Archive Discoveries: Abbot Ford

Abbot Hugh Edmund Ford: the Forgotten Scholar Monk.

Abbot Edmund Ford is, at first, not the ideal candidate for the title ‘scholar monk’. His published output is slight, he is not as famous as his contemporaries, and his role in the building of Downside minimally recorded in the architectural histories. However, recent discoveries in the archives suggest that the above is untrue.

One such example, is his role at the Downside mission of Beccles, in Suffolk. Sent by Abbot Snow, he quickly established a catholic foothold there, partly in response to a series of intellectual lectures he ran. In his archive, we have found copies of the posters for these lectures, which suggest that, despite lacking in physical publications, Ford’s longstanding ability to lecture is well deserving of the title ‘scholar monk’. Below is one such example, of a series of theological lectures ran by Ford, on ‘The Catholic Church and the Bible’. The chair is one of the great benefactor to Downside’s Beccles mission, J.G Kenyon, a local landowner and patron. They attracted not only his new followers, but local Protestants and other denominations alike. Further research suggests that the reviews of his lectures appeared to be favourable, and suggest a well-rounded and reasonable approach, even on controversial topics.

On further examination, Beccles was not always a prosperous Catholic parish. When Ford arrived, there were only three professed members of the Catholic faith, which swelled to over three hundred by the time he left to become Abbot of Downside in 1894. It did not signal the end of the lectures however, as the posters continue past this date, accompanied by the notes he made in preparation for speaking. In fact, the series ‘The Catholic Church and the Bible’ were revived at Radstock Town Hall.

For more on Ford’s life as a scholar monk, and the other scholar monks of Downside, please come to our conference on the 29th October. Alice Morrey, an MA student from Bristol University will be speaking on the life of Abbot Ford; Steven Parsons, Outreach Officer at Downside Abbey will examine Dom Ethelbert Horne; and Rev Dr Stephen Morgan will give a paper on Abbot Christopher Butler. Click here to book your place.

Tickets include lunch and a tour of the Monastery Archives and Library.

Article by Alice Morrey, Archives Volunteer