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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