fonds EKEM - Eric Kemp Archive

Identity area

Reference code



Eric Kemp Archive


  • c 1921-2001 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.13 cubic metres

7 boxes

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Eric Waldram Kemp was born in Waltham, near Grimsby, on 27 April 1915, the son of Tom Kemp, a farmer, and his wife Florence Waldram. Educated first at Brigg Grammar School, he went on to read Modern History at Exeter College, Oxford. He would later win the prestigious Alexander Prize for his essay on 'Pope Alexander III and the canonization of saints', which was published by the Royal Historical Society in 1945.

It was at Oxford that Kemp met Frederick Hood, member (and later principal) of Pusey House, an Anglo-Catholic religious centre in the city and part of the Tractarian ‘Oxford Movement.’ Hood recruited Kemp to the Pusey House Choir and over the following few years Pusey House became a central part of his life and a key influence in his decision to train for the priesthood at St Stephen’s House, Oxford.

Kemp was ordained in 1939 and served as curate at St Luke’s Church, Southampton, until 1941 when he returned to Pusey House to act as librarian. He was chaplain of Christ Church College, Oxford, from 1943 to 1946, and acting chaplain of St John’s College between 1943 and 1945.

In 1946 he was appointed chaplain, fellow and lecturer in medieval history and theology at Exeter College, Oxford, a position he retained until 1969. His postgraduate dissertation was published in 1948 as ‘Canonisation and Authority in the Western Church’ and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1951. As a leading scholar of ecclesiastical law, he proved himself indispensable to the Convocation of Canterbury when he was elected as the proctor for Oxford in 1949. In 1987 he would be the founder and president of the Ecclesiastical Law Society, bringing together lawyers and clergy. He was also a long-standing Vice-President of the Canterbury and York Society.

In 1952 he was made non-residentiary canon of Lincoln Cathedral, in which role he published ‘Twenty-Five Papal Decretals Relating to the Diocese of Lincoln’, in collaboration with Walter Holtzmann. In 1957 he published his ‘Introduction to Canon Law in the Church of England,’ followed in 1959 by the ‘Life and Letters of K. E. Kirk,’ a study of Kenneth E. Kirk, Bishop of Oxford and Kemp’s father in law.

In 1963 Kemp was made chairman of a group of theologians tasked with assessing the conclusions of the World Council of Churches’ Montreal conference, leading to the establishment of the Faith and Order Advisory Group (FOAG). The Group’s role was to advise the Anglican church on reunion schemes and Kemp later played a central part in the Anglican-Methodist conversations of the 1960s, although these were ultimately unsuccessful.

Kemp was made chaplain to the Queen in 1967 and then in 1969 was appointed Dean of Worcester, ending his long association with Exeter College. As Dean he worked to achieve a greater integration of city and cathedral, overseeing a rearrangement of church services and modernisation of the cathedral’s heating system to make it a more welcoming place to worship.

Kemp left Worcester to become Bishop of Chichester in 1974. In this role he oversaw a more rational reorganisation of the diocese, closing a number of under-used churches, and advocated for a revival of the Catholic tradition within the Church of England. From 1976 he was president of the Church Union and two years later he organised a major conference at Loughborough on the question of Catholic renewal.

Whilst renewal was not achieved on the scale Kemp hoped for, he had many smaller successes. He developed a close partnership with Cormac Murphy O’Connor, then Roman Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton and future Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. He actively encouraged cooperation between Anglican and Roman Catholic parishes and became the Church of England’s chief representative to the continental Catholic churches.

His Anglo-Catholicism led him to take a traditionalist stance on a number of controversial issues. Perhaps most famously he was opposed to the ordination of women as priests, believing it would be an insurmountable impediment to any future reunion between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. His staunch position on this matter was one of the reasons he remained in his position for so long, as he wanted to maintain stability in his diocese at a time when he feared the issue would cause church authorities and branches to turn on each other. After the Church of England's decision in 1992 to allow women to be ordained as priests he allowed them to serve in his diocese, although they had to be ordained by a Suffragan Bishop from an adjacent diocese. In 1999 he was also one of only four Bishops in the UK to refuse to sign the Cambridge Accord, an attempt to reach agreement on the human rights of homosexual people.

Bishop Kemp retired in 2001, but remained in Chichester, publishing his autobiography, ‘Shy, but not Retiring’, in 2006. He was a member of the Sussex Record Society from 1983 and served as its President until his death. He died on 28 November 2009.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was gifted to the Borthwick Institute in 2012. A further accrual was received in November 2017.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Papers of Eric Kemp, Bishop of Chichester, including research notes, annotated manuscript and typescript drafts of published articles, book chapters and sermons, and related correspondence, c.1921-2001.


Further accruals are not expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English
  • Latin

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

The archive has not yet been catalogued. Please contact the Borthwick Institute for further information.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

The archive of the Canterbury and York Society are also deposited at the Borthwick Institute (Reference: CYS).

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier


Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Created by S. A. Shearn, 14.02.17. Revised 14.11.17.




Accession area