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John Walter Atherton Hussey (15 May 1909 – 25 July 1985) was an English priest of the Church of England who had a great fondness for the arts, commissioning a number of musical compositions and visual art for the church as well as amassing his own collection.
Walter Hussey, as he was known, was born on 15 May 1909 in Northampton, the younger son of Canon John Rowden Hussey and his wife Lilian. John Hussey was then vicar of St Matthew's, Northampton, a living which he had held since the church was built in 1893. As a small boy Walter attended The Knoll, a preparatory school at Woburn Sands, from where he won a foundation scholarship to Marlborough College in 1922. In 1927 he went up to Keble College, Oxford to read PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics), obtaining his BA in 1930. Before entering Cuddesdon Theological College in July 1931 he spent some time as a schoolmaster at Charleston, a preparatory school in Seaford, Sussex.
During that time he was in charge of the daughter church of St Paul's, Kensington, from 1935-6, returning to his first ministry at St Mary Abbots, Kensington for a few months as assistant curate. Within five years he succeeded his father as vicar of St Matthew's Northampton, a position he held from 1937 to 1955. As vicar of St Matthew's he celebrated the church's 50th anniversary by commissioning Rejoice in the Lamb from Benjamin Britten. He later organised a concert by Kirsten Flagstad. Other commissions included Henry Moore's Madonna and Child sculpture, a Litany and Anthem for St Matthew's Day from W. H. Auden, Lo, the full, final sacrifice from Gerald Finzi, Crucifixion from Graham Sutherland, and The Outer Planet from Norman Nicholson. In his book, Patron of Art, Hussey wrote 'Perhaps my succeeding him may suggest nepotism, but I don't think it was. I was not anxious to go there; it seemed that there was little one could do but let the parish down ... my various authorities advised me that it was right that I should go'.
During his school and university years Hussey had shown an interest in the arts, music, drama, painting and sculpture. His years in London gave him the opportunity of seeing and hearing much that the city had to offer in its concert halls, theatres and art galleries, and he began to take an increasing interest in contemporary art. It became a cause of regret to him to realise how little of this work was being encouraged by the Church. As he later wrote, 'the arts had become largely divorced from the Church'.
By the time Hussey became vicar of St Matthew's he was already making plans to bring about a rapprochement between the Church and the arts. An early opportunity presented itself as he starting planning the forthcoming golden jubilee celebrations due to take place at St Matthew's in 1943. He had already had the experience of making arrangements for such a jubilee at St Paul's, Kensington, but now he wanted to incorporate a modern musical work into the festival service. In spite of the difficulties and restrictions of the war years the jubilee celebrations were a triumph as they centred around the specially commissioned anthem Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Britten. Encouraged by this success Hussey went on to commission many more works for his Northampton church, the most famous of which were Henry Moore's sculpture, Madonna and Child, and Graham Sutherland's painting, The Crucifixion.
When Hussey went to Chichester as dean in 1955 he had known Bishop Bell for many years and knew that they shared the same attitude to art and the Church. Consequently, the work he had begun in St Matthew's continued almost uninterrupted in the cathedral with works by Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Leonard Bernstein and Marc Chagall among the many which he commissioned over the years.
Hussey left Northampton to become Dean of Chichester Cathedral, holding the position until he retired in 1977. Whilst there he commissioned Graham Sutherland to paint an altarpiece, asked Leonard Bernstein to compose the Chichester Psalms and also worked with John Piper, Geoffrey Clarke, Cecil Collins, Ceri Richards, William Walton and Marc Chagall.
By the time Hussey retired from Chichester in 1977 to live in London he had acquired an important and varied collection of his own. He offered to leave the greater part of it to the city which he had done so much to promote as a centre of the arts. Like many others he was concerned about the neglect into which Pallant House, a fine example of eighteenth-century domestic architecture, had fallen and, as Dr KME Murray wrote 'his generous offer...was made deliberately as a means of securing the restoration of the house and its opening to the public'. In 1982 Hussey was present at the official opening of the house and saw his paintings and other works of art displayed in the same informal domestic setting as they had been at the deanery where he had taken so much pleasure in showing them to friends and strangers alike.
In his entry in Who's Who, Hussey gave his sole recreation as "enjoying the arts". This enjoyment, not just of the arts, but of all aspects of his life, shines through the archive of his papers and through the enduring legacy of his life and work, in Chichester Cathedral and at Pallant House, the Chichester gallery that opened in 1982 to inherit and show his personal collection.
Hussey finished writing his book Patron of the Arts - The Revival of a Great Tradition Among Modern Artists which was published in 1985 and a documentary about the life of Walter Hussey, Patron of the Arts, was written and presented by Robert Walker and directed by Christopher Swann. It was broadcast on BBC2 shortly after his death in London on 25 July 1985. His funeral service was conducted at St Paul's, Knightsbridge, and a memorial service was held in Chichester Cathedral in October of that year.
|Church of England titles|
Arthur Stuart Duncan-Jones
|Dean of Chichester
1955 – 1977
Robert Tinsley Holtby