Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Christmas Story

"The Old Vicarage, Edgton"*
Christmas 1892 was snowless but very cold in Shropshire. In the remote village of Edgton St. Michael, it was the first Christmas for the new vicar, the Rev. Morgan Jones, a 32-year old Welshman. On St. Stephen's Day (26 December), in his "delightfully situated" vicarage, he dined with Miss Helen Scholding, the newly hired schoolmistress. The unmarried vicar had seen to her every need in the village schoolhouse and helped her settle in the small but charming schoolmistress' cottage. Since her arrival, Helen (and he had dared to call her Helen) had dined every Sunday at the vicarage and he had drunk many cups of tea in her cottage. 

Surprisingly, early in the New Year, Miss Scholding abruptly left Edgton, saying she wished to be nearer her home (Essex). Edgton was a wee place and there were few secrets. Among the villagers unfriendly to the vicar, the word was that Miss Scholding had fled to avoid the vicar's efforts to seduce her. They whispered that all through Christmas, he had relentlessly begged the 33 year old spinster to sleep with him at the vicarage and remain as his mistress. He coyly pleaded, "I feel like I am in the Garden of Eden, but what is the point of being Adam if the fruit is denied to me?"

After Helen's departure, a new schoolmistress came to Edgton. Time passed. Only 200 people lived in the village but the Rev. Jones, alas, had not pleased them all. A common flash point in rural life was shooting rights - who had the right to go where to hunt. The vicar raised pheasants but not for game and he'd brought the law in on "trespassing" hunters. But when he opted to buy his butter from a different local farm, he made an enemy.

In 1896, two parishioners (including William Broome, the bitter butter-maker) went to the Bishop of Hereford to seek an inquiry, charging (three years after the fact) that Mr. Jones at Christmas 1892 had taken improper and indecent liberties with Miss Helen Scholding, he had asked her repeatedly to spend the night at the vicarage for an immoral purpose and he had offered her the position of being his mistress. 

A Consistory Court sat for four days in Hereford Cathedral. The first two days were spent hearing from Miss Scholding, who seemed unwilling to be there at all and made a rather poor witness. She did swear that the vicar had wooed her from the first. He walked her to her cottage and insisted coming in for tea. He even brought brandy with him. He begged her to move in with him; her little cottage was so damp and his roomy vicarage so warm. He touched her improperly. He put his arm around her and spoke to her intimately. This went on through Christmas and into 1893. But when she continued to spurn his advances, he turned upon her. He became very cold and critical of her teaching. He made her cry. He told her, "You might have been as happy as a Queen if you had done what I wanted." On cross-examination, Miss Scholding admitted her diary for that holiday period had gone missing. She had lost earlier positions because she was so easily troubled; she had once talked of suicide. In Edgton, Rev. Jones had cautioned her about some of the novels she read. And why did she not cry out when Mr. Jones touched her, there were servants around? When she left Edgton, why did she write the vicar a pleasant note thanking him for his kindness. Would a woman write such a note to a man who had tried to debauch her?

But there were supporting witnesses. Margaret Evans had been Miss Scholding's cottage servant (Margaret's father was one of the dissident parishioners). The girl swore that, while looking through a keyhole, she saw the vicar pulling up Miss Scholding's dress. The schoolmistress said, "If you don't leave me alone, Mr. Jones, I shall write home and tell my father," to which the vicar replied, "Oh, no, no, suffer the little children to play together." Miss Scholding's father said his daughter had complained to him and he had gone to Edgton but the vicar refused to see him. But, once his daughter left, he let the matter drop.

Given his turn, the Rev. Jones insisted the story of his amorous Christmas seduction was a "heinous lie." Of course, he had befriended her; Miss Scholding was an educated woman and without friends in a rustic village. He never made any propositions to her; it was all a tissue of falsehoods crafted by unhappy parishioners. He never compared himself to Adam in the Garden, etc. He never called her a "delightful child" or told her she was like a "sunbeam" in his lonely vicarage. He saw nothing unusual in a clergyman spending an hour and a half in a schoolmistress' cottage. In fact, it was a damp little place. They had tea but never brandy. 

The vicar's counsel urged the Consistory Court to agree that the entire case was a fabrication, a "cruel, unkind and un-Christian" cabal inspired by petty quarrels. All this because the vicar changed dairymen? Tittle-tattle three years forgotten had been resurrected. Poor Miss Scholding, a "nervous, hysterical" woman, had been used to attack a blameless clergyman. The woman read too many romantic novels. The great "keyhole evidence" was incredible; it was a physical impossibility for that servant girl to have seen any such thing. In the end, the wretched schoolmistress left Edgton to go home to her family, no other reason.  
St. Michael's Edgton.*

The Hereford court (a panel of laymen and clergy) took a fortnight before announcing their unanimous verdict that the Rev. Mr. Jones was not guilty on all counts. In Edgton, the vicar set about to entirely restore his tiny church. He was still in the village well into the new century (so were his accusers, Messrs. Broome & Evans.) The Rev. Jones never married; he lived alone with his younger housekeeper, Miss Boyer, who'd been with him throughout. 

For Anglophiles at Christmas 2017, please consider Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series (Vol. 2.) It is a collection of full length stories of similar personal predicaments besetting clergymen of the C of E. The book is sold exclusively through and 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Attempting to Murder His Illegitimate Child

St. Peter & Paul, Aston
The parish of Aston was one of the largest in Birmingham. The Rev. George Peake, vicar of the venerable church of St. Peter and Paul, employed no fewer than four curates to assist in the various ecclesiastical duties and services. In September 1855, a new curate arrived, the Rev. Patrick King. Little was known of Mr. King other than that he was a "seceder" from the Roman Catholic Church, having "renounced the errors of popery" in 1852. He was then received into the Church of England. King was 37 and unmarried.

Early in 1856, a woman named Anne Downes came to Aston; she was pregnant. The Rev. King took some interest in her, saying she was the wife of a friend now living abroad. Mrs. Downes had chosen to return to England for her confinement and then recruit her health. Her son was born in the spring and - as was not uncommon - while the mother recovered, the infant was placed in the care of a local woman, Mrs. Jones, in Thimble Hill. The Rev. King visited the infant regularly, showing almost paternal concern which, of course, gave rise to censorious gossip. 

In the late afternoon of 30 May, in Lapworth, a village fifteen miles south of Aston, 14 year old Walter Wood was tending some cows when he heard the cries of a baby. The lad was led by the wails to find an infant lying just off the high-road, on the slope of a hill above a pool of water. Walter brought the baby to the farmhouse of his employer, a man named King (apparently no relation to the curate). At the Solihull Union Workhouse, the infant was examined - although the baby had been poorly fed, there were no signs of violence. Police visited the scene in Lapworth and determined that some person, unwilling to intentionally drown the infant, left him there to either die of exposure or roll down the slope into the pit.

After a fortnight of inquiries, there was an "extraordinary sensation" when Warwickshire police arrested the Rev. Patrick King on a charge of wilfully and maliciously attempting to murder by drowning "a certain child," his illegitimate son. King made no effort to deny paternity. The child was his. "Mrs." Downes was not the wife of a friend but actually the curate's half-sister by the same mother. She'd come from no farther away than Coventry.

According to Mrs. Jones, on 30 May, the Rev. King came to her cottage, asking to have little Arthur as his mother wished to see him. But she watched as King got into a cart and the carman headed in the other direction, south by the turnpike road in the direction of Stratford. Police later claimed that, about two miles beyond Hockley House, in a lonely place along Lapworth Hill, the wagon halted. King walked off with the baby and was gone for some little time but returned to the cart alone. 

At the Warwick Assizes, the Crown insisted that the defendant had left the helpless infant on the steep slope "where, on the slightest movement, he would have rolled into the water and been drowned." But Justice Cresswell did not think the evidence necessarily proved any intent to drown the infant. Thus, on the graver charge, King was found not guilty. He was, however, convicted of a common assault, having "exposed the child, whereby it sustained injury." Cresswell acknowledged that infanticide was tragically all too common in England. Thus, the shock of this case. "If we cannot expect a clergyman of the Church of England to resist the temptation to commit an offence of this description, what may we expect of those who, without education, without religious instruction, without a sense of their responsibility, are tempted to conceal their shame by dealing with infant children in such a manner."

The Rev. Patrick King maintained the "greatest composure" throughout the proceedings. Hearing word of his six month jail sentence, he simply bowed and retired. There was a public kerfuffle when it was reported that the Rev. King had been allowed to preach to the inmates in Warwick's county jail. Upon his release, however, he disappears from all the clerical directories. As the weekly Lloyd's had predicted, no amount of time would suffice to cleanse Patrick King of "prison taint."

Arthur was back with his mother. Miss Downes had also been charged but not prosecuted. Upon payment of the workhouse fees, she was reunited with her son. They cannot be traced.

Thank you for visiting this unique blog. May I remind you that Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is now for sale, exclusively through and The collection includes five full-length accounts of "extraordinary" scandals involving Victorian clerics. Tales of blackmail, adultery, seduction and more. A cozy collection for the Anglophile on your list!

*Aston Church (1851)

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Clergyman’s Wife Elopes with the Butler

St. Mary Magdalen, West Tisted (2016)
The Rev. Herbert Ogden Cruickshank, (M.A., Magdalen, Oxford) came to the West Tisted in 1883. The remote village in the South Downs was one of the poorest parishes under the patronage of Magdalen College. The village was reachable by a steep, rough, narrow lane. The church of St. Mary Magdalen was quite literally a "hidden gem," embosomed in trees and surrounded by a crumbling moat. A centuries old yew leaned wearily in the churchyard. 

In 1888, Cruickshank brought his new bride to the old vicarage. Mary was the much-petted only daughter of Capt. G. E. Graham-Foster-Pigott, a "gallant sportsman" of nearby Cheriton House. In the village of just 300 souls, Mary taught Sunday School, and she was "beloved by all the children." She was also the organist, leading the small choir on the harmonium, purchased by her husband during his self-financed renovation of the church. 

By 1894, the Cruickshanks had two children, a son and daughter. On August 28, 1894, an advertisement appeared in The Morning Post

BUTLER and COOK REQUIRED for entire work of small house; small family; foreigners may apply; Protestants. Wages and full particulars Mrs. Cruickshank, West Tisted Vicarage, Alresford, Hants.

A newlywed couple from Kent, James Wood, a former soldier, and his wife, Alice, who'd cooked at a military hospital near Canterbury, were employed by the Cruickshanks in 1895. 

In February 1898, Alice Wood came to the vicar to say she could no longer live with her husband; he had been abusive verbally and physically, knocking her to the ground and kicking her about the scullery. While attempting to console the woman, Rev. Cruickshank was aghast when she went on to claim that James and Mrs. Cruickshank were lovers and planning to run off together. The vicar presumed the distraught woman was a raving hysteric but when he called the others in, expecting them to deny it, “to my horror & dismay” they admitted it. In fact, this affair had been going on for almost six months. 

Cruickshank ordered them both to leave the vicarage at once. The lovers were later traced to a hotel in London's Euston Road and eventually to Toronto. With this evidence, Alice Wood received her divorce on grounds of adultery and cruelty. The Rev. Cruickshank, however, citing "conscientious objections which he could not overcome" declined to seek a divorce. Instead, he asked for a separation, custody and a declaration that his wife was unfit to have custody. The decree was granted in October 1898.

"A Clergyman’s Wife Elopes with the Butler," made for publisher-pleasing headlines. The Rev. Cruickshank had quietly submitted his resignation to the Bishop of Winchester: he "resigned in disgrace," according to the papers, though what exactly he had done wrong was not stated. Certainly, he could not remain in the village; a clergyman's marital home was expected to be "the model of the Parish." Cruickshank took his two children to live in Portsmouth, without clerical employment.

By the 1901 census, would anyone believe that Mary Cruickshank had come home from Ontario? In the end, the despicable Wood had abandoned her in Canada. Through her family, communication was re-established with Herbert, and "at his instigation," she returned to England and rejoined her family in Portsmouth. By 1905, Rev. Cruickshank was in service to his church again, the rector of Tubney, Berks. He died two years later, just 52, survived by his wife.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 has just been published. Details on this delightful new collection of five full length stories of clerical mis-behaviour can be found at either or Paperback and Kindle editions are available. Thank you very much indeed. Order early for Christmas.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Scandal in Victorian Slough

Herschel House (
There was a surfeit of young divines pouring out of academia to serve the Victorian Church of England. Those without money or connections were often ticketed for a humble rural curacy, others sought employment as a tutor. In 1862, the Oxford educated Rev. Thomas Richardson Birch MA, was just such a man. Through Johnson’s Clerical Agency in the Strand, Birch was employed by Mr. Felix Taylor, a retired London businessman now living in Slough with his wife Frederica and their two young sons. The Taylors, the young clergyman was informed, were quiet people and socialized very little. Mr. Birch, accompanied by his wife, would be well paid - £100 annually - with a furnished cottage in nearby Alpha Road.  

Slough, in the early 1860’s, was “celebrated for its salubrity" and home to many "families of the higher branches of the mercantile and professional world of London.” The Taylors lived in one of the community’s most famous homes, Herschel House on the Windsor Road. The astronomer Sir William Herschel had lived and died there, near his patron, King George III.  

Mr. Birch began well with the young Taylors, who made satisfactory progress. He and Mrs. Birch were frequently invited to dine at Herschel House. But within a year. disagreements and "some unpleasantness" led to the tutor's dismissal. 

Mr. Taylor, using the same clerical agency, offered the position to the Rev. Thomas Sharpe. But before the new tutor could take up his employment, he received an anonymous letter: "You have entered into a sink of the grossest crimes and infamy," the writer began. Sharpe was advised to contact the Rev. T.R. Birch for details. Sharpe wrote to Birch who replied, detailing the rumours in Slough that the Taylors were not married and their children were illegitimate. "That is why no respectable persons visit Herschel House," Birch alleged. Sharpe promptly declined Taylor's job offer and the clerical agency refused to serve the man any longer. 

Taylor may well have suspected that Birch was the source of these allegations. A letter to his former tutor drew an immediate and singular reply of some 800 words, beginning: 
You loathsome and most contemptible animal. You induced me to become the tutor of your bastards – bastards of the most loathsome circumstances of all bastards – they being the offspring of a low paltry tradesman at best.

In February 1864, in the Old Bailey, the Rev. Mr. Birch stood to answer a charge of criminal libel. In the witness box, Felix Taylor admitted that his wife had previously been married to a fellow wine merchant in the City. It was true that he and Mrs. Barlow had formed an intimacy producing two sons. But after her divorce, “as soon as he could do so by law,” he had married her. Taylor denied ever telling Rev. Birch that he was “a fellow Oxford man” or that Mrs. Taylor was “a colonel’s daughter.” They now lived quietly and "there was not a single circumstance" he wished to conceal from the jury. However, under cross-examination, Taylor admitted to eloping with Mrs. Barlow and living under assumed names at several addresses until the distraught husband ran his unfaithful wife to ground. 

Through his counsel, Birch denied writing that first anonymous letter. Anyone in Slough could have written it, so widespread was the gossip. It was conceded that Birch had written the second letter: it was a "privileged communication" as he was within his rights to warn another clergyman not to repeat his mistake and accept employment in such a home as the Taylors had made at Herschel House.

It came down, then, to the anonymous letter. The director of the Clerical Agency and a handwriting expert each testified that it was in Birch's hand. The London jury found that Birch had written both letters but they urged the court to be merciful. From the bench, the Recorder, Russell Gurney, made plain that he had no respect for Felix Taylor, a man "undoubtedly guilty of gross immorality." Had Mr. Birch discovered the situation and promptly left Herschel House, who would have objected? But only after Birch had been sacked for being “remiss in his duties” did the tutor conceive his plan to wreak revenge. The first letter was a malicious and unprotected libel. Gurney would therefore sentence the Rev. Thomas Richardson Birch MA to six months in Newgate prison.  

Having served his prison time, the Rev. Mr. Birch slunk away into obscurity. In the census for 1881, he living with his wife in Fulham, employed in the “hopeless and thankless task” of chaplain at the local workhouse.

Need a gift idea for the Anglophiles on your list this season? Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 has just been published. Details on this delightful new collection of five stories of clerical mis-behaviour can be found at either or Paperback and Kindle editions are available. Thank you very much indeed. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

An Undiscussable Offence

Sailing from Southampton for Capetown in early 1868, Bishop Edward Twells still faced another 700 mile journey by cart to return to his diocese. Five years earlier, while vicar of St. John, Hammersmith, the unmarried Twells had been chosen to be the first Missionary Bishop of the Orange Free State. Five years later, he returned to Britain for a Pan-Anglican synod-cum-fund-raising tour. In his speeches, he conceded that his work had been hampered by the extreme difficulty of recruiting clergymen for so isolated a place. In a region populated by native tribes and Boer farmers, the Church of England required "men of great physical powers and energy." And money. Twells returned modestly enriched for his work. 

A little over a year later, "You can scarcely imagine the sensation," when the Cape Mail arrived with news that a warrant had been issued for Bishop Twells charging him with "an undiscussable offense." The English community in the region was shattered: "All society has been stirred to its depths, and our faith shaken in human nature and mankind generally." The Bishop could not be located. He was said to be in the Transvaal where he had taken refuge with friends, refusing to turn himself in as he feared he could not get a fair trial.

With no cable link, the news of the manhunt was weeks old by the time it reached London. Defenders of the bishop insisted the charges were false, a plot hatched by Twells' doctrinal enemies. He was suspected of being a closet Tractarian. The source of the painful allegations was said to be a "known thief and bad character in every respect." But other reports reached Britain that the charges were very likely true. Many were distraught at the effect this "shameless" scandal would have on the Church's work "in heathen lands." 

There must be a public trial, the press demanded. Bishop Gray, in Cape Town, ordered Twells to surrender and face a church inquiry on the "grave charges" made against him. In October, Twells submitted his resignation which was not accepted. By November, Twells, in disguise and using a false name, had boarded a ship for London. His old enemy, Bishop Colenso in Natal wrote, "He came through this colony in disguise, passing Maritzburg in the night, and hid himself somewhere at Durban until he could get away, which he found it very difficult to do." 

Meanwhile investigators had reached the Free State to discover the charges involved the Bloemfontein choir: "The boys of five or six families at least have been examined and have sworn to certain things and they have also been privately examined by their parents who could not bring themselves to believe the truth of the charges. But they do believe now that their sons have been most vilely and shamefully used - assaulted with depraved habits by one who was their chief pastor and should have been an example as well as a teacher of purity." 

There never was a public trial; "people wished to bury the scandal out of sight as soon as possible." In London, The Church Digest reported that Twells had been judged, by three medical men of high standing, to be "not of sound mind." Twells was just 40; he lived until 1898 in Clifton, Bristol, where he held the status of a "retired" bishop and only "occasionally officiated."

Not a bishop, the Rev. Rodgers was but a curate when he faced similar charges in Lowestoft. "I'll Do For Dicky Rodgers" is one of the stories in Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Volume 2 now available exclusively from and

For more about Twells, see:
Sachs, Homosexuality and the Crisis of Anglicanism (2009)
Southey, "Uncovering Homosexuality in Colonial South Africa: The Case of Bishop Twells." South African Historical Journal (1997)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Canon Disgraced

Going on thirty years, the Rev. Henry Russell Dodd had been the vicar of St. Matthew's church in the Cheshire village of Stretton. He had risen to the lofty ranks of clergy in the diocese, being named a Canon of Chester Cathedral. In addition to his parish duties, he was a nationally known chess player and active in numerous good causes including the Girls Friendly Society. 

Founded by Anglican clergymen in 1875, the GFS was open to unmarried girls fourteen and older of unblemished character. Many of the society members were country servant girls. Canon Dodd, being a rural cleric, was keenly aware of the temptations and dangers faced by the junior servants and maids of all work in country mansions. He had said the society's work with these girls was of "transcendent importance." Thus the painful nature of the inquiry ordered by the Bishop of Chester in 1896 when Canon Dodd was charged with immoral conduct with two of his own servants.

The Consistory Court met in a small room just inside the west door of the ancient cathedral. 16 year old Annie Jones had worked for Rev. Dodd for about five months. He regularly kissed her, she testified; he made her sit upon his knee, and tried to climb into her bed. He did not succeed although she admitted they had often behaved improperly with one another. But Annie admitted that she never cried out or made any complaint other than to the charwoman. She also denied being sacked by Mrs. Dodd for lying and theft. After Annie left the vicarage, Sarah Perrin had joined the household. She remained only a fortnight. Sarah swore that the Canon kept trying to kiss her; he kissed her neck and played with her hair, he pulled at her dress, etc. There was also a third woman, a newly wed in Stretton, married by Canon Dodd. She said the clergyman came to her home with ribald questions about whether she was "enjoying" her new husband. He made comments about her shapely form and tried to kiss her. 

The Canon's defense was that these simple rustic girls had over-reacted to what was light-hearted flattery. Did he kiss his servants? Yes, playfully but not indecently. Did he ask to kiss the new bride? Why, it's an old Cheshire custom that the parson can kiss the bride. Would a 57-year old married man, of blameless service in the village for 28 years, suddenly act such a fool with three young girls? The villain, according to the clergyman's counsel, was a newly arrived doctor, Sydney C.H. Moberly, who had betrayed Canon Dodd's hospitality to spy upon him and malevolently rake up these silly charges. Mrs. Dodd loyally supported her husband and so many clergy had lined up to say nice things about the Canon that their testimony had to be halted at a half-dozen.

After due deliberation, however, the Chancellor announced with pain and reluctance that the whole of the three charges had been proved. The inquiry adjourned whilst the Bishop considered the punishment. Canon Dodd made a last minute appeal, seeking mercy on the grounds that "his mental state was such as to render him incapable of the power of self-control." It was ruled too late. Bishop Jayne took two months to decide what to do, "in recognition of Rev. Dodd's undoubted years of service." The Bishop finally decreed that Dodd be stripped of his vicarage, the dignity of being a cathedral canon and all ecclesiastical preferment in the diocese.

The Rev. Dodd left Stretton, amid blaring headlines across Britain, "A Canon Disgraced." His wife also left him. Dodd found himself with more time for his duties as president of the Lancashire Chess League. He rehabbed his clerical career as early as 1901 when he was a curate in Plaistow, East London. Dodd died in 1918 at the age of 80.

Have you yet considered the purchase of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2? Check it out at or Thank you.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Curate's Imprudent Kiss

Curates were ever a figure of great fun in Victorian England. In 1876, Belgravia, a society magazine, published a rather lengthy discussion of the woebegone species, concluding that "decidedly the most marked trait about the full-blooded curate variety is that they are not ladies' men." 

In 1883, one such curate, a High Churchman with deeply held views on celibacy, was entrapped in an embarrassing blackmail plot. The Times of London withheld the unfortunate cleric's name but reported that he held a curacy in a "prosperous London suburb." A pretty female parishioner had made her interest in the handsome curate quite plain but seeing that he would not bend, she asked, before they parted forever, could she have one kiss? He complied. Days later, in a neat parcel, tied up in a blue ribbon, there arrived an “instantaneous photograph, cabinet size” of him kissing the "pretty penitent." An enclosed note claimed that there were eleven more copies of the photograph and they would cost the curate £20 apiece. The Times reported that “negotiations are said to be progressing.” 

The story, for the Victorian media, "went viral." The Times account was picked up by papers across Britain and over the Atlantic. Admittedly, it may very well have been a hoax; the secular press rarely missed an opportunity to poke the High Church set (and celibacy, of course, was so "Romish"). The curate was never identified. How the matter was resolved must be left to surmise. But the moral was clear, as one leader-writer put it, let it be "a warning to susceptible youths in general, and young curates with comely parishioners in particular, to take good care when similarly committing themselves."

Now, this may have been a rather amusing "escalandre." But clergymen were among the most frequent victims of vicious blackmailers. For a "man bites dog" reversal of roles, please see the story of the Rev. Richard Marsh Watson, whose truly shocking blackmail scheme was denounced as a "case of heartless villainy." Watson's story can be found in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol 2, available now in both paperback and Kindle exclusively through and