Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Living arrangements for Bishop of Bath & Wells

The home of the most recent Bishop of Bath and Wells (Peter Price, who retired in mid 2013) and many of his predecessors was at The Bishop’s Palace in Wells. But on 3 December the Church Commissioners (who are responsible for housing diocesan bishops) announced that new living arrangements were to be made for the next bishop, Peter Hancock, who has yet to take up his post.

Statement from Church Commissioners on living arrangements for Bishop of Bath & Wells
03 December 2013

Andrew Brown, Secretary to the Church Commissioners said:

“After discussion at its meeting on 28th November the Board of Governors took the decision to provide new housing for the Bishop of Bath and Wells to enable him to carry out his ministry and mission in a more sustainable way. The Bishop will continue to work and worship at the Palace and share the office with the Bishop of Taunton. The decision to move the bishop’s home will mean he can live in more privacy as the Palace and gardens will remain open to the public. We are currently looking at an alternative residence near to Wells. The Church Commissioners support for bishops is based on making their living and working arrangements conducive to effective ministry and mission both in their diocese and the Church as a whole. The daily working life of the Palace will continue including the use of the Chapel alongside the work of the Trust running the Palace as a visitor attraction.”

The Palace website explains on its news page that “Whilst the Palace is well-known and prides itself on having the Bishop of Bath and Wells reside on site it has not always been so, for eight centuries bishops have had irregular relationships with the Palace. It is only since the mid-1850s that the Palace has been much more of a home to Bishops of Bath and Wells and over time the office function in the Palace has become more important.” [Scroll down to 20 December and 5 December for more details.]

The Commissioners’ decision has proved very controversial.

There were questions in the House of Commons to the Second Church Estates Commissioner on 14 January, 21 January and 23 January.

The Diocese has expressed its opposition to the Commissioners’ decision.

Diocese expresses opposition to Church Commissioner’s Palace decision
Friday 24th January 2014

Statement from the Bishop of Taunton and senior staff of the Diocese of Bath & Wells re: Bishop of Bath & Wells accommodation.

“The Diocese wishes to express publicly its opposition to the Church Commissioners’ decision that the next Bishop of Bath & Wells will not live at the Bishop’s Palace in Wells.

Despite ample time and opportunity, the Church Commissioners have failed to undertake effective consultation at a local level. Instead they have taken a unilateral decision which has, sadly, cast a shadow over the announcement of our next Bishop.

Based on the scarce information made available to us by the Commissioners, the Diocese cannot support their decision. If there is a persuasive case for the move, it has yet to be made.

We call upon the Church Commissioners to allow the next Bishop of Bath & Wells to begin his new role in residence at the Palace whilst a full and proper consultation about the long-term plans for the Bishop’s residence and office arrangements takes place.”


Rt Revd Peter Maurice, Bishop of Taunton
The Ven Nicola Sullivan, Archdeacon of Wells
The Ven John Reed, Archdeacon of Taunton
The Ven Andy Piggott, Archdeacon of Bath
Revd Preb Stephen Lynas, Bishop’s Chaplain
Preb Dr Catherine Wright, Dean of Women Clergy
Nick Denison, Diocesan Secretary
Harry Musselwhite, Chair of the Board of Finance

Press reports include these.

BBC Tessa Munt MP questions Bishop of Bath and Wells’ palace move [8 January]
Diocese of Bath and Wells ‘cannot support’ bishop’s palace move [25 January]
Bishop of Taunton calls for talks on palace move [28 January]

John Bingham The Telegraph Palace coup: Church in open rebellion over decision to downsize bishop to country pile [26 January]

Ruth Gledhill The Times Church buys back rectory after Bishop’s Palace is declared unfit [29 January - behind a paywall, but the first couple of paragraphs are visible as a taster.]

Daily Mail Inside the £1million country home for the Bishop who turned-down a palace because he wanted ‘a bit more privacy’ [23 January]
Sophie Jane Evans Bishop banned from living in his palace will be moved to £900,000 rectory that the church is buying back after declaring it ‘unsuitable’ and selling it … for £750,000 [29 January]

David Keen blogs in favour of the Commissioners’ decision: Is the Bishop of Bath and Wells a person, or a tourist attraction?

Posted by Peter Owen on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 12:21pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

If the choice is between the sort of house in which an affluent upper middle class family would live and a palace in which no-one would ever live unless it were ex officio, I'd choose the palace. The new house aligns the bishop with a particular social class, whereas the palace is outside the class system.

Posted by: Robin on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 2:21pm GMT

In Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron showed how little relevance he gives to the Church of England in that when asked about this subject he made reference to the comedy 'Blackadder'. It's all a comedy to him.

Posted by: Pluralist on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 3:47pm GMT

I think that's a little unfair, Pluralist. Thirty years on, it's still almost impossible to mention the Bishop of Bath & Wells without reference to his baby-eating namesake!

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 4:23pm GMT

"The palace is outside the class system" Robin could you explain that a bit more please? I'm struggling to get my head round it.

Posted by: David Keen on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 5:07pm GMT

'The new house aligns the bishop with a particular social class, whereas the palace is outside the class system. '

We all know who (most famously) lives in a palace. Arguably, living in one puts the Bishop in the top tier of the class system, rather than outside it.

Posted by: Sam Roberts on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 5:19pm GMT

The Mail Online is wrong when it says that the bishop "turns down a palace because he wants more privacy". This decision was made Church Commissioners alone, the new bishop was not consulted.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 5:33pm GMT

An entire diocese in public revolt over a bishop's palace.

Would that there were such spines of steel on other issues -- such as gay marriages, or women bishops!

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 9:07pm GMT

I can see what Robin means - the "palace" title is a bit misleading. Effectively the Bishop lives "over the shop" at the moment. Moving him out into the kind of house lived in by wealthy upper middle class people sends a different message.
Although living in a palace sounds grand, my recollection of visiting a former bishop in the palace at Wells is that he had a fairly small set of rooms - most of the building was taken up with meeting rooms and offices etc.
It is rather like the CEO of a company living on the top floor of his office block.

Posted by: Anne2 on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 9:17pm GMT

Well, one supposes that, if H.M. The Queen is being asked to allow visitors to invade Buckingham Palace - in support of its economical up-keep; it may not be too much to ask a Bishop of the Church to do likewise. After all, the Body of Christ is people - more than even its most beautiful buildings - which may be used to support The Mission.

(N.B. Our Bishop in Christchurch, N.Z. (+Victoria Matthews) is presently inhabiting a shed in the garden of her earthquake-damaged house - which is not a palace - here in Christchurch.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 10:24pm GMT

The bishops of Christchurch had a substantial georgian style mansion, and it is an exaggeration to say that the present Bishop's accomodation is a shed.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 9:01am GMT

I am very sorry that our new Bisop of Bath and Wells has to start his new job with such a cloud of discord and misinfomation surrounding him.
My father was Bishop of Bath and Wells and he and my mother lived enormously happily in the extremely public and unprivate Palace for 15 years.(anyone who has lived in a Vicarage will know how unprivate that can be: that is the whole point) He initiated the opening of the Palace and grounds and took the first steps towards the 'sustainability' which the church commissioners say prompted the decision to house the new bishop elsewhere: this drive to sustainability - I think that means making the Palace pay for itself - was pursued by our last bishop, Bishop Peter Price, who led the very successful redevelopment of the Palace and grounds. I think moving the Bishop away is going to tear the heart out of that beautiful and significant place.

Posted by: Mary Rawstorne on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 7:47pm GMT

I think the Bishop SHOULD live in his apartments in the Palace.The diocese and visitors rightly expect it- blow all you mealy mouthed people who would have him live in a shack. The trouble was that he said he did not want to live there as his family needed privacy. ! My grown up daughters snorted at that.They know they gained a lot from our house being an 'open house' When we came back from holiday we used to have family 'bets' as to how long it would be before either the phone rang or the front door received a knock! My younger daughter who is brilliant at conducting business over the phone says she learned the knack answering the vicarage phone!

Posted by: Jean Mayland on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 8:15pm GMT

How come the good citizens of Durham aren't making the same fuss as the residents and ecclesiastical hierarchs of Somerset over the issue of where the diocesan bishop resides? Auckland Castle has been the home of countless Dunelms for centuries past but alas, no longer.

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 6:53am GMT

A good piece in the Times today. A former Archdeacon of Wells who lived in the Croscombe house before it was sold by the Commissioners says that it is wholly unsuitable, and you can't even get a mobile (=cellphone) signal there. Homework has not been done, I fear.

Posted by: cryptogram on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 4:37pm GMT

Now that the next Bishop of Bath and Wells is to be demoted residentially he follows quite a few downsized bishops. Carlisle no longer lives in Rose Castle and Dunelm no longer lives in Auckland Castle. Is the writing now on the wall with regard to future Primates domestic requirements? Will Stephen Cottrell be deprived of Bishopthorpe and Lucy Winkett of Lambeth?

Posted by: Father David on Sunday, 2 February 2014 at 7:12am GMT

I see that Tessa Munt M.P. for Wells in Somerset is organising a petition to keep the Bishop of Bath and Wells in his moated palace. It isn't that long ago that Douglas Hogg M. P. was criticised for claiming expenses on clearing his moat.

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 6 February 2014 at 7:32pm GMT
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