Biographies of Fr Alfred Hope Patten

1970 (reprinted 2008), 1983, 2004,

2006 (revised 2022), 2021

and photographs of his funeral (1958)

Fr Colin Stephenson, Fr Patten's successor as Master of the Guardians and Administrator, retired as Administrator in 1968 and appealed for information and reminiscences to help him write the book that was finally published in 1970, entitled Walsingham Way. As the dust-jacket described, it was "the first full-length book about the Shrine, and about Hope Patten. It is a story told with candour and humour by the one man ideally qualified to tell it". Although eagerly awaited and a gripping read, it was not universally applauded, and was criticised by some as being in places flippant and inaccurate. There is some truth in these criticisms, but one must remember that Fr Colin never claimed to write an authoritative historical record. In his piece written for the Walsingham Review he said that he intended to make it a simple account of what was [then] known of the foundation and history of the Shrine, and with it came what he described as "more or less a biography of Alfred Hope Patten". He had known Walsingham and Fr Patten since 1935 and was best placed at the time to record what was known so far. It was written in his own entertaining style, as he talked, with quantities of humorous anecdotes and asides thrown in; and his chief research material for the biography was in truth his own lively reminiscences and those of so many people still living who had known Fr Patten even longer than he had. Fr Gordon Reid (former Rector of St Clement's, Philadelphia), Fr Colin's executor, allowed a second edition to be published in 2008, and himself wrote a new Preface to it which sought to place the book in its own historical perspective, after nearly forty years of momentous changes in Walsingham, the Church of England and beyond. In 1972 Fr Colin had published his own autobiography, Merrily on High: this was also reprinted in 2008 with another new bridging Preface by Fr Gordon. Both Fr Colin and Fr Gordon referred to Fr Patten by his baptismal name of ‘Hope’, and knew well that his was not a hyphenated surname: the use of ‘Hope-Patten’ throughout Fr Gordon’s new Preface can be taken as a printing error. A review of both revised editions appears in the Assumptiontide 2009 edition of the Walsingham Review, written by Ruth Ward, a Guardian since 2003. A short study, assessing Fr Patten's priestly life and achievements, was published in 1983 in the 'Oxford Prophets' series of booklets marking the 150th anniversary year of the Oxford Movement. The series, published by the Church Union and edited by Fr Jeremy Haselock, charted the lives of the founders of the Movement, and of many later leaders and outstanding personalities, truly prophets in their day. Fr Patten's biography, number five in the series, was written by Fr John Barnes, at the time still Vicar of Walsingham, as he was from 1977 to 1989. The same text was reissued at least twice some years later, adding the collect for Fr Patten from the Norwich Diocesan Calendar, but omitting the photograph of him that had appeared in the Oxford Prophets original. A Lecture was given to the Anglo-Catholic History Society by Michael Farrer at St Mary’s Bourne Street on 12 February 2001. ‘Alfred Hope Patten: His Place in the Catholic Revival’.
Fr Patten's entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) was written by Fr Peter Cobb.
This definitive biography of Fr Patten appeared in 2006.* It is a full-length scholarly study by Michael Yelton. In his Anglican Papalism (2005) he had written about Fr Patten and his restoration of the Walsingham Shrine and the need for a full biography. The next year he wrote and published one, entitled Alfred Hope Patten and the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, An illustrated biography. He had unrestricted access to the Shrine archives and to much other previously unseen and unpublished material, and did extensive research elsewhere. (In 2007 he published Alfred Hope Patten: his life and times in pictures, which contained the overflow of photographs from the biography. This book also includes a very useful ‘short life’.) At this distance in time, and with comprehensive resources, Yelton was able to assess all aspects of Fr Patten's life, including in the opening chapters exploring for the first time his family origins, his early life and some of the myths that he liked to create around himself.
After Fr Patten died in 1958 tributes appeared in journals and newspapers in this country and in many parts of the world: it was natural that before long someone would attempt a formal biography. We know from our archives that in 1961 Fr Smith of St Salvador, Edinburgh, advertised for material about Fr Patten with a view to writing one, but nothing came of this. If he started it, the manuscript has not survived, and nothing was published.
Link to photographs of Fr Patten’s funeral procession on 13 August 1958 and to photographs on 11 August 2008 of the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of his death
Chapters 1 & 2 of Michael Yelton’s biography accurately reveal more than has ever been known about Fr Patten’s life before he came to Walsingham. Fr Patten rarely spoke about his family or his early education, but his clerical path is fairly well documented. Crockford’s recorded that he entered Lichfield Theological College in 1911, was made deacon 1913, ordained priest 1914, Curate of Holy Cross, St Pancras 1913-15, St Alban’s Teddington 1915- 18, St Mary’s Buxted 1919-20. He was inducted into the benefice of Great & Little Walsingham with Houghton St Giles on 19 January 1921. His time as Curate of S Michael & All Angels Ladbroke Grove North Kensington 1919 and Curate of St Andrew’s Carshalton Beeches 1920-21 is not always recorded in Crockford’s, and, like the short time possibly spent as a locum at St Michael’s Edinburgh just before that, may have been only informal appointments. In 2021, to commemorate the centenary year of Fr Patten’s appointment, Fr William Davage SSC was commissioned to write a series of profiles of successive parish priests of Walsingham, from Fr Patten to the present day. Vicars of Walsingham 1921-2021 was launched in the parish church on Trinity Sunday. * In 2022, at the time of the centenary of the Restoration of the Shrine in St Mary’s parish church, Michael Yelton published the second editon of the biography, revised and updated (photo right).