Obituary: Canon Peter Hammond

Keith Murray,Esther de Waal
Wednesday 24 March 1999 00:02 GMT

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


PETER HAMMOND was a man quite impossible to pigeonhole. He moved at ease in the different worlds of the Navy, music, the Orthodox Church, Greece, architecture. He was teacher, artist, writer, priest. He kept friends from every epoch of his kaleidoscopic life; background, age, interests were irrelevant in his company. He would treat an eight-year-old as his equal, presenting him with strong black coffee in a Lucie Rie cup, showing the same attention and reverence to both person and object.

Hammond was born in Bromley, Kent, in 1921, though his ancestry meant that Cornwall was a place he came to love. In 1938 he went to art college and gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, but joined the Navy in 1939 and spent four years in corvettes, choosing to remain a rating, escorting the North Atlantic convoys and gaining a reputation for his speed and accuracy as a coder. In 1943 he was posted to Sicily for the invasion of Italy, then was sent to Alexandria and was demobbed in 1946. It was his experience of these war years at sea that led to his decision to be ordained in the Anglican Church.

He went to Merton College, Oxford, in 1946 to read History. It was at Oxford that he developed his interest in Eastern Orthodoxy, and before going to theological college at Cuddesdon he spent two years in Greece, based on Salonika but travelling widely. His first curacy was in Summertown in Oxford (where he was particularly appreciated for his cricket) and this was followed in 1953-55 by his work as the general secretary of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association while he was with Patrick O'Loughlin at St Anne's, Soho, and St Thomas, Regent Street.

During these years he wrote his first book, The Waters of Marah: the present state of the Greek Church, which eventually appeared in 1956. In a typical Hammond combination it brings the historical scholarship, vivid portraits of local life, and profound theological insights into the nature of Eastern Christianity. He was also the driving force behind the translation by a small group of friends of the extremely significant work of Vladimir Lossky Essai sur la Theologie Mystique de l'Eglise d'Orient, which had been published in Paris in 1944. Again Hammond showed himself a prophet, for the subject was then virtually unknown and without his skill and determination this book, which still remains the best introduction to the subject, would never have been published. It appeared in 1957, and today is acknowledged as a classic, constantly reprinted on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the Fifties, the focus of his interest once more shifted. In his tiny village church at Bagendon in the Cotswolds, his creative sense of liturgy was expressed in the way in which he celebrated standing behind the altar facing the people, once again amongst the pioneers in what was later to become generally accepted. The New Churches Research Group was founded in 1957, bringing together another group of friends, who were inspired by his enthusiasm for the relationships between the church building and its worshipping congregation.

This was explored not only in conferences, pamphlets and study tours but also in two significant books: Liturgy and Architecture, published in 1960, and in 1962 Towards a Church Architecture, a collection of studies which he planned and edited. These established him, as Tanya Harrod says in her new book Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century as "the Church of England's leading architectural theorist". His influence on the transformation of the design of religious buildings however went far wider and became truly international and inter-denominational.

From 1962 until 1980 he taught History of Art and Complementary Studies at the Hull College of Art, where he showed himself a disciple of W.R. Lethaby and developed courses which included art, dance, drama, music and literature, particularly poetry. Here his musical life, which owed much to a father who had been in the orchestra of Morley College in the great days of Arnold Foster, surfaced. At Oxford he had shown a passion for medieval music and for the music of the Eastern Church, and this continued through his life, particularly in his much-valued association with Mary Berry and her Gregorian singers.

The early Eighties saw him once more in Greece, living on the island of Amorgos, where he studied, drew, wrote and talked, becoming part of local life. His notebooks and exceptionally accurate topographical draughtsmanship, which captures the elusive beauty of Cycladic architecture, remain as the raw material of the book for which he failed to find a publisher.

His last years were spent in Lincoln where he was particularly involved with the fabric of the cathedral and brought his profound feeling for historic buildings to bear on its conservation. After his installation as canon in 1987 he succeeded in bringing together 40 international conservators and art historians to decided what should be done about the deterioration of the Romanesque frieze on the west front of the cathedral.

His energy and commitment ensured that this project succeeded against all the odds. And here in Lincoln, as always, his friends could count on finding him, ready to greet them with his nicely judged cooking and conversation and his undemanding welcome.

Peter Hammond, priest: born London 24 February 1921; ordained deacon 1951, priest 1952; Canon and Prebendary, Lincoln Cathedral 1987-99; married Gillian Fansler (three sons); died Lincoln 1 March 1999.

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