The Hanging Heaton Vicar Scandal – How Newspaper Reports Can Supplement Family and Local History

Passions were running high in Hanging Heaton in the summer of 1851. The vicar, Stephen Mathews, was attacked by a number of parishioners. Amongst the mob were Jane Halliwell who struck him several times with a coal basket, and James Scargill who hurled stones at him. As he beat a retreat the mob cried “Stone him! Stone him!

The case came before Dewsbury Magistrates at the end of July resulting in fines for Jane Halliwell, James Scargill, George and David Walker. This was the first of three connected cases to come before Dewsbury judiciary in less than two months. Events escalated further, culminating in the Bishop of Ripon ordering an official church inquiry in front of commissioners appointed by him under an Act for Better Enforcing Church Discipline. This was held over between 18 – 24 October 1851 at the Royal Hotel, Dewsbury.

The catalyst for these events was the birth of a boy on 27 May 1851, to unmarried 16-year-old Mary Halliwell of Soothill. Baptised on 29 July 1851 at Holy and Undivided Trinity church, Ossett cum Gawthorpe, he was named Stephen Mathews Halliwell…with the girl identifying the vicar as the child’s father. Jane Halliwell (née Scargill) was the girl’s mother, James Scargill her cousin.

Stephen Britannicus Mathews, the son of surgeon Stephen Mathews and his wife Anne, was born on 8 December 1790 in Calcutta. He was admitted to Cambridge University in 1807 and, after achieving his BA in 1812, he was ordained as a Deacon in Norwich in June 1812 and a priest in December that year. On 14 October 1813 he married Marian Ingle at St James Westminster. The marriage was by licence, Marian being a minor, with consent given by her widowed mother, Susanna.

The couple had one daughter, Helen, in around 1826. Between 1832 to 1837 Rev. Mathews was vicar at Knockholt in Kent. He arrived as incumbent at Hanging Heaton in 1840. The 1841 census saw him living along with Marian, Helen and two servants Amy Collins (35 in this age rounded down census) and local girl Achsah Day (15). By 1851 it was only him and Amy Collins, his wife and daughter having left him around a year ago.

The rebuilt St Paul’s Church, Hanging Heaton. Photo by Jane Roberts

In contrast to the vicar’s travels, Mary Halliwell’s life had been confined to Yorkshire. Her parents, Thomas Halliwell and Soothill-born Jane Scargill, married on 19 July 1834 at St Mary’s church in Prestwich, Lancashire. Mary’s baptism is recorded on 24 November 1834 at St Mary’s, Woodkirk. The family lived on Soothill Lane, with Thomas working as a shopkeeper.

By 1841 their circumstances had changed. Jane and Mary are recorded living at Soothill along with stone masons William (50), Thomas (30) and George (25) Scargill and seven-year-old James Scargill. Woodkirk baptism registers point to William being Jane’s father. The 1851 census shows 41-year-old stone mason Thomas now as head, with widow Jane (39) confirmed as his sister. She is officially listed as a housekeeper. But other sources show she also taught and undertook needlework, including sewing for the wife of the vicar of Woodkirk. Mary, age 16, is recorded as a scholar. Other household members included Thomas’ nephew James (17) and niece Harriet (1). The 1851 census, taken a just under two months away from the birth of Mary’s baby, hides the turmoil.

Mary was ailing, her body swelling. Later it was revealed she knew “she was in the family way” but the vicar had ordered her not to say anything. Her mother, despite the heavy hints and promptings of Batley Carr Surgeon William Rhodes, believed her daughter was suffering from dropsy – an illness already experienced in the family, and which had proved fatal. Dr Rhodes called in a favour and arranged for Mary to see a Leeds-based colleague, Dr Teale, in April. He confirmed Rhodes’ opinion: Mary was pregnant.

It was this pregnancy which led to the stoning of the vicar in late July. The newspapers indicated as much, with The Leeds Intelligencer report of the 2 August stating:

It appears some charge has been made or is about to be made against the rev. gentleman affecting the paternity of an illegitimate child.

The affiliation case came before Dewsbury Magistrates (J.B. Greenwood, J Hague, B. Wheatley and F. Wormald) on the 25 August. The densely crowded court listened to the evidence presented for the complainant. At 9pm Mr. William Watts, acting on behalf of the Rev. Mathews, announced he would not be calling any witnesses at this late hour. He felt assured the magistrates would not see anything in the prosecution evidence which would cause them to find his client guilty. He was correct. Mr Greenwood dismissed the case on the basis of insufficient evidence. At this point press coverage only merited a few paragraphs.

However the verdict created an outcry, with a feeling that justice had not been served. So much so that a rehearing was called for in mid-September. It took place in a court house “crowded to suffocation“, and lasted from 12 noon until 10pm. The magistrates included Hague and Wormald from the previous hearing, but also Rev. Allbut (vicar of Dewsbury), Rev. Milner [Miller] of Woodkirk, Rev. Collins of Ossett and Rev. Payne of Dewsbury Moor.

Mary was described in The Huddersfield Chronicle as:

…small of stature and possesses interesting features, though her general appearance is that of premature womanhood; and the suffererings which she must have undergone have left behind an apparent exhaustion and weakness.

It is clear from this newspaper’s report where their sympathies lie, describing her demeanour as quiet and unassuming, and giving evidence with great propriety.

The packed court heard how Mary, a scholar for nine years and latterly a paid teacher at Rev. Matthews’ school, had been subject to the vicar’s advances since September 1848 when she was just 14, although ‘connexion‘ did not take place until 25 August 1849. Assignations mainly took place in the schoolroom. She received a catalogue of presents, including trinkets, clothes and a portrait of the vicar as a young man. All these were listed in the various accounts of the hearing.Child welfare: Ragged School, Whitechapel, 19thC. (part of). Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

A note was also produced, written by the vicar on 3 September 1849 when he was ill with cholera. It read:

MY POOR LITTLE MARY. If anything should happen to me remember there is a cheque in my desk, made payable to you only, and is duly signed, to authorise you to draw on the West Riding Bank for a sum of money which I have placed there for you, and it is yours alone. Remember this as the gift from your faithful and unchanging friend.

There were claims that in January 1850 Mary told the vicar she was pregnant (enciente was the delicate French term used by The Huddersfield Chronicle of 20 September 1851, mindful of Victorian sensibilities around such matters). As a result he procured three bottles of medicine for her which resulted in a miscarriage. Once she recovered, their relationship resumed. Her solicitor, Mr Scholes, even claimed that the vicar’s wife and daughter had left him as a result of the attention he paid to Mary.

Witnesses gave evidence as to him often being seen in the girl’s company. Her school monitor pay of 3s 6d a week continued even whilst her duties were reduced in order to hide her pregnancy. They heard how, when her pregnancy was confirmed, Rev. Mathews confessed to Mary’s mother he was the father.

Arrangements were hastily made to remove her to relatives, Mary and Rachel Spence, at Denshaw Beck in Woodkirk parish, in order to conceal the pregnancy. The Rev. Mathews involved himself in the finer details, including arrangements for transport and provision of a Morley doctor to attend her during her labour (apparently William Rhodes refused). He even gave Mary a purse containing 4s 6d when she departed for her safe-house. However, Mary stayed only five days before returning home. In a later hearing her mother said this was because both she and her brother thought it:

…wicked of us both to send her there to conceal the birth of a child when she was only a child herself. I did not know that she would ever come back alive, and I never could sleep until she came back again.

Mr Watts once more acted for Rev. Mathews. In cross-examining witnesses he suggested Mary had been involved with a 60-year-old shopkeeper, Benny Scargill, and a youth named William Wainwright. He also called into question the family sleeping arrangements, all sharing the same bedroom – with her uncle and nephew sleeping in one bed and Mary and her mother in another. It was in fact later revealed that this was the room in which Mary gave birth to her child, by which stage a modesty screen had been placed down the middle.

Describing Mary as a “wretched, depraved, lying girl” he claimed she, her mother and uncle had concocted the story to extort money from the vicar. He said there was no other evidence against his client, other than that presented by them. This was uncorroborated evidence, he asserted, which did not satisfy the requirement of the Act of Parliament dealing with these cases.

This Act, as explained in The Huddersfield Chronicle of 27 September 1851, stated that:

If the evidence of the mother [in an affiliation case] be corroborated in some material particular by other testimony, to the satisfaction of the said justices, they may adjudge the man to be the putative father of any such bastard child.

Once again Mr Watts declined to call any witnesses, although the justices insisted he call the Rev. Thomas Allbut, vicar of Dewsbury. His evidence included the fact that on 23 April 1851 Thomas Scargill, Mary’s uncle, had informed him that Mary was pregnant and Mr. Mathews was the father. As a result he interviewed Mary, and she too confirmed the vicar was father of her unborn child. Rev. Allbut admitted he thought the 3 September 1849 letter was a suspicious document, but when he interviewed the girl she said Mr Mathews was ill and she was a poor girl who had lost her character. Rev. Allbut informed them that the case had been referred to the Bishop of Ripon to consider.

Yet again Rev. Mathews gave no statement.

After 30 minutes deliberation the magistrates once more declined to make a maintenance order against the Rev. Matthews. The crowd showed their dissatisfaction with loud hisses which then gave way to:

a general utterance of merciless epithets upon Mr Mathews, the parsons, the church and state.

The case was now making national news. The Huddersfield Chronicle of 27 September entitled ‘Justices’ Justice‘ quoting from the London Examiner. The piece said the Rev. Mathews:

…is described as popular with the magistrates and gentry of the neighbourhood; and two clergymen, whose names occur in evidence, sat on the bench during the hearing of the case…..

It concluded:

As we are writing this article, we see that the case thus dismissed at the first hearing has again during the past week been brought on before the same bench of magistrates, with additional corroborative testimony. The magistrates again declined to make an order upon Mr. Matthews, [sic] stating that “the new evidence adduced had not materially strengthened the case.” We do not wonder at that. Short of evidence which should be of the most direct kind and not simply corroborative, we do not see how it would easily be possible to add strength to a case established so completely by so many witnesses, who stood up to swear one after another, and stood down again, in almost every instance unquestioned.

It was announced after the hearing that the case would probably be carried before another and more competent tribunal. Certainly it cannot rest as it stands. The interests of the church and society are not distinct; and it cannot be supposed that the exposure and punishment of clerical offenders brings a scandal which might be avoided by the church continuing to hold the worst kind of cruelty, vice, and hypocrisy, protected in her bosom.

Mary’s solicitor, describing her as the daughter of a poor widow woman, now publicly appealed for voluntary contributions to enable the bringing of a case of seduction against the Rev. Mathews at the next assizes.

It appeared the growing scandal now forced the Bishop of Ripon into action, leading to the final official inquiry lasting from 18 – 24 October in front of church-appointed commissioners. Mary attended dressed in mourning clothes. Within days of the end of the second hearing, her infant son died. His 19 September 1851 burial is recorded in the parish register of Ossett cum Gawthorpe.

The evidence in the church case was more lurid. The commissioners even proceeded to the home of Batley Carr surgeon William Rhodes who gave evidence from his sickbed. His testimony included further information about about Mary’s earlier miscarriage. It also included the declaration by her solicitor, Mr Scholes, that he could prove the vicar:

…had two bastard children by a girl called Mary Whitehead when he was a minister at Knock Holt, near Seven Oaks, in Kent, and that the girl was a Sunday scholar.

Prior to this hearing, anonymous letters had been sent to several local residents. These praised the virtues of Rev. Mathews, called Mary a common prostitute, claimed her mother Jane was never married (she produced her wedding certificate at this hearing), asserted all Jane’s sisters had lost their character and labelled the entire family as notorious. Witnesses testified the handwriting belonged to none other than the Rev. Matthews.

We have a further physical description of Mary given by Richard Green, superintendent of the Dewsbury district police. He said she was slight, at 5′ 1″ to 5′ 2″, and less than average strength. The vicar stood at 6′ 1″ or above.

Evidence on behalf of the vicar included children claiming he often gave them gifts by way of prizes at school. Some said this included the portrait of him as a young man…which Mary had chosen from a selection.

The proceedings closed on 24 October with the Commissioners declaring that sufficient prima facie grounds existed for further proceedings.

Yet again there had been one notable absentee from proceedings. Throughout the full hearing the Rev. Mathews, suspended from his duties at Hanging Heaton, failed to make any personal appearance to give his side of the story. His defence was subsequently given in the form of an open letter, published in The Leeds Intelligencer on 1 November 1851.

He said he had been compelled to keep back his evidence due to the further threats of action by Mary’s solicitor: basically he was wary of laying all his cards on the table. He denied all the charges, his natural kindness had been deliberately twisted by malign people. Throughout, his sole intention had been to protect Mary from inappropriate relationships and help her escape a life of sin and guilt, only to find himself duped. Mary was a friendless outcast in the parish, but he was determined to help her. He was never alone with her. He said he provided gifts, including clothing, not just to Mary, but to all the poorest children in school. She was not signalled out for special treatment. He also claimed the medicine he gave her was not to procure a miscarriage, but to treat her for scarlet fever which had also affected 30 other children in the parish. And some of these he visited more frequently than he did Mary. When, in September 1849, he was seized with the cholera outbreak prevalent in his parish, he gave her the note authorising the payment of £3 in the event of his death so that her mother could afford to place her in service, or some other suitable occupation. Similarly, the 4s 6d he gave her when she left for Denshaw Beck was because she professed to be penniless. He only reduced her lessons because he believed her to be ill with dropsy and wished to spare her any unnecessary exertion. And he continued to pay her because, as long as he could afford it, he never stopped paying salaries to those he employed, even when they were ill.

However, it failed to sway the church authorities. In March 1852 the Bishop of Ripon deprived the Rev. Stephen Mathews of the incumbency of Hanging Heaton for the “foul crime” of adultery with one of his parishioners, Mary Halliwell.

In June 1860, a couple of weeks after the death of Mary’s mother, the Bishop of Salisbury appointed the Rev. Mathews to the curacy of Zeals in Wiltshire. He died on 3 November 1868 at Saffron Walden.

Mary’s marriage to Emmanuel Halstead was registered in Dewsbury in the first quarter of 1866. The couple settled in Keighley. Their children included Jane, Alice Mary, Lillia, Samuel, Herbert Scargill and Sarah. Mary died on 13 January 1905. She is buried in Utley Cemetery, Keighley.

The case is not one I expected to discover locally, and in this period. The scandal and fall-out this shocking case must have caused in this small, close-knit community is unimaginable. The judicial advantage social standing or religious positions gives is nothing new. But looking at it from a purely factual standpoint, the thing that struck me above all else was the depth of social, historical and local information provided in the extensive reporting of this case – evidence not necessarily picked up elsewhere; information valuable even if your family is not among those named.

The parade of witnesses provide an insight into community relationships, occupations and employers. This includes details of women’s work such as washing and needlework, not necessarily shown in official records. It even includes the number of looms operated by individual families. There is information about when individual children began and ended their education. Physical descriptions are given too. We have corroborating evidence for Jane Scargill’s pre-civil registration marriage in another county. There are local features described such as the quarry, the tenter fields and the position of buildings in relation to others in the village. Disease outbreaks are identified. There is even reference to sleeping arrangements. Yes, the defendant’s solicitor may have used it to try to make some negative comment about Mary’s family – but was this representative of the realities of life for the poorest? And actually it resonates with the tale in my last blog post about my great grandma a century later – and she at one point lived in Hanging Heaton.

Yorkshire 232 Six Inch OS Map Extract, Surveyed 1847-1851, Published 1851. Adapted

The press reporting was eye-opening too, particularly the critical pieces such as appeared in The Huddersfield Chronicle. The reports point to Victorian sensibilities and long since gone language, with use of phrases such as ‘in the family way‘ or ‘enciente‘ and the distinctions made between ‘taking liberties‘ and ‘connexion‘. Yet, despite the tiptoeing around the sexual aspects, the condemnation of the verdicts, although couched, was unequivocal.

There are mentions of chip shops – but not our modern day understanding. This in the context of wood chips to light fires. There’s reference to a Mary visiting a planet reader in Leeds: a quaint term for a fortune teller.

And the contemporary descriptions of the day-to-day facilities and operation of this mid-19th century school are priceless. This includes information about the weekly attendance payment of 2d fixed due to the poverty of his parishioners, with this being insufficient to pay the salary of a master leading to the vicar personally training two female teachers. The monitorial system is described, with pupils being appointed as paid monitors with salaries dependent on age and experience. Their duties are described right down to cleaning and dusting the school and church after school and on Saturdays. There are even details about the school buildings (the quarry school was the one heavily featured in this tale), their fabric and furnishings.

In short it is a wonderful peak into the community.

For those with mid-nineteenth century Hanging Heaton ancestry I’ve included a list of those residents who gave evidence in the various cases and inquiries.

  • Thomas Albutt – Vicar, Dewsbury and rural dean of the district;
  • George Brearey – Clothier, Hanging Heaton, worked with Joseph Stansfield and occasionally Eliza Stansfield;
  • George Bromley – Clothier, Hanging Heaton;
  • Alfred Day – Hanging Heaton, 11;
  • Abraham Day – owned tenter field with two tenters. A tenter was a wooden frame on which cloth is stretched during the manufacturing process to retain its shape whilst drying;
  • Emma Day – Hanging Heaton;
  • Hephzibah Day – Former Sunday School Scholar and sister-in-law to Sarah. Age 22. Also the sister of Achsah, servant to the Mathews family in 1841;
  • Sarah Day – Wife of Henry Day, Manufacturer. Four children at Rev Mathews’ School
  • Sarah Jane Day – Hanging Heaton, 13;
  • George Gamble – Clothier, Hanging Heaton (some reports say Weaver, Batley). Employed by Abraham Day to tenter and teem;
  • Joseph Oldroyd Gill – confirmed school plan;
  • Richard Green – Superintendent of Police Dewsbury district;
  • Jane Halliwell – Widow, Soothill. Mother of Mary. Married Thomas in Prestwich. Did needlework for wife of George Dempster Miller;
  • Theophilius Hastings Ingham – Collector of Rates, Hanging Heaton. Brother-in-law of William Wainwright;
  • George Dempster Miller – Incumbent of Woodkirk;
  • Mary Mitchell – Chidswell, 11;
  • Charles Oldroyd – Weaver, Hanging Heaton;
  • Hannah Oldroyd – Hanging Heaton, sister of Charles;
  • Rachel Oldroyd – Earlsheaton, 14;
  • John Redfearn – Weaver, Hanging Heaton. Employed by Abraham Day to tenter and teem;
  • William Rhodes – Surgeon, Batley Carr;
  • Jane Richardson – Common Side, Hanging Heaton.15 last August. Went to Jane Halliwell for sewing instruction;
  • Hannah Rylah – Chidswell, 14 next New Year’s Day;
  • Benjamin Scargill – Shopkeeper, Chidswell, age about 60;
  • James Scargill – amongst those who attacked the Vicar, fined and bound over to keep the peace towards him. A James Scargill was nephew of Thomas;
  • Thomas Scargill – Stone Mason, Soothill. Uncle of Mary Halliwell;
  • Benjamin Shaw – Clothier, Shaw Cross;
  • Peter Senior – Clothier, Hanging Heaton. Employed by Abraham Day to tenter and teem;
  • Mary Spence – Husband of Joseph Spence, farmer. Daughter [in-law] of Rachel and living with her at Denshaw Beck. Washed for Rev Dempster Miller;
  • Rachel Spence – Widow, Denshaw Beck. Related to Jane and Mary Halliwell;
  • Eliza Stansfield – Hanging Heaton, wife of Joseph and occasionally worked with him and George Brearey;
  • Joseph Stansfield – Clothier, Hanging Heaton, works with George Brearey;
  • Mark Terry – Clothier, Chidswell;
  • Sarah Terry (Née Marshall) – Chidswell, former teacher, wife of Mark;
  • Esther Tolson – Teacher, Soothill, 24;
  • William Wainwright – organist, Sunday School teacher, carpenter who worked in uncle Charles Wainwright’s chip shop;
  • David Walker – son of sexton, John. Refused to attend Church Commissioners investigation unless expenses paid. Clothier, Shaw Cross. 26. A David Walker was among those who attacked the Vicar, fined and bound over to keep the peace towards him;
  • George Walker – among those who attacked the Vicar, fined and bound over to keep the peace towards him;
  • John Walker – Sexton, father of David. Refused to attend Commission unless transport provided to Dewsbury;
  • Thomas Ward – Rag Dealer, Hanging Heaton; and
  • Benjamin Wilson – no details.

Sources:

  • 1841-1901 censuses, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast;
  • Burial Registers: Holy and Undivided Trinity, Ossett cum Gawthorpe; Batley All Saints. Both accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • Death Date and Burial of Mary Halstead (née Halliwell), via Find A Grave Ancestry.com. UK and Ireland, Find A Grave Index, 1300s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Find A Grave. Find A Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi.
  • Baptism Registers: Ossett cum Gawthorpe; Woodkirk St Mary’s; Both accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • British India Office Ecclesiastical Returns – Parish Register Transcripts from the Presidency of Bengal, accessed via Findmypast;
  • Marriage Registers: St James, Picaddilly, Westminster; Prestwich St. Mary’s. Both accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • GRO indexes for marriage of Mary Halliwell, accessed via Findmypast;
  • England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995, entry for Stephen Britannicus Mathews, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Alumni Cantabrigienses, accessed via GoogleBooks;
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html under a Creative Commons licence.
  • Newspapers including: Carlisle Journal – 5 September 1851; The Huddersfield Chronicle – 20 September 1851, 27 September 1851; The Leeds Intelligencer – 2 August 1851, 30 August 1851, 18 October 1851, 25 October 1851, 1 November 1851; The Leeds Mercury – 6 March 1852; The Leeds Times – 30 August 1851, 20 September 1851, 25 October 1851; Liverpool Mercury – 2 September 1851. All accessed via Findmypast

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