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Launcelot Fleming

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Launcelot Scott Fleming (7 August 1906 – 30 July 1990) was a British Anglican bishop. He was the Bishop of Portsmouth and later the Bishop of Norwich. He was also noted as a geologist and explorer.


Fleming was born in Edinburgh, the youngest of four sons (the second of whom died at the age of five months), and fifth of five children of Robert Alexander Fleming FRSE (a surgeon in Edinburgh) and Eleanor Mary, the daughter of the Rev William Lyall Holland, rector of Cornhill-on-Tweed. The family lived at 10 Chester Street in Edinburgh's West End.[1] He was educated at Rugby School.

Early adult life

Fleming went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 1925, graduating in geology in 1928, followed by two years as a Commonwealth Fund Fellow at Yale University. He studied for Holy Orders at Westcott House, Cambridge and was ordained deacon in 1933 and priest in 1934. His early years were spent as chaplain to successive Antarctic expeditions, for which he was awarded the Polar Medal in 1937.[2]

Later life

Fleming pursued an academic career, acting as an examining chaplain to a number of bishops while retaining a base at Trinity Hall, eventually becoming its dean in 1937 and an honorary fellow in 1956.[3] At the outbreak of World War II he became a chaplain in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and served on the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth.[4] After the war, he returned to Cambridge as director of the Scott Polar Research Institute.

In 1965 he married Jane Agutter, a widow.[5]

In 1971 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers were Lord Balerno, Douglas Guthrie, Norman Feather and Anthony Elliot Ritchie.[6]

Episcopate and parliament

In July 1949, Fleming's name was put forward for the position of Bishop of Portsmouth.[7] Having been selected, he was ordained and consecrated a bishop on St Luke's day (18 October) at Southwark Cathedral[8] by Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury,[9] although he did not take his place in the House of Lords for another seven years.[10]

In 1959 he was translated to the vacant Episcopal see of Norwich,[11][12] becoming the first bishop to use the ancient throne in Norwich Cathedral for 400 years. Although he became a bishop without parochial experience or any great gift for preaching, his unassuming friendliness and humility won over both clergy and laity. Portsmouth became an exceptionally well-run diocese, with more than its share of young clergy and ordinands. Norwich, with 650 churches and a shortage of clergy, presented greater problems; he tackled them resolutely and imaginatively, developing rural group ministries and again attracting good clergy. He also played a significant part in planning the University of East Anglia (which has its own university chapel[citation needed]). A remarkable rapport with young people led to his being made chairman of the Church of England Youth Council (1950–61). Struck by a rare spinal disorder, which seriously affected both legs, he resigned the see in 1971.

An eternally enthusiastic man, in 1960 he realised a lifetime's ambition to ride on the footplate of a locomotive,[13] and in 1965, at the comparatively advanced age of 58, he married Jane Agutter,[14] the widow of Anthony Agutter and daughter of Henry Machen. It was a happy marriage which lasted for twenty-five years but produced no children.

In 1967, unusually for a bishop, Fleming piloted a bill (subsequently the Antarctic Treaty Act 1967) through the House of Lords.[15] Well informed on environmental and ecological issues (he was a pre-war glaciologist of repute), he constantly urged responsible stewardship of the world (his maiden speech in the House of Lords was about cruelty to whales), and the need for international co-operation. He became vice-chairman (1969–71) of the parliamentary group for world government, and a member of the government Standing Advisory Committee on Environmental Pollution (1970–73). At Windsor, he consolidated the reputation of St George's House. His influence on church policy would have been greater but for synodical government - off-the-cuff debate was not his forte.

Later career

On resigning his See, Fleming was appointed the Queen's domestic chaplain and Dean of Windsor, in which capacity he officiated at the funeral of the former Edward VIII (Duke of Windsor).[16] In 1976 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of East Anglia for his work with young people.[17] He retired to Dorset and died in Sherborne on 30 July 1990. He was cremated and his ashes were interred in the churchyard of All Saints' Church in Poyntington.


Foreword to William of Gloucester: Pioneer Prince, edited by Giles St. Aubyn (London: 1977)[18]


  1. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office directory 1905-6
  2. ^ Who’s Who 1971, p2339, ISBN 0-7136-1140-5
  3. ^ Who's Who (ibid)
  4. ^ "A Field Guide to the English Clergy' Butler-Gallie, F p106: London, Oneworld Publications, 2018 ISBN 9781786074416
  5. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  6. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  7. ^ The Times, 23 July 1949, p4.
  8. ^ "London consecrations". Church Times (#4522). 7 October 1949. p. 657. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 12 April 2017 – via UK Press Online archives.
  9. ^ "(picture caption)". Church Times (#4524). 21 October 1949. p. 693. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 12 April 2017 – via UK Press Online archives.
  10. ^ The Times, 25 October 1956, p. 4.
  11. ^ The Times, 12 October 1959, p. 10.
  12. ^ The Times, 29 January 1960, p. 9.
  13. ^ The Times, 30 September 1960, p. 5.
  14. ^ The Times, 6 January 1965, p. 12.
  15. ^ House of Lords Official Report 1 May 1967.
  16. ^ The Times, 5 June 1972, p2
  17. ^ Governor of Portsmouth Grammar School, Chairman of Church of England Youth Council and a Trustee of The Prince's Trust Who’s Who (Ibid)
  18. ^ "Introduction". 3 October 2018. Archived from the original on 3 October 2018. Retrieved 3 October 2018.

External links

Church of England titles
Preceded by
William Louis Anderson
Bishop of Portsmouth
Succeeded by
John Henry Lawrence Phillips
Preceded by
Percy Mark Herbert
Bishop of Norwich
Succeeded by
Maurice Arthur Ponsonby Wood
Preceded by
Robert Wylmer Woods
Dean of Windsor
Succeeded by
Michael Mann
This page was last edited on 23 February 2020, at 20:36
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