Mark Wathen: Banker, priest and former Norfolk High Sheriff

Banker, soldier, farmer and priest, the Rev Mark Wathen, has died in his 100th year at his Norfolk home.

Born in Dalhousie, Kashmir, on September 18, 1912, his father was in the then Indian Civil Service. His mother, Melicent, who was the first woman to ride astride in India, celebrated her 100th birthday by riding a horse – and was pictured in the EDP in March 1983.

At Gresham's, Holt, which he left in 1930, he became friendly with Benjamin Britten and wrote the words for a small operetta for a house production while the composer set it to music. Sadly, after he went to war in 1941, the manuscript was later lost. Another contemporary, Donald Maclean, was to make headlines when he was unveiled as a Soviet spy and joined Guy Burgess in Moscow.

He read theology at King's College, London, where he was also a keen rower, even managing to beat Oxford and Cambridge in the Head of the River Race.

In 1931, he became a junior clerk at Barclays Bank's St John's Wood branch on �50 a year, when he also joined the Honourable Artillery Company.


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In the early 1930s, he flirted briefly with two causes, spending several weeks working evenings for Harry Pollitt, then general secretary of the Communist Party. A year or two later, he became one of Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts but this episode only lasted a month.

After active service in North Africa including El Alamein, Sicily and Italy, he became a major before returning to Barclays. In later life, Field Marshal Lord Montgomery presented him to the Queen Mother, saying: 'He's one of the few people who has given me orders which I've had to obey!' And she replied: 'You must be a very remarkable man!

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In 1948, he was promoted to local director at the headquarters of Barclays in Lombard Street, London. He was sent to Ipswich in 1953 and then Norwich in 1958, and became a JP on the Aylsham Bench in 1966.

He was involved in public service and after serving as warden for three years, in 1962 was elected Master of the Mercers' Company, the senior of the Great Twelve Companies.

A Church of England lay reader, he chaired Norwich diocese's property board and was a Diocesan Board for Finance member.

In education, he chaired Runton Hill's governors and the managers of Red House Farm School, as well as being a governor of Paston School and Cawston College.

He was treasurer of many charities including Friends of the Norwich Museums, the Norfolk County Playing Fields Association and the Norfolk branch of Shelter.

He held high office with the Norfolk branch of the Red Cross, the Scouts Association, Norfolk Naturalists' Trust (now Norfolk Wildlife Trust) and the Red Cross Housing Committee.

A highlight of his public service career was becoming High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1968, which he described in his 160-page autobiography, 'Banker, Soldier, Farmer, Priest,' published privately two years ago.

When his uncle died in 1958, he inherited the Bolwick Hall estate, near Aylsham, with its 50-acre garden laid out by Humphrey Repton, and a herd of British White cattle.

A year earlier, when the Queen had visited the Royal Show at the Costessey showground, one of the Bolwick-bred bulls won the supreme championship.

Although no farmer and the estate then employed 20 staff, he chose a young farm manager, Bryan Webster, to modernise what was a 'gentleman's farm'. He founded a pedigree flock of Black Welsh Mountain Sheep, later sold to Claire Hoare at Ingworth, who started the Black Sheep Shop in Aylsham.

Later the estate was sold and the British Whites were replaced by a Jersey dairy herd and finally Friesians. A great supporter of the National Gardens' Scheme, over 20 years more than �20,000 was raised by opening for charities.

He had a home in Skye for many years, where had been a lay reader. On his 70th birthday, he was invited to become ordained into the Episcopal Church of Scotland and went on to enjoy 10 years of Anglican ministry before returning to Norfolk.

Married for more than 60 years to Rosemary, who predeceased him, he leaves three children, seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

A funeral service has been held at All Saints Church, Marsham.

Michael Pollitt

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