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.


  1. This was an interesting post! I never have thought much about the clerics of the day. They always seem to show up in Victorian novels as backdrop characters, if you know what I mean. This was quite humorous. Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting.


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