Robert Maguire (OB 1942-1947)
In the Sixth Form (1960 – 1962) I was wondering about going into architecture or town planning. The art master (Ray Bradshaw) kept telling me about a former pupil who had recently designed a modern church at Bow Common – that was Robert Maguire.
As it happened, I left school to become a town planning trainee with the London County Council. After a couple of years I started training for ordination. Fortunately, my A levels (pathetic as they were), coupled with a couple of years with the LCC, led to the decision that I should read Social Studies as a first degree (rather than theology).
Soon after I went to Marlow in 1990, I attended a course at Glasgow University on the subject of ‘Design and Spirituality’ (my colleagues thought I’d misread the title and was going to explore desire and spirituality!). So, after all those years, in my last ministerial post, I came across this man I’d first heard of over thirty tears before. As it happened, he lived only a few miles away just outside Thame. We met a number of times and he designed a memorial garden in the churchyard. It was a very restricted site with many restrictions. While the congregation had struggled to find a solution, nothing emerged. Bob was so clear and experienced that he provided a solution very quickly. The congregation liked it and so did the diocese. When I arrived, I inherited a considerable restoration appeal which was merely bringing the building back to how it was. In 1996 Robert sent me a copy of his recent paper The Reordering of Churches: what is it to be radical? After a few meetings, followed by consultations with the Oxford Diocese, the Victorian Society and English Heritage, he produced a wonderful plan for the inside of the building. It was not only sensitive but highly imaginative and reflected his deep knowledge of the liturgical tradition. Somehow it seemed to be inside him as part of him rather than something he would need to refer to in a manual. Sadly what we might call ‘restoration fatigue’ had sapped some of the energy of the church council so it is left to my successor (if he wishes) to follow up. Maybe it will be just one of those plans that just never came to fruition but there are wonderful examples of the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright or Sir Edwin Lutyens that never left the drawing board.
He was a truly humble, humorous and insightful man who could inspire with a vision at very short notice. We kept in contact until he retired to the Scottish Borders.
Maybe these few notes may give an indication of some of his work in his later life.
Canon Nick Molony (OB 1955-62)