Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Pre-quel: Slander the Midwife

As a young clergyman, the Rev Gordon James Henry Llewellyn served the Free Church of England, a strict and evangelical offshoot of the state church. In 1888, he was ordained in the Church of England and spent the next decade ministering amongst the "necessitous poor" in London's East End. He'd been chaplain at several schools, workhouses and infirmaries and, since 1894, he was vicar of St. Matthew's on the Commercial Road in Stepney. 

Among his duties was to serve as director of the Tower Hamlets Dispensary and Infirmary in White Horse Street. Founded in 1792, and supported entirely by charitable donations, the facility served roughly 4000 patients per year, with admission by recommendation only. Depending upon the size of their donation, supporters received a certain number of passes to allow the needy to use the infirmary. The services available included beds for maternity; there were attending physicians and a team of certificated midwives headed by Dorothy Coulton.

In 1896, the vicar and Coulton fell out over her willingness to receive young unmarried women. Llewellyn believed such cases, many of which were of the very poorest classes, were best sent to the local Union. Further, he suggested that her open door policy was "lending itself to the encouragement of sin."

Returning from a holiday, Coulton was stunned to learn from one of the other nurses that the vicar had been talking about her in her absence. He had joked that she was "off on her honeymoon with Dr. Huddlestone," the local medical officer. MRS Dorothy Coulton went to the directors for an explanation. In a stormy session, Llewellyn explained that he'd merely repeated gossip. He never believed it. Then why hadn't he stopped it, she demanded to know, adding. "I have a great mind to resign." To which, the vicar replied, "I think you'd better." The directors were agreed but she left with a small testimonial and a solid reference. 


Mrs Coulton began to attend some private patients but when they were referred to the infirmary, they were turned away. Word got back to her that the Rev. Llewellyn had discouraged at least one woman, telling her that Mrs. Coulton had been dismissed from the Infirmary because she was not a fit and proper person. The Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand are a long way from Stepney but in March 1898, before Mr. Justice Grantham, Mrs. Coulton sued the Rev. Mr. Llewellyn for slander. 

In his defense, the vicar of Stepney denied ever making any slanderous remarks. He had always had the highest opinion of Mrs. Coulton's abilities. As for her soul, well, he admitted falling out with the chief midwife primarily because she didn't go to church regularly and gave him only the vaguest excuses. As for the unmarried women, he did not object as long as the women were members of the parish. All the decisions regarding the treatment of enceinte women were as directed by the policies of the St. Matthew's Maternity Society, he insisted.

The jury found for Mrs. Coulton but probably for a much smaller sum than she had been seeking. She was awarded just 20 pounds.

The Rev. Mr. Llewellyn remained in Stepney, both at St. Matthew's and the Dispensary, until 1905. The church and dispensary are both gone today. Mrs. Coulton was soon employed as chief nurse at the Croydon Infirmary.

Map courtesy of the National Library of Scotland (https://maps.nls.uk)

Volume 2 of Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series is available here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Curate Caught Off Guard


St. Michael & All Angels, Great Torrington
The North Devon town of Great Torrington is “pleasantly seated on a bold eminence.” From Castle Hill, the eye can follow the winding wooded banks of the river Torridge. Just below the hill, you will find the celebrated Great Torrington Common. 

On a summer Monday in 1879, the Rev. Herbert Oldfield Francis was out walking on that common. He had been curate at the parish church of St. Michael's since 1876. Mr. Francis was the son of a prosperous London industrialist. He was 40, married and the father of three. On his ramble that day, he happened to meet Miss Lucy Jones. He knew Lucy well; her father was a physician who worked with the curate at the town's workhouse. It also happened that Rev. Francis's wife was also a doctor's daughter and she and Lucy were great friends. 


Torrington common covered – and covers still – over 365 acres of rolling terrain. This meeting between Mr. Francis and Miss Jones took place in an area later described as “a hollow or a gully.” They were there for some little while. And, they were being watched. William Balkwill was out hoeing turnips on the Common that day. He was 27 with no record for being a troublesome sort. Nevertheless, once the Rev Francis and Miss Jones parted, Balkwill approached the young woman to make some remarks of a "coarse nature." She cried out and the curate, within earshot, hurried back. Francis insisted that the man's disgusting comments were falsehoods. Balkwill, however, thought the townfolk would have an interest in his story. Rev. Francis, in a moment he would later regret, gave the man a half-crown. "Not enough," was the reply; so, by agreement, the two men met that evening when Francis paid him another half crown. 

Wouldn't you know there was a fourth person on that common that day? A passerby, who knew the Jones family, came upon the scene and thought it worth mentioning to Lucy's father. Things quickly spun out of control. The doctor went to the vicar. Rev. Francis, having presumably explained all of this to his wife, also went to the Rev. Buckland. The curate swore to his innocence. He said he had acted out of shock and weakness when he gave the money to Balkwill. Gossip was now rife and - after enquiries from the Bishop’s office from Exeter - the Rev. Francis brought charges against William Balkwill for “making a threat with the purpose of extorting money.”

In late September, the Great Torrington Petty Sessions at the Guildhall were “crowded to its utmost capacity.” The Rev. Mr. Francis recounted the events of that day five weeks previous.  On the common, he'd taken a circuitous route looping around a cricket game when by "merest chance" he saw Miss Jones. They met in a slight hollow but were never out of sight of the players and others. They briefly chatted as friends will do. When Balkwill suddenly appeared and began making vile accusations, Francis admitted that he was “thrown off my guard as anyone would have been.” He regretted making the payments but did it to preserve the honour of Miss Jones.  

The counsel for Balkwill, Mr. Bencraft of Barnstaple, questioned the curate closely. Wasn't it true that the gossip about his coziness with Miss Jones pre-dated the commons imbroglio? Francis denied it but he did admit that, on one occasion, he went with Lucy by train to Exeter. His wife wasn't present but the train and the city were quite crowded and they returned separately.   

Lucy Jones, described in the papers as a woman “of some personal attractions," firmly denied any improprieties had occurred that day or ever. Mr. Francis was simply a family friend. But Bencraft was up again. Wasn't it curious, he said, that by merest chance, the two had met in a hollow, surrounded by great ferns. Miss Jones had no recollection of the ferns. 

The law precluded Balkwill from giving evidence. The closing arguments were brief. Francis' lawyer called Balkwill an "enemy to society." From the other side, the whole matter was described as nothing more than a tempest in a teapot. The worldly Bencraft suggested that married men are seen talking to women all the time. If word gets out, they get no more than "a wigging" when they get home. It had to have been something more than that for Mr. Francis to be willing to pay for silence. In the box, Rev. Francis had said that he was caught “off guard.” A strange phrase to use, Bencraft closed, if your conduct had been totally blameless.

Balkwill had a great deal of support in the public gallery. The family was a numerous one, During the testimony, the magistrates were frequently forced to silence the "lustily expressed manifestation of feelings of many in the room." The deliberations were brief.  Mayor Mallett declared that owing to the contradictory evidence, there was no reason to send this matter on to the assizes and Balkwill was ordered released. 

The Rev. Mr. Francis had been left in a most awkward position. He stayed in the town for a few more months but the rural dean finally urged him to go. He found it difficult to secure church employment, eventually preaching to railway navvies building the London-Brighton line. In 1883, he died in Streatham, leaving a widow and five children. 

Of course, the scandal had reflected as much on Miss Lucy Jones. In 1884, after five years of presumed public rehabilitation, Lucy married Rawlin Buckland, one of the vicar’s sons.  

William Balkwill's story is interesting, as well. In 1889, Parliament formalized the status of Torrington Common and authorized the establishment of a Board of Conservators.  One of the first to serve was William Balkwill who continued to have an interest in whatever people were getting up to on Great Torrington Common.


The Torrington Common story was told previously in my collection of clerical scandals set in Devon. See Blame it on the Devon Vicar (Halsgrove, 2008).

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Scandal in Hanging Heaton

The village of Hanging Heaton in West Yorkshire gets its macabre name not from the gallows but from its topographical position on a steep hillside. The village is old, the pinnacled church of St. Paul's is recent - built in the 1820's. The Rev. Stephen Mathews had been vicar there since 1840.

In the summer of 1851, Mr. Mathews had reason to complain to the local magistrates that some lads had been throwing stones at him. In Hanging Heaton, the vicar had been the subject of gossip - not helped by the fact that his wife and children had moved to York. Worse, however, was the tale told that he had fathered an illegitimate child with a village girl of 16.

His position had become untenable and Mathews was required to attend the Dewsbury magistrates court where Mary Halliwell, "a widow's daughter with pretty features" gave her evidence in a modest manner. As a girl, she'd been taught by Mathews at the village school. As a teenager, she was a  "paid teacher." Mary claimed that she and Mathews had been involved for two years, having intercourse on several occasions and she gave birth to their son that May. As was ever the case, Mary Halliwell's innocence was attacked. She indignantly denied being intimate with any other men but there was contrary testimony. Mary was called a "liar and a strumpet." The law required corroboration; without any, the magistrates dismissed the charge. The Rev. Mathews left court, although serenaded with hisses and groans from the dissatisfied public. 

The magistrates, as was the custom at the time, included many clergymen. Pressure mounted and the case was called a second time. Some workmen claimed to have seen Mathews and Mary go into the schoolroom and draw the shades. Mary brought to court several gifts she testified receiving from the vicar. Again, the magistrates declined to act. 

The dispute had reached far beyond a small village. The Leeds Mercury called the action of the magistrates "perfectly inexplicable." The Rev. Mathews had been with this simple young woman "at unseasonable hours, in unfrequented places and in unseemly familiarity," conduct that was "totally inconsistent with his character as a clergyman and a gentleman."

The Bishop of Ripon, at last, agreed to name a commission of clergymen to review the case and Mathews agreed to refrain from his duties in the meantime. The clerical panel concluded that there was enough evidence to recommend the Bishop to take action. In March 1852, in Ripon Cathedral - Mathews was ruled guilty of the foul crime of adultery and deprived of his incumbency and its emoluments.

Mathews departed Hanging Heaton, leaving his former parish sharply divided. Many still believed him to be innocent of the charge against him. After some clerical inactivity, Mathews found new church employment as a curate in Zeal, Wiltshire. He died in 1866, having been rector of Bartlow in Cambridgeshire.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol II is available here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Diabolical Slander


Photograph by Dicky King
In 1872, the Rev John Goodwin had been five years the vicar of St. Mary's in Moston. It was a new church built to serve a growing working-class suburb out the Oldham Road, northeast of Manchester. The bishop was then pleased to offer Goodwin the vicarage in Denton, a larger parish nearby with a higher salary. But Goodwin hesitated, finally explaining that he could not in conscience accept the appointment owing to scandalous allegations made against him by a married woman in Moston. Although he insisted the charges were totally false, he lost the Denton opportunity. Goodwin was told that he had take legal action to clear his name or face a church enquiry.

The Rev Goodwin was 37 and married, He and his wife Ellen were originally from Leek. In St. Mary's parish, there lived a glass-cutter named Henry Standishstreet, with his wife Mary-Ellen and their four children. Henry, to rise in his trade, needed to improve his numbers and the Rev. Mr. Goodwin had been working with him and, as a result, he spent a lot of time in the Standishstreet home. The clergyman was greatly troubled when a friend came to him to report that Mrs. Standishstreet had been spreading the tale that she and the Rev. Goodwin were carrying on something like a torrid love affair.

Confronted, Henry Standishstreet was profusely apologetic; he simply could not control his wife's tongue. He would publish an apology in the Manchester papers. But no advertisement ever appeared and the Standishstreet family abruptly left Moston. In their absence, the Rev. Goodwin was left to file a slander suit against Mary Ellen Standishstreet.

The case was heard before a special jury at the Liverpool Assizes. Several Moston residents, men and women, related the stories they had been told by Mrs. Standishstreet. She had claimed that first, upon a chance meeting in a country lane, Mr. Goodwin took indecent liberties with her. He begged to be allowed to come to her. The very next day, under the cover of his "tutoring," when her husband was at work and the children were playing below, he called and they went up to the bedroom and committed adultery. A neighbour, John Sykes, a clerk, told the court that Mrs. Standsishtreet began keeping an almanack marked with "ticks" on each day she'd supposedly made love with Mr. Goodwin and, the witness admitted, the markings were numerous. Why would she be saying all this if it wasn't true? Sykes testified that Mrs. Standishtreet had developed an intense dislike of Mrs. Goodwin and her supposed "airs." The vicar's wife was a "proud, stuck up woman" who needed to be brought down and she would be the one to do it.

The Rev. Goodwin took the stand to deny, of course, all the claims made by his absent accuser. He acknowledged that Mrs. Standishtreet had been "spitefully disposed" to his wife for reasons he never quite understood. Because of her false charges, however, he had lost the opportunity for advancement in his clerical career. Mr. Justice Lush denounced the missing defendant, describing the case as among the "most damaging and diabolical slanders" that ever came before him. Though there was no chance that Goodwin would ever see a single farthing, the jury awarded him the hefty sum of £1000 in damages. 

Mr. Goodwin's career survived the scandal. The following year, the Bishop of Manchester presented him with the rectory and parish church of All Souls, Manchester. As for the Standishstreets, they can be traced to America, where he found employment in the glass business - with or without any better handle on his sums - in Cambridge near Boston, Massachusetts. 

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Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Twelfth Night Ball in Lowestoft

All Saints & St. Margaret's, Pakefield
The Twelfth Night was the traditional end to the Christmas Season, to be marked with dinners and festivities in Victorian England. In 1888, it was a most eventful observance in Lowestoft. In late December, the Mayor - a local surgeon named William Chubbe - announced there would be a "Mayor's Ball" on the evening of Friday, January 6. It would be by invitation only so the gentry waited with excitement for the coveted card. But not all. Humbug! The announcement brought forth a furious denunciation of such frivolities from the venerable rector of Pakefield. 

A small village on the North Sea, Pakefield was two miles from Lowestoft. The Rev Lewis Price had been rector there since 1871. Nearly 70, he'd had an eventful clerical career. As a younger man, he had been one of the clergy associated with the infamous Agapemone commune in Somerset. He married one of the celebrated Nottidge sisters, although he had to go court to force her to live with him. She died in 1886.

When Price learned of the Lowestoft ball, he sent a letter to the Eastern Daily Press calling upon the mayor to cancel it. "Moses or the Prophets or Christ or his Apostles never gave a ball ... Balls are offensive to all true Christians ... they inflame the worst passions of the streets, promote the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life ... we will pray to deliver you and your people from this cursed ball." The secular press, of course, mocked Price's letter, calling it "balderdash of the most outrageous and unchristian character" and an "outrageous attempt to revive the worst traits of Puritanism."

The rector's appeal went unheard but, two nights before the ball, a noisy procession, said to number 3000 people, marched from Lowestoft to Pakefield rectory. A brass band serenaded the rector while the torchlit crowd burned him in effigy. It was noted that most of those in the crowd were not likely to have received a ticket to the ball but, still, it was an evening not to be missed. Even if, as reported, the Rev. Price was not at home. 


"Too Early?" by Tissot 1873 (Guildhall Gallery)
The Twelfth Night ball was a great success. Lowestoft's Public Hall in the London Road had been elaborately decorated and the adjoining Masonic Hall was set up for "refreshments." Mayor and Mrs. Chubbe led the dancers on to the floor. It was a high-toned evening, of course. "If we took a census of all the English girls who go to balls and of all the English girls who do not, the balance of virtue, modesty and innocence would certainly largely be on the side of the dancers," observed the Ipswich Journal.

The Rev Price remained at Pakefield until he resigned in 1901 at the age of 81. He had not lose his fire. In 1897, he was back in the national papers for calling village football matches "devices of the devil." He died in 1906 and is buried at Pakefield. There is a memorial window in the church that was put in while the Rev. Price was still alive which, according to the church history, is "quite unique."

see: pakefieldchurch.com/about-all-saints/church-history/


Merry Christmas from the blog team & Happy New Year.
Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Vol. 2 is available here,



Monday, December 10, 2018

Tittle Tattle or the Truth? A Northumberland Tragedy

Seaton Lodge* on the magnificent coast of Northumberland, is "one of the most picturesque houses in the North of England." In 1893, 18 year old Polly Lynn, a miner's daughter, was in service for the Scotts who had taken the lodge. One day in early 1894, Polly was walking with a friend when the Rev. Alfred Pallister, the young curate of Deleval, cordially bid her good day. Polly did not reply and walked on. Sarah Chrisp, her companion, thought it had been very rude of her but Polly had her reasons. She confided that, while she was at Seaton Lodge, Mr. Pallister was a regular visitor. One night, she believed the curate had crept down the hall, into her room and into her bed. She resisted and he left. 

Such a story would inevitably get out and it would reach the ears of the Rev. George W Jackson, vicar of the parish that took in the villages surrounding the splendid estate at Seaton Deleval. The Rev Mr Jackson did not approach his curate for an explanation; rather, he first sought out Polly, who had since found new employment in the home of the Tweddles in Whitley. Polly was alone when the vicar interrogated her. She held to her story - she shared the large bed with another female servant but Polly was certain that she felt a man in her bed. “I did not say it was Mr. Pallister just that I thought it was.” Rev. Jackson got all her details but, as he left, he told her to be very careful, because she could go to prison for making false claims. The vicar thought Polly was in good spirits when he left but, two days later, Mrs. Tweddle found Polly bleeding to death, having cut her throat.

A large and mostly hostile crowd awaited the Rev. Jackson when he appeared at the ensuing inquest held at the Rockcliffe Arms in Whitley Bay. He denied urging "the deceased" to recant her story or threatening her with prison. It was never his wish to hush anything up. The vicar said his sole intent from the first was to get to the truth, deal with it quickly, and spare the Church another great public scandal. Of course, he didn't think young Pallister would do anything like that, unless he was drunk. The curate had been in Deleval for a year and Jackson admitted there had been prior gossip about him but “it had nothing to do with girls.”

C.H. Scott had taken Seaton Lodge for some little time. He testified that Mr. Pallister was a friend and regular guest. The lodge was a rambling, thatched roof home, with many halls. The curate's bedroom was  three doors from where the servant girls slept and it was possible that the curate could have made his way there without the rest of the household knowing. But he couldn't believe Pallister would do such thing. According to Scott, when he first heard the reports, he thought it was a joke. "Rather a serious joke for a clergyman of the Church of England," the coroner observed and with good reason.

Mr. Pallister, of course, denied all. He could not fathom why Polly had made such a charge. The coroner's jury also took evidence that there had been insanity on the mother's side in Polly's family. Perhaps it was just a lurid fantasy, after all. The verdict was that Miss Polly Lynn had taken her life in a moment of temporary insanity.


The Hall at Seaton Deleval (NT)
The single death of a simple girl in a remote mining corner of England did not make all the papers. Nevertheless, the Bishop of Newcastle ordered the Rev. Mr. Pallister to find ecclesiastical duties elsewhere. Before leaving, however, he was feted by many parishioners in the grand setting of Seaton Deleval Hall. He gave a speech. "Scores of people have said to me, 'How do you stand it?' It had simply emanated from a little bit of tittle-tattle and gossip, but unfortunately ended in suicide. I do not wish to pursue the matter further. As Wordsworth said, there are times and crises in the lives of men when they have thoughts in their hearts which lie too deep for tears. It is such a time I experience now." 

After a brief time in Staffordshire, the Cambridge-educated Pallister went out to do church work in Africa, where he died from malarial fever, on New Year's Day, 1898, while Colonial Chaplain at Accra, (Ghana). He was 33.

Five full length accounts of Victorian Clerical Scandals can be found in Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Vol II. Click here for details. Thank you for reading this blog. Comments, additions, corrections are always welcome.

For more about Seaton Lodge see https://co-curate.ncl.ac.uk/historical-account-of-seaton-lodge-1894/

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Parson and the Actress

The Rev. Edward Hutton Bell had won notice for his indefatigability as the young curate-in-charge at St. Mark's in Wimbledon. Beyond the pulpit, he worked long hours in the community: he served in the local Temperance society, the Working Men's Union, the Y.M.C.A. and, in 1887, he was president of the Wimbledon, Merton & Putney chapter of the RSPCA. 

But Mr. Bell abruptly resigned the latter office in a dispute over monies raised for the chapter at a "theatrical entertainment" headlined by the celebrated actress and local resident, Kate Vaughan. On October 5, Miss Vaughan gave an entertainment at the Drill Hall to benefit the local RSPCA, The hall was "crammed from floor to ceiling" and the benefit raised more than  £100. But the Rev. Mr. Bell declared that he would rather resign than accept the gift. Apparently, "he did not approve of augmenting the society's funds by the aid of actresses."

Kate Vaughan was quite a famous lady.  Her stage dancing made her "the it girl" of London in the late 1870's. Then, in 1879, she eloped with Colonel the Hon Frederick Arthur Wellesley, a rising diplomatic star and one of the Queen's favourites. "Freddy" Wellesley had walked out on a wife and two young children and his social ruin was complete. The Wellesleys were not divorced until 1882 while Kate and her lover lived openly in London. In 1883, Kate and the erstwhile Colonel were married but she kept her stage name. They resided at the Abbey Gate House in Merton. By 1887, her career had been revived, less dancer and more comedic actress. The Era hailed her benefit show as a "brilliant success." 

The Rev. Bell wasn't alone in his feelings; the secretary, Col. Lardner, stood with him. But, "others took a more lenient view." There was a testy chapter meeting and when the majority voted to accept the money, Bell and his supporters resigned. In some quarters, their protest was denounced as “Extraordinary Bigotry.” The society weekly Truth, for instance: "What contemptible beings this Colonel and this Reverend gentleman are! Why should the money not have been accepted? If they had had a spark of good feeling, they would, at least, have offered to give an identical amount themselves, if Miss Vaughan's cheque were refused. But this, of course, did not occur to them." 

The Rev. Bell remained at St. Mark's for several more years, still busy if not with the RSPCA. He left for Camberwell in 1892, the same year Kate Vaughan left her husband. 

Thank you for reading the blog. A wonderful holiday book for the church-crawler on your list is Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Volume 2.