Angola was stopped and the Portuguese abandoned plans for a military offensive which could have cost thousands of lives. In 1962 Addicott told the story of the campaign in a book, Cry Angola!

Born in Coventry in 1917 - he was later made a Freeman of the city - Len Addicott left school at 14 and served a seven-year apprenticeship to the printing trade, in the course of which he felt called to the ministry. After part-time study at home he was accepted by Bristol Baptist College. He graduated from Bristol University in 1944 and went to his first church, at Ripley in Derbyshire, where he was the driving force behind a remarkable Christian experiment. Giving up his post as honorary chaplain to British troops, he chose to work with German prisoners instead; he taught himself German in order to conduct services in the prison camp and encouraged members of his congregation to invite PoWs into their homes on Sundays.

In his 1984 biography of Martin Niemoller, the German pastor who was arrested on Hitler's personal orders and spent eight years in concentration camps, James Bentley tells how Niemoller, depressed at the failure of British politicians to take action for post-war reconciliation, was encouraged to hear of Addicott's work in a small industrial town. Addicott himself was to tell the full story almost 50 years later in 1990, in his pamphlet Beloved Enemies.

After Ripley, he held pastorates in Plymouth, Saffron Walden, Southend and Blackheath in London before leaving full-time ministry in 1966 to take a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) at Cambridge University. He was awarded the Jacobs Memorial Prize in 1967 for his dissertation on "Aspects of Delinquency". For a while he taught religious education at the Perse School for Girls in Cambridge, while continuing to help out at local churches - he was briefly honorary pastor at Willingham and occasionally preached at St Andrew's Street, Cambridge, where he took on pastoral work during a long interregnum between ministers.

Those who knew Len Addicott will remember his gift for poetry, his linguistic pedantry, his solid faith, but above all his fierce hatred of injustice and discrimination in all its forms; one of his most treasured possessions was a signed letter from Martin Luther King. He was a crusader for unfashionable issues and a friend of those on the margins of society. With his wife, Margaret (daughter of another distinguished Baptist minister, F.C. Bryan), he took in rough sleepers and young women said to be "in need of care and protection". He befriended people with mental illness and spoke up in the courts on behalf of young men who had fallen foul of the law.

He was as passionate about his local campaigns as his international ones, and was often to be found buried in a chaotic pile of papers, ignoring all requests to eat and sleep until he had achieved his aims. When a seven-year-old boy was killed crossing the road in Woolwich in 1965, he organised another of his petitions and persuaded Roger Moore and Fanny Cradock to sign it. The pedestrian bridge which resulted became known as "Len's bridge".

His wife's death from cancer in 1992 was a blow from which he never recovered; for more than 40 years the two had been the closest of partnerships, her quiet support providing the backdrop to all his public work. He spent his last years in increasing ill-health, delighting in the company of his young grandchildren and writing long letters about them to his friends. But his passionate desire for a fairer world remained undimmed - a desire rooted in his firm belief that we are all God's children.

Just days before he died he was talking with enthusiasm about the new Labour government, and the hope that it offered to the generations who would succeed him.

Leonard Edward Addicott, minister of the church, writer and teacher: born Coventry 17 September 1917; ordained 1944; married 1950 Margaret Bryan (died 1992; two sons, one daughter), died Cambridge 9 May 1997.

Comments