Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"Opium is the Poison, We Suspect"

All Saints, Wigston Magna*
The 1860’s, of course, were the era of the great Victorian “sensation novel,” three-decker books with fiendishly complicated plots. There were mysterious wills, unlikely heirs, strange fortunes from the East, suspicious relations, whispers of poison, exhumations, etc. In 1863, one such tale – very much from real life – unfolded in the Leicestershire village of Wigston Magna.  

James Padley, a surveyor's son from Lincoln, was sent off to school at Oakham in Rutland in 1839 where he befriended a boy with the strangely similar name of Baddeley. Edward Baddeley was the only son and heir of twice-widowed Capt. Charles Baddeley of Wigston Magna. With a fortune amassed in India, the Baddeleys lived at Wigston Hall, “a building of considerable beauty with extensive well-timbered grounds.” 

James and Edward would both go on to Cambridge. James began his studies for the clergy. When Edward's health broke down, however, James went with his friend to seek the freshness of the sea air. Capt. Baddeley was understandably grateful for these kindnesses and he too soon fell under the spell of young Padley.

Padley was ordained in 1853 and married the following year. Alas, Edward wrote to say that he was dying and he begged his great friend to come to Wigston for a final visit. On his deathbed, Edward said that his only concern was for his aged father. He would die happy knowing that his dearest friend could care for his father with the tenderness he had always shown his son. Edward Baddeley passed away at Wigston. 

Capt. Baddeley now leaned heavily on the Rev. Padley, employing him as his private chaplain. The Padleys lived at Wigston Hall until 1856, leaving for a brief curacy in Devon. Rev. Padley then took a position as curate in Dalton-in-Furness in Cumbria. Capt. Baddeley let Wigston Hall and went off to live with the Padleys, renting a home in Rampside on Morecambe Bay and paying them £500 per year. After a stroke and paralysis, Capt. Baddeley died in 1863 at the age of 73. The Rev. and Mrs. Padley escorted the Captain’s body to Wigston for a Good Friday burial in the family vault.  

This tale of heartening friendship and devotion was a credit to the Rev. Mr. Padley. But some members of the Baddeley family were not quick to accept it. Dr. Henry Ralph Cooper, a surgeon from Ixworth in Suffolk, and a nephew by marriage, was the most outspoken. He saw a clergyman of modest means who befriended a dying youth and insinuated himself into the gratitude of a wealthy, lonely man, taking him "wheresoever he went." Now, not a decade later, the Baddeley fortune had been depleted to the point that there was now almost nothing left. The captain's will left the last £500 to the Rev. James Sandby Padley.  

The Leicestershire coroner received a letter from Dr. Cooper expressing his dissatisfaction with the stated cause of death. They "earnestly" sought an exhumation and an inquest. Dr. Cooper also shared his suspicions with the editor of his local paper: "Opium is the poison, we suspect. You may, if you wish, add these facts, as I know them to be true." Soon, all England was reading how the Rev. Padley was suspected of poisoning Capt. Baddeley. This occasioned "great excitement,” to say the least.  

Unfortunately for the more rabid readers of novels or newspapers, the coroner declared that there was absolutely no reason to question the circumstances of Capt. Baddeley's death and the request for an exhumation had been officially rejected. The attending physicians had seen absolutely nothing to raise any issues. The old man, wracked with gout, had died from the effects of a stroke.

In August of 1863, at the South Lancs Assizes, Mr. Padley sued Dr. Cooper for libel. "A more atrocious libel against any man --- (let alone) a clergyman --- could not be imagined," the clergyman's counsel thundered. The entire story of Rev. Padley's devotion to the Baddeleys, fils et pere respectively, was retold. The only person who had any suspicions about Capt. Baddeley’s demise seemed to be the defendant, Dr. Cooper.  

The proceedings had hardly begun before Mr. Henry James QC rose to state that his client wished to make a complete apology. Dr. Cooper was now “perfectly willing to admit that he had labored under a great error” and “regrets exceedingly” any offense given to Rev. Padley. Justice Mellor praised the Rev. Padley for his restraint. He was awarded a modest £150. However modest the judgment, it went unpaid as Dr. Cooper filed for bankruptcy and died the following year. Wigston Hall was torn down in the 1960’s and the site was used for a block of flats.

* The East window at All Saints, Wigston Magna was the gift of Capt Baddeley in 1854 to honour his second wife and his son Edward who had died that year.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 2 is now available exclusively through and

Thank you. Please leave any comments, corrections or suggestions below. Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Christmas Story

"The Old Vicarage, Edgton"*
Christmas 1892 was snowless but very cold in Shropshire. In the remote village of Edgton St. Michael, it was the first Christmas for the new vicar, the Rev. Morgan Jones, a 32-year old Welshman. On St. Stephen's Day (26 December), in his "delightfully situated" vicarage, he dined with Miss Helen Scholding, the newly hired schoolmistress. The unmarried vicar had seen to her every need in the village schoolhouse and helped her settle in the small but charming schoolmistress' cottage. Since her arrival, Helen (and he had dared to call her Helen) had dined every Sunday at the vicarage and he had drunk many cups of tea in her cottage. 

Surprisingly, early in the New Year, Miss Scholding abruptly left Edgton, saying she wished to be nearer her home (Essex). Edgton was a wee place and there were few secrets. Among the villagers unfriendly to the vicar, the word was that Miss Scholding had fled to avoid the vicar's efforts to seduce her. They whispered that all through Christmas, he had relentlessly begged the 33 year old spinster to sleep with him at the vicarage and remain as his mistress. He coyly pleaded, "I feel like I am in the Garden of Eden, but what is the point of being Adam if the fruit is denied to me?"

After Helen's departure, a new schoolmistress came to Edgton. Time passed. Only 200 people lived in the village but the Rev. Jones, alas, had not pleased them all. A common flash point in rural life was shooting rights - who had the right to go where to hunt. The vicar raised pheasants but not for game and he'd brought the law in on "trespassing" hunters. But when he opted to buy his butter from a different local farm, he made an enemy.

In 1896, two parishioners (including William Broome, the bitter butter-maker) went to the Bishop of Hereford to seek an inquiry, charging (three years after the fact) that Mr. Jones at Christmas 1892 had taken improper and indecent liberties with Miss Helen Scholding, he had asked her repeatedly to spend the night at the vicarage for an immoral purpose and he had offered her the position of being his mistress. 

A Consistory Court sat for four days in Hereford Cathedral. The first two days were spent hearing from Miss Scholding, who seemed unwilling to be there at all and made a rather poor witness. She did swear that the vicar had wooed her from the first. He walked her to her cottage and insisted coming in for tea. He even brought brandy with him. He begged her to move in with him; her little cottage was so damp and his roomy vicarage so warm. He touched her improperly. He put his arm around her and spoke to her intimately. This went on through Christmas and into 1893. But when she continued to spurn his advances, he turned upon her. He became very cold and critical of her teaching. He made her cry. He told her, "You might have been as happy as a Queen if you had done what I wanted." On cross-examination, Miss Scholding admitted her diary for that holiday period had gone missing. She had lost earlier positions because she was so easily troubled; she had once talked of suicide. In Edgton, Rev. Jones had cautioned her about some of the novels she read. And why did she not cry out when Mr. Jones touched her, there were servants around? When she left Edgton, why did she write the vicar a pleasant note thanking him for his kindness. Would a woman write such a note to a man who had tried to debauch her?

But there were supporting witnesses. Margaret Evans had been Miss Scholding's cottage servant (Margaret's father was one of the dissident parishioners). The girl swore that, while looking through a keyhole, she saw the vicar pulling up Miss Scholding's dress. The schoolmistress said, "If you don't leave me alone, Mr. Jones, I shall write home and tell my father," to which the vicar replied, "Oh, no, no, suffer the little children to play together." Miss Scholding's father said his daughter had complained to him and he had gone to Edgton but the vicar refused to see him. But, once his daughter left, he let the matter drop.

Given his turn, the Rev. Jones insisted the story of his amorous Christmas seduction was a "heinous lie." Of course, he had befriended her; Miss Scholding was an educated woman and without friends in a rustic village. He never made any propositions to her; it was all a tissue of falsehoods crafted by unhappy parishioners. He never compared himself to Adam in the Garden, etc. He never called her a "delightful child" or told her she was like a "sunbeam" in his lonely vicarage. He saw nothing unusual in a clergyman spending an hour and a half in a schoolmistress' cottage. In fact, it was a damp little place. They had tea but never brandy. 

The vicar's counsel urged the Consistory Court to agree that the entire case was a fabrication, a "cruel, unkind and un-Christian" cabal inspired by petty quarrels. All this because the vicar changed dairymen? Tittle-tattle three years forgotten had been resurrected. Poor Miss Scholding, a "nervous, hysterical" woman, had been used to attack a blameless clergyman. The woman read too many romantic novels. The great "keyhole evidence" was incredible; it was a physical impossibility for that servant girl to have seen any such thing. In the end, the wretched schoolmistress left Edgton to go home to her family, no other reason.  
St. Michael's Edgton.*

The Hereford court (a panel of laymen and clergy) took a fortnight before announcing their unanimous verdict that the Rev. Mr. Jones was not guilty on all counts. In Edgton, the vicar set about to entirely restore his tiny church. He was still in the village well into the new century (so were his accusers, Messrs. Broome & Evans.) The Rev. Jones never married; he lived alone with his younger housekeeper, Miss Boyer, who'd been with him throughout. 

For Anglophiles at Christmas 2017, please consider Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series (Vol. 2.) It is a collection of full length stories of similar personal predicaments besetting clergymen of the C of E. The book is sold exclusively through and 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Attempting to Murder His Illegitimate Child

St. Peter & Paul, Aston
The parish of Aston was one of the largest in Birmingham. The Rev. George Peake, vicar of the venerable church of St. Peter and Paul, employed no fewer than four curates to assist in the various ecclesiastical duties and services. In September 1855, a new curate arrived, the Rev. Patrick King. Little was known of Mr. King other than that he was a "seceder" from the Roman Catholic Church, having "renounced the errors of popery" in 1852. He was then received into the Church of England. King was 37 and unmarried.

Early in 1856, a woman named Anne Downes came to Aston; she was pregnant. The Rev. King took some interest in her, saying she was the wife of a friend now living abroad. Mrs. Downes had chosen to return to England for her confinement and then recruit her health. Her son was born in the spring and - as was not uncommon - while the mother recovered, the infant was placed in the care of a local woman, Mrs. Jones, in Thimble Hill. The Rev. King visited the infant regularly, showing almost paternal concern which, of course, gave rise to censorious gossip. 

In the late afternoon of 30 May, in Lapworth, a village fifteen miles south of Aston, 14 year old Walter Wood was tending some cows when he heard the cries of a baby. The lad was led by the wails to find an infant lying just off the high-road, on the slope of a hill above a pool of water. Walter brought the baby to the farmhouse of his employer, a man named King (apparently no relation to the curate). At the Solihull Union Workhouse, the infant was examined - although the baby had been poorly fed, there were no signs of violence. Police visited the scene in Lapworth and determined that some person, unwilling to intentionally drown the infant, left him there to either die of exposure or roll down the slope into the pit.

After a fortnight of inquiries, there was an "extraordinary sensation" when Warwickshire police arrested the Rev. Patrick King on a charge of wilfully and maliciously attempting to murder by drowning "a certain child," his illegitimate son. King made no effort to deny paternity. The child was his. "Mrs." Downes was not the wife of a friend but actually the curate's half-sister by the same mother. She'd come from no farther away than Coventry.

According to Mrs. Jones, on 30 May, the Rev. King came to her cottage, asking to have little Arthur as his mother wished to see him. But she watched as King got into a cart and the carman headed in the other direction, south by the turnpike road in the direction of Stratford. Police later claimed that, about two miles beyond Hockley House, in a lonely place along Lapworth Hill, the wagon halted. King walked off with the baby and was gone for some little time but returned to the cart alone. 

At the Warwick Assizes, the Crown insisted that the defendant had left the helpless infant on the steep slope "where, on the slightest movement, he would have rolled into the water and been drowned." But Justice Cresswell did not think the evidence necessarily proved any intent to drown the infant. Thus, on the graver charge, King was found not guilty. He was, however, convicted of a common assault, having "exposed the child, whereby it sustained injury." Cresswell acknowledged that infanticide was tragically all too common in England. Thus, the shock of this case. "If we cannot expect a clergyman of the Church of England to resist the temptation to commit an offence of this description, what may we expect of those who, without education, without religious instruction, without a sense of their responsibility, are tempted to conceal their shame by dealing with infant children in such a manner."

The Rev. Patrick King maintained the "greatest composure" throughout the proceedings. Hearing word of his six month jail sentence, he simply bowed and retired. There was a public kerfuffle when it was reported that the Rev. King had been allowed to preach to the inmates in Warwick's county jail. Upon his release, however, he disappears from all the clerical directories. As the weekly Lloyd's had predicted, no amount of time would suffice to cleanse Patrick King of "prison taint."

Arthur was back with his mother. Miss Downes had also been charged but not prosecuted. Upon payment of the workhouse fees, she was reunited with her son. They cannot be traced.

Thank you for visiting this unique blog. May I remind you that Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is now for sale, exclusively through and The collection includes five full-length accounts of "extraordinary" scandals involving Victorian clerics. Tales of blackmail, adultery, seduction and more. A cozy collection for the Anglophile on your list!

*Aston Church (1851)