"A British Beecher" National Police Gazette (1878)

Transcribed from page 14 of the July 20, 1878 issue of the National Police Gazette.


Serious Charges Against the Popular Young Curate of a Swell Church in England


Among the Fair Devotees of his Flock Bring about Some Ugly Accustations, all of which


The latest London papers bring accounts of a case on trial, before Baron Ruddleston and a special jury, in the Exchequer Division of the High Court of Justice, involving a clerical scandal at Tunbridge Wells. It was an action for slander. The plaintiff is the curate engaged by the Vicar of St. James' Church, Tunbridge Wells, and the defendant is a lady of independent means residing at that place and taking great interest in church matters. From the opening of the case by the solicitor general, it appeared that the plaintiff was about thirty years of age, and a married man with a family. He had been originally appointed to a curacy at Ilfracombe, and lived at the place with his wife and one child. After the plaintiff left that place and went to Tunbridge Wells, a Miss Heath, who was a person of considerable religious feeling, was desirous of attending his ministrations. Upon one occasion, it appeared, an inquiry had been held in reference to certain statements which Miss Heath had made, and the result of that inquiry was that it was considered the statements were untrue, and Miss Heath was requested to withdraw from the temperance work with which she had been especially concerned in connection with the St. James' Church. Miss Heath then became deeply offended with the plaintiff, and having heard that he had been, previously charged with taking liberties with a woman at Ilfracombe, but which charge was dismissed when brought before Mr. Justice Lush, she spread a report in the neighborhood to the effect that the plaintiff had taken indecent liberties with her during private interviews in his own room and in the vestry of the church.

The defendant, who was a friend of Miss Heath, also made similar statements. The plaintiff now brought the case before the court in order that the jury might say whether there was any truth in those charges, or whether they were not malicious and malignant falsehood. Mr. John Smith Weare, residing at Tunbridge Wells, said Miss Walford called upon him about the beginning of August last, when she told him she had called upon a very unpleasant and painful subject, and that she wished what she should tell him should be treated as in confidence between them. Her object in calling, she stated, was to ask him certain questions which were rendered necessary in consequence of the purpose about which she had called. He replied that she might put the question to him in confidence, and that he would only tell his wife, and that he hoped she would also treat what he said in confidence. Miss Walford then said the plaintiff had seduced her friend, and that she had called to ask what he had heard. He was so shocked that he asked her whether she meant to say that the plaintiff had seduced Miss Heath. She replied in the affirmative. He then told Miss Walford that he had heard a statement by Mr. Walsh about the plaintiff and some woman, but be had forgotten the particulars. Witness said he told Miss Walford that they were a queer lot at St. James'. Mrs. Ann Louisa Eyre said she was a widow, living at Tunbridge Wells. On the 8th of March, 1877, she called upon Miss Walford at her request, and Miss Walford told her that the plaintiff had attempted to take liberties with some young woman, Miss Walford subsequently said the name of the young woman was Miss Heath. She replied that she could not believe it. She was a member of St. James' church and was a district visitor, as well as Miss Walford and Miss Heath. Before March, 1877, the vicar had been absent for nearly two years, and the plaintiff was left in charge of the church. A poor woman in the parish, Mrs. Roffe, whom she visited, complained to her upon one occasion as to a letter which the plaintiff had written to her, Mrs. (Roffe's) daughter.

Rev. Thomas Curling Lewis, the plaintiff, said he was thirty-one, and was ordained at Christmas in 1871, after having been an undergraduate at Oxford; he was married in May, 1869, and had two daughters and one son; he was curate at Ilfracombe nearly two years; when he left his house at Ifracombe, in 1874, he employed a girl named Lovering to clean after the workmen had been engaged to paint and decorate the house; he was charged with having taken indecent liberties with her.

There was no truth in it; the Grand Jury ignored the bill when the charge was brought unto court; his parishioners presented him with a testimonial and the Bishop gave him a letter of commendation to his next cure; he first heard of any charge against him by Miss Heath on July 21, 1877; he had never taken any liberties with her; there was no truth whatever in the accusation that he had seduced her; he had never behaved toward her from the first time he formed her acquaintance otherwise than as a clergyman and a gentleman. In cross-examination, the plaintiff said after his ordination at Christmas, 1871, he went to Plymouth; his conduct was called in question by his vicar at that place in reference to his behavior with a married lady; he said he was too intimate with her; after the death of Mrs. Heath's father he behaved toward the lady in a different manner from that which he showed previously; the defendant was very vexed with him for having made the services what was popularly called more Ritualistic; he thought her feelings upon that subject might have influenced her in repeating these scandalous accusations against him; on one occasion she was so excited that she told him they were all doing the devil's work; he never showed Miss Heath any book containing indecent pictures; he never attempted to take liberties with her of any kind, and never kissed her.

Rev. R. O. Pearson, vicar of St. James', Tunbridge Wells, said he had never observed any light or improper behavior in the plantiff; an inquiry was held into the affair by five clergymen, in the presence of representatives of Miss Heath, and they drew up the following report: "We, the undersigned, having investigated thoroughly the grave charges against Mr. T. C. Lewis, have unanimously come to the conclusion that they are vague, unsupported by evidence, improper, and, from the ascertained character of the accuser, utterly unworthy of credit, and trust they will be treated with the contempt they deserve; but, if otherwise, we challenge, on the part of Mr. Lewis, a further inquiry into any other reports of a like nature which might be circulated in the parish, and demand that the accusers come forth and prove their words."

Mrs. Hannah Buchanan, a widow lady residing at Tunbridge Wells, said that in May Miss Heath told her that the plaintiff had taken liberties with her; she described the nature and color of his underclothing and that he had locked the door during an interview which they had had; she did not understand Miss Heath to have meant that the plaintiff had actually seduced her; Rev. Henry S. Fradell said that in July he had an interview with Mrs. Buchanan and Miss Heath, when the latter gave him an account of a scene in the plaintiff's house, and other particulars; she said that the plaintiff kissed her, and behaved in a manner which she would not like to tell him because, as he supposed, he was a young man. Mrs. Pearson, the wife of the vicar of St. James', in the course of her evidence said she considered Miss Heath believed the truth of what she stated, but she was in a hysterical temperamant

Miss Annie Maria Walford, the defendant, said : Early in 1877 Miss Heath was at her house talking about other matters, and she then said that the plaintiff had been annoying her very much; she afterward explained that the plaintiff had kissed her hand, and in doing so tried to get his arm around her neck; she was very much shocked and upset, and she advised Miss Heath never to go to the plaintiff's house again except on business; Miss Heath promised that she would not; at that time Miss Heath was in the habit of frequently going to the plaintiff's house, and the plaintiff to Miss Heath's house; the next time she saw Miss Heath was as she (the defendant) was going to take a mothers' meeting; Miss Heath, who was accustomed to read at the meeting, came up in a very excited state, and she gathered more from hints which she gave that she (Miss Heath) had had another very painful interview with the plaintiff; the time of the meeting was about 6:30 in the evening; Miss Heath afterward went home with her in a fly, and she then understood that the interview was of a much more painful character than the previous one: she gathered from Miss Heath that he undressed himself in a very indecent manner; she was told the details, but they were so dreadful to her that she tried to forget them; up to that time nothing had occurred to induce her to doubt the veracity of Miss Heath; before Miss Heath made any statement to her she had an interview with Mr. Weare, who told her that the plaintiff was an immoral man. She flatly contradicted him, as she then believed the plaintiff was a man of good moral character; when subsequently talking with Mrs. Eyre she told that lady that she was afraid the plaintiff was not suitable, from his moral character, to be a clergyman, and some conversation followed about a letter received by a mother in reference to the behavior of the plaintiff toward her daughter; she told Mrs. Eyre that what she said about the plaintiff was in strict confidence, and that she must not repeat it even to her daughter; she did not think she told Mrs. Eyre the reason why she thought the plaintiff was not a good moral man, but she told her what her conviction was because she thought it was her duty to do so; afterward, in June, she was walking with Mrs. Eyre, and that lady blamed her for not having told the vicar about the plaintiff because she (Mrs. Eyre) had told the vicar that she did not think the plaintiff was a suitable person to conduct a confirmation class for young girls; the vicar sent for her on June 27, and asked her about Miss Heath's character; she told the vicar all she knew, saying that Miss Heath had been very earnest in church work, and had been great help to her; the vicar then asked about Miss Heath's veracity, and she replied that she had found Miss Heath had always spoken the truth, and she believed she was incapable of telling an untruth. Miss Walford, in further examination in chief, said she would take a solemn oath that she never told Mr. Weare on the 2d of August that the plaintiff had seduced her friend Miss Heath. At the time she was unaware that any actual seduction had taken place, and she did not intend to convey any such impression to Mr. Weare; she might have told the vicar that Miss Heath was fond of cards, but there was not anything wrong in that; she might have said that Miss Heath was a wild girl, but she did not mean it in a bad sense, for many people were wild when they were young. [Laughter.] She perhaps said that Miss Heath made use of strong expressions which she would be sorry to use herself, and that she was rather fond of alcohol, but she did not mean that she took too much; she believed entirely in Miss Heath's truthfulness, and she was perfectly certain she had not any hatred, feeling, or illwill whatsoever against the plaintiff. In cross-examination the defendant admitted that after the events referred to she did make some difference toward the plaintiff in her own mind, but she did not act differently toward him in such a manner that he or other people could notice.

Miss Marion Agnes Heath said her father, who died in 1877, was an artist, and had resided for many years in Tunbridge Wells; she would be twenty-eight years of age in October next; the plaintiff was in the habit of visiting her father during the last week of his illness; after his death she received a letter from the plaintiff—about a week or ten days after the funeral; in consequence of the letter she went to the plaintiff's house about eight in the evening, saw him in the dining-room; as she was leaving the room she held out her hand to shake hands with Mr. Lewis; he took hold of her hand and said, "Wait a minute," opened a book that was lying on the table and pushed it toward her; she stooped down to look at it, and saw there was an indecent print. She tried to tear the book, but he turned the book over and pushed it away; he then suddenly put his arm around her neck and attempted to kiss her; she stooped her head and he kissed the side of her face only; she said, "How dare you?" and wrenched her hand away from him, walked out of the room, and left the house; about ten days afterward she received a letter from Mrs. Lewis, the plaintiff's wife, asking her to go to the house; she went about 4:30 o'clock in the afternoon; Mr. Lewis came to the door; she asked to see Mrs. Lewis, and he told her to go into the study and sit down and he would go and tell his wife that she was there; she went into the study and he went up-stairs; after a minute or two he said he found that Mrs. Lewis was not at home, and she got up from her seat and said, "Then I will go; I have nothing to say to you;" he said, "Not just yet," and shut the door, which he locked; he caught hold of her right hand, put his arm around her, and began to kiss her face; she tried to get away from him, and said "Are you mad? Think of Mrs. Lewis;" he said, "Bother Mrs. Lewis; have you been brought up with those puritan ideas that when a man is married he must say nothing to a woman?" The witness described other acts of the plaintiff. She told him she would tell his wife, and he said, "Whom will she believe? There is only your word against mine, and I can easily ruin your character;" then he went down on his knees and clasped both his arms around her waist; he asked her to call him "Tom" and kiss him; he said he would do no harm, and they might have some fun together. He said he would not take much notice of her out of doors, and that would throw people off the scents; she would not kiss him; she managed to get herself away from him, and begged him to let her leave the room; at first he refused to let her go, but, finding that he would not let her out without, she said she would kiss him; then he kissed her. Before he let her out of the door he said, "If a word of this gets wind I am ruined;" she looked right at him and said, "And I;" then he unlocked the door and let her out; he saw her out of the front door; the church bells were ringing, and he said, "Hang it all, there go the bells; I shall be late for evensong," and he started for the church, running. She went home and called for Miss Walford and went with her to the mothers' meeting. When they were arranging for the meeting she partly told Miss Walford what had occurred, and subsequently at her house she told her more. Miss Walford requested her to keep the whole matter perfectly quiet, as it was no good telling Mr. Pearson about Mr. Lewis, because he was so infatuated with him that he would not believe anything against him.

At Easter following she was engaged in decorating the church and she saw the plaintiff several times. She went into the church to see about an Illumination she had done. She found it was very dusty, and she went into the vestry to get a duster. Not finding one in the outer vestry, she went into the inner vestry. As she was leaving the vestry the plaintiff suddenly came in from the church; he tried to prevent her leaving, and asked her to remain there with him, and she said she would do no such thing. He begged her to stay with him and call him "Tom," and asked her to kiss him. He went down on his knees again and said he could not help himself, she had made him love her so dearly. She said he ought to be ashamed of himself. She told him to think of his wife and children, and walked out of the vestry. Afterward she only met him out of doors. On the first Tuesday in July he came to her house, opened the door and entered. He said, "I want you; the missus is out, and the coast is clear; come to me in the clergy-room and let us have some fun." She said she would do no such thing, and if he came near her again she would horsewhip him.