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). 

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1, is available at and,uk

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