The Reverend Nathaniel Woodard was a C19th Anglican priest whose chief legacy was the founding of schools for the middle classes in England to provide education based on “sound principle and sound knowledge, firmly grounded in the Christian faith”. There are numerous connections between the Gibbs’ and Woodards, as benefactors to the schools and as students, as well as close family ties. David Gibbs wrote a book published in 2011 “In Search of Nathaniel Woodard: Victorian Founder of Schools“. The synopsis of the book perhaps best sums up the man and his achievements:
Immensely energetic, driven, sure of his own faith and destiny, Canon Nathaniel Woodard founded ten schools between 1848 and 1890. Surrounded and shocked by social conflict, poverty, deprivation and a lack of godliness, he firmly believed in education as the means for transformation. His grand design was to create a national system of High Church Anglican schools accessible to the tradesmen and lower middle classes. Today there are 45 schools in the Woodard family. Characterised by their core Christian ethos, the family is unusual in that it embraces the independent and the maintained sectors, as well as primary and secondary levels. Members range from its first born Lancing College with its majestic Gothic chapel high on the Sussex Downs, to its most recent additions, four transformational academies, beacons of hope to young people who have been failed by the educational system. The Woodard schools are a significant part of the national educational landscape, especially in an age when the religious dimension to education is often controversial. But who was Nathaniel Woodard? Where did he come from? What shaped his outlook? What sort of person was he? Often seen as a divisive force in the Victorian church, he was sacked from his first curacy yet gained the support of many of the great and the good, including two future prime ministers, Gladstone and Salisbury. His achievement in terms of bricks and mortar was enormous.
On the family ties, Henry Martin Gibbs (son of William Gibbs of Tyntesfield) married Emily whose brother John Otter was married to Elizabeth, the daughter of Nathaniel Woodward, and there were close family friendships. 80 years later in 1963 Rosamund Gibbs married Nathaniel’s great-grandson Rear Admiral Sir Robert Nathaniel Woodard, bringing the families together again!
The most notable of the schools Nathaniel founded is Lancing College in the south coast of England, situated on hills of the South Downs and overlooking the River Adur. His tomb is in the chapel of Lancing College. Lancing Chapel is the Mother Church of all the Woodard Schools and larger than many Cathedrals! It has the second largest Rose Window in Europe & will be the last Gothic building in Great Britain to be completed. Henry Martin Gibbs gave the building which contains the school hall and class rooms, and many other benefactions, to Lancing College, and to its chapel; he also gave a new wing to Ardingly College and was a great benefactor to this and other of the Southern and Western schools of the “Woodard” group.
From both sides of our families, some of us have Great Grandfathers, Grandfathers, Fathers, Uncles, Brothers, Sons, Sisters, Daughters, Grandchildren, Cousins etc. who have been educated at Lancing College & other Woodard schools.
Sir Robert Woodard was himself a student there, as was my own grandfather, Lady Rosamund Woodard’s uncle, Michael McCausland Gibbs (who went on to become an eminent Anglican clergyman). The photo is of the Lancing Cricket XI of 1918, which included Michael McCausland.
The mighty Lancing Chapel was not completed in Nathaniel’s lifetime, and indeed is only finally reaching its last stage of completion 152 years later! The West End of the Chapel will be finished with a beautiful three-arched entrance porch, befitting a Grade 1 national monument.
In addition to the largest rose window in England, a stained glass window was commissioned in memory of Trevor Huddleston and consecrated to Desmond Tutu in 2007.
The Friends of Lancing College Chapel hope to finish the west end by building the porch which was supposed to connect the chapel to the nearby college buildings. They have launched a campaign to finally compete the works by summer 2021.
Family and others are invited to contribute to help achieve this memorable aim of completing a chapel which contributes enormously to the local community.
Updated 25th May 2021:
For the interest of the Gibbs/Woodard Clan, and for all those who were generous enough to support the Lancing College Chapel Completion…It was with great pride that Jolyon Woodard, the Great Great Grandson of the Founder Nathaniel Woodard, performed the ‘Topping Out’ ceremony at the highest point of the Lancing Chapel’s new West End face. A short Service of Prayers, with a Blessing of the beautifully carved & inscribed Stone was given by the Provost, The Rt Revd Jonathan Meyrick, Bishop of Lynn. The uplifting & laying of the top Stone by Jolyon was then followed by his inspired words of gratitude for Nathaniel’s visionary faith in the foundation of such a building for the enhancement of Christianity & Education for future generations. He praised the on-site team for their superb workmanship of the hand-carved masonry, & for everyone’s extreme patience & forbearance throughout the past difficult months of restrictions, highlighting the incredible positivity that had driven their perseverance to have enabled them to reach this point in the final achievement. He thanked everyone, including the “Gibbs side!”, who had made this possible. He underlined the vital force of FAITH…
There is to be a final Celebration of the Completion at a later date, yet to be announced.