The Impoverished Vicar 1868


history & archaeology

In January 1866, the Vicar of Kirkdale, Charles Tudor (incumbent 1863-77) wrote plaintively to the Curators of the Oxford University Chest (finance office) - the reverend academics who handled Kirkdale business on behalf of ‘The Chancellor, Masters & Scholars’, owners of the Patronage of St Gregory’s Minster and most of the tithed church lands in the ‘townships’ of Nawton, Wombleton, Welburn, Muscoates, Skiplam and Bransdale West Side.[1]

The Vicar was pleading the inadequacy of his stipend. Perhaps amidst settling the bills after a modest family Christmas, he reminded the Curators that from the several sources making up his income he received in total £209.8s.10d. ‘Income Tax et cetera’ took £5 of this; ‘House Rent’ (since there was as yet no vicarage) cost £32; and because moorland and scattered farms comprised so much of his parish the main expense in his pastoral work was ‘Keep of horse and groom’ (£50). 

In rough terms, Tudor's gross income was five times the earnings that agricultural labourers (of which there were many in his rural parish) could hope for; but it was about 30% below the national average income for clergy, while an Oxford graduate (which Tudor himself was) who chose a career in the Law could expect an income six times higher than that of a Clergyman.

In today’s money, the approximate value of Tudor’s annual stipend would be £9500, and after deductions for those listed expenditures he would be left supporting his wife and children and their whole domestic economy on £5525 per annum. Not total destitution (such as Tudor would have witnessed in many a labourer’s home around his parish), but a cause of disabling depression which worried his Archbishop and clerical peers.

Seemingly unbeknownst to Mr Tudor, he actually had an articulate advocate: the Venerable Edward Churton (left), Archdeacon of Cleveland.

In the winter of 1868 Churton felt moved to write a personal and curiously chummy letter to Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor, presenting Tudor’s still unresolved cause. When, evidently, the Vice-Chancellor replied with encouraging warmth, Churton sent him a still more chatty letter.  But alas, despite the bonhomie of these exchanges, Tudor - after nine more years of sparse living in Kirkdale without significant improvement of stipend - finally yielded to the Archbishop of York’s gift of the incumbency of St Nicholas Newbald, south of Market Weighton in the East Riding, and with apologetic alacrity resigned the Kirkdale living.

Churton’s first letter, transcribed below from the original in the archive of the Oxford University Chest, is not only testimony to a conscientious parson’s sense of duty towards his calling. It is also a valuable primary historical source, along with other letters and documents in Oxford which furnish glimpses into the life-story of Orm Gamalson’s Minster and the economy of the rural parish of Kirkdale (transformed by the dissolution of Newburgh Priory and by the ramifications of the tithing system after it passed into secular hands), and into the lives and sometimes the personalities of individuals, both clergy and layfolk - figures in the wavering fortunes of the parish over the past 200 years and more. 

In fact, Edward Churton, Archdeacon with responsibility for the parish of Kirkdale, himself proves upon enquiry to have been a well-known and weighty figure not only in his Yorkshire archdeaconry but nationally.

A graduate of Oxford (MA 1824), he spent a few years as a teacher, before entering the Church and being appointed to the Rectory of Crayke (1836) and to the Prebendary of Knaresborough (1841) and to the Archdeaconry of Cleveland (1846). He published a number of scholarly works on the Early Church including the Early English Church, identifying himself with the Anglo-Catholic trend in the 19th-century Church of England.

Moreover, he also had a special interest in Spanish culture and published translations and studies of classics of Spanish literature. He also knew Anglo-Saxon literature and based a number of his many poems on Anglo-Saxon sources. His Poetical Remains were posthumously published (1876) by his daughter. 

And alongside all this, Churton was deeply interested in railways. His Railroad Book of England, Historical, Topographical and Picturesque. With a Brief Sketch of Lines in Scotland and Wales (1851) was an extensive survey of the railway network of the day, furnished with a detailed map showing main lines and many of the growing number of branch lines. Modern reprints of the last two works can be found in Amazon and eBay catalogues.

As it happens, the subject of branch railway lines is another topic that turns up in the records of Kirkdale preserved in the University Chest archives in Oxford. In 1871 a Valuation of Land in Kirkdale, to be compulsorily purchased by the North Eastern Railway Company, was published, with the aim of implementing an Act of Parliament approving the building of a branch line from Helmsley to Pickering - which was mapped to pass through the Parish of Kirkdale. A copy of this imposing document is preserved in the archive.

Doubtless the station in Kirkbymoorside was a convenience to travellers and to farmers moving stock or foodstuff, and to the builder buying slates from the Magnum Quarries, Holmfirth, for the rebuilding of the Chancel of St Gregory’s Minster in 1881, and others. But the upheaval among the tithed tenants and smallholders affected by the appropriation of good land and the splitting up of fields generated much protest and even heated confrontation on Oxford’s own hallowed ground. More of all this will doubtless be reported to Friends by Newsletter or website in due course.

NOTE:  [1] When Bransdale-cum-Farndale was formed as a separate parish in the year 1873, the whole of Bransdale West Side was annexed to it from the parish of Kirkdale as also was Bransdale East Side annexed to it from the parish of ‘Kirby Moorside’. Kirkdale was compensated by the annexation of Beadlam township from Helmsley to Kirkdale. Some correspondence relating to this reorganisation is preserved in the archive.

Letter from Archdeacon Edward Churton to the Vice-Chancellor, University of Oxford, 1868

Crayke nr  Easingwold

Nov. 17, 1868

Dear Mr Vice Chancellor, 

I write a few lines, quite on my own motion, in reference to a little Benefice in the Cleveland Dales, the Benefice of Kirkdale, - a place of some celebrity, when you and I were young, from Dr Buckland’s scientific researches made in the famous Kirkdale Cave,[1] and of older historic interest from the Church possessing a porch with an Anglo-Saxon dial, and inscription upon it in Anglo-Saxon letters, still as fresh as on the day when they were chiselled, recording how the Church was rebuilt by Orm, the son of Gamel in the days of Edward the Confessor and Earl Tosti. See it mentioned in the last Quarterly Review. p.506.[2]

This little Benefice, as you will probably know, was presented, the last time it became vacant, by the University of Oxford, the Patrons, to the Revd Charles Tudor, of Jesus College. He has been there, I think, about five years. The Incumbent, who preceded him, was the Revd W. Kay of Lincoln Coll. He resigned it a year or two before his death, having some private income of his own; and a good house which he had built in one of the townships of the Parish, and in which he resided, was sold either after or a short time before he died.

The Benefice is now set down as worth £155 per ann. There is no Parsonage. The population by the last census was called 1043. It has been previously reckoned as above 1200, and I am inclined to suspect there must be some error in the last return, and that one or two of the numerous townships, eight or nine, into which the Parish is divided must have been omitted. For it is a Parish of wide extent, more than 10,000 acres, and runs up a considerable distance into the Moors to the North of Kirkdale Church.

You will know the circumstances. The great tithes were left long ago by Sir John Danvers[3] to the maintenance of the Botanic Garden or Botanical Professorship at Oxford. The University seems to have granted £200 in augmentation, to meet a public grant of the same amount, thirty-five years ago, just before I came into Yorkshire: but since that time I have not heard of any further increase to the income of the Parish Priest. [4]

I hear an excellent character of Mr Tudor, and his diligent care of his widely scattered population. This character is confirmed by the report of his Clerical neighbours,[5] and those whose opinion is most worthy of credit. But I have reason to fear he is rather depressed by the difficulties of his narrow income. He lately applied to me to recommend him to an appointment as Chaplain to a Hospital, or some such post, of which the tenure would not be so certain or permanent, but the immediate income better. If what I have stated as the actual value is correct, without a Glebe-House belonging to the Living, it is scarcely equal to a Curacy of average value in a moderately endowed Parish.

I write, as I said, without any concert with Mr Tudor, and do not wish him to know that I have written. I do not know whether the Vice-Chancellor or Delegates of University Estates have in any other way had their attention requested to the condition of Kirkdale: but it seems to me to be such as to deserve consideration.

If anything could be done to find a site for a Parsonage, and to encourage him to build, he might not improbably be assisted further by our Diocesan Church Building and Endowment Society, founded by good Archbishop Longley during his short tenure of the See of York.[6] But I respectfully bring the case under your kind consideration.

Very sincerely yours,                                                                                                                                         Edw. Churton


[1] William Buckland (1784–1856), Oxford theologian, geologist, palaeontologist, proved that the cave had been a prehistoric hyena den. 

[2] Presumably The Quarterly Review, vol. 125, William Gifford, July-October 1868 [Classic Reprint Series, Amazon]. 

[3] The bequest was made by Sir Henry Danvers (Lord Danby, d. 20 January 1644), who left his Will (which was proved on 6 February 1644) to be executed by his brother and heir, John Danvers. 

[4] ‘Augmentation’ was a complex arrangement involving the investment of the funds assigned, from which the Incumbent then received some of the Interest. 

[5] Perhaps the most influential of these ‘clerical neighbours’ was the Revd Charles Gray of Helmsley who in 1876 himself wrote informedly to the Vice-Chancellor about Tudor’s impoverished state - using it in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Oxford to transfer the advowson of the unprofitable Kirkdale to Lord Feversham (see Newsletter August 2016). 

[6] Funds earmarked for building a Vicarage had been invested for some years, when (in the last quarter of the century) the Revd Leonard Rees badgered the University into contributing to the Parsonage Fund he had raised locally, and the Vicarage in Beadlam was built.


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