Since 1873, eleven laymen have served as President of the Society for the Maintenance of the Faith.

1. 1873-1878: Lord Eliot (William Eliot, 1829-1881, from 1877 4th Earl of St Germans)

Lord Eliot, the eldest surviving son of the third Earl of St Germans, was a member of the diplomatic service until 1865 and then Liberal MP for Devonport from 1866 to 1868. In 1870 he was summoned to the House of Lords during his father’s lifetime by a writ of acceleration. He succeeded as fourth Earl of St Germans in 1877 but died unmarried in 1881, aged 51.

2. 1878-81, 1889-1901: Octavius Leefe (1827-1901)

Octavius Leefe was a solicitor who lived in Kilburn. (His surname was occasionally misspelled ‘Leafe’.) A friend of Fr Richard Kirkpatrick, who founded St Augustine’s, Kilburn, in 1870 and became its first vicar, he was a founding member of the committee responsible for building the church, which was consecrated in 1880. From 1886 until shortly before his death he was Treasurer of the English Church Union. His eldest son, Drewry Octavius Leefe (1864-1932), who practised as a solicitor with his father, later served as principal lay secretary of the SMF and was a churchwarden of St Augustine’s from 1909 until 1932. (The patronage of St Augustine’s was transferred to the SMF by its Trustees in 1954.)

3. 1881-9, 1901-11: Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill DL (1853-1911)

Lord Edward Churchill, the youngest son of the sixth Duke of Marlborough, was a Deputy Lieutenant of Worcestershire and a member of the House of Laymen of the Province of Canterbury. He lived at Windsor and worshipped at St Stephen’s, Clewer.

4. 1911-1928: The Duke of Newcastle DL
(Henry Pelham-Clinton, 1864-1928, 7th Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne)

The Duke of Newcastle was greatly influenced by Pusey House, which was founded in 1884, while he was an undergraduate at Oxford. The Chapel of St Mary the Virgin, designed by Bodley, which he had built in the grounds of his seat, Clumber Park, near Worksop, in 1886-9 still stands. When in London, the Duke worshipped at All Saints, Margaret Street, where he was a member of the Church Council from 1908 and a churchwarden from 1916. He gave the church’s silver hanging pyx in 1928 as a memorial to choristers who died in the Great War. The Duke was a close friend of Fr Henry Mackay, an Oxford contemporary who was a Priest Librarian at Pusey House from 1895 until 1909, when he returned to All Saints, Margaret Street (where he had served his title) as Vicar. With Fr Mackay he was among the twelve original trustees of the Cleaver Ordination Candidates Fund, founded in the will of Mrs Friederica Frances Swinburne, a member of the All Saints congregation who died in 1916. The Duke’s marriage being childless, Henry Pelham-Clinton was succeeded as Duke of Newcastle by his younger brother.

5. 1928-1945: Lord Mamhead DL (Sir Robert Newman, Bt, 1871-1945)

Sir Robert Newman succeeded his father as fourth baronet in 1892. He was MP for Exeter from 1918 to 1931, first as a Conservative but from 1927 as an Independent. He was also a Deputy Lieutenant, JP and member of Devon County Council. He was raised to the peerage as Lord Mamhead in 1931, but he remained unmarried, so the barony became extinct on his death. A sometime President of the English Church Union, he was also a member of the House of Laity of the Church Assembly and Chairman of its Anglo-Catholic Group.

6. 1946-1948: The Rt Hon. Sir Henry Slesser (1883-1979)

Born Henry Herman Schloesser, Sir Henry changed his surname by deed poll in 1914 to Slesser (a name sometimes confused with the more common ‘Slessor’). He had been called to the bar in 1906 and was appointed standing counsel to the Labour Party in 1912. The first of his many publications, Trades Union Law, appeared in 1922. In 1924 he was appointed Solicitor General in the first Labour government, took silk and was knighted. He was Labour MP for Leeds South East from 1924 to 1929, when Ramsay MacDonald appointed him a Lord Justice of Appeal. He retired on health grounds in 1940. A member of Devon County Council from 1946 to 1968, he chaired the Dartmoor National Park Committee from 1948 to 1964. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1948.

7. 1949-1967: Sir John Best-Shaw, Bt (1895-1984)

Sir John served in the Royal Navy in both world wars, reaching the rank of Commander. He succeeded his father, as 9th baronet, in 1922. In 1956 he assumed the name and arms of Best by royal licence and took up residence at Boxley Abbey, near Maidstone. A Guardian of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham from the inception of the College of Guardians in 1931, at his death he was the last surviving member of the original college. He was President of the Church Union from 1969 to 1971.

8. 1967-1974: Dr Arthur Peck (1902-74)

Dr Arthur Peck, a classicist, was a Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, from 1926 until his death, serving as Vice-Master from 1957-61. A co-founder of the Cambridge Morris Men after the first world war, he was Squire (president) of the Morris Ring from 1947 to 1951. He was also Vice-President of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland and a sub-deacon at Little St Mary’s, Cambridge. In addition to editions of three of Aristotle’s works, his publications included This Church of Christ (1955), Anglicanism and Episcopacy (1958) and The Book of Hours (1961), a verse translation of Rilke’s Stundenbuch.

9. 1974-1999: Dr Paul Kent (1923-2017)

Dr Paul Kent, a research chemist, studied at Birmingham University and Princeton before moving to Oxford, initially as a member of Jesus College. At Christ Church from 1955, he was first a Lecturer, then a Student and, from 1956, Dr Lee’s Reader in Chemistry. He was awarded a higher doctorate (DSc) in 1966. From 1972 he was Master of Van Mildert College in Durham University until 1982, when he retired and returned to Oxford. He was a Governor of Pusey House from 1983 to 2000 and a Vice-President from 2003.

10. 1999-2018: Dr Brian Hanson CBE (b. 1939)

Dr Brian Hanson was admitted as a solicitor in 1963. He joined the staff of the Church Commissioners in 1965 and became Assistant Legal Adviser to the General Synod in 1970. From 1975 until his retirement in 2001 he was Registrar and Legal Adviser to the General Synod. He was a Guardian of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham from 1984 to 2015, when he became a Guardian Emeritus, and a Governor of Pusey House from 1993 to 2005, when he became a Vice-President. From 2001 to 2015 he was Chairman of the House of Laity of the Chichester Diocesan Synod. He was appointed CBE in 1996.

11. Since 2021: Dr Colin Podmore MBE (b. 1960)

Dr Colin Podmore read history at Keble College, Oxford. After working in Germany and training as a teacher at Selwyn College, Cambridge, he taught German at S. Michael’s CofE High School, Chorley, before returning to Oxford to undertake doctoral research in church history. At Church House, Westminster, from 1988 until 2013 he served in a succession of roles, including Secretary of the Liturgical Commission, Secretary of the Dioceses Commission, and latterly Clerk to the General Synod and Director of Ecumenical Relations. He is the author of Aspects of Anglican Identity (2005) and articles on Anglican church history and ecclesiology. From 2013 to 2020 he was Director of Forward in Faith and Secretary of the Council of Bishops of The Society. He has been Chairman of the trustees of the Cleaver Ordination Candidates Fund since 2013. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, he received the Lanfranc Award for Education and Scholarship from the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2017 and was appointed MBE in 2020.

Lord Eliot, from 1877 the 4th Earl of St Germans
President, 1873-1878
(photograph by Camille Silvy, 1861)
©National Portrait Gallery, London

The 7th Duke of Newcastle
President, 1911-1928

Sir John Best-Shaw, Bt
President, 1949-1967
(photo: Guardians’ Gallery, The College, Walsingham)