Members of the San Luigi Orders: The Revd. James Yorke Batley

The Revd. James Yorke Batley (1880-1971) was a Chevalier of the Order of the Lion and the Black Cross, receiving the accolade from Grand Prieur Mgr. George Tull in a ceremony at Pevensey Castle, Sussex (pictured left), in 1961.

Born in Tonbridge and educated at Tame Grammar School, he won a place at Trinity College, Cambridge. Here, he proceeded to the degree of Master of Arts of the University of Cambridge and was appointed Lecturer in the Faculty of English there. Subsequently, he felt the call to ordination in the Church of England, and served as assistant curate of St Paul’s Church, Cambridge, between 1911 and 1913. After this, he became an assistant master at St John’s School, Leatherhead. In 1916, Cambridge University Press published his “The Problem of Suffering in the Old Testament,” a thorough exposition of the subject that was reprinted by the University of Michigan Library in 2009. He would follow this with “On a Reformer’s Latin Bible: being an essay on the Adversaria in the Vulgate of Thomas Bilney” (1940).

Batley became a member of the Society of Free Catholics under the Revd. Joseph Morgan Lloyd-Thomas. This body, which combined elements of Unitarianism, Catholicism, and Socialism, had been founded in 1914 and sought to unite a ritualistic approach to liturgy with free thought in theological matters, forming the bedrock of a Free Christian Church. It met for its annual conference at Lloyd Thomas’s Old Meeting Church in Birmingham (pictured right), where the Revd. Conrad Noel, Anglican Vicar of Thaxted, celebrated; it also gained the support of Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P., and Dr. W.E. Orchard, sometime minister at the King’s Weigh House in Mayfair, London (he was ordained priest by Vernon Herford (see below), and would eventually become a Roman Catholic). All three men contributed to its monthly journal “The Free Catholic”. In 1929 the Society dissolved, Lloyd Thomas believing it had done all that it could achieve.

In 1926, the course of Batley’s vocation was to change with his first meeting with Bishop Vernon Herford (pictured left), who was closely involved with the Society of Free Catholics. Ulric Vernon Herford (1866-1938) was a scion of a distinguished Manchester Unitarian family, being the son of educationalist William Henry Herford. Educated at the Victoria University of Manchester (B.A., 1889) and at Manchester College, Oxford, where he prepared for the Unitarian ministry, he also spent a year studying at the Anglican St Stephen’s House, Oxford. Ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1892, he pastored Unitarian missions at King’s Lynn, Whitchurch and latterly the Church of the Divine Love at Percy Street, Magdalen Bridge, Oxford. This congregation had begun as an outgrowth of Manchester College but was developing towards a Catholic style of worship. The congregation wished Herford to seek valid Apostolic Holy Orders, and Herford believed that this could best be achieved by approaching what he saw as “the purest and most primitive Branch of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” the Syro-Chaldean (Nestorian) Church of the East in India. Their Metropolitan agreed to consecrate Herford to the Episcopate, and so Herford travelled to India in 1902 for that purpose. On his return to Oxford he formed the Evangelical Catholic Church as a unifying body to which he hoped all Christians could subscribe. The following year, the Metropolitan passed away and Herford inherited pastoral responsibility for his Indian mission. He became known for his charity to others, his strong social conscience and support for the peace movement, and his work for animal welfare.

Batley relates the story of their meeting in his own words,

“I first met Bishop Herford in 1926, when I approached him with a view to receiving ordination to the Priesthood. He kindly invited me to stay to lunch, where I was introduced to Mrs Herford, who informed me that she belonged to the Church of England. She also told me that there was much coming and going on the part of men who were presumably also seeking Orders. The Bishop had much to say about Unitarianism, Anglicanism and intercommunion between the Churches. He also mentioned possible alternative spheres of work for me. Later on he spoke of Lloyd Thomas and the Society of Free Catholics (I was a member of that body). The Bishop impressed me as having an unhappy ‘flair’ for destroying his own work. The breach with Bishop [William Stanley McBean] Knight [B.Litt. Oxon., barrister and Tutor of New College, Oxford, he was the only bishop consecrated by Herford – Herford expelled him from the E.C.C. two years after the consecration] is an unhappy example of this trait. Bishop Herford’s activities on behalf of the E.C.C. were, I would say, threefold in character – there were negotiations with various Free Churches, with a view to undertaking spiritual oversight; various Christian workers were ordained to the Priesthood or Diaconate, to enable them to exercise a wider and more effective ministry; he wrote many booklets and pamphlets. Some of these were designed to expound the E.C.C. principles.

The Bishop was anxious to provide one or more cottages for use as Retreat Houses. I think that one of these materialised for a time. He was of a kindly disposition and liked to be surrounded by young people and also by animals, especially cats.

I ought to mention Bishop Herford’s conversational powers. He was a fluent talker on many subjects, but such an untidy thinker that it was almost impossible to follow him for any length of time! Let it be remembered that Bishop Herford spent his life devoted to three great causes – Christian Unity, World Peace, Kindness to Animals.”

Batley was to become one of the first Trustees of the E.C.C. and after his priestly ordination was appointed by Herford as its Vicar-General. In 1929, Herford became concerned at the lack of news and confused reports from his Indian mission, and therefore despatched Batley to South India to investigate. Batley arrived there in the autumn, and remained there for nearly two years. The conclusion was that most of the missions had declined irretrievably under the burdens of persecution by the Jesuits and poverty, but that there was some remnant of the congregations still extant and the possibility of further fruitful work at Maraman.

Returning to England, Batley became closely associated with one of Herford’s lay-ministers, Ernest O’Dell Cope, who was based at St John’s Church, Stapenhill, Burton-on-Trent, until the wooden building was blown down in a storm. A disagreement with Herford led to Cope’s resignation from his jurisdiction in 1937, and in 1945, Cope controversially claimed that he had been secretly consecrated in 1940 by Ralph Whitman, allegedly a bishop who had been consecrated by Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew in 1910. This claim was given some degree of credence by Mar Georgius of Glastonbury (q.v.) as well as the late Fr. Alban Cockerham of the Liberal Catholic Church, and Batley received consecration secretly from Cope on 2 August 1942.

From 1939 onwards, Cope developed a plan to revive the Benedictine community of Fr. Ignatius at Llanthony Abbey in Wales. Fr. Ignatius (Joseph Leycester Lyne) (1837-1908) had been ordained priest by Prince-Abbot Joseph III after the Church of England refused him ordination on the grounds that it was then opposed to monks also being priests. The monastic life at Llanthony endured for over forty years, but ended around 1908 under Fr. Ignatius’s successor Dom Asaph Harris.) In 1924 the former monastery was sold by Dom Asaph to the artist Eric Gill, and after his death in 1940 his widow continued to live there while the abbey church partially erected by Fr. Ignatius (and where he is buried) had fallen into some disrepair (the building is pictured right). Here, in 1880, visions of Our Lady had been seen. At Christmas, 1947, Cope, Batley and two further clergy moved to Llanthony, where they were given the use of a bungalow (“St David’s”) at Capel-y-Ffin that was owned by two elderly nieces of Fr. Ignatius, Hilda and Irene Ewens.

The objects of the new Order of Llanthony Brothers were stated as being:

“(1) To re-establish the Monastic Vocation, with the spirit of the former Llanthony Abbey, a Community of Men under the late Abbot Ignatius, OSB;

(2) To provide possibilities of study, prayer and evangelistic priests and ordinands to the Ministry of the Church of Jesus Christ, with the Anglican and Catholic system.”

There was a special call to men who had served in the Armed Forces. Along with the Order, Cope founded a new church, the Free Anglo-Catholic Church. However, this activity was to be short-lived. The new Abbot-elect of the community, Br. William, who was something of an unstable character, proved to be unaware of the extent of the control of the law of the land by the Church of England, and charges were brought against him that he had solemnized marriages at a place other than a church or licensed chapel, and had performed an irregular burial service. The Abbot was convicted on these charges at the Old Bailey in April 1948 and bound over to keep the peace for two years. Although he was eventually installed in his office by Batley on 26 September 1948, the community did not survive the scandal, which was catnip to Anglican and Roman polemicists, and the remaining members disbanded shortly afterwards.

After this episode, Batley established the Evangelical Catholic Mission in East Sussex, based at his home in Guestling, and this mission was announced for the first time in the winter of 1953. During the 1950s he came into contact with Mgr. George Tull, then a priest of the E.C.C., who would subsequently become Grand Prior and Vice President of the San Luigi Orders. Mgr. Tull edited the newsletter of the Evangelical Catholic Communion, “The Light-Bringer”, and Batley contributed a number of articles to that organ on theological and pastoral subjects. In December 1955, Mgr. Tull took on responsibility for the E.C.C.’s revised East Sussex mission dedicated to St Philip in Blackboys with Batley as his assistant. which continued until the autumn of 1958. During these years, Mgr. Tull was also researching his biography of Herford, “Vernon Herford: Apostle of Unity” (1958). This work, long out of print, remains the only objective survey of Herford’s ministry. Upon Mgr. Tull’s appointment as a Grand Prior of the San Luigi Orders. Batley was one of his first nominations for knighthood in the OLBC.

About johnkersey

Historian, musician and educationalist.
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