Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Wedding of an Unusual Character

St. Paul's Church, Buttershaw (Wibsey)
The wedding of the local vicar would always be an exciting day in any village but few such events were as tumultuous as what occurred in Yorkshire on 3 August 1875. 

The vicar of Buttershaw, near Bradford, was the 75-year old Rev. Robert Reynolds, a widower with ten grown children. For some time he had been seen to pay courtly attention to a local widow and when he announced from the pulpit that he had found a "loving companion" there was general delight in Buttershaw. But that changed when it was learned that the vicar's inamorata was not the old widow but her 32 year old daughter Elizabeth, the local schoolmistress. 

The night before the wedding, when the cases were being loaded to be taken to the station for the morrow's honeymoon journey, "a crowd of some hundred of persons assembled about the vicar's house and behaved themselves in a manner which was anything but agreeable to the rev. gentleman." Stones were thrown, the garden trampled and "uncomplimentary" ribald remarks were heard. In the morning, St. Paul's, Buttershaw, was filled long before the 8:00 start to the ceremony. The Rev. Mr. Ryan of Low Moor, officiating, had to appeal for order. The bridegroom, within his ecclesiastical powers, threatened to have the church cleared. The vows said, the happy couple, with difficulty, made their way through the shouting crowd to their waiting barouche and they were off to Bradford. 

The "intense excitement" of the day passed, as always. The Rev. Reynolds remained in Buttershaw until his death seven years later. There were no additional Reynolds children. The Victorian comic papers were delighted to report on this story from "Buttershaw - wherever that may be." Buttershaw has long been absorbed into Greater Bradford and the local housing estates had the worst reputation. However, "today millions have been pumped into the regeneration of Buttershaw Estate. It's been revamped and renamed and is now on the road to recovery." [All About Bradford]

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 is now available for Kindle and e-readers with a FREE app. and

Monday, December 19, 2016

THANK YOU and a reminder

Thank you for the visits to this blog in 2016. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are all welcome anytime. It's been an excellent first year and I am happy to report that this blog has been nominated for a 2016 Blog of the Year in the U.K. in the "Arts & Culture" category. 

This blog was initially launched to support the e-publication of my new book - Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1.

Unlike the short takes offered here on the blog, the book contains five full length accounts of some of the most sensational and interesting clerical scandals of the Victorian era. 

  • a vicar of Bracknell who was allegedly found in a copse with his Sunday School teacher. 
  • a curate of Camden Town accused of sending a "deplorable and obscene" letter to a housemaid with whom he was allegedly having an affair.
  • a married Yorkshire rector who ran off with his cook. 
  • a "foxy" curate in Alderley Edge named co-respondent in a wealthy cotton-broker's divorce action.
  • a curate in Leamington Spa whose lengthy and delightful correspondence with "Miss Lamb" became the talk of the nation in a sensational "breach of promise to marry" action.
Yes, this is a "Kindle" book but the Kindle app is readily available, free and easy to install on your mobile phones or tablet. 

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 makes an excellent gift for Anglophiles, church-crawlers, clergymen or women, Victorianists or those who enjoy reading a good period story or courtroom drama. It's just a quick click. The price is certainly right: $5.49 at or £3.99 at

Again, thank you very much. Merry Christmas and look for Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 in 2017.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Rev. Mr. Robinson: "Cruel to be Kind"

The Royal Army Chaplains Flag
The Rev. Henry Robinson, Irish born, Dublin educated, had been a well-traveled army chaplain for ten years, including service in the Crimea. In 1859, widowed with two children, he thought of settling down with a church of his own. But his influence and connections were limited until he met Miss Elizabeth Paxton, a lady of "considerable personal attractions, well-educated and accomplished." She was also the niece of Sir Joseph Paxton, the celebrated gardener and architect of the Crystal Palace and dear friend of Dukes and Princes. Henry and Elizabeth exchanged numerous letters of an "endearing strain." There was talk of marriage. 

Elizabeth agreed to speak with uncle Joseph about finding some preferment for Henry. Alas, the baronet wrote back with £10 for her trousseau, but he could no offer no hope for ecclesiastical influence. Elizabeth's next letter from Henry was ardour-free: “Dear Miss Paxton, it would be desirable for our correspondence to terminate.” 

For Elizabeth, at 26, this was a severe blow and she promptly sued the chaplain for £3000 for breach of promise to marry. Robinson admitted the promise had been made but he ended it with "prudent resolve." More years of barracks service were ahead for him, thus he broke it off "without casting the least aspersion on her fair fame & character." A London jury quickly found for Miss Paxton in the amount of £300. 

In the (male) press, some thought the whole affair was foolish. If the clergyman had been cruel, "it was certainly cruel to be kind," sparing this gentlewoman from years of "poverty and trouble." To conclude, Rev. Robinson found a wife later in the decade and spent many years, far from the front, at churches in the south of England. No record can be found of Miss Elizabeth Paxton ever marrying.

The most famous case of a clergyman sued for "breach of promise" involved the Rev. Mr. Fryer of Andover. The romantic and humorous story is told in full in Volume 1 of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series. Now available at and

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Conduct Unbecoming to the Character of a Clergyman

St. John the Baptist, Kinlet, Salop.
The Shropshire village of Kinlet is quite remote, in a "wild and elevated" setting. Magnificent Kinlet Hall dominated the landscape with acres of timber and a great deer park. The hillside church of St. John the Baptist was extolled for its "unusual beauty and interest." Nevertheless, the vicar of Kinlet opted to reside in Italy, leaving the small parish in the hands of a series of curates. 

The Rev Edward Prest arrived in the late 1840's; he was unmarried and 26 and quickly made himself popular with the locals of all classes. A man named Whitehead, the gamekeeper at the Hall, had several daughters. The curate was a family favourite, taking the Whitehead girls to see the cathedral in Worcester and a fancy fair in nearby Bewdley. In the summer of 1851, however, Mr. Prest was accused of "fornication, lewdness and indecency" with 18-year old Lydia Whitehead, the eldest. The village was thrown into "excitement and confusion." The scandal even brought the vicar back. 

For three days, a church enquiry was held at the Eagle & Serpent Inn. The main accuser was Elizabeth Pounteney, 17-year old servant at the vicarage. She testified that, while peering through the shutters, she saw Lydia and Prest together in a scene decreed to be unfit for publication. The curate's case in defense was that Pounteney was a troubled teenager. She had "uppity" ideas for a servant, felt that she was "as good as the Whiteheads," and wanted the curate for herself. Still, Prest's gifts to and flirtation with Lydia, when her younger sisters were nowhere around, was much discussed. In the end, he was cleared but warned: “the familiar way in which he has allowed himself to associate with some female parishioners was unbecoming to the character of a clergyman and had a tendency to bring scandal on the church.” The message being - you did nothing wrong but stop doing it. The church bells rang at the news, the joy in Kinlet was "boundless." But Mr. Prest soon returned to Northumberland. 

As for Kinlet today, "the village is gone, the only locals being the ghosts in the churchyard.*"

* Simon Jenkins, England's 1000 Best Churches (1999). 

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1, is available at and,uk

Why not send a gift copy to that friend with the Kindle? Apps are free, of course, for your phone or tablet. Thank you very much. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Hampton Court Scandal

The position of Chaplain in Ordinary to the Queen at Hampton Court sounds more impressive, perhaps, than it was. It was said that the stipend was not large but the duties were light and it came with a posh apartment in the Palace. The Rev. David Lancaster McAnally was said chaplain, and in said apartment, in April 1892, when he looked out his window to see himself hung in effigy from a tree. Several soldiers of the palace detachment, wearing mock clerical garb, had carried out this insult. When a gardener cut down the effigy and carried it off, the soldiers whistled "the Dead March in Saul." 

The story behind this was a tragic one. Mrs. McAnally had warned a parlourmaid, Alice Cadman, not to fraternize with the soldiers. She was caught disobeying that order and got the sack. A note went to Alice's mother, "I can have no servant in my employ that will be seen outside my door talking to men." Alice Cadman then drowned herself in the Thames. Rev. McAnally attended the inquest. He told the coroner that one of the great difficulties at the Palace was the barracks and "one gets tired of it." 

News of the "Hampton Court Scandal" quickly spread. Because of the actions of a "foolish maidservant," Mr. McAnally had been "rendered obnoxious" to the men of the Horse Guards Blue, currently in residence. McAnally published a letter, reaching out "to the soldiers at Hampton Court, for whom, as a body, I have so great a regard." The chaplain conceded that the wooing went both ways. "When a lady finds soldiers, unbidden by her, in her kitchen between nine and ten o'clock in the evening, it cannot be supposed that they would be there without some invitation." 

The Rev. McAnally received a full apology from the C-in-C, the Duke of Cambridge, and an assurance that the perpetrators of the "disgraceful" insult had been dealt with. Within the year, however, there was a new Chaplain in Ordinary at Hampton Court.   


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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Annoying the Vicar of Withernwick

St. Alban's Church, Withernwick
"Local affairs at Withernwick do not, generally speaking, present a very fruitful topic of discourse," a Victorian observer wrote. The village is not but three miles from the North Sea in East Yorkshire. When the Rev. Walter Welch came to the vicarage in 1891, there were fewer than 400 souls about, and minus the dissenters, that made for a small congregation at St. Alban's church. 

The locals certainly got "summat" to chat about on 11 May 1900. Mr. Welch, with two of his young sons, was out in the carriage for a Friday drive. From the opposite direction came a horse-drawn coal lorry driven by Alfred Nightingale, who was also the church sexton. As they passed, Nightingale began shouting, employing the most explicit and vulgar terminology, demanding that the vicar stop - as the newspapers put it - "misconducting himself" with the good Mrs. Nightingale. As the vicar chirruped his horses and trotted away, Nightingale's curses continued behind them. A few days later, Jane Nightingale placed an ad in the Hull Daily Mail claiming that her husband had acted out of "wickedness & folly" and there was no truth to his accusation. Later that month, in a police court, Nightingale was charged with "annoying the vicar of Withernwick." Welch and his sons, Walter and Arthur, only teens, testified to the profane outburst they endured that day. The vicar insisted that he never had any improper relations with the man's wife. The attorney for Nightingale admitted everything but said his client acted "under great provocation." The whole town knew of the affair. Instead of a trumpery charge in police court, why hadn't the vicar filed a proper slander action. Because then the plentiful evidence of the truth of the allegation could be presented. The magistrates refused to hear that argument and fined the still fuming Nightingale £1 and ordered him to keep the peace. 

That October, Mr. Welch rather suddenly left Withernwick, reporting that he was suffering from an illness that "required recuperation in a more congenial clime." He died only two years later.

There is an excellent local website at

Please check out Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Volume 1, now available at and

Friday, October 28, 2016

Incapable of an Innocent Explanation - The troubles of a Lincolnshire curate.

St. Nicholas, Fulbeck
In one of those "advice to young curates" books that are now so much out of style, the newly fledged cleric was warned to avoid "that familiarity which so soon springs up between a young curate and some of the young women who 'go in' for church work." It was ever a delicate balance because an unmarried curate was also expected to "chat and flirt" with the village ladies lest he be thought aloof. 

Fresh from St. Peter's College at Cambridge, the Rev. Frank Darwin Chawner returned to his native Lincolnshire to accept his first assignment as curate in Fulbeck, a small farming village not too far from Grantham. He arrived at St. Nicholas Church in July of 1865. He was quickly accepted in the town's society. The son of a surgeon, Mr. Chawner became friendly with the local medico, Dr. Charles Smith, and his young wife. Within six months, however, Dr. Smith had banned the curate from his home. The very next day, Mrs. Smith decamped. The disconsolate husband was said to be indulgent to a fault and his divorce action was supported by nearly a dozen villagers. The Hare & Hounds pub seems to have been the base for a network of "spies" who swore to seeing Mrs. Smith and the curate walking arm-in-arm in "out of the way places." They were seen drinking brandy from the same glass! She was found "napping" in the curate's bedroom at the rectory. All of this, Dr. Smith's counsel argued, was “incapable of an innocent explanation.” Mrs. Smith made no defense; the Rev. Chawner - to his credit - did not try to argue that he was more seduced than seducer. He admitted that in his inexperience he had behaved with a great deal of impropriety but no adultery had occurred. Dr. Smith, of course, got his divorce. The young curate was long gone from Fulbeck, retreating to a chaplaincy in Stoke Newington. By August, Rev. Chawner was in bankruptcy court with debts of £600, most of that for legal bills. Certainly, it was an eventful first year in service to the Church of England.

The amours of Victorian curates were ever in the news. Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 is now available for your smart phones and tablets at or

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Vicar "on the Turf"

“A more sensational Leger ... has never been experienced in the whole history of the race,” the sporting papers declared in September 1874. Apology, the pre-race favourite in Doncaster, had been the subject of the wildest rumours: that she was lame and one or more legs had to be packed in ice the night previous. But, with "all of Lincolnshire" betting on her chances, she cantered to the post with twelve other horses. Three minutes later, charging from behind, Apology triumphed by a length and a half, “amidst a scene of the wildest excitement and enthusiasm.” Having earlier won the 1000 Guineas in May, the Coronation Stakes in June, and now adding the St. Leger, Apology became only the third filly to sweep the triple-crown for three-year olds. 

It was a signal achievement for Apology's owner, a mysterious "Mr. Launde." The attendant publicity, however, soon revealed that the champion horse was owned by the Rev. John William King, longtime vicar of St. Hybald's, Ashby-de-la-Launde. That a clergyman would be "on the turf" excited some comment and public debate to the point that the Bishop of Lincoln felt the need to administer a "smart rap with his episcopal crook." He publicly scolded the Rev. King for "bringing discredit on your sacred profession ... training racehorses for the turf, instead of devoting yourself entirely to the work to which you pledged yourself at your ordination." As for the sporting parson, the Rev. King was 82 and in extremely poor health (although tended to devotedly by his new wife in her late 20's!) He still took offense at the reprimand, demanding to know "what was so scandalous about improving the horses of this country?" King announced that he would be resigning all his church livings, "not under compulsion, but simply because I desire to live out the remainder of my days in peace.” 

The Rev. King died within the year and left his stables and Ashby Hall, a mansion well-stocked with the finest wines, to his youthful widow. 

Volume two of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series is now in preparation. Volume 1 is still available in E-book form at and Thank you.
Illustration: Apology (wikipedia)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Parable of the Mustard and Cress

Sydling St. Nicholas
Sydling St. Nicholas, in the remote folds of Dorset, seems an unlikely venue for one of the more curious clerical spats in the Victorian Church. During the local vicar's last illness, the Rev. George Whitehead, curate, had filled in. He proved popular enough to where he had hopes to succeed when the time came. But the appointment was up to the Warden and Fellows of Winchester College, an arrangement dating back to good old King Athelstan! Alas, Mr. Whitehead's CV was rather unimpressive. An ex-policeman, he'd taken his degree at St. Bees College – a Cumbrian institution that had the reputation of accepting those who didn’t quite have “the A levels” for Oxford or Cambridge. Thus word came from Winchester that the vicarage was to be presented to the Rev. William James Vernon BA, of St. John’s College, Cambridge.

Rev. Vernon was from distant Lancashire; Sydling was his first parish and things did not go well. Within the year, he began banging on about a conspiracy against him. Mr. Whitehead had only gone as far as Atherington, still a curate, but everywhere Mr. Vernon turned in Sydling, he saw Whitehead partisans. He produced a pamphlet charging the erstwhile curate with stealing from the tithes and taking more drink than was seemly. Finally, in his vicarage garden, where all the churchgoers would see it on their way into St. Nicholas, Mr. Vernon planted mustard and cress in such a way that, when it sprouted, the vegetation spelled out “WHITEHEAD IS A SCAMP.” Truth – the London based weekly that delighted in all clerical scandals, was delighted: “The last new thing in libel is decidedly quaint and beats chalking on the walls hollow."

It was, well, food for the press but Mr. Whitehead could not allow these attacks to stand. In 1877, at the Assizes in Dorchester, the Rev. Mr. Vernon was charged with “publishing defamatory libels.” The Lord Chief Justice of England – Lord Coleridge, presided. The law states that any injurious writing is libelous and is not limited to the printed word. Writing includes “every means of symbolizing language by alphabetic characters with every kind of implement, with any kind of pigment, on any kind of substance.” That would encompass the vicar’s scurrilous Sydling seedlings. 
Mr. Vernon - on advice of counsel - plead guilty. Lord Coleridge agreed, for “a more malignant libel he had never read.” He sentenced the Rev. Vernon to two months in the Dorset gaol. Vernon served his time and remained in Sydling for many more years but was so unpopular he usually employed a curate-in-charge. The so-called vegetable libel would be his legacy. The Gardener’s Chronicle, beloved by all tillers of the English soil, declared: 
This man may have been a clergyman, but he was no Christian; he may have had a garden, but he was no gardener. Mustard and Cress may be slightly pungent, but it is neither sour nor bitter, and in being made the instrument of libel has itself been grievously libeled.

A longer version of this story appeared in Dorset Life in 2010.
My new E-book Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series is now available at and

Clergyman, Scholar, Murderer: The Rev. John Selby Watson

The Rev. John Selby Watson - a respected scholar and former longtime headmaster at the Stockwell School in South London - had a long and difficult married life. Even friends of Anne Selby-Watson described her as "always fretful." In October 1871, in his library at home, Rev. Watson beat her to death with the butt of a pistol. He dragged her body into a small closet, later telling a curious servant that the stains on the carpet were spilled port. 

The 67-year old cleric spent the next two days getting his affairs in order, leaving instructions for the disposal of his books and papers, including a translation of Valerius Flaccus "which I think deserves to be published." Then, he took to his bed with prussic acid, leaving a note: "In a fit of fury I have killed my wife. Often and often she has provoked me and I have had to restrain myself, but my rage overcame me and I struck her down." Selby-Watson was well-trained in the classics but not so much in chemistry; he survived the suicide try to be charged with murder. 

The brutal, calculated slaying cast "a distressing gloom over all thoughtful minds." The clergyman plead insanity, claiming a melancholia brought on by the loss of his job after 25 years. But a jury of Londoners proved unsympathetic and sentenced Selby-Watson to hang. The Home Secretary was besieged with appeals for mercy, many citing the murderer's age and scholarly accomplishments. The Times groused, "There are other murderers besides clergymen ... if extremity of temptation be once admitted as a bar to execution, a dangerous hope might be opened to criminals," while The Spectator decried "sickly sympathy... not creditable to English moral feeling." In plainer language, The Globe inquired, "Would the same sympathy have been felt if a Mr. Mick Connor had knocked his wife's brains out with a pick-axe?" Nonetheless, Selby-Watson's sentence was soon commuted to life. 

He died in his hammock in prison on the Isle of Wight in 1884. The Rev. John Selby Watson makes The Dictionary of National Biography with the unique listing of "author and murderer." I highly recommend Beryl Bainbridge's fictional study of this case, Watson's Apology. Murders by clergyman were (thankfully) rare. In 1887, an insane curate murdered his vicar in Suffolk. 

Illustration: The Penny Illustrated Paper

Now available, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 1.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Cawston Rectory Scandal

The Norfolk crowd gathered early on the morning of 15 July 1890, filling all the available space in the Town Hall in Aylsham. The Rev. Theodore Henry Marsh, since 1855, the rector of St. Agnes, Cawston, was to answer a "shocking" charge brought by the National Vigilance Association, a late-Victorian group dedicated to "the repression of criminal vice and public immorality." 

Sophia Barrett - in the parlance of the day - was deaf and dumb. She claimed that Marsh had fathered her child born in May. In the witness box, through a sign-reader, Sophia "with great force" pointed to the rector when asked to indicate the father of her son. The lawyer for the NVA stated that Sophia had been seduced both in the rectory greenhouse and parlour. She could not cry out nor tell anyone what happened. The rector had been giving her sixpence a week but when he heard that a charge was to be brought, he cut her off. 

The Rev. Mr. Marsh was questioned for two hours. He admitted living apart from his wife. He had known his accuser for some time and had tried to help her in many ways. He arranged for her to attend the Brighton Institution for the Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Children. But she led a much troubled young life and had been in and out of the workhouse. He stopped giving her the sixpence because he disapproved of her general conduct. "Before God," he denied paternity of her son. A series of rectory servants and gardeners testified they never saw or suspected anything. His lawyer wondered whether anyone could believe that a blameless village clergyman of 35 years service would risk all to misconduct himself in an open greenhouse or his own parlour. There were the usual attacks on the accuser's character: a young man named Bloomfield, another workhouse regular, was squarely in the frame as the likely father. After six hours, the local magistrates retired to discuss, returning to dismiss the charges. 

The Rev. Marsh remained in Cawston rectory until his death in 1905, to be succeeded by his son until 1933. 

Please follow this blog if you are of a mind. Perhaps you would enjoy Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1. Also available at
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Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Vicar of Cowley and "a Most Unpleasant Enquiry"

Cowley St. James
The Rev. George Moore arrived as vicar of Cowley St. James in east Oxford in the late 1870's and remained for more than a half-century. A character he was. While still a young man and new to Cowley, he ran for a seat on the board of Poor Law Guardians. He later accused his opponent - a schoolmaster named Barling - of spreading a story that Moore's wife was keen to divorce him for fathering a child with a household servant. The slander trial was heard in 1881. Moore admitted that he and his wife lived apart - she preferring the seaside "for her health." His own health was not strong - he suffered from rheumatism to the point that he acknowledged that a female servant regularly helped him to dress (and undress?) and brushed his hair. But there were no improper intimacies and it was certainly not true that he had a child with any domestic. A three-day trial in Oxford - a "most unpleasant enquiry" - ended with a verdict for Rev. Moore but with an insulting award of a lone farthing for his damaged reputation. Moore fought on to the Appeal Court in London to win a new trial on the grounds of his "unreasonably small" damages. Forestalling a second trial, Barling issued an apology and agreed to pay an unstated but certainly larger amount. Moore was a celebrated figure in greater Oxford for a long time. After his wife died (see, she was poorly), Moore was rather openly seen in the company of his longtime housekeeper, Emily Durrant*. When the vicar died in 1928, he received an "amazing" funeral and is buried in the churchyard.
* Information courtesy of the Cowley Team Ministry.

The vicar of Bracknell faced similar accusations. His story and more can be found in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1, now available at and

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Dean of Norwich and an Unwanted Biographer

The Rev. William Lefroy
It may appear from these entries that Victorian clerical scandals were somehow limited to the lowly curates of the church. In 1898, the Rev. William Lefroy was shortlisted in the press, sacred and secular, to be the next Bishop of Liverpool. Lefroy was 63; he'd been born of "humble parents" in Dublin, raised, educated and ordained in Ireland. But his successful church career had been in England, capped in 1889 with his appointment as Dean of Norwich Cathedral. In September 1898, Lefroy crossed the Irish Sea to appear in a Dublin courtroom accusing one Thomas Drum of blackmail. Drum had written a series of letters to the Dean suggesting that he was about to write the clergyman's biography which the public might find very interesting. However - for the sum of £100 - he would "burn" his research and forego the literary work. The would-be Boswell was a bankrupt businessman whose wife had recently died. Drum had written suggestively to Lefroy, "You knew her well as Miss Fanny Nicholson before we were married." Lefroy - who was married - told the court he left Dublin in 1864 and had never met Drum and certainly had no wish to have him write a biography. Drum had to be found and forcibly brought to court. He announced: "I wish to plead guilty. I did not think I was doing anything outside the law. I never would make an imputation on the Dean of Norwich." Drum begged for mercy but the Recorder assailed him for making a series of "cold, calculated threats." Drum was sentenced to six months without hard labour. The Rev. Lefroy was praised for having the courage to confront an obvious black-mailer. But it should be noted, Lefroy was passed over for the Bishop's mitre in Liverpool and died a Dean.

A singularly revolting case of blackmail by a clergyman will be featured in Volume 2 of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series. Volume 1 is now available on Kindle at and A Kindle app is free and easy for phones & tablets.

Photo: Wikipedia

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Queen's Chaplain and his Housekeeper

St. Nicholas, Barton-le-Clay, Beds.
The Rev Timothy Fyshe Foord-Bowes was rector of St. Nicholas church in the Bedfordshire village of Barton-le-Clay. He was a chaplain to Queen Victoria and had preached before her on many occasions. In 1845, Foord-Bowes was in his 60's; his wife, his children, even his grandchildren had predeceased him. Thus, there was "extraordinary interest" when the rector's former groom sued him for criminal-conversation. Until 1857, there was no divorce in England without an Act of Parliament but a husband could sue for financial damages from "his adulterous wife's partner." John Coultas was seeking £2000. He was married to the rector's longtime cook and housekeeper, a woman known simply as Barnes. Coultas claimed that the rector had alienated him from his wife, hidden her away, and subjected her to his “foul & gross lust & passion.” A gamekeeper testified to putting a ladder up to a rectory window and, peering through the blinds, seeing the clergyman and Barnes lie down together. Foord-Bowes insisted he had no more than sincere affection for Barnes - a woman nearly 60 - and he wished to protect her from a drunk and abusive spouse. The rector was well-defended but after a three day trial, the jury - at three in the morning - found for the plaintiff and awarded Coultas £250. Foord-Bowes survived the scandal - his defenders thought he was a victim of a conspiracy of non-believers. Who could believe that a man and woman in that stage of life could even have the strength to "commit such juvenilities?" It was ridiculous nonsense.

Clerical servants were frequently the center of Victorian scandals. One of the most famous involved a Yorkshire vicar - the Rev. Joseph Weedow. His story and more can be found in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol 1.  Kindle apps are FREE for your phone or tablet.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Curate Goes for Butter. Once.

The plight of underpaid, overworked curates was a fervently debated subject in the late Victorian years. The Curate's Augmentation Fund was finally established to supplement the lowly stipends the Established Church afforded. But an issue not so easily quantified was the perceived lack of respect that many curates felt bitterly. In 1895, a curate in Kent (he was never identified and probably for the best) abruptly resigned after fulfilling what he thought was an insulting task he'd been given by his vicar's wife. The Archdeacon was suddenly coming for lunch and, as Jane, the housemaid, was busy, would the curate be a dear and go to the grocer for some butter? The (presumably) young clergyman felt demeaned by this household assignment and quit. The story got in all the papers, prompting countless letters to the editor and, from a contributor initialed G.P.H., a delightful bit of doggerel:
The Archdeacon was coming to luncheon at two.
     Mrs. Vicar was all in a flutter,
And thinking the Curate had nothing to do,
     She asked him to go for some butter.
The Curate indignantly went off to find,
     The grocer, next door to the draper's.
The butter he fetched, then his cure he resigned,
     And finally wrote to the papers.
Oh, hasty young clergyman, was it quite wise,
     Such a passionate protest to utter?
In every profession the chance of a rise,
     Depends very much upon butter. 
A few weeks later, more than 100 curates met in London to discuss forming a Curate's Union but the session produced little more than "hubbub and commotion" and the attendees dispersed.

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Singular Death of a Clergyman

Stenbock (Wikipedia)
In any of the numerous accounts of late-Victorian "decadence," the name of the "Count" Eric Stenbock will appear. Heir to a Baltic fortune, Stenbock was raised in England, left Oxford early, and lived near Sloane Square writing poetry. He was homosexual, kept an "evil-smelling monkey" and was a great user and proponent of opium. On 31 July 1884, an Oxford chum, the Rev. William Pomeroy Ogle, came up to town from Essex where he was a curate at Brentwood. Whilst at Stenbock's, despite his host's express warnings, Ogle took two, perhaps three, opium pills. He washed them down with some wine and the two young men went out to dine. Later, they caught a train from Liverpool Street as Ogle had the early services the next day. In Brentwood, they shared a bed (not uncommon in the day). Stenbock got very little sleep, between hiccups and Ogle's laboured snoring. But in the morning, he was awakened by the whining of Ogle's dog. Stenbock couldn't wake Ogle whose lips were blue and a brown fluid oozed from his nose. He called for the housekeeper who summoned a doctor but it was no use. The curate was dead at 24. At the inquest, Stenbock insisted that he warned his friend not to take the pills, or certainly not more than one. Two could kill a man, although Stenbock claimed he had developed tolerance for as many as ten. But Ogle, having taken them, was in good spirits all evening and showed no signs of distress. Ogle's father - a clergyman from Devon - said his son had a very weak constitution and a surgeon said death was due to sudden heart failure, and not directly linked to the drug. The jury verdict was death due to syncope. Ogle's death produced a “feeling of pain and gloom” in the town, where his “peculiar charm” had been much appreciated. Stenbock inherited his money and title the following year but died a recluse and an addict in 1895. Yeats described him as "a scholar, connoisseur, drunkard, poet, pervert [and] most charming of men."

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Clergyman Wanting in Ordinary Humanity

St. Germanus, Germansweek, Devon
Jennie Burgess arrived in Exeter, via the Okehampton train, one November night in 1883. She collapsed on her way to the Servant's Home and was taken to the nearest hospital where she died two days later of typhoid fever. She said she'd been sent away by her employer - the Rev. John Sutcliffe, M.A., rector of Germansweek, a remote parish just north-west of Dartmoor. The tragic tale shocked all Exeter and the Town Council resolved "that they cannot too strongly condemn the want of consideration for the safety of the public and of ordinary humanity towards the patient herself shown by the course pursued in sending a person so seriously ill with typhoid fever on a long journey by rail and in inclement weather." The Rev. Sutcliffe bridled at the charge. He insisted that Mrs. Sutcliffe had brought the local doctor out but he diagnosed Burgess as suffering from "scrofulous and syphilitic mischief." Of course, then, she would be sent away from the rectory. "We don't think any blame can possibly be attached to us." The idea that the woman's death was, in some way, related to a past immoral life, tempered the uproar. But the Exeter Ladies Association for Friendless Girls promptly weighed in to assert that there was not the slightest ground for any imputation against her character. The controversy passed but the rector of Germansweek was to be involved in many more. Few clergymen could claim to be horsewhipped by a parishioner, burned in effigy (along with his wife) and censured by the Bishop for "general parochial neglect." Still, Rev. Sutcliffe managed to live out his years in the village, and now lies buried beside the church of St. Germanus, "sheltering in a hollow." 

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Curate in the Limelight

The Rev Frederic Forshall held numerous curacies around the Home Counties - but with a wife and four children to support - he found he could not live on his salary of £140. He said a man cannot live as a gentleman and maintain "one of the most prominent and important positions in the parish" on £2, 13s, 10d a week. A chance meeting with a young playwright, Fred Scudamore, gave Forshall the idea in 1896 to abandon the church for the theatre - taking the stage name "Leighton Leigh." The Daily Mail called it "the first instance on record.” The Era, the leading theatrical paper, declared Leigh to be more than a competent actor and hoped that he might serve to be a “strong link between Church and stage.” In late 1898, Forshall/Leigh starred in Scudamore's "A Dangerous Woman" opposite an actress named Neville Francius. He played the romantic hero, "Ronald Courtenay, a young millionaire," in a typically melodramatic plot. Mrs. Forshall and the children, meanwhile, were residing in Brockley Rise, South London. In early 1899, Mrs. Forshall received the following note: 
“Prepare yourself for a shock. Have some brandy near you if you get ill. Go and get the brandy before you turn over this page. When you get this, I shall be on my way to America … Miss Francius has stuck to me and given up everything for my sake and is with me. [She] has been mine in every sense of the word since last October." 
During the inevitable divorce proceedings, it was noted with disgust that an erstwhile clergyman of the Church of England could form an adulterous intimacy with an actress, then flee the country, leaving his wife and children dependent upon "the charity of friends.” Neither "Leighton Leigh" nor his paramour prospered on the boards. As for Scudamore, his daughter married an actor named Roy Redgrave and that line has been, of course, among the most celebrated in the annals of British theatre.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 1 is now available. The E-book is only $5.49 US and £3.86 UK.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Down to the Pub with the Vicar of Henley

St. John the Baptist church, High Street, Henley-in-Arden
The Rev. Thomas Jones was for 25 years the vicar of St. John the Baptist, Henley-in-Arden. After the death of his first wife, he remarried but, alas, not happily. The second Mrs. Jones quickly decamped, preferring to return to live with her father who managed Arden House, a nearby "first class lunatic asylum." 

The vicar was nevertheless popular with all classes in the Warwickshire market town. Too popular, perhaps. He delighted in sitting at any of the many pubs that lined the long High Street. There, amongst the farmers and tradesmen, he smoked, drank and (allegedly) made "indecent remarks" as the local women passed by. But the more serious concern was a rumour that Mr. Jones may have been guilty of indecent liberties with a Mrs. Appleby, one of his servants at the vicarage. Her husband surely thought so, poor James Appleby complained, "I wish to God he would not go running after her as he does." 

In 1867, the local gentry went to the Bishop with their concerns and an inquiry was ordered -  ironically staged at the (White) Swan Inn, a High Street hostelry. The Rev. Jones was found innocent on all charges of impropriety with Mrs. Appleby but his otherwise indecent demeanour and language was adjudged to be conduct unbecoming a clergyman. He was briefly suspended but remained vicar at St. John's almost up to his death in 1877. 

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Vicar of Piddletrenthide and his Factotum

All Saints, Piddletrenthide
The Rev. Sir George Fetherston, 6th Bt., was 35 when he arrived to be the new vicar in Piddletrenthide, home to one of the finest churches in Dorset. The eccentric reverend-baronet became celebrated for his delight in candles - as many as 100 were lit for each service. He also took a great interest in the choir, particularly a chorister, Thomas Davies. Sir George took the 14-year old into his service to be trained as a valet. 

In a few years, Thomas claimed standing as the vicar's private secretary. Where the vicar went, "Mr. T.B. Davies" was likely to follow. There was some talk, of course. Alas, Thomas was a cheeky lad and prone to trouble. He was frequently summoned for "furious riding" or squabbles with tradesman. He ran up bills, claiming credit for being the Rev. Fetherston's "factotum." He whispered that he'd be coming into a nice fortune upon his majority. Suddenly, in 1893, Thomas got the sack. It was said the vicar was furious when he learned that his factotum was entertaining a young lady to carriage rides and tea in his absence. A line of creditors quickly circled the young man, now 20. Davies sued the Rev. Sir George claiming hundreds of pounds in back wages. The vicar was "too ill" to attend the trial but his lawyer said Davies had likely squandered £600. A local jury couldn't agree but it appears the two sides reached a settlement.  

The Rev. Fetherston quietly resigned and left Piddletrenthide. He lived for many more years, collecting china and stamps, and writing hymns. Other than some time as a chaplain in WW1, he saw little church duty. He never married and the baronetcy ended with his death in 1923. As for Thomas, a year or so after the scandal, he was back in court over some pawned jewelry that was a gift from a "gentlemen he would not name."

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Friday, July 8, 2016

The Rector of Stone is Displeased.

St. Mary the Virgin, Stone-next-Dartford, Kent
In December 1869, Miss Constance Griffiths, a pretty girl of 16, was staying with her aunt at the Old Rectory in Stone, Kent. One day, a letter arrived:
"Dear Consey, I wish to see you. Excuse the writing. With best love, believe me, your affectionate lover and well-wisher. W.H.” 
The note was intercepted by Consey's vigilant aunt who passed it to the rector. The Rev. Frederick Murray stomped off to the village school, returning with the author, 13 year old Walter Hughes, a grocer's son. Walter said he'd been smitten at the sight of "Consey" in the rector's pew. The boy apologised but the rector still caned him, twelve times across the hands and six to the back of the legs. Walter was marched home to his father and denounced for his "most abominable" conduct. William Hughes took his son for treatment and later sued Murray for assault. The rector claimed he had the authority for the corporal discipline. It was a trifling affair, the boy did not cry and missed no school time. When asked why the note had upset him so, the rector said it was insulting for a tradesman's son to dare approach a young lady staying under his roof. But the magistrates found that Murray held no loco parentis standing with "Consey" and an admonishment of the lovesick teen would have been sufficient. He was ordered to pay the Hughes family £10 and their costs. Rev. Murray also endured countless editorial denunciations and hooting calls from the local "scholars."

Love letters also figure in the case of the Rev. A.G. Fryer, one of the stories in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 1. 
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Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Night at the Inn: The Rev. T.W. Morris of Ashton-under-Lyne

St. Peter's, Ashton-under-Lyne
Past midnight in January 1861, a chambermaid crept up the stairs at the Crown, a village inn at Hallow near Worcester. She was followed by the landlord and a young gentleman. The maid knocked at one door and told the occupants within that the landlady thought she'd left her shoes in the room. When the door opened, the entire party barged in. The young man declaimed: "How do you do, Miss Lee?" And, turning to the landlord, the man continued, "May I introduce the Rev Mr Morris, of St. Peter's, Ashton-under-Lyne, a married man." The lovers were ordered to get dressed and leave the pub immediately. 
The intruder was a solicitor's clerk from Ashton sent by Mrs. Morris who had learned of her husband's affair with Bertha Lee, a schoolmaster's daughter. The Morris' quickly separated, and given her husband's "heartless" conduct, Mrs. Morris retained custody of their two children. Further, in December 1861, the Rev. Thomas Whittaker Morris was suspended three years by his Bishop for adultery and bringing scandal upon the church. 
Three years was clearly not enough for Morris' former parishioners at St. Peter's. When the clergyman returned to Ashton in February 1865, intending to reclaim his church, he was hooted by an angry, ribald mob and police had to escort him back to the rail station for his safe exit. The "living" was declared vacant and a new clergyman assigned. When Morris sued, a local defence fund was started to oppose his return. The Rev. Morris, despite freshly sworn testimonials to his reformed conduct, never returned to the pulpit at St. Peter's. 

The Rev. Mr. Howes of Bracknell was hooted and driven from his church as well. The story is told in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 1 
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Illustration: Geograph (Creative Commons)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mary Crawley (not of Downton) and the Newdigate Rectory Scandal

St. Peter's Church, Newdigate, Surrey
A clergyman must set an example. "The Clergyman and his house is as it were a light placed in the parish, to which all eyes are turned for example and guidance." Thus the outrage in September 1854 at the events alleged to have occurred at a rectory in Surrey. 

The Rev. Arthur Sugden, son of the Lord Chancellor, was rector of Newdigate. He was accused of allowing rampant immorality under his roof. 16 year old Mary Crawley, a new housemaid, went to the police claiming that on a Sunday night (!), she had been sitting up smoking and drinking with the groom (Elphick) and the cook (Maria). They were joined by 15-year old George Elton, the younger brother of Mrs. Sugden. Mary and Maria went to the bed they shared; Mary claimed she locked the door, but then heard Elphick telling George, "You get in on Crawley's side." What followed was an unprintable story of "appalling profligacy." Mary couldn't scream because the cook placed her hand over her mouth. Mary's story of "violation" was news across England. There were rumors that "Master George" was being packed off to Germany. The Society for the Protection of Women intervened to prosecute George, a "genteel-looking" lad, as well as Elphick and Maria. Mary Crawley made a poor witness. She admitted Elphick had been in her bed before. She had never called George her "little husband" but she had kissed him. She had also been sacked by the Sugdens when they learned she was Catholic. The jury was instructed to consider well "the conduct of the woman" making the charge. All three were acquitted and the judge (Baron Platt) declared that there was "not the slightest ground" for any criticism of life at the Sugdens (thanks, in part, to all new faces "below stairs.")

A Yorkshire vicarage scandal is one of five tales told in the new E-book Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1.
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Illustration: Geograph (Creative Commons) 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Vicar Fights a Duel

Victorian dueling pistols, from Purdey's of Mayfair
The last clerical duelist in England was the Rev. Edwin Crane, vicar of Crowle. He had been challenged by a neighbour, Capt. William Candler, master of the Worcester Foxhounds. Candler believed, with some justification, that his wife Louisa - a lady of "gay and free manners" - had been unfaithful with the young clergyman. The two men, with their seconds, met in a field near Malvern. Candler fired two errant shots; Rev. Crane discharged his pistol into the air. Everyone walked away. 

Prior to 1857, divorce in Britain required an act of Parliament. But Candler brought a suit for "criminal conversation," seeking £5000 in damages from the vicar of Crowle. The trial was held in 1837 and brought people from throughout the sporting countryside to Gloucester. Witnesses described seeing Rev. Crane and Mrs. Candler on the floor of her drawing room in Malvern Link. They were observed together in a nearby wood. Compromising letters were introduced. But Mr. Crane's attorney said his client was the seduced, not the seducer.  "His only fault had been that he had yielded to the solicitations of a beautiful woman, which very few men in any situation in life would be able to resist." Candler was shown to have been a neglectful husband. Also, the vicar had agreed to meet the chap on the dueling field - for Candler to bring this second action was dashed ungentlemanly. The jury agreed; they found Crane guilty but the damages were reduced to a mere £100.

Rev. Crane was suspended by his Bishop for three years, restored when it was shown that he had "demeaned and conducted himself with the utmost regularity and decorum."

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Friday, June 17, 2016

The Bishop's Daughter

J.P. Lee, Bishop of Manchester
On the morning of 11 July 1857, 26 year old Sophia Katherine Lee slipped out of her parent's home to marry the Rev. John Booker, a bookish curate from Prestwich. They were married at St. James' Church in the village of Heaton Mersey. It was the church where her family worshiped but they did not attend the wedding. Now, this caused comment for Sophie's father was no less than the Bishop of Manchester. A decade earlier, the Rev. James Prince Lee was chosen by the Queen to lead the first ever episcopal see in the Industrial Midlands. His biographers concede the Bishop was a bit of a despot. He was married and had two daughters. The Rev. Booker had stayed with the Lee family whilst researching one of his antiquarian interests in the neighborhood. A romance with Sophie blossomed but the Bishop could not feel that a wine merchant's son from Yorkshire, a mere curate, was suitable for his daughter and he let that be known. If they went ahead, he would never forgive them. They did and he didn't. When the Bishop died in 1869, his will declared, "To my elder daughter, I give nothing. I deprive her of all interest in my property. This I do not do in anger but because I hold it my duty not to let such conduct as hers and the person she married prove successful." The will was published for all to read and caused a new sensation. It was as if "the person" his daughter had married was a "dissolute valet" and not a respected clergyman who now had his own church in Surrey. A clerical friend wrote to the newspapers defending Sophie's conduct. The Rev. Booker had proven in every respect a worthy husband. "In short, she had loved. She had ultimately to make her election. She disobeyed - she was but a woman." 

Many a curate's romance did not run smoothly. There was Mr. Fryer of Leamington or Mr. Finlayson of Alderley Edge, for example. Their stories and more can be found in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1.
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Illustration: Wikipedia.
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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Mysterious Death of a Clergyman's Wife

Golcar and the spire of St. John's Church
On Christmas Day 1862, the Rev J.E. Downing, longtime vicar of Golcar, near Huddersfield, was thrown from his carriage and killed. His son (who was also his curate) was in the following carriage with his fiancee. The tragedy notwithstanding, the Rev. Henry Downing married Hannah Briggs a month later. The newlyweds lived at Westwood House, purchased for them by the bride's wealthy uncle. The recently widowed Mrs. Downing came with them. Village rumours were soon shared that the elder Mrs. Downing clashed repeatedly with her daughter-in-law. Hannah Downing was rarely seen in public and then, reportedly, with a black eye. Rev. Downing took his mother down to London for some time. On 18 October 1863, they returned to Golcar. The next morning, the clergyman found his wife unconscious in her dressing room, with several head wounds and a broken tooth. She died two days later. She was 32. The excitement was intense; the public demanded an inquest. The coroner presided at the Rose & Crown. Miss Dykes, a servant at Westwood House, insisted all was harmonious within. But villagers claimed Dykes had spread the earlier story of the black eye. The coroner refused to accept hearsay. An independent surgeon did a complete autopsy. He found the deceased had a flabby heart, was susceptible to fits, and "habituated to intoxication." Her injuries were consistent with a fall during a fit. The coroner quashed juror objections and declared Mrs. Downing "died by the visitation of God in a natural way." The respected Downing family, he pronounced, should be acquitted of all the unfounded rumours. Rev. Downing soon left Golcar to be Rector of Wells-next-the-Sea, in Norfolk. There, he married a local woman. His mother came too.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 contains the detailed accounts of five sensational scandals involving clergyman of the Church of England. The affordable E-book ($5.49 US/ 3.86 UK) can be accessed with a free app for your phone or tablet.

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Somerset Clerical Scandal

St. James the Less, Halse, Somerset
In 1889, a pretty Somerset village was the setting for a "strange clerical scandal which has disturbed the equanimity of the county.” The rector of Halse, near Taunton, Rev. Samuel Burgess, married and with a family, was summoned before his Bishop to explain a letter he had written to a female parishioner. In the letter to a Miss Bond, Burgess made "statements expressive of the regard and affection he felt for her," supposedly confessing an earnest desire to hold and kiss her. Burgess insisted that the wrong construction had been placed upon his innocent words. The rector was saved, however, by a curious loophole. He had written the letter while in Salisbury to Miss Bond who was then in London. According one reading of ecclesiastical law, a letter written in one diocese, and received in a second diocese, could not be regarded as evidence in a third diocese (i.e. before the Bishop of Bath & Wells). Thus, there was no cause to answer and Mr. Burgess returned to his rectory. "Is not this a public scandal?” asked the society journal, Truth. As for Miss Bond, a "spinster" near 40, it was said that her "mind was affected" by the scandal.

The rector's letter does not survive but a much more outrageous one written by a London curate does. Read about the "depraved and obscene" letter linked to the Rev. C.W.A. Brooke in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Vicar Charged with Assault

The Old Vicarage, Cramlington
The pits are now closed, replaced by bedroom estates and leisure centers but Cramlington was a coal mining village in Northumberland. One chilly October night in 1874, the Rev. Joseph Smithard-Hind crept into a servant's bedroom - and poured a jug of cold water on her sleeping head. A late-arriving guest from London needed a fire lit in one of the vicarage bedrooms. The vicar had sent his son to waken Mary Ann Mulholland but he couldn't raise her. Mary Ann was none too pleased with her liquid wake-up call and gave notice in the morning. Mr. Smithard-Hind settled up her wages and - as he recalled - gave her 10 shillings by way of an apology. But egged on, no doubt, by her friends, the young woman went to the magistrates and the vicar of St. Nicholas Church was summoned for assault. The clergyman attended as called and explained the lodging crisis that unfolded that fall evening. He had employed no more than a "little cold water" to get his reluctant servant in motion. Miss Mulholland denied that she had gotten anything more than her due wages from the vicar but it was his word against hers. When Mary Ann took the extra ten shillings, she had - in effect - condoned the vicar's conduct. Case dismissed although Mr. Smithard-Hind was cautioned against such "violent and improper" conduct in the future.

"The Servant Problem" in a clergyman's home was a frequent cause for scandal in the Victorian church. The tragic story of the Rev. Joseph Weedow and his cook is told in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1. (only $5.49 US; £3.86 UK) 


Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Modern Curate

Published in 1881, "The Modern Curate," was a collection of unsigned articles that had previously appeared in The Graphic, a London weekly. The anonymous author advised would be clerics on many subjects, including marriage. His advice: put it off.
"Young women are, unfortunately, only too ready to take penniless young priests* "for better or worse," without any misgiving that it may be "for worse " only. They indulge in roseate dreams of rectories, lifelong comfort and good social position. They forget that preferment is never certain, that there can be no comfort with a family in a poverty stricken house, and that good society is rather inclined to give "the cold shoulder" to paupers. The women do not think of these things; the men who marry them, should."
One young curate, who apparently did think of such things, was the Rev. Arthur Fryer. In 1881, the year the book was published, he balked at keeping his promise to marry Miss Kate Lamb, daughter of a prominent Hampshire family. The result was a sensational trial for "breach-of-promise to marry." All England debated whether the curate was properly cautious or a cruel jilter. The story of Lamb v Fryer is told in the new Kindle EBook collection - Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1. ($5.49 US; £3.86 UK) 
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* By the Victorian period, the term "priest" had taken on its modern meaning, referring to a Catholic clergyman. However, clergy in the Church of England were still ordained as "priests."
Illustration: Google Books.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Read All About It

A writer in the Churchman's Family Magazine, in the Year of Our Lord 1863, decried the eagerness with which the newspapers reveled in recounting the misconduct of miscreant clergymen. "A really good clerical scandal, well spiced and judiciously prolonged ... is worth fifty pounds a week to The Times. Travelers by railway eagerly buy it when they expect a racy article of this nature. It is talked over with avidity by the gentlemen after dinner, when the partridges have been exhausted, and it serves admirably to amuse the ladies." The 1860's saw an explosive growth in newspapers. The newsboys hawking the Times no longer had a monopoly. The new profession of "journalism" seemed to delight in annoying the establishment and, of course, that would include the Church of England. "The development of journalism is fraught with danger to all our institutions; and in a pre-eminent degree the Church of England is exposed to insidious attacks. So it behooves her friends to watch." In the meantime, would the clergy please behave because, fair or not, they must keep in mind "the somewhat familiar axiom that when clergymen break the laws of morality, we almost always do hear of it, and that when laymen break them we do not." 

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 is a collection, as described, of five "well spiced," even "racy," clerical scandals. The book is available for Kindle, or a Kindle app on your smartphone or tablet. To contact the author:


Saturday, May 28, 2016

"Men in Black"- A Curate's Lesson

1871 Advertisement (Google Books)
In 1877, a newly ordained curate, 24 year old Rev. Samuel Francis Barber, arrived in the village of Lower Mitton on the Severn in Worcestershire. By all accounts, he was well-liked by his parishioners and his superior. Or he was, until the following year, when he had the temerity to go about in a pair of coloured trousers. For men of the cloth, black was the default colour. When his vicar, the Rev. Mr. Gibbons remonstrated with him, Barber simply resigned his position. It was true that any flashiness or colored vestments were sensitive issues in the Victorian church as many thought them "Romish." But Mr. Barber's daring trousers were said to be "of an ordinary mundane color & pattern." With sympathy in the face of such "vicarial tyranny," some villagers passed round a (presumably black) hat to collect a going-away token. For Mr. Barber, getting a reputation for being, well, "too big for his britches" might be a career-wrecker for a young curate but he survived.

As for more difficult questions about a clergyman's trousers, the vicar of Bracknell was asked in a London court whether his trousers were "disarranged" when he was found in a remote copse with a young lady not his wife. The story of the Rev. Mr. Howes can be found in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 now available for Kindle.
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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rev. Canon James Fleming, the Queen's Chaplain (Plagiarist?)

Rev. Canon James Fleming (Vanity Fair)
Teachers and professors worldwide must now be ever watchful for the student who tries to slip a "cut and paste" job by as original work. It's plagiarism, is what it is. And, it's not new. In 1887, the chaplain to Queen Victoria, Canon James Fleming published a volume of sermons to celebrate HRH's Jubilee. Some attentive readers, however, noted the "most extraordinary resemblance" in one sermon to the work of the American evangelist T. Dewitt Talmage of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. More than 200 lines were identical save for Dr. Talmage's American idioms being replaced with English ones. An embarrassing pamphlet made the rounds: "The Stolen Sermon, or Canon Fleming's Theft." Finally, Fleming confessed that he had read Talmage's sermon some years before and it made a great impression upon him. He, then, unconsciously refashioned the sermon as his own. Critics called the explanation worse than the crime. A New York paper said the matter raises "an uncomfortable doubt as to the English canon's moral condition." Fleming survived the kerfuffle, for he was "altogether a good fellow" and a royal favorite. But, the scandal was recalled at his death in 1908. "He will not be comfortable when he sees Talmage coming his way across the Elysian fields."

Canon Fleming's biographer was the Rev. Arthur Finlayson whose much greater scandal is discussed in "The Foxy Finlayson," in the new E-Book Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1
Canon Fleming's caricature in Vanity Fair (1899)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Rev. H.G. Wakefield of Montana by way of Shropshire

Granite, Montana (wikipedia)
Granite County, Montana, is full of ghost towns. Once home to the largest silver mine in the world, the area boomed in the 1880's. The silver bubble burst in the 1890's and most everybody left. In Philipsburg, the county seat, the Rev. Herbert Wakefield, saw his congregation dwindle at St. Andrew's Episcopal church. What was a man from the English Midlands, with an Oxford degree, doing in frontier Montana? A few years before, Wakefield was living in Shropshire, chaplain of the county gaol and active in the Shrewsbury Vigilance Committee for the Suppression of Criminal Vice & Public Immorality. That fall, several young women received "the most revoltingly obscene letters that it has ever been our misfortune to peruse," according to the Wellington Journal. The newspaper accused Rev. Wakefield of writing those letters. He denied it and his supporters included the Bishop of Lichfield who called him “one of the most deservedly respected men in the district.” Wakefield sued the newspaper for libel. In 1888, the clergyman left for the trial in London but never arrived; instead, he sent a wire admitting that the "horrible & diabolical” letters were his. The amazement in Shrewsbury can be imagined. Wakefield and his wife emigrated, first, to Canada, but he closed his clerical career among the ghost pews of Montana. He died there in 1916.

A similar charge, involving a "vile and depraved" letter, was made against another clergyman a few years later. The case of the Rev. C.W.A. Brooke is told in full - with the letter - in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1.
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