Tom Hughes Clerical Errors: A Victorian Series, Volume 2, (Squeaking Chair Books), 2017, £4.65 Kindle edition, £8.99 paperback
There is a supreme irony I think in that just at the time that support for the Church of England waned especially in towns and industrial cities, there was a dramatic increase in the number of its clergymen…a doubling in numbers from Queen Victoria’s accession in 1837 to 28,000 on her death sixty-four years later. Most lived inconsequential lives ministering to their flocks with varying degrees of success but a few achieved notoriety because of their misconduct, something that was widely reported in the local and national press. In the case of the slander trial of Rev. Turberville Cory-Thomas shared the front pages with news of the Queen’s death. The problem, until the Clergy Discipline Act of 1893 streamlined the process, was that it was extremely difficult to remove a clergyman from his living. Using obtuse ecclesiastical law and top lawyers, clerics could defy efforts to remove them at immense cost in litigation for the church itself. The author of this excellent book draws on his unique database of Victorian clerical scandals to examine five cases of clerical conduct that ended before the courts.
Parson Young's Night Out –At the turn of the twentieth century, the Rev. Charles Gordon Young a boisterous Yorkshire man was rector of a posh parish in Chipstead, a quiet Surrey village. He was initially popular in the pulpit and on the cricket ground but his critics suspected that he drank too much. Despite attempts to get the Rev. Young to moderate his drinking, he steadfastly refused to do so denying that he had any problems with alcohol. Matters came to a head when the local ‘swells’ of Chipstead found their clergyman in a notorious London club with a lady of the evening upon his knee. The result was a legal case in which he was found guilty of being drunk on ‘divers occasions’ and was defrocked. This was almost the end of the matter yet many people in Chipstead felt that the rector had been badly treated and regretted the loss of a clergyman of undoubted ability.
A Case of Heartless Villainy - His prospects blighted, his health ruined, the Rev. Richard Marsh Watson made a living in a clerical agency and selling sermons and he also went in for blackmail. Having seduced his wife's sister, Watson required her to purchase his silence. When she, at last, refused to pay, the ensuing trial that saw Watson sentenced to 12 years penal servitude, shocked all Britain. Still, as one newspaper wondered, ‘What are we to think of the young women who yielded to the advances of a scrofulous parson with one leg?’
A Clerical Lothario - The Rev. Turberville Cory-Thomas, complimented frequently on his ‘dagger moustache’, was quite popular with the church ladies in the rapidly growing parish of Acton Green in West London. His vicar, Mr Spink, praised him regularly until Mr. Cory-Thomas, who was a widower, was accused of attempting to seduce two sisters--one over lunch at Gatti’s, the other in a grim bedsit near Euston Station. Cory-Thomas was immediately dismissed by his vicar after an acrimonious meeting of which both parties later gave different accounts. The ensuing slander trial that Cory-Thomas brought and lost shared the front pages with news of Queen Victoria's death.
I'll Do for Dicky Rodgers - A summer outing on the Broads was under the charge of the Rev. Edward Rodgers, curate of Lowestoft. Too much sun, too much smoke and drink at the ‘after-party’ in the pub and Rodgers was poorly. A local youth offered to help him home. What happened in the darkened lane between the hedgerows? George Rix began telling everyone, ‘He must have thought I was his wife.’ Rumours of what had happened quickly spread throughout Lowestoft and his vicar tried to persuade Rodgers, who said Rix made the whole thing up, to quietly resign. Rodgers won the subsequent slander trial and though his character was cleared it was several years before he received a new living in Nottinghamshire.
The Irreproachable Mr. Karr-Handsome, sporting and the darling of the raffish set at Berkeley Castle was the Rev. John Seton-Karr. In the town, however, the vicar's suavity may have gone too far. Was Mr. Karr's gift of satin dancing shoes to William Gaisford a local solicitor's wife in any way appropriate? But when Mrs. Gaisford, known for her extraordinary teeth, called upon Mr. Karr at his London hotel, sensational rumours were aroused leading to a series of legal battles initiated by the furious William Gaisford that, literally, worried a Bishop to death. Gaisford’s attempt to prosecute Karr before the ecclesiastical court and the civil court for criminal conversation both failed. Karr remained as vicar of Berkeley until 1871 outliving the Gaisfords.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It written with verve and is eminently readable. It’s sometimes difficult to make legal cases interesting but for Tom Hughes this is not a problem. The five cases are well-chosen and retain the reader’s interest throughout. I look forward to Volume 3