Monday, August 14, 2017

"A Commotion Raised Throughout Yorkshire"

St. Mary the Virgin, Boston Spa
The proper role of a clergyman’s wife was a familiar subject for discussion among churchmen in Victorian England. It was, of course, an all-male profession and most were married. A good wife was expected to strive to lighten her clerical husband’s temporal worries by managing his home and family. Too often, however, she developed “false notions." A Church journal warned: "Let us recognize and proclaim the truth that the clergyman’s wife shares nothing of her husband’s office – possesses no right or authority, or power beyond the wives of the laity." One vicar's wife wrote, "Whatever she does, the clergyman’s wife is sure to be criticised, and I fancy that it is best for her to be criticised for doing too little than for doing too much. "

In 1871, the Rev. William Villiers and his wife Emily came to Boston Spa; he was vicar of the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin. Husband and wife were from prominent families and accustomed to some deference. In her spare time, Mrs. Villiers devotedly tended her vicarage garden while also raising chickens. When an animal killed one or more of her poultry, Mrs. Villiers was understandably disturbed.  A reward was offered. When a cat was captured in the garden, res ipsa, and the animal was summarily put down.


"The Curtsey" by Bougereau
The owner of this accused cat was a local dissenter named Bellwood, who lived very near the vicarage. His niece, Annie, whose cat it was, took it very hard and Bellwood protested but to no avail. He would have his revenge. Soon thereafter, Mrs. Villiers was walking in the High Street and came upon Annie. It was traditional for a child – church-goer or not - to curtsey when encountering a personage as grand as the wife of the parish vicar. When Annie offered no such "bow," Mrs. Villiers barked, “Where are your manners, child?”  The girl replied that her uncle had instructed her that she had no duty to curtsey to the vicar’s wife any longer.

Mrs. Villiers stormed off to her husband. As vicar, Villiers played an ex-officio role in the local "national school." He called in Collison, the schoolmaster, and ordered the girl to be either caned or expelled. After dithering some time, Collison resigned rather than do either.   

The sidewalk sensation came at a time (1877) when the role of the Church in these new "public" schools was a flashpoint. The Boston Spa incident went "viral," in the Victorian press. The Leeds' papers led the chorus. A story headed "How Good Manners are Taught at Boston Spa,” described how a “motherless girl of seven” refused to “bob down” to the vicar’s wife in the High Street. Punch mocked the “silly fop of a clergyman” who slavishly carried his wife’s water. Are dissenting scholars to be caned it they "refuse to clean the Vicar’s boots or prostrate themselves in some Eastern fashion?” Poor Collison, jobless with ten children, became a celebrity. 

Questions were asked in the House of Commons and Lord Sandon, whose portfolio included the schools, tried to dismiss it all. But the public uproar continued. Given a second chance, Sandon "convulsed the House” with a  ludicrous account of “the destruction of a parson’s prize poultry by a predatory pussy.” He concluded by saying expulsion was for the rarest use and "we must express our regret at the course taken in this case." 

The Rev. Mr. Villiers [and Mrs. Villiers] remained in Boston Spa only a short while longer. The curtsey, fortunately, was going out of style. The essayist W.H. Hudson reflected: "Tis impossible not to regret the dying out of the ancient quaintly-pretty custom of curtseying in rural England ... when we see that there is no longer a corresponding self-abasement and worshipping attitude in the village mind." 

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Rev. Sneyd-Kinnersley, played by Robert Hardy

We mourn the passing of the great English actor, Robert Hardy, at the age of 91. The obituaries written today most frequently mention his role as Cornelius Fudge, the professor of magic, in the Harry Potter films. But, for the purposes of this blog, we shall recall his portrayal of a real-life clergyman-professor, the Rev. Herbert W Sneyd Kinnersley.

After Cambridge, Sneyd Kinnersley was ordained by the Bishop of Oxford. He was a renowned classical scholar and his Latin schoolbooks are still in print. In 1880, he founded St. George's School in Ascot where his infamy was established. 

"Accounts of this horrible headmaster’s pitiless beatings are staggering.*" Every Monday morning, the student body - no more than fifty boys - was assembled to hear the reports of the previous week's scholarship. The names of those who had disappointed the headmaster were called out. The unfortunates came forward and were made to drop their trousers and bend over a large box to be birched. It was a "good sound flogging," survivors recalled. As many as 20 strokes were customary. or whatever it took to draw blood. 

The main source for the tales of Sneyd-Kinnersley's disciplinary mania was the Bloomsbury artist Roger Fry whose memoirs of his time at St. George's were reportedly censored by his biographers. 

Robert Hardy played Sneyd-Kinnersley in the 1972 film version of My Early Life, based on the memoirs of Winston Churchill who was sent to St. George's in the 1880's. Winston later recalled, "Flogging with the birch in accordance with the Eton fashion was a great feature of the curriculum." He, too, never forgot what Fry described as the "solemn ritual" of Mondays. Churchill, no shrinking schoolboy, felt the sting of the headmaster's birch more than once. He wrote how, in front of the whole school, he and other mates were "flogged until they bled freely." It was when Winston's nanny, Mrs. Everest, saw the scars from one such birching that she spoke up and Winston's parents removed him from the school.

The Rev. Sneyd-Kinnersley died at a young age, just 38.

It is ironic that an actor who, I believe, was the best ever to embody the role of Winston Churchill on screen, also played such a formative figure in Churchill's young life.

* www.lifedeathprizes.com/real-life.../dark-reality-of-living-in-the-victorian-times-



Sunday, July 30, 2017

PARSON YOUNG'S NIGHT OUT

An ebullient Yorkshireman, the Rev. Charles Gordon Young attended one of the lesser divinity schools and began his clerical career as a curate at St. Jude's in London. Working with lads from the local housing estates, Young is credited with having been one of the founders of the Queens Park Rangers*.

A few years later, in 1889, Young became the unlikely rector of St. Margaret's, Chipstead, a posh village in Surrey where cricket was the reigning passion. But the Rev. Young fit right in, even serving several years as captain of the village XI. A boisterous cricketer, he was known for lots of shouting and waving. On one occasion, however, serving as keeper, he found himself on the wrong side of the wickets, eventually stumbling over them. Was he drunk? There had been several other incidents in Chipstead: for instance, the time at the wedding reception when he bellowed, "Am I to have no blooming drink?" But when three parishioners found him in a notorious London nightclub with a "demi-mondaine" upon his knee, the rector's "continued insobriety" had become intolerable. 


The story of the Rev. Young is one of five clerical sensations detailed in my newly published book, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 2. A retired journalist, I have been passionately collecting the stories of Victorian clergymen who found themselves sideways in their personal lives. Alcoholism was a major problem within the Victorian clergy. The Rev. Young, living among the "swells" of Chipstead, with their shooting parties and dinner parties, insisted he had no drinking "problem." With his loyal wife by his side, Young fought to save his clerical career in a sensational trial that drew most of Chipstead to London, where "the yokels gaped with astonishment," mocked the Daily Mail.


Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is available - both in PAPERBACK and for Kindle - exclusively through Amazon.com and Amazon.Co.Uk.







http://www.indyrs.co.uk/2011/02/the-reverend-charles-gordon-young-the-birth-of-queens-park-rangers/

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Suffolk Curate's Bad Hair Day

In 1663, Robert Hooke, the great English polymath, published his "Observations on the Louse," accompanied by a four-page fold out drawing of a pediculus humanus clinging to a strand of hair. Peering through his microscope, Hooke could not but wonder at such a tiny creature, "so saucy, so busy, so impudent it will be intruding itself into everyone's company and will never be quiet till it has drawn blood." Lice were an obsession in many Victorian homes. "Nit-nurses" stalked the new schools. Long hair was a luxury and women were urged to give it 100 brush-strokes a night. 


More than two centuries after Hooke's research, the Rev. Gabriel Young was curate at St. Mary's, Coddenham, Suffolk, living in a small house in the nearby village of Crowfield, with his wife and their seven children. Emily Palmer, a local girl, had been a family servant for about five months. One day in late 1887, she was called into Rev. Young's study. Emily recalled that there were several adults in the room. She said her cap was "beaten off my head." She was restrained while Rev Young pulled at her hair and looked for insects. Finally, Mrs. Young scissored off more than a foot of hair from Emily's head. One of the women present, cried, "'Tis a pity to cut such beautiful hair." Emily was summarily sacked and ordered to pack and leave immediately. 

The Rev Young was sued by Emily's parents - respectable people - for wrongful dismissal and assault. The trial in Ipswich filled the county court. Emily arrived carrying her shorn locks "but which nobody, when it was produced in court, would examine." She insisted that the lice had to have come from another servant and swore that Mrs. Young once warned her never to wear the cook's bonnet. There was a good deal of conflicting evidence as to the cleanliness of the house and the other servants. The Youngs said they did not injure the girl in any way. Lice could not be tolerated in their home with so many children and the source of the insects had to be determined and driven out.  

The presiding magistrate found against the Rev Young: there was no excuse for the ad hoc hair cut and awarded Emily £5 for the assault, and £1 for her wrongful dismissal. About a month later, Rev. Young resigned "owing to certain perhaps not altogether pleasant circumstances." He found a new church in Norfolk where he remained for many years, leaving Coddenham with a testimonial "wishing him every happiness, and that God’s blessing might rest upon him wherever he went." It was probably best they did not add the Scriptural consolation that "Indeed, even the hairs of your head are all numbered."


A gentle reminder that Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 has just been published. Owing to numerous requests, Volume Two is available in PAPERBACK and features five all-new stories of clerical sensations. A Kindle edition is also available. Volume Two is sold exclusively through Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Thank you very much indeed.  

Illustrations: micrographia.com and suffolkchurches.co.uk

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A CLERICAL LOTHARIO

The Rev. Turberville Cory Thomas, singular in name and in appearance, was a popular curate at St. Alban's, Acton Green, in West London. A Welshman by birth, he'd come to Acton in 1898 after several years as a clergyman in Canada and America. Very quickly, he became invaluable to the vicar, the Rev. Bernard Spink, who praised him as conscientious and declared him to be a personal friend. Until the day he fired him. 

Two spinster sisters had stopped the vicar on his way to evensong to claim that Cory Thomas had relentlessly tried to seduce them. Spink was staggered by what he called "a plot hatched in hell." The curate insisted it was all "malicious tittle-tattle" but he was immediately given the sack and Spink vowed that "the monster" would never find church work again. Cory Thomas filed a libel action which came to court in London amidst the great mourning that followed the death of Queen Victoria. In a city draped in crepe, the New York Times declared that the only other story that mattered was "the great clerical libel suit."

The story of the Rev. Cory Thomas - he of the handsome "dagger moustache" - is one of five sensational church scandals retold in my newly published book, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 2. It's easy to see why the public particularly delighted in this story with all the mysterious veiled witnesses (Miss O and Miss Y) and their evidence of "canoodling" over secret lunches and at dubious hotels in the Euston Road. 

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is available exclusively through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. The book is available in both paperback and in Kindle editions.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A CASE OF HEARTLESS VILLAINY



St. Mary's, Batcombe, Somerset
On a splendid September day in 1855, the bells in the massive tower of Batcombe church rang a merry peal to celebrate the wedding of the rector's daughter. Charlotte, the elder daughter of the Rev. John Brown, married Richard March Watson, Esq, son of a prominent Canterbury family. His two brothers were clergymen and he was studying for the church in Chichester. Ordained in Salisbury Cathedral, the Rev. Watson moved from curacy to curacy in the West Country, until health issues forced him to give up an active career in the early 1860's. 

The Watsons settled near London where he supported himself by selling sermons. He came up with a plan to start a school and Charlotte's sister Susan joined them in Blackheath. The school idea foundered and Susan returned to Batcombe, as many younger daughters did, to be the caretaker for her widowed father. It wasn't until 1877 that the whole nation was stunned by the revelation that Watson had seduced his wife's sister who had borne his child and then, for most of a decade, he had been blackmailing her to preserve his silence. 

The story of the Rev. Marsh Watson and the Brown sisters of Batcombe is included in my newly published book, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 2. For two decades I have been passionately collecting the stories of Victorian clergymen who found themselves sideways in their personal lives. The Watson case truly ranks near the top. It's difficult to disagree with the judge at Watson's trial who declared it was "hardly possible to conceive of anything worse."

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is now available both in paperback and for Kindle readers, exclusively through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Thank you very much indeed for your interest.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

VOLUME TWO HAS NOW ARRIVED!


CLERICAL ERRORS - A VICTORIAN SERIES, VOL. 2 
is now available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.
UK readers click here.

When Victoria took the throne in 1837, there were about 14,000 clergymen employed in the Church of England. By her death, that number more than doubled. From the grandest episcopal palace to the remotest rectory, almost without exception, these men lived and died in service to their Church and congregation. Temporally, they avoided notoriety. They broke no laws. They married happily and raised their young. Misconducting clerics were few. Still, for those who delight in a good vicarage scandal, the Victorian church offered an “unpleasantly abundant crop.” 

The anti-clerical Reynolds’ Newspaper declared in 1870, “Clerical scandals have of late grown as rife as those peculiar scandals which pre-eminently affect high society.”  But profligacy amongst the peerage was almost to be expected. "Sinners that we are, we instinctively expect something better from the gentlemen who undertake to teach us the way.” 

The five full-length accounts herein were selected from the author’s unique database, numbering hundreds of Victorian clergymen.

Parson Young’s Night Out - a boisterous Yorkshireman finds himself rector of a posh parish in a quiet Surrey village. The Rev. Charles Gordon Young was initially popular in the pulpit and on the cricket ground. His critics, however, suspected the rector drank too much. What were the local “swells” of Chipstead to think when their clergyman was found in a notorious London club with a lady of the evening upon his knee?

A Case of Heartless Villainy - His prospects blighted, his health ruined, the Rev. Richard Marsh Watson made a living in a clerical agency and selling sermons. And a bit of blackmail. Having seduced his wife’s sister, Watson required her to purchase his silence. When she, at last, refused to pay, the ensuing trial shocked all Britain. Still, as one newspaper wondered, “What are we to think of the young women who yielded to the advances of a scrofulous parson with one leg?” 

A Clerical Lothario - The Rev. Turberville Cory- Thomas, complimented frequently on his “dagger moustache,” was quite popular with the church ladies in the rapidly growing parish of Acton Green in West London. His vicar praised him regularly. Until, that is, Mr. Cory-Thomas was accused of attempting to seduce two sisters - one over lunch at Gatti’s, the other in a grim bedsit near Euston Station. The ensuing slander trial shared the front pages with news of Queen Victoria’s death.

I’ll Do for Dicky Rodgers - A summer outing on the Broads was under the charge of the Rev. Edward Rodgers, curate of Lowestoft. Too much sun, too much smoke and drink at the “after-party” in the pub, and Rodgers was poorly. A local youth offered to help him home. What happened in the darkened lane between the hedgerows? George Rix began telling everyone, “He must have thought I was his wife.”

The Irreproachable Mr. Karr - Handsome, sporting and the darling of the raffish set at Berkeley Castle was the Rev. John Seton Karr. In the town, however, the vicar’s suavity may have gone too far. Was Mr. Karr’s gift of satin dancing shoes to a local solicitor’s wife in any way appropriate? But when Mrs. Gaisford, known for her extraordinary teeth, called upon Mr. Karr at his London hotel, sensational rumours were aroused leading to a series of legal battles that, literally, worried a Bishop to death.

These vignettes will surely delight all Anglophiles (worldwide), Victorianists, church-crawlers, fans of true-crime & courtroom tales, local historians and more.