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.


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