Obituary: The Ven Sam Woodhouse

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The Independent Online
It was a great surprise to Sam Woodhouse - and always remained so - when Robert Stopford offered him the Archdeaconry of London in 1967, and it caused some ruffling of feathers in the senior clerical dovecote in the London diocese. But Stopford had chosen wisely, and when Woodhouse retired 11 years later he was probably the best-loved Archdeacon in living memory - though for all his gentle manner he had an inner core of steel.

Son of a cavalry officer turned parson - he was a brilliant horseman - Sam Woodhouse never threw off the image of a country gentleman, nor would have wanted to, but those who could see no further than that missed half the man. For he was that unusual mixture of someone whose totally traditional exterior masked a mind that was open and receptive to the ferment of new ideas which were enlivening the Church of England in his day.

A man of many parts - as a mountaineer he got as far as Camp One in an early Everest expedition - he trained originally as an architect under Herbert Baker, before following his father into the Army, where he was commissioned into the Somerset Light Infantry. Before long, however, he felt, like his father, the call to ordination, and went to a curacy in Lancaster, where he met and married Pat Daniel, who was to be the foundation of his extremely happy family life.

The Second World War began in the year of their marriage and, rejoining the Army as a chaplain, Woodhouse saw service in the Middle East and Italy, being mentioned three times in despatches. After livings in Blackpool and Leominster, he came in 1957 to be Rector of Bristol City Parish Church (St Stephen's) for 10 years, which was his major job before London, and where he is still warmly remembered.

By a happy chance Robert Stopford's successor as Bishop was Gerald Ellison, who had been President of the Oxford Boat when Woodhouse was reserve oar (he would have got a Blue if someone had not come back for a fourth year) and they had five fruitful years of partnership in London, until Woodhouse retired two years before Ellison in 1978.

An archdeacon's job is essentially to do with bricks and mortar, but for all that- or perhaps because of it - it is a highly pastoral one and in most instances the clergy look first to their archdeacon for support. The clergy of the City, which was Woodhouse's sole charge when he started, are well known for their individuality, but few if any of them were able to say "No" to him. With its 40 or so churches - mostly by Wren - every one of which was an architectural gem, his early training proved immensely valuable, and he was able to give full rein to his artistic side. He threw himself wholeheartedly behind Peter Palumbo's generous gift of the Henry Moore altar to St Stephen's, Walbrook, and though he hated divisions and controversy he could not but be pleased when the objectors were overruled.

Unhappily the reorganisation of the diocese in the mid-Seventies added three deaneries to the Archdeaconry (44 parishes in Westminster and Paddington) which increased the burden on him enormously, so that he returned somewhat earlier than he might otherwise have done. But he continued active for a number of years as an energetic Chairman of the Retired Clergy Association, until increasing ill-health forced him into complete retirement.

One of Woodhouse's two sons has followed him into the Church, and both his other son and his daughter have followed artistic careers.

Derek Hayward

Samuel Mostyn Forbes Woodhouse, priest: born 28 April 1912; ordained deacon 1936, priest 1937; Chaplain to the Forces 1939-45 (three times mentioned in despatches); Vicar, Holy Trinity, South Shore, Blackpool 1945-49; Vicar of Leominster 1949-57; Rural Dean of Leominster 1956-57; Rector, Bristol City Parish Church 1957-67; Archdeacon of London and Canon Residentiary of St Paul's 1967-78 (Emeritus); Archdeacon to Retired Clergy, Bath and Wells 1978-95; Chairman, Retired Clergy Association 1980-88, Vice-President 1990-95; married 1939 Patricia Daniel (two sons, one daughter); died Bristol 13 October 1995.