The Right Reverend Robin Woods

The Daily Telegraph

Chaplain to the Queen and Dean of Windsor who found it a wrench to leave Royal circles to become the Bishop of Worcester

The Right Reverend Robin Woods, the former Bishop of Worcester who has died aged 83, spent much of his life in royal circles, enjoying the friendship of the Queen and other members of the Royal Family.

When it became known that in retirement Woods was writing his autobiography, there was speculation in some feline Church circles as to whether it would be entitled The Queen and I or Born to the Purple. In the event it had the simple title Robin Woods, though its index included the names of 529 friends and acquaintances.

There was also a memorable passage describing how he made the decision to move from his position as Dean of Windsor to become Bishop of Worcester: “To clarify matters I went to Balmoral at the invitation of the Queen. The understanding with which I was greeted and the warmth of the welcome in a sense made it all the more difficult to consider leaving such a rewarding position in the Royal Household.

“But over some long talks and wholly delightful excursions on to the moors in chase of either grouse or deer I was left with a much clearer picture of where our future should lie.”

It was perhaps fortunate that Woods’s first appointment after his ordination in 1938 was to the staff of the Student Christian Movement, then at the peak of its influence in the realms of Church unity and Christian social action.

This turned him into what the Duke of Edinburgh later described as “a committed reformer and improver”, and Woods was associated with many attempts to engage the Church more closely with the life of 20th-century society.

During his years as Archdeacon of Sheffield (1958-62) he was chairman of the Sheffield Industrial Mission, and at Windsor (1962-70) was responsible for the foundation of St. George’s House – a residential centre for consultation between leaders in Church and State, as well as a staff college for potential senior clerics.

Robert Wilmer Woods, always known as Robin, was born on Feb 15 1914 at Lausanne, where his father, Edward Woods, later a distinguished Bishop of Lichfield and Lord High Almoner to King George VI, was serving as chaplain and recovering from tuberculosis.

His mother belonged to the Barclay, Buxton, Gurney dynasty of East Anglian bankers, while his uncle, Theodore Woods, was destined to become Bishop of Peterborough, then of Winchester. From this elevated clerical background, Robin Woods’s brother Frank was to become Archbishop of Melbourne and his brother Samuel an Archdeacon in New Zealand.

From Gresham’s School, Holt, Woods went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took a Third in English. He then prepared for Holy Orders at Westcott House. At Cambridge he was president of the Student Christian Movement.

He was appointed Missionary Secretary of the SCM in 1937, and on the outbreak of war took charge of the Movement’s work in the universities of the Midlands. In 1942 he became an army chaplain. Serving with the 4th Indian Division of the Eighth Army in the Italian campaign, he was mentioned in despatches. Later he became Deputy Assistant Chaplain General with responsibility for a Chaplains’ School and Moral Leadership Centre at Lignano, in North Italy.

On demobilisation in 1946 he was appointed Vicar of South Wigston, on the outskirts of Leicester, and in 1951 he became Archdeacon of Singapore and Vicar of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Singapore. Here he exercised a vigorous ministry, encouraging the development of local congregations in the growing urban areas of Singapore, as well as overseeing the Anglican churches in Malaya and Indonesia. He raised money for the building of a cathedral hall in memory of those killed in the war.

In 1958 Woods became Archdeacon of Sheffield and Rector of the coal-mining parish of Tankersley. During his time in Leicester he had become interested in the Church’s problems in industrial communities, and this became one of his main concerns in Sheffield.

When, therefore, the Queen and her advisers came to consider in 1962 how St. George’s Chapel, Windsor might contribute more to the life of the Church and the nation, Woods was chosen to pioneer the development of a new conference and training centre in the heart of Windsor Castle.

He encountered stiff opposition from the Canons of Windsor, but with the approval of the Queen and the strong backing of the Duke of Edinburgh started St George’s House. In its early days many captains of industry and trade union leaders attended the conferences and courses, and what Woods may have lacked intellectually he more than made up for in confidence and style.

During this time he was also Domestic Chaplain to the Queen – a post of considerable influence, even if, by his own admission, he found preaching before the Queen unnerving. It was to Woods that the task fell of baptising Prince Edward in 1964.

Beyond Windsor he was secretary of the ill-fated Anglican-Methodist Unity Commission.

Had Woods been offered one of the more senior bishoprics, his reluctance to leave Windsor in 1970 would probably have been less marked. But once at Worcester he threw himself into the life of the diocese, then about to celebrate its 13th centenary. He took a special interest in industrial matters, serving as chairman of the Birmingham Board of the Manpower Services Committee.

In the House of Lords, to which Woods devoted a fair amount of time, he was a member of a Select Committee on Unemployment and was also the convenor of a group of peers, bishops and MPs who met to discuss church affairs requiring particular attention and legislation. He was chairman of the General Synod’s Industrial Committee and served for some years on the board of Christian Aid.

In retirement, Woods was chairman of the Ecumenical Institute at Tantur, near Jerusalem, and, as Prelate of the Order of St Michael and St George, exercised a valued ministry to senior members of the diplomatic service.

He was appointed KCVO in 1971, and KCMG in 1989.

Besides shooting, Woods enjoyed watercolour painting and playing the piano. He played duets with Benjamin Britten, and with his father’s friend William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury.

He is survived by his wife Henrietta, who shared fully in his work, and by two sons and three daughters.