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

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