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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