Tuesday, September 14, 2021

"I Will Beat You No More"

St. Mary the Virgin, Flitcham

Flitcham is a small village in West Norfolk, "lying in a picturesque valley.” Sounds lovely but when the new vicar, the Rev. Bryan O’Malley, arrived in 1873, he came to an impoverished parish and his church of St. Mary the Virgin in a dilapidated condition. Flitcham is on the Sandringham Estate, then well known as the country seat of "Bertie," Prince of Wales. It infuriated O'Malley that his 'umble flock worshipped in a derelict pile while the Prince's splendid church (St. Mary Magdalene) was rarely used. Bertie's guests slept in on Sundays, exhausted from their “balls and dances, sporting and general frolicking and affected grandeur.” 

Not a man to suffer quietly, O'Malley badgered his Bishop, the local gentry and then, "a mad Irishman with a shillelagh," he walked hundreds of miles across East Anglia begging. By 1880, the needed repairs were made, "by the exertions of the present incumbent who literally tramped the country for the purpose."

Understandably, praise poured in for the doughty Rev. O’Malley. Alas, his private life was a disaster. In 1872, he had married Frances Keppel, a clergyman’s daughter. The Keppels, of course, were an historic Norfolk family of great achievements – in the church, the navy and in the peerage. Mrs. O'Malley would later claim that she and her husband quarreled from the outset of their marriage, usually about money. He was obsessed with raising funds for his church but not with feeding his growing family. The O'Malleys soon had several children, to the point the clergyman "prayed to God to give me no more." Their quarrels were frequently violent. Servants told stories of how husband and wife threw anything to hand at one another, knives, hot water, plates, even barnyard “detritus.” Mrs. O'Malley left him finally but returned when he promised in writing, "I will beat you no more." She even wrote the Bishop saying everything was going to be fine in Flitcham. Of course, it wasn't. The entente cordiale was, predictably, short-lived. A few months later, on 21 November 1880, after a night's snowfall, O'Malley ordered his wife and children to leave the vicarage. The five O'Malleys – without sufficient clothing for the weather, trudged several miles through the snow to the nearest church at Hillington where the rector, the Rev. Mr. Ffolkes, took them in. 

The public scandal had gotten out of hand. In 1881, Mrs. O'Malley sought a judicial separation. In Divorce Court, she described her marriage as "a story of continual ill-treatment with periods of happiness." She was supported by numerous witnesses, including some of the children. No witnesses came forward to defend Rev O’Malley who took the stand on his own behalf. He described their marriage as a "love match," which was greeted with laughter and jeers. He admitted to having “hot Irish blood” but his wife was an extremely difficult woman herself. She resented bitterly O'Malley's lowly position. She, after all, was a Keppel and he was nothing. But her marriage vows were clear: "for better or worse." On that snowy night, Rev O'Malley insisted he didn’t order his family away or lock the door behind them. He did not prevent them from getting proper winter cloaks. She left on her own. He heard her say, "Come along, children." She just wanted to put on a scene; it was more of her "airs." 

After the vicar's counsel closed his final argument, the jury foreman said they didn't need to hear from Mrs. O'Malley's Q.C. They had made up their minds: Mrs. Frances O’Malley had indeed been the victim of repeated acts of personal violence and was, in their opinion, deserving of the protection of a judicial separation and custody of her four children. Justice Hannen agreed and made the appropriate rulings.

The Rev Bryan O'Malley remained in Flitcham, alone in his vicarage, although his conduct became more and more eccentric. In 1898, he was arrested for being drunk in the streets of Kings Lynn. The following year, the Bishop of Norwich formally deprived him of his Flitcham benefice and "all its emoluments" (however meager). He died in 1909. His wife long outlived him; Frances O'Malley survived until 1931. 

Finally, we should note that Queen Elizabeth II has, on occasion, come across the fields from Sandringham to worship at the recently restored Flitcham Parish Church. What would old O’Malley have made of that? The story of the Rev O'Malley was previously published in Blame it on the Norfolk Vicar (Halsgrove 2008).

Thursday, August 19, 2021

As Mysterious as it is Tragical.

"A more secluded spot could hardly have been chosen," all were agreed when the bodies of the Rev Alfred Ernest Constable and his wife of just two months were discovered in Derbyshire. The sinuous River Derwent flows south through the county on its way to join the Trent. In Burley Hill, a village some little way north of Derby, Samuel Raines farmed some land running down to the Derwent. From his home, on Saturday, 22 June 1895, he saw something "black" on the bank but paid it no mind. Sunday morning, he put his field classes on it and decided to investigate. Farmer Raines came upon the body of a woman lying on the ground. She appeared to have been pulled out of the water and covered with a greatcoat; her head was resting on a clergyman's hat. The farmer went for a constable and the two men, believing "there's got to be a man around somewhere," soon located the second body, face down in about three feet of water. The bodies were taken by cart to the Red Cow public house in Allestree for an inquest. The story soon to be revealed was "as mysterious as it is tragical."

St. Mary's
Burley-in Wharfedale

The Rev. Mr. Constable was identified by a soaked packet of visiting cards found in his pocket. He was not yet thirty; he'd been ordained in 1890 after leaving university in Durham where he was an excellent and popular student, famous for his feats of athleticism, more remarkable because he had been totally blind since a childhood disease. He spent three years as a curate at St. Mary's, Burley-in-Wharfedale, near Leeds. He was then assigned to Thornton Watlass, a remote village in North Yorkshire but he returned to Burley frequently to continue his acquaintance Miss Mary Ellen Naylor, whose family of considerable means resided at Elmgrove. Mr. Constable was delighted then when he was called to be curate in Guiseley, Wharfedale, where by the rector of St. Oswald, he was married to Miss Naylor on 23 April 1895. They left for their honeymoon in the Channel Islands.

Whilst they were away, however, "the tongue of scandal had connected their names with indiscretion before marriage." The Bishop of Ripon had been presented with enough information to suspend the Rev. Mr. Constable and to expect the young clergyman to defend himself upon his return to the diocese.

The police determined the Constables spent their last night at an inn in Worcester and had purchased railroad tickets for Leeds but they got off the train in Derby. They walked up the Duffield Road and along the river until they found a suitable location. Near the woman's body on the bank were found two earthenware cups and an empty packet, the cover, in large red letters, read: INFALLIBLE VERMIN DESTROYER. Dr. Ernest Davis of Derby reported that the gentleman died from drowning, although he had taken some of the poison, made up mostly of strychnine. Perhaps he had fallen into the water. The woman died from the poison. She had been in the water but apparently carried out, placed on the bank and covered with the coat. There was great excitement when the doctor added that his postmortem further revealed that "had she lived, she would at no distant period have become the mother of a male child." She had been married just eight weeks.

The father of the deceased, also a clergyman, headmaster of Thorne Grammar School in Doncaster, had arrived. He described his son as given to fits of depression, but he had latterly seemed very happy. His wife seemed as happy as he was. The elder clergyman had never suspected Mary Ellen might have been in the family way. W Harvey Whiston, the coroner, declared it a pitiful tale. This young couple chose not to wait until their marriage and their "great trouble" would soon be made clear by her confinement. They could not face the scorn, the shame brought on their friends and the likely end of Rev. Constable's clerical career. Thus, they were induced to commit this rash act, with no evidence of careful advance planning. Therefore, he ruled their deaths were due to suicide during a state of temporary insanity. The jury followed Mr. Whiston's instructions. 

A short time after the inquest, the bodies of the Rev and Mrs. Constable were laid to rest in Allestree. The burial of suicides remained controversial; the verdict of "temporary insanity" allowed for some leniency. The services in Derbyshire were "of the quietest character," attended only by the dead man's father and two brothers of the late Mrs. Constable. She was 24.

NEW: Peter Grinham of the Burley Local History & Archive Group has kindly shared with me some new research on this double tragedy done by Andy Thurman of Allestree. Mr Thurman has an alternative theory. He believes this wasn't a double-suicide. "I think the strychnine was intended to induce a termination. Hence Mary Ellen was partly in the river. It went wrong and she died so (Rev Constable) committed suicide." Remember, however, two china cups were found at the scene. That doesn't rule out Thurman's theory. Mysterious and tragical it remains. There is more at https://www.facebook.com/groups/711412013140436/posts/751924715755832 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Besieged Clergyman

In the late 18th century, a guidebook to Kent asserted, “the village of Cowden has nothing worth notice in it.” The church of St. Mary Magdalene was described as tiny and “mean,” and the spire is “notably crooked.” The wealthy Harvey family of Tunbridge were longtime patrons of the church. Their son, the Rev. Thomas Harvey, became rector in 1785 and served fifty years until his death, followed by his son, a second Rev. Thomas Harvey who was the rector for another 43 years until his death in 1878. When the old rector finally shuffled off, in his will, he exercised his right as the parish patron, to present the rectory to his son, the Rev. Henry Gordon Harvey. The appointment was worth £600 a year. Such designations were, however, subject to the approval of the diocesan bishop. It was rarely a problem. Unfortunately, the Archbishop of Canterbury “absolutely refused” to even consider the Rev. Henry Gordon Harvey. 

Rev. Harvey, the son and grand-son of such respected men, had been educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and ordained in 1853. He never held any official church position during the 25 clerical years that passed while he waited for his father to die and to succeed to the family pulpit. Instead, he acquired some property and did a spot of gentleman farming on 130 acres near Godalming.

Part of the reason for the Rev. Harvey’s clerical inactivity was illness related. He had been very ill with fever in 1858, requiring constant care. It was then he met Martha Anne Bulbeck, a nurse from Brighton. As she nursed the young clergyman to health, they formed a romantic relationship which would lead eventually to three illegitimate children, only one still living at the time of this story. The Rev. Harvey and Martha were finally married, if quietly, at St. Dunstan’s in the West, Fleet Street, in 1869. Since the marriage, while residing in Godalming, they had three more children.

Following his father’s death, Rev. Harvey submitted the required particulars to the Archbishop. He presented the required written testimonials from four clergymen of the diocese. In response to some gossip, Rev. Harvey assured the Archbishop’s secretary that he had married his wife as soon as possible after their first “connexion.” He had most certainly not lived with his wife before that marriage and none of his children were illegitimate. Without a great deal of effort, these statements were found to be false. The Archbishop, the Most Rev. A.C. Tait, announced that he would refuse to permit the Rev. Mr. Harvey to become the rector of Cowden, citing the immoral life that he had led and his “misleading statements” regarding his marriage. 

Joined by his aged mother who stood by him, the Rev. Mr. Harvey sued the Archbishop in civil court. Under the Clergy Discipline Act of the day, any moral charges against a clergyman had to be brought within two years of the date of the alleged offense. His “offense” had taken place over ten years in the past and, certainly, he had purged that immorality by his marriage and blameless life since. Harvey conceded that he had kept that early relationship a secret to spare a blameless woman from disgrace. Harvey also presented a statement claiming the support of 94 out of the 100 parishioners of St. Mary Magdalene.

The church countered by calling two of the clergymen who had signed those testimonials. One of them, Rev. Harvey’s own cousin, testified that he had been misled. Had he known the truth he would not have written the letter. The case was heard without a jury by Lord Chief Justice Coleridge in 1879 who quickly found for the Church. 

The Rev. R. Abbey Tindall from Manchester was announced as the new rector of Cowden in 1880 but the handover did not go well. The Rev. Harvey left the rectory taking with him several “titles and other documents” the church wanted back. He refused to surrender them. By 1883, he was living in Dover, where he locked himself and his family in his home. Food was passed to them through a window. Harvey refused to admit the Sheriff of Kent who presented an order for that paperwork. “The besieged clergyman” wrote to the local papers warning that, should the authorities try to break in, he had “a revolver in readiness.” In 1884, a court upheld the tradition that an Englishman's home is his castle and the sheriff did not have the authority to break down doors and would have to find some other way to proceed. 

Somehow it was all settled. The Rev. Tindall spent many years in Cowden, “one of the most charmingly situated parishes in Kent.” The Rev. Henry Gordon Harvey died elsewhere in Kent in 1908.


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Perplexing Situation of the Rev Henry White.

Vanity Fair (26 Dec 1874)
In 1890, the Rev. Henry White was named chaplain to the House of Commons. A "cheery gentleman," White was one of London's best-known and most popular clergymen and the incumbent of the Chapel Royal, Savoy. He performed innumerable weddings being a special favourite of the acting profession. White was 57, unmarried himself, and lived in splendid rooms in Lancaster Place overlooking the Thames. He lived well, moved in the best circles and was known to be "fond of Brighton and the Grand Hotel." So, what was a washerwoman doing with his very-expensive gold watch?

Mr. Tattle, a suspicious pawnbroker in the Kensal Road, told police that 21 year old Eliza Hilborn brought the watch to his shop. The watch-back was engraved: "From his Chapel Royal congregation. Presented in token of their respect and admiration. Christmas Day 1864.” A constable was summoned. The watch was taken to the Rev. White who identified it as his and said it had been stolen by pickpockets on the Underground. In Marylebone Police Court, however, the young lady's story was quite different.

Miss Hilborn, who appeared quite frightened, said she met a man near Paddington Station. They got to talking and, as will happen, they went to a private hotel in Praed Street where they ordered coffee and a room. They dallied pleasantly until the man realised he was about to miss his train for Willesden and bolted for the station, forgetting his watch. "The accused" insisted she'd done her best to trace the owner but without success. Rev. White identified the watch as his but insisted he was certainly not the man in her story. "Don't you know me, sir," Eliza interrupted. "No, I never saw you before," the clergyman responded. There was great excitement in the small room as the two exchanged sharp claims and denials. 

According to White's tale of the watch, he was riding the Underground in December. He was not a strong man and, in the heat and smoke - “overcome by the atmosphere” - he fell asleep. There were two men sitting very close to him. When he woke, they were gone and so was his watch. He always presumed they stole it. How Miss Hilborn got the watch, he could not say.    

The case was remanded for a week and with "everybody talking about the perplexing situation of the Rev Henry White," more than the usual number of reporters crowded the Marylebone police court. They met with disappointment. "While everybody expected an unusual sensation, it was hushed up and disposed of in a remarkably quick manner.” The magistrate (Cooke) said the recent history of this handsome watch was unknowable with any certainty. Miss Hilborn's version might be true but she very likely misidentified the Rev. White. To proceed against her would require the clergyman to face serious questions on the witness stand. In the public interest, Cooke would dismiss all charges and the presentation watch was re-presented to Rev. White who left the building "beaming affably."

A few months later, having spent some time traveling on the continent, Rev. White returned to London. He died suddenly in October, from a heart attack in bed. His doctor told the inquest that he'd warned his patient about the risks of overwork. He was buried in Brompton Cemetery. A bust was commissioned for a memorial in the Chapel Royal. The Rev. Henry White was much lamented, the Queen included; HRH considered him her favourite preacher.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

An Odious Accusation

Banham is a small picturesque Norfolk village known for its cider-making. St. Mary the Virgin, the 14th century church, is celebrated for its magnificent spire. A late Victorian restoration was done by the longtime rector, the Rev John George Fardell M.A. Included were stained glass windows in his late wife's memory. 

As was common, the local clergyman headed the school board. Thus, in 1888, Rev. Fardell had the duty to sack the schoolmaster who'd been convicted in a police court of driving a horse & cart while drunk. It was a difficult thing to do. Rev Fardell had known Thomas Pawson for over 25 years. As a teenager, Pawson was an assistant teacher in the village school. The rector paid to send Pawson off to get his teacher's certificate and he'd been schoolmaster at Banham Commercial School for some time. He played on the village cricket and football sides and had lately married the church organist. 

Soon after the schoolmaster was let go, Rev. Fardell received a letter from Pawson threatening to reveal the rector's "great crimes" and demanding £300. "You began with your beastly habits 20 years ago in your own dining room. You have carried it on without intermission almost up to the present day." Pawson blamed his problems with drink on this alleged abuse which had ruined him in body and soul. The rector sent a letter back. He did not deny a thing but merely asked Pawson to reconsider. If the man went ahead with his threats, Fardell said he would address it from the pulpit and retire, for some time, from clerical work. Instead, Pawson sent a second note, again delivered by his wife, now demanding £1000 or he would expose the rector from one end of England to the other. Pay up and Pawson promised to go to Australia and "your heinous, hellish, bestial crime will be buried in oblivion."

One of the rector's sons was a solicitor and, on his advice, the East Harling magistrates summoned Pawson for sending letters contining an odious accusation and attempting to extort money thereby. The 78-year old clergyman appeared and admitted knowing the former schoolmaster. They had traveled together, to Lincoln and Yarmouth, staying at the same hotels. Pawson was a regular visitor to the rectory where he took tea and smoked cigars with his old friend. But the truth or falsity of Pawson's allegations was not before the court. Rev. Fardell was not on trial. The magistrates sent the case on to the Norwich Assizes.

Some weeks later, in the Norfolk Shirehall, Pawson plead guilty, blaming his actions on drink and regretting everything from the bottom of his heart. Justice Denman said decent people must be protected from such “dreadful accusations.” Pawson's crime was worthy of a life sentence but, on a recommendation for mercy, the defendant would serve a term of six years. In his book Sexual Blackmail (2002), Angus MacLaren said the courts typically came down harshest on those who attempted to extort from clergymen, doctors, solicitors - professional men with reputations to protect. "The law protected the wealthy from the poor and men from boys." Mrs. Pawson, who had delivered the letters to the rectory and called Mr. Fardell "a cursed man," had also been charged but she was not prosecuted. 

The Rev. Mr. Fardell remained in Banham for another five years; he retired to the Isle of Wight where he died in 1899. He's buried in Banham, St. Mary's churchyard, and there are numerous memorials to the rector and his family in the old church today.

I refer you to the newly published collection of clerical stories, How the Vicar Came and Went.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

"The Curate and the Farmer's Boy"

The ancient church of St. Mary the Virgin in the Wiltshire village of Winterbourne Gunner is "delightfully situated" on the east bank of the River Bourne. A Victorian visitor described it as a beautiful church, "if only in its simplicity." It was there in 1887, that a new curate arrived, the Rev Robert Alexander Morgan, just ordained at Durham. The rectory was very near the church, but over a footbridge to the west bank of the river, opposite Manor Farm, where lived John Blake Sutton and his large family. 

It was a small village and, for some reason, the curate and the farmer did not mesh. On a summer's evening that August, the Rev. Morgan was returning from the Post Office along the "public road" when someone threw a stone over a hedge nearly hitting him. The curate scrambled up an embankment and chased down three little boys: 8-year old Charles Sutton, his brother Albert (there were seven Suttons) and William Hill. Who threw the stone, the curate demanded? William grassed, "Charlie, you better tell the truth." Charlie admitted he was the guilty party. 

The next day, the Rev Morgan wrote an extraordinary letter that was soon published in hundreds of newspapers. 

"Dear Sir (he addressed it to Mr. Sutton) As I passed up the road yesterday evening, a stone was thrown over the hedge at me by one of your boys. I shall not tolerate such conduct, and after the demonstration of your own profound ignorance and want of breeding on last Saturday, I have decided that if you will not teach your boys better manners, I shall."

Morgan demanded an apology within seven days or he would instruct his counsel to bring a case to the magistrates.

"You should bear in mind,' his letter continued, 'that there is a great gulf between your position and mine and if you do not teach your children how to conduct themselves properly, you must, like other parents similarly situated, take the consequences."  

No apology was forthcoming and, on 23 August, the remarkable assault case was heard in Salisbury, just a stone's throw away. (Sorry) The Rev. Morgan recounted his experience of the evening of 9 August. He narrowly escaped serious injury. He was able to capture his assailants and "the defendant" admitted being the perpetrator of the deed. Asked to explain his letter to the boy's father, Morgan said it was "no stronger than what Mr. Sutton deserved." 

William Hill, one of "the Winterbourne Gunner Three" was called. He admitted seeing Charlie throw the stone but he wasn't throwing it at anyone. Boys throwing stones, it was, nothing more, swore young William. The magistrates agreed and dismissed the charges. By way of chastening Mr. Morgan for his feelings of superiority, the curate was ordered to pay farmer Sutton's solicitor's bill of £1, 1s.

The story of "The Curate and the Farmer's Boy" was in  papers across Britain, and the curate's "singular letter" much commented upon. The verdict was generally approved although it was hoped that "this early visit to the magistrates will not turn Master Charles into a hardened offender, and that he will, in future, be careful to look before he throws stones." 

The Rev. Morgan remained in the Bourne Valley for another year or so before emigrating to Australia. 

Friday, May 7, 2021

Not a Creditable Affair for a Clergyman

The 13th century church of St. Peter stands in Deene Park, the Brudenell estate in Northamptonshire. The Brudenells were patrons of many churches in the area. The most famous in that family line, of course,  was the 7th Earl of Cardigan, hero of the Charge of the Light Brigade. While his Lordship was leading his "noble six hundred" into "the jaws of death," the rector of his church was keeping a mistress in London. 

This all came to light in 1856 when there was a disturbance at 98 York Road in Lambeth. A gentleman named Harris explained in police court that he wished to charge Miss Jane Oakford with stealing a gold watch and other appendages. Miss Oakford replied that the items were hers; they were gifts, she had been his mistress for two years. The magistrate might also wish to know that Mr. Harris was actually Rev Harris, a clergyman of the Church of England. Harris suddenly chose to drop the charges. It seems the falling out between the lovers began when Rev Harris told Jane that he was getting married; she did not take the news well. The books were closed on the fracas. “Thus has ended this delicate, though to a clergyman, not creditable affair.” 

The word of the unseemly incident in London reached the Bishop of Peterborough who urged Harris to clarify matters. The rector of Deene, now the newlywed husband of Miss Susannah Nye, went back to Lambeth to deny Miss Oakford was ever his mistress and that all such reports were “very detrimental to his character.” Two days later, Miss Oakford - described as “a person of ladylike manners,” reappeared with her lawyer. She brought with her many letters, a signed passport for "Mr. Oakford & wife," and the bill from a Paris hotel, for a room with just the single bed. Again, Harris opted to withdraw from the field. 

Lord Cardigan's own private life was hardly exemplary. He was probably quite forgiving. The Bishop not so much, to be sure. Nonetheless, the Rev. Mr. Harris managed to hold on to his rectory, although he left almost of the clerical duties to a curate. He remained rector of Deene and Corby until his death in 1872. 

The church at Deene is redundant now. The Brudenells still live in the hall. The massive tomb and memorial to Lord Cardigan can be seen in the church on open days. 

Please check out my new collection of clerical stories in HOW THE VICAR CAME AND WENT.