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. 

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol 1 is now available in e-book form from Amazon. ($5.49 US or £3.86 UK)
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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."

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