the seal of the medieval priory
The Guardians

(reprinted from Walsingham Review Number 72 : December 1980)

The Shrine is vested in twenty Guardians who also form the Walsingham College Trust Association, a charitable trust company. They act in accordance with the Constitution of the College of Guardians and the Articles of Association of the Trust Company. They are concerned with all aspects of the Shrine's work. they meet in May when the Bursar presents accounts previously approved by the Directors (elected from among the Guardians) and in October. At both meetings the Adminstrator (appointed by the Guardians for the day-to-day running of the whole work of the Shrine in Walsingham) gives a report on the past six months. A priest Guardian (at present Father Gill) is elected as Master, to be their executive head, and he maintains close relations with the Shrine and is frequently there for consultation with the Adminstrator and others. Another Guardian (at present Father Charles Smith) is elected as Registrar to act as his deputy at need. Broadly, Guardians are elected by a carefully designed voting system mainly on their particular ability to be of service to the Shrine, partly to represent a particular area, and always on having shown a devotion to the Shrine and its work. In addition, a small number of Honorary Guardians are chosen, without voting powers, (including several bishops) as being sympathetic to the Shrine and able to be useful counsellors.

(reprinted from Walsingham Review Number 139 : Advent 2006)

We pray for them every day at Shrine Prayers. We see them apparelled in splendid blue velvet guarding the image of Our Lady at the National Pilgrimage and other major events. We read news of their meetings in this journal. But who are the Guardians? What do they actually do?

ln 1931, when he rebuilt the Holy House, Fr Patten realised that he needed a new, legal structure to oversee the work of the Shrine that he had restored now that it owned lands and property. So he set up a Charitable Company called the Walsingham College Trust Association Ltd (or WCTA Ltd as it may be better known to you). At the same time he formed a College of Guardians to own the new company.

That structure is largely unchanged today. Legally the Guardians are the Shareholders of WCTA Ltd who appoint from amongst their number eight to serve as Directors of the Company. ln effect they are the governing body of the Shrine setting policy which is implemented by the Priest Administrator and his staff.

Years before anyone had ever heard of `Collaborative Ministry' the College of Guardians brought together the skills and talents of clergy
and laypeople. Today, from a College of twenty, eleven are ordained and the rest Lay Guardians. Until 2005 there was a rule that Priest Guardians must be unmarried but that was abolished last year, which enabled the Principal of Pusey House, Fr Jonathan Baker, to be elected as the first married Priest Guardian**. The business of the College is overseen by the Master of the Guardians, Canon Martin Warner.

Today the College of Guardians represents a broad cross-section of the pilgrimage constituency and brings together a remarkable breadth of knowledge and experience. There are parish priests, a cathedral canon, a religious and a bishop. We have the benefits of a city banker, the chief executive of an opera company, a teacher, a psycho-analyst and a cluster of lawyers. We can also draw on the experience of our non-voting honorary and emeritus Guardians.

Above all, though, the College of Guardians is a praying community, one which takes its spiritual responsibilities to the Shrine very seriously indeed. The twice-yearly Chapter Meetings are pilgrimages which centre on the Chapter Mass. Prayer is at the heart of their common life, just as it is at the heart of the Shrine itself.

** archivist's note: although this was the theory, one of the original Guardians and two later entrants were in fact married, but as Fr Patten wanted to enlist them, this was glossed over at the time (Fr Elton Lury, Fr Carrick Deakin and Fr Claude Powell): see right hand panel under 2005

The College of Guardians was formed in 1931
although it did not adopt a formal Constitution until 1932.

from Our Lady's Mirror Autumn Number 1931

The Sanctuary has been placed in charge of Trustees and a body of guardians, which is to number, when the ranks are complete, twenty-four men - twelve of each order, lay and cleric. After the trustees had accepted the invitation to act, the present guardians were nominated by them all, and others will be added to the number upon election of the whole body. At present they consist of [names of those who are also Trustees in bold]:

Bishop O'Rorke The Duke of Argyll
The Abbot of Nashdom Lord Halifax
Fr A H Baverstock Sir William Milner
Fr Fynes-Clinton Sir John Shaw
Fr Kingdon Mr Derrick Lingwood
Fr Elton Lury Mr George Long
Fr Hope Patten Mr Jack Banson
Fr Humphrey Whitby Mr Eric McDyles [Maclagan]
Fr Roger Wodehouse  

The first page of the first Minute Book was started on 11 February 1932: this indicates that they were preparing a Constitution. By this time Major Arthur Bowker had been added to their number, making eighteen 'original' Guardians, half priest members and half lay. This ratio was soon changed to 11 priest, 7 lay. The total number was raised to twenty in 1953 (12 priest, 8 lay). It never went to the 24 originally envisaged in Fr Patten's 1931 article above.

In Fr Patten's time the Guardians were also sometimes referred to as Fellows.

The last survivor of the 'original' Guardians was Sir John Best-Shaw, who died in 1984.The last new Guardian instituted by Fr Patten was Fr Philip Husbands in 1957.

Fr Fynes-Clinton paid for the College to have an official grant of arms in 1945.

In 1946 it was decided to create Honorary and Emeritus Guardians when appropriate. The idea of Guardians Emeriti was prompted by Major Bowker's repeated requests to resign owing to age, and Fr Reggie Kingdon's unwillingness to resign even though he was too infirm to attend.

The first Honorary Guardians in 1946 were Canon Vivan Petersen and Dr Thomas Whittemore (both from USA); at the same time Prince Vladimir Galitzine was appointed as an Honorary Guardian, although an Orthodox: this was before the later provision for Honorary Ecumenical Guardians. The Orthodox Archbishop Nestor had also been elected but declined to take office.

The insignia evolved slowly over the years. The first two group photographs were taken in full regalia, fifty-one years apart, and a third five years later.

Each new Guardian has been required to sign the Guardians' Roll.

His or her photograph is added to the Guardians' Gallery in the College, where hang the photographs of most of the full Guardians, and some of their Honorary colleagues: the collection was started in 1950.

Each Guardian's name is added to the appropriate Stall in the Shrine Church, on either side of the chancel. The twenty stalls were added at different times according to funds available. Behind each seat the holders' names are listed, with dates, and in some cases the individuals' coats of arms were painted (by Enid Chadwick). The names on each side are listed at



Holy House built;
formation of College of Guardians


Guardians' first Minute Book;
first Chapter meeting;
first Constitution


Master's Chain given


Walsingham College Trust Association Ltd founded

June 1938

Shrine Church opened

November 1938

first Installation ceremony and first wearing of mantles


official grant of coat of arms


Honorary and Emeritus Guardians created


Guardians' stars created


Guardians' Gallery of photographs in College started


maximum number of Guardians raised from eighteem to twenty


first formal group photograph taken


first Lady Guardian elected
(Mrs Barbara Marlow); on her retirement in 2012 she became the first who could be described as a Guardian Emerita


first married priest of recent times elected: in theory all had been unmarried until then but in the early years Fr Patten had turned a blind eye to three married priests whom he wanted to include in the College, but if any priest married subsequently to his becoming a Guardian he ipso facto ceased from membership (this situation never arose); in 1940 Chapter resolved that married priests could be proposed as Guardians but they were not expected to get further than that stage; in 1955 Chapter regarded this 1940 resolution as "not a happy or indeed an honest" one and it was rescinded; in 1956 Chapter had another long anguished discussion on the issue and voted 11-4 in favour of allowing married priests to be elected, although this did not happen until Fr Baker's election in 2005


another formal group photograph taken


informal group photograph taken after the episcopal ordination of Bishop Martin Warner


another formal group photograph taken

go to Guardians' Roll