Friday, October 28, 2016

Incapable of an Innocent Explanation - The troubles of a Lincolnshire curate.

St. Nicholas, Fulbeck
In one of those "advice to young curates" books that are now so much out of style, the newly fledged cleric was warned to avoid "that familiarity which so soon springs up between a young curate and some of the young women who 'go in' for church work." It was ever a delicate balance because an unmarried curate was also expected to "chat and flirt" with the village ladies lest he be thought aloof. 

Fresh from St. Peter's College at Cambridge, the Rev. Frank Darwin Chawner returned to his native Lincolnshire to accept his first assignment as curate in Fulbeck, a small farming village not too far from Grantham. He arrived at St. Nicholas Church in July of 1865. He was quickly accepted in the town's society. The son of a surgeon, Mr. Chawner became friendly with the local medico, Dr. Charles Smith, and his young wife. Within six months, however, Dr. Smith had banned the curate from his home. The very next day, Mrs. Smith decamped. The disconsolate husband was said to be indulgent to a fault and his divorce action was supported by nearly a dozen villagers. The Hare & Hounds pub seems to have been the base for a network of "spies" who swore to seeing Mrs. Smith and the curate walking arm-in-arm in "out of the way places." They were seen drinking brandy from the same glass! She was found "napping" in the curate's bedroom at the rectory. All of this, Dr. Smith's counsel argued, was “incapable of an innocent explanation.” Mrs. Smith made no defense; the Rev. Chawner - to his credit - did not try to argue that he was more seduced than seducer. He admitted that in his inexperience he had behaved with a great deal of impropriety but no adultery had occurred. Dr. Smith, of course, got his divorce. The young curate was long gone from Fulbeck, retreating to a chaplaincy in Stoke Newington. By August, Rev. Chawner was in bankruptcy court with debts of £600, most of that for legal bills. Certainly, it was an eventful first year in service to the Church of England.

The amours of Victorian curates were ever in the news. Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 is now available for your smart phones and tablets at or

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Vicar "on the Turf"

“A more sensational Leger ... has never been experienced in the whole history of the race,” the sporting papers declared in September 1874. Apology, the pre-race favourite in Doncaster, had been the subject of the wildest rumours: that she was lame and one or more legs had to be packed in ice the night previous. But, with "all of Lincolnshire" betting on her chances, she cantered to the post with twelve other horses. Three minutes later, charging from behind, Apology triumphed by a length and a half, “amidst a scene of the wildest excitement and enthusiasm.” Having earlier won the 1000 Guineas in May, the Coronation Stakes in June, and now adding the St. Leger, Apology became only the third filly to sweep the triple-crown for three-year olds. 

It was a signal achievement for Apology's owner, a mysterious "Mr. Launde." The attendant publicity, however, soon revealed that the champion horse was owned by the Rev. John William King, longtime vicar of St. Hybald's, Ashby-de-la-Launde. That a clergyman would be "on the turf" excited some comment and public debate to the point that the Bishop of Lincoln felt the need to administer a "smart rap with his episcopal crook." He publicly scolded the Rev. King for "bringing discredit on your sacred profession ... training racehorses for the turf, instead of devoting yourself entirely to the work to which you pledged yourself at your ordination." As for the sporting parson, the Rev. King was 82 and in extremely poor health (although tended to devotedly by his new wife in her late 20's!) He still took offense at the reprimand, demanding to know "what was so scandalous about improving the horses of this country?" King announced that he would be resigning all his church livings, "not under compulsion, but simply because I desire to live out the remainder of my days in peace.” 

The Rev. King died within the year and left his stables and Ashby Hall, a mansion well-stocked with the finest wines, to his youthful widow. 

Volume two of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series is now in preparation. Volume 1 is still available in E-book form at and Thank you.
Illustration: Apology (wikipedia)