Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Cawston Rectory Scandal

The Norfolk crowd gathered early on the morning of 15 July 1890, filling all the available space in the Town Hall in Aylsham. The Rev. Theodore Henry Marsh, since 1855, the rector of St. Agnes, Cawston, was to answer a "shocking" charge brought by the National Vigilance Association, a late-Victorian group dedicated to "the repression of criminal vice and public immorality." 

Sophia Barrett - in the parlance of the day - was deaf and dumb. She claimed that Marsh had fathered her child born in May. In the witness box, through a sign-reader, Sophia "with great force" pointed to the rector when asked to indicate the father of her son. The lawyer for the NVA stated that Sophia had been seduced both in the rectory greenhouse and parlour. She could not cry out nor tell anyone what happened. The rector had been giving her sixpence a week but when he heard that a charge was to be brought, he cut her off. 

The Rev. Mr. Marsh was questioned for two hours. He admitted living apart from his wife. He had known his accuser for some time and had tried to help her in many ways. He arranged for her to attend the Brighton Institution for the Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Children. But she led a much troubled young life and had been in and out of the workhouse. He stopped giving her the sixpence because he disapproved of her general conduct. "Before God," he denied paternity of her son. A series of rectory servants and gardeners testified they never saw or suspected anything. His lawyer wondered whether anyone could believe that a blameless village clergyman of 35 years service would risk all to misconduct himself in an open greenhouse or his own parlour. There were the usual attacks on the accuser's character: a young man named Bloomfield, another workhouse regular, was squarely in the frame as the likely father. After six hours, the local magistrates retired to discuss, returning to dismiss the charges. 

The Rev. Marsh remained in Cawston rectory until his death in 1905, to be succeeded by his son until 1933. 

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