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It is not surprising that a city with a Cathedral and which had 32 churches in medieval times should produce men of the cloth - not only that, but some may be surprised that one of Exeter's sons should become the Archbishop of Canterbury and be the son of an Archbishop of Canterbury himself. William Temple was born in the Bishops Palace in 1881 to Frederick Temple, headmaster of Rugby, Bishop of Exeter, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. From the age of two, the young Temple suffered from gout, traditionally an old man's disease of excess. It would plague him through his life, along with poor eyesight.
He was an avid reader and was fond of Bach. In 1900 he went to Balliol College, Oxford and soon gained a reputation as a skilled and balanced debater. In 1906 he applied for ordination, but the Bishop of Oxford declined him, as he was not convinced that Temple's belief in the Virgin Birth and Resurrection were sound. However, he was ordained in 1908.
For a man brought up in the rarefied atmosphere of the clergy, Temple was remarkably grounded in the problems of the working man - he became president of the Workers' Educational Association. Indeed, he went much further and in 1918 joined the Labour Party and worked tirelessly to promote their agenda. In 1916, the year he married, he published the first of his major theological treatise, Mens Creatrix, the Creative Mind. In 1926 he worked in Manchester to mediate in the General Strike and bring about a fair settlement for both sides.
The Second World War brought changes in Britain - plans were afoot for a New Britain after hostilities had ended, and with this in mind, William Temple was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942. By 1944 he was starting to influence policy, but before this could go beyond planning, he tragically died. His gout had taken a toll - in fact, he had to stand on one foot for his last public appearance at a clergy retreat. He was a big man, with a big laugh, and a big influence on post war Britain. The 1944 Education Act and the formation of the Welfare State were shaped from much of his thinking, and all of us, religious and secular can thank him for that.
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