Dr Christopher Woodforde

Christopher Woodforde was born on 29 November 1907. He was brought up in Somerset and attended King's School, Bruton. His studies continued at Peterhouse, Cambridge and Wells Theological College, and he was ordained in 1930.

He served in a number of curacies including King's Lynn (1930-1932), Louth with Welton-le-Wold (1932-1934) and Drayton with Hellesdon, Norwich (1934-1936) before becoming rector of Exford, Somerset in 1936, and of Axbridge, Somerset in 1939, and vicar of Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire in 1945.

The Very Revd Dr Christopher Woodforde outside the south door of Wells Cathedral
The Very Revd Dr Christopher Woodforde outside the south door of Wells Cathedral

Christopher Woodforde was the eldest son of Dr Robert Edmund Heighes Woodforde and Mary Thorne. Dr Robert Edmund Heighes Woodforde was the eldest son of Revd Alexander John Woodforde of Locking and Ansford, Somerset.

Revd Alexander John Woodforde was a grandson of Col William Woodforde, Parson James Woodforde's Nephew Bill.  Christopher's sister, Dorothy Heighes Woodforde was a journalist and author.

Christopher Woodforde had one son, Giles Woodforde, who is an art critic and former radio broadcaster based in Oxford.

In recognition of his major work, The Stained Glass in Somerset' published in 1948, he was invited to New College, Oxford, as Chaplain.  He also served as Canon and Wiccanical Prebendary at Chichester Cathedral (1950-1953).

He married Muriel Forster in 1935. She died prematurely in 1951 after a painful illness, and during his remaining years at Oxford it is said that Dr Woodforde became isolated and depressed.  His depression affected his last major published work English Stained and Painted Glass (1954) which some critics described as terse and `almost unreadable'.

He was later offered the post of Dean of Wells, which he occupied until his own untimely death, due to cancer, at the age of 54 on 12 August 1962.  A memorial tablet was erected in the cloisters of the cathedral to commemorate his work in the diocese of Bath and Wells.  Lord David Cecil, in his memoirs, refers to Christopher Woodforde as the `sardonic chaplain (of New College)', `not altogether a popular figure in the college, having an extremely sharp tongue'.

His rather dour attitude, even to his specialist subject, is exemplified by his reaction to a a proposal to create a wide-ranging body of experts to catalogue all the stained glass that survived the Second World War. In October 1954, when the British Academy was contacted by Hans Hahnloser, Professor of Art History at Berne, on this matter, Mortimer Wheeler (Secretary of the Academy) sought Christopher Woodforde's opinion as to the scheme's practicality.  Woodforde's reply was unequivocal: "Of course, one's first and lasting reaction to a plan which requires the publication of seventy or more volumes on a subject of such restricted interest as medieval stained glass is that it will sooner or later break down through lack of money or interest. In short, I believe that the project is respectable, but hardly practicable."

The literary works of Christopher Woodforde

Christopher Woodforde is known for two distinct strands of writing, namely his ghost stories written in the style of M.R.James and his studies of stained glass which are recognised as definitive works.

His stories were first intended to be heard, rather than read. They were revised and rewritten after their first telling (to young choirboys) but are regarded by some literary critics as rather juvenile tales.

His interests in antiquities led Dr Woodforde to a major study of ecclesiastical stained glass. He began with small popular booklets - A Guide to the Medieval Glass in Lincoln Cathedral (1933), The Medieval Glass of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich (1934) and Stained and Painted Glass in England (1937).

His first major work was Stained Glass in Somerset 1250-1830 which he published in 1946. This was followed by The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the fifteenth Century published in 1950 by Oxford University Press.

His recognised stature in this subject led to honorary degrees from Cambridge (Litt.D in 1947) and Oxford (D.Litt in 1948). Whilst at Oxford he wrote his third major work The Stained Glass of New College, Oxford which was published in 1951.

Image of Revd Dr Christopher Woodforde courtesy of the Diocese of Bath and Wells