Wednesday, June 13, 2018

An Intolerable Fear of Exposure

The Rev. Peter William Browne was the vicar of St. Katharine's Church in the small Lancashire coal-mining village of Blackrod. He came there in 1846, unmarried. In 1855, he went home to his native Dublin and returned with a bride, Jane Alicia, daughter of the Irish baronet Sir Ross Mahon. 

Within a year, however, the clergyman was summoned to a Liverpool police court to answer an "affiliation" action filed by 19 year old Deborah Stanley claiming Browne was the father of her 3 year old child. Miss Stanley was a coachman's daughter in Dublin. In 1852, she happened to meet the Rev. Browne while listening to some street music near Mountjoy Square. On that evening, he took her to "a house of an improper description" on Sackville Street. The result of that encounter was a child - the sex never revealed. She told the court that Browne had recently stopped giving her money for the child. He had been sending her 7s a week. In 1853, he paid her fare (£35) to America aboard the Annie Jane. But the ship was battered in a storm and turned back. She got off; when the ship put out again, it was lost off the Hebrides with 348 passengers and crew.

The Annie Jane (ArtUK)
It was an amazing tale but the sallow young woman was described by the papers as bearing an "appearance that is by no means good." She admitted to have subsequently had another child with another father. Opposite her in the court was the Rev. Browne, "a person of gentlemanly appearance, quiet and self-possessed in his manner." The vicar's counsel did not deny that there had been a "connexion." But given the profligacy of this young woman, there was no way to prove that he was the father of that child. What happened that night, the defense argued, was a one time incident that Mr. Browne had grievously regretted ever since. For that reason alone, he had given the woman money and attempted to assist her to go to America and make a new life but instead she had made "demand after demand upon his purse." In all, she had extorted £130. She began lurking about Blackrod. "The fear of exposure had been held over him until it had become perfectly intolerable.” 

Miss Stanley's complaint was dismissed. An appeal for the press to ignore the complaint and spare "further torture on this gentleman and his family" was to no avail. The Rev. Browne returned to Blackrod where he remained until his death five years later. A memorial plaque to the vicar can be found on the south wall of St. Katharine's Church.

For interesting full length stories of clerical scandals, please see Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series at or

Monday, May 21, 2018

"Shocking Scandal; Remarkable Letters"

The Rev William Malam, vicar of St. John the Baptist, Buxton, began tutoring Miss Annie Rose in her Latin declensions in December 1883. An assistant schoolmistress, 24 year old Annie needed the Latin to advance. Malam was 58, quite well-respected and a rural dean in Derbyshire. There were at least ten tutoring sessions, mostly held in the vicar's home where he lived with his invalid wife. But for the one or two occasions when Malam called at Annie's little cottage set back from the road on College Place. That something took place during one of those visits was unquestioned. Rumors and anonymous letters soon swept Buxton. In August 1885, Rev. Malam filed a slander action against a young physician, Dr. Charles Bennett, seeking damages in the amount of £5000. Bennett had gone so far as to call the vicar “a beastly old fellow.” The doctor said he could prove that Malam had twice indecently assaulted Miss Rose.

The evidence consisted of a stack of Malam's letters to Annie, "My Dear Little Girl." He wrote, "From the first time I saw you, I liked you." But later, many of his letters were "abject" appeals for forgiveness. "Don't think so badly of me and forget a moment of weakness which, though reprehensible, is not to be classed with unforgiven offenses." He begged to see her again: "Believe me, you may trust in me. There will be no temptation in the same direction in the future." When she threatened to expose him, he wrote, "I implore you for my poor crippled wife's sake, to whom exposure would be death." The vicar had always told Annie to burn his letters; she did not.

The vicar's counsel insisted that Rev. Malam was "wholly unconscious" of having done anything wrong, other than a "playful" slap on one occasion. The act was "indiscreet" and nothing more. His letters were also imprudent but he was facing false and exaggerated claims. Dr. Bennett's motive? The physician and Miss Rose seem to have had a pre-existing "more or less intimate" relationship. 

No evidence was called and the counsel for Dr. Bennett said his client wished to unreservedly withdraw everything he ever said or wrote about Rev. Malam. He had been misled (by Annie?) and had acted from the purest motives unaffected by any animus towards the vicar.   

Mr. Justice Lopes was pleased that unseemly testimony had been avoided. But he added, "I cannot help saying" that Rev. Malam's letters to this young woman, for a man in his position and she in hers, "were certainly indiscreet." That clearly affected his Lordship's decision that Malam should receive damages in the rather paltry amount of 40 shillings. When Malam returned to Buxton from the trial in Liverpool, a band was waiting at the station to play "See the Conquering Hero Comes." He remained vicar in Buxton until his death in 1892.

Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series Volume Two is now available at and

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Curious Conduct of a Coatham Curate

On 21 August 1865, the papers in Liverpool reported that the Rev Alfred Henry Ferries (or Ferris), was found lying near death at the foot of Great Orme's Head in Llandudno. "It is supposed that the reverend gentleman had been walking too near the edge of the cliff and fallen over." Luckily for him, the sea was going out at the time or he would been swept away. Nonetheless, it was feared that the internal injuries the young clergyman received would almost certainly prove fatal. Ferries was only 28 and had been visiting North Wales alone. 

The news was keenly felt in Coventry where Ferries had been a curate at St. Michael's church. He was also sought there for an explanation regarding an allegedly forged £40 bill of exchange, defrauding the Coventry and Warwickshire Banking Company. It certainly appeared that the clergyman had been unwilling to face the shame, jail time and end of his career and thrown himself to his death. 

In April 1868, in North Yorkshire, the banns of marriage were posted for one Rev. A.H. Ferries and a young lady from an "esteemed" family in Coatham, Redcar, where Ferries was listed as the unlicense curate of Christ Church. Within days of the banns, someone apparently sent a photograph of the curate to the police at Redcar who notified their colleagues in Coventry. Once again, Ferries disappeared but only to show up in Coventry and turn himself in. Apparently, the Llandudno fall was a complete ruse and he had spent a good deal of time in Canada. In Coventry, due to the lapse in time and the difficulty of gathering evidence as a result, the local magistrates agreed to abandon the prosecution. 

All the world loves a lover, perhaps, but Ferries' marriage plans seem to have been abandoned in Coatham. By 1870, he was a curate in  Cornwall and a year later, vicar of Charlestown where he married the daughter of a wealthy clay merchant. 

One is often struck at the ease in which anyone with a reason to "get away," could absquatulate on their wife, job or the police and simply move to another shire - or episcopal diocese - and start anew. With not even a name change.

May I mention anew that Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume Two remains available from and Please follow the links to see more. Thank you.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Monkey Suit at St Peter's Walworth

The Rev John William Horsley had been rector of St Peter’s Walworth since 1894. He was a well beloved figure in the urban parish, ran a soup kitchen and for the “amusement & instruction” of the local children, he kept a small miniature zoo. He started with a few guinea pigs, added a hedgehog or two, some pigeons, an owl and found himself gifted with, if not a barrel, the odd monkey or two. Early in 1900, however, one of those monkeys escaped from its leash and bit a girl on the leg. 

The rector paid her bills and she was back at her schooldesk the next day. Her father had sought additional compensation and Horsley thought the man's tone was “bullying” and he resisted. Thus, he found himself in a Lambeth courtroom. Horsley insisted the monkey was quite tame and willing to shake hands with all. On that day, the creature had been startled by the sudden appearance of a cat. The monkey broke from the leash, the children screamed and, amid the general tumult, the monkey bit the unfortunate little girl. Mr. Emden, the presiding judge, thought greater care must be taken with a monkey which is a "wild animal" not a pet. The rector was ordered to pay 5s in damages. 

A Daily News reporter who cornered the rector in the church crypt, found Horsley unapologetic, asking why the law, unlike with dogs, denies the monkey the satisfaction of a first bite. Alas, the offending monkey was not available to be photographed, the poor simian had taken a London winter cold and died only days before. 

Horsley remained happily in Walworth for several more years, adding to his duties a role as Canon of Southwark Cathedral. At St. Peter's, Walworth, meanwhile, there is still a delightful "Monkey Garden." 

Horsley from Walworth Through Time (Lock, Baxter, 2012)
Monkey Park from

Friday, March 30, 2018

"You Should be Found Out": The Rev. Oswald Reichel of Sparsholt

The Rev. Oswald Reichel arrived in the Berkshire village of Sparsholt in 1869. He was the new vicar of the Church of the Holy Cross. A Yorkshireman by birth, Reichel had achieved high honours at Oxford. He envisioned Sparsholt, a village “slumbering in the Vale of the White Horse,” as a place where his clerical duties would not interfere with his studies and writing. Reichel began work on what was to be his magnum opus, “A Complete Manual of Canon Law.” Ironically, canon law could not help him in 1886.

Mr. Reichel’s scholarly idyll began unraveling in 1885 when he received the first of a pair of letters from Mrs. Elizabeth Niblett, who kept a temperance hotel at 8 Ashton Place, Clifton, Bristol. 
I mean to take proceedings against you. You came here and called yourself Mr. Rice, a commercial traveler, well knowing you are a minister of the Church of England, and gave my house a nice name. Remember it is my living which I have always got respectably until your companion Miss King came to it. I think you should be found out
[A second letter followed]: 
You came to my house and stayed with the common thing you called Mrs. Rice who is none other than your old housemaid who has had two children by you. I will expose you if I have to do it whilst you are in the pulpit.
Reichel tried to scare the bothersome woman, writing to remind her that by her threats to extort money, "she has rendered herself liable to proceedings which may result in fine and imprisonment."

But on an August Sunday in 1885, Mrs. Niblett showed up in Sparsholt where she waylaid the vicar after services. The excitement in the village was understandable and word soon reached the Bishop of Oxford who presented Reichel with a choice: if true, he must resign; if false, he must take an action for libel.

Reichel v. Niblett was heard at the Reading Assizes in May 1886 before Justice Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, a “most acute and unbending” judge. While Mrs. Niblett was the party accused of libel and extortion, everyone knew the real defendant was the vicar of Sparsholt. 

It did not go well for the Rev. Mr. Reichel who faced a “searching cross-examination” by Mr. Jelf QC, the lady's counsel. He admitted registering as “Mr. Rice,” but said he stayed the night only because it became too late to go home. "Mrs. Rice,” he admitted, was Caroline King, his former Sparsholt housekeeper. He denied ever seducing her. He took her once to Stratford but they did nothing more romantic than visit the Bard's grave. Reichel was forced to admit that he continued to see her “from time to time” and paid for her lodgings in Westbourne Park, London. None of this, of course, reflected well on Mr. Reichel. The best his QC could do was remind the court that the clergyman was a single man who held the highest affection for Miss King. In fact, he had proposed marriage but had been spurned more than once.  

As ever, the legal cliche has been “truth is a defense for libel.” However, “Lord Campbell’s Act of 1840,” required that the information be revealed only "with good motives and for justifiable ends.” Mrs. Niblett - the Reichel forces argued - was guilty of extortion. Why else did she write "I have no doubt that I shall be paid well for what I can tell." The landlady - in the witness box - insisted she contacted Reichel simply to warn him not to return to her establishment - and to settle the unpaid bill of 27s for that memorable night in Bristol. 

Obviously, the truth of Mrs. Niblett's charges had been admitted. The Berkshire jury had only to consider the question of extortion and they took very little time to acquit her on both counts. The Rev. Reichel left with his reputation ruined. He pleaded with Bishop Mackarness to be allowed to leave Sparsholt for another living “where the Bristol scandal is not notorious.” That was a non-starter. A lengthy, expensive and embarrassing legal wrangle followed. Reichel refused to leave his vicarage; rejecting his replacement as an "usurper." Eventually, the case reached the House of Lords where the Chancellor, Lord Halsbury called Reichel’s repeated appeals “a scandal to the administration of justice.”

Reichel’s fall had a surprisingly soft landing. He had come into ownership of A la Ronde, a famous sixteen-sided Gothic folly with spectacular views along the Devon coast at Lympstone. In 1887, he married Julia Ashenden, a milliner’s daughter from Chelsea. The groom was 47; the bride was 23. He died in 1923, survived by his wife. A La Ronde was deeded to The National Trust in 1991.

In his later years, Reichel revised his Manual of Canon Law. Therein, on page 276, he wrote: "To avoid scandal, women are not allowed to dwell under the roof of the unmarried clergy, except a mother, a sister, an aunt, or some other person above suspicion." Teacher, teach thyself.

Volume Two of Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series is a collection of five full-length accounts of clergyman enmeshed in personal scandals and sensations. It's a book any Anglophile will enjoy. Volume two is available in Kindle and paper exclusively through &

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Sudden Death in a Questionable Setting

All Saints, Eyke, Suffolk*
The 12th century church of All Saints, Eyke, is slightly set back from the A1152. The church may once have had a tower but has none today, giving it what Simon Knott described as a “somewhat barnlike” appearance. Still, he believes it to be one of the more interesting churches in Suffolk*. 

The early Victorian rector, W.A, Norton chose to reside at Alderton and left the souls of Eyke to a curate. In 1842, the Rev John Pyemont had been in Eyke for three years. He lodged with Philip Braham, a local wheelwright. On a Saturday in January, he told his landlord that he would be riding into Ipswich to dine “with a few gentlemen.” Pyemont was 36 and single. He was well known in Ipswich having spent some years as under master of the Grammar School. Pyemont said he would be home late and would Mrs. Braham be kind enough to light an early fire as he needed to finish his planned sermon for the Sabbath. The curate trotted away in the direction of Woodbridge and Ipswich beyond another ten miles. Alas, he never returned to Eyke. He died in Ipswich that night suddenly and under questionable circumstances.

The inquest was held on Monday morning and the late Mr. Pyemont’s movements on that Saturday were recreated. It had been a journey of over two hours from Eyke and he’d left his weary mount at the Horse & Groom on Upper Brook Street. He walked to the Silent Street home of Charles Pretyman, a solicitor. He’d arrived at five, Pretyman recalled. Four gentleman sat down to dinner. “We were all very temperate,” the evening’s good host insisted. After the meal, one or two rubbers of whist were played with nothing stronger than tea to be served. According to Pretyman, the curate left about ten, “perfectly sober and in good spirits.” He presumed the curate intended to retrieve his horse and return to Eyke. He was aghast to hear the news. 

Sophia Dallenger, a single woman, lived in Globe Lane, St. Margaret’s parish in Ipswich. She told the inquest that she had known the deceased for about five years. When he arrived at her door about eleven, she knew immediately that he had been drinking and was “the worse for it.” He said “You and I will have some wine together.” She let him in but told him there’d be no more wine that evening. She placed him in a small room and instructed one of the “servants” to light the fire. “Three minutes after I left, I heard a scream. I found him lying on the floor. I rolled him over and his face was blackened. I said, ‘Do not be frightened.’ I loosened his cloth and collar and put water to his temples. I sent for the doctor.” Miss Dallenger, whose name had appeared in previous police reports, steadfastly denied that any gentlemen used her premises for an immoral purpose. 

Miss Elizabeth O’Brien, who resided with Miss Dallenger, insisted she did nothing for the gentleman but light the fire in the room to make him more comfortable on the winter night. She was alone with him for no more than a few minutes when he suddenly “gave a loud groan, fell down and died.” 

The clergyman was “quite dead” by the time Dr. G. G. Sampson arrived. There were no signs of any violence, according to the doctor. As Miss Dallenger had sworn, Mr. Pyemont was still in his cloth and collar when found, that is, dressed. That is, if she was to be believed. Sampson said he had no hesitation in concluding that the cause of death was apoplexy. The jury was so instructed and issued their verdict accordingly. 

In Eyke, meanwhile, Mr. Braham couldn’t account for the tragedy. He said his lodger’s conduct had always been “such as it should be.” He boxed up the clergyman’s effects for sale. 

In the early 1840’s, before the arrival of the more “public” prints, there was much less interest in raking up muck over clerical scandals. The case of the Rev. Pyemont was widely reported but his “awful death” went without censorious comment. 

If censorious comment is what you seek, please consider Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Volume 2, on sale now exclusively through and
Photo: Adrian Cable,

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Sermon-Monger Trade

A Lithographed Sermon
In Shaw's great play, Mrs. Warren's Profession, the Rev. Samuel Gardner has been visiting with his son Frank, an "entirely good-for-nothing young fellow." Also present in the scene is Frank's chum, Praed. Rev. Gardner eventually excused himself saying, "I must take the opportunity to write my sermon." The reverend having left the room, Praed said to Frank, "Curious thing it must be writing a sermon every week." Frank, who knew his father well, laughed and confided: "Ever so curious, if he did it. He buys 'em."

The trade in sermons in the Victorian church was a lucrative one. Purchasers were promised exclusivity in their county. There were sermons for all occasions: drought, great anniversaries, or local tragedies. The sermons were even lithographed in faux penmanship so that anyone close enough to see the manuscript from their pew would think for all the world that it had been handwritten by their beloved pastor. Once in the clutches of the "sermon-monger," the clergyman paid and paid, lest the matter be brought to law and his secret exposed. According to The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon, the "cool impudence of the vendors [was] exceeded only by the transparent folly of the clerical customers." 

All Saints, Cople, Beds.
In 1861, the Rev. Henry East Havergal, Vicar of All Saints, Cople, Bedfordshire was taken to court for twenty sermons, at the cost of two shillings, sixpence apiece. The sermons had been written by the Rev Henry Rogers, a retired clergyman with offices at 7 Little Tower Street, London. Interestingly, no such clergyman appeared on the Church list but "Rev. Rogers" was well known in the trade. Rev. Havergal had been in Cople since 1847. A singer and musician, he had actually built the church organ. He sang. He rang the bells. But, he found himself "totally unable to write three sermons a week." Behind in his payments to "Rev." Rogers, Havergal decided to face him down “for the sake of warning his brethren and exposing a wolf in sheep's clothing.” 

"Rogers" did not actually appear in the Sheriff's Court in London but was represented by his literary agent. Mr. Marchmont insisted that it was a purely business transaction; the sermons were provided as requested and payment was due. These were simple "stock sermons," well suited to the needs of a country vicar and the charges were very reasonable; a sermon for a Bishop - and Marchmont knew of one - would cost as much as £5! The "extraordinary disclosures" produced as much laughter as anything else and in the end, poor, brave Rev. Havergal was ordered to pay the full amount due plus the court costs. His parishioners found no fault with his cribbed sermons; he remained there until his death in 1875.

The revelations of such sermon manufactories were troubling, to some. A writer in The Saturday Review called it a matter of trust between shepherd and flock, joking, "We have hitherto slept in dreamy but entire confidence in the integrity and authenticity of our spiritual adviser."

Another "sermon-mongering" clergyman, the Rev. Richard Marsh Watson, was involved in a much more outrageous scandal in 1877. His story is told in Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Vol 2, now available exclusively thru and