Friday, November 24, 2017

A Clergyman’s Wife Elopes with the Butler

St. Mary Magdalen, West Tisted (2016)
The Rev. Herbert Ogden Cruickshank, (M.A., Magdalen, Oxford) came to the West Tisted in 1883. The remote village in the South Downs was one of the poorest parishes under the patronage of Magdalen College. The village was reachable by a steep, rough, narrow lane. The church of St. Mary Magdalen was quite literally a "hidden gem," embosomed in trees and surrounded by a crumbling moat. A centuries old yew leaned wearily in the churchyard. 

In 1888, Cruickshank brought his new bride to the old vicarage. Mary was the much-petted only daughter of Capt. G. E. Graham-Foster-Pigott, a "gallant sportsman" of nearby Cheriton House. In the village of just 300 souls, Mary taught Sunday School, and she was "beloved by all the children." She was also the organist, leading the small choir on the harmonium, purchased by her husband during his self-financed renovation of the church. 

By 1894, the Cruickshanks had two children, a son and daughter. On August 28, 1894, an advertisement appeared in The Morning Post

BUTLER and COOK REQUIRED for entire work of small house; small family; foreigners may apply; Protestants. Wages and full particulars Mrs. Cruickshank, West Tisted Vicarage, Alresford, Hants.

A newlywed couple from Kent, James Wood, a former soldier, and his wife, Alice, who'd cooked at a military hospital near Canterbury, were employed by the Cruickshanks in 1895. 

In February 1898, Alice Wood came to the vicar to say she could no longer live with her husband; he had been abusive verbally and physically, knocking her to the ground and kicking her about the scullery. While attempting to console the woman, Rev. Cruickshank was aghast when she went on to claim that James and Mrs. Cruickshank were lovers and planning to run off together. The vicar presumed the distraught woman was a raving hysteric but when he called the others in, expecting them to deny it, “to my horror & dismay” they admitted it. In fact, this affair had been going on for almost six months. 

Cruickshank ordered them both to leave the vicarage at once. The lovers were later traced to a hotel in London's Euston Road and eventually to Toronto. With this evidence, Alice Wood received her divorce on grounds of adultery and cruelty. The Rev. Cruickshank, however, citing "conscientious objections which he could not overcome" declined to seek a divorce. Instead, he asked for a separation, custody and a declaration that his wife was unfit to have custody. The decree was granted in October 1898.

"A Clergyman’s Wife Elopes with the Butler," made for publisher-pleasing headlines. The Rev. Cruickshank had quietly submitted his resignation to the Bishop of Winchester: he "resigned in disgrace," according to the papers, though what exactly he had done wrong was not stated. Certainly, he could not remain in the village; a clergyman's marital home was expected to be "the model of the Parish." Cruickshank took his two children to live in Portsmouth, without clerical employment.

By the 1901 census, would anyone believe that Mary Cruickshank had come home from Ontario? In the end, the despicable Wood had abandoned her in Canada. Through her family, communication was re-established with Herbert, and "at his instigation," she returned to England and rejoined her family in Portsmouth. By 1905, Rev. Cruickshank was in service to his church again, the rector of Tubney, Berks. He died two years later, just 52, survived by his wife.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 has just been published. Details on this delightful new collection of five full length stories of clerical mis-behaviour can be found at either or Paperback and Kindle editions are available. Thank you very much indeed. Order early for Christmas.


  1. How did you come by this infomation (if you are the author)

    1. Thomas ... For many years, I have researched the general subject of Victorian clergymen and their "scandals." I have used the newspapers of the day as my primary source. In the Cruikshank case, I also referred to the divorce papers held at Kew archives. Can I help you with this or any other subject, comment here. Thank you.


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