Canon Christopher Smith was born in Surrey but spent most of his life in Devon. He trained for the priesthood at the Venerable English College in Rome and was ordained in 1960. He served in a number of parishes in the diocese of Plymouth, especially St John the Baptist, Dartmouth, and as a young priest was especially involved in youth work.
He became interested in the history of the diocese and of Catholicism in the area when he began to find registers and other historical papers in the parishes where he worked and visited. He then started to use his days off to seek more archives, an interest that led to his appointment as diocesan archivist. His presbytery in Dartmouth included rooms both for the archives and for his extensive library.
He was at times an active member of the South West Catholic History Society and the Catholic Record Society and especially of the Catholic Archives Society. He was on the CAS Council for many years and was chairman from 1998 to 2001. During his chairmanship, the CAS not only continued its already established routine of an annual conference and regular publications but visits to archives overseas also became a regular part of the programme. Members spent informative and companionable weeks in Santiago de Compostella in 2000 and Douai in 2001.
Canon Chris wrote an article for Catholic Archives (the CAS journal) on the archives of Plymouth Diocese in 1990 and spoke to the annual conference in 1995 on the use of the books of faculties and dispensations for diocesan history. While chairman, he occasionally produced ‘the jottings of Chairman Chris’ to supplement the CAS Bulletin.
He was always generous with help and information and, despite regarding anyone from outside Devon as a ‘grokle’, was very welcoming to visitors from ‘up-country’. In 1999, he issued a general invitation to any CAS member who wanted to watch the sun’s total eclipse to stay with him in Devon. For those who saw the eclipse from the hills near Dartmouth, it was a memorable occasion.
Canon Chris is probably the only CAS member to appear on Antiques Roadshow, where he displayed a mediaeval cope from his parish.
As well as being diocesan archivist, he edited the diocesan year book for many years and it became a comprehensive guide to the diocese of which he was justly proud.