Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Conduct Unbecoming to the Character of a Clergyman

St. John the Baptist, Kinlet, Salop.
The Shropshire village of Kinlet is quite remote, in a "wild and elevated" setting. Magnificent Kinlet Hall dominated the landscape with acres of timber and a great deer park. The hillside church of St. John the Baptist was extolled for its "unusual beauty and interest." Nevertheless, the vicar of Kinlet opted to reside in Italy, leaving the small parish in the hands of a series of curates. 

The Rev Edward Prest arrived in the late 1840's; he was unmarried and 26 and quickly made himself popular with the locals of all classes. A man named Whitehead, the gamekeeper at the Hall, had several daughters. The curate was a family favourite, taking the Whitehead girls to see the cathedral in Worcester and a fancy fair in nearby Bewdley. In the summer of 1851, however, Mr. Prest was accused of "fornication, lewdness and indecency" with 18-year old Lydia Whitehead, the eldest. The village was thrown into "excitement and confusion." The scandal even brought the vicar back. 

For three days, a church enquiry was held at the Eagle & Serpent Inn. The main accuser was Elizabeth Pounteney, 17-year old servant at the vicarage. She testified that, while peering through the shutters, she saw Lydia and Prest together in a scene decreed to be unfit for publication. The curate's case in defense was that Pounteney was a troubled teenager. She had "uppity" ideas for a servant, felt that she was "as good as the Whiteheads," and wanted the curate for herself. Still, Prest's gifts to and flirtation with Lydia, when her younger sisters were nowhere around, was much discussed. In the end, he was cleared but warned: “the familiar way in which he has allowed himself to associate with some female parishioners was unbecoming to the character of a clergyman and had a tendency to bring scandal on the church.” The message being - you did nothing wrong but stop doing it. The church bells rang at the news, the joy in Kinlet was "boundless." But Mr. Prest soon returned to Northumberland. 

As for Kinlet today, "the village is gone, the only locals being the ghosts in the churchyard.*"

* Simon Jenkins, England's 1000 Best Churches (1999). 

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Hampton Court Scandal

The position of Chaplain in Ordinary to the Queen at Hampton Court sounds more impressive, perhaps, than it was. It was said that the stipend was not large but the duties were light and it came with a posh apartment in the Palace. The Rev. David Lancaster McAnally was said chaplain, and in said apartment, in April 1892, when he looked out his window to see himself hung in effigy from a tree. Several soldiers of the palace detachment, wearing mock clerical garb, had carried out this insult. When a gardener cut down the effigy and carried it off, the soldiers whistled "the Dead March in Saul." 

The story behind this was a tragic one. Mrs. McAnally had warned a parlourmaid, Alice Cadman, not to fraternize with the soldiers. She was caught disobeying that order and got the sack. A note went to Alice's mother, "I can have no servant in my employ that will be seen outside my door talking to men." Alice Cadman then drowned herself in the Thames. Rev. McAnally attended the inquest. He told the coroner that one of the great difficulties at the Palace was the barracks and "one gets tired of it." 

News of the "Hampton Court Scandal" quickly spread. Because of the actions of a "foolish maidservant," Mr. McAnally had been "rendered obnoxious" to the men of the Horse Guards Blue, currently in residence. McAnally published a letter, reaching out "to the soldiers at Hampton Court, for whom, as a body, I have so great a regard." The chaplain conceded that the wooing went both ways. "When a lady finds soldiers, unbidden by her, in her kitchen between nine and ten o'clock in the evening, it cannot be supposed that they would be there without some invitation." 

The Rev. McAnally received a full apology from the C-in-C, the Duke of Cambridge, and an assurance that the perpetrators of the "disgraceful" insult had been dealt with. Within the year, however, there was a new Chaplain in Ordinary at Hampton Court.   


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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Annoying the Vicar of Withernwick

St. Alban's Church, Withernwick
"Local affairs at Withernwick do not, generally speaking, present a very fruitful topic of discourse," a Victorian observer wrote. The village is not but three miles from the North Sea in East Yorkshire. When the Rev. Walter Welch came to the vicarage in 1891, there were fewer than 400 souls about, and minus the dissenters, that made for a small congregation at St. Alban's church. 

The locals certainly got "summat" to chat about on 11 May 1900. Mr. Welch, with two of his young sons, was out in the carriage for a Friday drive. From the opposite direction came a horse-drawn coal lorry driven by Alfred Nightingale, who was also the church sexton. As they passed, Nightingale began shouting, employing the most explicit and vulgar terminology, demanding that the vicar stop - as the newspapers put it - "misconducting himself" with the good Mrs. Nightingale. As the vicar chirruped his horses and trotted away, Nightingale's curses continued behind them. A few days later, Jane Nightingale placed an ad in the Hull Daily Mail claiming that her husband had acted out of "wickedness & folly" and there was no truth to his accusation. Later that month, in a police court, Nightingale was charged with "annoying the vicar of Withernwick." Welch and his sons, Walter and Arthur, only teens, testified to the profane outburst they endured that day. The vicar insisted that he never had any improper relations with the man's wife. The attorney for Nightingale admitted everything but said his client acted "under great provocation." The whole town knew of the affair. Instead of a trumpery charge in police court, why hadn't the vicar filed a proper slander action. Because then the plentiful evidence of the truth of the allegation could be presented. The magistrates refused to hear that argument and fined the still fuming Nightingale £1 and ordered him to keep the peace. 

That October, Mr. Welch rather suddenly left Withernwick, reporting that he was suffering from an illness that "required recuperation in a more congenial clime." He died only two years later.

There is an excellent local website at

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