The Rev. Percival Gardner-Smith BD (1888-1985), Dean of Jesus College, Cambridge (1922-1956)
The following article appeared in the 1985 Annual Report of Jesus College, Cambridge.
The REVEREND PERCIVAL GARDNER-SMITH died on 29 May 1985 at the age of 97. The son of the Revd Robert Gardner-Smith, F.L.S. he was born at Waddingham Rectory, Lincolnshire on 3 February 1888. A Lady Kay Scholar he took a First Class in PtI. I of the Theology Tripos in 1909 and a First Class in Pt. II in 1911. BA 1909, MA 1913 he was ordained deacon in 1911 and Priest in 1912. Dean of the College from 1922 to 1956, Fellow from 1923 to 1985, Pro-Proctor 1923-24, Proctor 1924-25, Junior Steward 1940-45, and President 1948-58. University Lecturer in Divinity from 1926 until 1953, he became BD in 1927.
The death of Percival Gardner-Smith so soon after that of Alan Pars, both of them after nearly seventy years of devoted service, has abruptly severed the personal links between the College of the pre-1926 statutes and the College today. The age of H. A. Morgan and Arthur Gray which their presence kept alive has suddenly become history.
After Sherborne and three years in the Mathematical Sixth Form at Wakefield Grammar School Gardner-Smith came to Jesus College in a horse-drawn cab in October 1906. He immediately abandoned mathematics for the Theological Tripos which he studied under the direction of the Dean F. J. Foakes- Jackson. He took Part I with a First Class and in the same year was awarded the Crosse University Scholarship and was classed proxime accessit for the Carus Greek Testament Prize. He spent two more years reading for the Philosophy of Religion section of Part II of the Tripos and again appeared in Class I. This was a period of distinction for Cambridge philosophy and he attended the lectures of Professor James Ward, Professor W. R. Sorley and Professor W. R. Inge: of these it was Inge who most influenced Gardner-Smith's thought. The regard was mutual for though a Professor, Inge was happy to supervise him, thus beginning a friendship which lasted till Inge's death and was notably memorialised in an article written by P. G-S for The Modem Churchman. Gardner Smith's last year at Cambridge was spent at Ridley Hall.
The Crosse Scholarship might have enabled him to spend a year in Germany, but characteristically Gardner-Smith, although a knowledge of German would have been invaluable to him in his later years, refused to be a further charge on his parents just when his father was retiring from his living. Instead, since there seemed no prospect of a future in the University he resolved to enter parish life without delay. He was ordained deacon and become curate of St Mark's Milverton, Leamington, where he remained for the next five years. During that time he married Sophia Dorothy Leeke, thus entering a well-known clerical family. Her grandfather carried the colours of the 52nd Foot at the Battle of Waterloo before going up to Trinity where he was the chief founder of the famous Jesus Lane Sunday School. He subsequently held livings in Derbyshire and of his four sons one became Chancellor and Sub-Dean of Lincoln and another Bishop of Woolwich. Nurtured in such an environment Sophia Gardner-Smith was a tower of strength to her husband in his parish work and P. G-S always said that any success he had in life was mainly due to her.
In 1916 he was offered the College living of Comberton where he spent six happy years. He had volunteered for service as a Chaplain to the Forces after recovering from a serious operation that he underwent in the early days of the war, but although he was accepted and told to hold himself in readiness for an immediate posting he was never called up. After waiting many months he applied to the Church Army and was sent to France in 1918. He spent the rest of the war managing Church Army canteens and acting as a non-commissioned Chaplain to 149 Squadron of the R.A.F. He made many friends in the Air Force and after the war was always invited to the annual Squadron dinner. Returned to Comberton in 1918 Gardner-Smith enjoyed life as a country clergyman, restoring the church tower, building the Village Institute, cultivating his garden, keeping bees and ministering to a keen and appreciative congregation: he wrote a history of Comberton church. In the summer of 1922 he was asked whether he would accept the Deanship of Jesus College, vacant by the resignation of Alexander Nairne, appointed Regius Professor of Divinity. This presented him with a hard choice, particularly because Mrs Gardner-Smith so loved the parish, the people and the house: he was wont to say that the Vicarage of Comberton was ever afterwards damp because his wife wept for a month when the move into Cambridge was resolved. Nor was the Deanship an enviable office, for some of the Fellows were unsympathetic, wishing to abolish it as a step towards the secularization of the College; nor was there a Fellowship vacant. After some hesitation he accepted, was elected into a Fellowship in the following year and bought a house in Chesterton Road. He soon established his position among both Fellows and undergraduates. Mrs Gardner-Smith supported him in College as strenuously as previously in his parishes, entertaining without stint and sometimes turning her house into a private nursing-home. In 1927 they moved to Ditton Hall where they remained for thirty-three years. Throughout this long period the hospitality afforded at the Hall was renowned. Members of the College senior and junior - the College servants as well - flocked to a succession of garden parties held in the Easter Term; the whole College was invited during May Week and the entertainment of the Boat Club before the May Races was an institution. But these were not the core of his services to the College, for the Deanship was an exacting office; and in 1926 he had been appointed University Lecturer in Divinity.
As Dean Gardner-Smith was responsible for all Chapel services; for two years he was assisted by a Chaplain, the Rev'd Humphrey Playford, but thereafter the chaplaincy lapsed. His sermons were meticulously prepared and written out in full; their tone was modern and their reference topical, but there was nothing radical about them; their language was direct and economical; their delivery was a model of pulpit oratory, easily audible, designed to persuade by rational exposition and rejecting all sentimentality. He kept more than 1200 MSS. of sermons delivered in parish churches, College chapels and cathedrals. He also supervised all Jesuans reading Theology. An abiding monument to his success as a teacher was the prominence his pupils subsequently attained in the Church. In 1913 P. G-S.'s predecessor, Foakes-Jackson, had collected and edited a volume of essays written by Jesuans entitled The Parting of the Ways; in 1963 Gardner-Smith produced a companion volume. The Roads Converge was designed to promote Christian unity by emphasising the essentials on which Christians had agreed throughout the centuries; its contributors were all men of distinction who had been numbered among Gardner-Smith's pupils at Jesus; the only exception was Professor C. H. Dodd who wrote an Introduction matching Professor Inge's introduction to the earlier essays. In 1968 G-S. could proudly boast that he had taught three of the Honorary Fellows of the College.
For almost thirty years he held his University Lectureship. The first subject he chose was Christian Ethics for Part II of the Tripos, but before long, continuing the tradition of Foakes- Jackson, he took up Early Church History. He also lectured on various New Testament subjects and for a time taught 'Everyday Science' for the Ordinary Degree. His lectures attracted a large audience for though he made no claim to have carried out original historical research he pad the gift of making his subject alive and interesting.
Not surprisingly in view of his manifold activities his literary output was modest. In 1926 he published an analysis of the Narratives of the Resurrection which earned him the degree of B.D. and a reputation of being a radical Modernist. This was not altogether deserved, for many years later Wilfred Knox described him as 'the most orthodox theologian in Cambridge'. He felt that this did not improve his chances of ecclesiastical preferment, but it did not trouble him for he was unambitious and had no wish to leave Cambridge. Even so, attractive offers were sometimes made to him; on one such occasion he aired the possibility to Mrs. G-S. who promptly replied, 'Don't be silly; you're far too old'. This dictum, coinciding as it did with G-S's own predilections, was often cited by him as evidence of his wife's great wisdom. He was the prime mover in securing the publication of a series of small books on The Christian Religion edited by Professor Bethune Baker; they were intended to meet the needs of those who taught senior classes in schools but the project was not a great success. In 1936 he brought out a book The Christ of the Gospels which was well received, but more important was St. John and the Synoptic Gospels. In this work he challenged the commonly accepted view that the Fourth Gospel was written by an author who knew the other three. Highly praised by Professor Dodd the book's conclusions were widely accepted and subsequent writers have ignored it at their peril. Gardner-Smith had a considerable reputation as a reviewer and for many years he contributed to the Journal of Theological Studies, the Cambridge Review, the Modem Churchman and other periodicals. One review in particular, that of Bishop Barnes's book on The Rise of Christianity attracted wide attention when it was quoted by Archbishop Fisher in his denunciation of Barnes in Convocation.
The Second War brought additional burdens. He served as an Air Raid Warden in the village and was as well Fire Officer at College, which meant that for considerable periods he had little sleep. He was Junior Steward with responsibility for catering and the gardens. In his dual capacity as Steward and Minister of Religion he was frequently required to assume the thankless task of mediating between an inflexible Master, quite remote from the realities of life in wartime, and the representatives of the R.A.F., then occupying much of the College. A dozen women evacuees were sent to Ditton Hall and on their departure R.A.F. officers were billeted there until the war ended; it involved much work for Mrs. G-S. At home, too, the cultivation of a large garden at a time when gardeners were unobtainable, though a source of pride and pleasure to him was a heavy labour.
The war over, normal routines were quickly re-established and for another ten years G-S. continued his arduous round of College and University duties. He persuaded the College to restore the chaplaincy but he still had plenty to do. In 1948 he succeeded W. H. Mills as President, filling that office with great distinction, delighting the High Table and its guests with an inexhaustible supply of anecdotes about Arthur Gray, Tommy Watt, William Welsh and other College worthies and spicing his conversation with acerbic but never malicious comments on contemporary events and persons. For some years he was a University representative on the City Council and a member of the Financial Board of the University. He was for a time Chairman of the Divinity Board.
University statutes determined his retirement from his Lectureship in 1955 and in the following year, feeling that a younger man was needed, he resigned from the Deanship. But he remained a Fellow of the College and for many years sat regularly on the Council and the Bursarial Committee; his interest in all College activities was undiminished. He proudly boasted that he had not missed a day at the May Races for more than forty years and in latter days his open Humber - motoring was another of his enthusiasms - was an unchanging landmark in the paddock of Ditton. Yet during the fifties he became increasingly conscious that life at Ditton Hall was becoming impossible. His wife's health began to fail and after several distressing years she' was taken to the Evelyn Nursing Home where she died in 1960, greatly mourned by all who knew her. By then he had bought a more manageable house in Cranmer Road where for two years he lived along with the faithful support of Frances Beldam, who had accompanied the Gardner-Smiths from Comberton in 1922 and remained with them ever since.
In November 1961 P. G.-S. married Elizabeth Leeke, daughter of his first wife's brother Henry. A new and happy life began for him. Elizabeth (he called her 'Buffy') was twenty years his junior but they shared common values and common interests; they were perfectly matched and she quickly became beloved by everyone in College who knew her. His eightieth birthday was a memorable occasion, celebrated by a luncheon in College after which he presented his reminiscences of fifty years of College life. A classic illustration of the value of oral history, it was fortunately recorded on tape by Dr. John Adkins: it is an indispensable source for the history of the College from the reign of Edward VII until the present time, part serious but enlivened by a wit which frequently reduced his audience to helpless laughter. Vintage P. G-S, it was informative, humorous, occasionally caustic but throughout informed by a deep love of the College that had been his life. The Divinity Board also arranged a function to celebrate his long service to the teaching of theology and presented him with an illuminated address. Nor was this the end. For nearly eighteen years more thanks largely to Elizabeth's loving care he continued to enjoy life, despite failing physical powers. Visitors were welcomed at Cranmer Road as in the past at Ditton Hall. His mind remained clear, his repartee was an incisive as ever it had been and his concern for the College as intense as forty years earlier. I doubt if any man has been more loved and respected by successive generations of Jesuans: his place in the College will never be filled.
A Memorial Service will be held in the College Chapel on Saturday 19 October 1985 at 2.30 pm. All members of the College are cordially invited.
Arms of Jesus College, Cambridge
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