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.   

Monday, July 10, 2017

Burn This Letter

St. Marys, Hook-with-Warsash (
On Sunday morning, 12 October 1890, the Rev. Henry W. Bull left his vicarage at St. Mary's, Hook (with Warsash) to walk to the mission church on nearby Titchfield Common. On a pleasant day, the views over the fields to the Solent and the Isle of Wight beyond were splendid, but Mr. Bull was a deeply-troubled man. He was under orders from the Bishop of Winchester not to preach from his own pulpit while certain grave charges against him were investigated. 

The mission congregation was not large so the movements of one gentleman caught attention. He moved his seat on several occasions until he was directly in front of the Rev. Bull. In his sermon, the vicar could not but address the rumours so much talked about in the sprawling parish. Without details, he acknowledged that he had sinned and he would be very soon leaving the area. The man in front rose, demanding to speak. He was told to wait outside after the service. When Bull emerged a short while later, the man was waiting with a stick with which he "belaboured" the clergyman for some time until others intervened. The Rev. Bull said nothing but skulked home to his vicarage; within days, he sold up and was gone. 

Only a few weeks earlier, Walter Parrington, a coachman, had married Sarah Dimmick, who'd been a servant for the Rev. and Mrs. Bull and their family. They had moved to London. But when Parrington discovered that his new wife was pregnant, he threw her out of the house. A few days later, a letter came addressed for Sarah and Parrington opened it. It was from the Rev. Mr. Bull, and it contained £5 and instructions for them to meet. The vicar also insisted that Sarah must "burn this letter." Parrington had shown the letter around Hook and, all agreed, the clergyman's moral reputation had been ruined. 

With such a public confession, the Church moved quickly. The Bishop sent his own domestic chaplain to replace Mr. Bull. Even in such an out of the way parish, the scandal would make news. The relentless anti-clericalists at Reynolds' Newspaper charged that the departed Bull exemplified "the corrupt and immoral lives led by so many of the State Church clergy."

The Rev. Mr. Bull, just 43, left for America and his wife went with him. He would eventually resurface as an Anglican clergyman in Michigan. His full capacity was restored in 1907, when the Bishop of Winchester declared him "free from evil report, for error in religion or for viciousness of life, for the last three years." He served as rector of several churches in and around Detroit until his death in 1922, when "Father Bull" was remembered as "gentle, patient and faithful unto the end, a shepherd of souls."

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Teesdale Rector with a "Ton of Daughters."

The "clean and healthy" village of Romaldkirk is set amidst what one Victorian visitor called, “the softer scenery of Teesdale.” The ancient Saxon church of St. Romald was particularly striking. Near the church were the walled grounds of the rubbled sandstone rectory. From 1850 until his death in 1889, the rector was the Rev. Henry Cleveland. In 1871, he found himself briefly a national celebrity when he flatly refused to pay the bills for his daughter’s wedding.

The Rev. and Mrs. Cleveland were blessed with a large family. There were ten surviving children, six of them daughters. Mary Louisa was 27 on her wedding day, Michaelmas Day, the 29th of September 1870. The groom was Capt. Henry Grant Young, an officer of the Royal Artillery. Mary Louisa stood a full 5 foot 10 in her splendid gown and veil. The large and extended Cleveland family, a few of the groom’s brother officers and all the villagers were treated to a sumptuous wedding breakfast at the rectory. Capt. and Mrs. Young soon set off for their wedding trip before he was to join his unit in India.
This jolly proceeding was followed days later by what the Rev. Mr. Cleveland called a “thunderbolt.” In the post, he received a bill from London: Whiteley’s, the famous “Universal Provider’s” of Bayswater, had submitted their account for £155 5s for “a variety of silk & other dresses, petticoats, jackets, mantles, veils, head-dresses, embroideries, trimmings, laces, etc.”  The rector wrote back immediately, “Sir, I am perfectly astonished at the amount of the bill which you have sent in to my daughter. She chose to forget, and you are not aware, that she is one of ten children of a country parson. On her return from her wedding tour, she will examine the items of your account.” Mary Louisa’s homecoming was undoubtedly not a pleasant one. In fact, there was a great quarrel. In February 1871, the Rev. Henry Cleveland and William Whiteley found themselves on opposite sides before Lord Justice Willes in Durham Crown Court.

Mr. Whiteley, “with engaging candour,” told the jury that his bill was quite a reasonable one.  In fact, it would not have been thought extravagant at three times that much for the bride of an officer in Her Majesty’s army. Whiteley presented a fistful of letters from Mary Louisa with her specific purchase requests and detailed instructions for the dress-makers. The “particularly long wedding veil” was the subject of a painfully extensive discussion. The great merchant stated that it would have been a grave insult for a Whiteley’s clerk to write to a gentleman to ask if his daughter’s purchases were sanctioned. The Rev. Mr. Cleveland, a gentleman of rank and ample income, who moved in the finest society, had simply refused to pay for his daughter’s trousseau, though she lived with him and was married from his house. No retailer in England would be safe if this defiance was allowed to stand.

In the box, the Rev. Cleveland denied any intention to cause any calamity on the High Streets of Britain. Had the bill been smaller, he would have paid it just to preserve his family honour. But what extravagance in his name! He said he was aghast when he caught his first glimpse of Mary Louisa’s wedding gown, “a ridiculous production more suited for a Duke’s daughter." He had already paid almost £300 for flowers, lodging, the wedding breakfast and other flummeries of such a happy day. He was no paternal miser, the rector insisted. Each daughter received £40 per annum for their dresses and bonnets, as well as a family legacy out of which he had presumed his daughter would have financed her trousseau. His last remaining unmarried daughter, 22-year old Miss Isabella, took the stand to say she had sensibly made her bridesmaid dress for only £2 7s. As for the gallant Capt. Young, he had no great fortune of his own nor could he be held legally responsible for any of the debts which his wife had contracted before their marriage. 

Mr. Justice Willes instructed the jury that their only issue was whether or not Whiteley’s could reasonably have assumed that Miss Cleveland's trousseau had been ordered with the expressed or implied authority of her father. The jurymen ruled that the Bayswater bill must be paid in full; the Newcastle Courant thought the jury must have been composed of a “set of heartless bachelors.” 

The case of the Teesdale parson “with a ton of daughters” delighted the national papers. John Bull barked that the rector of Romaldkirk “seems to us to be an ill-advised and rather crusty gentleman.” Over so small a sum, “we cannot comprehend a gentleman allowing the affairs of his family to be canvassed.” 

For the Clevelands, however, this public kerfuffle was followed soon by private grief.  The new bride Mary Louisa Young died in India just over a year later. Capt. Young would re-marry Mary Louisa’s older sister, Charlotte. This time, there would be no trousseau issues. In fact, the marriage could not be celebrated in England as it was still illegal to marry your “deceased wife’s sister.” As for humble Isabella, it must be unhappily reported that she never had her own trousseau. She never married and was living alone with her aged father when he died at Romaldkirk rectory in 1889.

Photo: Memorial in St. Romald's Church, author's photo 2009.

The all new PAPERBACK volume two of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, with five full-length stories - will be published very shortly. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

"A Reverend Rascal"

St. Lawrence, Rawmarsh (now dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin)*
As another Yorkshire winter approached in 1847, the Rev Sir William Vesey Ross Mahon, rector of Rawmarsh, had other plans. An Irish baronet, the clergyman would spend several months at his family seat near Galway. He placed an advert in the Ecclesiastical Gazette for a temporary curate. From all the responses, it was only natural that the Rev. Sir William should choose the Hon & Rev. B.C.D.F. Fairfax. He bore the highest praise from Earl Fitzwilliam, well known in the West Riding, and was the only surviving son of Lord Fairfax of Leeds Castle. The rector left without ever meeting the new man but he felt that the proper arrangements were in place. Rev. Fairfax was 25 and made an excellent impression in the pulpit at St. Lawrence's. Tall, slender, with large expressive eyes and dark hair, he was thought to be quite handsome by the ladies. He was also heir to a fortune of £20,000 and quickly established almost unlimited credit in the village and as far away as Sheffield. 

Church attendance in Rawmarsh was desultory and Rev. Fairfax was troubled to learn that many of the poorer inhabitants stayed away as they had no proper Sunday clothes. He sent them to the village tailor and bonnet-maker with instructions to put it on his account. At Christmas, his generosity with food and gifts for his Rawmarsh faithful was much appreciated. For the holiday, Rev. Fairfax had been joined at the rectory by a cousin, Johnnie Fairfax. But "Dear Johnnie" stayed on into the new year. The mystery deepened. Johnnie's complexion, features and carriage led some to suspect that he was a she. In church, Johnnie seemed uninterested in the sacred liturgy, thumbing through the prayer book at random. Naturally, there was talk in the village. Nervous tradesmen began to fear for their unpaid bills. Fairfax made smallish payments, blaming a delay on the recent defalcation by one of his father's most trusted agents. 

The Rev. Mahon's return was set for the last Friday in March 1848. Simultaneously, the Rev. Mr. Fairfax and "Johnnie" left Rawmarsh in a carriage carrying an "immense amount of luggage." Worse news came when it was learned that he had also gone off with the collection proceeds for both the Propagation of the Gospel and Rev. Sir William's especial fund for the "distressed Irish." Inquiries were made: Fitzwilliam disavowed the fellow; at Leeds Castle in Kent, there were no Fairfaxes in residence and hadn't been for over a century. The Rev. Sir William was shaken and helped as much as he could with the tradesmen who had been so "shamefully duped." The Genuki records* for the parish apparently show that "Rev." Fairfax had done baptisms and burials but, happily, no marriages. The Archbishop in York was outraged over the “Extraordinary Clerical Delinquency.” But the rector insisted that all the references had been in order. His defenders said that no one could have suspected someone "so young, so handsome, so aristocratic." A man matching the description of the "Rev." Fairfax - traveling with a young "valet" - defrauded an innkeeper in Glasgow. It was the last sighting of the "reverend rascal." 

The Rev. Mahon remained rector in Rawmarsh for another 40 years, splitting much of his time in Ireland or on the continent. He generally left the parish in the hands of a "curate-in-charge" (presumably, more closely vetted).

The research continues; the Victorian Clerical Errors data-base lengthens. Any followers with suggestions, corrections, additions - comment below or at

On sale now: Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol 1
Vol 2 is now in print preparation.


Monday, May 29, 2017

"How the Vicar Came and Went"

All Saints Church, West Haddon
The ancient church of All Saints, West Haddon, in Northants, boasts a "massive embattled tower." On Sunday morning, 6 March 1892, the vicar failed to appear. Days later, a notice of his resignation, as required, was nailed to the church door. Everyone knew the reason; for some time West Haddon had been in a "state of ferment." 

The Rev Edwin Arthur Barraclough had been vicar at All Saints for five years. The 34 year old clergyman had been married less than a year to Lucy Eagland, a doctor's daughter from Yorkshire. Alas, as someone once famously said, "there were three people in this marriage." At the village flower show, Mrs. Barraclough was innocently introduced by the vicar to Mrs. Amy Underwood. This woman of some charm was known locally as a "grass widow," an unflattering term for a woman living apart from her husband. The absent Mr. Underwood, a farmer, had gone out to South Africa. The vicar's apparently pre-existing and longstanding attentions to this woman drew his new wife's ire and there were furious rows. She finally left him. In her divorce petition, Lucy Barracough claimed her husband drunkenly threatened her with a gun, beat her and even tried to burn down the vicarage.  

In the Divorce Court, Mrs. Barraclough presented evidence of her husband's adultery in West Haddon, Putney and Stockbridge in Hampshire. There were allegations of a child born in Putney. Mrs. Underwood actually appeared during the trial to deny any adultery with Rev. Barraclough. Justice Barnes called the whole case "extremely distressing," especially in "a marriage so recently celebrated." The decree was granted.

Within a few weeks, the forgotten husband (Mr. Underwood) popped back to Blighty to file his own petition. He enlivened the second round of proceedings with a spicy claim that, whilst in West Haddon, the Rev. Mr. Barraclough used to carry a ladder from the churchyard to climb up into Mrs. Underwood's first floor boudoir. On one evening, "his visits being watched, some person removed the ladder." The clergyman was forced to skulk out via the scullery door. "How the Vicar came and went" made the usual headlines, of course. Mrs. Underwood counter-claimed her AWOL husband's abandonment and condonation, but the divorce was granted. 

The sum of these shocking allegations left Rev. Barraclough with little chance of church employment in England but few men went so far as he - to Napoleon's old haunt, St. Helena, in the South Atlantic. He rose to be a canon of the island's cathedral until his past caught up with him and he was sacked for "having represented himself as a single man (i.e. not divorced)." The local Bishop rankled at the island being a dumping ground for clergymen seeking a new start in "some remote corner of the earth." Barraclough returned to England, remained a clergymen, and died in Clevedon in 1934. 

For those who have inquired, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 will be published within weeks. In addition to e-Book, it will also be published in an Amazon paperback. Watch here for further details. Thank you.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 is still available, of course. For U.K. readers, click here.

Photo at 

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Tormarton Rectory Menagerie

Tormarton Rectory 
The old stone church of St. Mary Magdalene, Tormarton, boasts one of the tallest Norman towers in the area, giving the Gloucestershire village its name. A line of yew trees leads to the old limestone rectory (now a Grade II listed home in private hands). In 1875, the recently widowed Rev. Edward John Everard was in poor health and in need of some continental sunshine. He had arranged for the church to be left under the spiritual care of a locum tenens, a rather curious clergyman with the magnificent name of the Rev. Holled Darrell Cave Smith Horlock DD. Horlock was nearly 70 and just retired after long years as the vicar of Box, in Wiltshire. Dr. Horlock’s only proviso was that he be allowed to live in the rectory and to bring his animals along with him. Rev. Everard expressed no objection, telling his clerical friend, “Go ahead and bring them, monkey and all.” In fact, Dr. Horlock kept an assortment of creatures, including a monkey.* Horlock promised, “Any damage I do, I will settle for.”  

Rev. Everard returned to Tormarton after six months. He discovered that his rectory had become a “perfect pest-house” and was now uninhabitable. This led to understandable ill-feelings and a dispute arose over the damages. In August of 1876, the “extraordinary action of Everard v. Horlock” was heard by Baron Amphlett and a special jury in Bristol.

Dr. Everard's counsel delighted the courtroom by giving a detailed census of the Horlock menagerie: 
Five large dogs – Don, Grouse, Lady, Mongo and Monk.
Three pugs – Blubber, Buzz and Tootie.
A Skye terrier named Bibi.
Three cats – Baby Mama, Snowdrop and Tail.
27 white mice – unnamed, of course, and wary of the cats, to be sure.
One squirrel.
Nine small birds of undeclared type.
Three pigeons.
One Dove.
A Hawk.
Five horses.
And, of course, the (unnamed) monkey. 

It was another of Dr. Horlock’s cranks that he would have no servants near him. The rectory was left untended and from the "droppings" evidence, the birds had been allowed to fly everywhere. The squirrel and the wretched monkey had raced up and down the drapes and other furnishings. All the carpets had to be pulled up and the bedrooms and other living areas almost completely redone. Rev. Everard admitted to allowing Horlock to bring his animals but he would have reasonably expected the wilder creatures to be housed in the barn, stables or other outbuildings. Instead, they roamed and swooped amok in the rectory. The cost of this zoological vandalism was estimated at £75.

Dr. Horlock was a man “possessed of considerable property,” but he offered a scant £10 in compensation. He claimed that Rev. Everard had been previously ordered by his Bishop to repair "certain rectory dilapidations.” Thus, Horlock argued, the rector was hoping to have those needed repairs done at the expense of his former friend. 

From the bench, Baron Amphlett intervened. Rector Everard was clearly deserving of more for the damage to his home. Two such respectable gentlemen should settle this between themselves. A surveyor was employed to determine the damages but the final settlement never revealed. Mr. Everard remained at the refurbished rectory until his death in 1880.

The "Tormarton Menagerie" story made amusing reading in papers across Britain. The Birmingham Daily Post commented, “The love of dumb animals is a graceful and amiable trait of character, especially becoming in a clergyman; but, like other excellent things, it may be carried to excess.”

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is nearing publication, both in paperback and E-book. Volume 1, a delightful collection, is available for Ebook readers at and

*Remember, no less a clergyman than Sir Thomas More kept a monkey. According to The Handbook of Our Domestic Pets (1862), keeping monkeys in the home was out of fashion. But the great Victorian naturalist Frank Buckland kept several, “Although my monkeys do considerable mischief, yet I let them do it. I am amply rewarded by their funny and affectionate ways.”

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

"A Miserable Business"

West Huntspill Church (1870)*
The Rev William Arundell was 25 and fresh from Oxford when he arrived to be a curate in the "picturesque and widely scattered village” of Huntspill in Somerset. The rector, the Rev. Mr. Lake, thought the locals were "tolerably moral people." 

 Young Mr. Arundell lived in a room at Plymor Hill farm. In the summer of 1868, Arundell told the farmer, William Hawkings, that he had heard "rumours unfavourable to their character" about two of the girls who worked for him. Supposedly, Jane Meaker, a 19-year old dairymaid, and the housemaid, 15 year old Elizabeth Cridge, had been seen cavorting with local men. Mrs. Cridge, Elizabeth's mother, blamed the older girl for her daughter's fall. Hawkings, who learned of these claims on a Saturday, told the girls they couldn't go to church the following day and, if he found these stories to be true, he would sack them both. 

The girls insisted on their innocence but on Sunday, they disappeared. Their absence was first noted when they were no-shows at Mr. Arundell's evening prayers. Midday Tuesday, Elizabeth and Jane were found drowned in a remote cattle pond, near the sea wall at Bridgwater Bay. They were "found tightly in each other's arms." Certainly this was “one of the more shocking tragedies that has ever taken place in this neighbourhood.” 

The Western Times, called it a "miserable business" and reported that the two wretched girls had been frightened into death. However, at the inquest held at Crossways Inn, the local magistrate declared that the Rev. Arundell and the farmer had done “quite right.” The death of these "fine, good-looking country girls" became a national scandal. An inquest, held with "indecent hurry," had resulted in a cruel verdict (double suicide) that prevented the girls from having a Christian burial. 400 people, many sobbing, some angry, stood in the darkness when the bodies were interred in the St. Peter's graveyard before midnight. The rector defended his curate, urging everyone to “take the most merciful view of the case, which I had always believed to be the true one.” But, the London Standard denounced the "barbarity of the vengeance wreaked in the name of the law." 

Mr. Arundell remained in Huntspill for another year or so. In 1873, he left to be the rector in Cheriton Fitzpaine.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 1 is a collection of full-length accounts of similar "national scandals." For American readers, click here. Kindle or other Ebook apps are FREE and easy to use on your phone or tablet. Volume 2 is now in preparation. 

Illustration: British History Online (

Monday, April 17, 2017

Two Bastards under his Roof

The Rev. James Stewart Gordon Cranmer D.D. never tired of mentioning his direct descent from Henry VIII's formidable Archbishop. But Dr. Cranmer's clerical career fell far short of his ancestor. 

A widower, nearly 70, Cranmer was a curate in Wroxham, Norfolk, when he married 28-year old Sarah Honey, a pretty widow with two children (at least.) Within a year of the wedding, however, Rev. Cranmer found himself in a Southwark police court sued by a "nurse" in South London claiming she had not been paid for the care and feeding of two infants (sadly, one had died) believed to be the illegitimate children of the new Mrs. Cranmer. The clergyman's wife denied they were her children. She admitted visiting the toddlers and sending Mrs. Donne money for their care but only out of "benevolence." Mrs. Cranmer testified that she'd been assisting the real mother - a former servant named "Miss Hammond." When the Rev. Cranmer learned of the arrangement, there was a row and he instructed her to stop making the payments. But a witness swore that she had known "Miss Hammond" and she very much resembled Mrs. Cranmer. Worse was to come. "Does the Rev. Dr. Cranmer know that you have brought two bastards under his roof?" She was ashamed to admit that there had been no legal first marriage; she had been duped and found herself, some years later, abandoned (not widowed) with a girl of six and a boy five. The magistrate declared himself shocked at Mrs. Cranmer's "gross and willful perjury." 

The Rev. Dr. Cranmer was ordered to pay the "nurse" £4 7s 6d. For such a paltry sum, it would have certainly been wiser if he had just paid the wretched woman rather than have such squalid "family secrets" gifted to the newspapers avid for such clerical dirty laundry. Of course, it was more than likely that the Cranmers had paid and paid again already. 

For several years, Dr. Cranmer was without church employment. In 1875, he was given a curacy in Brewham, Somerset where he died in 1881, leaving his wife and two "adopted" children. 

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 1 is a book length collection of five of the leading "sensations" of the day. It is an Ebook and apps are free for your phone or tablet. Thank you. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A "Fiddling Clergyman" in the New Forest

Illustration at
The death of a clergyman who held a pleasant benefice (church) would give rise to the "usual flutter of excitement" in clerical circles. All eyes would look to the patron of the parish, usually a local grandee, who held the right to present to the Bishop his choice to fill the living. Patrons were often criticised for caring more about their new pastor's social standing than his spiritual strengths. 

In 1874, the Rev. John Falls, the vicar of Brockenhurst, passed away. The Morants of Brockenhurst Park (and Park Lane, London), enriched by a Jamaican sugar estate, had been squires in the New Forest for more than a century. Early in 1875, an advertisement appeared in The Guardian: "Wanted for a small living in South Hants, an Incumbent in Priest's Orders; must be young and musical, violoncello preferred." The offering was placed through a clerical agency and did not name the parish but John Morant was well known for his devotion to fine music. He had founded a Philharmonic Society in Lymington. Perhaps there was also a vacant chair in the orchestra? The work of some clubland poetaster made the rounds: 

Hey, diddle-diddle, a priest who can fiddle,
Is wanted at Brockenhurt, Hants.
You clerical Fellows,
with good violoncellos,
Please call in at Johnny Morant's.”

The “Fiddling Clergyman” sensation produced more serious objections. It conjured the image of a clergyman who had to play for his supper and "what he can earn by his violin-playing for strolling dramatic companies and other wandering bodies, circuses probably, and menageries." In the event, howver, Morant presented the living to Rev. George Octavious Wray, a man with apparently no musical talents. He had entered the clerical life after a career as a lawyer out in India. In Brockenhurst, where he kept bees, Rev. Wray was better known for his aviary than his violoncello.

Volume Two of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series is nearing publication. Have you read Volume One? The quite affordable Ebook version is still available.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Vicar's "One Unhappy Mistake."

The charity, kindness, and benevolence of the Rev. Mr. John Henry Timmins, vicar of West Malling in Kent, had been well-established in his forty plus years in the village. Visiting the sick was one of his passions, having attended a series of lectures at St. Thomas' Hospital in London - albeit in his youth. 

In late 1882, the 70-year old vicar called upon Sarah Wright, a laborer's daughter who'd been unwell. Timmins had a small vial with him, medicine for his son who had a case of nettle-rash. He poured out a teaspoon for Sarah. She swallowed it and "at once got up from the sofa on which she was lying and screamed, "Oh, Mr. Timmins, Mr. Timmins!" The girl was soon vomiting and foaming from the mouth. Dr. Pope was called - and there were many physicians in West Malling - but Sarah died in less than two hours. The bottle had contained "the essential oil of almonds" and the chemist had clearly marked it as poison. 

The Maidstone magistrates charged the vicar with manslaughter and he was tried at the summer assizes. Stedman, the local chemist had never spoken directly with Rev. Timmins but the instructions were clear - for external use only. Dr. Pope said the vicar told him that he thought a teaspoon was "an innocuous amount." 

Sir Edward Clarke defended the vicar. Rev. Timmins had definitely sent for the innocuous "expressed oil of bitter almonds" but the chemist had sent "essential oil of almonds," which was a deadly poison - prussic acid. By this "one unhappy mistake," a beloved cleric stood in this painful position. The prosecution acknowledged the kindly motives at work but the defendant's sheer rashness and worse, lack of remorse, made it manslaughter. Justice Day told the jury that the case showed a "clear want of care." Nevertheless, the jurymen of Kent took less than ten minutes to bring their verdict of not guilty "which was received with some applause." 

The medical press called the West Malling case "a solemn warning to all amateur 'physickers,'" many of them clergy. While there was little humor in the tragedy, Punch cautioned churchmen to stick to their "noble errand in the world ... and not meddle with the Pharmacopoeia." The Rev. Mr. Timmins remained vicar in West Malling another decade, and he died there in 1897.

Volume Two of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series is nearing publication. Have you read Volume One? The quite affordable Ebook version is still available.


Monday, March 6, 2017

A Discordant Sunday at St. Winifred's, Branscombe

St. Winifred's in Branscombe is one of the oldest churches in Devon. Although the village is on a beautiful stretch of coast, St. Winifred's was "hidden inland from marauding Danes.*" There are few more lovely settings in all England.

The Victorian period was much more peaceful, in some ways. Rev. Henry Tomkins arrived there as vicar in 1868. As ever, the new clergyman came in with his own ideas that were not necessarily going to win universal support within the congregation. There had been "considerable ill-feeling," in fact, between Mr. Tomkins and the Fords. Both well into their 60's, Miss Mary was the organist, and her brother, William, the choir-master. Miss Mary was never shy about reminding the vicar that it was her organ (!). It had gotten to the point that the warring parties did not speak and the vicar passed the music sheet to the sexton who saw that the Fords got it before Sunday morning. 

On 15 September 1870, Harvest Sunday, the vicar was especially pleased to welcome the Archdeacon all the way from the Cathedral in Exeter. Whilst the vicar was reading the prayer for the Queen, Miss Ford began playing. The vicar continued in an ever louder voice. When a hymn was to be played, Miss Ford refused to play it, leaving the vicar to lead an a cappella version. It was a scandal and the whole village talked of nothing else that evening. The next day, Mr. Tomkins dismissed both Fords and, soon, he had them formally charged with "riotous behaviour in a church." 

It was all a mess. The sexton had given the music list to his son to deliver and the lad had - as children will - forgotten to fulfill his task. More than half the parishioners signed a letter in support of the venerable Fords. When Lord Sidmouth dismissed the charges, the Fords left to a cheering escort back to their homes. The unpopular Tomkins was denounced for his "trumpery" charge. "He is a ritualist and not a very wise one," the Western Times concluded.

The vicar could not recover from his public rebuke and left Branscombe after only three years. Tomkins became the chaplain at a large health sanitarium in Weston-super-Mare where he delighted in writing hymns. Several were published including "A Hymn to Branscombe." Would Miss Ford have even played it?

In 2008, I published Blame it on the Devon Vicar, a collection of Victorian stories. The cover art was unfortunate but the book is still available from

Very soon, look for publication of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 2. 

(* Jenkins, England's 1000 Best Churches)

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Extraordinary Conduct for a Clergyman."

Clarence House, London
On a rainy and cold January night in 1849, a sentry stood under the portico of London's Clarence House. A well-dressed gentleman scurried past, heading toward St. James' Park. A few moments later, the man returned, stopping for shelter from the rain. Lighting a cigar, the man said, “Tis a wet night, isn’t it, soldier?” After a few pleasantries, nodding toward the house behind, the stranger wondered who lived in such a grand place. "This is the home of the Queen's mother, the  Duchess of Kent, sir.” The man then leaned closer to whisper, “Ah, I see, the Duchess of C**t.” The next thing the startled sentry knew he felt the vulgar stranger’s hand as it slipped beneath his tunic, reaching for his private parts.  

Not on his watch; the sentry barked and quick-marched the attacker off to the guardhouse where he made the statement quoted above. 

The Rev. Henry Seller, a curate from Send, a small Surrey village near Woking, would face charges for a gross assault upon Private Joseph Cooper of the Scot's Fusilier Guards. The clergyman, 32 and married, protested his innocence. He admitted to first giving a false name but purely from the shame such a charge, however false, would bring upon him. In Bow Street Police Court, the sentry failed to appear and the magistrates had no choice but to dismiss the Rev. Seller with a caution. 

It seems like Private Cooper was in trouble of his own. Disobedient to an officer, he was put in the cells but escaped. Back in custody, several fellow guardsmen testified to his villainy. Cooper had boasted of threatening numerous gentlemen in the park, who from fear would pay up with some money, a ring, or maybe on a good night, even a watch. Rev. Seller returned to testify at Cooper's trial. The soldier had the crafty Old Bailey hand Sergeant Ballentine who put up a lively defense. What was this country curate doing out, darting back and forth, in the darkened parks on such a night in London? Seller said he was walking to Pimlico to visit a friend. An unmarried male friend. Why had he left the gas-lit streets for the gloom of the park? Why would a Cambridge-educated clergyman spend even three minutes in conversation with a private soldier? Ballentine suggested it was "extraordinary conduct for a clergyman." 

In the end, the evidence against Cooper was overwhelming. He had engaged in a “system of wickedness" and was ordered transported for fifteen years. The Rev. Mr. Seller was praised for his bravery in coming forward in such an unpleasant affair. Seller spent most of the rest of his long clerical life living blamelessly in Trull, near Taunton, in Somerset.

For those who have inquired, Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 will be published this spring. In addition to e-Book, it will also be published in an Amazon paperback. Watch here for further details. Thank you.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 is still available, of course. For U.K. readers, click here.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Reverend Dog-Torturer

St. Mary's, Turweston (
It was a summer Sunday evening in the small, straggling Bucks village of Turweston. The Rev. William Harley, rector of St. Mary the Virgin, returned from the evening service to find a dog digging in the garden. Now this dog had been a persistent annoyance. With the assistance of his gardener, Mr. Harley put a sack over the dog's head and poured a pint of turpentine over the animal's "hind quarters." The animal began running in circles, yelping his way home to his master at nearby Turweston House. Mr. Stratton, JP, with the assistance of the RSPCA, brought Mr. Harley before the magistrates, charging him with “having ill-treated, abused and tortured a dog." 

The case of "The Rev. Dog-Torturer" became a cause celebre across England. Harley freely admitted doing it; he was at his wit's end, the dog had been chased off so many times. A veterinarian stated that the pain lasted no longer than hour. The RSPCA official called it a "gross act of cruelty" and beyond a landowner's rights. Denounced in many papers and among animal-lovers, Harley wrote to The Times, expressing some sorrow but claiming he was the victim of great exaggeration, "I was particularly careful not to allow it to touch any tender parts." At the Petty Sessions, the rector was cleared and, moreover, "he leaves this court without a stain upon his reputation as a Christian minister, a gentleman and a humane man.” 

Critics feared that if a clergyman could get away with this, what would others do? The Spectator reminded readers: "There is nothing more striking in our Lord's whole teaching than the reality with which he binds together the whole living universe in the bond of His Father's care and love." 

Looking for more stories of clerical controversy? Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 is now available for E-readers via either or

Thank you very much for visiting the blog. Comments welcome below.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Anonymous Letters in Sidmouth

St. Giles & St. Nicholas, Sidmouth
The summer of 1865 would have seen the boarding houses and villas of Sidmouth crowded with visitors.  On Sunday, 13 August, the pews of the church of St. Giles & St. Nicholas were filled. The local newspaper reported: "Very rarely, we suppose, has such a thorough, universal and painful feeling been excited in a parish as by the announcements of that Sabbath morning." The Rev. Frederick Luttrel Moysey, was resigning. Moysey was 49, married to a peer's daughter and with nine children. He had only been in Sidmouth four years. His troubles began in 1864 with the first of a series of anonymous letters. It was an occupational hazard - "Clergymen are very frequently in receipt of anonymous letters.  Some of these are agreeable enough.  Some are very much the other way." These letters were of the latter genre, accusing Moysey of the vilest offenses.  

Victorian clergymen did more than marriages and fetes. The church was involved in often bitter debates over ritual and church affairs. Moysey believed the author of the letters was very likely a member of his congregation. Probably, he or she was one of a “a small band known to him very well, persons of superior education, whom he had to meet and shake by the hand about once a week, [and who] had continually annoyed him for one cause or another.” Still, he could not prove it.

Moysey's supporters denounced the "low, mean, and cowardly" attacks and a reward of £50 was offered; the culprit would quickly learn that "Sidmouth was too hot to hold them." But the police made no discoveries. The reward was unavailing. Moysey held with his decision to leave: "the attacks on his character had been unendurably painful and, the state of his health and that of his family, was such that it was desirable that they should move to a drier and more bracing locality." When the new vicar arrived, hopes were expressed in Sidmouth that he would “steer clear of the dissensions and heartburnings" that had afflicted his predecessor. 

The Rev. Mr. Moysey and his family relocated to London, hardly the bracing and dry climate he had been seeking.  He remained there until 1894 when he inherited Bathealton Court in Somerset. He died there in 1906. His obituary in The Times made no mention of the Sidmouth scandal, merely noting that the Rev. Moysey had “retired in 1865.” He never held another church living. The letter writer was never identified.

Rev. Moysey's ordeal can be read in full in my book, Blame it on the Devon Vicar. (Apologies for the silly cover which was the publisher's decision.)

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 is available now, Volume 2 is in preparation. 


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Cornish Clerical Scandal

The delightful village of Gunwalloe features in the recent Poldark series; the smuggling scenes were filmed in the dramatic cove. Not quite a full century after Poldark's times, the Rev. Alfred James Hayman Cummings was the vicar in Gunwalloe, and he wrote: "On the eastern side of Mount's Bay, nestled behind a cliff, by which it is protected from the raging waves, stands Gunwalloe Church, one of the oldest in Cornwall." The church of St. Winwalloe (!) was supposedly built on that spot by grateful 13th century shipwreck survivors. The bell tower is entirely separate, the base cut into the solid rock. Cummings loved exploring the geography, churches and learning the traditions and legends of the Lizard. But in 1875, just 34, he left Gunwalloe to be vicar of St. Paul's in Truro. 

There were great plans afoot in Truro to expand that church and Cummings immediately set to work closely with Arthur Nix, a local banker and churchwarden. In early September 1875, Helen Nix, the banker's young wife was reported missing. And, so too was the Rev. Mr. Cummings. They had apparently left on the same train. They were traced to Oxford where they'd stayed three nights in the Raglan Hotel, "in the same sleeping compartment," prior to renting a boat to sail the Thames. When they reached Richmond, Mrs. Nix' brother was waiting and he convinced her to return home. A divorce followed. Miss Tandy of the hotel remembered "Mr. and Mrs. Courtenay," and easily identified the vicar owing to his "either cork or wooden leg." 

Cummings returned to his wife and children, for at least some time. He was, however, without any church employment until 1886 when he was a curate in Hackney. He ended his days as chaplain of the Oxford County Asylum. He was still writing: his "Bright Thoughts for Every Day" came out in 1904.

Illustration from The Churches & Antiquities of Cury & Gunwalloe, etc by A.J.H. Cummings (Google Books)

My goal in 2017 is to post every two weeks. Meantime, 
Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 1 is available now as an e-book; Kindle apps are free and easy to install on your tablet or phone. Make 2017 the year of the e-book. Thank you.