Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"Opium is the Poison, We Suspect"

All Saints, Wigston Magna*
The 1860’s, of course, were the era of the great Victorian “sensation novel,” three-decker books with fiendishly complicated plots. There were mysterious wills, unlikely heirs, strange fortunes from the East, suspicious relations, whispers of poison, exhumations, etc. In 1863, one such tale – very much from real life – unfolded in the Leicestershire village of Wigston Magna.  

James Padley, a surveyor's son from Lincoln, was sent off to school at Oakham in Rutland in 1839 where he befriended a boy with the strangely similar name of Baddeley. Edward Baddeley was the only son and heir of twice-widowed Capt. Charles Baddeley of Wigston Magna. With a fortune amassed in India, the Baddeleys lived at Wigston Hall, “a building of considerable beauty with extensive well-timbered grounds.” 

James and Edward would both go on to Cambridge. James began his studies for the clergy. When Edward's health broke down, however, James went with his friend to seek the freshness of the sea air. Capt. Baddeley was understandably grateful for these kindnesses and he too soon fell under the spell of young Padley.

Padley was ordained in 1853 and married the following year. Alas, Edward wrote to say that he was dying and he begged his great friend to come to Wigston for a final visit. On his deathbed, Edward said that his only concern was for his aged father. He would die happy knowing that his dearest friend could care for his father with the tenderness he had always shown his son. Edward Baddeley passed away at Wigston. 

Capt. Baddeley now leaned heavily on the Rev. Padley, employing him as his private chaplain. The Padleys lived at Wigston Hall until 1856, leaving for a brief curacy in Devon. Rev. Padley then took a position as curate in Dalton-in-Furness in Cumbria. Capt. Baddeley let Wigston Hall and went off to live with the Padleys, renting a home in Rampside on Morecambe Bay and paying them £500 per year. After a stroke and paralysis, Capt. Baddeley died in 1863 at the age of 73. The Rev. and Mrs. Padley escorted the Captain’s body to Wigston for a Good Friday burial in the family vault.  

This tale of heartening friendship and devotion was a credit to the Rev. Mr. Padley. But some members of the Baddeley family were not quick to accept it. Dr. Henry Ralph Cooper, a surgeon from Ixworth in Suffolk, and a nephew by marriage, was the most outspoken. He saw a clergyman of modest means who befriended a dying youth and insinuated himself into the gratitude of a wealthy, lonely man, taking him "wheresoever he went." Now, not a decade later, the Baddeley fortune had been depleted to the point that there was now almost nothing left. The captain's will left the last £500 to the Rev. James Sandby Padley.  

The Leicestershire coroner received a letter from Dr. Cooper expressing his dissatisfaction with the stated cause of death. They "earnestly" sought an exhumation and an inquest. Dr. Cooper also shared his suspicions with the editor of his local paper: "Opium is the poison, we suspect. You may, if you wish, add these facts, as I know them to be true." Soon, all England was reading how the Rev. Padley was suspected of poisoning Capt. Baddeley. This occasioned "great excitement,” to say the least.  

Unfortunately for the more rabid readers of novels or newspapers, the coroner declared that there was absolutely no reason to question the circumstances of Capt. Baddeley's death and the request for an exhumation had been officially rejected. The attending physicians had seen absolutely nothing to raise any issues. The old man, wracked with gout, had died from the effects of a stroke.

In August of 1863, at the South Lancs Assizes, Mr. Padley sued Dr. Cooper for libel. "A more atrocious libel against any man --- (let alone) a clergyman --- could not be imagined," the clergyman's counsel thundered. The entire story of Rev. Padley's devotion to the Baddeleys, fils et pere respectively, was retold. The only person who had any suspicions about Capt. Baddeley’s demise seemed to be the defendant, Dr. Cooper.  

The proceedings had hardly begun before Mr. Henry James QC rose to state that his client wished to make a complete apology. Dr. Cooper was now “perfectly willing to admit that he had labored under a great error” and “regrets exceedingly” any offense given to Rev. Padley. Justice Mellor praised the Rev. Padley for his restraint. He was awarded a modest £150. However modest the judgment, it went unpaid as Dr. Cooper filed for bankruptcy and died the following year. Wigston Hall was torn down in the 1960’s and the site was used for a block of flats.

* The East window at All Saints, Wigston Magna was the gift of Capt Baddeley in 1854 to honour his second wife and his son Edward who had died that year.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 2 is now available exclusively through and

Thank you. Please leave any comments, corrections or suggestions below. Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Christmas Story

"The Old Vicarage, Edgton"*
Christmas 1892 was snowless but very cold in Shropshire. In the remote village of Edgton St. Michael, it was the first Christmas for the new vicar, the Rev. Morgan Jones, a 32-year old Welshman. On St. Stephen's Day (26 December), in his "delightfully situated" vicarage, he dined with Miss Helen Scholding, the newly hired schoolmistress. The unmarried vicar had seen to her every need in the village schoolhouse and helped her settle in the small but charming schoolmistress' cottage. Since her arrival, Helen (and he had dared to call her Helen) had dined every Sunday at the vicarage and he had drunk many cups of tea in her cottage. 

Surprisingly, early in the New Year, Miss Scholding abruptly left Edgton, saying she wished to be nearer her home (Essex). Edgton was a wee place and there were few secrets. Among the villagers unfriendly to the vicar, the word was that Miss Scholding had fled to avoid the vicar's efforts to seduce her. They whispered that all through Christmas, he had relentlessly begged the 33 year old spinster to sleep with him at the vicarage and remain as his mistress. He coyly pleaded, "I feel like I am in the Garden of Eden, but what is the point of being Adam if the fruit is denied to me?"

After Helen's departure, a new schoolmistress came to Edgton. Time passed. Only 200 people lived in the village but the Rev. Jones, alas, had not pleased them all. A common flash point in rural life was shooting rights - who had the right to go where to hunt. The vicar raised pheasants but not for game and he'd brought the law in on "trespassing" hunters. But when he opted to buy his butter from a different local farm, he made an enemy.

In 1896, two parishioners (including William Broome, the bitter butter-maker) went to the Bishop of Hereford to seek an inquiry, charging (three years after the fact) that Mr. Jones at Christmas 1892 had taken improper and indecent liberties with Miss Helen Scholding, he had asked her repeatedly to spend the night at the vicarage for an immoral purpose and he had offered her the position of being his mistress. 

A Consistory Court sat for four days in Hereford Cathedral. The first two days were spent hearing from Miss Scholding, who seemed unwilling to be there at all and made a rather poor witness. She did swear that the vicar had wooed her from the first. He walked her to her cottage and insisted coming in for tea. He even brought brandy with him. He begged her to move in with him; her little cottage was so damp and his roomy vicarage so warm. He touched her improperly. He put his arm around her and spoke to her intimately. This went on through Christmas and into 1893. But when she continued to spurn his advances, he turned upon her. He became very cold and critical of her teaching. He made her cry. He told her, "You might have been as happy as a Queen if you had done what I wanted." On cross-examination, Miss Scholding admitted her diary for that holiday period had gone missing. She had lost earlier positions because she was so easily troubled; she had once talked of suicide. In Edgton, Rev. Jones had cautioned her about some of the novels she read. And why did she not cry out when Mr. Jones touched her, there were servants around? When she left Edgton, why did she write the vicar a pleasant note thanking him for his kindness. Would a woman write such a note to a man who had tried to debauch her?

But there were supporting witnesses. Margaret Evans had been Miss Scholding's cottage servant (Margaret's father was one of the dissident parishioners). The girl swore that, while looking through a keyhole, she saw the vicar pulling up Miss Scholding's dress. The schoolmistress said, "If you don't leave me alone, Mr. Jones, I shall write home and tell my father," to which the vicar replied, "Oh, no, no, suffer the little children to play together." Miss Scholding's father said his daughter had complained to him and he had gone to Edgton but the vicar refused to see him. But, once his daughter left, he let the matter drop.

Given his turn, the Rev. Jones insisted the story of his amorous Christmas seduction was a "heinous lie." Of course, he had befriended her; Miss Scholding was an educated woman and without friends in a rustic village. He never made any propositions to her; it was all a tissue of falsehoods crafted by unhappy parishioners. He never compared himself to Adam in the Garden, etc. He never called her a "delightful child" or told her she was like a "sunbeam" in his lonely vicarage. He saw nothing unusual in a clergyman spending an hour and a half in a schoolmistress' cottage. In fact, it was a damp little place. They had tea but never brandy. 

The vicar's counsel urged the Consistory Court to agree that the entire case was a fabrication, a "cruel, unkind and un-Christian" cabal inspired by petty quarrels. All this because the vicar changed dairymen? Tittle-tattle three years forgotten had been resurrected. Poor Miss Scholding, a "nervous, hysterical" woman, had been used to attack a blameless clergyman. The woman read too many romantic novels. The great "keyhole evidence" was incredible; it was a physical impossibility for that servant girl to have seen any such thing. In the end, the wretched schoolmistress left Edgton to go home to her family, no other reason.  
St. Michael's Edgton.*

The Hereford court (a panel of laymen and clergy) took a fortnight before announcing their unanimous verdict that the Rev. Mr. Jones was not guilty on all counts. In Edgton, the vicar set about to entirely restore his tiny church. He was still in the village well into the new century (so were his accusers, Messrs. Broome & Evans.) The Rev. Jones never married; he lived alone with his younger housekeeper, Miss Boyer, who'd been with him throughout. 

For Anglophiles at Christmas 2017, please consider Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series (Vol. 2.) It is a collection of full length stories of similar personal predicaments besetting clergymen of the C of E. The book is sold exclusively through and 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Attempting to Murder His Illegitimate Child

St. Peter & Paul, Aston
The parish of Aston was one of the largest in Birmingham. The Rev. George Peake, vicar of the venerable church of St. Peter and Paul, employed no fewer than four curates to assist in the various ecclesiastical duties and services. In September 1855, a new curate arrived, the Rev. Patrick King. Little was known of Mr. King other than that he was a "seceder" from the Roman Catholic Church, having "renounced the errors of popery" in 1852. He was then received into the Church of England. King was 37 and unmarried.

Early in 1856, a woman named Anne Downes came to Aston; she was pregnant. The Rev. King took some interest in her, saying she was the wife of a friend now living abroad. Mrs. Downes had chosen to return to England for her confinement and then recruit her health. Her son was born in the spring and - as was not uncommon - while the mother recovered, the infant was placed in the care of a local woman, Mrs. Jones, in Thimble Hill. The Rev. King visited the infant regularly, showing almost paternal concern which, of course, gave rise to censorious gossip. 

In the late afternoon of 30 May, in Lapworth, a village fifteen miles south of Aston, 14 year old Walter Wood was tending some cows when he heard the cries of a baby. The lad was led by the wails to find an infant lying just off the high-road, on the slope of a hill above a pool of water. Walter brought the baby to the farmhouse of his employer, a man named King (apparently no relation to the curate). At the Solihull Union Workhouse, the infant was examined - although the baby had been poorly fed, there were no signs of violence. Police visited the scene in Lapworth and determined that some person, unwilling to intentionally drown the infant, left him there to either die of exposure or roll down the slope into the pit.

After a fortnight of inquiries, there was an "extraordinary sensation" when Warwickshire police arrested the Rev. Patrick King on a charge of wilfully and maliciously attempting to murder by drowning "a certain child," his illegitimate son. King made no effort to deny paternity. The child was his. "Mrs." Downes was not the wife of a friend but actually the curate's half-sister by the same mother. She'd come from no farther away than Coventry.

According to Mrs. Jones, on 30 May, the Rev. King came to her cottage, asking to have little Arthur as his mother wished to see him. But she watched as King got into a cart and the carman headed in the other direction, south by the turnpike road in the direction of Stratford. Police later claimed that, about two miles beyond Hockley House, in a lonely place along Lapworth Hill, the wagon halted. King walked off with the baby and was gone for some little time but returned to the cart alone. 

At the Warwick Assizes, the Crown insisted that the defendant had left the helpless infant on the steep slope "where, on the slightest movement, he would have rolled into the water and been drowned." But Justice Cresswell did not think the evidence necessarily proved any intent to drown the infant. Thus, on the graver charge, King was found not guilty. He was, however, convicted of a common assault, having "exposed the child, whereby it sustained injury." Cresswell acknowledged that infanticide was tragically all too common in England. Thus, the shock of this case. "If we cannot expect a clergyman of the Church of England to resist the temptation to commit an offence of this description, what may we expect of those who, without education, without religious instruction, without a sense of their responsibility, are tempted to conceal their shame by dealing with infant children in such a manner."

The Rev. Patrick King maintained the "greatest composure" throughout the proceedings. Hearing word of his six month jail sentence, he simply bowed and retired. There was a public kerfuffle when it was reported that the Rev. King had been allowed to preach to the inmates in Warwick's county jail. Upon his release, however, he disappears from all the clerical directories. As the weekly Lloyd's had predicted, no amount of time would suffice to cleanse Patrick King of "prison taint."

Arthur was back with his mother. Miss Downes had also been charged but not prosecuted. Upon payment of the workhouse fees, she was reunited with her son. They cannot be traced.

Thank you for visiting this unique blog. May I remind you that Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is now for sale, exclusively through and The collection includes five full-length accounts of "extraordinary" scandals involving Victorian clerics. Tales of blackmail, adultery, seduction and more. A cozy collection for the Anglophile on your list!

*Aston Church (1851)

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Clergyman’s Wife Elopes with the Butler

St. Mary Magdalen, West Tisted (2016)
The Rev. Herbert Ogden Cruickshank, (M.A., Magdalen, Oxford) came to the West Tisted in 1883. The remote village in the South Downs was one of the poorest parishes under the patronage of Magdalen College. The village was reachable by a steep, rough, narrow lane. The church of St. Mary Magdalen was quite literally a "hidden gem," embosomed in trees and surrounded by a crumbling moat. A centuries old yew leaned wearily in the churchyard. 

In 1888, Cruickshank brought his new bride to the old vicarage. Mary was the much-petted only daughter of Capt. G. E. Graham-Foster-Pigott, a "gallant sportsman" of nearby Cheriton House. In the village of just 300 souls, Mary taught Sunday School, and she was "beloved by all the children." She was also the organist, leading the small choir on the harmonium, purchased by her husband during his self-financed renovation of the church. 

By 1894, the Cruickshanks had two children, a son and daughter. On August 28, 1894, an advertisement appeared in The Morning Post

BUTLER and COOK REQUIRED for entire work of small house; small family; foreigners may apply; Protestants. Wages and full particulars Mrs. Cruickshank, West Tisted Vicarage, Alresford, Hants.

A newlywed couple from Kent, James Wood, a former soldier, and his wife, Alice, who'd cooked at a military hospital near Canterbury, were employed by the Cruickshanks in 1895. 

In February 1898, Alice Wood came to the vicar to say she could no longer live with her husband; he had been abusive verbally and physically, knocking her to the ground and kicking her about the scullery. While attempting to console the woman, Rev. Cruickshank was aghast when she went on to claim that James and Mrs. Cruickshank were lovers and planning to run off together. The vicar presumed the distraught woman was a raving hysteric but when he called the others in, expecting them to deny it, “to my horror & dismay” they admitted it. In fact, this affair had been going on for almost six months. 

Cruickshank ordered them both to leave the vicarage at once. The lovers were later traced to a hotel in London's Euston Road and eventually to Toronto. With this evidence, Alice Wood received her divorce on grounds of adultery and cruelty. The Rev. Cruickshank, however, citing "conscientious objections which he could not overcome" declined to seek a divorce. Instead, he asked for a separation, custody and a declaration that his wife was unfit to have custody. The decree was granted in October 1898.

"A Clergyman’s Wife Elopes with the Butler," made for publisher-pleasing headlines. The Rev. Cruickshank had quietly submitted his resignation to the Bishop of Winchester: he "resigned in disgrace," according to the papers, though what exactly he had done wrong was not stated. Certainly, he could not remain in the village; a clergyman's marital home was expected to be "the model of the Parish." Cruickshank took his two children to live in Portsmouth, without clerical employment.

By the 1901 census, would anyone believe that Mary Cruickshank had come home from Ontario? In the end, the despicable Wood had abandoned her in Canada. Through her family, communication was re-established with Herbert, and "at his instigation," she returned to England and rejoined her family in Portsmouth. By 1905, Rev. Cruickshank was in service to his church again, the rector of Tubney, Berks. He died two years later, just 52, survived by his wife.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 has just been published. Details on this delightful new collection of five full length stories of clerical mis-behaviour can be found at either or Paperback and Kindle editions are available. Thank you very much indeed. Order early for Christmas.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Scandal in Victorian Slough

Herschel House (
There was a surfeit of young divines pouring out of academia to serve the Victorian Church of England. Those without money or connections were often ticketed for a humble rural curacy, others sought employment as a tutor. In 1862, the Oxford educated Rev. Thomas Richardson Birch MA, was just such a man. Through Johnson’s Clerical Agency in the Strand, Birch was employed by Mr. Felix Taylor, a retired London businessman now living in Slough with his wife Frederica and their two young sons. The Taylors, the young clergyman was informed, were quiet people and socialized very little. Mr. Birch, accompanied by his wife, would be well paid - £100 annually - with a furnished cottage in nearby Alpha Road.  

Slough, in the early 1860’s, was “celebrated for its salubrity" and home to many "families of the higher branches of the mercantile and professional world of London.” The Taylors lived in one of the community’s most famous homes, Herschel House on the Windsor Road. The astronomer Sir William Herschel had lived and died there, near his patron, King George III.  

Mr. Birch began well with the young Taylors, who made satisfactory progress. He and Mrs. Birch were frequently invited to dine at Herschel House. But within a year. disagreements and "some unpleasantness" led to the tutor's dismissal. 

Mr. Taylor, using the same clerical agency, offered the position to the Rev. Thomas Sharpe. But before the new tutor could take up his employment, he received an anonymous letter: "You have entered into a sink of the grossest crimes and infamy," the writer began. Sharpe was advised to contact the Rev. T.R. Birch for details. Sharpe wrote to Birch who replied, detailing the rumours in Slough that the Taylors were not married and their children were illegitimate. "That is why no respectable persons visit Herschel House," Birch alleged. Sharpe promptly declined Taylor's job offer and the clerical agency refused to serve the man any longer. 

Taylor may well have suspected that Birch was the source of these allegations. A letter to his former tutor drew an immediate and singular reply of some 800 words, beginning: 
You loathsome and most contemptible animal. You induced me to become the tutor of your bastards – bastards of the most loathsome circumstances of all bastards – they being the offspring of a low paltry tradesman at best.

In February 1864, in the Old Bailey, the Rev. Mr. Birch stood to answer a charge of criminal libel. In the witness box, Felix Taylor admitted that his wife had previously been married to a fellow wine merchant in the City. It was true that he and Mrs. Barlow had formed an intimacy producing two sons. But after her divorce, “as soon as he could do so by law,” he had married her. Taylor denied ever telling Rev. Birch that he was “a fellow Oxford man” or that Mrs. Taylor was “a colonel’s daughter.” They now lived quietly and "there was not a single circumstance" he wished to conceal from the jury. However, under cross-examination, Taylor admitted to eloping with Mrs. Barlow and living under assumed names at several addresses until the distraught husband ran his unfaithful wife to ground. 

Through his counsel, Birch denied writing that first anonymous letter. Anyone in Slough could have written it, so widespread was the gossip. It was conceded that Birch had written the second letter: it was a "privileged communication" as he was within his rights to warn another clergyman not to repeat his mistake and accept employment in such a home as the Taylors had made at Herschel House.

It came down, then, to the anonymous letter. The director of the Clerical Agency and a handwriting expert each testified that it was in Birch's hand. The London jury found that Birch had written both letters but they urged the court to be merciful. From the bench, the Recorder, Russell Gurney, made plain that he had no respect for Felix Taylor, a man "undoubtedly guilty of gross immorality." Had Mr. Birch discovered the situation and promptly left Herschel House, who would have objected? But only after Birch had been sacked for being “remiss in his duties” did the tutor conceive his plan to wreak revenge. The first letter was a malicious and unprotected libel. Gurney would therefore sentence the Rev. Thomas Richardson Birch MA to six months in Newgate prison.  

Having served his prison time, the Rev. Mr. Birch slunk away into obscurity. In the census for 1881, he living with his wife in Fulham, employed in the “hopeless and thankless task” of chaplain at the local workhouse.

Need a gift idea for the Anglophiles on your list this season? Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 has just been published. Details on this delightful new collection of five stories of clerical mis-behaviour can be found at either or Paperback and Kindle editions are available. Thank you very much indeed. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

An Undiscussable Offence

Sailing from Southampton for Capetown in early 1868, Bishop Edward Twells still faced another 700 mile journey by cart to return to his diocese. Five years earlier, while vicar of St. John, Hammersmith, the unmarried Twells had been chosen to be the first Missionary Bishop of the Orange Free State. Five years later, he returned to Britain for a Pan-Anglican synod-cum-fund-raising tour. In his speeches, he conceded that his work had been hampered by the extreme difficulty of recruiting clergymen for so isolated a place. In a region populated by native tribes and Boer farmers, the Church of England required "men of great physical powers and energy." And money. Twells returned modestly enriched for his work. 

A little over a year later, "You can scarcely imagine the sensation," when the Cape Mail arrived with news that a warrant had been issued for Bishop Twells charging him with "an undiscussable offense." The English community in the region was shattered: "All society has been stirred to its depths, and our faith shaken in human nature and mankind generally." The Bishop could not be located. He was said to be in the Transvaal where he had taken refuge with friends, refusing to turn himself in as he feared he could not get a fair trial.

With no cable link, the news of the manhunt was weeks old by the time it reached London. Defenders of the bishop insisted the charges were false, a plot hatched by Twells' doctrinal enemies. He was suspected of being a closet Tractarian. The source of the painful allegations was said to be a "known thief and bad character in every respect." But other reports reached Britain that the charges were very likely true. Many were distraught at the effect this "shameless" scandal would have on the Church's work "in heathen lands." 

There must be a public trial, the press demanded. Bishop Gray, in Cape Town, ordered Twells to surrender and face a church inquiry on the "grave charges" made against him. In October, Twells submitted his resignation which was not accepted. By November, Twells, in disguise and using a false name, had boarded a ship for London. His old enemy, Bishop Colenso in Natal wrote, "He came through this colony in disguise, passing Maritzburg in the night, and hid himself somewhere at Durban until he could get away, which he found it very difficult to do." 

Meanwhile investigators had reached the Free State to discover the charges involved the Bloemfontein choir: "The boys of five or six families at least have been examined and have sworn to certain things and they have also been privately examined by their parents who could not bring themselves to believe the truth of the charges. But they do believe now that their sons have been most vilely and shamefully used - assaulted with depraved habits by one who was their chief pastor and should have been an example as well as a teacher of purity." 

There never was a public trial; "people wished to bury the scandal out of sight as soon as possible." In London, The Church Digest reported that Twells had been judged, by three medical men of high standing, to be "not of sound mind." Twells was just 40; he lived until 1898 in Clifton, Bristol, where he held the status of a "retired" bishop and only "occasionally officiated."

Not a bishop, the Rev. Rodgers was but a curate when he faced similar charges in Lowestoft. "I'll Do For Dicky Rodgers" is one of the stories in Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Volume 2 now available exclusively from and

For more about Twells, see:
Sachs, Homosexuality and the Crisis of Anglicanism (2009)
Southey, "Uncovering Homosexuality in Colonial South Africa: The Case of Bishop Twells." South African Historical Journal (1997)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Canon Disgraced

Going on thirty years, the Rev. Henry Russell Dodd had been the vicar of St. Matthew's church in the Cheshire village of Stretton. He had risen to the lofty ranks of clergy in the diocese, being named a Canon of Chester Cathedral. In addition to his parish duties, he was a nationally known chess player and active in numerous good causes including the Girls Friendly Society. 

Founded by Anglican clergymen in 1875, the GFS was open to unmarried girls fourteen and older of unblemished character. Many of the society members were country servant girls. Canon Dodd, being a rural cleric, was keenly aware of the temptations and dangers faced by the junior servants and maids of all work in country mansions. He had said the society's work with these girls was of "transcendent importance." Thus the painful nature of the inquiry ordered by the Bishop of Chester in 1896 when Canon Dodd was charged with immoral conduct with two of his own servants.

The Consistory Court met in a small room just inside the west door of the ancient cathedral. 16 year old Annie Jones had worked for Rev. Dodd for about five months. He regularly kissed her, she testified; he made her sit upon his knee, and tried to climb into her bed. He did not succeed although she admitted they had often behaved improperly with one another. But Annie admitted that she never cried out or made any complaint other than to the charwoman. She also denied being sacked by Mrs. Dodd for lying and theft. After Annie left the vicarage, Sarah Perrin had joined the household. She remained only a fortnight. Sarah swore that the Canon kept trying to kiss her; he kissed her neck and played with her hair, he pulled at her dress, etc. There was also a third woman, a newly wed in Stretton, married by Canon Dodd. She said the clergyman came to her home with ribald questions about whether she was "enjoying" her new husband. He made comments about her shapely form and tried to kiss her. 

The Canon's defense was that these simple rustic girls had over-reacted to what was light-hearted flattery. Did he kiss his servants? Yes, playfully but not indecently. Did he ask to kiss the new bride? Why, it's an old Cheshire custom that the parson can kiss the bride. Would a 57-year old married man, of blameless service in the village for 28 years, suddenly act such a fool with three young girls? The villain, according to the clergyman's counsel, was a newly arrived doctor, Sydney C.H. Moberly, who had betrayed Canon Dodd's hospitality to spy upon him and malevolently rake up these silly charges. Mrs. Dodd loyally supported her husband and so many clergy had lined up to say nice things about the Canon that their testimony had to be halted at a half-dozen.

After due deliberation, however, the Chancellor announced with pain and reluctance that the whole of the three charges had been proved. The inquiry adjourned whilst the Bishop considered the punishment. Canon Dodd made a last minute appeal, seeking mercy on the grounds that "his mental state was such as to render him incapable of the power of self-control." It was ruled too late. Bishop Jayne took two months to decide what to do, "in recognition of Rev. Dodd's undoubted years of service." The Bishop finally decreed that Dodd be stripped of his vicarage, the dignity of being a cathedral canon and all ecclesiastical preferment in the diocese.

The Rev. Dodd left Stretton, amid blaring headlines across Britain, "A Canon Disgraced." His wife also left him. Dodd found himself with more time for his duties as president of the Lancashire Chess League. He rehabbed his clerical career as early as 1901 when he was a curate in Plaistow, East London. Dodd died in 1918 at the age of 80.

Have you yet considered the purchase of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2? Check it out at or Thank you.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Curate's Imprudent Kiss

Curates were ever a figure of great fun in Victorian England. In 1876, Belgravia, a society magazine, published a rather lengthy discussion of the woebegone species, concluding that "decidedly the most marked trait about the full-blooded curate variety is that they are not ladies' men." 

In 1883, one such curate, a High Churchman with deeply held views on celibacy, was entrapped in an embarrassing blackmail plot. The Times of London withheld the unfortunate cleric's name but reported that he held a curacy in a "prosperous London suburb." A pretty female parishioner had made her interest in the handsome curate quite plain but seeing that he would not bend, she asked, before they parted forever, could she have one kiss? He complied. Days later, in a neat parcel, tied up in a blue ribbon, there arrived an “instantaneous photograph, cabinet size” of him kissing the "pretty penitent." An enclosed note claimed that there were eleven more copies of the photograph and they would cost the curate £20 apiece. The Times reported that “negotiations are said to be progressing.” 

The story, for the Victorian media, "went viral." The Times account was picked up by papers across Britain and over the Atlantic. Admittedly, it may very well have been a hoax; the secular press rarely missed an opportunity to poke the High Church set (and celibacy, of course, was so "Romish"). The curate was never identified. How the matter was resolved must be left to surmise. But the moral was clear, as one leader-writer put it, let it be "a warning to susceptible youths in general, and young curates with comely parishioners in particular, to take good care when similarly committing themselves."

Now, this may have been a rather amusing "escalandre." But clergymen were among the most frequent victims of vicious blackmailers. For a "man bites dog" reversal of roles, please see the story of the Rev. Richard Marsh Watson, whose truly shocking blackmail scheme was denounced as a "case of heartless villainy." Watson's story can be found in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol 2, available now in both paperback and Kindle exclusively through and 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"In a State of Helpless Intoxication"

"That many of the clergy of the day were hard drinkers at a time when all men drank, there can be no question," one Victorian observer wrote. But by the late 19th Century, the number of alcoholic churchmen had become a serious issue. 

Courtesy of Roger Williams (
The Rev Henry Limpus, the vicar of St. Mary's, Twickenham, was a man of "considerable attainments." He composed secular and sacred music for the organ that enjoyed contemporary popularity. In Twickenham, he was a leading figure in public life. At 53, Limpus was recently widowed and left with eight children, ranging from late teens to infancy. In January 1884, however, the Bishop of London authorised a five member commission of clergy and laymen to investigate "certain grave charges" that Limpus had been seen publicly intoxicated on a Sunday evening the previous November. 

The commission met in the Chapter House at St. Paul's. Evidence was presented that Limpus had failed to appear at both services on 11 November and "was that day seen three times, in three different places, by four different sets of persons, in a state of helpless intoxication." One witness said the clergyman reeled along the Richmond Road from pavement to gutter, finally clinging to some fence railings. Mrs. Litchfield, a parishioner, thanks to "a particularly moonlit night," was sorry to say her vicar's "eyes were half shut and his face was ashen pale." 

Rev. Limpus admitted being unwell that day, forcing him to miss his duties. But that evening, he insisted, he was nowhere near the Richmond Road, but was having tea with the "Misses Jessop," respectable ladies who ran a small school in East Molesey, six miles away. "I was sitting in the drawing room taking my tea and chatting. I remained there the whole time from 4 till 9."

The commissioners met on 30 January to consider their verdict. But there was considerable excitement when Rev. Limpus' counsel opened the day by stating that his client wished to recant his alibi. He had misremembered the dates; he had actually been with the Jessop women on the following Sunday, the 18th. In fact, Limpus was now prepared to virtually admit the charges. 

The commissioners were unanimous in their findings and the Bishop of London announced that the Rev. Limpus would be suspended from his clerical duties for three years. The formal notice was nailed to the door of St. Mary's on 17 February 1884. He served his suspension, returning to Twickenham briefly before resigning in 1888. He was buried in the churchyard after his death in 1893, the same year a new Clergy Discipline Act took effect, declaring that "habitual" drunkenness (amongst other offenses) would be a bar to holding clerical office. 

It was hoped that the new act would end the need for lengthy, expensive procedures to remove heavy drinkers. Such was clearly not the result in the case of the Rev. Charles Gordon Young of Chipstead. In the words of the Daily Mail, "never has a little village been so divided." The fascinating tale of the Rev. Mr. Young is told in Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series - Vol 2. The book is available in paperback and Kindle exclusively through and

Sunday, September 24, 2017

An Unfortunate Clerical First - in Divorce Court

On the morning of 10 October 1858, the newly established court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes sat for the first time in London's ancient Westminster Hall. Previously, divorces required a prohibitively expensive process through the House of Lords. The first case called that morning was Norris v Norris and Gyles. William Norris, a prominent Worcestershire solicitor, petitioned for the divorce on the grounds of his wife's elopement with the Rev. George Gyles, the 30-year old curate of St. Mary's, Tenbury Wells. 

Gyles, with a Cambridge degree, had been an "edifying" clergyman in Tenbury for several years, working closely with Norris at the workhouse and other civic chores. The curate had been welcomed into the Norris home on Teme Street and the company of the young Mrs. Louisa Norris, "a woman of great personal attractions and accomplishments." When Gyles was stricken with rheumatic fever, he was tenderly cared for by the Norrises. Louisa's people were from the Isle of Wight and in 1857, for a change of air, she went to stay with her aunt, Lady Holmes. In March, "in consequence of a letter she had received," Louisa asked for the carriage stating that her husband had summoned her home. But she never returned to Tenbury. In fact, at the same time, the Rev. Mr. Gyles also "disappeared from the scene of his clerical labours."

William Norris now came to court with evidence showing that his wife and the clergyman had sailed for America, returning to England some months later, residing at a hotel in Paternoster Row (in the shadow of St. Paul's!) and, finally, living as "Mr. and Mrs. Grant" off the Vauxhall Road. No effort was made to challenge the petition and Norris' divorce was granted. The papers expressed their sympathy with the cuckolded husband whose wife "had listened to the insidious poison instilled into her ears by a 'reverend gentleman' whom Norris had befriended in sickness."

The sequel to the Tenbury scandal was a sad one. Rev. Gyles and Louisa were married three months after the divorce was heard. She died in childbirth only five months later. Their son survived. Gyles remarried the following year and had two more children. 

The new Divorce Court (1858)
The often salacious proceedings of the new divorce court were closely covered in the press causing much distress in thoughtful circles. Clearly, it was an embarrassment for the church that the very first case involved a clergyman. However, prior to the Clergy Discipline Act of 1893, being found at fault in a divorce was no bar to church employment. The Rev. George Gyles B.A. remained on the clerical rolls but "without cure," i.e. without a church. He was allowed to preside at one or two "private chapels" and did the occasional wedding up to his death in 1887.

The undefended Norris case was a rather perfunctory one in the courts, unlike the sensational story of the Rev. Seton Karr, vicar of Berkeley, who was also accused of seducing a solicitor's wife. The fascinating details of that case are told in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2, now available in paperback at and

Thursday, September 14, 2017

An Exhumation in Bedfordshire

The graveyard at Clapham church.
Nothing quite brings out a crowd like an exhumation. On a dark, mild night in September 1876, in the graveyard of the church of St. Thomas a Beckett in Clapham, Bedfordshire, the body of the late Rev. John Frederic Dawson was disturbed from its eternal rest. With hushed villagers looking on, a long-running family mystery would be solved at last.

For many years a rector in Lincolnshire, the Rev. Dawson had retired owing to poor health, and moved to the Woodlands, his family seat in Clapham. Dawson had inherited the fine mansion and surrounding forest of oaks from his father, a former mayor of Bedford. The reader will want to know that the Rev. Dawson had been married twice. After the death of his first wife, he married his housekeeper, with some thought unseemly haste. Each wife produced a son. When the clergyman died in 1870, his eldest son, William, 37, naturally assumed he would inherit the Woodlands. His disappointment was therefore keen when the Rev. Dawson instead left the estate to his half-brother, John Frederic, a mere youth. 

William brooded upon this rebuff for some time; he insisted that his grandfather had, in fact, written a will, requiring that the Woodlands be passed on according to the principle of primogeniture, to the eldest son. But William's legal challenges all failed - he could produce no will, therefore there was no case. It does seem that the locals rather favoured William's side. Thus, there was a sensation when the carpenter who had screwed down the lid on the Rev. Dawson's coffin came forward (after seven years) to claim that a family nurse had - at the very last moment - slipped some papers into the fabric lining. 

With this new twist, William once more approached the Home Office and finally prevailed. An exhumation was authorised. The disputed property was just over the road from the church. As can be imagined, Clapham was in a "great state of excitement." At two a-m, watched by a crowd exhibiting the "greatest decorum," the somber process began. A one-ton slab had to be pulled back before the coffin could be raised. The coffin lid was unscrewed revealing that the Rev. Dawson's body was in a “wonderful state of preservation.” Apparently, there was not the slightest smell. Alas, for William, there was no will to be found. A diligent search produced only a packet of letters tied in a ribbon. Ironically, they were letters between the clergyman and his first wife (i.e. William's mother). By noon, the graveyard was quiet again. 
Woodland Manor today

The familial struggle had been long and costly; the property soon passed out of the Dawson family. Today, Woodland Manor survives as a restaurant, hotel and wedding venue. 

I am happy to report that sales of Clerical Errors: A Victorian Series, Volume 2 have been increasing. The second volume is available in both paperback and Kindle editions at and Thank you very much. If you do see your way to purchase a copy, please write a review on the Amazon website.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Tale of Two Clergymen

"Holy Trinity," Shanghai (courtesy TimeOutShanghai.)
By all accounts, the Rev. Charles Henry Butcher (1833-1908) was a very exceptional man. Highly educated, a fellow of Durham University, Butcher had been a curate at the church of St Clement Danes in the Strand. In 1864, he was chosen to go to Shanghai to help establish the first Anglican diocese in China. Before leaving, the 31 year old Butcher married Margaret Gardner in Notting Hill. 

In China, Butcher's duties were extensive, including overseeing the construction of the first Anglican Cathedral. He and Margaret, we are assured, lived on "most affectionate terms" until 1871 when she returned to England for "her health." She went to South Yorkshire where her brother was the vicar of Tickhill, near Doncaster. Sadly, however, the Rev. Mr. Gardner died in his vicarage in 1872, leaving Mrs. Butcher behind with the new curate, the Rev. Frank Chorley. 

It took a long time for a letter from Yorkshire to reach Shanghai in 1873 but Margaret wrote to her husband to admit she no longer loved him and was living with the Rev. Mr. Chorley in London. The usual servants were found (employed?) to testify to the sleeping arrangements in Tickhill and, since, in Gordon Square. The decree nisi was issued without any defense being offered.

The new cathedral in Shanghai, built to the "ambitious Gothic designs" of George Gilbert Scott was dedicated in 1876. "With its stout pews, stained-glass windows and 2,500-pipe organ, the red-brick Anglican church provided a cloistered haven in an exotic, untamed place." [LA Times 27 Feb 2011] The Rev Butcher was the first Dean. But he left Shanghai soon thereafter for Cairo where he spent the rest of his life as Archdeacon of the Anglican church in the Egyptian capital. In 1896, he remarried a Lincolnshire clergyman's daughter, Edith Floyer. Even in Egypt, the remarriage did not escape the attention of "Father Black," the clerical gadfly, who wrote to the Church Times to announce:  “Allow me to draw the attention to the fact that the wife whom Archdeacon Butcher divorced is still living!”

And indeed she was. Margaret Butcher had married the Rev. Mr. Chorley very soon after her divorce. Chorley remained listed in the clerical guides but, given the scandal, found no church employment for several years. In the 1890’s – he was a curate at St. Mary’s in Bury St Edmunds, where, after his death in 1900, he was remembered "for his kindly disposition, gentle manners, and generous readiness to spend and be spent in the service of his high calling, making him beloved by all who knew him.”   

Butcher died in Cairo in 1908. The cathedral in Shanghai was damaged during the Cultural Revolution and converted for various public uses but has been restored and since 2006 has served as the "main church and headquarters of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement" in Shanghai. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

"A Commotion Raised Throughout Yorkshire"

St. Mary the Virgin, Boston Spa
The proper role of a clergyman’s wife was a familiar subject for discussion among churchmen in Victorian England. It was, of course, an all-male profession and most were married. A good wife was expected to strive to lighten her clerical husband’s temporal worries by managing his home and family. Too often, however, she developed “false notions." A Church journal warned: "Let us recognize and proclaim the truth that the clergyman’s wife shares nothing of her husband’s office – possesses no right or authority, or power beyond the wives of the laity." One vicar's wife wrote, "Whatever she does, the clergyman’s wife is sure to be criticised, and I fancy that it is best for her to be criticised for doing too little than for doing too much. "

In 1871, the Rev. William Villiers and his wife Emily came to Boston Spa; he was vicar of the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin. Husband and wife were from prominent families and accustomed to some deference. In her spare time, Mrs. Villiers devotedly tended her vicarage garden while also raising chickens. When an animal killed one or more of her poultry, Mrs. Villiers was understandably disturbed.  A reward was offered. When a cat was captured in the garden, res ipsa, and the animal was summarily put down.

"The Curtsey" by Bougereau
The owner of this accused cat was a local dissenter named Bellwood, who lived very near the vicarage. His niece, Annie, whose cat it was, took it very hard and Bellwood protested but to no avail. He would have his revenge. Soon thereafter, Mrs. Villiers was walking in the High Street and came upon Annie. It was traditional for a child – church-goer or not - to curtsey when encountering a personage as grand as the wife of the parish vicar. When Annie offered no such "bow," Mrs. Villiers barked, “Where are your manners, child?”  The girl replied that her uncle had instructed her that she had no duty to curtsey to the vicar’s wife any longer.

Mrs. Villiers stormed off to her husband. As vicar, Villiers played an ex-officio role in the local "national school." He called in Collison, the schoolmaster, and ordered the girl to be either caned or expelled. After dithering some time, Collison resigned rather than do either.   

The sidewalk sensation came at a time (1877) when the role of the Church in these new "public" schools was a flashpoint. The Boston Spa incident went "viral," in the Victorian press. The Leeds' papers led the chorus. A story headed "How Good Manners are Taught at Boston Spa,” described how a “motherless girl of seven” refused to “bob down” to the vicar’s wife in the High Street. Punch mocked the “silly fop of a clergyman” who slavishly carried his wife’s water. Are dissenting scholars to be caned it they "refuse to clean the Vicar’s boots or prostrate themselves in some Eastern fashion?” Poor Collison, jobless with ten children, became a celebrity. 

Questions were asked in the House of Commons and Lord Sandon, whose portfolio included the schools, tried to dismiss it all. But the public uproar continued. Given a second chance, Sandon "convulsed the House” with a  ludicrous account of “the destruction of a parson’s prize poultry by a predatory pussy.” He concluded by saying expulsion was for the rarest use and "we must express our regret at the course taken in this case." 

The Rev. Mr. Villiers [and Mrs. Villiers] remained in Boston Spa only a short while longer. The curtsey, fortunately, was going out of style. The essayist W.H. Hudson reflected: "Tis impossible not to regret the dying out of the ancient quaintly-pretty custom of curtseying in rural England ... when we see that there is no longer a corresponding self-abasement and worshipping attitude in the village mind." 

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Rev. Sneyd-Kinnersley, played by Robert Hardy

We mourn the passing of the great English actor, Robert Hardy, at the age of 91. The obituaries written today most frequently mention his role as Cornelius Fudge, the professor of magic, in the Harry Potter films. But, for the purposes of this blog, we shall recall his portrayal of a real-life clergyman-professor, the Rev. Herbert W Sneyd Kinnersley.

After Cambridge, Sneyd Kinnersley was ordained by the Bishop of Oxford. He was a renowned classical scholar and his Latin schoolbooks are still in print. In 1880, he founded St. George's School in Ascot where his infamy was established. 

"Accounts of this horrible headmaster’s pitiless beatings are staggering.*" Every Monday morning, the student body - no more than fifty boys - was assembled to hear the reports of the previous week's scholarship. The names of those who had disappointed the headmaster were called out. The unfortunates came forward and were made to drop their trousers and bend over a large box to be birched. It was a "good sound flogging," survivors recalled. As many as 20 strokes were customary. or whatever it took to draw blood. 

The main source for the tales of Sneyd-Kinnersley's disciplinary mania was the Bloomsbury artist Roger Fry whose memoirs of his time at St. George's were reportedly censored by his biographers. 

Robert Hardy played Sneyd-Kinnersley in the 1972 film version of My Early Life, based on the memoirs of Winston Churchill who was sent to St. George's in the 1880's. Winston later recalled, "Flogging with the birch in accordance with the Eton fashion was a great feature of the curriculum." He, too, never forgot what Fry described as the "solemn ritual" of Mondays. Churchill, no shrinking schoolboy, felt the sting of the headmaster's birch more than once. He wrote how, in front of the whole school, he and other mates were "flogged until they bled freely." It was when Winston's nanny, Mrs. Everest, saw the scars from one such birching that she spoke up and Winston's parents removed him from the school.

The Rev. Sneyd-Kinnersley died at a young age, just 38.

It is ironic that an actor who, I believe, was the best ever to embody the role of Winston Churchill on screen, also played such a formative figure in Churchill's young life.


Sunday, July 30, 2017


An ebullient Yorkshireman, the Rev. Charles Gordon Young attended one of the lesser divinity schools and began his clerical career as a curate at St. Jude's in London. Working with lads from the local housing estates, Young is credited with having been one of the founders of the Queens Park Rangers*.

A few years later, in 1889, Young became the unlikely rector of St. Margaret's, Chipstead, a posh village in Surrey where cricket was the reigning passion. But the Rev. Young fit right in, even serving several years as captain of the village XI. A boisterous cricketer, he was known for lots of shouting and waving. On one occasion, however, serving as keeper, he found himself on the wrong side of the wickets, eventually stumbling over them. Was he drunk? There had been several other incidents in Chipstead: for instance, the time at the wedding reception when he bellowed, "Am I to have no blooming drink?" But when three parishioners found him in a notorious London nightclub with a "demi-mondaine" upon his knee, the rector's "continued insobriety" had become intolerable. 

The story of the Rev. Young is one of five clerical sensations detailed in my newly published book, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 2. A retired journalist, I have been passionately collecting the stories of Victorian clergymen who found themselves sideways in their personal lives. Alcoholism was a major problem within the Victorian clergy. The Rev. Young, living among the "swells" of Chipstead, with their shooting parties and dinner parties, insisted he had no drinking "problem." With his loyal wife by his side, Young fought to save his clerical career in a sensational trial that drew most of Chipstead to London, where "the yokels gaped with astonishment," mocked the Daily Mail.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is available - both in PAPERBACK and for Kindle - exclusively through and Amazon.Co.Uk.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Suffolk Curate's Bad Hair Day

In 1663, Robert Hooke, the great English polymath, published his "Observations on the Louse," accompanied by a four-page fold out drawing of a pediculus humanus clinging to a strand of hair. Peering through his microscope, Hooke could not but wonder at such a tiny creature, "so saucy, so busy, so impudent it will be intruding itself into everyone's company and will never be quiet till it has drawn blood." Lice were an obsession in many Victorian homes. "Nit-nurses" stalked the new schools. Long hair was a luxury and women were urged to give it 100 brush-strokes a night. 

More than two centuries after Hooke's research, the Rev. Gabriel Young was curate at St. Mary's, Coddenham, Suffolk, living in a small house in the nearby village of Crowfield, with his wife and their seven children. Emily Palmer, a local girl, had been a family servant for about five months. One day in late 1887, she was called into Rev. Young's study. Emily recalled that there were several adults in the room. She said her cap was "beaten off my head." She was restrained while Rev Young pulled at her hair and looked for insects. Finally, Mrs. Young scissored off more than a foot of hair from Emily's head. One of the women present, cried, "'Tis a pity to cut such beautiful hair." Emily was summarily sacked and ordered to pack and leave immediately. 

The Rev Young was sued by Emily's parents - respectable people - for wrongful dismissal and assault. The trial in Ipswich filled the county court. Emily arrived carrying her shorn locks "but which nobody, when it was produced in court, would examine." She insisted that the lice had to have come from another servant and swore that Mrs. Young once warned her never to wear the cook's bonnet. There was a good deal of conflicting evidence as to the cleanliness of the house and the other servants. The Youngs said they did not injure the girl in any way. Lice could not be tolerated in their home with so many children and the source of the insects had to be determined and driven out.  

The presiding magistrate found against the Rev Young: there was no excuse for the ad hoc hair cut and awarded Emily £5 for the assault, and £1 for her wrongful dismissal. About a month later, Rev. Young resigned "owing to certain perhaps not altogether pleasant circumstances." He found a new church in Norfolk where he remained for many years, leaving Coddenham with a testimonial "wishing him every happiness, and that God’s blessing might rest upon him wherever he went." It was probably best they did not add the Scriptural consolation that "Indeed, even the hairs of your head are all numbered."

A gentle reminder that Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 has just been published. Owing to numerous requests, Volume Two is available in PAPERBACK and features five all-new stories of clerical sensations. A Kindle edition is also available. Volume Two is sold exclusively through and Thank you very much indeed.  

Illustrations: and

Saturday, July 22, 2017


The Rev. Turberville Cory Thomas, singular in name and in appearance, was a popular curate at St. Alban's, Acton Green, in West London. A Welshman by birth, he'd come to Acton in 1898 after several years as a clergyman in Canada and America. Very quickly, he became invaluable to the vicar, the Rev. Bernard Spink, who praised him as conscientious and declared him to be a personal friend. Until the day he fired him. 

Two spinster sisters had stopped the vicar on his way to evensong to claim that Cory Thomas had relentlessly tried to seduce them. Spink was staggered by what he called "a plot hatched in hell." The curate insisted it was all "malicious tittle-tattle" but he was immediately given the sack and Spink vowed that "the monster" would never find church work again. Cory Thomas filed a libel action which came to court in London amidst the great mourning that followed the death of Queen Victoria. In a city draped in crepe, the New York Times declared that the only other story that mattered was "the great clerical libel suit."

The story of the Rev. Cory Thomas - he of the handsome "dagger moustache" - is one of five sensational church scandals retold in my newly published book, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 2. It's easy to see why the public particularly delighted in this story with all the mysterious veiled witnesses (Miss O and Miss Y) and their evidence of "canoodling" over secret lunches and at dubious hotels in the Euston Road. 

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is available exclusively through and The book is available in both paperback and in Kindle editions.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


St. Mary's, Batcombe, Somerset
On a splendid September day in 1855, the bells in the massive tower of Batcombe church rang a merry peal to celebrate the wedding of the rector's daughter. Charlotte, the elder daughter of the Rev. John Brown, married Richard March Watson, Esq, son of a prominent Canterbury family. His two brothers were clergymen and he was studying for the church in Chichester. Ordained in Salisbury Cathedral, the Rev. Watson moved from curacy to curacy in the West Country, until health issues forced him to give up an active career in the early 1860's. 

The Watsons settled near London where he supported himself by selling sermons. He came up with a plan to start a school and Charlotte's sister Susan joined them in Blackheath. The school idea foundered and Susan returned to Batcombe, as many younger daughters did, to be the caretaker for her widowed father. It wasn't until 1877 that the whole nation was stunned by the revelation that Watson had seduced his wife's sister who had borne his child and then, for most of a decade, he had been blackmailing her to preserve his silence. 

The story of the Rev. Marsh Watson and the Brown sisters of Batcombe is included in my newly published book, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 2. For two decades I have been passionately collecting the stories of Victorian clergymen who found themselves sideways in their personal lives. The Watson case truly ranks near the top. It's difficult to disagree with the judge at Watson's trial who declared it was "hardly possible to conceive of anything worse."

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is now available both in paperback and for Kindle readers, exclusively through and

Thank you very much indeed for your interest.

Thursday, July 13, 2017


is now available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.
UK readers click here.

When Victoria took the throne in 1837, there were about 14,000 clergymen employed in the Church of England. By her death, that number more than doubled. From the grandest episcopal palace to the remotest rectory, almost without exception, these men lived and died in service to their Church and congregation. Temporally, they avoided notoriety. They broke no laws. They married happily and raised their young. Misconducting clerics were few. Still, for those who delight in a good vicarage scandal, the Victorian church offered an “unpleasantly abundant crop.” 

The anti-clerical Reynolds’ Newspaper declared in 1870, “Clerical scandals have of late grown as rife as those peculiar scandals which pre-eminently affect high society.”  But profligacy amongst the peerage was almost to be expected. "Sinners that we are, we instinctively expect something better from the gentlemen who undertake to teach us the way.” 

The five full-length accounts herein were selected from the author’s unique database, numbering hundreds of Victorian clergymen.

Parson Young’s Night Out - a boisterous Yorkshireman finds himself rector of a posh parish in a quiet Surrey village. The Rev. Charles Gordon Young was initially popular in the pulpit and on the cricket ground. His critics, however, suspected the rector drank too much. What were the local “swells” of Chipstead to think when their clergyman was found in a notorious London club with a lady of the evening upon his knee?

A Case of Heartless Villainy - His prospects blighted, his health ruined, the Rev. Richard Marsh Watson made a living in a clerical agency and selling sermons. And a bit of blackmail. Having seduced his wife’s sister, Watson required her to purchase his silence. When she, at last, refused to pay, the ensuing trial shocked all Britain. Still, as one newspaper wondered, “What are we to think of the young women who yielded to the advances of a scrofulous parson with one leg?” 

A Clerical Lothario - The Rev. Turberville Cory- Thomas, complimented frequently on his “dagger moustache,” was quite popular with the church ladies in the rapidly growing parish of Acton Green in West London. His vicar praised him regularly. Until, that is, Mr. Cory-Thomas was accused of attempting to seduce two sisters - one over lunch at Gatti’s, the other in a grim bedsit near Euston Station. The ensuing slander trial shared the front pages with news of Queen Victoria’s death.

I’ll Do for Dicky Rodgers - A summer outing on the Broads was under the charge of the Rev. Edward Rodgers, curate of Lowestoft. Too much sun, too much smoke and drink at the “after-party” in the pub, and Rodgers was poorly. A local youth offered to help him home. What happened in the darkened lane between the hedgerows? George Rix began telling everyone, “He must have thought I was his wife.”

The Irreproachable Mr. Karr - Handsome, sporting and the darling of the raffish set at Berkeley Castle was the Rev. John Seton Karr. In the town, however, the vicar’s suavity may have gone too far. Was Mr. Karr’s gift of satin dancing shoes to a local solicitor’s wife in any way appropriate? But when Mrs. Gaisford, known for her extraordinary teeth, called upon Mr. Karr at his London hotel, sensational rumours were aroused leading to a series of legal battles that, literally, worried a Bishop to death.

These vignettes will surely delight all Anglophiles (worldwide), Victorianists, church-crawlers, fans of true-crime & courtroom tales, local historians and more.