Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Curate Left Lydd But Not Alone

The Church of All Saints, sometimes called "The Cathedral of Romney Marsh," is far larger than the "primitive little village" of Lydd would seem to require. In fact, the vicar opted not to reside in such a dreary and isolated place, separated from the English Channel by nearly two miles of stony shingle. The parish duties were left to a curate. Thus, the Rev. William Gillison Bell arrived in Lydd in 1869.  

In January 1873, one of the great tragedies of the Victorian sea took place off nearby Dungeness Point. The Northfleet, bound for Tasmania with 379 aboard, was at anchor during bad weather, when she was rammed by a mystery ship. The Northfleet was lost; nearly 300 people drowned in what was a nautical hit and run (Months later, a Spanish steamer, the Murillo was blamed for the disaster.)
The Northfleet*

Many of the bodies recovered were carried across that shingle to the church at Lydd for burial. But a replacement curate had to be summoned to conduct the services. The aforementioned Rev. Mr. Bell had recently decamped, under disgraceful circumstances, having run off with the wife of a local sheep farmer and parishioner.

Early in 1872, the young curate's wife passed away. The village, of course, was plunged into grief and the congregation offered its support and solace. But by summer time, Robert Green, a local magistrate, found reason to fault his wife, Jane, for spending too much time at the vicarage. Green owned more than 800 acres of grazing land for sheep and lived at The Paddock in Lydd. The Greens had been married for over ten years; according to news reports, he had met her while she was a barmaid at the famous George Inn in Southwark. They were married at St. Saviour's in London.

Within days of her husband's remonstrances for her vicarage visits, Jane Green left Lydd. The Rev. Mr. Bell had also gone missing, leaving behind all he owned to settle his local debts. Detectives were employed and the couple was found living at The Star and Garter on Richmond Hill, a hostelry frequently featured in the workings of the Divorce Court. Mr. Green's divorce petition was unopposed; his lawyer presented convincing evidence of his wife's adultery "on divers occasions" at The Star and Garter and the vicarage in Lydd.

The Rev. Bell, who was from a good family in Lancashire, left for Canada where he died in Montreal in 1881. Jane Green cannot be traced.

*The illustration is taken from a book about the disaster entitled, "Father, Put Me in the Boat."

A wonderful holiday book idea for your favorite church-crawler is Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Vol 2. Click here for details.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

"Poor old Jimmy's been nabbed at last!" A Whitehaven Scandal.

The Third Earl of Lonsdale left his wife, chased an actress across the American stage, and generally behaved in a manner that finally forced Queen Victoria to beseech him to leave the country for a while. Nevertheless, the "Sporting Earl" controlled the appointments to perhaps as many as 42 church livings. This, according to many members of the more thoughtful classes, was an absurdity. The Rev. James Anderson was one of those grateful Lonsdale clergymen, having been for some thirty years the vicar of Holy Trinity church in Whitehaven. The Lowther family (the Earls of Lonsdale) built the town and the port on the Irish Sea; profiting from "the presence of the valuable beds of coal beneath the surface." 

Holy Trinity Church was (it was pulled down in the 1940's) very near to Whitehaven Castle, one of several Lonsdale boltholes in the Northwest. The Rev. Mr. Anderson, though certainly no match for his profligate patron, had a reputation of his own. He lived apart from his wife and had been previously cautioned by his Bishop.  

However, by early 1902, after new complaints reached the Bishop's palace in Carlisle, Anderson was the subject of a formal inquiry under the Clergy Discipline Act. He was accused of being drunk, occasionally during services. But the more serious allegations were of a sexual nature.

On a summer's day in 1899, in White Park, the Lonsdale woodlands, John Cowan, one of the foresters employed by the Earl, claimed to have seen the Rev. Mr. Anderson sitting on a bench with a young woman, "handling her indecently." Cowan watched for an hour; he described how - whenever anyone approached - Anderson got up, walked away some distance, and then, when the coast was clear, returned to the bench. The woman in question was very well-known in Whitehaven: her name was Isabella Hetherington, she was about 30 years old and very nearly blind.  

In a second incident, a year later, in the Granary Yard near Whitehaven Castle, James Barnfather, a local cabinet-maker and one of the churchwardens, said he walked in on Rev. Anderson and Miss Hetherington in "the act of fornication.: She was standing against a wall and the clergyman was in front of her with his frock coat loosened and open. Barnfather said he immediately denounced Anderson as a scoundrel and a villain. When these charges reached the Bishop and the inquiry was ordered, the word around Whitehaven was, "Poor old Jimmy's been nabbed at last!"

During the inquiry, the Rev. Anderson insisted he had never misconducted himself in any way with Miss Hetherington, a woman he had known since she was five years old. Her character was irreproachable. She had been active in the music and choir at Holy Trinity and all his attentions toward her over the years had been entirely pastoral in nature. He swore before God that he had never committed fornication or any indecent conduct with this woman. Isabella, also, was closely questioned and denied that she had willingly or unwillingly been subjected to any indecent behaviour on the vicar's part.

The five church assessors delivered their verdict. The evidence of Anderson's drinking was strong and conclusive. The most serious charge of fornication was not proven. However, he was found guilty of indecent conduct on that bench in White Park. Some weeks later, in the Cathedral at Carlisle, Bishop Bardsley pronounced the greatest punishment, depriving Anderson of all his preferments.

Anderson disappears from the various clerical lists. But, as for Miss Hetherington, it appears she left scandal behind and emigrated to Australia where she dedicated the rest of her long life to missionary work among the Aborigines. "Kindly and cheerful, Miss Hetherington evinces genuine and unfailing affection for her dark skinned charges, among whom she has laboured unswervingly."  

The Rev. John Seton Karr owed his living to the notorious Berkeleys. That celebrated scandal is one of those told in Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Vol. 2.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Caterham Asylum Scandal

Twas not for all young clergymen to find a cozy rectory in a pleasant village, dining a time or two each year with the cheerful squire up at the Great Hall. This is the story of the Rev. Thomas Closs who served his God and his Church as chaplain of the massive Caterham Imbeciles Asylum, south of London. Mr. Closs was a Welshman, 40 years old, married with a small family, when he first came to Caterham in 1891. The institution was built in 1867, designed to house 1500 inmates. In the chapel, which seated more than 500, Closs said morning and evening prayers and held full choral Sunday services. One visitor thought the singing by "the idiots ... might serve as an admirable example to many of the congregations in our fashionable London churches."

But in 1893, Alice Sarah Hockley, not a patient but an employee in the asylum laundry, accused Closs of being the father of her baby girl. In Croydon Police Court, she claimed that Closs had taken her up to London a few times before he first seduced her in the vestry. "The intimacy was frequently renewed," usually right after the Sabbath service. Once, when interrupted by the Asylum director, the chaplain hid her among the robes in his vestments closet. Alice was unmarried and when she got pregnant, she was sacked. 

The chapel stood alone, left of the main building
In court, the Rev. Closs denied everything. There was much evidence that Alice had “walked out” with other men and frequented pubs. The mayor of Croydon, presiding, declared that there was "not the faintest scintilla of corroboration" of this woman's charges and Rev. Closs was free to go. But as the clergyman left the building, Alice - in "an infuriated manner" - rushed at him to begin striking him about the head with her fists. She took his silk hat, crushed it and threw it into the street, before the police hauled her away.

The Rev. Closs returned to his duties at the asylum but left the following year, having been accused of giving unwanted kisses to several female servants. He found a curate's billet in Malmesbury for several years and ended his days as the vicar of Wickham Skeith in Suffolk.

The Caterham Imbeciles Asylum - renamed St. Lawrence's Hospital - closed some years ago and was recently torn down for a residential development. For an excellent website on the history of Caterham see

Five fascinating full length accounts of Victorian clerical scandals can be found in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 2.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Deserter in the Vicarage

When the (Second) Boer War began in 1899, the troopships bound for Cape Town were quickly filled with newly enlisted soldiers. But, as the fighting continued on in to the new century, dissent at home increased. Broadly speaking, support for the war remained much greater in the Church of England than among non-conformists. Thus, "a bedroom in a country vicarage would seem to be the last place in the world in which to find an army deserter, yet that has just happened." 

The Rev. George Bolney Browne had been the vicar of St. Saviour, Aston, Stone, Staffs, since 1881. His commodious vicarage was nicely situated, just steps from the church beside the River Trent. 

One evening, in February 1901, a local policeman arrived with a warrant to search the vicarage, having heard "whispers" in the village that a soldier who'd deserted the Army was being harboured there. The Rev. Browne was "considerably surprised" to hear this. It couldn't be true, he insisted, but, of course, he permitted the constable to have a look about. The two men went room to room and, in the attic chamber of one of the maids, they found him "crouching under the bed." 

21-year old Private Elie Robert Lewis Colquhoun of the Royal Army Medical Corps had gone missing the previous July. Whilst on the run, he came to Aston where he met a young woman, who was the lady's maid to the vicar's wife. The servant - never identified - admitted she had hidden the man in her bedroom for six months, feeding him with leftovers and takings from the larder, doing his laundry, etc. He remained in her room every day; occasionally they would sneak out at night. It was, the newspapers reported, "an extraordinary tale of desertion and female devotion." But, it's hardly believable.

The Rev. Browne was an active churchman, involved in many good causes, including supporting the African missionaries. Still, he insisted that he had no idea Private Colquhoun had been creeping about his vicarage for six months.
As for the deserter, he was returned to his unit and sent out to South Africa, not returning until 1904. The Rev. Brown remained at St. Saviour's until he retired in 1922, having served the parish throughout the Great War to end all wars. 

If you have any additional information about this story, please leave a comment below. Thank you.

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Inquiry. The Vicar and the Trainer's Wife.

Coverham Church (Holy Trinity)
In 1880, fresh from Cambridge, the young Rev. Frederick Wade Dalton returned to his native North Yorkshire to be the vicar of the small parishes of Coverham and Horsehouses. The latter Coverdale village was aptly named. This "curious and beautiful" place was near famous Middleham, home to a number of outstanding racing stables, drawn by the breezy grounds and exhilarating air. Coverham churchyard was "the last resting place of so many of those who were associated with the past history of the Turf." 

Only a short canter from the church was Tupgill Park, home of the celebrated trainer Fred Bates, a former jockey whose horses had become a fixture at Ascot and the other great courses of England.
Newcastle Shops Museum
Bates was married to Jane, daughter of the late Tom Dawson, another legendary trainer. They had four children. 

In 1884, "no little interested was excited in sporting circles" by the news that Mr. and Mrs. Bates had counter-sued each other for divorce. According to the husband's petition, his wife had been guilty of adultery with the young and unmarried Rev. Mr. Dalton of Coverham. The suits were combined and heard in London where - due to the “nature of the evidence” - the matter was heard in private, a request not often granted. 

According to Mr. Bates, his wife and the vicar had committed adultery at Tupgill Park and divers other places over several months, especially around the new year, 1883. Both Rev. Dalton and Mrs. Bates denied the charge. For her part, Mrs. Bates claimed that her husband had slept with the governess, and probably a few more of the female servants at Tupgill. In her petition, Mrs. Bates stated her husband was frequently drunk and often abusive to her, at one time, "seizing her by the hair of her private parts." The President of the Divorce Court, Lord Hannen, considered the evidence for some time. He granted Mrs. Bates a judicial separation and custody of the children. He also declared there was “no foundation whatever” for the allegations involving the Rev. Dalton.

Bates remained at Tupgill Park; employed by several prominent patrons but never won the Derby. The Rev. Mr. Dalton left Coverham, eventually spending forty years as rector of Hauxwell, near Richmond, where his family was lord of the manor.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 contains full-length accounts of five sensational stories involving clergyman in Nineteenth Century England. For U.S. readers, see.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Seduction in the Bluebells? A Vicar's Denial

The Rev. Jeremiah Woolsey of Norwich was just thirty when he was named the vicar of Brightwell, a small Suffolk village, midway between Ipswich and Woodbridge. The 14th century church, St. John the Baptist, although "little and rarely visited" was especially beautiful, having been painted by the great Constable himself in 1815. 

But soon after Woolsey had settled in to his parish of sixty souls, he was called to the Bishop's palace in Norwich. Bishop John Sheepshanks had received a troubling letter, stating, "One day last summer, the Rev. Jeremiah Woolsey took me for a cycle ride and, taking advantage of me, seduced me." Miss Evelyn Hoare of Shrubland Lodge, Eaton, had since had a child. "Inasmuch as Mr. Woolsey has declined to make any offer and to see me personally, I must beg your Lordship to institute inquiry into the truth of the allegations brought by me." 

In January 1899, the case of Woolsey v Hoare was heard at the Norwich Assizes. The clergyman (the plaintiff) admitted meeting Evelyn at a dance, and they had cycled and lunched together many times. He had thought she was "the one" but owing to some issues within the Hoare family, he stopped seeing her. He was astounded when he then learned of the accusation she had made. On the day in question, he had ridden with her but he had never misconducted himself. Under a searching cross-examination, Woolsey adhered to his denials.

Bluebell Marsh (Norfolk Wildlfe Trust)

Evelyn was 21 and a "smart-looking young woman." She was from a prominent family and her father was a local factory inspector. She told the court that on 7 July 1897, she met Mr. Woolsey in Norwich and they went cycling along the Yare. It was a bit late for the famous bluebells but they stopped at a place called Bluebell Hole near Eaton, where, in a copse, he seduced her. Under cross-examination, she admitted she was very angry when Woolsey stopped seeing her. She even wanted to "wring his neck," On the stand, Evelyn admitted also keeping company with a local constable, P.C. George Rollitt. She hadn't told her parents about George because he was below their station. He had given her gifts. She also admitted going to him first with news of her "condition." The manager of the Norwich Castle Museum testified that Evelyn and Rollitt had to be asked to leave one day because their "courtship" was offending the other guests. 

All of this led Mr. Woolsey's barrister to heights of eloquence with the all male jury: "She is not believable. She is a confessed, unchaste, impure woman. Do not condemn upon her uncorroborated and contradictory statements a man whose character had hitherto been beyond reproach." The jury very quickly found for the Rev. Woolsey and awarded him £500 in damages. 

The little congregation in Brightwell welcomed Woolsey back and he remained their vicar well into the 20th century. In 1900, he married the daughter of the rector of March (Cambridgeshire). 

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Basket Case in London

According to The Financial Times, the Church of England is testing a “tap and go” contactless payment system for donations. No more envelopes, folded currency or jingling coins will be required when the basket reaches your pew.

In 1897, the Rev. Frederick Hetling, longtime rector of Christ Church, Albany Street, on Regents Park, was sued in Bloomsbury County Court by a woman who claimed that - in a moment of aberration - she had dropped a sovereign in the collection basket. She wanted it back. Miss Elise Brown, a dressmaker, admitted making her gift during the 7:45 Communion services. The Rev. Hetling - in an exchange of letters - refused to hear her appeal. Collections were not under his authority; take it to the churchwardens. That correspondence had ended acrimoniously.

Miss Brown was not a regular churchgoer. She reconsidered her thoughtful gift that Sunday and had come to the opinion that she didn't want the Church to have her money. She admitted having been treated for her "aberrations." She tried to explain that she had the opposite of kleptomania, she had giftomania that made her give away her money. "Nonsense," barked the judge and sent her away. What was given to charity could not be recovered, If she had any case, it would be against the churchwardens.

The Church press was delighted, "What is given in a collection-plate in church is irrecoverable." This apparently happened quite a bit. In an oft-told story, a man put a florin into a collection bag by mistake for a penny, and afterwards demanded it back. The churchwardens refused. "Ah, well!” said the man, "I suppose I will get credit for the two shillings in heaven.” “I don’t think you will,” replied the other; "for as you only intended to give a penny. you will only get credit for that coin." Perhaps Miss Brown was more successful.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series Vol. 2 is available in book or Kindle form at and All sales go into my collection plate and are appreciated.