The Very Revd Robert Leslie Pollington Milburn, MA
Robert Milburn was born in Northumberland on 28 July 1907 but spent most of his youth in Norfolk. He was educated at Oundle and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and taught for two years at Eton before being ordained. Then, in 1934, began his association with Worcester College, Oxford, which lasted for twenty-three years and necessitated the wearing of a number of different hats in addition to his dog-collar. He was Fellow and chaplain 1934–57; tutor 1945–57; junior bursar 1936–46; estates bursar 1946–57 and finally, Honorary Fellow from 1978 until his death. Milburn was a member of Oxford City Council from 1941 to 1947, when he was appointed university lecturer in church history, a post he held for ten years. During this time he published Saints and their Emblems in English Churches (1949) and his Bampton Lectures delivered in 1952, Early Christian Interpretations of History (1954). When Milburn was appointed Dean of Worcester in 1957 he reacted to the beauty of his surroundings – the magnificent cathedral and elegant eighteenth-century deanery – in traditional, not to say Trollopian, style even to appearing regularly in breeches, gaiters and frockcoat. The manicured lawn was soon turned over to croquet now that Milburn’s performance at tennis, squash and fives was not as vigorous as it used to be, but he could still overcome most opponents at croquet through a mixture of dexterity and un-Christian low cunning. His churchmanship was rather more up to date but still of the traditional, middle-of-the road, 1662 prayer book genre, though his sermons were anything but commonplace: lucid, felicitously expressed, thoughtful and sincere; services were dignified and the choral music superlative. Milburn’s interest in church architecture was first aroused as a schoolboy, walking and cycling in the countryside, and care of the fabric at Worcester was a priority. As one would expect of Milburn, honest preservation and restoration projects were carried out, particularly in the tower and crypt, regardless of fashionable trends. Milburn was again involved in city affairs, particularly schools, and was instrumental in founding the Worcester Civic Society. After eleven years as Dean, and declared Emeritus, he was appointed Master of the Temple in London in 1968 where he was happily at home in the company of the barristers and benchers; he enjoyed dining with them in the historic halls of the Inner and Middle Temple and, echoes of his chaplaincy at Worcester College, the pastoral care of the bar students was rewarding on both sides. The quality of the music at the Temple Church in the sixties and seventies was renowned far beyond the boundaries of the city parish. Under the directorship of Dr George Thalben-Ball, it attracted visitors to the services, recitals were regularly broadcast by the BBC and, shortly before his retirement in 1980 Milburn established an appeal fund to put the church and its choir on a firm financial footing. While in London, Milburn served as a trustee of the Wallace Collection from 1970 to 1976 and as Grand Chaplain of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1969, while spending much time researching his book, Early Christian Art and Architecture. The publication was delayed by the bankruptcy of the original publisher and subsequent frustrations and did not appear until 1988 when the constant disappointments had blunted his appetite for seeing this fine work of scholarship in print. He and his wife tried retirement in a Herefordshire farmhouse but the upkeep of the old house and large garden defeated them and in 1985 they moved to the Beauchamp Community in familiar territory at Newland, near Malvern. After his wife’s death, Milburn moved to a nursing home, his capacious mind still alert when he died on 14 February 2000, aged ninety-two.