Dr Ray Winch reinvented

It was quite a while ago when I wrote about Dr Raymond Winch in Oxford. Simply, I was browsing through Blackwell’s Bookshop in the early days of Holy Week 1988 and came across The Canonical Mass of the English Orthodox. The booklet had his address on the back, at which he based his Gregorian Club, 41 Essex Street. I simply went and knocked on his door, and discussion began immediately.

As mentioned a few days ago, I have been clearing out my stuff and arranging for myself an “Oratorian nest” in our house. My wife can, of course, come into the room if she wants, but I have clearly done it as I wanted. Going through so many old papers, I came across this grubby little photo, perhaps from some official ID card, and have enlarged it on Photoshop. He was obviously not photogenic, but this is all I have. I share it with my readers, a few of whom might at least have heard of this name. David Llewellyn Dodds is my one reader who actually knew him and was interested in his work.

I have also found some handwritten correspondence in a folder from my time with the monks at Triors in 1996, and I will go through it and offer some transcriptions. It will take time, since handwriting can only be typed out by hand. I am informed by one of the commenters on my earlier posting that Dr Winch left his books and papers to Magdalen College School. I hope someone will have the diligence to publish something of lasting value.

Reinvented? I mean of course the Latin meaning of the word invenire – “to find”, as in the Invention of the Holy Cross.

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17 Responses to Dr Ray Winch reinvented

  1. J.D. says:

    It’s nice to put a face to a name. Thanks to you I got to read this man’s work.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Many thanks! That is vividly him, though indeed probably in official ID mode. Cracking a smile, with pince-nez reading glasses in hand, in his full, warm cape, he would probably seem more photogenic – but at a distance, with that haircut, this might seem a mediaeval polychrome stone bust.

    • I above all remember Ray identifying with the medieval ethos, whether or not by way of Romanticism. He once explained to me how his home was to be strictly functional and should have as little decoration as possible – because decorating one’s home is a characteristic of the Renaissance onwards. The haircut with the fringe somewhat reminds me of the Beatles! Long hair needs to be looked after! It’s a pity no one got a photo corresponding with the description you gave. Perhaps someone did, but I don’t imagine I would ever get a copy. He was a character! I loved his fanciful tales about the Canonry that survived the Reformation and had immunity from the encroachments of Counter-Reformation Roman Catholicism. He was totally disillusioned with Western Rite Orthodoxy well before the end of his life. He was not “re-converted” to Roman Catholicism, but simply attended their Masses.

  3. Robert Stevens says:

    I too first encountered him by finding the book in Blackwells; I wrote him a stern letter regarding his footnote that perhaps formal modern English might do. He suggested we meet up at a pub in Oxford and so a great friendship began.

  4. Robert Stevens says:

    Yes indeed.

    Thanks for these interesting reminiscences of Ray. Have just bought a secondhand copy of his Assumption book written in 1950.

    • That reminds me. Dr William Tighe sent me a copy some years ago. I haven’t finished reorganising my library, so it might take a bit of time to find!

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Wow – I don’t think I ever heard of that before! – or had the sense to search for him, e.g,, at Amazon…

        Doing so, now, it is interesting to see British Empirical Philosophers was reissued in 2013 (apparently 61 years after the first edition!), and I suppose it is he mentioned in the descriptive title: Is the Roman Catholic Church a secret society? A correspondence with the late Cardinal Hinsley & others about parental rights. With a foreword by G. G. Coulton and reports of speeches by Warren Sandell and Raymond Winch before the Catholic Society of University College, London (1946).

  5. Jonathan Griffin says:

    I think Ray Winch taught me RE at Forest School in the 70s. He also taught Logic A level.
    Jonathan Griffin

  6. Mark Gaddes says:

    Ray was not fond of having his photograph taken! However, I have a couple of photos taken when he visited me in Cyprus in March 1989, that I would be happy to pass on to you. Ray taught me English and then Logic at The Forest School in the early 1970’s. We became friends and remained so until his death, which I think was in 2000. I count myself very lucky to have known him.

    • I wrote to you privately to give you my e-mail address.

      I have always appreciated receiving news from those who have known Ray Winch, and known his true personality and destiny. He was a warm and profound person.

      Photos that are more sympathetic than his ID mugshot will also be appreciated for this posting.

      I first met him in 1988 when I visited Oxford, went to Blackwells Bookshop and found some Gregorian Club publications. I then went to 41 Essex Street and introduced myself.

  7. Phil Harriss says:

    I too was taught English by Ray at Forest School in the 1970s and knew him for the rest of his life (finding his body, in his gloriously untidy room, surrounded by books, on October 16, 2000).

    He was immensely curious about life in all its aspects, asking questions that could be hugely infuriating as they challenged even the most basic assumptions one might have made. But he made me and my fellow pupils think for ourselves, and question accepted wisdom and authority. For that I shall be forever grateful.

    In a school with a strong streak of anti-intellectualism, he showed it was possible to revolt against the authorities, yet relish the intellectual life. How the school hierarchy must have hated the fact that Ray’s pupils frequently achieved top grades in their exams despite failing to toe the line!

    Perhaps I should list some of Ray’s great enthusiasms, for those who want a clearer picture of the man: Shakespeare (he helped stage several plays at the school, and particularly enjoyed taking on the role of Shylock); punk rock (bizarrely, he organised a school Shakespeare Society trip to see the Jam at Bracknell Sports Centre); beer; cider; chemistry – he combined these last two interests when employed as a master at Chard School, setting up a still in the school attic to make illegal Calvados; caving; long-distance running; food (Ray once discovered a badger’s body while cycling to a pot-hole with a party of boys; they were hungry so he decided to roast half of the beast over a fire. The meat of the hind quarters, he told me, was delicious, hence he buried the rest of the animal to enjoy on the return trip. With great sadness, he reported that when unearthed a few days later, the fore quarters provided poor eating. The lesson? Always choose to roast the rear end of a badger.)

    I renewed my friendship with Ray towards the end of his life, when he was living near to me in Oxford. I had stayed at 41 Essex Street while completing my undergraduate dissertation in the 1980s (and remember the late nights of arguing, and the discovery of slug trails over my sleeping bag in the mornings). The house was little changed 15 years later: an invigorating antidote to the neat conformism of the Reading suburb in which I had grown up. Ray’s one attempt at tidying the place, by employing a cleaner, came to naught. After inspecting the premises, the cleaner thrust a note through Ray’s front door stating: ‘I do not deal with FILTH!’

    Although Ray undoubtedly influenced my career (I became a food writer and editor), I had little interest in theology. We did, however, discuss religious matters in his final years. I think, perhaps, that my observation that Ray enjoyed the pageantry and ritual of Christianity (and especially Orthodoxy) rather than having a fundamental faith was not so wide of the mark. Certainly, he drifted away from religion towards the end, preferring the Stoics to the Saints (though Aquinas was always close to his heart). A few months before he died, Ray held my infant son in his arms. He had previously shown no interest in babies, so the joy he got from this act surprised us both. I dearly wish that Ray could know that this boy, now 22, shares his love of Ancient Greek philosophy and history (and has recently graduated with a first in this subject) – he was, I suspect, rather disappointed by the intellectual progress of the boy’s father.

    • Thank you for this poignant testimony. Some of his scepticism rubbed off on me during those long nights of discussion and debate. The most important thing for him was not accepting anything as ideology or truth without a critical examination. His housekeeping skills were akin to those of Quentin Crisp! I did clean my windows a few days ago! A cleaner who doesn’t deal with filth? It makes me think of a doctor who runs away from disease or a car mechanic who can’t face getting oil on his hands!

      Religiously, he was inspired by the example of the Rule of St Benedict and the Monastic Office. I do believe that he had an interior faith, but was disillusioned by the insincerity and hypocrisy of many institutional church people. I am convinced that the idea that he was attracted to “bells and smells” with little doctrinal or spiritual foundation is inaccurate. He was at his happiest when quietly praying the Office. As he approached the end of his life, he became disillusioned with Orthodoxy and attended old rite Roman Catholic masses, but without making any formal approach or receiving the Sacraments. It seemed to be an undecided phase, which ended with his death and decision not to have a Christian funeral. I don’t know what form his funeral took. It is very easy for any of us to feel rootless and not really belonging to anything, and sometimes the cost of rejoining the “tribe” is too high for an intellectual sceptic. I also believe he was to some extent influenced by Romanticism as I am, and some of the Romantics were not tender with orthodox religion.

      Anyway, you have given us another facet of the diamond of a man we cannot forget.

      • Phil Harriss says:

        Thank you Father for your swift reply. Perhaps I was a little harsh, commenting on something (belief) about which I know little. One further nugget of information: when I accompanied Ray to hospital, he was asked his date of birth. He replied ‘1.1.21’, which would have made last year his centenary. I met up in 2021 with another of your correspondents, Mark Gaddes (who was Ray’s executor), to reminisce about the man.

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