Bishop Mervyn Stockwood

One of the road’s most colourful and well-connected 20th Century residents was the late Mervyn Stockwood, who lived at No. 15 Sydney Buildings from his retirement as Bishop of Southwark in 1980 till his death aged 81 in January 1995.

At a party in the Malt House garden

Described in Michael De-la-Noy’s biography Mervyn Stockwood: A Lonely Life as “one of the great parish priests of the twentieth century” and “the most controversial diocesan bishop of his generation”, his work as a churchman was greatly reduced when he moved to Bath. But he still officiated at services in the Abbey, held services for visitors in a little chapel of his own on the top floor of No. 15, and maintained contact with many other churchmen in Britain and abroad.

His former neighbour Diana Cooke, who lived one house away at No. 13, sums Mervyn up as “a very interesting person – a wonderful host - someone who contributed hugely to the road”. He was chairman of the Sydney Buildings Householders’ Association for five years (1983-88), and brought to the position a habit of going right to the top on all matters, whether weighty or trivial.

Mervyn’s wide circle of friends and admirers included Princess Margaret, who called on him several times when she was staying with friends at Widcombe Manor. Rather heavy-handed security precautions accompanied her visits to Sydney Buildings - on one occasion the security cordon was put around the wrong house. She was the only person for whom Mervyn, who suffered badly from asthma, relaxed the No Smoking rule at No. 15.

Another visitor with royal connections was Raine Spencer, mother of Diana Princess of Wales (whose wedding Mervyn attended as a guest of Prince Charles). When the recently widowed Countess Spencer married Comte Jean-Francois Pineton de Chambrun in 1993, Mervyn told her mother Dame Barbara Cartland that there had been a clandestine marriage service in his private chapel at No. 15 the day before the official one.

Humility was not one of Mervyn’s virtues, but loyalty was – and a huge gift for hospitality.

Chris Morrissey

January 2009

Sydney Buildings History Group ©