I first met John Cooper, also known to me and many others as Henry, who died on 23 December 2021, on Ordination Retreat in Ealing, West London, in late June 1974 before we were to be made Deacons in St Paul’s Cathedral.
It was the first Ordination by the then new Bishop of London, Gerald Ellison, who had arranged for the Deacons and Ordinands from all the Episcopal Areas to come together for one diocesan service. This meant that there were twenty Deacons to be Ordained Priest, and twenty Ordinands to be made Deacons. The service lasted for more than three hours. The stewards opened the West doors of the cathedral before the service had ended, which enabled American tourists to join the queue for Communion! The following year, Henry and I were Ordained Priest in St Mary Abbots, Kensington, by the Bishop of Kensington with half the number of candidates.
We were to serve our curacies in West London, our Parishes either side of the Great West Road: Henry in the Parish of Osterley, and me in the Parish of Heston. Henry’s Vicar always complained that PCC Meetings were so well organised and run that the Holy Spirit never got a look in.
Before Henry was Ordained, he had been a bank clerk in Eastbourne, where he was born on 27 November 1947, and was responsible for the bank’s annual sweepstake for the Grand National and the Derby. Clearly, he was good at it, because his colleagues named him “John Henry” after the famous gambler of that name. Over the years, John Henry became Henry, and, as he said to one of the Brothers at the Charterhouse: “You have to have known me forty years before you can call me Henry.”
Henry’s training for Ordination began in 1970 at the Bernard Gilpin Society in Durham – set up in the 1950’s by the House of Bishops to give those Ordinands who had been working since leaving school a classical general education, before moving on to Theological College. Henry went first to Wells Theological College in the Cathedral Close; after a year, however, it closed and was amalgamated with Salisbury Theological College to be known as Salisbury Wells Theological College, where he spent a further two years.
Having met on retreat, and living not far from each other, Henry and I became good friends. He was an excellent cook and entertained friends most hospitably. His Melton Mowbray pies were superb and he introduced me to cheese and onion sandwiches made with raw onion. Henry’s great love was cricket, and for some years he would umpire public schools’ cricket on Saturdays in the summer. He once said to me: “Remember the name Alastair Cook. He will play for England one day.” He was also an avid reader, having accumulated all of A.N. Wilson’s novels, among other authors, not forgetting the cricketer’s bible, Wisdom. Henry was also a stickler for the Queen’s English and was not averse to correcting the English of his friends; I was no exception.
From Osterley, Henry went in 1977 to the Parish of St Stephen and St Thomas Shepherds Bush for a second curacy, before taking on his own Parish at St Peter’s, Paddington, in 1982. In 1981, Henry had been best man at my wedding – to my wife, Jo – in the University Church of Christ the King in Gordon Square, London. He was also Godfather to our son Henry.
Henry left the Diocese of London in 1989 to become Vicar of Darwin in the Blackburn Diocese, where one of his curates went on to become the Bishop of Horsham and who is now Principal of Mirfield Theological College. Henry always said that he had had a mitre in his rucksack! As with all of his curates, Henry made sure that they trained as Religious Education inspectors for church schools.
From there, in 1996, Henry was appointed Vicar of St Michael and All Angels with St Edmund, Northampton, whose PCC had passed Resolutions A and B of the Act of Synod allowing for alternative episcopal oversight. Upon realising that the majority of the congregation were not actually in favour, however, Henry resigned in 1999, explaining to me in a telephone conversation that he had “taken the King’s shilling” – i.e., a lump sum – and a C of E pension.
Throughout his ministry, wherever he was, Henry had a succession of lodgers, some forty in all, who greatly appreciated his gift for hospitality and friendship. He enjoyed holidays abroad, and in particular Luxor in Egypt, which was a favourite holiday destination.
Upon retirement, Henry lived in a C of E Pensions Board house in Bedford, and helped out in parishes in the dioceses of St Albans and London wherever there was an interregnum. Later, he moved to Hampstead to a top-floor flat of a house for retired clergy. Having very steep stairs (Henry was flat footed and had no sense of balance), my wife Jo and I later persuaded him to apply to become a Brother of the Charterhouse, where I was Preacher and Deputy Master at the time.
We were delighted that he took our advice and moved to Charterhouse before we left in August 2014, where he happily settled into the community, becoming a valued member of it. He was a loyal and good friend, not just to me and my family, but to all whom he met and to whom he ministered. May he rest in peace.
Canon Hugh Williams
Vicar of Cricket St Thomas