Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Vicar of Cowley and "a Most Unpleasant Enquiry"

Cowley St. James
The Rev. George Moore arrived as vicar of Cowley St. James in east Oxford in the late 1870's and remained for more than a half-century. A character he was. While still a young man and new to Cowley, he ran for a seat on the board of Poor Law Guardians. He later accused his opponent - a schoolmaster named Barling - of spreading a story that Moore's wife was keen to divorce him for fathering a child with a household servant. The slander trial was heard in 1881. Moore admitted that he and his wife lived apart - she preferring the seaside "for her health." His own health was not strong - he suffered from rheumatism to the point that he acknowledged that a female servant regularly helped him to dress (and undress?) and brushed his hair. But there were no improper intimacies and it was certainly not true that he had a child with any domestic. A three-day trial in Oxford - a "most unpleasant enquiry" - ended with a verdict for Rev. Moore but with an insulting award of a lone farthing for his damaged reputation. Moore fought on to the Appeal Court in London to win a new trial on the grounds of his "unreasonably small" damages. Forestalling a second trial, Barling issued an apology and agreed to pay an unstated but certainly larger amount. Moore was a celebrated figure in greater Oxford for a long time. After his wife died (see, she was poorly), Moore was rather openly seen in the company of his longtime housekeeper, Emily Durrant*. When the vicar died in 1928, he received an "amazing" funeral and is buried in the churchyard.
* Information courtesy of the Cowley Team Ministry.

The vicar of Bracknell faced similar accusations. His story and more can be found in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1, now available at and

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