The History of the Friends
A short account of the history of the Friends.
This was prepared by the then Honorary Treasurer, John Baldwin, to mark the 75th anniversary of The Friends in 2004.
In 1929 the Rev'd H E Bishop, the then chief historian of the Cathedral, inspired by the recent founding of the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral, suggested to the Dean and Chapter of Exeter that they too should sponsor a society of Friends. Dean Gamble gathered together a provisional Council of 41 members in the autumn of 1929 to provide core support, to draw up a constitution and make an appeal for members. The Council met for the first time on the 6 November 1929 and an appeal was launched to the Cathedral Congregation in the first Sunday of Advent in 1929.
One of the first acts of the Council was to adopt as The Friends' emblem the image showing the church of Leofric's time that came from a seal on a twelfth century deed. This emblem still appears on the membership certificate of every new Friend. This was part of a conscious intention to link The Friends with the 13th century Lay Brothers and Sisters of the Cathedral, a body that the Rev'd Bishop thought might have been founded as early as the reign of Athelstan a thousand years earlier.
An ‘old vellum' volume, given to the Cathedral in the 17th century to record gifts to the Cathedral Library was converted to the use of The Friends for a Roll Book in which to subscribe the names of all who became Friends. An illuminated title page was designed and drawn by Miss Ruth Wood of the Exeter School of Art and since 1930 10,680 names have been inscribed. This book now stands on display in a case in the North Aisle of the Cathedral.
The first Festival was held on Monday 30th June 1930 as St Peter's Day had fallen on the Sunday and Dean Gamble preached on the text ‘Other men have laboured and we are entered into their labours' reminding The Friends of their responsibility for the Cathedral to those who would come after them. It was at this service that the practice was instituted of naming Friends who died during the previous year. One of the volunteers who formed the inaugural Council had died shortly before the Festival.
The initial subscription was fixed at 5 shillings. As the equivalent of 25p, this sounds trivial but in 1930 when a good weekly wage was £3 a week and an income of £1,000 a year meant affluence, this was not a trivial amount. Some gave more and in 1930 the records show that The Friends were able to give the sum of £114 8s 7d for work in the Cathedral and the following year the sum of £193 4s 6d. The grants were for a variety of purposes including in the first year the repair and restoration of ancient wall paintings and the Bronscombe Tomb and in the second year the repair of the Minstrels' Gallery. Even in the earliest years, there were a variety of tasks that called for the help of The Friends.
From the first, the Council was keen to encourage corporate membership in particular of parish churches and of schools throughout Devon. The Parochial Church Council of St Margaret's Northam near Bideford is now the most senior corporate member and has been a corporate member since 1930 but there are others whose date of registration is also in the early 1930s. The subscription for corporate members was £1 per annum but in the case of schools, no individual pupil could subscribe more than one shilling (all subscriptions to be collected by the headmaster). The drive for such subscriptions was led by Miss Frances Stephenson, later the General Secretary of The Friends. A particular feature of the times was the lantern lectures given by Miss Stephenson in parish churches, church halls or private homes to tell the people of Devon about their Cathedral. In the Annual Report for 1937 Miss Stephenson gave particular thanks to those Friends with 'motor cars' who had taken her from place to place. In the 1930s the car was not ubiquitous.
By 1932 the number of The Friends had already passed 1,000 and in their Annual Report it was noted with pleasure that Mr. Bishop had become a Prebendary as a mark of the importance of The Friends to the Cathedral. On St Peter's Day 1933 over 1,000 Friends attended the Patronal Festival and Fraternal Greetings were brought to The Friends from the Free Churches of Exeter and from Exeter College Oxford, still a corporate Friend. The Friends, as well as responding to requests from the Dean and Chapter, also sponsored special appeals. In the 1930s, for example, repairs to individual Corbels were financed by the 'Peers of Devon', by the ‘Baronets of Devon', by the 'Colonels of Devon', and by the past 'Mayors and Sheriffs of the Ancient and Loyal City of Exeter'. By 1935, the number of Friends had risen to 1,380. The Friends could be said to be well established and an integral part of the life and work of the Cathedral.
In 1935 the practice was established that unless a donor or testator making a gift to The Friends made some specific request or gave directions as to how monies should be applied then those particular gifts would be applied to augment the capital reserves. So began the establishment of what in time would become a substantial and perpetual endowment for the Cathedral. That present endowment is now more than £2 million, larger than the resources of The Friends of any other Cathedral. This means that there is a solid base from which The Friends are able to give regular, certain and substantial financial support to the Dean and Chapter.
With the onset of war in 1939 there were a series of crises. To relieve some parish councils, the subscription for corporate membership was cut from £1 to 10 shillings. The Annual Report for 1939 was reduced in size but The Friends could still celebrate the fact that over their first ten years the aggregate of grant payments to the Dean and Chapter, still largely made up at this time from the accumulation of subscriptions, totalled £4.939.-. The following year, "in view of the serious effect of the war on the finances of the Cathedral", the Council took the decision to make an annual grant of £500 to the Dean and Chapter to meet some of the shortfall. The war also caused the social gatherings associated with the annual Festival to be cancelled; there could be no tea. In 1942 came the heaviest of the air raids on Exeter and, as the Bishop wrote in the Annual Report, "the Cathedral was wounded by the fury of evil men". Happily moveable treasures like the Bishop's Throne and the Great East Window had been taken away for safety but the damage was still substantial. Then it was, as Bishop Curzon said, "Friends in need are Friends indeed" and Dean Carpenter wrote of The Friends, "They help us, not as in former years, to acquire fresh beauty, but to survive." The Cathedral, but not of course for the first time in its long history, was at low ebb.
Two days after the air raid the Cathedral was visited by the King and Queen who could see the first most tentative steps to assess and then to restore and repair what had been destroyed. It was then that the King, in discussion with Herbert Read, the ecclesiastical sculptor, made his oft quoted comment that Mr. Read was trying to put together "the world's biggest jig-saw puzzle". In his annual letter in 1944 the Bishop wrote movingly of watching the master stone mason, George Down, going about his work preparing stone, much of which had been rescued from the rubble, for the rebuilding of the South Aisle. The determination to restore what had been lost was obvious. The records of The Friends make clear their sense at the good fortune of the Cathedral in having the services of men like Mr. Down and Mr. Read, himself at this time a member of the Council, to supervise and execute the works that had to be done.
The first public gathering in the Cathedral after the bombs was for a Confirmation service in the spring of 1943. The War had not yet run its course and a feature of the Cathedral at this time were the large number of soldiers, British, American and Canadian, visiting the Cathedral not as tourists but as pilgrims and for whom the Dean organised a special mission in the months before D Day. Later in 1944 The Friends rejoiced at the return of the choristers to the Cathedral after their evacuation to Honiton following damage to the Choir School.
By the end of the war the number of The Friends had reached 2,000. The scale of the works required to restore the Cathedral called for more money than would be received from the Government under the War Damage scheme. That scheme did not cover the damage suffered as a consequence of the neglect of routine maintenance and an appeal was opened. The pace of rebuilding and repair was of course slow as all building work required licenses for each stage and these were not always readily given. However, in the Annual Report for 1948 Dean Carpenter was writing triumphantly that the Cathedral was substantially restored. Of perhaps more significance, for repairs to war damage would continue for several more years, was that at the Festival in 1947 it was possible for The Friends in fellowship for the first time since 1939 to have tea after their Festival Meeting. This was a small thing in itself but indicated that the years of turmoil were almost over. By the time of the twentieth anniversary of the foundation of The Friends in 1949, the total of grants by The Friends to the Dean and Chapter aggregated £11,678, though from 1941 to 1948 all the grants, aggregating £2,867, were designated as being for restoration of the fabric. In particular, The Friends were responsible in 1948 for the bringing back of the East Window to the Cathedral at a cost of £863.
In July 1950 the King and Queen came again to Exeter in happier circumstances to join in the celebration of the Nonocentenary of the translation of the see from Crediton to Exeter. In 1050 King Edward, the Confessor and his Queen, Edytha, had come to Exeter to enthrone Leofric as first Bishop of Exeter with jurisdiction over Devon and Cornwall. In the twenty-first Report to The Friends there is a particular emphasis on the very strong feelings of continuity and durability that the presence of King George and Queen Elizabeth gave to that celebration after the trials of the previous ten years.
The Friends celebrated their Silver Jubilee in 1954 and could take satisfaction at what they had achieved. Their capital funds amounted to £12,435 as a result of the accumulation of life subscriptions and legacies and in the five years since 1949 grants to the Dean and Chapter amounted in aggregate to £4,143. These grants were again devoted to a variety of purposes ranging from organ restoration, funding the work of the Tapisers, a new frontal for the High Altar and seats on the Cathedral Green.
In August 1957 the number of Friends named in the Roll Book passed 5,000 of whom 2,362 were still active paying annual subscriptions. Since that time although the number of names on the Roll has passed 10,000, the number of active members has remained substantially the same, rising by only some 400 over the last 50 years. By 1959, the capital funds had grown to £13,750 but the amount of the grants over the five years since the Jubilee had amounted to £8,302. Grants had been given for purposes as varied as the preservation of the Lady Chapel reredos, replacements of prayer and hymn books, a new frontal for the High Altar, cleaning of the West Front, choir surplices, repair of paths across the Green, kneelers in the Quire and repair of the Clock.
In 1959 the last war damage payment was made to the Cathedral. The total received by the Cathedral was £82,600, at the time a very substantial sum of money. The financial position of the Cathedral however was no easier. Dean Knight who was installed in 1960 was concerned at the cost of maintaining musical standards, and the organ was in need of a major rebuilding. That had last been done with the help of The Friends in 1932. In 1962 to help pay for what was needed, Dean Knight set a membership target for The Friends of 3,000 active members, a target that, sadly, still has to be achieved. At that time the long-term value to the Cathedral of The Friends' endowment was not yet so clear.
In 1966 the subscription was finally raised from 5s to 10s for all new members though many existing members then, as now, pay annual subscriptions far in excess of the minimum. It was also in 1966 that The Friends first invested in equities, a recognition that the ravages of inflation could not be met by the methods and standards of financial prudence that had been the norm in quieter years. In 1969, the fortieth year of the Friends, the aggregate amount of the grants to the Dean and Chapter reached £46,999 but what was more significant was that half of that had been paid to the Dean and Chapter in the decade since 1959.
In 1972 there is the first mention in the record of the Dean and Chapter's long held ambition to finish the Cloisters. The foundation stone commemorating the start of this work can be seen in the north wall of the Refectory dated 1887 with an inscription calling for the repair of the damage wrought in the Civil Wars more than two hundred years before. Sadly, so far, this work has proved to be beyond the finances of the Dean and Chapter. The Friends meantime were assisting in bearing some of the costs in relaying the Green and building the Processional Way after the demolition of the church of St Mary Major and the archaeological work on the Roman baths.
In 1974 Sir Godwin Michelmore, the last serving member of the inaugural Council retired from active involvement with The Friends but was succeeded on the Council by his son, the present Chairman. There are many examples of long and dedicated service to The Friends but none can match that of the Michelmore family. This year also saw a doubling in the minimum subscription to £1, only eight years after the increase from 5s to 10s; increases made necessary as a consequence of the raging inflation of those years that destroyed so much of the established endowments of churches and colleges that were slow to react to the need for change.
In 1977 the Dean and Chapter established the Preservation Trust as a separate body from The Friends to appeal for the large funds that were then urgently needed. The aim was to raise £1 million. The Preservation Trust Appeal more than achieved this target and as the first really big post-war appeal had shown that the Cathedral was still able to look to the people of Devon and beyond for help in maintaining the Cathedral as a place for all at the heart of the City of Exeter. A second benefit of the Appeal was that it brought the Prince of Wales into active contact with the Cathedral and he was graciously pleased to accept the office of Patron of The Friends, last filled by HM Queen Mary who had been the first Patron from 1938 until her death in 1953.
In 1979, their Golden Jubilee year, the capital funds of The Friends had reached £57,341 but more significantly the grants in the preceding decade alone had reached £100,213. In that year the Cathedral Surveyor wrote to the Friends about plans for a shop in the Cloister Garth for which planning approval had been given but, twenty five years later, the shop remains un-built. However, in 1981 The Friends were significant contributors towards the cost of establishing the existing shop inside the Cathedral. Over the years the shop and subsequently the Refectory have been the means whereby the Dean and Chapter have been able to gain a greater financial benefit from the visits of tourists and a way in which The Friends have been able to help the Dean and Chapter to help themselves.
In the years since the Golden Jubilee The Friends have been pleased to be able to help finance conservation work in the Cathedral. In particular Anna Hulbert, working in the Nave, has restored the Minstrels' Gallery and the roof bosses and Eddie Sinclair has explored the image screen on the West Front and established the mediaeval colouring by close analysis of paint fragments. More mundane, but of course as important, has been help with the heating systems, the electrical installations and the roofs and stonework. The work cycle on old buildings is of course endless.
In 1982 the Dean and Chapter took the bold step of making an appeal for the support of the Cathedral's music by establishing a distinct Trust, The Cathedral Music Foundation. This was begun with the strong support of The Friends who made an initial contribution of £20,000 to be followed by a second grant of £20,000 in 1987 to take that appeal over its target of £1,000,000. The Friends have also given their support to the girls' Choir that was founded m 1994 by making special grants of £25,000 in both 1996 and 1997. Maintaining music in the Cathedral is now the principal concern of the Music Foundation but The Friends can take pride from their part in its establishment and their part in being able to give support when it was needed.
Through the 1980's there are more frequent mentions in The Friends records of the complementary activities of the Cathedral Fellowship. This body had been founded in 1939 under the name of the Cathedral Guild of St Peter in Exeter but it has become the main body that binds the congregation of the Cathedral with the bonds of fellowship. All members of The Friends are automatically members of the Fellowship but, embracing as it does the entire congregation, it has a different focus to that of The Friends.
During the decade of the 1980's, it became noticeable that one effect of the great inflation was that the nominal value of the legacies being received to support The Friends was increasing. By 1986 the total assets under the control of The Friends first exceeded £500,000 and by 1993 the assets exceeded £1,000,000. Inevitably therefore The Friends' Council has come to be principally concerned with financial matters. In the course of 1990 the level of grants were the highest ever in the course of a single year when £170,314 was given to the Dean and Chapter of which very nearly £100,000 came from capital to pay for the installation of a sound system. Not all members of the Council were happy at the disbursement of capital in this way and in his annual letter accompanying the Annual Report for 1991 the Dean referred to the difficulty of reconciling the desire to be as helpful as was possible with the need to recognize that the requirements of the Cathedral were virtually infinite whereas the funds were not. The solution had been the establishment of a working party to examine the constitution of The Friends and perhaps to redefine the role. At the Annual General Meeting in 1992, following much discussion in the working party, the objectives of The Friends were clarified and the current constitution adopted. This Constitution gives wide powers to the Council. Without derogating from those powers, however, it is presently the declared policy of the Council, recognising that it has prospective obligations in perpetuity, to limit grants made available to the Dean and Chapter, other than for exceptional purposes or to meet exceptional needs, to the net income for that year plus any undistributed income carried forward from preceding years.
It is apparent that throughout the whole period that The Friends have existed, the Dean and Chapter have always had difficulty in stretching the funds available to meet the demands upon them and that there has been considerable effort to find the best way of managing the financial affairs of the Cathedral. In 1994 the Dean and Chapter first established a formal committee on which the Council of The Friends was represented, along with representatives of the other main charities supporting the Cathedral, to help with planning and financial management. The aim was to bring about a full recognition of the essential unity of the Cathedral. This arrangement has now been specifically incorporated under the new Cathedral Constitution by the establishment of a sub committee of Chapter of which The Honorary Treasurer of The Friends is a member, in company with the Honorary Treasurers of the other Cathedral Charities, with the responsibility to advise and assist Chapter on financial matters.
In 1979 after only five years the subscription was again doubled to £2; in 1986 it was increased to £3; in 1994 to £7; in 1999 to £8 and in 2004 the subscription was increased to £10. These increases are not insignificant but the current subscription of £10 is a much smaller part of the average weekly wage in Devon than was the case with the modest 5 shillings in 1929. The costs of administration rise. In 1930 the administration costs were £79 14s 11d or 2s 4d per member, much the greater part of which was attributable to stationery and postage. By 2003 however, the costs of administration had risen to £20,592 or £8.36 per member. The greater part of this cost is still attributable to the cost of communicating with members of The Friends now by Newsletter, Annual Report and the Festival, as well as by telephone and letter but it can only be expected to rise still further. The postage cost of circularising the entire membership by letter in 1930 would today barely be adequate to cover the cost of postage of the Annual Report to 10 members. Of the 2,745 current members about half live in Devon, as one would expect, but there are members living not only in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, as again might be expected, but also in Germany and the Netherlands, (a mark of awareness of the links with St Boniface) as well as throughout the world.
In 1996, after the retirement of Dean Eyre, the first lay Chairman of the Friends took office. This was Mr. W. J. Hallett who had been a member of the Council since 1974 and its Vice-Chairman since 1993. Mr. Hallett however only intended to take office until the next Annual General Meeting. In 1997 therefore Mr. Hallett was succeeded by Mr. Peter Gundry, who, for many years had been the Surveyor to the Fabric, and had been a member of the Council since 1968. Mr. Gundry continued as Chairman until 2000 when he too retired and was succeeded by Mr. James Michelmore, the present Chairman.
In 1997 The Friends accepted the creation of a new endowment fund dedicated to the upkeep of the Cathedral and its permanent fixtures, 'The Fabric Fund'. This is narrower in its objects than the general funds of The Friends and is designed to appeal to potential donors who wish their gift to be dedicated to the care of the buildings.
Inevitably when writing a history of The Friends much of it will be taken up by a record of finance and financial activities because The Friends have set themselves the task of being able to supplement and complement the financial resources of the Dean and Chapter. The Friends can take pride at the things that have been done with their assistance and which would never have been done if The Friends had not been there. The Friends, all those whose names appear in the Roll Book, can look at the Cathedral as it stands today and feel justified in attributing to themselves, albeit with appropriate modesty, the epitaph given in St Paul's Cathedral to Sir Christopher Wren, "Si monumentum requiris, circumspice" - 'If you seek a monument, look around you'.
J. H. Baldwin
This short account of the history of The Friends has been based on material in the records of The Friends and in the Annual Reports since 1930. Particular advantage has been taken of the anonymous article written in the twenty-fourth Annual Report and the article in the fiftieth Annual Report written by the late Mrs Audrey Erskine, sometime archivist to the Dean and Chapter and a former member of the Council.