Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Dean of Norwich and an Unwanted Biographer

The Rev. William Lefroy
It may appear from these entries that Victorian clerical scandals were somehow limited to the lowly curates of the church. In 1898, the Rev. William Lefroy was shortlisted in the press, sacred and secular, to be the next Bishop of Liverpool. Lefroy was 63; he'd been born of "humble parents" in Dublin, raised, educated and ordained in Ireland. But his successful church career had been in England, capped in 1889 with his appointment as Dean of Norwich Cathedral. In September 1898, Lefroy crossed the Irish Sea to appear in a Dublin courtroom accusing one Thomas Drum of blackmail. Drum had written a series of letters to the Dean suggesting that he was about to write the clergyman's biography which the public might find very interesting. However - for the sum of £100 - he would "burn" his research and forego the literary work. The would-be Boswell was a bankrupt businessman whose wife had recently died. Drum had written suggestively to Lefroy, "You knew her well as Miss Fanny Nicholson before we were married." Lefroy - who was married - told the court he left Dublin in 1864 and had never met Drum and certainly had no wish to have him write a biography. Drum had to be found and forcibly brought to court. He announced: "I wish to plead guilty. I did not think I was doing anything outside the law. I never would make an imputation on the Dean of Norwich." Drum begged for mercy but the Recorder assailed him for making a series of "cold, calculated threats." Drum was sentenced to six months without hard labour. The Rev. Lefroy was praised for having the courage to confront an obvious black-mailer. But it should be noted, Lefroy was passed over for the Bishop's mitre in Liverpool and died a Dean.

A singularly revolting case of blackmail by a clergyman will be featured in Volume 2 of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series. Volume 1 is now available on Kindle at and A Kindle app is free and easy for phones & tablets.

Photo: Wikipedia

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Queen's Chaplain and his Housekeeper

St. Nicholas, Barton-le-Clay, Beds.
The Rev Timothy Fyshe Foord-Bowes was rector of St. Nicholas church in the Bedfordshire village of Barton-le-Clay. He was a chaplain to Queen Victoria and had preached before her on many occasions. In 1845, Foord-Bowes was in his 60's; his wife, his children, even his grandchildren had predeceased him. Thus, there was "extraordinary interest" when the rector's former groom sued him for criminal-conversation. Until 1857, there was no divorce in England without an Act of Parliament but a husband could sue for financial damages from "his adulterous wife's partner." John Coultas was seeking £2000. He was married to the rector's longtime cook and housekeeper, a woman known simply as Barnes. Coultas claimed that the rector had alienated him from his wife, hidden her away, and subjected her to his “foul & gross lust & passion.” A gamekeeper testified to putting a ladder up to a rectory window and, peering through the blinds, seeing the clergyman and Barnes lie down together. Foord-Bowes insisted he had no more than sincere affection for Barnes - a woman nearly 60 - and he wished to protect her from a drunk and abusive spouse. The rector was well-defended but after a three day trial, the jury - at three in the morning - found for the plaintiff and awarded Coultas £250. Foord-Bowes survived the scandal - his defenders thought he was a victim of a conspiracy of non-believers. Who could believe that a man and woman in that stage of life could even have the strength to "commit such juvenilities?" It was ridiculous nonsense.

Clerical servants were frequently the center of Victorian scandals. One of the most famous involved a Yorkshire vicar - the Rev. Joseph Weedow. His story and more can be found in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol 1.  Kindle apps are FREE for your phone or tablet.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Curate Goes for Butter. Once.

The plight of underpaid, overworked curates was a fervently debated subject in the late Victorian years. The Curate's Augmentation Fund was finally established to supplement the lowly stipends the Established Church afforded. But an issue not so easily quantified was the perceived lack of respect that many curates felt bitterly. In 1895, a curate in Kent (he was never identified and probably for the best) abruptly resigned after fulfilling what he thought was an insulting task he'd been given by his vicar's wife. The Archdeacon was suddenly coming for lunch and, as Jane, the housemaid, was busy, would the curate be a dear and go to the grocer for some butter? The (presumably) young clergyman felt demeaned by this household assignment and quit. The story got in all the papers, prompting countless letters to the editor and, from a contributor initialed G.P.H., a delightful bit of doggerel:
The Archdeacon was coming to luncheon at two.
     Mrs. Vicar was all in a flutter,
And thinking the Curate had nothing to do,
     She asked him to go for some butter.
The Curate indignantly went off to find,
     The grocer, next door to the draper's.
The butter he fetched, then his cure he resigned,
     And finally wrote to the papers.
Oh, hasty young clergyman, was it quite wise,
     Such a passionate protest to utter?
In every profession the chance of a rise,
     Depends very much upon butter. 
A few weeks later, more than 100 curates met in London to discuss forming a Curate's Union but the session produced little more than "hubbub and commotion" and the attendees dispersed.

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Singular Death of a Clergyman

Stenbock (Wikipedia)
In any of the numerous accounts of late-Victorian "decadence," the name of the "Count" Eric Stenbock will appear. Heir to a Baltic fortune, Stenbock was raised in England, left Oxford early, and lived near Sloane Square writing poetry. He was homosexual, kept an "evil-smelling monkey" and was a great user and proponent of opium. On 31 July 1884, an Oxford chum, the Rev. William Pomeroy Ogle, came up to town from Essex where he was a curate at Brentwood. Whilst at Stenbock's, despite his host's express warnings, Ogle took two, perhaps three, opium pills. He washed them down with some wine and the two young men went out to dine. Later, they caught a train from Liverpool Street as Ogle had the early services the next day. In Brentwood, they shared a bed (not uncommon in the day). Stenbock got very little sleep, between hiccups and Ogle's laboured snoring. But in the morning, he was awakened by the whining of Ogle's dog. Stenbock couldn't wake Ogle whose lips were blue and a brown fluid oozed from his nose. He called for the housekeeper who summoned a doctor but it was no use. The curate was dead at 24. At the inquest, Stenbock insisted that he warned his friend not to take the pills, or certainly not more than one. Two could kill a man, although Stenbock claimed he had developed tolerance for as many as ten. But Ogle, having taken them, was in good spirits all evening and showed no signs of distress. Ogle's father - a clergyman from Devon - said his son had a very weak constitution and a surgeon said death was due to sudden heart failure, and not directly linked to the drug. The jury verdict was death due to syncope. Ogle's death produced a “feeling of pain and gloom” in the town, where his “peculiar charm” had been much appreciated. Stenbock inherited his money and title the following year but died a recluse and an addict in 1895. Yeats described him as "a scholar, connoisseur, drunkard, poet, pervert [and] most charming of men."

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Clergyman Wanting in Ordinary Humanity

St. Germanus, Germansweek, Devon
Jennie Burgess arrived in Exeter, via the Okehampton train, one November night in 1883. She collapsed on her way to the Servant's Home and was taken to the nearest hospital where she died two days later of typhoid fever. She said she'd been sent away by her employer - the Rev. John Sutcliffe, M.A., rector of Germansweek, a remote parish just north-west of Dartmoor. The tragic tale shocked all Exeter and the Town Council resolved "that they cannot too strongly condemn the want of consideration for the safety of the public and of ordinary humanity towards the patient herself shown by the course pursued in sending a person so seriously ill with typhoid fever on a long journey by rail and in inclement weather." The Rev. Sutcliffe bridled at the charge. He insisted that Mrs. Sutcliffe had brought the local doctor out but he diagnosed Burgess as suffering from "scrofulous and syphilitic mischief." Of course, then, she would be sent away from the rectory. "We don't think any blame can possibly be attached to us." The idea that the woman's death was, in some way, related to a past immoral life, tempered the uproar. But the Exeter Ladies Association for Friendless Girls promptly weighed in to assert that there was not the slightest ground for any imputation against her character. The controversy passed but the rector of Germansweek was to be involved in many more. Few clergymen could claim to be horsewhipped by a parishioner, burned in effigy (along with his wife) and censured by the Bishop for "general parochial neglect." Still, Rev. Sutcliffe managed to live out his years in the village, and now lies buried beside the church of St. Germanus, "sheltering in a hollow." 

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