The death of W.H.C. Frend marks the end of a career of service to the history of the early Christian church, especially its social and archaeological aspects, which was notable for breadth of learning, creative interpretation and some pugnacious controversy.
William Hugh Clifford Frend was born in 1916, the son of a vicarage. Educated at Fernden and Haileybury, he graduated at Keble College, Oxford, with a First in Modern History in 1937, picked up a Craven Fellowship, and won his DPhil in 1940. Six months of 1938 he spent attending Hans Lietzmann's seminar in Berlin, which profoundly affected his outlook. The War Office began him on a career in military intelligence, which linked him with the Polish forces and took him to North Africa, Italy and Austria. He continued an officer in the Territorial Army until 1967.
The chances of war brought him close to some archaeological sites, including not only in North Africa but at the last stages of the excavations under St Peter's in Rome: he was always a 'lucky' archaeologist. From 1947 to 1951 he was working on German Foreign Ministry documents. After a short spell at Nottingham University, his academic career flowered in a Fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, 1956-69, where he was Director of Studies in Archaeology and lectured in the Divinity Faculty (taking a BD and being enrolled as a Lay Reader in the process).
To this period belongs his work in Nubia, where large vestiges of the medieval Nubian church were discovered and rescued as part of the archaeological operations when the Aswan Dam was built. He had by now published two major books, and Oxford gave him the DD in 1966 (Edinburgh would do the same honoris causa in 1974). While at Cambridge, he campaigned for national and international funding for early Christian archaeology, perhaps too abrasively to be successful.
From 1969 to 1984 he was Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Glasgow University, including three years as Dean of the Divinity Faculty. Here the conflicting strains in his personality affected his work. He was impatient of regulations which seemed to him to impede the progress of his subject or of students he favoured; he was always at his stimulating best with small Honours groups. He had a sense of mission to bring modern history and theology to Glasgow, where many colleagues rightly thought that Scotland did not need this persuasion. So while his research and numerous international commitments flourished, institutional disagreements were continual.
He added to his longstanding honours as Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Royal Historical Society a number of high offices in the Ecclesiastical History Society, the Association Internationale d'Etudes Patristiques, and the International Commission for the Comparative Study of Ecclesiastical History, and a string of visiting fellowships and professorships in South Africa and the United States. He still managed to edit The Modern Churchman, 1969-82, and was Scottish President of the Association of University Teachers for a couple of years.
Meanwhile, living at Aberfoyle, he served as Lay Reader in the little Episcopal Church there, and was ordained to the non- stipendiary ministry as Deacon and Priest (1982/83). In Scotland, he would have needed further training to be appointed to a parish, but Douglas Feaver, the Bishop of Peterborough, nevertheless arranged for him to be offered on retirement the Northamptonshire living of Barnwell with Thurning and Luddington, where he served 1984-90. …