Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A Sober Christian Gentleman

William Stephens, clerk of the peace for Radnorshire and a churchwarden at Presteigne, had obviously taken quite a dislike to the town's young Carmarthen born curate John Davies.  For in 1884 the reverend gentleman and Stephens' 34 year old daughter Agnes were forced to marry "surreptitiously" in London.

The 71 year old Mr Stephens, he was born in Kington of a Llananno family, was not prepared to take this lying down. He had complained to the Bishop of Hereford that Davies was a drunkard and a vulgarian and had brought great scandal upon the church.  In January 1885 the Bishop ordered an ecclesiastical inquiry, which was held, appropriately enough given the charges, in Presteigne's Radnorshire Arms.

Stephens' lawyer presented his case to the Chancellor of the Diocese and the five members of the Ecclesiastical Commission. Davies had fallen drunkenly into the street while alighting from a carriage - witnesses said the horse had lurched unexpectedly and the curate was sober. Davies had frequently been drunk in his lodgings - the proprietors of the lodging house said no such thing although they had been pressed by Stephens to say otherwise. Mr Booker, a former teacher and church organist, recalled an incident of profanity following the death of the vicar's wife. Davies had argued that a hymn was too lively a choice for her funeral service.  He'd even resorted to extemporising a verse to the tune "Brief life is here our portion, tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-tum, Mrs West, old girl is gone" - ah but the ex-schoolteacher had been helped financially by Mr Stephens and admitted under cross-examination that he couldn't swear that Davies was drunk.  All the points in favour of the curate being greeted with laughter and applause from the delighted audience.

With Stephens' case disintegrating amidst accusations that it was brought through malice, the remainder of the curate's 25 character witnesses were excused and Davies himself took the stand.  Under oath he denied all the charges against him and that was the end of the matter.  The happy couple being borne away in a carriage by their many supporters and an evening of "the greatest enthusiasm prevailed."

William Stephens died in 1890, who knows if he was ever reconciled to his daughter's new husband.  John and Agnes Davies, she died in 1932, are found in later censuses living in Northamptonshire and Dorset.  Sadly the 1901 census records that their only child had been "feeble-minded" since birth.


There's a brief mention of this - names withheld - in Mr Parker's History of Presteigne, which also reminds us of an earlier incident involving the church organist who had played the Dead March when the happy couple returned from their London elopement.  This incensed the good folk of Presteigne who burnt an effigy of the organist to the accompaniment of the self same tune played by a band.

Inspector Maddox tells it best by relating the charges brought by the organist against nine men for: "unlawfully and maliciously making or having caused to be made, a certain effigy or figure intended to represent the complainant, with having carried or caused it to be carried through the street of Presteigne, and made or caused to be made a great noise or disturbance with a band of music, and having caused a large number of people to collect around the said effigy in a certain field in the township of Stapleton, and having burned same in the presence of about three hundred people, with having riotously and tumultuously caused certain music to be played and making a great noise and disturbance, thereby creating a breach of the peace."

The nine were bound over and the town's police sergeant, whose evidence was deemed too flippant by the powers that be, reduced to the rank of a second class constable.  The organist, perhaps wisely,  moved back to Oxfordshire.

1 comment:

Fferllys said...

What a story - the Stephens father was one of the family from Llananno as you say; they lived at Crychallt (now Crychell) and there is a memorial to one of them inside the church at Llananno. The heraldry tells us that they were one of the tribe of Elystan, but no idea from which line.