Monday, June 12, 2017

"A Reverend Rascal"

St. Lawrence, Rawmarsh (now dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin)*
As another Yorkshire winter approached in 1847, the Rev Sir William Vesey Ross Mahon, rector of Rawmarsh, had other plans. An Irish baronet, the clergyman would spend several months at his family seat near Galway. He placed an advert in the Ecclesiastical Gazette for a temporary curate. From all the responses, it was only natural that the Rev. Sir William should choose the Hon & Rev. B.C.D.F. Fairfax. He bore the highest praise from Earl Fitzwilliam, well known in the West Riding, and was the only surviving son of Lord Fairfax of Leeds Castle. The rector left without ever meeting the new man but he felt that the proper arrangements were in place. Rev. Fairfax was 25 and made an excellent impression in the pulpit at St. Lawrence's. Tall, slender, with large expressive eyes and dark hair, he was thought to be quite handsome by the ladies. He was also heir to a fortune of £20,000 and quickly established almost unlimited credit in the village and as far away as Sheffield. 

Church attendance in Rawmarsh was desultory and Rev. Fairfax was troubled to learn that many of the poorer inhabitants stayed away as they had no proper Sunday clothes. He sent them to the village tailor and bonnet-maker with instructions to put it on his account. At Christmas, his generosity with food and gifts for his Rawmarsh faithful was much appreciated. For the holiday, Rev. Fairfax had been joined at the rectory by a cousin, Johnnie Fairfax. But "Dear Johnnie" stayed on into the new year. The mystery deepened. Johnnie's complexion, features and carriage led some to suspect that he was a she. In church, Johnnie seemed uninterested in the sacred liturgy, thumbing through the prayer book at random. Naturally, there was talk in the village. Nervous tradesmen began to fear for their unpaid bills. Fairfax made smallish payments, blaming a delay on the recent defalcation by one of his father's most trusted agents. 

The Rev. Mahon's return was set for the last Friday in March 1848. Simultaneously, the Rev. Mr. Fairfax and "Johnnie" left Rawmarsh in a carriage carrying an "immense amount of luggage." Worse news came when it was learned that he had also gone off with the collection proceeds for both the Propagation of the Gospel and Rev. Sir William's especial fund for the "distressed Irish." Inquiries were made: Fitzwilliam disavowed the fellow; at Leeds Castle in Kent, there were no Fairfaxes in residence and hadn't been for over a century. The Rev. Sir William was shaken and helped as much as he could with the tradesmen who had been so "shamefully duped." The Genuki records* for the parish apparently show that "Rev." Fairfax had done baptisms and burials but, happily, no marriages. The Archbishop in York was outraged over the “Extraordinary Clerical Delinquency.” But the rector insisted that all the references had been in order. His defenders said that no one could have suspected someone "so young, so handsome, so aristocratic." A man matching the description of the "Rev." Fairfax - traveling with a young "valet" - defrauded an innkeeper in Glasgow. It was the last sighting of the "reverend rascal." 

The Rev. Mahon remained rector in Rawmarsh for another 40 years, splitting much of his time in Ireland or on the continent. He generally left the parish in the hands of a "curate-in-charge" (presumably, more closely vetted).

The research continues; the Victorian Clerical Errors data-base lengthens. Any followers with suggestions, corrections, additions - comment below or at

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Monday, May 29, 2017

"How the Vicar Came and Went"

All Saints Church, West Haddon
The ancient church of All Saints, West Haddon, in Northants, boasts a "massive embattled tower." On Sunday morning, 6 March 1892, the vicar failed to appear. Days later, a notice of his resignation, as required, was nailed to the church door. Everyone knew the reason; for some time West Haddon had been in a "state of ferment." 

The Rev Edwin Arthur Barraclough had been vicar at All Saints for five years. The 34 year old clergyman had been married less than a year to Lucy Eagland, a doctor's daughter from Yorkshire. Alas, as someone once famously said, "there were three people in this marriage." At the village flower show, Mrs. Barraclough was innocently introduced by the vicar to Mrs. Amy Underwood. This woman of some charm was known locally as a "grass widow," an unflattering term for a woman living apart from her husband. The absent Mr. Underwood, a farmer, had gone out to South Africa. The vicar's apparently pre-existing and longstanding attentions to this woman drew his new wife's ire and there were furious rows. She finally left him. In her divorce petition, Lucy Barracough claimed her husband drunkenly threatened her with a gun, beat her and even tried to burn down the vicarage.  

In the Divorce Court, Mrs. Barraclough presented evidence of her husband's adultery in West Haddon, Putney and Stockbridge in Hampshire. There were allegations of a child born in Putney. Mrs. Underwood actually appeared during the trial to deny any adultery with Rev. Barraclough. Justice Barnes called the whole case "extremely distressing," especially in "a marriage so recently celebrated." The decree was granted.

Within a few weeks, the forgotten husband (Mr. Underwood) popped back to Blighty to file his own petition. He enlivened the second round of proceedings with a spicy claim that, whilst in West Haddon, the Rev. Mr. Barraclough used to carry a ladder from the churchyard to climb up into Mrs. Underwood's first floor boudoir. On one evening, "his visits being watched, some person removed the ladder." The clergyman was forced to skulk out via the scullery door. "How the Vicar came and went" made the usual headlines, of course. Mrs. Underwood counter-claimed her AWOL husband's abandonment and condonation, but the divorce was granted. 

The sum of these shocking allegations left Rev. Barraclough with little chance of church employment in England but few men went so far as he - to Napoleon's old haunt, St. Helena, in the South Atlantic. He rose to be a canon of the island's cathedral until his past caught up with him and he was sacked for "having represented himself as a single man (i.e. not divorced)." The local Bishop rankled at the island being a dumping ground for clergymen seeking a new start in "some remote corner of the earth." Barraclough returned to England, remained a clergymen, and died in Clevedon in 1934. 

For those who have inquired, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 will be published within weeks. In addition to e-Book, it will also be published in an Amazon paperback. Watch here for further details. Thank you.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

The Tormarton Rectory Menagerie

Tormarton Rectory 
The old stone church of St. Mary Magdalene, Tormarton, boasts one of the tallest Norman towers in the area, giving the Gloucestershire village its name. A line of yew trees leads to the old limestone rectory (now a Grade II listed home in private hands). In 1875, the recently widowed Rev. Edward John Everard was in poor health and in need of some continental sunshine. He had arranged for the church to be left under the spiritual care of a locum tenens, a rather curious clergyman with the magnificent name of the Rev. Holled Darrell Cave Smith Horlock DD. Horlock was nearly 70 and just retired after long years as the vicar of Box, in Wiltshire. Dr. Horlock’s only proviso was that he be allowed to live in the rectory and to bring his animals along with him. Rev. Everard expressed no objection, telling his clerical friend, “Go ahead and bring them, monkey and all.” In fact, Dr. Horlock kept an assortment of creatures, including a monkey.* Horlock promised, “Any damage I do, I will settle for.”  

Rev. Everard returned to Tormarton after six months. He discovered that his rectory had become a “perfect pest-house” and was now uninhabitable. This led to understandable ill-feelings and a dispute arose over the damages. In August of 1876, the “extraordinary action of Everard v. Horlock” was heard by Baron Amphlett and a special jury in Bristol.

Dr. Everard's counsel delighted the courtroom by giving a detailed census of the Horlock menagerie: 
Five large dogs – Don, Grouse, Lady, Mongo and Monk.
Three pugs – Blubber, Buzz and Tootie.
A Skye terrier named Bibi.
Three cats – Baby Mama, Snowdrop and Tail.
27 white mice – unnamed, of course, and wary of the cats, to be sure.
One squirrel.
Nine small birds of undeclared type.
Three pigeons.
One Dove.
A Hawk.
Five horses.
And, of course, the (unnamed) monkey. 

It was another of Dr. Horlock’s cranks that he would have no servants near him. The rectory was left untended and from the "droppings" evidence, the birds had been allowed to fly everywhere. The squirrel and the wretched monkey had raced up and down the drapes and other furnishings. All the carpets had to be pulled up and the bedrooms and other living areas almost completely redone. Rev. Everard admitted to allowing Horlock to bring his animals but he would have reasonably expected the wilder creatures to be housed in the barn, stables or other outbuildings. Instead, they roamed and swooped amok in the rectory. The cost of this zoological vandalism was estimated at £75.

Dr. Horlock was a man “possessed of considerable property,” but he offered a scant £10 in compensation. He claimed that Rev. Everard had been previously ordered by his Bishop to repair "certain rectory dilapidations.” Thus, Horlock argued, the rector was hoping to have those needed repairs done at the expense of his former friend. 

From the bench, Baron Amphlett intervened. Rector Everard was clearly deserving of more for the damage to his home. Two such respectable gentlemen should settle this between themselves. A surveyor was employed to determine the damages but the final settlement never revealed. Mr. Everard remained at the refurbished rectory until his death in 1880.

The "Tormarton Menagerie" story made amusing reading in papers across Britain. The Birmingham Daily Post commented, “The love of dumb animals is a graceful and amiable trait of character, especially becoming in a clergyman; but, like other excellent things, it may be carried to excess.”

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is nearing publication, both in paperback and E-book. Volume 1, a delightful collection, is available for Ebook readers at and

*Remember, no less a clergyman than Sir Thomas More kept a monkey. According to The Handbook of Our Domestic Pets (1862), keeping monkeys in the home was out of fashion. But the great Victorian naturalist Frank Buckland kept several, “Although my monkeys do considerable mischief, yet I let them do it. I am amply rewarded by their funny and affectionate ways.”

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

"A Miserable Business"

West Huntspill Church (1870)*
The Rev William Arundell was 25 and fresh from Oxford when he arrived to be a curate in the "picturesque and widely scattered village” of Huntspill in Somerset. The rector, the Rev. Mr. Lake, thought the locals were "tolerably moral people." 

 Young Mr. Arundell lived in a room at Plymor Hill farm. In the summer of 1868, Arundell told the farmer, William Hawkings, that he had heard "rumours unfavourable to their character" about two of the girls who worked for him. Supposedly, Jane Meaker, a 19-year old dairymaid, and the housemaid, 15 year old Elizabeth Cridge, had been seen cavorting with local men. Mrs. Cridge, Elizabeth's mother, blamed the older girl for her daughter's fall. Hawkings, who learned of these claims on a Saturday, told the girls they couldn't go to church the following day and, if he found these stories to be true, he would sack them both. 

The girls insisted on their innocence but on Sunday, they disappeared. Their absence was first noted when they were no-shows at Mr. Arundell's evening prayers. Midday Tuesday, Elizabeth and Jane were found drowned in a remote cattle pond, near the sea wall at Bridgwater Bay. They were "found tightly in each other's arms." Certainly this was “one of the more shocking tragedies that has ever taken place in this neighbourhood.” 

The Western Times, called it a "miserable business" and reported that the two wretched girls had been frightened into death. However, at the inquest held at Crossways Inn, the local magistrate declared that the Rev. Arundell and the farmer had done “quite right.” The death of these "fine, good-looking country girls" became a national scandal. An inquest, held with "indecent hurry," had resulted in a cruel verdict (double suicide) that prevented the girls from having a Christian burial. 400 people, many sobbing, some angry, stood in the darkness when the bodies were interred in the St. Peter's graveyard before midnight. The rector defended his curate, urging everyone to “take the most merciful view of the case, which I had always believed to be the true one.” But, the London Standard denounced the "barbarity of the vengeance wreaked in the name of the law." 

Mr. Arundell remained in Huntspill for another year or so. In 1873, he left to be the rector in Cheriton Fitzpaine.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 1 is a collection of full-length accounts of similar "national scandals." For American readers, click here. Kindle or other Ebook apps are FREE and easy to use on your phone or tablet. Volume 2 is now in preparation. 

Illustration: British History Online (

Monday, April 17, 2017

Two Bastards under his Roof

The Rev. James Stewart Gordon Cranmer D.D. never tired of mentioning his direct descent from Henry VIII's formidable Archbishop. But Dr. Cranmer's clerical career fell far short of his ancestor. 

A widower, nearly 70, Cranmer was a curate in Wroxham, Norfolk, when he married 28-year old Sarah Honey, a pretty widow with two children (at least.) Within a year of the wedding, however, Rev. Cranmer found himself in a Southwark police court sued by a "nurse" in South London claiming she had not been paid for the care and feeding of two infants (sadly, one had died) believed to be the illegitimate children of the new Mrs. Cranmer. The clergyman's wife denied they were her children. She admitted visiting the toddlers and sending Mrs. Donne money for their care but only out of "benevolence." Mrs. Cranmer testified that she'd been assisting the real mother - a former servant named "Miss Hammond." When the Rev. Cranmer learned of the arrangement, there was a row and he instructed her to stop making the payments. But a witness swore that she had known "Miss Hammond" and she very much resembled Mrs. Cranmer. Worse was to come. "Does the Rev. Dr. Cranmer know that you have brought two bastards under his roof?" She was ashamed to admit that there had been no legal first marriage; she had been duped and found herself, some years later, abandoned (not widowed) with a girl of six and a boy five. The magistrate declared himself shocked at Mrs. Cranmer's "gross and willful perjury." 

The Rev. Dr. Cranmer was ordered to pay the "nurse" £4 7s 6d. For such a paltry sum, it would have certainly been wiser if he had just paid the wretched woman rather than have such squalid "family secrets" gifted to the newspapers avid for such clerical dirty laundry. Of course, it was more than likely that the Cranmers had paid and paid again already. 

For several years, Dr. Cranmer was without church employment. In 1875, he was given a curacy in Brewham, Somerset where he died in 1881, leaving his wife and two "adopted" children. 

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 1 is a book length collection of five of the leading "sensations" of the day. It is an Ebook and apps are free for your phone or tablet. Thank you. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A "Fiddling Clergyman" in the New Forest

Illustration at
The death of a clergyman who held a pleasant benefice (church) would give rise to the "usual flutter of excitement" in clerical circles. All eyes would look to the patron of the parish, usually a local grandee, who held the right to present to the Bishop his choice to fill the living. Patrons were often criticised for caring more about their new pastor's social standing than his spiritual strengths. 

In 1874, the Rev. John Falls, the vicar of Brockenhurst, passed away. The Morants of Brockenhurst Park (and Park Lane, London), enriched by a Jamaican sugar estate, had been squires in the New Forest for more than a century. Early in 1875, an advertisement appeared in The Guardian: "Wanted for a small living in South Hants, an Incumbent in Priest's Orders; must be young and musical, violoncello preferred." The offering was placed through a clerical agency and did not name the parish but John Morant was well known for his devotion to fine music. He had founded a Philharmonic Society in Lymington. Perhaps there was also a vacant chair in the orchestra? The work of some clubland poetaster made the rounds: 

Hey, diddle-diddle, a priest who can fiddle,
Is wanted at Brockenhurt, Hants.
You clerical Fellows,
with good violoncellos,
Please call in at Johnny Morant's.”

The “Fiddling Clergyman” sensation produced more serious objections. It conjured the image of a clergyman who had to play for his supper and "what he can earn by his violin-playing for strolling dramatic companies and other wandering bodies, circuses probably, and menageries." In the event, howver, Morant presented the living to Rev. George Octavious Wray, a man with apparently no musical talents. He had entered the clerical life after a career as a lawyer out in India. In Brockenhurst, where he kept bees, Rev. Wray was better known for his aviary than his violoncello.

Volume Two of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series is nearing publication. Have you read Volume One? The quite affordable Ebook version is still available.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Vicar's "One Unhappy Mistake."

The charity, kindness, and benevolence of the Rev. Mr. John Henry Timmins, vicar of West Malling in Kent, had been well-established in his forty plus years in the village. Visiting the sick was one of his passions, having attended a series of lectures at St. Thomas' Hospital in London - albeit in his youth. 

In late 1882, the 70-year old vicar called upon Sarah Wright, a laborer's daughter who'd been unwell. Timmins had a small vial with him, medicine for his son who had a case of nettle-rash. He poured out a teaspoon for Sarah. She swallowed it and "at once got up from the sofa on which she was lying and screamed, "Oh, Mr. Timmins, Mr. Timmins!" The girl was soon vomiting and foaming from the mouth. Dr. Pope was called - and there were many physicians in West Malling - but Sarah died in less than two hours. The bottle had contained "the essential oil of almonds" and the chemist had clearly marked it as poison. 

The Maidstone magistrates charged the vicar with manslaughter and he was tried at the summer assizes. Stedman, the local chemist had never spoken directly with Rev. Timmins but the instructions were clear - for external use only. Dr. Pope said the vicar told him that he thought a teaspoon was "an innocuous amount." 

Sir Edward Clarke defended the vicar. Rev. Timmins had definitely sent for the innocuous "expressed oil of bitter almonds" but the chemist had sent "essential oil of almonds," which was a deadly poison - prussic acid. By this "one unhappy mistake," a beloved cleric stood in this painful position. The prosecution acknowledged the kindly motives at work but the defendant's sheer rashness and worse, lack of remorse, made it manslaughter. Justice Day told the jury that the case showed a "clear want of care." Nevertheless, the jurymen of Kent took less than ten minutes to bring their verdict of not guilty "which was received with some applause." 

The medical press called the West Malling case "a solemn warning to all amateur 'physickers,'" many of them clergy. While there was little humor in the tragedy, Punch cautioned churchmen to stick to their "noble errand in the world ... and not meddle with the Pharmacopoeia." The Rev. Mr. Timmins remained vicar in West Malling another decade, and he died there in 1897.

Volume Two of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series is nearing publication. Have you read Volume One? The quite affordable Ebook version is still available.