Among his duties was to serve as director of the Tower Hamlets Dispensary and Infirmary in White Horse Street. Founded in 1792, and supported entirely by charitable donations, the facility served roughly 4000 patients per year, with admission by recommendation only. Depending upon the size of their donation, supporters received a certain number of passes to allow the needy to use the infirmary. The services available included beds for maternity; there were attending physicians and a team of certificated midwives headed by Dorothy Coulton.
In 1896, the vicar and Coulton fell out over her willingness to receive young unmarried women. Llewellyn believed such cases, many of which were of the very poorest classes, were best sent to the local Union. Further, he suggested that her open door policy was "lending itself to the encouragement of sin."
Returning from a holiday, Coulton was stunned to learn from one of the other nurses that the vicar had been talking about her in her absence. He had joked that she was "off on her honeymoon with Dr. Huddlestone," the local medical officer. MRS Dorothy Coulton went to the directors for an explanation. In a stormy session, Llewellyn explained that he'd merely repeated gossip. He never believed it. Then why hadn't he stopped it, she demanded to know, adding. "I have a great mind to resign." To which, the vicar replied, "I think you'd better." The directors were agreed but she left with a small testimonial and a solid reference.
Mrs Coulton began to attend some private patients but when they were referred to the infirmary, they were turned away. Word got back to her that the Rev. Llewellyn had discouraged at least one woman, telling her that Mrs. Coulton had been dismissed from the Infirmary because she was not a fit and proper person. The Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand are a long way from Stepney but in March 1898, before Mr. Justice Grantham, Mrs. Coulton sued the Rev. Mr. Llewellyn for slander.
In his defense, the vicar of Stepney denied ever making any slanderous remarks. He had always had the highest opinion of Mrs. Coulton's abilities. As for her soul, well, he admitted falling out with the chief midwife primarily because she didn't go to church regularly and gave him only the vaguest excuses. As for the unmarried women, he did not object as long as the women were members of the parish. All the decisions regarding the treatment of enceinte women were as directed by the policies of the St. Matthew's Maternity Society, he insisted.
The jury found for Mrs. Coulton but probably for a much smaller sum than she had been seeking. She was awarded just 20 pounds.
The Rev. Mr. Llewellyn remained in Stepney, both at St. Matthew's and the Dispensary, until 1905. The church and dispensary are both gone today. Mrs. Coulton was soon employed as chief nurse at the Croydon Infirmary.
Map courtesy of the National Library of Scotland (https://maps.nls.uk)
Volume 2 of Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series is available here.