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Grimshaw, Francis Joseph (1901–1965), Roman Catholic bishop of Plymouth and archbishop of Birmingham, was born in Bridgwater, Somerset, on 6 October 1901, the eldest of the three surviving sons of Joseph Grimshaw (1872–1965), engineers' pattern maker, from a family of Lancashire Catholics, and his wife, Sarah Teresa (1873–1951), the eldest daughter of George Handley of Kinver, Staffordshire. Educated first at St John's School, Bridgwater, he won a county scholarship to Dr Morgan's Grammar School in the same town. Believing he had a vocation to the priesthood, he was sent to St Brendan's boarding house in Clifton, Bristol, and attended St Brendan's School, run by the Irish Christian Brothers, for two years before proceeding to the English College, Rome, in 1919.

Ordained to the priesthood for the diocese of Clifton on 27 February 1926, Grimshaw returned to England with a doctorate in theology and was appointed to a curacy at Holy Rood, Swindon. In 1932 he was made parish priest of St Joseph, Fishponds, Bristol, where he remained until 1945, also undertaking the role of diocesan inspector of schools. Appointed parish priest of St Mary's, Bath, within little more than a year he was nominated bishop of Plymouth and was consecrated on 25 July 1947 in the Cathedral Church of St Mary and St Boniface. As a bishop he was noted for his pastoral concern for young people and his episcopate culminated in the celebration of the twelfth centenary of the martyrdom of St Boniface. Translated to the metropolitan see of Birmingham on 11 May 1954, he was enthroned as its sixth bishop and fifth archbishop in St Chad's Cathedral on 14 September.

Grimshaw's move to Birmingham was not altogether welcome; his native west country ever held his affection and he retained his love of walking and swimming, being a vice-president of the Royal Life Saving Society. His need for both countryside and exercise caused him to move his residence from Edgbaston in Birmingham to Barnt Green on the edge of the Clent and Lickey hills and to install an open-air swimming pool. But his strong sense of duty, typified by his episcopal motto, ‘Under the guiding hand of God’, overcame any natural reluctance on his part, and he threw himself into his increased responsibilities in a much larger diocese and as a metropolitan archbishop. His episcopate coincided with the high-water mark of English Catholicism's numerical strength, reflected in the forty-five new churches and seventy-five new schools built during his time; he was also responsible for the chaplaincy buildings at Birmingham University. Keen to promote vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, the subject of several pastoral letters (composed, like his homilies, before the blessed sacrament), he started the annual ‘Vocations Fortnight’ in the diocese, and laid great emphasis on the importance of Catholics being involved in civic life. The efficient and smooth running of the archdiocese, as of his earlier diocese, was in large part due to his ability to pick the right person for the job and he was never afraid to delegate appropriately. Never one to make quick decisions, his careful consideration of matters avoided any impetuosity in diocesan affairs. His fondness for watercolour painting and italic writing (he was vice-president of the Society for Italic Writing) gives, perhaps, a clue to the relaxed detachment of his management style.

The later years of Grimshaw's episcopate were dominated by the Second Vatican Council. He had a keen interest in liturgy, and although he loved the traditional Latin liturgy, he was an early advocate of the limited use of the vernacular, if this was necessary to facilitate a greater liturgical understanding and appreciation on the part of lay people. As bishop of Plymouth he produced the Manual of Prayers (1953), published on behalf of the hierarchy, and his translation of the Roman ritual resulted in the Small Ritual (1956; new edn, 1964) and Excerpta e Rituali Romano (1961). He was elected a member of the conciliar commission for the sacred liturgy, which resulted in Sacrosantum Concilium, the Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, and of the consilium for its implementation. He was also president of the liturgical commission for England and Wales, which oversaw the first vernacular translations of the mass, which came into force in November 1964, and helped to establish what later became the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL). His interest also extended to music and he was president of the Church Music Association. Outside liturgical matters, he took a keen interest in the social teachings of the church and was president of the Catholic Social Guild.

The first signs of a break in Grimshaw's usually robust health appeared in May 1964 and he was operated on for the removal of an oesophagal ulcer in November. He seemed initially to make a good recovery, but suffered a relapse in January 1965 and died of oesophagal cancer on 22 March 1965, at St Paul's Convent, Selly Park, Birmingham. His funeral at St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, on 30 March, was followed by interment at the cemetery of St Mary's College, Oscott.

Shy and retiring by nature, Grimshaw could appear aloof and withdrawn, but he was marked by a gentle, fatherly kindness, especially towards those in difficulty, and was devoid of pomposity, never failing to win people by his courteous simplicity and evident interest in them. In reporting his death, a local newspaper described him as ‘a quiet unassuming man, with gentlemanly charm, ready wit and a twinkling smile, who retained in high office the modest air of a family parish priest’ (Evening Mail and Despatch, 22 March 1965).

John Sharp


Roman Catholic archdiocesan archives, Birmingham, files FJG/A/1, FJG/B/9/1 · The Tablet (27 March 1965) · Archdiocese of Birmingham Catholic Directory (1966), 203–4 · B. Doolan and A. Bellenger, The Catholic bishops of Birmingham (2003), 25–8


Roman Catholic archdiocesan archives, Birmingham, personal and administrative papers


M. Bedini, portrait, Cathedral House, Birmingham · photographs, Roman Catholic archdiocesan archives, Birmingham

Wealth at death  

£2513 6s. 0d.