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.

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