|St. Swithin's, Wellow (geograph.org)|
Late in 1861, 17 year old Emma Ward, the servant at the vicarage, asked Mrs. Royle if she could go to the Wellow fete to watch the cricket on the green. Whether Mrs. Royle instructed Emma to come right home after the match or not, Emma went along to the Durham Ox (now the Maypole) with some friends where she danced and talked of the day's events, not returning until quite late. Mrs. Royle was not pleased and gave the girl her notice. To which, Emma saucily replied, "It's for the best. I better leave before my character is gone.”
Emma's eventual story varied in each re-telling. A few weeks before the fete - Mrs. Royle took her three daughters to London for a short visit. Emma remained at the vicarage with Rev. Royle and his young son. According to Emma, Mrs. Royle's carriage wasn't even out of sight before the vicar suggested he'd come into her bed that night for a roll-about. Thinking it was just a ribald jest, Emma did her chores, locked up the house and brought the keys to the vicar's study and went up to her room. The door could only be loosely fastened. That night, she awoke to find the 47-year old vicar in her bed.
The vicar - of course - denied it all. But the story got round and church attendance in Wellow began to decline. The churchwardens did some digging, visiting the vicarage to inspect the bedroom layout. The Bishop of Lincoln was informed of the "disgusting" claims against their vicar. The bishop demanded that Royle, if he was innocent as he claimed, must prosecute his young accuser for slander.
For two days at the Notts Assizes in March 1862, it was "he said, she said." As for the vicar, he insisted that he remained in his study until he went to bed that night at 11:30, keeping to his bedroom - alone - until morning. Under cross examination, he denied a servant at one of his previous churches left his employ "in the family way." The presiding judge also declined to allow into evidence a letter from another servant. Still, it was published in one of the local papers. The woman asserted she had been subjected to similar molestation and Mr. Royle deserved to be exposed. [Lastly, while researching this case, I learned that Mr. Royle, as a young student at Cambridge, was "rusticated for being in the habit of continually visiting the house of a prostitute." (Linehan, St. John's College Cambridge, A History)]
Emma Ward spent several hours in the witness box. She was sharply questioned. She admitted staying in the vicarage for several days after the alleged incident, telling no one, and only made her charges after she was let go by Mrs. Royle. Emma's testimony was frequently interrupted by laughter. When the vicar slipped into her bed, she recalled him saying, "It's only me, Emma. I won't hurt you." As noted, her story varied: to some, she said she struggled free from the vicar but, to others, she said "he had connexion with me."
Rev Royle's counsel tore apart the inconsistencies in Emma's stories. Her charges were completely uncorroborated. Emma's lawyer, meantime, insisted she was a "good" girl whose basic account of what happened in the vicarage bedroom remained unshaken. Connexion wasn't required. The shocking liberties taken with a young girl under the vicarage roof were proof enough. The jury of twelve men spent less than an hour to find Emma Ward had slandered Mr. Royle but they expressed their opinion of the reputation of the vicar of Wellow by awarding him damages in the insulting amount of one shilling!
Police had to protect the Royles who were "jostled rather roughly" as they left the courthouse. The Rev. Mr. Royle returned to his vicarage; in fact, he remained many more years at St Swithin's until his death in 1885. The parish history records that, during Royle's time in Wellow, the church fell into considerable disrepair. At his death, however, he was remembered as an excellent preacher, "even the children could follow his beautiful discourses."
How the Vicar Came and Went, a collection of Victorian clerical scandals is available at Amazon.