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

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1 comment:

  1. I want to thank Mike Norryan, chairman of the Wigston Historical Society, for providing me some additional details on the Padley-Baddeley affair. I am happy, always, to hear from readers with comments, criticisms, etc. Mike objected to the blameless Rev Padley being included among all these "dodgy vicars." In truth, as you will find in other postings, many of the clerics were eventually exonerated. But, fair or unfair, "It is wonderful the interest that is taken in the peccadilloes and sins of “the cloth.”


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