The Revd Henry Croyland Thorold, MLitt
Henry Thorold (pronounced ‘Thorough’ by Henry, who always insisted on it) was born on 4 June 1921 into a landed family rooted in Lincolnshire since the reign of Edward III. His father was Chaplain-General to the armed forces as well as a chaplain to Kings George V, Edward VIII and George VI and, because of his military service, the family moved from one historic environment to another – the Tower of London, the cathedrals of Cologne, Chester, Salisbury, St Paul’s and Southwark, the royal military chapel at Sandhurst and Westminster Abbey. So, from a very early age, Thorold began to develop an interest in medieval ecclesiastical architecture, which was burgeoning when he went to Eton. There, the college chapel and then, as an undergraduate, the twelfth-century cathedral of Christ Church, Oxford, influenced his religious views and appealed to his aesthetic sense. Thorold’s cadet branch of the family had produced generations of clergy and, by nature a traditionalist, he prepared for holy orders at Cuddesdon. He was ordained into the Scottish Episcopal Church during the war and became personal chaplain to the Bishop of Brechin. Thorold’s national service was spent as a naval chaplain, first in the cruiser HMS Leander and then the depot ship HMS Forth, based in Malta, where he organised trips ashore for the ratings (and himself) to explore the island’s architecture. Back home, he was appointed chaplain at Lancing College in 1949; he also taught classics and was a somewhat unorthodox, though very popular, housemaster until retirement in 1968. The fact that he drove a Rolls Royce impressed the boys, particularly his ability to put it into fourth gear at Lancing and drive all the way from the South Downs to Lincolnshire without once changing gear. A marvellous raconteur, a favourite anecdote he often recounted to the boys described his communication to the Wilkinson’s Sword Company that he had used one of their razor blades for six months. They duly expressed their delight at Thorold’s satisfaction with their product and sent him, with their compliments, a year’s supply: two razor blades. On leaving Lancing he spent seven years as chaplain at Summer Fields, his old prep school, until in 1975 school life was finally exchanged for that of a Lincolnshire squire in the family home, Marston Hall, to the north of Grantham (pronounced Grant-um by Thorold) which his father had taken over from his cousin, the 14th baronet, head of the Thorolds in the 1920s. With the help of his architect friend, Francis Johnson, FSA, Thorold extended what remained of the late sixteenth-century house and, while embellishing it with family portraits and furnishings of exceptional quality, he still managed to give it a comfortable, lived-in atmosphere, despite the chilly draughts to which he was, apparently, impervious. He also created a new formal garden with white obelisks, old roses and a Gothick gazebo designed in 1968 by John Partridge and decorated with murals by Barbara Jones. Beyond the garden he planted an avenue of Lombardy poplars presented to him on his retirement from Lancing. In Thorold’s lifetime both house and garden were often opened to the public in aid of the Lincolnshire Historic Churches Trust, of which he was a leading light and chairman for almost fifty years. He was also involved with the Historic Churches Preservation Trust and the Fabric Committee of Southwell Minster where he often attended matins or evensong, driving the 1951 Bentley that had replaced the Rolls. Disturbed by the wholesale closure of village churches in the Lincoln diocese, Thorold helped to save several from decay by his own efforts and others through the Redundant Churches Fund. With the decline in clergy numbers and the grouping of parishes, incumbents frequently lacked interest in their church buildings and Thorold displayed a particular flair for inspiring local families to care for neglected churches. Very well known in the county he conducted services throughout Lincolnshire in the grand manner, always using the 1662 prayerbook and declaiming sermons, full of dramatic Pinteresque pauses, from the pulpit. It is for his topographical and architectural publications that Thorold is best known and for which he was elected a Fellow. An authoritative and elegant writer and, like his friend John Betjeman, a lover of the picturesque in landscape and the eccentric in architecture, he produced five of the best Shell Guides: Lincolnshire, Durham, Derbyshire, Staffordshire and the prize-winning Nottinghamshire, as well as a survey of the ecclesiastical architecture of his native county, Lincolnshire Churches Revisited, and, shortly before his death he published a study of Lincolnshire Houses. Jeremy Paxman included a characteristic vignette of Thorold in his book The English: a portrait of a people (1998), in which he captured the unique atmosphere of a visit to Marston – a gracious host, sausages and mash for lunch(eon), served on the family silver, washed down with grand cru claret, and laced with a stream of witty, recondite anecdotes. He died at home on 1 February 2000.