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

Please check out Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Volume 1, now available at and

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