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.

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