Canon Christopher Blair-Fish was Rector at St. Margaret’s Church, Chipstead from 1973 to 1989. The following is an obituary to Christopher by Rev John Wates, which was published in St. Margaret‘s Parish Magazine in November 2010.
Canon Christopher Blair-Fish in 1977
The facts of Christopher’s life can be related quite briefly. He was born in Birmingham in 1920. He attended schools in Switzerland (his father was an international engineer) and Norfolk before going to Whitgift after his parents settled in Purley. He went up to Lincoln College, Oxford, for a year before the War to study History.
During the War he was in the Artillery of the Leicester Yeomanry seeing action in Persia, Lebanon, El Alamein and fighting his way through Italy to Austria for the end of the War. He returned to Oxford to finish a degree in Theology and study for the ministry at Cuddesdon.
He married Margaret in 1947 and had three children: Peter, John and Mary. He served curacies in Mottingham and Warlingham. He was Vicar of Surbiton from 1955 to 1973. He was Rector of Chipstead from 1973 to his retirement in 1989, having been made an Honorary Canon of Southwark Cathedral in 1979. He was Assistant Rural Dean of Reigate from 1980 to 1986. He and Margaret moved to Ferring on his retirement.
So why did 150 people attend his funeral in Ferring and another 100 come to a Celebration of his life in Chipstead? A clue can be found in the fact that 7 clergy crammed into the Vestry at St. Margaret’s, all wanting to be part of the service. Another clue was that 20 or so of his St Margaret’s Youth Group came from all over the country with a couple of ‘spokespersons’ to speak on their behalf.
Christopher was, above all, a builder of people as well as churches. Lots of people wanted to come to express their thanks for what he had meant in their lives. Clive Barlow and Barry Nichols were curates at St Mark’s Surbiton. Brian Hammond and his wife Barbara were both priests in Merstham. Alex Bienfait now has a Parish in Kent, I’m ‘hanging in there’ in Chipstead. Les and Nita Thorn’s son, Martin, is a Roman Catholic Deacon. Patrick Bateman did the honours by welcoming everyone to the Service of Celebration. We, of course, missed Deaconess Daphne Smedberg who sadly died many years ago. But Sally Foxen and Sari Bienfait were there along with Madeleine MacCallum. We remembered David Lancashire, Peter and Pat Lowrie - all Readers brought on by Christopher.
A celebration of John Wates’ ordination on HMS Belfast in the pool of London, following the ceremony in Southwark cathedral in 2003. Canon Christopher Blair-Fish is on the right of the picture and Rev John Goodden on the left, who succeeded Christopher as Rector in 1989
Rosie Bottomley.(nee Lloyd) and Martin Large spoke on behalf of the Youth Group, reminding us, among other things, that Christopher took 17 weddings from among the group. What was the key to Christopher’s ministry? He had a great love for people. I will never tire of telling the story of the couple who came to see Christopher about a wedding at St Margaret’s: “You have a lovely church, Rector”. “Yes,” says Christopher, “But how do you know that; you haven’t met THEM yet!”
He was a church builder in the classic meaning. He rebuilt St. Mark’s, Surbiton after the War, along with a new Church School and Vicarage. At St. Margaret’s he built on the “New Vestry”. But its importance was to enable the congregation to be built up in Christ through fellowship after services. In Surbiton he set up the local Samaritan branch and was involved in various schools - later on he was a Governor of St Bede’s. He was on the Southwark Board of Education. He chaired the Southwark Reader’s Board and Post Ordination training for clergy. Even after retirement to clergy he was chaplain to retired clergy in Chichester Diocese - of whom there were many! Christopher was an extraordinary man. Always busy in the Lord’s work tending his sheep. He was active in Ferring until shortly before he was taken ill just before his 90th birthday.
He touched many, many lives and will be much missed.
Rev John Wates
Rev John Wates OBE is Hon Curate at St. Margaret’s, Chipstead
Scenes from a Busy Parish
Christopher undertook a lot of Parish duties himself. Here he is printing the Parish Magazine in his attic at the former Rectory in Elmore Road
Christopher giving an enlightening commentary on the tradition of “Beating the Bounds” to a party of parish children as they walk around the bounds of the Parish, ending at the Well Inn in Mugswell. “Beating the Bounds” is an ancient tradition where the local priest will walk the geographic boundaries of their Parish with a crowd of boys who beat the parish boundary markers with green boughs, for the purpose of maintaining the memory of the precise location of these boundaries
Christopher “Beating the Bounds” at the Coal Post at the junction of Coulsdon Lane and Hollymead Road in 1987. Coal-tax posts are boundary marker posts found in southern England. They were erected in the 1860s and form an irregular loop between 12 and 18 miles from London to mark the points where taxes on coal imported into London were due to the Corporation of London. There were originally around 280 posts of which around 210 remain. Chipstead’s local posts also mark the parish boundary with London.
A virtual “Beating the Bounds” in 1988, just after the 1987 hurricane. Christopher is giving “an apprentice boy” a mock chastisement, as per the old tradition, at a Coal Post in Banstead Wood
Christopher and his wife Margaret as guests at Louise Holmes’ wedding reception on 10th July 1999.