Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Curious Incident of the Sandwiches in the Sunshine.

One hot August afternoon in 1890, Mrs. Louisa Burnham, wife of the rector of St. Peter's, Cogenhoe, hosted a lawn tea for the local members of the Girl's Friendly Society. The rector, a keen archer, delighted the guests with his bow. The Bozeat Brass Band, of local acclaim, performed. But late storms cut the proceedings short. By the following day, most of two dozen people - including several of the tuneful bandsmen - were down with severe stomach pains, frequent vomiting and general distress. The suspicion fell quickly on the potted beef sandwiches as those who hadn't partaken were fine. The story of the "Wholesale Poisoning" at a rectory made headlines across the country. Mrs. Burnham took to the local paper to protest: "While no one regrets more strongly than I that these distressing cases of illness should have occurred, I must yet protest against the disaster being attributed to the provisions supplied from this house, and to my excellent cook who sent them to table." Dr. Hawkes, a local physician, attended and, alas, concluded, it was the beef. The meat had been prepared two days in advance and then left out on a sultry August day. Despite the "pardonable anxiety" of the rector's wife, it was the sandwiches. The victims suffered sharply for some time but all recovered, eventually. 
For quite a different issue with a clergyman's cook, see the tragic story of the Rev. Joseph Weedow, of East Morton, Yorkshire, included in the new Kindle collection: Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1
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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Bonking Vicars"

"No issue of a British tabloid newspaper is complete without a headline featuring 'bonking schoolgirls' or 'bonking vicars.'"* This pre-dates the modern boundary-less social media, paparazzi and hacked mobile phones. The cartoon here, a favorite of mine, is from the Illustrated Police News (copyright British Library.) In 1896, in a small village in Devon, the wife of a local miller disappeared, sending a note that she had taken her son and left for good. The note was sent thru the local curate, the Rev. A.B. Winnifrith. The clergyman said he had no idea where Mrs. Hern had gone. But, of course, he did. Eventually, it was shown that - under assumed names - he had visited her at several rooming houses around England. One landlady recalled that Mrs. Hern kept the curate's photo on the nightstand. The whole story of the "infamous conduct" of Mr. Winnifrith can be found in my book, Blame it on the Devon Vicar.

For new stories of miscreant clerics, check out the Kindle E-book, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol.

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* Miller, R.M., Trask's Historical Linguistics (2013)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Beware Berkshire's "Unfrequented Lanes."

Mary Russell Mitford

The novelist Mary Russell Mitford lived for thirty years in a house with no room larger than 8-feet square! No wonder she enjoyed her walks in the Berkshire fields and lanes in autumn. No prettier country could be found than "this shady and yet sunny Berkshire, where the scenery, without rising into grandeur or breaking into wildness, is so peaceful, so cheerful, so varied, and so thoroughly English." November days, wrote Mary, were made for walks "by yellow commons and birch-shaded hollows and hedgerows bordering unfrequented lanes." 

Good for Mary Mitford but perhaps inadvisable for a married clergyman to be known to be ambling down such "unfrequented" Berskshire lanes with his Sunday School teacher. Yet that is what befell the Rev. Herbert Taylor Howes and Miss Mary Beechey one November day in 1864. Ostensibly looking for the footpath to Binfield they became lost on the lands of Leonard Barber, tenant of Bean Oak Farm. Old Barber was no fool; when he found the two intruders resting in a copse, he leapt to his conclusion and, eyeing Mr. Howes' collar, added, "Why, Dammit, you're a Parson, too!" It was said there was no gossip worse than village gossip. Could the reputations of the pastor of Bracknell and his luckless Sunday School teacher be saved?

The "Clerical Scandal at Bracknell" is told in the new Kindle E-book: CLERICAL ERRORS - A VICTORIAN SERIES, Volume 1.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Clergy are an Exceptional Case

In November 1849, the Rev. Charles Rookes, rector of the small Devon village of Nymet Rowland, was adjudged to be no longer worthy of being a clergyman. He was deprived of all ecclesiastical preferment. Many people wondered, however, what had taken so long. Mr. Rookes had led “a life of open & abominable scandal, separated from his wife, carrying on adulterous intercourse with one woman, seducing a second, and living in open and promiscuous scandal with many others." Yet, his Bishop had done nothing until Rookes was sued in a civil court for non-support of a child born to a then abandoned mistress. The Times thundered: "The clergy are an exceptional case.  As stewards of the sacred mysteries any flaw or crack in their armor attracts instant attention and rouses instant scandal; in their ranks, discipline must be maintained with unsparing, unquestioning severity."

The story of the Rev. Mr. Rookes can be found in BLAME IT ON THE DEVON VICAR, (Halsgrove, 2008) (
For more Victorian clerical miscreants, see the new E-Book: CLERICAL ERRORS - A VICTORIAN SERIES, Volume 1. 
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The copyright on this image is owned by Philip Halling and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Rhyl Tragedy: Painful Revelations

Viewing this BBC photo of old Rhyl, the Westminster Hotel is along the terrace to the left of the pier. The Westminster opened in 1878 and nearly 150 years later, it is still in business today (doubles/twins from £70 to £90.) The old place was "rescued from dereliction" a few years ago. It receives middling reviews from Trip Advisor, etc. But in 1892, the hotel was one of the finest in North Wales, celebrated for its elegant public rooms, dining and sea views. In September of that year, Rhyl was hosting, for the first time ever, the Eisteddfod, the annual festival of Welsh song and story. The Rev. Joseph Weedow of East Morton in Yorkshire loved choral music and he and his wife had taken room 42 at the Westminster for the event. Given the vagaries of the seaside weather, the Weedows eagerly seized those fleeting sunny spells for carriage rides along the wide parade. Thus, the shock was overwhelming when, on Friday, 19 September, the Rev. Mr. Weedow shot himself in a hallway WC at the hotel. It was soon made clear that "Mrs. Weedow" was not his wife at all but his cook from the vicarage. 

The full story of the "Scandalous Tragedy at Rhyl" is told for the first time in the new E-Book: CLERICAL ERRORS - A VICTORIAN SERIES, Volume 1. 
Available NOW at ($5.49)

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Monday, April 18, 2016

"Remember, I am to have the housemaid!" - The Rector of Fincham, Norfolk

 Fincham, in the Victorian directories, is uniformly described as a “neat village on the Swaffham road.” And so it is today on what is now the A1122. There were once two houses of worship in this well-churched part of England but Fincham St. Michael was pulled down in 1744. Fincham St. Martin remains, a 13th-century structure of flint with a square embattled tower, sitting on a prominence north of the road. For such a small village, the church – with its 83-foot long nave - is quite impressive. An old Fincham rector, Mr. Forby, said but for the “pewing,” it would “be the prettiest church in Norfolk.” The Forby family had provided the rectors in Fincham for just over a century, beginning in 1723. In 1825, the Rev. Joseph Forby fainted while taking his bath. The last of the Forbys slipped beneath the soapy waters and drowned.

The Forbys and their accomplishments would dominate The Historical Notices and Records of the Parish of Fincham, County of Norfolk, as compiled by the Rev. Henry Blyth, who had become rector of the village in 1846. In obvious embarrassment, however, Mr. Blyth makes only one fleeting mention of the man whom he had succeeded. In the interval of the twenty-one years between the late and lamented Mr. Forby and young Mr. Blyth, the people of Fincham were ministered to by the Rev. Arthur Loftus. Of those two decades, Mr. Blyth – with the greatest possible discretion - dares only to record that the Rev. Mr. Arthur Loftus was “deprived on 12 December 1845.”

The full story of the Rev. Mr Loftus can be found in BLAME IT ON THE NORFOLK VICAR, published in 2008 by Halsgrove (Somerset). The book may be ordered from the publisher or from 

See also the author's new E-book: CLERICAL ERRORS - A VICTORIAN SERIES, Volume 1. There are several more fascinating tales of clerical miscreants, some of which are discussed elsewhere on this blog. 
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The photo is © Copyright Adrian S Pye and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Case of the Red-Headed Curate

The arrival in the village of the handsome, unmarried, red-headed curate set the ladies aflutter. No, this wasn't Grantchester. This arrival took place in Andover, in Hampshire, and the year was 1877. The story was a familiar one: "The young unmarried curate is generally a favorite in society.  In many houses there is always a knife and fork for him.  It is commonly said, and not without truth, that a curate has better matrimonial chances than any other man.  There is a kind of curatolatry in many a gentle female bosom." (All the Year Round, 1878)

If curatolatry is a fault, then Miss Kate Lamb of Andover, Hants, was an exemplar of the obsession. Unmarried in her early thirties, she fell quite much in love with the ruddily charming Rev. Arthur Girdlestone Fryer. Soon, they were engaged. When he was posted to another church a hundred miles away, the two exchanged some 900 letters over eighteen months. But after months of letters to his "Darling Pet," the curate broke it off with a note signed, "Yours affectionately." Miss Lamb took to her divan in grief but raised herself to sue for "Breach of Promise to Marry" seeking thousands of pounds for her "blighted prospects."

The whole story is told in the new Ebook collection: "Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1." 
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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Clergyman in the Divorce Court

Sir James Hannen was named President of the Divorce Court in the U.K. in 1872, remaining on that bench for nearly twenty years. He was often called the "Great Un-Marrier," the caption taken from his caricature appearing in the society weekly, Vanity Fair. Hannen conducted his court's business with "quasi-religious solemnity." However raw were the emotions, Hannen would tolerate no histrionics or audience participation before him. "This is not a theatre," he would bark. His long time clerk observed that the judge "usually wore a pained expression of countenance," no doubt brought on by two decades of listening to "lovely women who stooped to folly," often with "bold, bad men." Hannen had heard all the stories, all the excuses, and all the tortuous explanations but yet he was struck by the "Case of the Clerical Correspondent," the Rev. Arthur Robert Morrison Finlayson, erstwhile curate of Alderley Edge. After lengthy testimony of letter drops, bungled assignations, coded letters and secret picnics, Justice Hannen could only conclude: "The ingenuity and assurance of women in putting forward excuses for doubtful conduct and the credulity of husbands has been for ages the sport of authors, but I doubt if anything more extravagant had ever been suggested than the excuses in this case."

The Finlayson case is included in the new E-book collection: Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1. 
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Friday, April 15, 2016

A "Depraved and Obscene" Letter

The beautiful Lambeth Palace, seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is on the south side of the Thames. A walker strolling down Lambeth Palace Road would no doubt be staring across the river at the Houses of Parliament. Thus, there is an easy-to-miss unmarked door set into the brick wall of the palace. There is a doorbell - which, if rung, and if you are expected - will gain you admission to the library. The library has been much modernized since the sketch here was made (courtesy of But the setting is no less impressive and silent. A strange place indeed to read an "depraved and obscene" letter allegedly written by a clergyman. In the letter posted to Mrs. Heard, the writer shared his desires: "I long to cuddle you and hug you, besides kissing and undressing you." He longs to again experience "the weight of your crossed feet over my bottom." That is the quotable part of the letter, the real "naughty bits" - never before published - can all be found in the story of the Rev. Charles William Alfred Brooke, one of five included in the new Kindle E-book, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1. 

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Poor "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce. The Bishop of Oxford is remembered most for being bested by Professor Huxley in the first great debate between science and religion, generated by the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. When Wilberforce asked Huxley - in effect - on which side of his family were the apes, the professor (supposedly) replied, "If I had to choose between being descended from an ape or from a man who would use his great powers of rhetoric to crush an argument, I should prefer the former." The legend is that Huxley's rebuke to the Bishop caused a great tumult in the hall. Women fainted on the spot.

Read how the Bishop dealt with a more temporal problem in "Why, Dammit, You're a Parson!," included in the new Kindle book, CLERICAL ERRORS - A VICTORIAN SERIES, Volume 1.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016


There you will find summaries of the five stories contained in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1.

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