Monday, May 21, 2018

"Shocking Scandal; Remarkable Letters"

The Rev William Malam, vicar of St. John the Baptist, Buxton, began tutoring Miss Annie Rose in her Latin declensions in December 1883. An assistant schoolmistress, 24 year old Annie needed the Latin to advance. Malam was 58, quite well-respected and a rural dean in Derbyshire. There were at least ten tutoring sessions, mostly held in the vicar's home where he lived with his invalid wife. But for the one or two occasions when Malam called at Annie's little cottage set back from the road on College Place. That something took place during one of those visits was unquestioned. Rumors and anonymous letters soon swept Buxton. In August 1885, Rev. Malam filed a slander action against a young physician, Dr. Charles Bennett, seeking damages in the amount of £5000. Bennett had gone so far as to call the vicar “a beastly old fellow.” The doctor said he could prove that Malam had twice indecently assaulted Miss Rose.

The evidence consisted of a stack of Malam's letters to Annie, "My Dear Little Girl." He wrote, "From the first time I saw you, I liked you." But later, many of his letters were "abject" appeals for forgiveness. "Don't think so badly of me and forget a moment of weakness which, though reprehensible, is not to be classed with unforgiven offenses." He begged to see her again: "Believe me, you may trust in me. There will be no temptation in the same direction in the future." When she threatened to expose him, he wrote, "I implore you for my poor crippled wife's sake, to whom exposure would be death." The vicar had always told Annie to burn his letters; she did not.

The vicar's counsel insisted that Rev. Malam was "wholly unconscious" of having done anything wrong, other than a "playful" slap on one occasion. The act was "indiscreet" and nothing more. His letters were also imprudent but he was facing false and exaggerated claims. Dr. Bennett's motive? The physician and Miss Rose seem to have had a pre-existing "more or less intimate" relationship. 

No evidence was called and the counsel for Dr. Bennett said his client wished to unreservedly withdraw everything he ever said or wrote about Rev. Malam. He had been misled (by Annie?) and had acted from the purest motives unaffected by any animus towards the vicar.   

Mr. Justice Lopes was pleased that unseemly testimony had been avoided. But he added, "I cannot help saying" that Rev. Malam's letters to this young woman, for a man in his position and she in hers, "were certainly indiscreet." That clearly affected his Lordship's decision that Malam should receive damages in the rather paltry amount of 40 shillings. When Malam returned to Buxton from the trial in Liverpool, a band was waiting at the station to play "See the Conquering Hero Comes." He remained vicar in Buxton until his death in 1892.


Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series Volume Two is now available at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Curious Conduct of a Coatham Curate

On 21 August 1865, the papers in Liverpool reported that the Rev Alfred Henry Ferries (or Ferris), was found lying near death at the foot of Great Orme's Head in Llandudno. "It is supposed that the reverend gentleman had been walking too near the edge of the cliff and fallen over." Luckily for him, the sea was going out at the time or he would been swept away. Nonetheless, it was feared that the internal injuries the young clergyman received would almost certainly prove fatal. Ferries was only 28 and had been visiting North Wales alone. 

The news was keenly felt in Coventry where Ferries had been a curate at St. Michael's church. He was also sought there for an explanation regarding an allegedly forged £40 bill of exchange, defrauding the Coventry and Warwickshire Banking Company. It certainly appeared that the clergyman had been unwilling to face the shame, jail time and end of his career and thrown himself to his death. 


In April 1868, in North Yorkshire, the banns of marriage were posted for one Rev. A.H. Ferries and a young lady from an "esteemed" family in Coatham, Redcar, where Ferries was listed as the unlicense curate of Christ Church. Within days of the banns, someone apparently sent a photograph of the curate to the police at Redcar who notified their colleagues in Coventry. Once again, Ferries disappeared but only to show up in Coventry and turn himself in. Apparently, the Llandudno fall was a complete ruse and he had spent a good deal of time in Canada. In Coventry, due to the lapse in time and the difficulty of gathering evidence as a result, the local magistrates agreed to abandon the prosecution. 

All the world loves a lover, perhaps, but Ferries' marriage plans seem to have been abandoned in Coatham. By 1870, he was a curate in  Cornwall and a year later, vicar of Charlestown where he married the daughter of a wealthy clay merchant. 

One is often struck at the ease in which anyone with a reason to "get away," could absquatulate on their wife, job or the police and simply move to another shire - or episcopal diocese - and start anew. With not even a name change.

May I mention anew that Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume Two remains available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. Please follow the links to see more. Thank you.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Monkey Suit at St Peter's Walworth

The Rev John William Horsley had been rector of St Peter’s Walworth since 1894. He was a well beloved figure in the urban parish, ran a soup kitchen and for the “amusement & instruction” of the local children, he kept a small miniature zoo. He started with a few guinea pigs, added a hedgehog or two, some pigeons, an owl and found himself gifted with, if not a barrel, the odd monkey or two. Early in 1900, however, one of those monkeys escaped from its leash and bit a girl on the leg. 

The rector paid her bills and she was back at her schooldesk the next day. Her father had sought additional compensation and Horsley thought the man's tone was “bullying” and he resisted. Thus, he found himself in a Lambeth courtroom. Horsley insisted the monkey was quite tame and willing to shake hands with all. On that day, the creature had been startled by the sudden appearance of a cat. The monkey broke from the leash, the children screamed and, amid the general tumult, the monkey bit the unfortunate little girl. Mr. Emden, the presiding judge, thought greater care must be taken with a monkey which is a "wild animal" not a pet. The rector was ordered to pay 5s in damages. 

A Daily News reporter who cornered the rector in the church crypt, found Horsley unapologetic, asking why the law, unlike with dogs, denies the monkey the satisfaction of a first bite. Alas, the offending monkey was not available to be photographed, the poor simian had taken a London winter cold and died only days before. 


Horsley remained happily in Walworth for several more years, adding to his duties a role as Canon of Southwark Cathedral. At St. Peter's, Walworth, meanwhile, there is still a delightful "Monkey Garden." 




Photographs:
Horsley from Walworth Through Time (Lock, Baxter, 2012)
Monkey Park from Geograph.org.uk

Friday, March 30, 2018

"You Should be Found Out": The Rev. Oswald Reichel of Sparsholt

The Rev. Oswald Reichel arrived in the Berkshire village of Sparsholt in 1869. He was the new vicar of the Church of the Holy Cross. A Yorkshireman by birth, Reichel had achieved high honours at Oxford. He envisioned Sparsholt, a village “slumbering in the Vale of the White Horse,” as a place where his clerical duties would not interfere with his studies and writing. Reichel began work on what was to be his magnum opus, “A Complete Manual of Canon Law.” Ironically, canon law could not help him in 1886.

Mr. Reichel’s scholarly idyll began unraveling in 1885 when he received the first of a pair of letters from Mrs. Elizabeth Niblett, who kept a temperance hotel at 8 Ashton Place, Clifton, Bristol. 
I mean to take proceedings against you. You came here and called yourself Mr. Rice, a commercial traveler, well knowing you are a minister of the Church of England, and gave my house a nice name. Remember it is my living which I have always got respectably until your companion Miss King came to it. I think you should be found out
[A second letter followed]: 
You came to my house and stayed with the common thing you called Mrs. Rice who is none other than your old housemaid who has had two children by you. I will expose you if I have to do it whilst you are in the pulpit.
Reichel tried to scare the bothersome woman, writing to remind her that by her threats to extort money, "she has rendered herself liable to proceedings which may result in fine and imprisonment."

But on an August Sunday in 1885, Mrs. Niblett showed up in Sparsholt where she waylaid the vicar after services. The excitement in the village was understandable and word soon reached the Bishop of Oxford who presented Reichel with a choice: if true, he must resign; if false, he must take an action for libel.

Reichel v. Niblett was heard at the Reading Assizes in May 1886 before Justice Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, a “most acute and unbending” judge. While Mrs. Niblett was the party accused of libel and extortion, everyone knew the real defendant was the vicar of Sparsholt. 

It did not go well for the Rev. Mr. Reichel who faced a “searching cross-examination” by Mr. Jelf QC, the lady's counsel. He admitted registering as “Mr. Rice,” but said he stayed the night only because it became too late to go home. "Mrs. Rice,” he admitted, was Caroline King, his former Sparsholt housekeeper. He denied ever seducing her. He took her once to Stratford but they did nothing more romantic than visit the Bard's grave. Reichel was forced to admit that he continued to see her “from time to time” and paid for her lodgings in Westbourne Park, London. None of this, of course, reflected well on Mr. Reichel. The best his QC could do was remind the court that the clergyman was a single man who held the highest affection for Miss King. In fact, he had proposed marriage but had been spurned more than once.  

As ever, the legal cliche has been “truth is a defense for libel.” However, “Lord Campbell’s Act of 1840,” required that the information be revealed only "with good motives and for justifiable ends.” Mrs. Niblett - the Reichel forces argued - was guilty of extortion. Why else did she write "I have no doubt that I shall be paid well for what I can tell." The landlady - in the witness box - insisted she contacted Reichel simply to warn him not to return to her establishment - and to settle the unpaid bill of 27s for that memorable night in Bristol. 

Obviously, the truth of Mrs. Niblett's charges had been admitted. The Berkshire jury had only to consider the question of extortion and they took very little time to acquit her on both counts. The Rev. Reichel left with his reputation ruined. He pleaded with Bishop Mackarness to be allowed to leave Sparsholt for another living “where the Bristol scandal is not notorious.” That was a non-starter. A lengthy, expensive and embarrassing legal wrangle followed. Reichel refused to leave his vicarage; rejecting his replacement as an "usurper." Eventually, the case reached the House of Lords where the Chancellor, Lord Halsbury called Reichel’s repeated appeals “a scandal to the administration of justice.”

Reichel’s fall had a surprisingly soft landing. He had come into ownership of A la Ronde, a famous sixteen-sided Gothic folly with spectacular views along the Devon coast at Lympstone. In 1887, he married Julia Ashenden, a milliner’s daughter from Chelsea. The groom was 47; the bride was 23. He died in 1923, survived by his wife. A La Ronde was deeded to The National Trust in 1991.

In his later years, Reichel revised his Manual of Canon Law. Therein, on page 276, he wrote: "To avoid scandal, women are not allowed to dwell under the roof of the unmarried clergy, except a mother, a sister, an aunt, or some other person above suspicion." Teacher, teach thyself.


Volume Two of Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series is a collection of five full-length accounts of clergyman enmeshed in personal scandals and sensations. It's a book any Anglophile will enjoy. Volume two is available in Kindle and paper exclusively through amazon.com & amazon.co.uk.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Sudden Death in a Questionable Setting

All Saints, Eyke, Suffolk*
The 12th century church of All Saints, Eyke, is slightly set back from the A1152. The church may once have had a tower but has none today, giving it what Simon Knott described as a “somewhat barnlike” appearance. Still, he believes it to be one of the more interesting churches in Suffolk*. 

The early Victorian rector, W.A, Norton chose to reside at Alderton and left the souls of Eyke to a curate. In 1842, the Rev John Pyemont had been in Eyke for three years. He lodged with Philip Braham, a local wheelwright. On a Saturday in January, he told his landlord that he would be riding into Ipswich to dine “with a few gentlemen.” Pyemont was 36 and single. He was well known in Ipswich having spent some years as under master of the Grammar School. Pyemont said he would be home late and would Mrs. Braham be kind enough to light an early fire as he needed to finish his planned sermon for the Sabbath. The curate trotted away in the direction of Woodbridge and Ipswich beyond another ten miles. Alas, he never returned to Eyke. He died in Ipswich that night suddenly and under questionable circumstances.

The inquest was held on Monday morning and the late Mr. Pyemont’s movements on that Saturday were recreated. It had been a journey of over two hours from Eyke and he’d left his weary mount at the Horse & Groom on Upper Brook Street. He walked to the Silent Street home of Charles Pretyman, a solicitor. He’d arrived at five, Pretyman recalled. Four gentleman sat down to dinner. “We were all very temperate,” the evening’s good host insisted. After the meal, one or two rubbers of whist were played with nothing stronger than tea to be served. According to Pretyman, the curate left about ten, “perfectly sober and in good spirits.” He presumed the curate intended to retrieve his horse and return to Eyke. He was aghast to hear the news. 

Sophia Dallenger, a single woman, lived in Globe Lane, St. Margaret’s parish in Ipswich. She told the inquest that she had known the deceased for about five years. When he arrived at her door about eleven, she knew immediately that he had been drinking and was “the worse for it.” He said “You and I will have some wine together.” She let him in but told him there’d be no more wine that evening. She placed him in a small room and instructed one of the “servants” to light the fire. “Three minutes after I left, I heard a scream. I found him lying on the floor. I rolled him over and his face was blackened. I said, ‘Do not be frightened.’ I loosened his cloth and collar and put water to his temples. I sent for the doctor.” Miss Dallenger, whose name had appeared in previous police reports, steadfastly denied that any gentlemen used her premises for an immoral purpose. 

Miss Elizabeth O’Brien, who resided with Miss Dallenger, insisted she did nothing for the gentleman but light the fire in the room to make him more comfortable on the winter night. She was alone with him for no more than a few minutes when he suddenly “gave a loud groan, fell down and died.” 

The clergyman was “quite dead” by the time Dr. G. G. Sampson arrived. There were no signs of any violence, according to the doctor. As Miss Dallenger had sworn, Mr. Pyemont was still in his cloth and collar when found, that is, dressed. That is, if she was to be believed. Sampson said he had no hesitation in concluding that the cause of death was apoplexy. The jury was so instructed and issued their verdict accordingly. 

In Eyke, meanwhile, Mr. Braham couldn’t account for the tragedy. He said his lodger’s conduct had always been “such as it should be.” He boxed up the clergyman’s effects for sale. 

In the early 1840’s, before the arrival of the more “public” prints, there was much less interest in raking up muck over clerical scandals. The case of the Rev. Pyemont was widely reported but his “awful death” went without censorious comment. 

If censorious comment is what you seek, please consider Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Volume 2, on sale now exclusively through amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/eyke
Photo: Adrian Cable, geography.org.uk

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Sermon-Monger Trade

A Lithographed Sermon
In Shaw's great play, Mrs. Warren's Profession, the Rev. Samuel Gardner has been visiting with his son Frank, an "entirely good-for-nothing young fellow." Also present in the scene is Frank's chum, Praed. Rev. Gardner eventually excused himself saying, "I must take the opportunity to write my sermon." The reverend having left the room, Praed said to Frank, "Curious thing it must be writing a sermon every week." Frank, who knew his father well, laughed and confided: "Ever so curious, if he did it. He buys 'em."

The trade in sermons in the Victorian church was a lucrative one. Purchasers were promised exclusivity in their county. There were sermons for all occasions: drought, great anniversaries, or local tragedies. The sermons were even lithographed in faux penmanship so that anyone close enough to see the manuscript from their pew would think for all the world that it had been handwritten by their beloved pastor. Once in the clutches of the "sermon-monger," the clergyman paid and paid, lest the matter be brought to law and his secret exposed. According to The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon, the "cool impudence of the vendors [was] exceeded only by the transparent folly of the clerical customers." 


All Saints, Cople, Beds.
In 1861, the Rev. Henry East Havergal, Vicar of All Saints, Cople, Bedfordshire was taken to court for twenty sermons, at the cost of two shillings, sixpence apiece. The sermons had been written by the Rev Henry Rogers, a retired clergyman with offices at 7 Little Tower Street, London. Interestingly, no such clergyman appeared on the Church list but "Rev. Rogers" was well known in the trade. Rev. Havergal had been in Cople since 1847. A singer and musician, he had actually built the church organ. He sang. He rang the bells. But, he found himself "totally unable to write three sermons a week." Behind in his payments to "Rev." Rogers, Havergal decided to face him down “for the sake of warning his brethren and exposing a wolf in sheep's clothing.” 

"Rogers" did not actually appear in the Sheriff's Court in London but was represented by his literary agent. Mr. Marchmont insisted that it was a purely business transaction; the sermons were provided as requested and payment was due. These were simple "stock sermons," well suited to the needs of a country vicar and the charges were very reasonable; a sermon for a Bishop - and Marchmont knew of one - would cost as much as £5! The "extraordinary disclosures" produced as much laughter as anything else and in the end, poor, brave Rev. Havergal was ordered to pay the full amount due plus the court costs. His parishioners found no fault with his cribbed sermons; he remained there until his death in 1875.

The revelations of such sermon manufactories were troubling, to some. A writer in The Saturday Review called it a matter of trust between shepherd and flock, joking, "We have hitherto slept in dreamy but entire confidence in the integrity and authenticity of our spiritual adviser."

Another "sermon-mongering" clergyman, the Rev. Richard Marsh Watson, was involved in a much more outrageous scandal in 1877. His story is told in Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series, Vol 2, now available exclusively thru amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.



Thursday, February 8, 2018

"Unpleasant Rumours" in Cornwall

Constantine is a "picturesquely situated and usually quiet Cornish village." The church of St. Constantine enjoys a commanding position with excellent views. The Rev Francis Robert Hole had arrived in 1875 and, for a decade, his "exertions" were credited for the restoration of the church tower and the enlargement of the surrounding churchyard. The vicar and his wife were justly proud of the vicarage garden offering "shady walks, quiet nooks for study, talking, and whispering lovers." The garden wound through a secluded ravine, amid rocks, ferns and a small pond. On Sunday morning, 24 January 1886, the Rev. Mr. Hole made a determined effort to drown himself in that pond.

For the previous three weeks, there had been "unpleasant rumours" in Constantine linking the vicar with a local schoolgirl as young as twelve years of age. The Rev. Mr. Hole insisted the charges of misconduct were false and requested the Bishop of Truro to hold a formal inquiry, which was pending. But that Sunday morning, when the vicar personally rang the bell at eight for the Communion service, no one came to church. The obvious rebuff left the vicar "greatly agitated," said his wife. But she had not seen him leave the vicarage later that morning. Near noon, a manservant, checking on the livestock, heard splashing from the pond. The weather was quite cold and the pond was partially iced over. A human hand could be seen above the water. The servant was able to drag a gasping and weak Rev. Hole from the pond and then ran for help. The rescuer was horrified on his return to see the vicar once again in the pond. Again, the clergyman was pulled from the water and, this time, carried home where Dr. Haswell had arrived from Helston. “I did it in consequence of the rumors about me,” the vicar told him.

The Rev. Hole would recover. A report that he had also swallowed vermin poison was contradicted. The terrible drama of that Sunday morning was "the chief and almost the sole topic of conversation" across Cornwall. It was a crime to attempt suicide and the vicar of Constantine, still appearing pale and unwell, appeared before the Falmouth magistrates on 5 February. Rev. Hole made no statement and the magistrates dismissed the charge. The Cornish papers denounced the "sensational statements" carried elsewhere and reported that "expressions of sympathy are to be heard from all sides" for Hole and his family in "their hour of trouble." By 18 February, the Cornish Telegraph reported that "the rumours which caused the vicar of Constantine to attempt suicide are false."

The parishioners began to return to St. Constantine. A fund was started to help defray the vicar's medical and legal expenses. But in March, the Rev. Mr. Hole resigned. He sold up all his furniture. A devoted bee-keeper, he also auctioned "his fine stock of hives." A curate was assigned to Constantine but soon the unoccupied vicarage was the "very picture of desolation."

A new vicar arrived in 1887. By that time, the Rev and Mrs. Hole had found their new home in distant Manitoba, a prairie province in western Canada. He served there for many years as a "pioneer priest."

The rate of suicide among the Victorian clergy was a
great cause for concern. The story of the Rev. Joseph Weedow of Yorkshire is told in the first volume of Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series. NB: Volume 1 is available for Kindle readers only. Volumes 1 and 2 are sold exclusively through amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Scandal in the Strand

St. Clement Danes
In 1885, the Rev John Lindsay, rector of St. Clement Danes, stood in the “first rank among London preachers.” Born and schooled in Edinburgh, Lindsay was ordained after his studies at St. Bee's Theological College, not to be mistaken for Oxford or Cambridge. But he had quickly won a provincial reputation for his "powerful preaching and impressive personality." He was just 27 when he first arrived at the old Wren church in the Strand. "Immense congregations" were soon drawn to hear the handsome Scot preach. He also spoke from the pulpits in the Chapel Royal and St. Paul's. In the civil world, he presided over the Strand Improvement Association (S.I.A.) The new Law Courts were under construction and Lindsay led the effort to co-ordinate the renewal of Dr. Johnson's famous but now somewhat forlorn haunts.

Suddenly, however, in March 1885, Lindsay was a central figure in a questionable "bill changing case" in the Lord Mayor's Court. The rector was sued by Albert Bernstein, the proprietor of the Rutland Club, a haughty title for a rather dodgy establishment off the Tottenham Court Road. He had come to the law for restitution in the matter of a £50 bill of exchange in the Rev. Dr. Lindsay's name and bearing the cleric's signature but which the rev-gentleman's bank would not honour. Bernstein claimed to have acquired the note from a young man named James Harris. Bernstein bought up the note from the desperate lad, Harris walking away with £20 cash and £20 in cigars.

The rector of St. Clement's insisted the note was a forgery and that Bernstein had threatened him with going public regarding the relationship between a young man of no certain employment and the incumbent of one of the best known churches in the realm. 

The featured witness in "the extraordinary action" was James Harris, who looked not much older than twenty. He had been employed in various jobs, meeting the Rev. Lindsay in 1883 while then working as a runner for lawyers in chambers. The rector had been very kind to him, letting him do some secretarial work at the church and the S.I.A. Harris admitted he had pawned one of the rector's watches and done little acts of forgery. Caught once, he swore never to do it again. But this bill in question, Harris insisted, was legitimate. The witness also copped to writing a letter to the rector that unless he honored the bill, he would publicly reveal things "between you and I." The full letter was read in court but was unfit for newspaper accounts. The umbrella term of "improper familiarities" would have to serve. Harris told the court that he was thoroughly ashamed of his conduct.


The Rev. John Lindsay DD
In the witness box, Rev Lindsay stated that he was a married man with young children. He admitted having taken a "fancy" to Harris upon their acquaintance and - as he did with many of the youth he encountered in his parish - he tried to assist in getting the young man on to the right path. His wife knew of Harris and warned him to be very cautious. After a first incident of forgery, he made Harris swear on the altar at St Clement's that he would never do it again. Harris was Jewish (but considering confirmation.) 

The Lindsay family home was in Gordon Square but, frequently, his work kept him at the church and he often stayed in his room at the rectory in Norfolk Street. The rector admitted that, on one occasion, he and Harris shared a bed. It was very late, other rooms were locked, the servants were all gone or asleep and there was nothing for it. Absolutely no impropriety had taken that place on that occasion or at any time during his friendship with this young person, Lindsay asserted. He rejected any suggestion that Harris had been given that sizeable bill to go away and say no more.

Lindsay's QC denounced the "base ingratitude" of Harris who betrayed an offer of sincere friendship and assistance and now made unspeakable accusations in an effort to cover up his crass crime of forgery. The jury agreed, informing the judge that they would require no instructions on the case; they were unanimous in their verdict for the Rev. Lindsay. The news was received with "marked approbation" in the courtroom filled with parishioners and fellow clergymen.

After the trial, the Rev Lindsay's career never recaptured its earlier momentum. The curious details of the case and the "one night accommodation" did not pass without notice. Lindsay soon left London for a small rural parish in Shropshire. He did eventually return to the capitol, spending his later years ministering on the docks in Limehouse. All in all, a much different setting from those halcyon days in the Strand: Let's all go down the Strand. Oh, what a happy land. That's the place for fun and noise, all among the girls and boys. So let's all go down the Strand.

Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Volume 2 is on sale now exclusively through amazon.com and amazon.co.uk


Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Poor Rector with a Rich Wife

The Hoopoe
By rail and by mail coach, they arrived. For months in 1839, in regular deliveries, caged and crated, came Cutthroats, Cardinals, Bishops, Hoopoes, Widows, Blackheaded Manakins, Nutmeg birds, Waxbills, Avadawatts, Quaker birds, Lorys, Love birds, Java Sparrows, Virginian Nightingales, Parrots, Paroquets, etc, more than 500 exotic birds shipped from London to the rectory at Milton Malsor. The Rev Edward Robert Butcher D.D. was the newly arrived rector of Holy Cross church in the Northamptonshire village, with his wife Caroline and their two daughters. Significantly, it was Mrs. Butcher who had ordered all these birds from the estimable Mrs. Freestone, a Dickensian figure who dabbled in native and imported birds for "the Nobility and Gentry" at her shop in London's St. Martin's Lane. 

In 1840, a lengthy dispute arose between the two ladies and Mrs. Freestone went to law. Relying on the common law principle that a husband shall be responsible for the debts of his wife, Mrs. Freestone sued the Rev. Butcher for goods (i.e. birds), sold and delivered, valued at £959 - close to a neat £100,000 in today's sterling. To which the country cleric replied, "Nunquam indebitatas." Not my debt, ma'am.

In the Court of Queen's Bench, the Rev Butcher explained that he was simply a "poor rector with a rich wife." Actually, he earned £400 a year. His wife was the sole heiress of a wealthy Middle Temple Barrister, with a separate bank account and fortune paying her £380 per year. In their marriage settlement of 1823, Edward and Caroline had agreed it was to be her money. Caroline's bird passion was solely her doing. Mrs. Freestone had come to Milton Malsor rectory several times to visit her great client but the Rev. Butcher swore that his wife had never troubled herself to introduce him to this curious woman "who dabbled in birds." The bills that steadily arrived were all addressed to "Mrs. Dr. Butcher."

Milton Malsor Rectory (Milton Malsor Historical Soc.)
The case of Freestone v Butcher has become something of a classic in the law of necessaries. Decades before "Married Women's Property" laws became a thing, tradesmen were permitted to rely on the husband to pay for his wife's "necessary" purchases - for her home and person, such as food and fashion suitable to their station in life. The wife, in such transactions, was considered to be the "agent" for her husband. But Lord Abinger, who presided in this case, thought this was a wholly different matter: "Here you have a married woman ordering, in about ten months, £900 worth of fancy birds." What if she suddenly ordered five puncheons (barrels) of rum? Nor was it enough for Mrs. Freestone to claim the rector, surrounded by an ever expanding aviary, "must" have known what his wife was doing with her money. His Lordship held that "it is the bounden duty of tradesmen (and, in this case, a woman) when they find a wife giving extravagant orders, to give notice to the husband immediately, if they mean to hold him liable." 

Sadly, the bird-hoarding Mrs. Butcher "shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the bleedin' choir invisible" in 1844. The fate of her collection is not known. Her husband left Milton for a new flock in Wandsworth in 1844.

Volume Two of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series remains on sale exclusively through amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.