Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Canon Disgraced

Going on thirty years, the Rev. Henry Russell Dodd had been the vicar of St. Matthew's church in the Cheshire village of Stretton. He had risen to the lofty ranks of clergy in the diocese, being named a Canon of Chester Cathedral. In addition to his parish duties, he was a nationally known chess player and active in numerous good causes including the Girls Friendly Society. 

Founded by Anglican clergymen in 1875, the GFS was open to unmarried girls fourteen and older of unblemished character. Many of the society members were country servant girls. Canon Dodd, being a rural cleric, was keenly aware of the temptations and dangers faced by the junior servants and maids of all work in country mansions. He had said the society's work with these girls was of "transcendent importance." Thus the painful nature of the inquiry ordered by the Bishop of Chester in 1896 when Canon Dodd was charged with immoral conduct with two of his own servants.

The Consistory Court met in a small room just inside the west door of the ancient cathedral. 16 year old Annie Jones had worked for Rev. Dodd for about five months. He regularly kissed her, she testified; he made her sit upon his knee, and tried to climb into her bed. He did not succeed although she admitted they had often behaved improperly with one another. But Annie admitted that she never cried out or made any complaint other than to the charwoman. She also denied being sacked by Mrs. Dodd for lying and theft. After Annie left the vicarage, Sarah Perrin had joined the household. She remained only a fortnight. Sarah swore that the Canon kept trying to kiss her; he kissed her neck and played with her hair, he pulled at her dress, etc. There was also a third woman, a newly wed in Stretton, married by Canon Dodd. She said the clergyman came to her home with ribald questions about whether she was "enjoying" her new husband. He made comments about her shapely form and tried to kiss her. 

The Canon's defense was that these simple rustic girls had over-reacted to what was light-hearted flattery. Did he kiss his servants? Yes, playfully but not indecently. Did he ask to kiss the new bride? Why, it's an old Cheshire custom that the parson can kiss the bride. Would a 57-year old married man, of blameless service in the village for 28 years, suddenly act such a fool with three young girls? The villain, according to the clergyman's counsel, was a newly arrived doctor, Sydney C.H. Moberly, who had betrayed Canon Dodd's hospitality to spy upon him and malevolently rake up these silly charges. Mrs. Dodd loyally supported her husband and so many clergy had lined up to say nice things about the Canon that their testimony had to be halted at a half-dozen.

After due deliberation, however, the Chancellor announced with pain and reluctance that the whole of the three charges had been proved. The inquiry adjourned whilst the Bishop considered the punishment. Canon Dodd made a last minute appeal, seeking mercy on the grounds that "his mental state was such as to render him incapable of the power of self-control." It was ruled too late. Bishop Jayne took two months to decide what to do, "in recognition of Rev. Dodd's undoubted years of service." The Bishop finally decreed that Dodd be stripped of his vicarage, the dignity of being a cathedral canon and all ecclesiastical preferment in the diocese.

The Rev. Dodd left Stretton, amid blaring headlines across Britain, "A Canon Disgraced." His wife also left him. Dodd found himself with more time for his duties as president of the Lancashire Chess League. He rehabbed his clerical career as early as 1901 when he was a curate in Plaistow, East London. Dodd died in 1918 at the age of 80.

Have you yet considered the purchase of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2? Check it out at or Thank you.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Curate's Imprudent Kiss

Curates were ever a figure of great fun in Victorian England. In 1876, Belgravia, a society magazine, published a rather lengthy discussion of the woebegone species, concluding that "decidedly the most marked trait about the full-blooded curate variety is that they are not ladies' men." 

In 1883, one such curate, a High Churchman with deeply held views on celibacy, was entrapped in an embarrassing blackmail plot. The Times of London withheld the unfortunate cleric's name but reported that he held a curacy in a "prosperous London suburb." A pretty female parishioner had made her interest in the handsome curate quite plain but seeing that he would not bend, she asked, before they parted forever, could she have one kiss? He complied. Days later, in a neat parcel, tied up in a blue ribbon, there arrived an “instantaneous photograph, cabinet size” of him kissing the "pretty penitent." An enclosed note claimed that there were eleven more copies of the photograph and they would cost the curate £20 apiece. The Times reported that “negotiations are said to be progressing.” 

The story, for the Victorian media, "went viral." The Times account was picked up by papers across Britain and over the Atlantic. Admittedly, it may very well have been a hoax; the secular press rarely missed an opportunity to poke the High Church set (and celibacy, of course, was so "Romish"). The curate was never identified. How the matter was resolved must be left to surmise. But the moral was clear, as one leader-writer put it, let it be "a warning to susceptible youths in general, and young curates with comely parishioners in particular, to take good care when similarly committing themselves."

Now, this may have been a rather amusing "escalandre." But clergymen were among the most frequent victims of vicious blackmailers. For a "man bites dog" reversal of roles, please see the story of the Rev. Richard Marsh Watson, whose truly shocking blackmail scheme was denounced as a "case of heartless villainy." Watson's story can be found in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol 2, available now in both paperback and Kindle exclusively through and 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"In a State of Helpless Intoxication"

"That many of the clergy of the day were hard drinkers at a time when all men drank, there can be no question," one Victorian observer wrote. But by the late 19th Century, the number of alcoholic churchmen had become a serious issue. 

Courtesy of Roger Williams (
The Rev Henry Limpus, the vicar of St. Mary's, Twickenham, was a man of "considerable attainments." He composed secular and sacred music for the organ that enjoyed contemporary popularity. In Twickenham, he was a leading figure in public life. At 53, Limpus was recently widowed and left with eight children, ranging from late teens to infancy. In January 1884, however, the Bishop of London authorised a five member commission of clergy and laymen to investigate "certain grave charges" that Limpus had been seen publicly intoxicated on a Sunday evening the previous November. 

The commission met in the Chapter House at St. Paul's. Evidence was presented that Limpus had failed to appear at both services on 11 November and "was that day seen three times, in three different places, by four different sets of persons, in a state of helpless intoxication." One witness said the clergyman reeled along the Richmond Road from pavement to gutter, finally clinging to some fence railings. Mrs. Litchfield, a parishioner, thanks to "a particularly moonlit night," was sorry to say her vicar's "eyes were half shut and his face was ashen pale." 

Rev. Limpus admitted being unwell that day, forcing him to miss his duties. But that evening, he insisted, he was nowhere near the Richmond Road, but was having tea with the "Misses Jessop," respectable ladies who ran a small school in East Molesey, six miles away. "I was sitting in the drawing room taking my tea and chatting. I remained there the whole time from 4 till 9."

The commissioners met on 30 January to consider their verdict. But there was considerable excitement when Rev. Limpus' counsel opened the day by stating that his client wished to recant his alibi. He had misremembered the dates; he had actually been with the Jessop women on the following Sunday, the 18th. In fact, Limpus was now prepared to virtually admit the charges. 

The commissioners were unanimous in their findings and the Bishop of London announced that the Rev. Limpus would be suspended from his clerical duties for three years. The formal notice was nailed to the door of St. Mary's on 17 February 1884. He served his suspension, returning to Twickenham briefly before resigning in 1888. He was buried in the churchyard after his death in 1893, the same year a new Clergy Discipline Act took effect, declaring that "habitual" drunkenness (amongst other offenses) would be a bar to holding clerical office. 

It was hoped that the new act would end the need for lengthy, expensive procedures to remove heavy drinkers. Such was clearly not the result in the case of the Rev. Charles Gordon Young of Chipstead. In the words of the Daily Mail, "never has a little village been so divided." The fascinating tale of the Rev. Mr. Young is told in Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series - Vol 2. The book is available in paperback and Kindle exclusively through and