Saturday, October 07, 2006

That would be an ecumenical matter...

There must be something about the ‘rough-and-ready’ nature of the Fylde landscape that produces larger-than-life characters amongst its clergy. Take Parson Potter of Pilling, for example, of whom the antiquarian Kathleen Eyre once wrote, “…he was a notorious cleric with a powerful personality and an interest in wrecks.”
There’s diplomacy for you!
In case you’re wondering, Potter’s ‘interest in wrecks’ had nothing to do with archaeological research and everything to do with securing any salvage that might be in the offing. One famous story, as related by Allan Clarke, recalls that: “One Sunday evening a man rushed into church with news of a wreck. The congregation, scenting spoil, began to move for the door, whereupon the parson called out, as he hurried down from the pulpit, “Here! Hold on – let’s all start fair.””

Potter’s enthusiasm for nautical disasters was only outweighed by his pursuit of fighting. According to local legend, on one occasion he managed to ‘preach twice’ and ‘fight thrice’ all on the same Sunday.
When it comes to bare-knuckle boxing, however, it would be difficult to beat the local historian and defrocked vicar of St John’s, William Thornber. Thornber’s less-than-sociable drinking, along with his method of solving political disputes with his fists, was already notorious when, somewhat the worse for wear, he found himself face to face with Alfred Scott. Scott was the landlord of the Adelphi Hotel in Blackpool and a former prize-fighter. Aware of the reverend’s less-than-sober disposition, Scott refused to serve him any more drink, at which point Thornber grabbed him by the whiskers, shouting, “You reckon you can box, do you? Well try boxing me!”
For the record Thornber, apparently, beat the living daylights out of him.
It could, of course, be argued that Parson Potter and Reverend Thornber’s behaviour wasn’t exactly in keeping with the spirit of Christianity. Unfortunately, according to Henry Taylor’s ‘Ancient Crosses of Lancashire’, Reverend Wilkinson, vicar of Goosnargh, suffered from quite the reverse problem.
Wilkinson was a vehement protestant with an ability to foretell people’s deaths, which, understandably, generated a large amount of dread amongst his flock. Such was their fear that the minister was allowed to destroy every ‘unholy and blasphemous’ Viking cross he could lay his hands on, without reprimand.
Nowadays not a single Norse carving remains in the Fylde.
Not every member of the clergy was above the law, however. Back in mediaeval times pastors were often called before the courts in order to answer for their sins.
In 1341, for example, John de Pleasington complained that William de Lonersale, vicar of Garstang, had broken down his hedges and trespassed in his corn. Fifteen years and one change of minister later Richard Pacock, Garstang’s new vicar, was also taken to court because he, ‘…kept dogs for hunting foxes and hares to the hurt of the deer.’
These accusations pale into insignificance, though, when confronted by the list of misdemeanours levelled at the curate of Singleton in 1578:
“There is not service done in due time, he keeps no house nor relieves the poor, he is not diligent in visiting the sick, he does not teach the catechism, there is no sermons, he churches fornicators without doing any penance, he makes a dunghill of the chapel yard and he has lately kept a tippling house and a naughty woman in it.”
Exactly what role the ‘naughty woman’ played in the curate’s downfall we might never know.
If ministers being thrown to judicial lions by their congregations wasn’t bad enough, in the seventeenth century Reverend Clegg of Kirkham and Reverend Harrison of Elswick went head to head with one another. Clegg took Harrison to the ecclesiastical court, claiming that the Elswick Congregational Church, of which Harrison was vicar, had no authority to conduct services. The court agreed and Harrison was promptly excommunicated.
Angered by this turn of events the now ‘ex-reverend’ took to haunting the back few pews of Kirkham Church on Sunday mornings. On one occasion Reverend Clegg grew so disturbed by his presence that he lost his place in the sermon and, unable to pick up the thread again, the entire church fell into silence. Clegg ordered Harrison to leave. Harrison stubbornly refused unless Clegg performed the eviction himself.
After pleading in vain to the Justice of the Peace, who was sitting just six feet from Harrison at the time, Clegg was forced to leave his pulpit and drag Harrison out of the church by his sleeve. Once through the door Harrison was heard to shout back, “It’s time to go when the devil drives!”
Clegg sued Harrison several weeks later on a charge of ‘non-attendance of church’. Considering that he’d been banned from the building by Clegg himself, the judge took Harrison’s side, arguing that: “There is fiddle to be hanged and fiddle not to be hanged.”
When Harrison died in 1681, somehow his son managed to persuade Clegg to allow the body back into the church for burial. Reverend Clegg, however, managed to have the final word, the inscription on Harrison’s tombstone reading:

“Here lies Cud, Who never did good, But always was in strife; Oh let the knave, Lie in his grave, And ne’er return to life.”

Not the most forgiving of attitudes, perhaps, but one way of ensuring that the congregation doesn’t fall asleep during the sermons.


John said...

Another excellent post, and another terrific illustration. The artwork reminds me of one of my favorite all-time cartoons, Scrag Ends. Hold on, that IS the same artwork! Man, do I miss that cartoon.

Anyways, I found your tales of local personalities quite amusing, except for the part about the stupid so and so who went around destroying the viking crosses and Norse carvings.

It's terribly sad how much damage is done to the works of man in the name of one religion or another, and your entire post should remind us all that God's servants on earth are still only human.

Can you imagine bloggers 300 years from now talking about today's televangelists?

By the way, surely not all norse carvings were destroyed? Haven't you mentioned examples of these in the past?

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


Some Norse carvings survived just outside the Wyre, such as those at Heysham church...but, to the best of our knowledge, none within the borough boundaries. Several Norse burials have been discovered inside the Wyre (mainly because nobody knew they were there in those more evangelical and militant times) and there's plenty of other evidence for the Norse occupation...not to mention our keeill crosses, of course; pre-Norse sculptures from which the more elaborately carved Norse crosses originated. But these can't be described as Norse carvings as such.
Nowadays, fortunately, most members of the clergy are very much on the side of archeology and historic preservation and, in our own experience, tend to have a wealth of useful information and fascinating evidence to share with us. In this modern age the most destructive force as far as historical preservation is concerned is the latter-day religion of commercialism; property developers and council planners being public enemies number one and number two.
We're trying our best to reverse this trend.
As for Scrag Ends...they belong to another lifetime, although one or two of them do appear in the Wyre Archaeology Omnibus...still available from most good Wyre Borough bookshops, Tourist Information Centres and Wyrefield Farm. (It might be a bit far to travel all the way from New Jersey to buy yourself a copy though.)

John said...

Don't even get me started on Land Developers!

As for modern Archeologist Priests, that's terrific. I was talking more about the Taliban who decided that 1000 year old giant Buddha's needed to be removed from the landscape, and the thousand other similar examples throughout history.

British History alone is loaded with these stories, although religion was only one impetus for destruction. How much stonework was reduced to rubble by farmers and such who desired cheap sources of stone? And how about greed or just plain human nature, where items such as Stonehenge were chipped away with hammers to create useless souvenirs?

Some people just don't care about these things, and nothing is sadder than when the irreplacable becomes victim to ignorance or apathy.

At least you guys care, and cheers for your efforts.

At least not everything was destroyed outright. Often items have been found buried, hidden, covered over, or used out of context. We may not learn everything that we can about them, but at least they weren't lost forever.

Cheers :0)

Brian Hughes said...


I'm sadly forced to agree...although ignorance is usually the greatest threat to what lies buried. I suppose in a way you can't blame people for wanting to farm/redevelop a plot of land if they have no idea about its contents. It's a slightly different matter, of course, if they know about the history and archaeological potential of a site but then continue with their destructive course. Unfortunately, round these parts, most local and national historians alike have already written off our ancient past, thus granting the the developers carte blanch. We are trying, however...very trying as far as some people are concerned.

John said...

Once something is gone, that's it. Destroying a piece of history, whether from ignorance, greed, or arrogance, is robbing others of their opportunity to share and explore our history.

I would like to think that even the most uneducated person can recognize art, or at leastlabor. Once upon a time somebody used their time and skills to devote themselves to the creation of an object, whether decorative, functional, or other. Who has the right to destroy that work, for their own convenience or beliefs?


Farmers have destroyed many of Britain's stone monuments for matters of convenience. Stone slabs have been found as doormats, walkways, even laid into roads. Monoliths have been shattered to build walls, since finding stones in situ was too much of an inconvenience when one big rock was readily available.

I understand the working man's plight, but how much of your history, our history, has been lost forever, long before a camera or artist could at least have preserved it's image for posterity?

I'm just saying that it's a shame.

Cheers, JOHN

Brian Hughes said...


I couldn't agree more. Some of the farmers round these parts are excellent fellows, allowing us to investigate, probe, photograph and otherwise delve into their fields at random, asking nothing in return but to be kept up to date with our findings. Others, however, like you say, have little regard for our history (the use of a Roman quern as a stepping stone for cows springs to mind). On the other hand there are times when even we dig up lumps of stone and can't be certain whether they're historic artefacts or not. It's hardly surprising that farmers often plough through ancient monuments without realising their historical worth. If it isn't gold-coloured and doesn't have a monarch's head on it most people haven't got a clue. Hopefully our books will help educate a few more people... fingers crossed.