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.

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