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News > In Memory > In Memory of The Rt Revd Peter James Firth (1929-2024) former Bishop of Malmesbury

In Memory of The Rt Revd Peter James Firth (1929-2024) former Bishop of Malmesbury

18 Mar 2024
In Memory

We are extremely saddened to share the news of the passing of The Right Reverend Peter James Firth who died on 16th February 2024, at the age of 94. Peter was the last Bishop of Malmesbury (1983 to 1994) before the see was changed to Swindon, and was also an honorary Assistant Bishop in Bristol and Gloucester dioceses at the time of his death.

Born on 12th July 1929, Peter attended SGS between 1937-1947 and thus encompassing the whole of World War II. In 2005, he shared an account of his school days which included many fond memories but also moving tales of those he had learned had been lost during the war. He kept in contact with the School throughout his life, attending several events over the years and kindly giving addresses at a number of Founder’s Day Services and most notably, the 500th Anniversary of the School.

Following his time at SGS, Peter attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge after which he trained for ordination at St Stephen's House, Oxford, and was ordained deacon in 1955 and priest in 1956. He was a curate at St Stephen's Barbourne and following this he was priest in charge at the Church of the Ascension, Malvern and then Rector of St George's, Gorton.

In the early 1960's he was a regular contributor to religious broadcasts at BBC Manchester and from 1967 to 1983 he worked in various capacities for the Religious Broadcasting Unit at BBC South West. He was ordained to the episcopate by Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 30 November 1983 at Southwark Cathedral and became Bishop of Malmesbury until his retirement in 1994.

Those who knew him recall his creative flair and love of acting, writing and performing arts. During his time at SGS, he took part in six plays and fondly recalled rehearsing in Mr Potts’ Art Room and being looked after in ‘the wings’ by Miss Abraham. His talent for performing was recognised by The Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts (RADA) who offered him a scholarship upon leaving SGS which he declined in favour of attending Cambridge University. He continued his love of acting and writing throughout his life and went on to publish a number of poetry books.

Upon hearing of his passing, his school friend Christopher Willcock (OS 1947) shared his memories:

“It is difficult to find the right words for a tribute to Peter as he was such an outstanding personality which made him probably the most remembered of his year at school. When contemporaries met they exchanged anecdotes about Peter, always with admiration and respect. We met in 1937 when we joined Junior B at SGS. In many ways, his career took off in 1942 when he had impressed in a Reading Competition and was given the lead in “The Boy David” followed by “St Joan”, “Abraham Lincoln”, “The Emperor Jones”, “Oliver Cromwell”, and “Hamlet.” Mr Albert Johnston who produced the school plays from 1932 also had his own company and Peter and I were in a number of plays he produced.

After leaving school. several of us continued to meet each holiday from University, at our various houses, until 1955 when our careers took us away from Stockport. I recall Peter once reading the poems of T.S. Eliot to us. In the days when few people owned even a black and white TV, I found a friend with one so I could see Peter performing with the Cambridge Footlights at the Edinburgh Festival. Looking at my diaries up to 1955 I realise how often Peter and I met in those days, and I soon learned to expect the unexpected with him. These treasured memories remain with me”

As well as performing, Peter enjoyed participating in sports at school and was part of both the football and cricket teams. He was a life-long supporter of Manchester United and would often take friends from Gorton to Old Trafford for home fixtures.

Peter was a loving husband to his wife Felicity and together they shared three sons and two daughters. He will be sorely missed by those who describe him as a joy to have been with and someone with whom deep laughter could be shared. We pass our sincerest condolences to Peter’s family and friends at this sad time.

A link to the memorial service for Reverend Peter Firth can be found here.

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