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Scenes from Clerical Life (12) – Fr Lockhart of Old St Paul’s

2009 May 31
by Gordon Reid

In 1960, I arrived in Edinburgh to begin my studies at the University. Though I was taking a degree in French and German, I had more or less made up my mind to be ordained. So from the day of my arrival, I went to Mass in Old St Paul’s church in Carrubbers Close, one of the tiny alleys sloping down from the Royal Mile.

I already knew the Rector, Fr Douglas Lockhart, as my confessor, but now I got to know him as a friend. He made a habit of inviting several of the new students who were attending Old St Paul’s to meals in the Rectory, and on Saturdays he would drive us to places such as Gullane, a small town near Edinburgh (the home of the famous Muirfield Golf Course). There we would park and walk for miles on the beach and end up for tea in the Wishing Well, a little tea shop on Gullane High Street, which in later years became the very famous restaurant “La Potiniere”. Or we would go to Flotterstone at the bottom of the Pentland Hills and, after a long walk through the heather, end up for High Tea of bacon and eggs, scones and cakes at the Flotterstone Inn.

My knowledge of Anglo-Catholic history and theology grew by leaps and bounds under the instruction of Fr Lockhart, and it was all imbibed so easily as the whole group of us talked and listened to him on these outings. He was a fund of good stories of the heroic days of the persecution of the Episcopal Church in Scotland in the 18th century – and never tired of pointing out that it was Anglican redcoats from England who did the persecuting – no nonsense about “The Anglican Communion” in those days!

As a former Rector of St Bartholomew’s, Brighton, he also had lots of tales of later persecution of Anglo-Catholic churches by militant Evangelicals in the 19th and 20th centuries. He gave me a pamphlet published by the Protestant Truth Society against  wicked Popish practices such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. At the back of the tract were listed all the London churches that had this abomination of a service. Fr Lockhart’s comment was “This will help you find a sound Anglo-Catholic church when you visit London”.

Fr Lockhart’s influence on me was not confined to widening my knowledge of Catholic history, theology and liturgy, however. He also introduced me to that peculiar Edinburgh institution, the New Club. In spite of its name, this is the oldest “gentleman’s club” in Edinburgh. In 1960 it was still in its original building in Princes St looking across to the vast rock on which sits Edinburgh Castle. The building (like most of the buildings of Edinburgh in those days) was black with the soot of centuries of smoking chimneys. Inside the massive front doors was the porter’s lodge and beyond were imposing rooms with high ceilings, heavy curtains and fine old furniture and paintings.

Fr Lockhart’s routine never varied: every Saturday evening, after he had said Evensong and heard confessions, he would walk back to the Rectory. Dry sherry would be produced and a large bowl of olives, liberally soaked in olive oil. The Rector’s theory was that if you coat your stomach with a film of olive oil, this will prevent any subsequent alcohol from affecting you too much. And every Saturday evening, this theory was put to the test! After a sherry or two, we would walk to the New Club and order yet more sherry. With dinner there was always a decanter of Club Claret and afterwards generous glasses of port. The poor olive oil had a hard life trying to keep all that out of the system! 

In my second year at Edinburgh University, Fr Lockhart retired and bought a little house in the south of France in the hills  behind the Mediterranean coast. He accepted the job of Chaplain of St John’s Anglican church in St Rafael. a pretty little town on the Riviera, which at that time was not nearly so full of visitors as it has since become. Little did I think when I went to visit him there that I was seeing only the first of hundreds of churches I would get to know in the  Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe of which I  would one day become Archdeacon and Vicar General.

Many of Douglas Lockhart’s friends stayed with him over the next few years, and the only “rent” he charged was that each of us should dig a few inches of his grave! He had quite a bit of land round “Mas Vieux St Paul” as he called the house, and he was determined to be buried at the edge of the property when his time came. So he marked out the grave, and gradually it deepened as his visitors humored him. He was insistent that he would be buried there in his oldest pajamas and not the usual purple chasuble in which a priest is buried, as he detested waste. However, “man, proposes; God disposes”, and God called him to himself when Douglas was on holiday in Brighton, so that he was cremated there, and only his ashes went back to France. The new owners of the villa must have wondered what the big hole at the top of their property was for!

3 Responses leave one →
  1. June 1, 2009

    A very sweet story, beautifully told! Thank you. Father.

  2. Nigel Cook permalink
    December 29, 2009

    I seem to distinctly remember the remains being buried in Edinburgh!

    • December 29, 2009

      You may be right, Nigel. I certainly remember preaching at the Requiem in OSP and then some ceremony in the Garden of r
      Remembrance, so maybe that was Fr Lockhart’s ashes.

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