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).

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