20th August 1840. The Poor Clergy.

’As children multiplied and grew, the household of the priest grew more and more beggarly…often it was only by toiling in his glebe that he could obtain his daily bread. His sons followed the plough, and his girls went out to service’.(1)

Today in 1840 the 8th baronet Sir George Harpur Crewe, of Calke Abbey, Derbyshire, recorded that he was returning to Hollinsclough to see the turning of a farm house into a Parsonage House.

Calke which contrasted with the poor clergy houses.

Calke which would have contrasted with the poor clergy houses.

Sir George as the local squire was responsible for the appointment and often succour of the priests in his patronage, and wrote that he  found the Reverend Smith, a man of ‘missionary spirit and devoted to his Lord and Master with a view to the salvation of souls‘.

He related the destitute state of the ‘natives’ on his Estate and describes the abode of a Minister at the ‘The Flash’, where he ‘found the wife…scrubbing… five children without shoes or stockings running about…the building being a miserable cot’.

Thus did baronet returning from a summer visit from his estate of Warslow commit to his diary on returning to Calke, ‘after spending a week amongst my simple-minded but honest peasantry’.

When Sir George Crewe visited Quarnford in the Staffordshire Moorlands, he was appalled at the Sloth, Poverty and Ignorance. The clergy, he said, were little better than the peasants, one living ‘in a miserable cot by the mountainside’.

Many churches in the 17th century were in a dilapidated state, earth floors were common and at Rowington, Worcestershire in 1674 the clerical inspectors noted that ‘under the seats in the body of the church there is no pavement, but it hath used to be filled with pease straw’.

At Cutsden, Worcestershire in 1676 pigs were reported to grub up graves and most of the bell-wheels were broken and eight years on there were no ropes or clappers and a woman ‘calls to church by knocking one of the bells with a hammer, ascending by a long ladder’.

Moreover the church was fouled by pigeons, a problem at Teddington Chapel which was ‘nasty like a pigeon house’ and its broken font was kept from falling apart by pieces of cord.

In Stoulton Worcestershire, in 1687 the vicarage was ‘scandalously out of repair and the kitchen made a cow-hous’(sic).

Both and parsonage and lower clergy then, apart from those Oxford educated with wealthy livings, were in a poor state.

However many of these were not content to be Parish Priests, but preferred the status of church administration, a fellowship at Oxford or a private chaplaincy.(2)

Even in the 19th century, at the height of wealthy clerical livings, we still have a large number of the likes of  the impecunious fictional, Parson Quiverful with his large brood of 14 children, desperately anxious for clerical preferment.(3)

(1) Historian, Macaulay writing about the early 17thc Jacobean clergy.

Some curates took to crime; the Rev Tryckett of Marston, Derbyshire was found guilty of burglary in the late 17thc.

(2) Back in the 16thc clergy ignorance was endemic as in 1530 the Bishop of London suspended half of his curates due to lack of basic knowledge, and Bishop Hooper in 1551 on a visitation to Gloucester, found that of 311 clerics, 168 didn’t know the 10 Commandments, and nine not even knew the number.

(3) Barchester Chronicles, Anthony Trollope.

Ref: tandfonline.com. English Clergy 1560-1620. Viviiane Barrie-Curian.

Ref: Diaries of the 8th Baronet Sir George Harpur-Crewe of Calke, Derbyshire.

Ref: Parish Records of Parishes mentioned.




About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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