Part 5 out of 6
squire." Whereupon he clambered down again, and without much further
delay the service proceeded.]
Our _parish_ church we seldom attended, for the simple reason that the
aged vicar was scarcely audible; but there the clerk, after robing the
vicar, mounted to the gallery above the vestry, where, taking a front
seat, he watched for the exit of the vicar (whose habit it was to wait
for the young men, who also waited in the church porch for him to begin
the service!), and then, taking his seat at the organ, commenced the
voluntary. It was his duty also to give out the hymns. I have known him
play an eight-line tune to a four-line verse (or psalm--we used Tate and
Brady), repeating the words of each verse twice!
The organ produced the most curious sounds. In course of time the mice
got into it, and the churchwardens, of whom the clerk was one,
approached the vicar with the information, at the same time venturing a
hint that the organ was quite worn out and that a harmonium would be
more acceptable to the congregation than the present music. His reply
was that a harmonium was not a sufficiently sacred instrument, and
added, "Let a mouse-trap be set at once."
Robert Dicker, quondam cabinet-maker in the town of Crediton, Devon,
reigned for many years as parish clerk to the, at one time, collegiate
church of the same town. He appears to have fulfilled his office
satisfactorily up to about 1870, when his mind became somewhat feeble.
Nevertheless, no desire was apparent to shorten the days of his office,
as he was regular in his attendance and musically inclined; but when he
began to play pranks upon the vicar it became necessary to consider the
advisability of finding a substitute who should do the work and receive
half the pay. One of his escapades was to stand up in the middle of
service and call the vicar a liar; at another time he announced that a
wedding was to take place on a certain day. The vicar, therefore,
attended and waited for an hour, when the clerk affirmed that he must
have dreamed it! Dicker was given to the study of astronomy, and it is
related that he once gave a lecture on this subject in the Public Rooms.
There is close to the town a small park in memory of one of the Duller
family. A man one night was much alarmed when walking therein to
discover a bright light in one of the trees, and, later, to hear the
voice of the worthy clerk, who addressed him in these words: "Fear not,
my friend, and do not be affrighted. I am Robert Dicker, clerk of the
parish. I am examining the stars." Another account alleges that he
affirmed himself to be "counting the stars." Whichever account is the
true one, it will be gathered that he was already "far gone."
Another of his achievements was the conversion of a barrel organ,
purchased from a neighbouring church, into a manual, obtaining the wind
therefor by a pedal arrangement which worked a large wheel attached to a
crank working the bellows. On all great festivals and especially on
Christmas Day he was wont to rouse the neighbourhood as early as three
and four o'clock, remarking of the ungrateful, complaining neighbours
that they had no heart for music or religion.
The wheel mentioned above was part of one of his tricycle schemes. His
first attempt in cycle-making resulted in the construction of a bicycle
the wheels of which resembled the top of a round deal table; this soon
came to grief. His second endeavour was more successful and became a
tricycle, the wheels of which were made of wrought iron and the base of
a triangular shape. Upon the large end he placed an arm-chair, averring
that it would be useful to rest in whenever he should grow weary! Then,
making another attempt, he succeeded in turning out (being aided by
another person) a very respectable and useful tricycle upon which he
made many journeys to Barnstaple and elsewhere.
However, just as an end comes to everything that is mortal, so did an
end come to our friend the clerk; for, as so many stories finish, he
died in a good old age, and his substitute reigned in his stead.
The following reminiscences of a parish clerk were sent by the Rev.
Augustus G. Legge, who has since died.
It is reported of an enthusiastic archaeologian that he blessed the day
of the Commonwealth because, he said, if Cromwell and all his
destructive followers had never lived, there would have been no ruins in
the country to repay the antiquary's researches. And the converse of
this is true of a race of men who before long will be "improved" off the
face of the earth, if the restoration of our parish churches is to go on
at the present rate. I allude to the old parish clerks of our boy-hood
days. Who does not remember their quaint figures and quainter, though
somewhat irreverent, manner of leading the responses of the
congregation? It is well indeed that our churches, sadly given over to
the laxity and carelessness of a bygone age, should be renovated and
beautified, the tone of the services raised, and the "bray" of the old
clerks, unsuited to the devotional feelings of a more enlightened day,
silenced, but still a shade of regret will be mingled with their
dismissal, if only for the sake of the large stock of amusing anecdotes
which their names recall.
My earliest recollections are connected with old Russell, my
father's clerk. He was a little man but possessed of a consequential
manner sufficient for a giant. A shoemaker by trade, his real element
was in the church. His conversation was embellished by high-flown
grandiloquence, and he invariably walked upon the heels of his boots.
This latter peculiarity, as may well be imagined, was the cause of a
most comical effect whenever he had occasion to leave his seat and
clatter down the aisle of the church. How often when a boy did I make my
old nurse's sides shake with laughter by imitating old Russell's walk!
His manner of reading the responses in the service can only be compared
to a kind of bellow--as my father used to say, "he bellowed like a
calf"--and his rendering of parts of it was calculated to raise a smile
upon the lips of the most devout. The following are a few instances of
his perversions of the text. "Leviathan" under his quaint manipulation
became "leather thing," his trade of shoemaker helping him, no doubt, to
his interpretation. Whether he had ever attended a fish-dinner at
Greenwich and his mind had thus become impressed with the number and
variety of the inhabitants of the deep, history does not record, but, be
that as it may, "Bring hither the tabret" was invariably read as "Bring
hither the turbot." "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego" did service for
"Ananias, Azarias, and Misael" in the "Benedicite," and "Destructions
are come to a perpetual end" was transmogrified into "_parental_ end" in
the ninth Psalm. My father once took the trouble to point out and try to
correct some of his inaccuracies, but he never attempted it again. Old
Russell listened attentively and respectfully, but when the lecture was
over he dismissed the subject with a superior shake of the head and the
disdainful remark, "Well, sir, I have heerd tell of people who think
with you." Never a bit though did he make any change in his own peculiar
rendering of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer.
[Footnote 93: Old Russell, for many years clerk of the parish of East
Lavant in the county of Sussex.]
There was one occasion on which he especially distinguished himself, and
I shall never forget it. A farmyard of six outbuildings abutted upon the
church burial ground, and it was but natural that all the fowls should
stray into it to feed and enjoy themselves in the grass. Amongst these
was a goodly flock of guinea-fowls, which oftentimes no little disturbed
the congregation by their peculiar cry of "Come back! come back! come
back!" One Sunday the climax of annoyance was reached when the whole
flock gathered around the west door just as my father was beginning to
read the first lesson. His voice, never at any time very strong, was
completely drowned. Whereupon old Russell hastily left his seat, book in
hand, and clattering as usual on his heels down the aisle disappeared
through the door on vengeance bent. The discomfiture of the offending
fowls was instantly apparent by the change in their cry to one more
piercing still as they fled away in terror. Then all was still, and
back comes old Russell, a gleam of triumph on his face and somewhat out
of breath, but nevertheless able without much difficulty to take up the
responses in the canticle which followed the lesson. Scarcely, however,
had the congregation resumed their seats for the reading of the second
lesson when the offending flock again gathered round the west door, and
again, as if in defiant derision of Russell, raised their mocking cry of
"Come back! come back! come back!" And back accordingly he went clatter,
clatter down the aisle, a stern resolution flashing from his eye, and
causing the little boys as he passed to quail before him. Now it so
happened that the lesson was a short one, and, moreover, Russell took
more time, making a farther excursion into the churchyard than before,
in order if possible to be rid entirely of the noisy intruders. Just as
he returned to the church door, this time completely breathless, the
first verse of the canticle which followed was being read, but Russell
was equal to the occasion. All breathless as he was, without a moment's
hesitation, he opened his book at the place and bellowed forth the
responses as he proceeded up the church to his seat. The scene may be
imagined, but scarcely described: Russell's quaint little figure, the
broad-rimmed spectacles on his nose, the ponderous book in his hands,
the clatter of his heels, the choking gasps with which he bellowed out
the words as he laboured for breath, and finally the sudden
disappearance of the congregation beneath the shelter of their high pews
with a view to giving vent to their feelings unobserved--all this
requires to have been witnessed to be fully appreciated.
It chanced one Sunday that a parishioner coming into church after the
service had begun omitted to close the door, causing thereby an
unseemly draught. My father directed Russell to shut it. Accordingly,
book in hand and with a thumb between the leaves to keep the place, he
sallied forth. But, alas! in shutting the door the thumb fell out and
the place was lost, and after floundering about awhile to find, if
possible, the proper response, he at length made known to the
congregation the misfortune which had befallen him by exclaiming aloud,
"I've lost my place or _summut_."
A very amusing incident once took place at a baptism. The service
proceeded with due decorum and regularity till my father demanded of the
godfather the child's name. The answer was so indistinctly given that he
had to repeat the question more than once, and even then the name
remained a mystery. All he could make out was something which sounded
like "Harmun," the godfather indignantly asserting the while that it was
a "Scriptur" name. In his perplexity my father turned to Russell with
the query: "Clerk, do you know what the name is?" "No, sir. I'm sure I
don't know, unless it be he at the end of the prayer," meaning "Amen."
The result was that the child was otherwise christened, and after the
ceremony was over my father, placing a Bible in the godfather's hands,
requested him to find the "Scriptur" name, as he called it, when, having
turned over the leaves for some time, he drew his attention to _wicked
Haman_. The child's escape, therefore, was most fortunate. Old Russell
has now slept with his fathers for many years, and the few stories which
I have related about him do not by any means exhaust the list of his
oddities. Many of the parishioners to this day, no doubt, will call to
mind the quaint way in which, if he thought any one was misbehaving
himself in church, he would rise slowly from his seat with such majesty
as his diminutive stature could command, and shading his spectacles with
his hand, gaze sternly in the offending quarter; how on a certain
Communion Sunday he forgot the wine to be used in the sacred office, and
when my father directed his attention to the omission, after sundry
dives under the altar-cloth he at last produced a common rush basket,
and from it a black bottle; how on another Sunday, being desirous to
free the church from smoke which had escaped from a refractory stove, he
deliberately mounted upon the altar and remained standing there while he
opened a small lattice in the east window. All these circumstances will,
no doubt, be recalled by some one or other in the parish. But, gentle
reader, be not overharsh in passing judgment upon him. I verily believe
that he had no more desire to be irreverent than you or I have. The
fault lay rather in the religious coldness and carelessness of those
days than in him. He was liked and respected by every one as a harmless,
inoffensive, good-hearted old fellow, and I cannot better close this
brief account of some of his peculiarities than by saying--as I do with
all my heart--Peace to his ashes!
* * * * *
Mr. Legge's baptismal story reminds me of a friend who was christening
the child of a gipsy, when the name given was "Neptin." This puzzled him
sorely, but suddenly recollecting that he had baptized another gipsy
child "Britannia," without any hesitation he at once named the infant
"Neptune." Mr. Eagles was once puzzled when the sponsor gave the name
"Acts." "'Acts!' said I. 'What do you mean?' Thinks I to myself, I will
_ax_ the clerk to spell it. He did: A-C-T-S. So Acts was the babe, and
will be while in this life, and will be doubly, trebly so registered if
ever he marries or dies. Afterwards, in the vestry, I asked the good
woman what made her choose such a name. Her answer _verbatim_: 'Why,
sir, we be religious people; we've got your on 'em already, and they be
caal'd Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and so my husband thought we'd
compliment the apostles a bit.'"
Mr. Legge adds the following stories:
My first curacy was in Norfolk in the year 1858, a period when the old
style of parish clerk had not disappeared. On one occasion I was asked
by a friend in a neighbouring parish to take a funeral service for him.
On arriving at the church I was received by a very eccentric clerk. It
seemed as if his legs were hung upon wires, and before the service began
he danced about the church in a most peculiar and laughable manner, and
in addition to this he had a hideous squint, one eye looking north and
the other south. The service proceeded with due decorum until we arrived
at the grave, when those who were preparing to lower the coffin in it
discovered that it had not been dug large enough to receive it. This of
course created a very awkward pause while it was made larger, and the
chief mourner utilised it by gently remonstrating with the clerk for his
carelessness. In reply he gave a solemn shake of his head, cast one eye
into the grave and the other at the chief mourner, and merely remarked,
"Putty (pretty) nigh though," meaning that the offence after all was not
so very great, as he had almost accomplished his task. Obliged to keep
my countenance, I had, as may be imagined, some difficulty.
A very amusing incident once took place when I had a couple before me
to be married. All went well until I asked the question, "Who giveth
this woman to be married to this man?" when an individual stepped
forward, and snatching the ring out of the bride-groom's hand, began
placing it on a finger of the bride. As all was confusion I signed to
the old clerk to put matters straight. Attired in a brown coat and
leather gaiters, with spectacles on his nose, and a large Prayer Book in
his hands, he came shuffling forward from the background, exclaiming out
loud, "Bless me, bless me! never knew such a thing happen afore in all
my life!" The service was completed without any further interruption,
but again I had a sore difficulty in keeping my countenance.
Many years ago ecclesiastical matters in Norfolk were in a very slack
state--rectors and vicars lived away from their parishes, subscribing
amongst them to pay the salary of a curate to undertake the church
services. As his duties were consequently manifold some parishes were
without his presence on Sunday for a month and sometimes longer. The
parish clerk would stand outside the church and watch for the coming
parson, and if he saw him in the distance would immediately begin to
toll the bell; if not, the parish was without a service on that day.
It happened on one of these monthly occasions that on the arrival of the
parson at the church he was met by the clerk at the door, who, pulling
his forelock, addressed him as follows: "Sir, do yew mind a prachin in
the readin' desk to-day?" "Yes," was the reply; "the pulpit is the
proper place." "Well, sir, you see we fare to have an old guse a-sittin'
in the pulpit. She'll be arf her eggs to-morrow; 'twould be a shame to
take her arf to-day."
The pulpit was considered as convenient a place as any for the "old
guse" to hatch her young in.
Canon Venables contributes the following:
The first parish clerk I can in the least degree remember was certainly
entitled to be regarded as a "character," albeit not in all moral
respects what would be called a moral character. Shrewd, clever, and
better informed than the inhabitants of his little village of some
eighty folk, he was not "looked up to," but was regarded with suspicion,
and, in short, was not popular, while treated with a certain amount of
deference, being a man of some knowledge and ability. The clergyman was
a man of excellent character, learned, a fluent _ex-tempore_ preacher,
and one who liked the services to be nicely conducted. He came over
every Sunday and ministered two services. In those days the only organ
was a good long pitch-pipe constructed principally of wood and, I
imagine, about twelve inches in length. But upon the parish clerk
devolved the onerous (and it may be added in this case sonorous) duty of
starting the hymn and the singing. In those days few could read, and the
method was adopted (and I know successfully adopted a few years later)
of announcing two lines of the verse to be sung, and sometimes the whole
verse. But Mr. W.M. was unpopular, and people did not always manifest a
willingness to sing with him.
At last a crisis came. The hymn and psalm were announced. The pitch-pipe
rightly adjusted gave the proper keynote, and the clerk essayed to sing.
But from some cause matters were not harmonious and none attempted to
help the clerk.
With a scowl not worthy of a saint, the offended official turned round
upon the congregation and closed all further attempts at psalm-singing
by stating clearly and distinctly, "I shan't sing if nobody don't
foller." This man was deposed ere long, and deservedly, if village
suspicions were truthful.
After which, I think, he usually came just inside the church once every
Sunday, but never to get further than to take a seat close to the door.
He died at a great age. Two or three of his successors were worthy men.
One of them would carefully recite the Psalms for the coming Sunday
within church or elsewhere during the week, and he read with proper
feeling and good sense.
Another of the same little parish, well up in his Bible, once helped the
very excellent clergyman at a baptism in a critical moment. "Name this
child." "Zulphur." This was not a correct name. Another effort,
"Sulphur." The clergyman was in difficulty. The clerk was equal to the
occasion, for the parson was well up in his Bible too.
"Leah's handmaid," suggested the clerk. "Zilpah, I baptize thee," said
the priest, and all was well.
In that church the few farmers who met to levy a poor-rate and do other
parochial work insisted on doing so within the chancel rails, using the
holy table as the writing-desk, and the assigned reason for so doing was
that, being apt to quarrel and dispute over parish matters, there would
be no danger _at such a place_ as this of using profane language. All in
the diocese of Oxford.
It was in the twenties that I must have seen old P.W. (the parish clerk)
and two other men in the desk singing to "Hanover," with a certain
apparent self-complacency in nice smock-frocks, "My soul, praise the
Lord, speak good of His Name," etc. The little congregation listened
with seeming contentment, and it is worth recording that the parson
always preached in the surplice. I suppose Pusey was a boy at that time,
but the custom in this church was not a novelty, whether right or wrong.
It was not the clerk's fault that the hour of service was hastened by
some seventy minutes one afternoon, so that one or two invariably late
worshippers were astounded to be driven backwards from the church by the
congregation returning from service. But so it was. The really
well-meaning kind-hearted parson was withal a keen sportsman and a
worthy gentleman, and with his "long dogs" and man was on his horse and
away for Illsley Downs race course to come off next day, and his dogs
(they won) must not be fatigued. Old P.W., the clerk, reached a good
age, an inoffensive man.
I was rather interested when residing in my parish in grand old
Yorkshire to observe two steady-looking and rather elderly men, each
aided by a strong walking-stick, coming to church with praiseworthy
regularity and reverence. I found, on making their acquaintance, that
they were brothers who had recently come into the parish, natives of
"the Peak," or of the locality near the Peak, which was not many miles
distant from my parish.
Since I heard from their lips the story which I am about to relate, I
have heard it told, _mutatis mutandis_, as happening in sundry other
parishes, until one rather doubts the genuineness of the record at all.
But as they recounted it it ran as follows, and I am sure they believed
what they told me.
Some malicious person or persons unknown entered the church, and having
seized the rather large typed Prayer Book used by the clerk, who was
somewhat advanced in years, they observed that the words "the righteous
shall flourish like" were the last words at the bottom of the page,
whereupon they altered the next words on the top of the following page,
and which were "the palm tree," into "a green bay horse"; and, the
change being carefully made, the result on the Sunday following was that
the well-meaning clerk, studiously uttering each word of his Prayer
Book, found himself declaring very erroneous doctrine. "Hulloa," cried
he; "I must hearken back. This'll never do." Now I cannot call to mind
the name of the parish. It was not Chapel-in-the-Frith. Was it
Mottram-in-Longdendale? I really cannot remember. But these two old men
asserted that thenceforward it became a saying, "I must hearken back,
like the clerk of--."
I recollect preaching one weekday night (and people would crowd the
churches on weekday evenings fifty years ago far more readily than they
do now) at some wild place in Lancashire or Yorkshire, I think
Lancashire. I was taken to see and stand upon a stepping stone outside
the church, and close against the south wall of the sacred edifice, upon
which almost every Sunday the clerk, as the people were leaving church,
ascended and in a loud voice announced any matters concerning the parish
which it appeared desirable to proclaim. In this way any intended sales
were made known, the loss of sheep or cattle on the moors was announced,
and almost anything appertaining to the secular welfare of the
parishioners was made public. I do not state this to criticise it. It
was in some degree a recognition of the charity which ought to realise
the sympathy in each other's welfare which we ought all to display. It
was in those primitive times and localities a specimen of the
simplicity and well-meant interest in the welfare of the neighbour as
well as of oneself, although perhaps the secular sometimes did much to
extinguish the spiritual.
[Illustration: SUNDAY MORNING]
Few people now realise what a business it was to light up a church, say,
eighty years ago. But the worthy old clerk, in a wig bestowed on him by
the pious and aged patron, is hastening to illuminate his church with
old-fashioned candles, in which he is aided not a little by his faithful
wife, who, like Abraham's wife, regarded her husband as her lord and
responded to the name of Sarah. The good old man--and he was a good old
man--was perhaps a little bit "flustered and flurried," for the folk
were gathering within the sacred temple, and W.L. was anxious to
complete his task of lighting the loft, or gallery. "I say, Sally, hand
us up a little taste of candle," cried her lord, and Sarah obeyed, and
the illumination was soon complete.
But, really, few men "gave out" or announced a hymn with truer and more
touching and devout feeling than did that old clerk. I am one of those
who do not think that all the changes in the ministration of Church
services are, after experience had, desirable. I think that in many
instances the lay clerk ought to have been instructed in the performance
of his duties, to the profit of all concerned. And I deem that this
proceeding would have been a far wiser proceeding than any substitution
of the man or his function. There is ancient authority for a clerk or
clerks. It is wise to secure work to be attended to in the functions of
divine service for as many laymen as possible, consistent with principle
and propriety. W.L. was an old man when I saw him, but I can hear him
now as with a pathos quite touching and teaching, because done so
simply and naturally, he announced, singing:
"Salvation, what a glorious theme,
How suited to our need.
The grace that rescues fallen man
Is wonderful indeed."
And though he pronounced the last word but one as if spelt "woonderful,"
I venture to say that the "giving out" of that verse by that aged clerk
with his venerable wig and with a voice trembling a little by age, but
more by natural emotion, was preferable to many modern modes of
announcing a hymn.
It was common to say "Let us sing, to the praise and glory of God." It
is common to be shocked, nowadays, by such an invitation. Are we as
reverent now as then? Do we sing praises with understanding better? I
think it is not so.
I knew a very respectable man, W.K., a tailor by trade, a well-conducted
man, but who felt the importance of his office to an extent that made
him nervous, or (what is as bad) made him fancy he was nervous. The
church was capacious, and the population over two thousand.
A large three-decker, though the pulpit was at a right angle with the
huge prayer-desk and the clerk's citadel below, well stained and
varnished, formed an important portion of the furniture of the church,
the whole structure, as we were reminded by large letters above the
chancel arch, having been "Adorn'd and beautified 1814," the names of
the churchwardens being also recorded. This clerk was observed
frequently, during the service, to stoop down within his little "pew" as
if to imbibe something. He was inquired of as to his strange proceeding,
when he frankly stated that he felt the trials of his duties to be so
great, that he always fortified himself with a little bottle containing
some gin and some water, to which bottle he made frequent appeals during
the often rather lengthy services. He had to proclaim the notices of
vestry meetings of all kinds, as well as to give out the hymns; but what
astonishes me is that he baptized many infants at their homes instead of
the most excellent vicar, when circumstances made it difficult for the
really good vicar to attend.
I saw him, one first Sunday in Lent, stand up on the edge of his square
box or pew, and conduct a rather long consultation with the vicar, a
very spiritually minded, excellent man, upon which we were put through
the whole Commination Service which, though appointed for Ash Wednesday,
was wholly neglected until it lengthened out the Sunday morning of the
first _in_ but not _of_ Lent, and having nothing to do with the forty
days of Lent.
The well-conducted man lived to a good age, and after his death a rather
costly stained glass window was erected to his memory under the active
influence of a new vicar. When privately engaged in church he wore his
usual silk hat, though not approving of any one so behaving.
I recollect, in a large church in a large town, the clerk, arrayed
(properly, I think) in a suitable black gown, giving out the hymn, in a
tone to be regretted, but where the obvious remedy was not to dethrone
the clerk, but rather to have just suggested the propriety of reading
the entire verse, as well as of avoiding a tone lugubrious on
It was Easter Day, and the hymn quite appropriate, but not so
_rendered_ as the clerk heavily and drearily announced:
"The Lord is risen indeed,
And are the tidings true?"
as if there might exist a doubt about this glorious fact.
Pity that he did not enter into the spirit of the verse and add:
"Yes! we beheld the Saviour bleed,
And saw Him rising too."
Within about ten miles nearer to Windsor Castle the clerk of a church in
which not a few nobility usually worshipped, was altogether at fault in
his "H's," as he exhorted the people to sing, "The Heaster Im with the
Allelujer, _h_et the _h_end of _h_every line." Other clerks may have
done the same. He did it, I know well.
Throughout the whole of my very imperfect ministry I have sought to
practise catechising in church every Sunday afternoon, and very strongly
desire to urge the practice of it in every church every Sunday.
It is one of the most difficult parts of the glorious ministry since the
time of St. Luke that can engage the attention of the ordained ministers
of Christ's Church. It needs to be done well. It ought not to be a very
nice, simple sermonette. This, though very beautiful, is not
catechising. Perhaps, if at once followed by questions upon the
sermonette, it might thus become very useful. But a catechesis in which
the catechist simply tells a simple story or gives an amusing anecdote,
or when questioning, so puts his inquiries that "yes" and "no" are the
listless replies that are drawn forth from the lads and girls, is not
interesting or profitable. Whenever I have the opportunity I go to an
afternoon catechetical service. Some failed by being made into the time
of a small preachment; some because in a few minutes the catechist
easily asked questions and then answered them himself. Others were
really magnificent, securing the attention and drawing forth answers
admirably. Was it the great bishop Samuel Wilberforce who said, "A boy
may preach, but it takes a man to catechise"?
I cannot boast of being a good catechist; but I know that catechising
costs me more mental exhaustion (alas! with sad depression under a sense
of trial of temper and failure) than any sermon. But I will say to any
clergyman, _My dear brother, catechise; try, persevere, keep on. It will
not be in vain. But secure an answer_. If need be, become a
cross-examining advocate for Christ, and don't give up until you have
made the catechumens, by dint of a variety of ways of putting the
question, give the answer you desired. You have made them think and call
memory into play, and made them feel that they "knew it all the time,"
if only they had reflected. And you have given them a "power of good."
But what has all this to do with a clerk? Well, I want to tell what made
me _try_ to be a good catechist, and what makes me, over eighty-three
years of age, _still wish_ to become such, though the incident must have
happened some seventy years ago, for I recollect that on the very Sunday
we crossed the Greta my father whispered to me as we were on the bridge
that it was the poet Southey who was close to us, as he as well as our
little family and a goodly congregation were returning from Crosthwaite
Church in the afternoon. For "oncers" were unknown in those times,
neither by poets and historians like Southey, nor by travellers such as
we were. We had attended morning service. A stranger officiated. His
name was _Bush_, and this is important. A family "riddle" impressed the
name upon me. "Why were we all like Moses to-day?" "We had heard the
word out of a Bush," was the reply. But at the afternoon service I was
deeply impressed. The Rev. M. Bush having read the lessons, came out of
the prayer-desk, and to my amazement and great interest catechised the
children and others.
I thought to myself that the practice was excellent, and felt that if
ever I became a clergyman (of which honour there was very small
probability), I would obey the Prayer Book and catechise. Since then I
have catechised ten, twenty, fifty young people, and not infrequently
five hundred to one thousand, and rarely two to three thousand on a
Sunday afternoon, often, however, much exhausted (having to preach in
the evening) and dreadfully cast down at my own failure in not
Decades rolled on. A lovely effigy of Southey occupied his place in
Crosthwaite Church, and I found myself again amidst the enchanting views
of and about Derwentwater. The morning was wet, but I resolved to go as
soon as it cleared up in order to find "th' ould clerk," and inquire of
him touching the catechising of perhaps forty years ago. I was told that
he had resigned, that he lived still at no very great distance. I think
he was succeeded by his son as clerk. After some trouble I found my aged
friend, and told him that very many years ago I was at the church when
Southey, the poet, was there, and I wanted to know if the catechising
was continued. "There never has been any catechising here," said the
worthy old sacristan. "Forgive me, I heard it myself." "I tell thee
there never was no catechising here. I lived here all these years, and
was clerk for nearly all the time." "I cannot help that," I said; "I am
sure there was catechising in your church on a Sunday when I, a boy, was
here." The old Churchman became testy, and my pertinacity made him
irate, as he thundered out that "never had there been catechising in
that church in all his day." I rose to leave him, telling him that I was
very disappointed, but that I was _confident_ that I did not invent this
story, and, I added, the name of the parson was Bush. "_Bush, Bush,
Bush!_ Well, there was a clergyman of that name come here four Sundays,
many a year ago, when the vicar was from home; and now I come to think
of it, he did catechise on the Sunday afternoon. But he is the only man
that ever did so here. There's been no catechising in this church,
except then." We parted good friends after what I felt to be a most
singular interview, far more interesting, I fear, to me than to any who
may read this unadorned tale, and especially the many folks who probably
but for this I should never have catechised.
But I hope the old clerk of Crosthwaite's declaration will not long be
true of any church of the Anglican Communion, "There's been no
catechising here." My success as a preacher, or catechist, or parish
priest has not been great, but this does not greatly surprise me, while
sorrowing that so it has been. But I think it likely that the incident
at Crosthwaite Church was a chief cause of my trying to be a catechist,
and I conclude by saying to any one in holy orders, or preparing to
receive them. Make catechising an important effort in your ministry.
It was a small parish. The vicar was a learned man, and an authority as
an antiquary, and a man of high character. On a certain Sunday morning
I was detailed to perform all the "duties" of Morning Prayer. Doubtless
I was too energetic in my efforts at preaching, for my "action" proved,
almost to an alarming extent, that the huge pulpit cushion had not been
"dusted" for a lengthy period. But it was at the very commencement of
divine service that the clerk demonstrated his originality in the proper
discharge of his duties. "I stands up in yonder corner to ring the
bells, and as soon as you be ready you gives me a kind of nod like, and
then I leaves off ringing and comes to my place as clerk." Nothing could
work better, and the clerk of B----- d and I parted at the close of
divine service on very amicable terms.
Mr. F.S. Gill, aged 86, has many recollections of old clerks and their
ways. In a parish in Nottinghamshire there was an old clerk who was
nearly blind. There were two services on Sunday in summer, and only
morning service in winter. The clerk knew the morning Psalms quite well
by heart, but not so the evening Psalms. On one occasion when his verse
should have been read, he was unable to recollect it. After a pause the
clergyman began to read it, when the clerk, who occupied the box below
that of the vicar, looked up, saying, "Nay, nay, master, I've got
Another time, when an absent-minded curate omitted the ante-Communion
service and appeared in his black gown in the pulpit, the clerk was
indignant, and went up to remonstrate. Knocking at the pulpit door and
no notice being taken of him, he proceeded to pull the black gown, and
made the curate come down, change his robes, and complete the service in
the orthodox fashion.
In another Notts church, during service, there was an encounter between
two clerks. The regular clerk having been taken ill was unequal to his
duties for some weeks, and appointed a man to carry them out for him. On
the restoration to health of the real clerk he came into church to
resume his duties, but found the man he had appointed occupying the
box--the so-called desk. Whereupon they had a scuffle in the aisle.
* * * * *
The Rev. William Selwyn recollects the following incidents in the parish
of F-----, near Cambridge:
Here up to the end of the sixties and well into the seventies a most
quaint service was in fashion. The morning service began with a metrical
Psalm--Tate and Brady--led by the clerk (of these more hereafter). This
being ended, the vicar commenced the service always with the sentence "O
Lord, correct me"--never any other. Then all things went on in the
regular course till the end of the Litany, when the clerk would be heard
stamping down the church and ascending the gallery in order to be ready
for the second metrical Psalm. That ended, the vicar would commence with
the ante-Communion service from the _reading-desk_. This went on in due
course till the end of the Nicene Creed, when without sermon, prayers,
or blessing, the morning service came to an abrupt termination. The
afternoon service was identical, save that it ended with a sermon and
But the chief peculiarity was the clerk and the singing. The metrical
Psalm chosen was invariably one for the day of the month whatever it
might be. The clerk would give it out, "Let's sing to the praise and
glory of God," and then would read the first two lines. The usual
village band--fiddle, trombone, etc. etc.--would accompany him, which
thing done, the next two lines would follow, and so on. Usually the
number of verses was four, but sometimes the clerk would go on to six,
or even seven. Once, I remember, this led to a somewhat ludicrous
result. It was the seventh day of the month, consequently the
thirty-fifth was the metrical Psalm to be sung. I think my late revered
relative, Canon Selwyn, learnt then with astonishment, as I did myself,
of the existence of the following lines within the folds of the
"And when through dark and slippery ways
They strive His rage to shun,
His vengeful ministers of wrath
Shall goad them as they run."
It is hard to think that such a service could have been possible within
seven miles of a University town, and I need hardly say it was very
trying to the younger ones.
In the afternoon the band migrated to the dissenting chapel. On one
occasion the band failed to appear, and the clerk was left alone.
However, he made the best of it, with scant support from the
congregation, so turning to them at the end, said in a loud voice,
"Thank you for your help!"
THE PARISH OF BROMFIELD, SALOP.
From these ludicrous scenes it is refreshing to turn to a service which,
though primitive, was conducted with the utmost reverence and decency.
When I was instituted in 1866 all the singing was conducted, and most
reverently conducted, under the auspices of the clerk. He was a handsome
man, with a flowing beard, magnificent bass voice, and a wooden leg.
With two or three sons, daughters, and others in the village he
carried on the choir, and though there were only hymns, nothing could be
better. Of its kind I have seldom heard anything better. They had to
yield to the inexorable march of time, but I parted from them with
regret. Though we now have a surpliced choir of men and boys, with a
trained organist and choirmaster, I always look back to my good old
friend with his daughters and their companions, who were the leaders of
the singing in the early days of my incumbency.
[Illustration: THE PARISH CLERK OF QUEDGELEY]
The Rev. Canon Hemmans tell his reminiscences of Thomas Evison, parish
clerk of Wragby, Lincolnshire, who died in 1865, aged eighty-two years.
He speaks of him as "a dear old friend, for whom I had a profound
regard, and to whom I was grateful for much help during my noviciate at
my first and only curacy."
Thomas Evison was a shoemaker, and in his early years a great pot-house
orator. Settled on his well-known corner seat in the "Red Lion," he
would be seen each evening smoking his pipe and laying down the law in
the character of the village oracle. He must have had some determination
and force of character, as one evening he laid down his pipe on the hob
and said, "I'll smoke no more." He also retired from his corner seat at
the inn, but he was true to his political opinions, and remained an
ardent Radical to the last. This action showed some courage, as almost
all the parish belonged to the squire, who was a strong Tory of the old
school. Canon Hemmans was curate of Wragby with the Rev. G.B. Yard from
1851 to 1860, succeeding the present Dean of St. Paul's. Mr. Yard was a
High Churchman, a personal friend of Manning, the Wilberforces, R.
Sibthorpe, and Keble, and when expounding then unaccustomed and
forgotten truths, he found the clerk a most intelligent and attentive
hearer. Evison used to attend the daily services, except the Wednesday
and Friday Litany, which service was too short for him. During the
vicar's absence Canon Hemmans, who was then a deacon, found the clerk a
most reliable adviser and instructor in Lincolnshire customs and words
and ways of thought. When he was baptizing a child privately, the name
Thirza was given to the child, which he did not recognise as a Bible
name. He consulted Evison, who said, "Oh, yes, it is so; it's the name
of Abel's wife." On the next day Evison bought a book, Gesner's _Death
of Abel_, a translation of some Swedish or German work, in which the
tragedy of the early chapters of Genesis is woven into a story with
pious reflections. This is not an uncommon book, and the clerk said
these people believed it was as true as the Bible, because it claimed to
be about Bible characters.
Evison was a diligent reader of newspapers, which were much fewer in his
day, and studied diligently the sermons reported in the local Press. He
was much puzzled by the reference to "the leg end" of the story of the
raising of Lazarus in a sermon preached by the Bishop of London,
afterwards Archbishop Tait. A reference to Bailey's Dictionary and the
finding of the word _legend_ made matters clear. Of course he miscalled
words. During the Russian War he told Mr. Hemmans that we were not
fighting for "territororial possessions," and he always read "Moabites
and Hungarians" in his rendering of the sixth verse of the 83rd Psalm.
After the resignation of Mr. Yard in 1859 a Low Churchman was
appointed, who restored the use of the black gown. Mr. Hemmans had to
preach in the evening of the first Sunday, and was undecided as to
whether he ought to continue to use the surplice. He consulted Evison,
whose brave advice was, "Stick to your colours."
The clerk stuck stoutly to his Radical principles, and one day went to
Lincoln to take part in a contested election. On the following Sunday
the vicar spoke of "the filthy stream of politics." The old man was
rather moved by this, and said afterwards, "Well, I am not too old to
learn." Though staunch to his own principles, he was evidently
considerate towards the opinions of others. He used to keep a pony and
gig, and his foreman, one Solomon Bingham, was a local preacher. When
there came a rough Sunday morning the kind old clerk would say: "Well,
Solomon, where are you going to seminate your schism to-day? You may
have my trap." Canon Hemmans retains a very affectionate regard for the
memory of the old clerk.
* * * * *
Mrs. Ellen M. Burrows sends me a charming description of an
old-fashioned service, and some clerkly manners which are worth
From twenty-five to thirty years ago the small Bedfordshire village of
Tingrith had quaint customs and ceremonies which to-day exist only in
the memory of the few.
The lady of the manor was perhaps best described by a neighbouring
squire as a "potentate in petticoats."
Being sole owner of the village, she found employment for all the men,
enforced cleanliness on all the women, greatly encouraged the industry
of lace-making and hat-sewing, paid for the schooling of the children,
and looked after the morals of everybody generally.
Legend has it that one ancient schoolmaster whom this good lady
appointed was not overgood at spelling, and would allow a pupil to
laboriously spell out a word and wait for him to explain. If the master
could not do this he would pretend to be preoccupied, and advise the
pupil to "say 'wheelbarrow' and go on."
On a Sunday each and every cottager was expected at church. The women
sat on one side of the centre aisle and the men on the other, the former
attired in clean cotton gowns and the latter in their Sunday smocks.
The three bells were clanged inharmoniously until a boy who was
stationed at a point of vantage told the ringer "she's a-comin'." Then
one bell only was rung to announce the near arrival of the lady of
The rector would take his place at the desk, and the occupants of the
centre aisle would rise respectfully to their feet in anticipation.
A white-haired butler and a younger footman--with many brass buttons on
their coat-tails--would fling wide the double doors and stand one on
either side until the old lady swept in; then one door was closed and
the other only left open for less-important worshippers to enter. As she
passed between the men and women to the big pew joining the chancel
screen, they all touched their forelocks or dropped curtsies before
resuming their seats. Before this aristocratic personage began her
devotions she would face round and with the aid of a large monocle,
which hung round her neck on a broad black ribbon, would make a silent
call over, and for the tardy, or non-arrivals, there was a lecture in
store. The servants of her household had the whole of one side aisle
allotted to their use. The farmers had the other. There were two
"strangers' pews," two "christening pews," and the rest were for the
children. When a hymn was given out the schoolmaster would vigorously
apply a tuning-fork to his knee, and having thus got the key would start
the tune, which was taken up lustily by the children round him. This was
all the singing they had in the service. The clerk said all the amens
except when he was asleep. The rector was never known to preach more
than ten minutes at a time, and this was always so simple an exposition
of the Scripture that the most illiterate could understand.
But no pen can pay tribute enough to the sweet earnestness of those
little sermons, or, having heard them, ever go away unimpressed.
At the end of the service no one of the congregation moved until the
lady of the manor sailed out of the great square pew. Then the men and
women rose as before and bowed and bobbed as she passed down the aisle.
The two menservants again flung wide the double doors and stood stiffly
on either side as she passed out; then sedately walked home behind her
at a respectful distance.
On each Good Friday the male community of the villagers were given a
holiday from their work, and a shilling was the reward for every man who
made his appearance at the eleven o'clock service; needless to say, it
was well attended.
* * * * *
Another church (Newport Pagnell, Bucks) in an adjoining county--probably
some years previous to this date--was lighted by tallow candles stuck in
tin sconces on the walls, and twice during the service the clerk went
round with a pair of long-handled snuffers to "smitch," as he called
it, the wicks of these evil-smelling lights.
For his own better accommodation he had a candle all to himself stuck in
a bottle, which he lighted when about to sing a hymn, and with candle in
one hand and book in the other, and both held at arm's length, he would
bellow most lustily and with reason, for he was supposed to lead the
singing. This finished he would blow out his candle with most audible
vigour, and every one in his neighbourhood would have their
handkerchiefs ready to drop their noses into.
This same clerk also took up his stand by the chancel steps with a black
rod in his hand, and with tremendous importance marched in front of the
rector down the aisle to the vestry under the belfry, and waited outside
while the clergyman changed his surplice for a black cassock, then
escorted him again to the pulpit stairs.
* * * * *
The Rev. E.H.L. Reeve, rector of Stondon Massey, Essex, contributes the
following excellent stories of old-time services.
The Rev. Thomas Wallace was rector of Listen, in Essex, from 1783, the
date of his father's death, onward. The following story is well
authenticated in the annals of the family, and must belong to the latter
part of the eighteenth century or the commencement of the
It was, of course, a well-established custom in those old times for the
church clerk to give out the number of the hymn to be sung, which he did
with much unction and long preamble. The moments thus employed would be
turned to account in the afternoon by the officiating clergyman, who
would take the opportunity of retiring to the vestry to exchange his
surplice for his academic gown wherein to preach.
On one occasion Mr. Wallace left his sermon, through inadvertence, at
home; and, finding himself in the vestry, considered, perhaps, that the
chance of escape was too good to be lost. At any rate, he let himself
out into the churchyard, and returned no more! He may possibly have been
unable to find a discourse, but these are details with which we are not
concerned. The clerk and congregation with becoming loyalty lengthened
out the already dreary hymn by sundry additions and doxologies to give
their pastor time to don his robes, and it was long ere they perceived
the true cause of his delay. They were somewhat nettled, as one may
suppose, at being thus befooled, and here lies the gist of our story.
Next Sunday the clerk did not give out the second hymn at the usual
time, but waited in solemn silence till Mr. Wallace had returned in his
black gown from the vestry and ascended the pulpit stairs. Then, and not
till then, he closed the pulpit door with a slam; and, _keeping his back
against it_, called out significantly, and with a tone of exultation in
his voice, "We've got him, my boys; _now_ let us sing to the praise and
glory of God," etc.
William Wren held the office of church clerk at Stondon Massey in Essex
for thirty-six years, from 1853 to 1889. He was a rough, uneducated man,
but with a certain amount of native talent which raised him above the
level of the majority of his class. I can see him now in his place
Sunday after Sunday, rigged out in a suit of my father's cast-off
clerical garments--a kind of "set-off" to him at the lower end of the
church. In his earlier days Wren had played a flute in the village
instrumental choir, and to the last he might be heard whiling away
spare moments on a Sunday in the church (for he brought his dinner early
in the morning and bivouacked there all day!) recalling to himself the
departed glories of ancient time. He turned the handle of the barrel
organ in the west gallery from the time of its purchase in 1850 to that
of its disappearance in 1873, but I do not think that he ever
appreciated this rude substitution of mechanical art for cornet,
dulcimer, and pipe.
He led the hymns and read the Psalms, and repeated the responses with
much fervour; perpetuating (long after it had ceased to be correct) the
idea that he alone could be relied upon. Should the preacher
inadvertently close his discourse with the sacred name either as part of
a text or otherwise, a fervent "Amun" was certain to resound through the
building, either because long custom had led him to regard the appendage
as indispensable to it, or because like an old soldier suddenly roused
to "attention," he awoke from a stolen slumber to jerk himself into the
mental attitude most familiar to him. This last supposition, however, is
a libel upon his fair character. I cannot believe that Wren ever slept
on duty. He kept near to him a long hazel stick, wherewith to overawe
any of the younger members of the congregation who were inclined either
to speak or titter. On Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, when the school
attended morning service, and, in the absence of older people, occupied
the principal seats instead of their Sunday places in the gallery,
Wren's rod was frequently called into active play, and I have heard the
stick resound on the luckless head of many an offending culprit.
Let me give one closing story of him on one of those weekday mornings.
It was St. John the Evangelist's Day, and a few of us met at church for
matins. It was thought well to introduce a hymn for the festival (our
hymn book in those days was Mercer's Church Psalter and Hymn Book) and
Wren was to take charge, as usual, of the barrel-organ. My father gave
out hymn 292 at the appointed place, but only silence followed. Again
"292," and then came a voice from the west gallery, "The 283rd!" My
father did not take the hint, and again, rather unfortunately, hazarded
"Hymn 292." This was too much for our organist, who called in still
louder tones, "'Tis the 283rd I tell you!" Fortunately, we were a small
company, but matters would have been the same, I dare say, on a Sunday.
In the vestry subsequently Wren explained to my father, "You know there
are _two Johns_; the 292nd hymn belongs to John the _Baptist's_ Day;
_this_ is John the _Evangelist's_."
The confusion once over my father was much amused with the incident, and
frequently entertained friends with it afterwards, when I am bound to
say it did not lose its richness of detail. "Don't I keep a-telling on
you?" was the fully developed question, as I last remember hearing the
story told. The above, however, I can vouch for as strictly correct,
being one of the select party privileged to witness the occurrence.
* * * * *
Mr. Frederick W. Hackwood, the historian of Wednesbury, has kindly sent
the following description of the famous clerks of that place:
The office of parish clerk in Wednesbury has been held by at least two
remarkable characters. "Old George Court," as he was called--and by some
who are still alive--held the post in succession to his grandfather for
a great number of years. His grandfather was George Watkins, in his time
one of the principal tradesmen in the town. His hospitable house was the
place of entertainment for a long succession of curates-in-charge and
other officiating ministers for all the long years that the vicar (Rev.
A. Bunn Haden) was a non-resident pluralist. But the position created by
this state of things was remarkable. Watkins and the small coterie who
acted with him became the absolute and dominant authority in all
parochial matters. One curate complained of him and his nominee wardens
(in 1806) that "these men had been so long in office, and had become so
cruel and oppressive," that some of the parishioners resolved at last to
dismiss them. The little oligarchy, however, was too strong to be ousted
at any vestry that ever was called. As to the elected officials, the
same curate records in a pamphlet which he published in his indignation,
that "on Christmas Day, during divine service, the churchwardens entered
the workhouse with constables and bailiffs, and a multitude of men
equally pious with themselves, and turned the governor and his wife into
the snow-covered streets." Another measure of iniquity laid to their
charge was their "cruelty to Mr. Foster," the master of the charity
school held in the old Market Cross, "a man of amiable disposition, and
a teacher of considerable merit." These aggressive wardens grazed the
churchyard for profit, looked coldly upon a proposal to put up Tables of
Benefactions in the church, and altogether acted in a manner so
high-handed as to call forth this historic protest. Although the fabric
of the church was in so ruinous a condition that the rain streamed
through the roof upon the head of our clerical pamphleteer as he was
preaching, all these complaints were to no purpose. When the absentee
vicar was appealed to he declared his helplessness, and one sentence in
his reply is significant; it was thus: "It is as much as my life is
worth to come among them!" Allowance must be made for party rancour. It
is probable that Watkins was but the official figure-head of this
dominant party, and he is said to have been a man of real piety; and
after holding the office of parish clerk for sixty years, he at last
died in the vestry of the church he loved so much.
As a certified clerk George Court held the office as long as his
grandfather before him. He was a man of the bluff and hearty sort,
thoroughly typical of old Wednesbury, of Dutch build, yet commanding
presence, in language more forcible than polite, and not restrained in
the use of his strong language even by the presence of an austere and
iron-willed vicar. The tales told of him are numerous enough, but are
scarcely of the kind that look well in cold print. Although fond of the
good things of this world himself, he could occasionally be very severe
on the high feeding and deep drinking proclivities of "You--singers and
ringers"! He was never known to fail in scolding any funeral procession
that had kept him waiting at the church gates too long, and that in
language as loud as it was vigorous. He, like his predecessor, was the
autocrat of the parish.
The last of the long line of parish clerks who occupied the bottom desk
of the fine old Jacobean three-decker was Thomas Parkes. He died in
1884. The peculiar resonant nasal twang with which he sang out the
"Amens" gave rise to a sharp newspaper correspondence in the _Wednesbury
Observer_ of 1857. Another controversy provoked by him was at the
opening of the cemetery in 1868, when as vestry clerk he claimed a fee
of 9 d. on every interment. The resistance of the Nonconformists led to
an amicable compromise.
* * * * *
Mr. Wise, of Weekley, the author of several works on Kettering and the
neighbourhood, tells me of an extraordinary incident which happened in a
Sussex parish church when he was a boy about seventy years ago. The
clerk was a decayed farmer who had a fine voice, but who was noted for
his intemperate habits. He went up as usual to the singers' gallery just
before the sermon and gave out the metrical Psalm. The Psalm was sung,
the sermon commenced, when suddenly from the gallery rose the words of a
popular song, given by a splendid tenor voice:
"Oh, give my back my Arab steed,
My Prince defends his right,
And I will ..."
"Some one, please, remove that drunken man from the gallery," the
clergyman quietly said. It was afterwards found that some mischievous
persons had promised the clerk a gallon of ale if he would sing a song
during the sermon.
* * * * *
Miss Elton, of Bath, tells me of the clerk of Bierton, near Aylesbury,
of which her father had sole charge for a time at the end of the
forties. His predecessor had been a Mr. Stephens. The place had been
neglected, and church matters were at a low ebb. Mr. Elton instituted a
service on Saints' Days, which was quite an innovation at that time, and
the first of these was held on St. Stephen's Day. The old clerk came
into the vestry after the service and said, "I be sorry, sir, to hear
the unkid (= awful) tale of poor Mussar (Mister) Stephens. He be come
to a sad end surely." He had evidently confounded the first martyr, St.
Stephen, with the late curate of the parish, having apparently never
heard of the former.
A new vicar had been appointed to a parish about eight miles from
Oxford, who had been for many years a Fellow of his college, and in
consequence knew little of village folk or parochial matters. Dr. A. was
much disturbed to find that so few of the villagers attended church, and
consulted the clerk on the subject, who suggested that it might
encourage the people to attend if Dr. A. was to offer to give sixpence a
Sunday to all who came to church. The plan was tried and found to
succeed; the congregations improved rapidly, and the church was well
filled, to Dr. A.'s satisfaction. But after a while the numbers fell
off, and to Dr. A.'s chagrin people left off attending church. He again
called the clerk into his counsels, and asked what could be the reason
of the falling off of the congregation, as he had always given sixpence
every Sunday, as he promised, to all who came to the service. "Well,
sir," said the clerk, "it is like this: they tells me as how they finds
they _can't do it for the money_."
* * * * *
The following reminiscences are supplied by the Rev. W. Frederick Green,
and are worthy of record:
I well remember the parish clerk of Woburn, in Bedfordshire, more than
sixty years ago. His name was Joe Brewer--a bald-headed, short, stumpy
man, who wore black knee-breeches, grey stockings, and shoes. He was
also the town crier. He always gave out the hymns from the front of the
west gallery. "Let us sing to the praise and glory of God, hymn--" Once
I heard him call out instead, "O yes! O yes! O yes! This is to give
notice," and then, recollecting he was in church, with a loud "O
crikey!" he began "Let us sing," etc.
Collections in church were made by him in a china soup plate from each
pew. Ours was a large square family pew. One Sunday my brother put into
the plate a new coin (I think a florin), which Brewer had never seen
before, and which he thought was a token or medal, and thinking my
brother was playing a trick upon him, said in a loud voice, "Now, Master
Charles, none of them larks here."
I have also seen him at afternoon service (there was no evening service
in those days), when it unexpectedly came on too dark for the clergyman
to see his MS. in the pulpit, go to the altar--an ordinary table with
drawers--throw up the cloth, open a drawer, take out two candles and a
box of matches, go up the pulpit stairs, fix them in the candlesticks,
and light them.
During the winter months part of his duty was to tend the fire during
service in the Duke of Bedford's large curtained, carpeted pew in
When I was a boy I was staying in Northamptonshire, and went one Sunday
morning into a village church for service (I think it was Fotheringhay).
There was a three-decker, and the clerk from his desk led the singing of
the congregation, which he faced. There was no musical instrument of any
kind. The hymn, which of course was from Tate and Brady, was the
metrical version of Psalm xlii. The clerk gave out the Psalm, then read
the first line to the congregation, then sang it solo, and then the
congregation sang it altogether; and so on line after line for the whole
More attention must have been paid in those days to the requirement of
the ninety-first Canon, that the clerk should be known, if may be, "for
his competent skill in singing."
In 1873 I was curate-in-charge of an out-of-the-way Norfolk village. On
my first Sunday I had an early celebration at 8 a.m. I arrived in church
about 7.45, and to my amazement saw five old men sitting round the stove
in the nave with their hats on, smoking their pipes. I expostulated with
them quite gently, but they left the church before service and never
came again. I discovered afterwards that they had been regular
communicants, and that my predecessor always distributed the offertory
to the poor present immediately after the service. When these men in the
course of my remonstrance found that I was not going to continue the
custom, they no longer cared to be communicants.
In 1870, in Norfolk, I went round with the rural dean visiting the
churches. At one church the only person to receive the rural dean was
the parish clerk, who was ready with the funeral pall to put over the
rural dean's horse whilst waiting outside the church.
It was this same church which, in preparation for the rural dean's
visit, had been recently and completely whitewashed throughout. Not only
the walls and pillars, but also the pews, the school forms, the pulpit,
and also the altar itself, a very small four-legged deal table without
any covering. I suppose this was done by the churchwardens to conceal
the dilapidated condition of everything; but they had omitted to remove
the grass which was growing in the crevices of the floor paving.
Mr. Moxon (deceased), formerly rector of Hethersett, in Norfolk, told me
that he had once preached for a friend in a Norfolk village church with
the woman clerk holding an umbrella over his head in the pulpit
throughout the sermon, because of the "dreep."
Miss E. Lloyd, of Woodburn, Crowborough, writes:
About the year 1833 a gentleman bought an estate in North Yorkshire,
seven miles from any town, and built a house there. The parish was
small, having a population of about a hundred souls, the church old and
tumbledown, reeking with damp; the rain came through the roof; the seats
were worm-eaten, and centipedes, with other like vermin, roamed about
them near the wall. The vicar was non-resident, and an elderly
curate-in-charge ministered to this parish and another in the
neighbourhood. The customs of the church were much the same as those
described by Canon Atkinson in his _Forty Years in a Moorland Parish_ as
existing on his arrival at Danby. There was no vestry. The surplice
(washed twice a year) was hung over the altar rails, within which the
curate robed, his hat or any parcel he happened to have in his hand
being put down for the time on the Holy Table. The men sat for the most
part together, the farmers and young men in the singing-loft, the
labourers below, and the women in front. The wife of the chief yeoman
farmer--an excellent and superior woman--still kept up the habit of
"making a reverence" to the altar before she entered her pew. The
surplice, which hung in the church all through the week, was apt to get
very damp. On one occasion, when a strange clergyman staying at the Hall
took the service, he declined to wear it, as it was so wet.
"He wadn't pit it on," said the old clerk Christopher (commonly called
"Kitty") Hill. "I reckon he was afeard o' t' smittle" (infection).
The same clergyman, when he went up to the altar for the Communion
Service, knelt down, as his habit was, at the north end for private
prayer whilst the congregation were singing a metrical Psalm (Old or New
Version). On looking up he saw that Kitty Hill had followed him within
the rails and was kneeling at the opposite end of the Holy Table staring
at him with round eyes full of amazement at this unusual act of
devotion. Both the curate and the clerk spoke the broadest Yorkshire.
Psalm xxxii. 4 was thus rendered by Kitty: "Ma-maasture is like t' doong
i' summer." He was an old man and quite bald, and used to sit in his
desk with a blue-spotted pocket-handkerchief spread over his head,
occasionally drawing down a corner of it for use, and then pulling it
straight again. If the squire happened to come late to church--a thing
which did not often happen--the curate would pause in his reading and
apologise: "Good morning, Mr. ----. I am sorry, sir, that I began the
service. I thought you were not coming this morning." One sentence of
the sermon preached on the death of King William IV long remained in the
memory of some of his young hearers: "Behold the King in all his pomp
and glory, soodenly toombled from his high elevation, and mingled wi'
In 1845 a new church was built on the old site, a new curate came, Kitty
Hill died, and was succeeded in his office by his widow, who did all
that she could do of the clerk's work, and showed remarkable taste in
decorating the church at Christmas. No clerk was needed for the
responses, as the congregation joined heartily in the service, and there
was a much better attendance than there is now. She died in the
Amongst other varied readings of the Psalms that of an old parish clerk
at Hartlepool may be given. He had been a sailor, and used to render
Psalm civ. 26 as "There go the ships, and there is that lieutenant whom
Thou hast made to take his pastime therein."
The late Dr. Gatty, in his record of _A Life at One Living_, mentions
that at Ecclesfield, as in many other places, the office of parish clerk
was hereditary. The last holder of the office, who used to sit in his
desk clad in a black bombazine gown, was a publican by trade, a decent,
honest man, who during the fifty-one years he was clerk was only twice
absent from service. He died in 1868, and the offices of clerk and
sexton were then united and held by one person.
The register books of Weybridge, Surrey, were kept for a great part of
the eighteenth century by the parish clerks, the son succeeding his
father in office for three or four generations.
Now probably the clerks are no more clerks but vergers; and as a
Yorkshireman remarked, "_Verging_ is a very honourable profession."
The portrait of John Gray, sometime clerk in Eton College Chapel, taken
in his gown as he stood in his desk, has been engraved, and is well
known to old Etonians.
* * * * *
Few people possess the gift of humour in the same degree as the late
Bishop Walsham How, and his stories of the race of parish clerks and
vergers must not be omitted, and are here published by permission of his
son, Mr. F.D. How, editor of _Lighter Moments_.
When I was a deacon, and naturally shy, I was visiting my aunts at
Workington, where my grandfather had been rector, and was asked to
preach on Sunday evening in St. John's, a wretched modern church--a
plain oblong with galleries, and a pulpit like a very tall wineglass,
with a very narrow little straight staircase leading up to it, in the
middle of the east part of the church. When the hymn before the sermon
was given out I went as usual to the vestry to put on the black gown.
Not knowing that the clergyman generally stayed there till the end of
the hymn, I emerged as soon as I had vested myself and walked to the
pulpit and ascended the stairs. When nearly at the summit, to my horror
I discovered a very fat beadle in the pulpit lighting the candles. We
could not possibly pass on the stairs, and the eyes of the whole
congregation were upon me. It would be ignominious to retreat. So after
a few minutes' reflection I saw my way out of the difficulty, which I
overcame by a very simple mechanical contrivance. I entered the pulpit,
which exactly fitted the beadle and myself, and then face to face we
executed a rotary movement to the extent of a semicircle, when the
beadle finding himself next the door of the pulpit was enabled to
descend, and I remained master of the situation.
* * * * *
At Uffington, near Shrewsbury, during the incumbency of the Rev. J.
Hopkins, the choir and organist, having been dissatisfied with some
arrangement, determined not to take part in the service. So when the
clerk, according to the usual custom of those days, gave out the hymn,
there was a dead silence. This lasted a little while, and then the
clerk, unable to bear it, rose up and appealed to the congregation,
saying most imploringly, "Them as _can_ sing _do_ ye sing: it's misery
to be a this'n" (Shropshire for "in this way").
* * * * *
At Wolstanton, in the Potteries, there was a somewhat fussy verger
called Oakes. On one occasion, just at the time of the year when it was
doubtful whether lights would be wanted or no, and when they had not yet
been lighted for evening service, a stranger, who was a very smart young
clergyman, was reading the lessons and had some difficulty in seeing. He
had on a pair of delicate lavender kid gloves. The verger, perceiving
his difficulty, went to the vestry, got two candles, lighted them, and
walked to the lectern, before which he stood solemnly holding the
candles (without candlesticks) in his hands. This was sufficiently
trying to the congregation, but suddenly some one rattled the latch of
the west door, when Oakes, feeling that it was absolutely necessary to
go and see what was the matter, thrust the two candles into the poor
young clergyman's delicately gloved hands, and left him!
At the church of Stratfieldsaye, where the Duke of Wellington was a
regular attendant, a stranger was preaching, and the verger when he
ended came up the stairs, opened the pulpit door a little way, slammed
it to, and then opened it wide for the preacher to go out. He asked in
the vestry why he had shut the door again while opening it, and the
verger said, "We always do that, sir, to wake the duke."
A former young curate of Stoke being very anxious to do things
rubrically, insisted on the ring being put on the "fourth finger" at a
wedding he took. The woman resisted and said, "I would sooner die than
be married on my little finger." The curate said, "But the rubric says
so," whereupon the _deus ex machina_ appeared in the shape of the parish
clerk, who stepped forward and said, "In these cases, sir, the thoomb
counts as a digit."
A gentleman going to see a ritualistic church in London was walking
into the chancel when an official stepped forward and said, "You mustn't
go in there." "Why not?" said the gentleman. "I'm put here to stop you,"
said the man. "Oh! I see," said the gentleman; "you're what they call
the _rude_ screen, aren't you?"
* * * * *
A clergyman in the diocese of Wakefield told me that when first he came
to the parish he found things in a very neglected state, and among other
changes he introduced an early celebration of the Holy Communion. An old
clerk collected the offertory, and when he brought it up to the
clergyman he said, "There's eight on 'em, but two 'asn't paid."
* * * * *
A verger was showing a lady over a church when she asked him if the
vicar was a married man. "No, ma'am," he answered, "he's a chalybeate."
* * * * *
A verger showing a large church to a stranger, pointed out another man
and said, "That is the other verger." The gentleman said, "I did not
know there were two of you," and the verger replied, "Oh, yes, sir, he
werges up one side of the church and I werges up the other."
* * * * *
On my first visit to Almondbury to preach, the verger came to me in the
vestry and said, "A've put a platform in t' pulpit for ye; you'll excuse
me, but a little man looks as if he was in a toob." (N.B. To prevent
undue inferences I am five feet nine inches in height.)
* * * * *
One of the speakers at the meeting of the Catholic Truth Society at
Bristol (Sept., 1895) told a story of a pious Catholic visiting
Westminster Abbey, and kneeling in a quiet corner for private devotion,
when he was summoned in stentorian tones to come and view the royal
tombs and chapels. "But I have seen them," said the stranger, "and I
only wish to say my prayers." "Prayers is over," said the verger.
"Still, I suppose," said the stranger, "there can be no objection to my
saying my prayers quietly here?" "No objection, sir!" said the irate
verger. "Why, it would be an insult to the Dean and Chapter."
* * * * *
The Rev. M.E. Jenkins writes his remembrances of several old clerks.
There was dear old Robert Livesay, of Blackburn parish church, whom
every one knew, his large rubicund face beaming with good nature and
humour--a very kindly old soul. In 1870 I was appointed to an old-world
Dale's parish, which had one of the real old Yorkshire clerks, Frank
Hutchinson. He was lame and blind in one eye, and well do I recall his
sonorous and tremulous response, his love for the Psalms (Tate and
Brady's); he "reckoned nought o' _Hymns Ancient and Modern_." I used
generally to find him with a long pipe in the vestry on my return from
afternoon service. He was a great authority on the ancient history of
the parish, and was formerly schoolmaster. He had brought up most
respectably a large family of sons and daughters on the smallest means,
many of whom still survive. I had a great respect for the old man, and
so he had for me. He was very great at leading that peculiarly
dirge-like wail at the huge Yorkshire funerals. I never could quite make
out any words, but as a singularly effective and musical cadence in a
minor key, it was no doubt a survival, as I once heard Canon Atkinson
say, the famous vicar of Danby, my immediate neighbour on the moors. At
last I attended Frank Hutchinson daily in his prolonged decay, and
received his solemn blessing and commendation on my work; and he
received at my hand a few hours before his death his last communion,
surrounded by all his children and grandchildren, in his small bedroom,
by the light of a single candle. I can still see his thin face uplifted.
It is thirty-five years ago, and I can still hear the striking of his
lucifer match in the midst of the afternoon service, and see him holding
up close to his own eye the candle and the book, and can hear his
tremulous "Amen," quite independent of the choral one sung by a small
choir in the chancel. He was great in epitaphs. A favourite one, which
he would recite _ore rotunda_, was:
"Let this record, what few vain marbles can,
Here lies an honest man."
Another, which, by the way, is in Egton churchyard, ran as follows:
"Life is but a winter's day;
Some breakfast and away,
Others to dinner stop and are full fed,
The oldest man but sups and goes to bed."
He was a genuine old Dalesman of a type passed away. His spirits really
never survived the abolition of the stringed instruments in the western
gallery with its galaxy of village musicians. "I hugged bass fiddle for
many a year," he once told me. Peace be to his memory.
* * * * *
Canon Atkinson tells of his good and harmless but "feckless" parish
clerk and schoolmaster at Danby, whom, when about to take a funeral, he
discovered sitting in the sunny embrasure of the west window, with his
hat on, of course, and comfortably smoking his pipe. The clerk was a
brother of the old vicar of Danby, and they seem to have been a curious
and irreverent pair. The historian of Danby, in his _Forty Years in a
Moorland Parish_, fully describes his first visit to the clerk's school,
and the strange custom of weird singing at funerals to which Mr.
* * * * *
Another north-country clerk-schoolmaster was obliged to relinquish his
scholastic duties and make way for a certified teacher. One day he heard
the new master tell his pupils: "'A' is an indefinite article. 'A' is
one, and can only be applied to one thing. You cannot say a cats or a
dogs; but only a cat, a dog." The clerk at once reported the matter to
his rector. "Here's a pretty fellow you've got to keep school! He says
that you can only apply the article 'a' to nouns of the singular number;
and here have I been singing 'A--men' all my life, and your reverence
has never once corrected me."
* * * * *
Communicated by Mrs. Williamson, Lydgate Vicarage:
The old parish clerk of Radcliffe was secretary of the races committee,
and would hurry out of church to attend these meetings. Mr. Foxley, the
rector, was told of this weakness of his clerk, so one Wednesday
evening, when the rector knew there was a meeting, he got into the
pulpit (a three-decker was then in the church), and began his sermon.
Half an hour went by, then the clerk began to be restless. Another
half-hour passed; the clerk looked up from his seat under the pulpit,
but still the rector went on preaching. It was too late then for the
race-course meeting. So when the sermon was at length finished, the
clerk got up and gave out "the 'undred and nineteenth Psalm from yend
to yend. He's preached all day, and we'll sing all neet" (night).
* * * * *
At Westhoughton Church, Lancashire, there was a clerk of the old school,
one Platt, who just before the sermon would stretch his long arm and
offer his snuff-box to his old friend Betty, and to other cronies who
happened to be in his immediate neighbourhood.
* * * * *
The clerk at Stratfieldsaye, who was a character, once astonished a
strange clergyman who was taking the duty. The choir sat in the gallery,
and the numbers were few on that Sunday. "Mon I 'elp them chaps? they be
terrible few," said the clerk. The clergyman quite agreed that he should
render them his valuable assistance, and sit in the gallery. Presently a
man came in late, and was kneeling down to say his private prayer, when
the clergyman was horrified to see the clerk deliberately rise in the
gallery and throw a book at the man's head. When remonstrated with after
service the clerk replied carelessly, "Oh, it were only my way o'
telling him to sing up, as we were terrible short this marning."
The old clerk of Clapham, Bedford, Mr. Thomas Maddams, always used to
read his own version of Psalm xxxix. 12: "Like as it were a moth
fretting in a garment." Apparently his idea was of a moth annoyed at
being in a garment from which it could not escape.
A parish clerk (who prided himself upon being well read) occupied his
seat below the old "three-decker" pulpit, and whenever a quotation or an
extract from the classics was introduced into the sermon he, in an
undertone, muttered its source, much to the annoyance of the preacher
and amusement of the congregation. Despite all protests in private, the
thing continued, until one day, the vicar's patience being exhausted, he
leant over the pulpit side and immediately exclaimed, "Drat you; shut
up!" Immediately, in the clerk's usual sententious tone, came the reply,
"His own." (William Haggard, _Liverpool Daily Post_.)
* * * * *
N.B. I have heard this story before, and in a different key:
The preacher was a young, bumptious fellow, fond of quoting the
classics, etc. One day a learned classic scholar attended his service,
and was heard to say, after each quotation, "That's Horace," "That's
Plato," and such-like, until the preacher was at his "wits' ends" how
to quiet the man. At last, leaning over the pulpit, he looked the man in
the face, and is reported to have said, "Who the devil are you?" "That's
his own!" was the prompt response.
* * * * *
In one of the village churches near Honiton, in 1864, the usual duet
between the parson and clerk had been the custom, when the vicar
appealed to the congregation to take their part. In a little while they
took courage, and did so. This annoyed the clerk, and he could not make
the responses, and made so many mistakes that the vicar drew his
attention to the matter. He replied, with much irritation, "How can _I_
do the service with a lot of men and women a-buzzing and a-fizzing
* * * * *
A somewhat similar story is told of another church:
An old gentleman, now in his eightieth year, remembers attending Romford
Church when a youth, and says that at that time (1840) the parish clerk
was a person who greatly magnified his office. On one occasion he
checked the young man for audibly responding, on the ground that he, the
clerk, was the person to respond audibly, and that other people were to
* * * * *
Communicated by Miss Emily J. Heaton, of Sitting-bourne:
My father lived and worked as the clergyman of a parish until he was
eighty-nine years of age. He remembered a clerk in a Yorkshire parish in
the time of one of the Georges. The clergyman said the versicle, "O
Lord, save the King," and the clerk made no reply. The prayer was
repeated, but still no answer. He then touched the clerk, who sat in
the desk below, and who replied:
"A we'ant! He won't tak tax off 'bacca!"
* * * * *
Communicated by Mr. Frederick Sherlock:
I remember as a lad attending a church which owned a magnificent
specimen of the parish clerk. He used to wear a dress-coat, and it was
his practice to follow the clergy from the vestry, and while the vicar
and curate were saying their private prayers in the reading-desk in
which they both sat together, the venerable clerk with measured tread
passed down the centre of the church affably smiling and bowing right
and left to such of the parishioners as were in his favour. In due
course he arrived in the singers' gallery, where he had the place of
honour under the organ: the good old man was leading soloist, which we
well knew when Jackson's _Te Deum_ was sung on the greater festivals,
for there was always a solemn pause before the venerable worthy quavered
forth his solo.
* * * * *
It was a pew-rented church, and once a quarter strangers were startled,
when the vicar from his place in the reading-desk had announced the
various engagements of the week, to hear the clerk's majestic voice from
his place in the gallery add, "And _I_ beg to announce" (with a marked
emphasis on the _I_) "that the churchwardens will attend in the vestry
on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday next, at eight o'clock, for the
purpose of receiving pew rents and letting seats for the
* * * * *
As touching parish clerks, it is of interest to recall that William
Maybrick was clerk of St. Peter's, Liverpool, from 1813-48. He had two
sons, William, who became clerk, and Michael, who was organist at St.
Peter's for many years. William Maybrick, junior, had also two sons,
James, whose name was so much before the public owing to the
circumstances surrounding his death, and Michael, better known as
"Stephen Adams," the famous composer and singer.
* * * * *
The following is a curious letter from a parish clerk to his vicar after
giving notice to quit the latter's service. He was clerk of the parish
of Maldon, Essex.
DEAR AND REV. SIR,
I avail myself of the opportunity of troubling your honour with these
lines, which I hope you will excuse, which is the very sentiments of
your humble servant's heart. Ignorantly, rashly, but reluctantly, I gave
you warning to leave your highly respected office and most amiable duty,
as being your servant, and clerk of this your most well wished parish,
and place of my succour and support.
But, dear Sir, I well know it was no fault of yours nor from any of my
most worthy parishioners. It were because I thought I were not
sufficiently paid for the interments of the silent dead. But will I be a
Judas and leave the house of my God, the place where His Honour dwelleth
for a few pieces of money? No. Will I be a Peter and deny myself of an
office in His Sanctuary and cause me to weep bitterly? No. Can I be so
unreasonable as to deny, if I like and am well, to ring that solemn bell
that speaks the departure of a soul? No. Can I leave digging the tombs
of my neighbours and acquaintances which have many a time made me
shudder and think of my mortality, when I have dug up the mortal remains
of some perhaps as I well knew? No. And can I so abruptly forsake the
service of my beloved Church of which I have not failed to attend every
Sunday for these seven and a half years? No. Can I leave waiting upon
you a minister of that Being that sitteth between the Cherubim and
flieth upon the wings of the wind? No. Can I leave the place where our
most holy services nobly calls forth and says, "Those whom God have
joined together" (and being as I am a married man) "let no man put
asunder"? No. And can I leave that ordinance where you say then and
there "I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Ghost," and he becomes regenerate and is grafted into the body
of Christ's Church? No. And can I think of leaving off cleaning at
Easter the House of God in which I take such delight, in looking down
her aisles and beholding her sanctuaries and the table of the Lord? No.
And can I forsake taking part in the service of Thanksgiving of women
after childbirth when mine own wife has been delivered ten times? No.
And can I leave off waiting on the congregation of the Lord which you
well know, Sir, is my delight? No. And can I forsake the Table of the
Lord at which I have feasted I suppose some thirty times? No. And, dear
Sir, can I ever forsake you who have been so kind to me? No. And I well
know you will not entreat me to leave, neither to return from following
after you, for where you pray there will I pray, where you worship there
will I worship. Your Church shall be my Church, your people shall be my
people and your God my God. By the waters of Babylon am I to sit down
and weep and leave thee, O my Church! and hang my harp upon the trees
that grow therein? No. One thing have I desired of the Lord that I will
require even that I may dwell in the House of the Lord and to visit His
temple. More to be desired of me, O my Church, than gold, yea than fine
gold, sweeter to me than honey and the honeycomb.
Now, kind Sir, the very desire of my heart is still to wait upon you.
Please tell the Churchwardens all is reconciled, and if not, I will get
me away into the wilderness, and hide me in the desert, in the cleft of
the rock. But I hope still to be your Gehazi and when I meet my
Shunamite to say "All, all is well." And I will conclude my blunders
with my oft-repeated prayer, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and
to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall
be, world without end. Amen."
P.S. Now, Sir, I shall go on with my fees the same as I found them, and
will make no more trouble about them, but I will not, I cannot leave
you, nor your delightful duties.
Your most obedient servant,
GEORGE G---- G.
* * * * *
_The Rev. E. G----, Vicar of Maldon._
Communicated by the Rev. D. C. Moore:
In the parish of Belton, Suffolk, there died in 1837 a man named Noah
Pole. He had been clerk for sixty years. He wore a smock-frock; gave out
all notices--strayed horse, a found sheep, etc. He was known by the
nickname of "_Never, never_ shall be," for in this way he had for sixty
years perverted the last part of the "Gloria," "now and ever shall be."
* * * * *
In the parish of Lowestoft, Suffolk, in the forties the parish clerk's
name was Newson (would-be wits called him "Nuisance"). He was arrayed in
a velvet-trimmed robe and bore himself bravely. The way in which he
mouthed "Let us sing to the glory of God" was wonderful. But the chief
amusement he afforded was the habit of hiding his face in his hands
during each prayer, then towards the ending his head would rise till it
rested on his thumbs, and then came out sonorously, "Awl-men."
* * * * *
At St. Mary's, Southtown (near Great Yarmouth), in the late thirties,
etc., a man named Nolloth was clerk. He was celebrated for the
uncertainty of his "H's." For example: "Let us sing to the praise and
glory of God the Heighty-heighth ymn."
* * * * *
At Gorleston (the mother church of St. Mary's, named above) a tailor
named Bristow was clerk. He was a very small man, and he had a son he
wished to succeed him. The clerk's desk was pretty wide and they sat
together. I can see them (sixty years after), one leaning on his right
arm, the other on his left; and when the time came, the duet was
_Ah_-men from the elder and A-men from the younger, one in "tenor" the
other "treble." We schoolboys used to say "Big pig, little pig."
* * * * *
Nicholson, the clerk of St. Bees, if any student was called away in
term, invariably gave out Psalm cvii., fourth part, "They that in ships
with courage bold." In those days there were no trains and no hymns.
* * * * *
At Barkham there is an old clerk who succeeded his father half a century
During the rebuilding of the church his sire, whose name was Elijah,
once visited a neighbouring parish church, and arrived rather late, just
when the rector was giving out the text: "What doest thou here,
Elijah?" Elijah gave a respectful salute, and replied: "Please, sur,
Barkham Church is undergoing repair, so I be cumed 'ere!"
* * * * *
Canon Rawnsley tells a pathetic little story of an old clerk who begged
him not to read the service so fast: "For you moost gie me toime, Mr.
Rawnsley, you moost i'deed. You moost gie me toime, for I've a
graaceless wife an' two godless soons to praay for."
* * * * *
Hawker tells a story of the parish clerk at Morwenstow whose wife used
to wash the parson's surplices. He came home one night from a prolonged
visit at the village inn, the "Bush," and finding his wife's scolding
not to his mind and depressing, he said, "Look yere, my dear, if you
doan't stop, I'll go straight back again." She did not stop, so he left
the house; but the wife donned one of the surplices and, making a short
cut, stood in front of her approaching husband. He was terrified; but at
last he remembered his official position, and the thought gave
"Avide, Satan!" he said in a thick, slow voice.
The figure made no answer.
"Avide, Satan!" he shouted again. "Doan't 'e knaw I be clerk of the
parish, bass-viol player, and taicher of the singers?"
When the apparition failed to be impressed the clerk turned tail and
fled. The ghost returned by a short cut, and the clerk found his wife
calmly ironing the parson's surplice. He did not return to the "Bush"
* * * * *
The old parish clerk of Dagenham had a habit when stating the names to
be entered into the register of saying, _Plain_ Robert or John, etc.,
meaning that Robert, etc., was the only Christian name. On one occasion
a strange clergyman baptized a child there, and being unable to hear the
name as given by the parents, looked inquiringly at the clerk. "Plain
Jane, sir," he called out in a stentorian voice. "What a pity to label
the child thus," the clergyman rejoined; "she might grow up to be a
beautiful girl." "Jane _only_, I mean," explained the clerk.
All clergymen know the difficulty of changing the names of the sovereign
and the Royal Family at the commencement of the reign of a new monarch.
In a certain parish in the south of England (the name of which I do not
know, or have forgotten), at the time of the accession of Her late
Majesty Queen Victoria, the rector charged his clerk to make the
necessary alterations in the Book of Common Prayer required by the sex
of the new sovereign. The clerk made all the needed alterations with the
greatest care as regards both titles and pronouns; but not only this, he
carried on the changes throughout the Psalter. Consequently, on the
morning of the fourth day of the month, for instance, the rector found
Psalm xxi. rendered thus: "The Queen shall rejoice in Thy strength, O
Lord: exceeding glad shall She be of Thy salvation," and so on
throughout the course of the Psalms and the whole of the Psalter. Also
in the prayer for the Church Militant, when prayer is made for all
Christian kings, princes, etc., the distracted vicar found the words
changed into "Queen, Princesses, etc." After all, the clerk showed his
thoroughness, but nothing short of a new Prayer Book could satisfy the
needs of the vicar.
[Footnote 94: From the information of Miss Marion Stirling, who heard
the story from Prebendary Thornton.]
Canon Gregory Smith tells the following story of a clerk in
Herefordshire, who flourished half a century ago:
In the west-end gallery of the old-fashioned little church were
musicians with fifes, etc. etc. Sometimes, if they started badly in a
hymn, the clerk would say to the congregation, "Beg pardon, gents; we'll
As I left home one day, the clerk ran after me. "But, sir, who'll take
the duty on St. Swithin's Day?"
Once or twice, being somnolent, on a hot afternoon he woke up suddenly
with a loud "Amen" in the middle of the sermon.
When I said good-bye to him, having resigned the benefice, he said, very
gravely, "God will give us another comforter."
An old country clerk in showing visitors round the churchyard used to
stop at a certain tombstone and say:
"This 'ere is the tomb of Thomas 'Ooper and 'is eleven wives."
One day a lady remarked: "Eleven? Dear me, that's rather a lot, isn't
The old man looked at her gravely and replied: "Well, mum, yer see it
wus an' 'obby of 'is'n."
The Rev. W.D. Parish, in his _Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect_, tells
of a friend of his who had been remonstrating with one of his
parishioners for abusing the parish clerk beyond the bounds of
neighbourly expression, and who received the following answer: "You be
quite right, sir; you be quite right. I'd no ought to have said what I
did; but I doeant mind telling you to your head what I've said so many
times behind your back. We've got a good shepherd, I says, an excellent
shepherd, but he's got an unaccountable bad dog."
* * * * *
Some seventy or eighty years ago at Thame Church, Buckinghamshire, the
old-fashioned clerk had a much-worn Prayer Book, and the parson and he
made a duet of the responses, the congregation not considering it
necessary or even proper to interfere. When the clerk happened to come
to a verse of the Psalms with words missing he said "riven out"
(pronounced oot), and the parson finished the verse; this was taken
quite as a matter of course by the congregation.
* * * * *
In a Lancashire church, when the rector was about to publish the banns
of marriage, the book was not in its usual place. However, he began: "I
publish the banns of marriage ... I publish ... the banns"--when the
clerk looked up from the lowest box of the "three-decker," and said in a
tone not _sotto voce_, "'Twixt th' cushion and th' desk, sur."
* * * * *
Prayer Book words are sometimes a puzzle to illiterate clerks. At the
present time in a Berkshire church the clerk always speaks of
"Athanasian's Creed," and of "the Anthony-Communion hymn."
* * * * *
His views of art are occasionally curious. An odd specimen of his race
was showing to some strangers a stained-glass window recently erected in
memory of a gentleman and lady who had just died. It was a two-light
window with figures of Moses and Aaron. "There they be, sir, but they
don't much feature the old couple," said the clerk, who regarded them as
likenesses of the deceased.
A clergyman on one occasion had some trouble with his dog. This dog
emulated the achievements of Newton's "Fido," and tore and devoured some
leaves of the parson's sermon. The parson was taking the duty of a
neighbour, and feared lest his mutilated discourse would be too short
for the edification of the congregation. So after the service he
consulted the clerk. "Was my sermon too long to-day?" "No," replied the
clerk. "Then was it too short?" "Nay, you was jist about right." Much
relieved, the parson then told the clerk the story of the dog's
misdemeanours, and of his fear lest the sermon should prove too short.
The old clerk scratched his head and then exclaimed, with a very solemn
face, "Ah! maister ----, our parson be a grade sight too long to plaise
us. Would you just give him a pup?"
* * * * *
A writer in _Notes and Queries_ tells a story of an old-fashioned
service, and with this we will conclude our collection of curious tales.
A lady friend of the writer still living, and the daughter of a
clergyman, assured him that in a country parish, where the church
service was conducted in a very free-and-easy, go-as-you-please sort of
way, the clerk, looking up at the parson, asked, "What shall we do
LONGEVITY AND HEREDITY--THE DEACON-CLERKS OF BARNSTAPLE
There are numerous instances of the hereditary nature of the clerk's
office, which has frequently been passed on from father to son through
several generations. I have already mentioned the Osbornes of
Belbroughton, Worcestershire, who were parish clerks and tailors in the
village from the time of Henry VIII, and the Worralls of Wolverley in
the same county, whose reign extended over a century.
David Clarkson, the parish clerk of Feckenham, died in 1854, and his
ancestors occupied the same office for two centuries. King's Norton had
a famous race of clerks, of the name of Ford, who also served for the
same period. The Fords were a long-lived family, as two of them held the
office for 102 years. Cuthbert Bede mentions also the following
remarkable instances of heredity:
The Roses were parish clerks at Bromsgrove from "time out of mind." The
Bonds were parish clerks at St. Michael's, Worcester, for a century.
John Tustin had in 1856 been clerk of Broadway for fifty-two years, his
father and grandfather having previously held the office. Charles Orford
died at Oldswinford December 28th, 1855, aged seventy-three years,
having been parish clerk from his youth, and having succeeded his
father in that capacity: he was succeeded by his son Thomas Orford, who
was again succeeded by his own son William, one of the present vergers
in this church, aged seventy years. All these examples are taken from
parishes in Worcestershire. An extraordinary instance of longevity and
heredity occurs in the annals of the parish of Chapel-en-le-Frith,
Derbyshire. Peter Bramwell, clerk of the parish, died in 1854, after
having held the office for forty-three years. His father Peter Bramwell
was clerk for fifty years, his grandfather George Bramwell for
thirty-eight years, his great-great-grandfather George Bramwell for
forty years, and his great-great-great-grandfather Peter Bramwell for
fifty-two years. The total number of years during which the parish was
served by this family of clerks was 223, and by only five members of it,
giving an average of forty-four years and nine months for each--a
wonderful record truly!
Nor are these instances of the hereditary nature of the office, and of
the fact that the duties of the position seem to contribute to the
lengthened days of the holders of it, entirely passed away. The
riverside town of Marlow, Buckinghamshire, furnishes an example of this.
Mr. H.W. Badger has occupied the position of parish clerk for half a
century, and a few months ago was presented by the townspeople with an
illuminated address, together with a purse of fifty-five sovereigns, in
recognition of his long term of service and of the esteem in which he is
held. He was appointed in 1855 in succession to his father, Henry
Badger, appointed in 1832, who succeeded his grandfather, Wildsmith
Badger, who became parish clerk in 1789.
The oldest parish clerk living is James Carne, who serves in the parish
of St. Columb Minor, Cornwall, and has held the office for fifty-eight
years. He is now in his hundred and first year, and still is unremitting
in attention to duty, and regularly attends church. He followed in the
wake of his father and grandfather, who filled the same position for
fifty-four years and fifty years respectively.
Mr. Edward J. Lupson is the much-respected parish clerk of Great
Yarmouth, who is a great authority on the history of the important
church in which he officiates, and is the author of several books. He
has written an excellent guide to the church of St. Nicholas, and a
volume entitled _Cupid's Pupils_, compiled from the personal
"recollections of a parish clerk who assisted at ten thousand four
hundred marriages and gave away eleven hundred and thirty brides"--a
wonderful record, which, as the book was published seven years ago, has
now been largely exceeded. The book is brightly written, and abounds in
the records of amusing instances of nervous and forgetful brides and
bride-grooms, of extraordinary blunders, of the failings of
inexperienced clergy, and is a full and complete guide to those who
contemplate matrimony. His guide to the church he loves so well is
admirable. It appears there is a clerks' book at Great Yarmouth, which
contains a number of interesting notes and memoranda. The clerks of this
church were men of importance and position in the town. In 1760 John
Marsh, who succeeded Sampson Winn, was a town councillor. He was
succeeded in 1785 by Mr. Richard Pitt, the son of a former mayor, and he
and his wife and sixteen children were interred in the north chancel
aisle, where a mural monument records their memories. The clerks at this
period, until 1831, were appointed by the corporation and paid by the
borough. In 1800 Mr. Richard Miller resigned his aldermanic gown to
accept the office. Mr. David Absolon (1811-31) was a member of the
corporation before receiving the appointment. Mr. John Seaman reigned
from 1831 to 1841, and was followed by Mr. James Burman, who was the
last clerk who took part in that curious duet with the vicar, to which
we have often referred. He was an accomplished campanologist and
composed several peals. In 1863 Mr. Lupson was appointed, who has so
much honoured his office and earned the respect of all who know him. The
old fashion of the clerk wearing gown and bands is continued at
[Illustration: JAMES CARNE, PARISH CLERK OF ST. COLUMB-MINOR, CORNWALL.
THE OLDEST LIVING CLERK.]
Mr. Lupson tells of his strange experiences when conducting visitors
round the church, and explaining to them the varied objects of interest.
What our clerks have to put up with may be news to many. I will give it
in his own words:
Although a congenial and profitable engagement, it was often felt to be
weary work, talking about the same things many times each day week after
week: and anything but easy to exhibit the freshness and retain the
vivacity that was desirable. Fortunately the monotony of the recital
found considerable relief from the varied receptions it met with. Among
the many thousand individuals, of all grades and classes, from the
highest to the lowest, thus come in contact with, a diversified and wide
range of characters was inevitable. The vast majority happily consisted
of persons with whom it was pleasant to spend half an hour within the
sacred walls, so gratified were they with what they saw and heard: some
proving so enthusiastic, and showing such absorbing interest, that at
every convenient halting-place they would take a seat, and comfortably
adjust themselves as if preparing to hear an address from a favourite
preacher. Occasionally, however, we had to endure the presence of
persons who appeared to be suffering from disordered livers, or had
nettles in their boots, so restless and dissatisfied were they. Scarcely
anything pleased them. Undesirable individuals would sometimes be
discovered in the midst of otherwise pleasant parties. Of such may be
mentioned those who knew of much finer churches they could really
admire. Whenever we heard the preface--"There's one thing strikes me in
this church"--we were prepared to hear a depreciatory remark of some
kind. Some would take pleasure in breaking the sequence of the story by
anticipating matters not then reached, and causing divers interruptions.
Others would annoy by preferring persistent speaking to listening. It
was trying work going round with, and explaining to, persons from whom
nothing but mono-syllables could be drawn, either through nervousness,
or from realising their exalted status to be miles above the person who
was supposing himself able to interest them. Anything but desirable
persons were they who, after going round the church, returned with other
friends, and then posed as men whose knowledge of the building was
equal, if not a shade superior, to that of the guide. Some parties would
waste the time, and try one's patience by having amongst them laggards,
to whom explanations already given had to be repeated. But we must pass
by others, and proceed. The mind would sometimes find diversion by
observing the idiosyncrasies, and detecting the pretensions of
individuals. Gradually gaining acquaintance as we proceeded, we
occasionally discovered some were aping gentility: some assuming
positions that knew them not, and some claiming talents they did not
possess. We will unmask a specimen of the latter class. A man, who was
unaccompanied by friends, wished to see the church he had heard so much
of. He seemed about thirty years of age; was a made-up exquisite,
looking very imposing, peering as he did through gold-rimmed spectacles.
His talents were of such an order he could not think of hiding them. He
had learned Hebrew, not from printed books, as ordinary scholars are
wont to do, but from MSS., and found it so easy a matter, it "only took
two hours," and it was simply "out of curiosity" that he undertook it.
Before mentally placing this paragon among the classics, we showed him
our MS. Roll (exquisitely written, as many visitors are aware, in
unpointed Hebrew), and asked him to read a few words. This was indeed
pricking the bubble. Tell it not in Gath, but publish we will, the
discovery we instantly made. Our Hebrew scholar had forgotten that
Hebrew ran from right to left! and worse still, he even shook his
intellectual head, and gravely confessed that he "wasn't quite sure but
that the Roll was written in Greek."
Other sources of relief to the mind jaded with constant repetition arose
from the peculiar remarks that were made, and the strange questions that
were often asked.
The organ has been a source of wonderment to multitudes who had never
seen or heard of a divided organ. Wonderful stories had reached the ears
of some respecting it.
"Is this the organ that was wrecked?" "Is this the organ that was dug
out of the sea?" "Is this the organ that was taken out of the Spanish
galleon?" "Wasn't this organ smuggled out of some ship?" "Didn't it
belong to Handel?" "Wasn't this organ made for St. Peter's at Rome?"
With confidence says one, "This organ really belongs to the continent;
it was confiscated in some war." Whilst another as confidently asserts
that "it was built in Holland for one of the English cathedrals, and the
vessel that conveyed it was caught in a storm and wrecked upon Yarmouth