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Woods, Edward Sydney (1877–1953), bishop of Lichfield, was born at All Saints' vicarage, Hereford, on 1 November 1877, the third of five children of the Revd Frank Woods (1846–1896), vicar of All Saints', Hereford, and later vicar of St Andrew's, Nottingham, and his wife, Alice Octavia, née Fry (1845–1923), who was of Quaker lineage and granddaughter of Elizabeth Fry. Along with his elder brother, Theodore Woods (later bishop of Peterborough and then Winchester), he was educated at Marlborough College (1890–96), and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took a second class in the theological tripos in 1899.

After reading for ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, Woods was ordained in 1901 as curate of Holy Trinity, Cambridge, and chaplain of the Cambridge pastorate. He was chaplain and lecturer at Ridley Hall from 1901 to 1903, and vice-principal from 1903 to 1907. On 30 July 1903 he married Clemence Rachel (1874–1952), daughter of Robert Barclay (1837–1921), of High Leigh, Hoddesdon; her father, a member of the banking family, had been brought up a Quaker but joined the Church of England and was treasurer of the British and Foreign Bible Society. They had three sons and three daughters. Illness with tuberculosis required a change of climate for Woods and a move to Switzerland, where he was successively chaplain at Davos Platz (1908–13) and at Lausanne (1913–15). He was examining chaplain to the bishop of Durham (1911–22).

In 1915 Woods became a temporary chaplain to the forces serving at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was a contributor to The Church in the Furnace (1917), a volume of essays by temporary forces chaplains, which sought to inform the church of the pastoral implications of the conflict. In 1918 he visited the western front and early in 1919 he toured the occupation forces in Germany, travelling 2100 miles to interview 280 of the 400 forces candidates for ordination. Demobilized in April 1919, and in restored health, Woods returned to Cambridge to be vicar of his old parish, Holy Trinity. After the war he led the Bristol Crusade, a mission to industrial workers at which Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was one visiting speaker. He became proctor in convocation for the diocese of Ely (1921–3), and honorary canon of Ely (1923–7).

In 1927 Woods was appointed vicar and rural dean of Croydon, which was to be the base of his ministry for the next ten years. As suffragan bishop of Croydon, to which position he was appointed in 1930, he instigated the ‘Croydon experiment’. This was a local response to the Sunday Entertainment Act of 1932 (which permitted the opening of cinemas on Sunday as long as cinema employees were allowed a day of rest and that a proportion of profits from the opening was given to charity). To these provisos, he suggested the addition of a third, that the films shown should be ‘wholesome’ and suitable for Sunday viewing. At the local referendum on this issue, in November 1932, the scheme was approved by 34,617 votes to 24,386. He went on to chair the committee that vetted the films for the first year of its operation, proudly reporting in a letter to The Times (29 Oct 1934) that the committee had succeeded in eliminating films that ‘made a special feature of crime, cruelty, and loose morality’ for those of educational merit, clean comedies, and healthy stories.

At Croydon, Woods played an important part in the early years of religious broadcasting at the BBC. The first broadcast Sunday morning service was a harvest thanksgiving from Croydon parish church on 6 October 1935. From then onwards Woods (and Croydon) featured in the regular pattern of Sunday services, noted for the quality of the preaching. These broadcasts produced a flow of fan mail for Woods, who published his radio talks as Love in Action (1939) and A Life Worth Living (1941). An ‘ideal broadcaster’, Woods was in demand well beyond his time at Croydon. He possessed the ‘capacity to make each listener feel that he was being spoken to personally’ (Tomkins, 135).

A moderate evangelical (and someone who always kept a spiritual diary), Woods took an increasing interest in church politics and ecumenism as his ministry progressed. He was able to relate well to all wings of the church. A keen supporter of the Life and Liberty Movement, which sought full control for the church of its own affairs, and which led to the Enabling Act of 1919, Woods chaired the movement from 1921, and sought in particular to support church governance practically by educating and supporting the laity in their new-found responsibilities. Woods instigated and then led the Swanwick conferences for parochial church councillors every year (except during wartime) from 1923 until his death. His biographer described him as an ‘apostle of unity’ (Tomkins, 99), his lifetime spanning the years in which the ecumenical movement grew from strength to strength. He was a speaker at Student Christian Movement conferences, and appointed as one of the Church of England's delegates to the first Faith and Order conference in Lausanne in 1927, and again at the Edinburgh conference in 1937. His publications Modern Discipleship (1911) and Everyday Religion (1922), like his other works, were published by the SCM Press.

Woods became bishop of the vast diocese of Lichfield in 1937. Despite its geographical size, he adopted his brother Theodore's method of making pilgrimages to various parts of his diocese on foot. By the end of his time at Lichfield, he had made twenty-three such diocesan walks and, covering about 900 miles on foot, made 289 visits to parishes. In his wartime visitation charge of 1941 he declared that the war needed to be fought ‘on two fronts, to pray and work for a physical victory over the brute forces of Nazism … but on the other hand … filled with the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation … wage relentless war on the spiritual hosts of darkness’ (Tomkins, 125); and that this war was being fought to ‘bring the ideal of a Christian England within the realm of possibility’ (Wolfe, 177). Although his diocese was little affected by bombing, Woods attended when an explosion at an ammunition dump annihilated two villages, and when one of his churches, All Saints', Darlaston, was destroyed by the enemy. Towards the end of the war Woods was invited by the YMCA to be a missioner, visiting the troops and chaplains, and made an impression as someone of ‘power, simplicity and obvious friendliness’ (Tomkins, 130). After the war, during October 1946, he visited service personnel in Austria and northern Italy, including a visit to a prisoner-of-war camp, where he gave the blessing in German.

Although Woods was socially and educationally of a conventional background for an Anglican bishop, living in a world in which shooting parties were the norm and shortage of money was not an issue, he wore his upper-class and Anglican clerical background lightly. He loved sport, especially hockey and tennis, and created a tennis court in his garden at Croydon, continuing to play the game throughout his life. He had the common touch in his ability to communicate to a range of audiences, not least to students; he was often described as ‘lovable’. Even if no intellectual giant, Woods was ‘a priest and a gentleman’ (Hastings, 448), whose pastoral gifts were self-evident. His sympathetic ‘I know how you feel’, to someone whose troubles he had never experienced himself, nevertheless carried conviction (Tomkins, 8).

Woods was left a widower on his wife's death in October 1952. His last sermon was on Christmas day 1952 at Singapore Cathedral, while on a mission to troops in the Far East. Becoming ill on his journey home, he died a fortnight after his return, at the palace, The Close, Lichfield, on 11 January 1953, of myocardial failure and acute bronchitis. His lifelong love of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress was underlined by his request for this to be read to him during his last few days. His three sons were all clergyman; one of them, Frank Woods (1907–1992), became archbishop of Melbourne and primate of Australia.

Stephen G. Parker

Sources  

O. Tomkins, The life of Edward Woods (1957) · The Times (12 Jan 1953); (15 Jan 1953); (21 Jan 1953) · A. Hastings, A history of English Christianity, 1920–1990, 3rd edn (1991) · K. M. Wolfe, The churches and the British Broadcasting Corporation, 1922–1956: the politics of broadcast religion (1984) · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.

Archives  

BL, corresp. with A. Mansbridge and S. Cockerell · King's Lond., corresp. with B. H. Liddell Hart


Likenesses  

Bassano, half-plate glass negatives, 1937, NPG, London · Bassano, vintage print, 1937, NPG, London · W. Stoneman, negative, 1939, NPG, London · H. A. Carr, portrait, repro. in The exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts (1931), 37 · J. Epstein, portrait, bronze, Lichfield Cathedral; repro. in G. T. Noszlopy and F. Waterhouse, Public sculpture of Staffordshire and the Black Country (2005), 223 · F. Higginton, portrait, repro. in The exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts (1931), 67

Wealth at death  

£4725 1s. 1d.: probate, 10 April 1953, CGPLA Eng. & Wales