Obituary: The Right Rev Gerald Ellison

Gerald Alexander Ellison, priest, born 19 August 1910, ordained deacon 1935, priest 1936, Curate Sherborne Abbey 1935-37, Domestic Chaplain to Bishop of Winchester 1937-39, Chaplain RNVR 1940-43, Domestic Chaplain to Archbishop of York 1943-46, Vicar St Mark's Portsea 1946-50, Examining Chaplain to Bishop of Portsmouth 1949-50, Bishop Suffragan of Willesden 1950-55, Bishop of Chester 1955-73, Bishop of London 1973-81, PC 1973, Dean of the Chapels Royal 1973-81, Prelate Order of the British Empire 1973-81, Prelate Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor 1973-85, Episcopal Canon of Jerusalem 1973-81, KCVO 1981, Vicar General Diocese of Bermuda 1983-84, married 1947 Jane Gibbon (one son, two daughters), died Cerne Abbas Dorset 18 October 1992.

GERALD ELLISON, Bishop of London from 1973 to 1981, was the archetypal Church of England diocesan of his generation, born to the purple, devoted to the establishment, a staunch defender not only of the faith but the status quo. Like all well-bred bishops, he appeared to be all things to all men (except when he fussed when Anglo-Catholics called him 'Father'), but beneath the smooth exterior, the modest mien and the rational outlook lay a deeply conservative nature, an inherent distrust of change and a firm conviction that any administrative reorganisation of the Church would somehow hamper the spread of its spiritual message.

Ellison's legacy - if such it was - to the Church of England was the successful campaign he waged, when Bishop of Chester, against a package of reforms enshrined in a report commissioned from the distinguished sociologist Leslie Paul. In the old Church Assembly, forerunner of the General Synod, Ellison contested, clause by clause, Paul's recommendations regarding the pay and deployment of the clergy, wide-ranging recommendations drawn up in the 1960s and seen by many as the Church's last chance to place resources and manpower where they would be needed in the second half of the 20th century. His own diocese at the time, with its 370 clergy spread over 299 parishes, was largely agricultural. He could not comprehend the needs of deprived and under-staffed inner-city areas, for to people like Gerald Ellison, brought up between the two world wars, the Church of England was still epitomised by the faithful country parson at daily prayer, and if in a redundant church, so what?

Ellison was born in 1910, the son of a chaplain in ordinary to the king. His earliest years were spent quite literally in the shadow of the throne, at St George's School at Windsor Castle. He moved on to Westminster and then to New College, Oxford, who made him an honorary fellow in 1974, and he trained for the ministry at Westcott House, Cambridge. He served what must have been an unexacting curacy at Sherborne Abbey, and immediately afterwards gained experience of episcopal life as domestic chaplain to the Bishop of Winchester.

For three years during the war Ellison was a chaplain with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and was mentioned in dispatches. Immediately on release he returned to the rarefied atmosphere of the episcopate, this time heading for Bishopsthorpe, as domestic chaplain to the Archbishop of York. He was inducted to his first parish, the fashionable St Mark's, Portsea, in 1946, and four years later, at the age of only 40, and with a mere half-dozen years experience of parochial work tucked under his cassock, he was consecrated Suffragan Bishop of Willesden.

Ellison had the kind of natural courtesy and reassuringly English good looks that endeared him to respectable London surburban parishes, and it was no surprise when only five years later he was sent to Chester. Some imagined he was destined at least for York. But in many respects, the bishopric of London requires even greater expertise in coaxing and calming wealthy patrons, livery companies and other City luminaries than either of the two archbishoprics, and in 1973, by now 63 and too old to hope for either York or Canterbury, Ellison returned to London as its diocesan.

Here, at the Cenotaph and wherever else the evenly modulated tones of a reliable adherent to tradition was in demand, Ellison conducted his episcopate in the sure and certain belief that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Things occasionally went wrong, however. He had rowed for his university, he was a steward of Henley Regatta, and one year he was invited to start the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. Alas, one of the eights slowly and gracefully sank.

Ellison always displayed the courage of his convictions, and once, presumably alert to what he saw as his responsibilities to the shipbuilding industry at Birkenhead, he went ahead, despite fierce criticism, with a service of blessing for a Polaris submarine; afterwards, he wrote four-page letters of explanation in his own hand to those who had cabled telegrams of protest.

In 1947 Ellison married Jane Gibbon, and they had a son and two daughters. On his translation to London he automatically became a member of the Privy Council, and he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1981. Following his retirement, he spent a brief spell in the extra-provincial diocese of Bermuda as Vicar General. His hobbies included tapestry.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Recruitment Genius: HR Consultant

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An HR Consultant is required to join thi...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable