[Thomas Bekenn Avening Saunders moved to Carlisle Diocese in 1897. He was vicar of Thornthwaite and Braithwaite 1897-1902, rector of Greystroke 1902-1905, and vicar of Thornthwaite and Braithwaite 1905-06. He returned to the Diocese following several years away when he was appointed vicar of St. John’s, Windermere 1913-21. In 1920 he was appointed to the second residentiary canonry of Carlisle Cathedral, remaining there until he resigned on 31 July 1932 and was appointed canon emeritus.]
Of course, he was unique, a baffling personality. Whether he charmed or piqued one the more, hard to say. At his best he was indescribably delightful as a raconteur and as a host. Despite his broad, muscular, deepchested, mariner-like, hirsute figure, there was somewhere a touch of the feminine, in his light melodious voice, in the poise of his head, the wave of his hands.
His energy was unbelievable. It was almost a lust of perpetual motion. Yet there must have been long spells of sedentary energy too, for his writing was prodigious in bulk and much of it was delightful. It was the fashion to smile a little at his poetry. But nobody could afford to gibe at his grip of nature, and his genius for painting in words the fells of the Lake Country according to the season of the year.
When he made professional excursions into theology, he was, of course, off his beat. The fruits were sometimes grotesque. Yet he escaped the snare of intolerance which besets the more expert ecclesiastic, and if he scarcely knew what he believed about dogmatics, at least we were sure that he desired beneficence and good feeling to rule the world; not that his tongue lacked bite, but he was preserved from dull rancour by his gift of fun.
Nor was he capable of serious history, for he possessed no faculty of solid verification. To him a hypothesis passed without effort into certainty. Not that he was conscious of romancing in the sense that he would invent a story to fit his purpose. It was just the not uncommon want of sound training in the principles of evidence. If he had given himself to “Greats” instead of to Natural Science at Balliol, his genius for handling history and archaeology with almost a fairy touch would have gained the value of a surer accuracy.
His method of working a parish was peculiar. He was constantly away from it running hither and thither to innumerable committees, and often in London. But he spent money generously on curate and lay-reader and kept a sharp eye on their parochial diligence. He was entirely uninterested in such things as ritual and always celebrated at the North End, though he was in no sense an Evangelical, but really what might be called a very mild Modernist. His reading in church was quite admirable. He was a great draw to tourists at Crosthwaite, not for his theology but for the charm of his voice and the cultivated presentation of attractive religious and ethical ideals.
As a member of the Cathedral staff he filled a niche which is rarely occupied—a man of culture, means, and such dignity as a canonry still affords; an ecclesiastic who was not stuffy; a man of the world who was an idealist; a man of letters who was also a man of deeds; a charming acquaintance who never bored; a man of some fame who could be treated like a fellow-undergraduate with chaff; a preacher who was never pompous; a sinner against conventions whose vagaries were atoned for by gracefulness and quick remorse for unintended offence.
(Bouch, Charles Murray Lowther. Prelates and People of the Lake Counties: A History of the Diocese of Carlisle 1133-1933. Kendal: Titus Wilson & Son, 1948, pp. 453-455.)
- Hits: 824