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."