Monday 1 January 2018

BRONWEN ASTOR Praying for Christian Unity

Today the Telegraph posted an obituary of Bronwen Astor, born Bronwen Pugh. She was, we were reminded, a famous model, daughter-in law of the fearsome Nancy Astor and chatelaine of Cliveden when it became notorious. I remember her though as a good friend in Godalming, where after her husband's death she had retired to a lovely country house.

The local Catholic priest had asked me, at that time Rector of Farncombe, if they might use a room in our church school for a weekly Mass. I suggested it would be far better if they were to use our church. Everyone seemed to think this was a good idea - except for two bishops, the Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton and the Anglican Bishop of  Dorking (holding the fort during an interregum in the See of Guildford). Rather reluctantly they gave their permission.

St John's Farncombe
In Farncombe we had an ecumenical community, a group of ladies led by the formidable Carol Graham, many of them (like her) returned missionaries. Their Charism was praying and working for unity, and their House was the former home of the Revd Somerest Ward, noted Anglican spiritual director. They were greatly supported by Bronwen. She had set up a Retreat House in her home - she was a fairly recent convert from the Church of England to the Catholic Church, and was very concerned for all things ecumenical. When she heard of  the difficulties we were facing she used her considerable influence to persuade both bishops to permit this sharing as an 'experiment'.

Catholic Parish Priest of Godalming, present Rector of Farncombe, and me
 And so it happened that in December 2014 Fr James Rattue, Rector of St John's, invited me back to preach, That evening we celebrated forty years of the still-continuing 'experiment'. Catholics and     Anglicans in Godalming and beyond owe Bronwen Astor a great debt of gratitude 

  May she Rest in Peace.
Jesu, Mercy.
Mary, Pray.



  1. I too was privileged to know Bronwen and visited her house many times in the 1990s. She had a small Catholic chapel or 'shrine' upstairs and on a Tuesday evening hosted 'The Scientific and Medical Network weekly meetings where things both scientific and metaphysical were debated and discussed, often with eminent speakers and followed by tea in her kitchen. I remember her with fondness and in our many chats the scandal of the 60s was never broached and that was good, I felt. An amazing lady with a wonderful ability to bring opposites together and, despite being pursued by the past, managed to live her life to the full!

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  3. I suggested it would be far better if they were to use our church.
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