Major Llewellyn Atcherley and the elusive suffragette – Part 2

< Back to Major Llewellyn Atcherley and the elusive suffragette – Part 1

“For the fourth time during the course of her vivid career of militancy Lilian Lenton, the elusive suffragette, has escaped from the police.” So began a report in the Liverpool Echo of 20 May 1914. It was true – Llewellyn Atcherley had lost the elusive Lilian. I have a feeling that he had some harsh words for the Harrogate policemen, who were under his command.

HM Prison Leeds (Armley Gaol), old gateArmley Gaol (nowadays HM Prison Leeds), from where Lilian Lenton
was twice released under the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act

The Liverpool Echo’s report continued:

In accordance with the terms of the licence under which she was released from Armley Gaol, the police entered the “boarding-house” in Harlow Moor-drive, Harrogate, and found that the woman they had gone to re-arrest was not in the house.

The knock of the superintendent was answered by a maid, who brought Mrs. Cohen to the door. She smiled affably at the officers and said, “She’s gone!” The police then went inside the house and satisfied themselves that this was indeed the case.

The maid shortly afterwards frisked down the yard, and triumphantly flourishing her hand, hurled the petty taunt at the detectives outside. “Too late!” she jeered; “too late!” There was nothing more to do but to withdraw the guard of police.

Thus the suffragettes again get the laugh, and it is safe to say that the prowess of the “elusive Lenton” will be vaunted at the meetings of the militants. Miss Grew, the W.S.P.U. organiser, said the other day that it was a “sporting and interesting situation.” Lenton was the mouse and the police the cats.

When the disappointing issue of the week’s vigil was known, a Harrogate suffragette elaborated the sporting theory. “We can beat the police every time,” she declared. “The British bobby is a phlegmatic being who is tied by red-tape to such an extent that he has neither ingenuity nor originality left. Even with Major Atcherley’s aid, you see, they could not keep the little lady in Harrogate, and if the whole Leeds detective force had been called in to assist they would not have done any better.”

So how did Lilian Lenton disappear from the Pomona Food Reform Boarding House, run by fellow suffragist Leonora Cohen, under the noses of the waiting police? At the time, many believed that Lilian ‘did a runner’ during an elaborate performance which took place on the evening of Saturday 16 May (the modern-day equivalent of which might be the scramble scene in the film 2Fast 2Furious). According to the Huddersfield Daily Examiner:

Saturday night’s operation were conducted with great swiftness, and it is believed that they were a complete success.

Between nine and ten o’clock some forty or fifty men and women, the women being heavily veiled and the men with coat collars turned up and hats well down to hide their faces, suddenly sprang up on both sides of the house, into which they entered. [Note: Other reports only mention veiled women.] The police immediately telephoned for fresh officers to be sent, but before this could be done the lights suddenly went out in the house and the men and women emerged from the front door.


They dashed through the iron gates and onto the road, and then spread in all directions so as to confuse the officers. Some went up the hill and others down, and others went across the moors, which are just opposite the house.

It is believed that Miss Lenton was one of the party who dashed over the moors. It would be an easy matter for her to escape in a motor-car, as the moors give access to the road on three sides. All was confusion at the time, and the detectives were powerless, as they could not tell which party to follow. The confusion was made worse by the forty or fifty people spreading out.

Houses on Harlow Moor Drive, on a foggy day in 2012

Houses on Harlow Moor Drive, on a foggy day in 2012

The Yorkshire Post also told the story of Lilian’s vanishing act, but the following words appeared in brackets at the end: “We have reason for thinking she escaped earlier. Ed. Y.P.” The editor of the Yorkshire Post was correct. The scramble at Harlow Moor Drive had been put on merely to keep the police guessing – Lilian had already made her exit.

Accounts vary as to how and when the elusive suffragette was spirited away. Lilian herself said she went the day after she was taken to Leonora Cohen’s house. However the website How the vote was won states: “Over the next few days [after Lilian’s arrival], Leonora nursed Lilian back to health, and when she was strong enough, young Reg loaned her some of his clothes so she could disguise herself as a boy. Not wanting to take the risk of going out by the front door, even in disguise, Lilian went down to the cellar and crawled up the coal chute, and escaped through the back garden, thus eluding the police once more.”

“Miss Lenton Escapes. Police Again Outwitted by Young Suffragist”, ran the headline of a report in the Manchester Courier of 20 May 1914. The opening words of an article in the Yorkshire Evening Post the previous day were: “The comedy of the Harrogate boarding-house is over.” The bird had flown, leaving Chief Constable Llewellyn Atcherley and the policemen of Harrogate with egg all over their faces.

The opportunity to crack jokes at Llewellyn’s expense was, for some, irresistible – and not just those in the women’s suffrage movement. Alderman Hardacre, of the West Riding County Council, made the most of an opportunity presented at a meeting of the West Riding Standing Joint Committee held at Wakefield on 17 June 1914. The Leeds Mercury’s account of the committee’s proceedings included the following:

Upon a recommendation being submitted acceding to the application of the Harrogate Town Council for the appointment of a supernumerary constable to “protect public buildings” at their cost,

Ald. Hardacre asked: Is this in consequence of the raiding of the Suffragettes. (Laughter.)

The Chief Constable (Major Atcherley): No, it is not in consequence of that.

Ald. Hardacre: Then is it to try and catch the lady who escaped? (More laughter.)

Reginald McKennaSeven weeks later, Britain was officially at war with Germany and everything changed. On 10 August 1914, the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), of which Lilian Lenton was such a prominent member, declared a cessation of militancy. On the same day the Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna (pictured left), announced in Parliament that he had “advised His Majesty to remit the sentence on all persons now in prison for crimes connected with the suffragette movement.”

Clarification of the nature of the amnesty for suffragettes was soon needed, following the re-arrest of a suffragette in Newcastle on the grounds that “she had no paper to produce.” A Home Office letter, stating that “the continued freedom of the Suffragist prisoners under the ‘Cat-and-Mouse’ Act, depended on the pleasure of the Home Secretary,” caused further dismay. For the WSPU there was only one way to deal with this situation – the Home Secretary had to be confronted.

A WSPU delegation, which included Lilian Lenton, descended on the Home Office on 27 August 1914 and demanded to see the Mr McKenna. Their purpose was “to obtain from the Home Secretary for themselves and all under the ‘Cat-and-Mouse’ Act, papers granting them the unconditional release, which [was] theirs under the King’s amnesty.” Receiving no reply to their demand, the suffragettes announced that they would wait until they got one, whereupon they were arrested and taken to Cannon Row Police Station. No charges were brought however, and it seems that the matter was later resolved, with all prisoners (including those on temporary release or awaiting trial) benefiting from the amnesty.

As the Great War raged on, more and more women – including suffragettes – became involved in war work (a fact which may have contributed to the Representation of the People Act 1918 being passed, giving the vote to about 8.4 million women over the age of 30; the vote was also extended to all men over 21).

Among the suffragettes who played their part was Lilian Lenton, although it was not until 1918 that she got involved (I think it is possible that she applied to help with nursing duties but was rejected because of her reputation as one of the more militant suffragettes). It appears that during the early years of the war, Lilian remained in London and was involved with the socialist organisation The Herald League. She was billed to appear (describing herself as “just a dancer”) at a concert arranged for 6 Feb 1915 by the League’s Bow branch, as a member of the “Merrymaids Concert Party”. In 1918 however, Lilian became an orderly with a Scottish Women’s Hospital (SWH) Unit in the Balkans. For her work she received a French Red Cross medal. (Lilian continued to devote herself to humanitarian and women’s causes after the war.)

The Great War also brought changes, and medals, for Major Llewellyn Atcherley (whose reputation as Chief Constable of the West Riding was secure despite the embarrassment of losing Lilian Lenton). Returning to the British Army almost as soon as Britain entered the war, Llewellyn was to take on a role which would earn him a new nickname: the “Pots and Pans General”.

> On to Llewellyn Atcherley’s World War One

Picture credits. HM Prison Leeds (Armley Gaol), old gate: Photo by ‘Prisoninfo’, taken from Wikimedia Commons and adapted, used, and made available for reuse, under a Creative Commons licence. Harlow Moor Drive: Image © Copyright Chris Heaton, taken from Geograph and adapted, used, and made available for reuse, under a Creative Commons licence. Reginald McKenna: Modified version of image ggbain-36347 at Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, no known restrictions on publication.


(See also the references for Part 1 of this story)

[1] Liverpool Echo, 20 May 1914, page 6. “Too Late.” Lilian Lenton Again Escapes the Police.
[2] Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 18 May 1914, page 1. Mystery of Miss Lenton.
[3] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 20 May 1914, page 7. Lilian Lenton Disappears.
[4] Leonora Cohen. At: How the vote was won (website, accessed 22 Sep 2016).
[5] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 20 May 1914, page 10.
[6] Yorkshire Evening Post, 19 May 1914, page 7. Lilian Lenton Escapes From Harrogate.
[7] Leeds Mercury, 18 Jun 1914, page 3. “Holy Unrest.”
[8] Elizabeth Crawford (2001),The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928. Copy previewed at Google Books.
[9] Leeds Mercury, 11 Aug 1914, page 3. Suffragette Amnesty.
[10] Daily Herald, 28 Aug 1914, page 7. Why They Did It. Amnesty Not In Real Operation.
[11] Suffragette. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 23 Sep 2016).
[12] Women and the First World War. At: The National Archives website (accessed 23 Sep 2016).
[13] The Herald, 23 Jan 1915, page 17.
[14] Jill Liddington (2002), Lilian Lenton (1891 – 1972). At: (accessed 23 Sep 2016).
[15] Jill Liddington (2011), Britain in the Balkans: The Response of the Scottish Women’s Hospital Units. In: Ingrid Sharp, Matthew Stibbe (eds.), Aftermaths of War: Women’s Movements and Female Activists, 1918-1923, page 395 et seq. Previewed at Google Books.
[16] Lilian Lenton. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 23 Sep 2016).
[17] Leeds Mercury, 6 Aug 1919, page 5. “Pots and Pans General.”

Major Llewellyn Atcherley and the elusive suffragette – Part 1

“I think that my speciality was escapes. That is, escapes from the houses to which I had been taken when released under this Cat and Mouse Act. These houses were surrounded by detectives, whose job it was to prevent my getting out before the day on which the police would have the right to come and take me back to prison.” — Lilian Lenton, speaking on BBC Radio, 1960.

Lilian LentonI’ll be upfront and confess right now that Llewellyn Atcherley features only fleetingly in this story. He had a part to play however, and I think the tale of one of his last major cases (as Chief Constable of the West Riding) before the Great War broke out, is one worth telling. The central character, the ‘elusive suffragette’ as she was known, was Lilian Lenton (pictured left, around 1912).

Born on 5 January 1891 in Leicester, Lilian was the daughter of carpenter and joiner Isaac Lenton and his wife Mahalah. According to Jill Liddington, writing in Rebel Girls: “The eldest of at least five children, she grew up amid Leicester’s shoemakers and hosiery workers. Lilian was slim, lithe and striking; and, with what must have needed considerable determination for a working-class girl, she avoided dressmaking or shop-work. Instead she trained for a career as a dancer.”

During the Winter of 1911-12, the direction of Lilian’s life was changed when she heard Emeline Pankhurst speak at a meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Lilian later said: “I made my mind up that night that as soon as I was twenty-one and my own boss and that I’d got through these examinations I would volunteer.” Within three months of her 21st birthday, Lilian was taking part in a WSPU window-smashing raid, for which she was arrested and later sentenced to two months imprisonment.

Thanks to her exploits, which escalated from window-smashing to burning empty buildings, Lilian quickly made a name for herself. In fact, she made several names for herself. A Home Office list of suffragettes who had been arrested recorded Lilian as “Lenton Lilian or Ida Inkley or Unknown Woman 249 or May Dennis”. It also listed five occasions on which she had been arrested: 5 March 1912 (at Marlborough Street, as Inkley), 20 February 1913 (at Richmond, as Lenton), 10 June 1913 (at Doncaster, as Dennis), 9 October 1913 (at Richmond, as Lenton), and finally 22 December 1913 (at Cheltenham, as Unknown). As we shall see, there is one arrest missing from this list.

Following her arrest on 20 February 1913, for burning down the tea pavilion at Kew Gardens, Lilian was remanded in custody and sent to Holloway prison. In protest at being denied bail, Lilian went on hunger strike. The last thing the authorities wanted was to be blamed for the death of a suffragette: force feeding was the response to those refusing food when in prison. The first attempt to force prison gruel into Lilian Lenton however was very nearly a disaster – the pipe was in error pushed down into her trachea and the food went into her left lung. The outcome was septic pneumonia for Lilian, and panic for the prison governor and the Home Secretary.

There was little option but to release Lilian, so that she could recover. Having done so, she disappeared from the house to which she had been taken – her first escape, and not her last.

Cat and Mouse Act posterThe risks involved in force-feeding uncooperative suffragettes in prison, as illustrated by the close call with Lilian Lenton, led to the passing later in 1913 of the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act. This measure permitted the temporary release of a prisoner whose life was endangered by hunger striking, only for them to be returned to prison once the danger was over. The police would keep a close watch on the released prisoner’s place of residence during their recuperation, in case an attempt was made to ‘disappear’. The legislation became known as the Cat and Mouse Act, and Lilian Lenton went on to become a mouse who made a habit of escaping from the waiting, blue-uniformed cats.

Lilian’s most celebrated escape was undoubtedly that which followed her release, under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act,’ on 17 June 1913. The Nottingham Evening Post of 21 June 1913 reported:

It was a bold plan which enabled Miss Lenton, the suffragist, to escape from the Leeds police […]. When she was liberated from Armley Gaol on licence on Tuesday morning, she was driven to a private house and at once put to bed, as she was extremely weak, after a fast of nearly nine days. A number of detectives surrounded the house.

In a few hours a grocer’s van drove up to the back door, and the call of “groceries” having been shouted, the van “boy,” who really was a young woman, got down from the van and carried a basket into the house. Soon afterwards the “boy” returned to the van, which was then driven off. But Miss Lenton was the “boy,” and sitting in [the] front of the van she safely passed the detectives.

votes-for-womenAs we have seen, Lilian was eventually rearrested (or, as the Manchester Courier put it, “Brought to Bay at Last”) in October 1913. Released once more on licence, Lilian naturally vanished again. But not for long. The police caught up with the elusive suffragette in December. You can guess what happened next.

Lilian remained at liberty for rather longer this time, but was eventually recognised and arrested in Birkenhead on 4 May 1914. She was taken to Leeds to face trial for an alleged offence committed at Doncaster. Disorderly scenes at Leeds Assizes on 8 May were summed up by the Sheffield Evening Telegraph with the following headlines:

Lilian Lenton Gets Twelve Months at Assizes.

Lilian was back inside, but prison food was off the menu. She was released on licence on 12 May – and found herself under the watchful eyes of Llewellyn Atcherley’s West Riding Police. The Yorkshire Evening Post of 15 May 1914 takes up the story:


There is a sporting interest Miss Lilian Lenton’a visit to Harrogate from Armley Gaol. When she was removed there in a taxi-cab, we chronicled the fact that in a Leeds club the betting was evens that the Suffragette got away from police supervision in a week if she stayed in Leeds, and ten to 1 on her getting away if she were located in Harrogate.

It is said that this bet has nettled the Harrogate police, and they are determined that so long as they are charged with the watching of her the little Suffragette shall not escape. But there is more than that behind the extraordinarily close watch set on the Pomona Food Reform Boarding-house in Harlow Moor Drive.

The Government would like to keep a hand on Miss Lenton. She is one of the very few who have defied the Cat and Mouse Act, and only this resourceful girl and her friends know what incendiarism she has been responsible for while at liberty since her arrest at Doncaster, and her subsequent release on licence some months ago. Major Atcherley, the stalwart Chief Constable of the West Riding, the very last man who likes to be beaten at anything he takes a hand in, has been to Harrogate to see the arrangements for watching the house.

Acetylene motor-car lamps are trained on the house back and front during the hours of darkness, and four police-officers are engaged day and night scrutinising everybody who leaves the house. A motor-car is at call ready to follow any vehicle that may be employed by Miss Lenton’s friends, and at first blush it looks like the Leeds better losing his wager.


But opinion at Harrogate does not wholly favour the idea that the bet will be lost. It is assumed that Miss Lenton is still in the house. One of our representatives, writing from Harrogate this afternoon, says the police are confident that the “bird is still in the cage.”

It would be an unpleasant shock to them to learn that the cage is already empty, and our representative, while without definite information, thinks this is within the bounds of possibility.

As has been stated previously, the house has been visited by numerous females, from old ladies with white hair, dressed soberly in black and bonnets, to fair young damsels dressed in the height of fashion. Everyone of these persons has been most closely scrutinised. Nevertheless one important fact has to be taken into account, and reporter learned of it to-day. It is this: Not a single Harrogate police-officer saw Lilian Lenton enter the house when she arrived from Armley. True, they are supplied with photographs, but looking at a photograph and looking at the original are two vastly different things—especially if the original be cleverly disguised, as it is within the capacity of Lilian Lenton to disguise herself.

As a matter of fact, when she arrived at Pomona House, followed by two Leeds detective officers, there [were] no Harrogate officers to await her. The young lady quickly dismounted from the cab, and just as quickly one of the Leeds officers ran round to the back door to see that Miss Lenton did not walk in one door and out of the other. It is safe to say that she did not do so, nevertheless, none of the Harrogate officers now watching have seen Miss Lenton in the flesh.

Who would win the battle of wits between Lilian and Llewellyn?

Picture credits. Lilian Lenton: Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons. Cat and Mouse Act poster (1914): Public domain image from Wikimedia CommonsAnnie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst with Votes for Women placard: Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.


[1] Lilian Lenton (1960), interview with BBC radio. Listened to at BBC Archive.
[2] Death of Lilian Ida Lenton registered at Hounslow, December quarter 1972; volume 5c, page 1476; date of birth given as 5 Jan 1891. Indexed at FamilySearch.
[3] 1891 census of England and Wales. Piece 2525, folio 167, page 25. 14 East Goscote Street, Leicester, Leicestershire, England. Head: Isaac Lenton, 24, Carpenter & Joiner, born Deeping St James, Lincolnshire. Wife: Mahalah Lenton, 26, born Leicester, Leicestershire. Daughter: Lilian Ida Lenton, 3 months, born Leicester, Leicestershire.
[4] Jill Liddington (2015), Rebel Girls: How votes for women changed Edwardian lives. Copy previewed at Google Books.
[5] The National Archives, Kew, Suffragettes: Amnesty of August 1914: Index of Women Arrested, 1906-1914. Class HO 45, Piece 24665. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England, Suffragettes Arrested, 1906-1914.
[6] 1913 Cat and Mouse Act. At: (website, accessed 22 Sep 2016).
[7] Nottingham Evening Post, 21 Jun 1913, page 5. Suffragist as Grocer’s “Boy.”
[8] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 9 Oct 1913, page 10. Lady Dick Turpin.
[9] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 26 Nov 1913, page 11.
[10] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 6 May 1914, page 8. Lilian Lenton Brought to Leeds.
[11] Derby Daily Telegraph, 12 May 1914, page 3. The Suffragists.
[12] Yorkshire Evening Post, 15 May 1914, page 7.

The ups and downs of the last Atcherleys of Stanwardine

As the fifth of six sons born to Thomas and Hannah Atcherley of Stanwardine in the Fields, Edward was not destined to inherit property and continue the family farm. Ultimately, however, Edward did farm at Stanwardine, and among his own children were the last members of the Atcherley family to live and die there. This story follows the family’s fortunes.

Baschurch All Saints

Edward Atcherley was baptised at Baschurch All Saints (picture above dated about 1803) on 21 October 1781. His father Thomas had married late in life (see Love and Marriage (Settlement)) and was 56 years old when Edward was born; he would go on to father another child at the age of 59. Thomas died at the age of 71 on 7 April 1796, when Edward was 14, having made various bequests in his last will and testament including £400 to be paid to Edward when he reached the age of 21.

Thomas had also taken steps to ensure that Edward could supplement his legacy with earnings from a trade. On 25 February 1796 an indenture was made binding Edward Atcherley to serve William Griffiths of Wem, a “Mercer &c.”, as an apprentice. This apprenticeship, which cost £63, lasted for seven years, which meant that by the time it ended in February 1803 Edward was 21 and entitled to receive his £400 legacy. I have found no evidence to show that he then became a mercer. He did however become a soldier, serving as an ensign with the 2nd Salop Regiment towards the end of 1803, but only very briefly.

What Edward really wanted to do was follow in his farming forebears’ footsteps – and that is exactly what he did. Precisely when he did so I cannot say, but when his marriage bond was drawn up on 24 May 1813, he was described as “Edward Atcherley of Weston in the Parish of Baschurch in the County of Salop Farmer”.

Edward wed Mary Morris of Birch Park, also in the parish of Baschurch, on 28 May 1813 at the church where both bride and groom had been baptised (in Mary’s case, on 27 May 1792). Mary was a daughter of Thomas Morris, a farmer, and Sarah. Thomas died in 1803, after making a will in which he bequeathed all his money and property first to his wife and then, after her decease, in equal proportions to his surviving children. There was also the discretion to give to any of his children who married when they came of age, “a reasonable sum of Money as part of their Portion”. This was conditional on the nuptials being approved by Thomas’s wife Sarah and his brother John (the executrix and executor of Thomas’s will).

Mary’s marriage to Edward took place 21 years and one day after her baptism. Did she have the blessing of her mother and her uncle, and was “a reasonable sum of Money” therefore paid as her marriage portion? Possibly so, despite – or maybe because of – the fact that there was little choice but to approve of the wedding. Mary was already pregnant with (or may even have given birth to) Edward’s first child!

Edward Atcherley junior was baptised at Baschurch on 26 June 1813, a little less than a month after his parents had tied the knot in the same church. We can only imagine the look on the face of John Harman, the curate who conducted both ceremonies. Whatever his private thoughts may have been, they did not make it into the baptism register. There, Edward senior was described as a Yeoman, and the family’s abode was recorded as Birch Park.

Another seven children were added to the Atcherley family over the next 18 years, and from their baptism records we can get an idea of the family’s movements over that time. The places where the first four of those seven children were baptised, the name of each child, the abodes recorded and the dates of the baptisms, were as follows: Oswestry – Sarah Atcherley, abode Woodhill (or Wood Hill, about two miles south-east of Oswestry) on 4 November 1814 (note that Edward Atcherley of Woodhill signed as a witness to a quitclaim document in March 1815); Baschurch – Mary Atcherley, abode Birch (probably Birch Park) on 6 October 1816; Ruyton XI Towns – Thomas and John Atcherley, abode Wigmarsh, on 14 June 1819 and 6 August 1821 respectively.

map-stanwardine-birch-park-wigmarshOrdnance Survey map showing Stanwardine, Birch Park and Wigmarsh.

The baptism of John Atcherley took place two months to the day after the burial, at Baschurch, of his maternal grandmother, 65-year-old Sarah Morris of Birch Park. Some time after this event, Edward Atcherley would have received his wife’s share of the money from the Morris estate. It was perhaps this inheritance that enabled Edward to relocate with his wife and children one last time: to Stanwardine in the Fields.

The last three children of Edward and Mary were all born at Stanwardine. Richard was baptised at Baschurch on 25 July 1824, Margaret on 16 April 1829, and Anne on 8 July 1831. The two youngest girls, along with their older sister Mary, were enumerated at Stanwardine in 1841 along with their parents. Edward Atcherley, by this time aged 59, was no longer a farmer but was “of independent means” – living on an income which was presumably derived from property or investments. It appears that the family was well off and that Edward and Mary’s children were set to lead comfortable lives. But was everything as it seemed?

“Mr. Edward Atcherley, of Stanwardine-in-the-Fields,” died on 27 July 1843 and was buried at Baschurch All Saints four days later. There is no gravestone at Baschurch for Edward however, no evidence that I can find that he made a will, and I have not found an entry for him the Index to Death Duty Registers. When the 1851 census was taken, the occupation of Edward’s widow Mary was recorded as “Cottage”. This might mean that Mary rented out a cottage as means of support. However I think it more likely that she was a cottager – a tenant of a small plot of land with a cottage on it, the land being used to grow vegetables and perhaps also to rear a pig or two or some other animals. Ten years later, in 1861, Mary was described as “Formerly Gamekeeper’s Wife”. Mary died in 1868, also without leaving a will. These facts do not suggest to me that Edward Atcherley ended his days as a wealthy man.

But what of Edward and Mary’s children? Their eldest, Edward Atcherley junior, became a tailor, and moved to Wolverhampton where he married in 1839 (the marriage register recording that his father was a farmer). Sarah Atcherley married John Skellorn, who worked variously as a publican, a shopkeeper, a porter, but mostly as a labourer. Both his and Sarah’s effects were valued at under £100 after their deaths in 1868 and 1865 respectively. Edward junior and Sarah were the only offspring of Edward and Mary Atcherley who married.

Of the remaining six children, three died during their mother’s lifetime. Daughter Mary passed away at Ellesmere aged 28 on 10 April 1845; she was interred at Baschurch on the 14th. Next to go was John, at Stanwardine, on 15 November 1854 (his burial following 5 days later). He was 33 years old and although described in the National Probate Calendar as a yeoman, the censuses of 1841 and ’51 showed him working first as a servant, and then as a labourer. Finally Margaret, after spending all her life in the family home (probably helping her mother), died at the age of 35, on 3 January 1865 at Stanwardine.

I have precise dates of death for Mary, John and Margaret Atcherley because one of their brothers, Richard, was granted letters of administration for the estates and effects of all three on 22 February 1869. As a result, entries for the trio appear in the National Probate Calendar. In each case the effects were valued at less than a hundred pounds.

Richard Atcherley declared that he was a yeoman when he applied for administration of his siblings’ estates, but he was more than likely a labourer. He worked at first as an ‘ag lab’ for his farming neighbours, John and Sarah Pembrey (1841 census), later as a general labourer in Shrewsbury (1851 census), but the censuses of 1861 and ’71 show that he returned to Stanwardine, and worked as a railway labourer. In 1861 he was living with his mother Mary and sister Margaret; ten years later he shared the Atcherley family home with his sister Anne. He died in 1878 and was buried on 19 February that year at Baschurch, his last abode given as nearby Milford in the parish of Little Ness.

On 11 October 1876, a little over a year before his death, Richard Atcherley had applied for letters of administration in respect of another of his deceased siblings: older brother Thomas. It appears that both Richard and Thomas had been living at Milford before Thomas’s death, and that Thomas had spent a while at Yockleton before that. In his application for administration, Richard stated that he was a farmer, but I doubt that he was. However his description of Thomas Atcherley as a farm bailiff was, amazingly, almost certainly true.

Thomas had, like Richard (and their brother John) started off as an ‘ag lab’ (he was working for the Pembreys in 1841, alongside the aforementioned brothers). But in 1856 he took over as bailiff at Broomfields Farm in the parish of Montford, which is where he was enumerated in the 1861 and ’71 censuses. Evidently the former bailiff was none too happy at being usurped. The following report appeared in the Shrewsbury Chronicle of 5 December 1856, and gives us a wonderful insight into how Thomas Atcherley spoke:

Before Sir J. R. Kynaston, Bart., and James Freme, Esq. …
Assault.—Thomas Powell, of Broomfields, was charged with assaulting Thomas Atcherley, at Broomfields, on the 22nd November. It appeared there had been some jealous feelings between plaintiff and defendant, in consequence of the latter succeeding the former as bailiff at Mr. Jones’s farm, and on the day in question, according to plaintiff, defendant met him in the road leading down to Captain Kenyon’s house at Grafton, “and tho’ a’ didna knock me, a’ rommed his fist right smack i’ my faes, and soor a’ ood knock me tith down me throat; besides telling me a’ ood fleay me i’ pieces, an’ cut me up into shrids.” This statement was stoutly denied by defendant, but he admitted putting his fist into Atcherley’s face. Fined £1, including costs.

Thomas Atcherley died on 22 September 1876. Before he was laid to rest, at Baschurch, on 26 September, an inquisition (inquest) into his death took place. This was held “at the House of Mr Richard Atcherley in the Township of Little Ness” on 23 September, with Thomas’s body “on view” before the Coroner, a witness, and twelve jurors. The verdict was that “the said Thomas Atcherley did from natural causes, supposed to the Heart decease.” His effects, when administration was granted to his brother Richard, were valued at under £300.

Ellesmere, Shropshire about 1824Ellesmere

The last surviving child of Edward and Mary Atcherley was their youngest daughter, Anne. It appears that she spent most of her adult life working in various forms of domestic service. In 1851, aged 19, she was a household servant for Mary Fallow in Watergate Street, Ellesmere. In 1861 Mary Drury of Quarry Place in Shrewsbury was employing Anne as a housemaid. Anne may have been between jobs when the census of 1871 was taken, or perhaps she was an unofficial housekeeper for her brother Richard at Stanwardine. However in both 1881 and ’91, Anne was working as a housekeeper for Edwin Dawson, a draper, in Cross Street, Ellesmere.

Dawson died in 1892, unmarried. My guess is that Anne Atcherley worked for him right until the end. After that? The 1901 census recorded Anne as a retired housekeeper, who was a visitor in the household of Annie Owens at Stanwardine. A decade later, Anne was enumerated as a visitor once again, this time at 1 Charlotte Row in Ellesmere, home of Emma Jones. Anne’s occupation this time was “Retired Cook”. When Anne died later that year, at Stanwardine on 27 November 1911 at the grand old age of 80, she left a will – and an estate valued at a staggering £2022 3s 4d! I wonder if her former employer, Edwin Dawson (who left an estate valued at £8333 3s 10d) had made a very generous bequest to his faithful housekeeper?

Anne’s burial at Baschurch All Saints, on 1 December 1911, marked the end of an era. There had been Atcherleys at Stanwardine in the Fields almost continuously since the fourteenth century, but now there were none.

Picture credits and references to follow.

Chastity, Missionaries, and the Rev John Atcherley

< Back to 

Rev John Atcherley had hoped to reside quietly amongst the inhabitants of Wednesbury for many years, serving the parish as its Curate. However the bitter and very public clash between John and his employer, the Vicar of Wednesbury, had caused John’s hopes to be dashed. Would he find another parish in which he could live out his days in peace as a servant of his Lord? The answer was yes, although this did not mean that John’s name would not crop up in the newspapers or other publications from time to time.

Staffordshire, Penn St BartholomewAnother Curacy did not come John’s way immediately. The Rev Daniel Pape, Vicar of Penn in Staffordshire, provided John with some employment: John signed Penn’s marriage register as Officiating Minister on 1 December 1805 (when he conducted two weddings) and again on 2 February 1806. It is possible that he performed other ceremonies and services there too. Pape had led the investigation into the unpleasant affair at Wednesbury, and seems to have been supportive of John. (Penn St Bartholomew is pictured right.)

The performance of occasional ceremonies and services was not going to earn John Atcherley a living however. Fortunately, a more permanent opening became available later in 1806. The marriage register of Drayton in Hales (or Market Drayton) in Shropshire shows that John had become Curate of that parish by 12 July that year. After the difficulties John had encountered at Wednesbury, I can only assume that he made sure his new Curacy was licensed.

What a relief it must have been for John, to at last settle into a secure position in a busy town, where he was able to tend to the needs of his flock without undue interference from his Vicar or from other church officials. Of course, such a life does not generate much of interest for the newspapers – which means that from the latter part of 1806 onwards, the Rev John Atcherley’s name almost disappeared from their pages. Almost, but not quite.

In 1809, John’s name cropped up in newspaper reports of a case heard at Shrewsbury Assizes, concerning the alleged seduction of a Miss Jones. I should immediately clarify that John was in court as a character witness, not as the accused! Here is the report on Jones v. Owen, Esq., as printed in the Staffordshire Advertiser, in full.

Quote This was an action brought by the plaintiff against the defendant for the seduction of his daughter, and the defendant had pleaded first that he was not guilty, and also that he had leave and licence from the plaintiff to debauch his daughter.

Mr. Dauncey, in a most eloquent speech, commented on the infamous plea set up by the defendant, and stated to the jury that the plaintiff had been an innkeeper at Market Drayton, and that the defendant was at this time a Lieutenant in the 16th regiment of light dragoons. That when the defendant first became acquainted with the plaintiff’s family he was a Captain in the Shropshire Volunteers; that the defendant came with the regiment on permanent duty to Market Drayton, and the head quarters were at the plaintiff’s house; that the defendant whilst there paid great attention to the daughter of the plaintiff, and made her offers of marriage, but that she most prudently referred him to her father for his consent; having obtained the father’s consent, he continued to pay his address to the daughter till he purchased a Lieutenancy in the 16th, when being obliged to join his regiment, he offered to marry her privately, which offer she refused; he joined his regiment, and was absent about 12 months, during which time the plaintiff, by misfortune, was reduced in his circumstances, and obliged to leave the Inn; during the time of the defendant’s absence, a correspondence was kept up between him and the plaintiff’s daughter.

On the defendant’s return to Market Drayton on the recruiting service, he was informed of the plaintiff’s circumstances being much reduced, by the daughter, who begged that their acquaintance might be dropped; but the defendant assuring her that her father’s misfortunes should be no impediment to their marriage, the acquaintance was renewed, and in the month of March, 1808, he seduced her, and shortly afterwards left the place. She communicated to him her situation, and he wrote to her promising to return and marry her as soon as his affairs were settled in Wales. After some time he ceased writing to her, and her Brother in consequence went to him at Woodbridge, to know his determination; he again repeated to him his determination to marry his sister, and promised to return in three weeks for that purpose; he did not return, and she was afterwards delivered of a son.

Mr. Dauncey’s statement was fully proved by the plaintiff’s daughter, a very interesting girl, her brother, and the Rev. — Atcherley, the latter of whom stated that the daughter had always conducted herself in a very becoming and virtuous manner, and that she was the last woman whose chastity he would have suspected.

The judge in his summing up, stated that the plea of the defendant was one of the most infamous and audacious he had ever seen on a record, and that it greatly aggravated the case. The jury gave a verdict for the plaintiff, damages One Thousand Pounds. Unquote

Places - Market Drayton St MaryMarket Drayton St Mary

Another newspaper which mentioned John was The Salopian Journal of 18 September 1811. “Atcherley Rev. John, Drayton” was one of seven Atcherleys appearing in a list of men who had been issued game certificates, at a cost of £3 3s. each, for the period 1 July to 9 September 1811. (Also on the list was John’s brother, the Rev Roger Atcherley of Bridgnorth.) These certificates permitted the holders to take game (pheasant, partridge, grouse), and possibly also snipe, woodcock, quail, rail and ‘conies’ (rabbits). Though hunting game would have been regarded as a ‘sport’, it also provided meat for the dinner table.

For most of John Atcherley’s Market Drayton Curacy, his name appeared in parish registers rather than in newspapers – and not just the registers of his home parish. From time to time he filled in for other clergymen, conducting marriages at Adderley (on 5 May 1808), Moreton Say (20 September 1810), and no doubt at other parishes in the vicinity of Market Drayton.

John also did what he could to support “the diffusion of the Gospel” across the globe, through his support for the Church Missionary Society. The Early History of the Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East to the end of A.D. 1814 (published 1896) provides a short account of what may have been John’s earliest involvement with the Society:

Quote On Saturday, the 25th [of September 1813], [Mr Goode] proceeded from Ramsdell to Market Drayton, the church of which had been procured for the Society by Mr. Clement Leigh. This town, also called Drayton-in-Hales, was within the eastern border of Shropshire, about twenty-five miles south-west from Ramsdell, and some fourteen in the same direction from Newcastle. The same evening he saw the Rev. John Atcherley, the curate, whom he found a warm, cordial, and active man, desirous of promoting the general cause of religion and of aiding the Society. He had already formed four committees for penny contributions, and consulted Mr. Goode as to rules.

The neighbourhood abounded with opulent families. The next morning, Sunday, the 26th, he preached to a congregation highly respectable and attentive, and in the afternoon, while Mr. Goode was at another church, Mr. Atcherley preached himself for the Society. The collection altogether was 43l. It was Mr. Goode’s opinion that Mr. Atcherley would make a very useful agent for the Society. For the afternoon Mr. Goode proceeded to Wem, ten miles to the south-west, having obtained that pulpit through the interest and exertions of Mr. Atcherley, upon a letter from Mr. Dobbs. Unquote

Missionary Register Oct 1813

The £43 collected by John Atcherley at Market Drayton was acknowledged in the Missionary Register of October 1813, which noted that “The Members of the Church, it is highly gratifying to remark, begin very generally to feel the obligation under which they lie, of communicating the Gospel to their Heathen and Mahometan fellow-subjects, and to the whole world.”

The Church Missionary Society was at that time active in Europe, the near East (Turkey), Africa, Asia (including Ceylon, China, Java and Mauritius), the South Sea Islands, the USA, “British North America” (Canada) and the West Indies, as well as at home in Britain where the Scriptures were distributed. The provision of education to ‘heathens’ – which doubtless included religious teachings – seems to have been a key activity (the volume of the Missionary Register covering 1816 includes at least 100 occurrences of the word ‘heathen’).

At the beginning of 1816, another collection made at Market Drayton by John Atcherley for the Church Missionary Society raised the sum of £22 5s. 8d. It was probably the last such collection John made. One of the final appearances of his name in a newspaper was in the Staffordshire Advertiser of 23 March 1816, under the heading “DIED”: “18th instant, at Market-Drayton, the Rev. John Atcherley.”

John Atcherley was buried on 23 March 1816 at the church where he had been Curate for nearly ten years: Market Drayton St Mary. The burial register did not record his age, but based on the date of his baptism he was most likely 44, possibly 45. His life, though relatively short, was an eventful one. As a Naval Chaplain and as a Curate, John stood up for what he believed in and did not shy away from conflict.

Picture credits. Penn St Bartholomew: Photo © copyright Roger Kidd and taken from Geograph; adapted, used, and made available for reuse under a Creative Commons licence. Market Drayton St Mary: Photo © copyright Geoff Pick and taken from Geograph; adapted, used, and made available for reuse under a Creative Commons licence. Missionary Register, October 1813 masthead: Image from scan of out of copyright publication at Google Books.


[1] John Atcherley (1806), The Curate of Wednesbury and His Vicar.
[2] Penn, Staffordshire, marriage register covering 1805 and 1806. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Staffordshire Parish Registers Browse.
[3] Drayton in Hales, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1806. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire, Parish Registers Browse, 1538-1900.
[4] Staffordshire Advertiser, 1 Apr 1809, page 3. Shrewsbury Assizes. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[5] The Salopian Journal, 18 Sep 1811, page 4. Snippets viewed at Last Chance To Read.
[6] Adderley, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1808. Abstract in: Shropshire Parish Register Society (1900), Registers of the Diocese of Lichfield, volume 1 (copy viewed at Mel Lockie’s website).
[7] Moreton Say, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1808. Abstract in: Shropshire Parish Register Society (1907), Registers of the Diocese of Lichfield, volume 8 (copy viewed at Mel Lockie’s website).
[8] Hole, Rev. Charles (1896), The Early History of the Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East to the end of A.D. 1814. Page 332. Copy viewed at Google Books (Now Snippet-view only).
[9] Missionary Register, Oct 1813, pages 366-8. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[10] Missionary Register, Feb 1816, page 79. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[11] Staffordshire Advertiser, 23 Mar 1816, page 4. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[12] Market Drayton St Mary, Shropshire, burial register covering 1816. Entry for John Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Burials. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch I04627-3, Film 1526925, Ref ID 276.

The Curate of Wednesbury and His Vicar – Part 2

< Back to The Curate of Wednesbury and His Vicar – Part 1

The Rev John Atcherley was now convinced that the overtures of friendship made by the Vicar who employed him, the Rev Alexander Bunn Haden, were a sham. John wrote: “He requests me to obtain as many signatures of the inhabitants to this petition as I possibly can. For what purpose? To bury it in oblivion! to get me removed, sacrifice the honour of his Bishop, and the reputation of his Curate. This is the Vicar of Wednesbury’s friendship; he certainly would neither have sent the petition, nor Miss Baylay’s letter to the Bishop; for his lordship was quite in the dark on the subject. No, he would have put them on the fire; the Bishop’s wrath would have remained unappeased, and I should have received a letter of condolence and commiseration, and a picture of Mr. Haden’s distressed mind at the thoughts of parting.”

Places - Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield Cathedral, at the heart of the Diocese of Lichfield

John wrote to the Rev Haden to make him aware that he (John) had received “a very pleasant letter from the Bishop”. The result was that Haden, who had seemed determined not to set foot in Wednesbury, finally did so, on 12 July 1805. He called upon John Atcherley, his Curate, and asked to see the Bishop’s letter. After reading it, he expressed the view that John had no business writing to the Bishop, and that the Bishop was very wrong in replying directly to John – the correspondence should have been sent via himself, the Vicar. This prompted the following verbal volleys between our clashing clergymen, as recalled by John Atcherley:

Quote I replied, that I wrote to the Bishop myself, because you seemed not inclined to do it, and because you threw cold water upon my warmest hopes. Cold water, sir, replied Mr. Haden, you have plunged me in hot water, for all my kindness and trouble.—I have got my foot in it prettily now. I did not understand him; he explained, you have made me look ridiculous in the eyes of the Bishop, my particular friend. I should be sorry to sever friend from friend, said I; and if the Bishop is your particular friend, why did you not forward to him the evidence of my guilt or innocence, and request he would comply with the wishes of the parish, and suffer me to remain Curate of Wednesbury? for though indeed I may have plunged you in hot water, yet it was undesigned; but what have you done to me? Why, you have deliberately and intentionally scalded me to death … Unquote

This clerical conflict then returned to the matter of the petition: the Rev Haden maintained that Wednesbury’s parishioners wanted John Atcherley removed, and that it was for this reason that John had not been able to get the petition signed. John of course disagreed, and after Alexander Haden’s departure, he set out to prove his Vicar wrong. Rev Atcherley circulated a petition, of his own design, one which was to be sent directly to the Bishop:

Quote On July the 16th, I delivered my petition to the inhabitants who eagerly received it, and joyfully signed it. It is as follows, and signed by 500 inhabitants:

WE whose names are hereunto subscribed, unbiassed by power, unrestrained by fear, and guided only by truth, and principal inhabitants of the parish of Wednesbury, with the exceptions of a servile and unprincipled few, do testify, that as far as we know and believe, the conduct of the Rev. John Atcherley, during his residence among us, has been sober, pious, and exemplary; and we therefore, in the most respectful and humble manner, request his lordship, the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, will be pleased to continue him in the Curacy of Wednesbury, whatever may be the wish, or desire, and misrepresentation of wicked men. And we beg leave to assure his lordship, that in making this request, we are influenced only by a sincere regard for the defence of wounded innocence, for the cause of religion, and a wish to disappoint the malignant misrepresentations of falsehood; founded on dark, designing, and deliberate mischief. And for no other reason, but because Mr. Atcherley was desirous of doing his duty, by enforcing, in the mildest way, as a Clergyman and a Christian, decency and good order in the parish. Unquote

The Vicar of Wednesbury may initially have wished his Curate to depart in order avoid a confrontation with the clerk and the church wardens of the parish. But John Atcherley was not one for going quietly, and in the pursuit of justice for himself, John was now a threat to Alexander Haden’s own reputation. John Atcherley’s petitioning activities met with the following response from his Vicar, a letter dated 28 July 1805:


I HAVE received a petition signed by almost all the respectable inhabitants in Wednesbury, requesting your dismissal from the Curacy. In answer to which, I have informed them, that it is to take place at Michaelmas next.

I am, Rev. Sir,

Your obedient humble servant,


John Atcherley regarded his Vicar’s claim as an “abominable falsehood”. “Eleven men only signed that petition,” wrote John, “of whom, I can only assure the reader, that I verily believe they are the least respectable, in point of morality, in the parish.” Regardless of how many parishioners had signed Alexander Haden’s petition, or of their respectability, the Vicar of Wednesbury had determined to use that document as a basis for casting out his Curate. John Atcherley was now fighting not just for his good name, but also for his livelihood.

Correspondence between the Revs Atcherley and Haden continued, and as you might imagine the letters became increasingly bitter. John also wrote further letters to the Bishop, requesting his intervention. However the Bishop, while seeming sympathetic towards John’s plight, was unable to prevent Alexander Haden from replacing John as Curate of Wednesbury. The problem was that John was not a licensed Curate, and this left him completely at the mercy of his Vicar.

Wednesbury St Bartholomew - lecternA Mr Inman called on John Atcherley on 11 August 1805, and announced that he was the new Curate. John showed him the letters he had received from Alexander Haden, and from the Bishop, and Mr Inman “went away disgusted.” On Sunday 6 October, Alexander Haden took the service at Wednesbury himself. The following Sunday, another clergyman (Mr Cormouls) attended. After a brief discussion with John Atcherley, the two men agreed to share the duty: Mr Cormouls preached, and John read the prayers. John had the evening service to himself, but at the end of both of that Sunday’s services, the parish clerk announced that Mr Haden had dismissed John Atcherley from the Curacy of Wednesbury.

To the congregation, these must have been extraordinary scenes, and I imagine them sat in their pews, exchanging glances with each other while wondering what would happen next. John Atcherley did not leave them waiting for long. Contradicting the clerk, he announced: “I am not discharged by Mr. Haden, I have had no proper notice to leave the Curacy. Besides, I am here by agreement with Mr. Haden for twelve months, which agreement he has declared he would not suffer me to violate. And add to this, I am here by the permission of the Bishop …”

Despite John’s determination to remain until Christmas, Charles Neve signed the Wednesbury marriage register as Curate of the parish from 8 December 1805, and presumably took over all the other duties associated with that position. John Atcherley had been ousted.

Before leaving Wednesbury, and before publishing his pamphlet, John made attempts to have an independent investigation conducted into his complaints. The Bishop had agreed to this and suggested it should be carried out by some of John’s fellow clergymen, including Daniel Pape, Vicar of Penn. Alexander Haden did not however provide what John regarded as a “satisfactory answer” to Pape’s invitation to take part. At the beginning of 1806 therefore, the Rev John Atcherley published his ‘appeal to the world’, The Curate of Wednesbury and His Vicar.

John’s pamphlet seems to have persuaded Alexander Haden to at last submit to an investigation. The outcome – conveyed to the public through a notice published in the Staffordshire Advertiser of 10 May 1806 – partially vindicated John Atcherley, but also seemed to clear Alexander Bunn Haden of any wrongdoing:


WE, the undersigned, having been appointed to investigate and determine upon a very unpleasant dispute, between the Rev. Mr. Haden and the Rev. Mr. Atcherley, the particulars of which have been circulated in a Pamphlet, entitled “The Curate of Wednesbury and his Vicar,” are of the opinion (upon a full investigation of the correspondence, and all the circumstances connected with this dispute) that Mr. Atcherley wrote that Pamphlet under impressions extremely different from those which would have suggested themselves to him, had he been in possession of those facts which have been presented to us; that, in the first instance, the conduct of Mr. Atcherley never ought to have been impeached, nor is there any ground for suspicion of it, upon the infamous attempt recorded in his Pamphlet, upon the assertion of the Beadle, Harrison; and, we are convinced, upon a full and complete review of all the circumstances and facts, that the Rev. Mr. Haden has not conducted himself in any manner unworthy of his character and situation in life.
DANIEL PAPE, Vicar of Penn.
JOHN CLARE, Vicar of Bushbury.
JOHN BISHTON, jun. Kilsall.
March 31, 1806.

We, the Rev. A. B. Haden and the Rev. John Atcherley, having submitted the whole of our existing disputes to the Rev. Daniel Pape, the Rev. John Clare, & John Bishton, jun. Esq. do acknowledge ourselves perfectly satisfied with their decision.

I find it interesting that the clerical committee did not dispute any of the facts put forward by John Atcherley in his pamphlet, but said only that he would – if in possession of additional information – have formed different impressions. The language used to defend Alexander Haden is also, perhaps, not as robust as it might have been. We have only seen John Atcherley’s side of this story, but I am inclined to believe his version of events. What, though, were the facts which might have altered his views had he been in possession of them? Perhaps there is a clue in one of the Bishop’s letters to John, in which the Bishop alluded to “Mr. Haden’s ill state of health.” John thought that “Mr. Haden’s health was very good”, but not all illnesses are obvious to the naked eye.

John Atcherley’s name was cleared, but his future no longer lay in Wednesbury – or with the woman he had hoped to marry, Miss Baylay. That, to me, is the saddest part of this story.

> On to 

Picture credits. Lichfield Cathedral: Photo © Copyright George Mahoney, taken from Geograph and used under a Creative Commons licenceWednesbury St Bartholomew – lectern: Adapted from an illustration in A History of Wednesbury, in the County of Stafford by John Nock Bagnall, printed in 1854 and therefore out of copyright.


Digital edition of The Curate of Wednesbury and His Vicar (in PDF format).


My grateful thanks are extended to Martin James (Family Heritage Search), for providing me with digital photographs of the pages of a copy of The Curate of Wednesbury and His Vicar held at the William Salt Library in Stafford.


[1] John Atcherley (1806), The Curate of Wednesbury and His Vicar.
[2] Staffordshire Advertiser, 10 May 1806, page 4. “To the Public.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.

The Curate of Wednesbury and His Vicar – Part 1

< Back to The Rev John Atcherley and his Naval Chaplaincy.

Quote THE following sheets would long ere this have appeared had it not been from a spirit of forbearance on one hand, and a strong desire on the other, not to expose to public censure the imprudent, not to say malevolent, conduct of any individual on earth, much more that of a brother clergyman. And that the sum of my wishes might be accomplished, overtures have been made … [but] these overtures were rejected in a magisterial manner; and the reason may, perhaps, be discovered through the medium of the following correspondence; and which is the only means I have now left to shew to the world how innocent I am of the charges brought against me by wicked men Unquote — John Atcherley, 1806.

When the Rev John Atcherley returned to the parish of Wednesbury, Staffordshire (as its Curate) at the end of 1804, he hoped to reside quietly amongst its inhabitants for many years. Instead, he became embroiled in a dispute with the all-powerful church wardens of the parish, and found to his dismay that support was forthcoming neither from his absentee Vicar, nor from his Bishop. After trying – and failing – to have his grievances resolved within the Church, John decided to go public. An extraordinary pamphlet entitled The Curate of Wednesbury and His Vicar was the result.

Places - Staffordshire, Wednesbury St Bartholomew

Before looking in more detail at John Atcherley’s tale of woe, let’s examine the other characters in this sorry story – starting with the Vicar of Wednesbury, Alexander Bunn Haden. Alexander Haden was a pluralist, that is, he held a number of livings at the same time. Naturally he could not serve all of the parishes where he was the incumbent, so he employed Curates to undertake his duties in some of the parishes concerned (for a proportion of the income which he received from those parishes).

The extent of Alexander Haden’s pluralism is revealed in a letter by Norman Tildesley in 1971, who referred to pluralities amongst the clergy as an “objectionable practice”. “Rev. Alexander Bunn Haden”, wrote Tildesley, “applied for the vacant incumbency at Willenhall on the death of Neve in 1788. At the time he was Vicar of Wednesbury, Rector of Saddington in Leicestershire, Curate of Brewood and Brindley Lecturer at Wolverhampton.”

The consequences of Alexander Haden’s non-residency of (and laissez-faire attitude towards) Wednesbury was described by Frederick Hackwood in Peter Ditchfield’s 1907 publication, The Parish Clerk. I have broken the text into paragraphs for easier reading (and added an illustration of the interior of Wednesbury St Bartholomew):

Quote The office of parish clerk in Wednesbury has been held by at least two remarkable characters. ‘Old George Court,’ as he was called—and by some who are still alive—held the post in succession to his grandfather for a great number of years. His grandfather was George Watkins, in his time one of the principal tradesmen in the town. His hospitable house was the place of entertainment for a long succession of curates-in-charge and other officiating ministers for all the long years that the vicar (Rev. A. Bunn Haden) was a non-resident pluralist.

But the position created by this state of things was remarkable. Watkins and the small coterie who acted with him became the absolute and dominant authority in all parochial matters. One curate complained of him and his nominee wardens (in 1806) that ‘these men had been so long in office, and had become so cruel and oppressive,’ that some of the parishioners resolved at last to dismiss them. The little oligarchy, however, was too strong to be ousted at any vestry that ever was called.

As to the elected officials, the same curate records in a pamphlet which he published in his indignation, that ‘on Christmas Day, during divine service, the churchwardens entered the workhouse with constables and bailiffs, and a multitude of men equally pious with themselves, and turned the governor and his wife into the snow-covered streets.’ Another measure of iniquity laid to their charge was their ‘cruelty to Mr. Foster,’ the master of the charity school held in the old Market Cross, ‘a man of amiable disposition, and a teacher of considerable merit.’

Places - Wednesbury St Bartholomew interior 1

These aggressive wardens grazed the churchyard for profit, looked coldly upon a proposal to put up Tables of Benefactions in the church, and altogether acted in a manner so high-handed as to call forth this historic protest. Although the fabric of the church was in so ruinous a condition that the rain streamed through the roof upon the head of our clerical pamphleteer as he was preaching, all these complaints were to no purpose.

When the absentee vicar was appealed to he declared his helplessness, and one sentence in his reply is significant; it was thus: ‘It is as much as my life is worth to come among them!’ Allowance must be made for party rancour. It is probable that Watkins was but the official figure-head of this dominant party, and he is said to have been a man of real piety; and after holding the office of parish clerk for sixty years, he at last died in the vestry of the church he loved so much. Unquote

The curate and clerical pamphleteer referred to in the above passage was of course the Rev John Atcherley. George Watkins, the parish clerk, signed as a witness to seven of the nine marriages conducted by John from February to September 1805. John Atcherley was, by his own account, not the only person who wished to see the clerk and church wardens of Wednesbury relieved of their positions. However, it appears that John was singled out for retribution by the men who “disgraced the authority they possessed in the church” to which John belonged. Here is a part of John’s account of the events that followed:

Quote I was civil to them, but that would not do, I must be their obedient servant, as my predecessors had also been. But I had an independent mind, which rebuked them when I was their minister before, and I found it more necessary now to shew that independence. They perceived it unshaken, and kindly promised to reward me for it. They promised to ‘do me a kindness.’ I have not received a purse of money, nor any thing valuable; nor indeed, do I expect any thing of value; I am not a worldly-minded man, I would gladly have released them from their promise, and accepted, instead of any pecuniary reward for my integrity, their exertions to stop the mouth of one of their obedient servants, whose mouth is the trumpet of calumny. This man is the parish beadle.—A very few days after the masters of this man had discovered that I could not be subdued, he very kindly undertook ‘to reward me;’ which he accomplished in the following manner:

On Easter-Thursday, which will be found to be the subject of some of the following letters; as I was walking with my intended wife, I was followed in my walks by the eye of premeditated mischief; for soon afterwards, the beadle asserted, and supported his assertion, by tendering the wager of a guinea, that I was seen not only in company, but improperly connected with a woman of the name of Dickinson, a person whom I had never seen, as clearly appeared upon investigation. Unquote

The accusation made against the Rev John Atcherley may appear rather trivial, until the character of Ms Dickinson, with whom John was alleged to have been “improperly connected”, is made clear. Later in his pamphlet, John referred to a note provided as evidence by his intended wife, Miss Baylay:

Quote OF this Miss Baylay, I shall say as little as I can help. The note she sent me, was intended to convince the Bishop, that I was walking with her at the time I was accused of being in company with a woman of ill-fame. I was walking with Miss Baylay, and by her own appointment. Unquote

For a clergyman to be falsely accused of being in the company of a “woman of ill-fame” was clearly a serious matter, and John’s desire to clear his good name and see his tormentors dealt with appropriately is understandable. On Tuesday 11 June 1805, the Revs Atcherley and Haden met at Lichfield and discussed John’s situation. “The result was,” John later wrote, that Alexander Haden “would undertake to have the beadle punished, or would himself put the churchwardens in the court.” However the satisfaction John felt at this undertaking was short-lived. Two days letter he received the following letter from his Vicar:


VERY soon after I saw you, the Bishop sent Mott for me respecting your very unfortunate business, and after weighing all the circumstances of the case, recommended that you should take to your new preferment, and reside upon it, which would completely remove you from that neighbourhood, where too many persons take sides against you. Mott thought the plan a good one, because you will get rid of the accusation and your enemies without an investigation, which would have proved extremely expensive, and have fallen upon you. I have then to request that you will write to your Curate, and I will endeavour to procure an assistant between this time and Michaelmas; you might make it convenient to remove sooner, provided I get one to take care of Wednesbury. I assured the Bishop that I did not believe the report, and spoke as to the credibility of the witnesses against you. I go on Tuesday next to Leicester; as soon as I return, I will come over to Wednesbury, and give you two sermons.

Your’s sincerely,


John Atcherley was astonished by the content of this letter. On 15 June he walked the seven miles from Wednesbury to Alexander Haden’s home in Tettenhall to discuss the matter. There, he was told something which he found even more unbelievable: that the Bishop, on the basis of an anonymous letter, gave credit to the report about John and Ms Dickinson. It was during this conversation that Haden, following John’s suggestion that he should “come over to Wednesbury and investigate the business himself”, gave the above-mentioned response “Me! It is as much as my life is worth to come among them.” Haden was of course referring to the men who I now think of as ‘the Wednesbury Mafia’: the parish clerk (George Watkins), the church wardens (Messrs Hawe and Addison) and their beadle (Joseph Harrison).

Arms, Diocese of Lichfield

Arms of the Diocese of Lichfield

During his meeting with John, and in subsequent letters, Alexander Haden gave John advice on the course of action he should take to secure his position as Curate. This included gathering the signatures of “as many of the inhabitants of Wednesbury as can possibly be procured” on a petition, which might persuade the Bishop “to withdraw his directions as to [John’s] dismissal.” However John, becoming distrustful of his Vicar, wrote directly to the Bishop to ask what his fate was to be following the complaint made about his behaviour.  The reply which he received (dated 24 June 1805) served only to lessen his trust in Alexander Haden still further:


I HAVE received no complaint concerning you, nor any intimation of the matter alluded to in your letter, but from yourself. Unless therefore something be represented to me upon the subject, of course I shall not immediately require an alteration in the Cure of Wednesbury.

I am, Rev. Sir, your obedient servant,


> On to The Curate of Wednesbury and His Vicar – Part 2.

Picture credits. Wednesbury St Bartholomew, and Wednesbury St Bartholomew – interior: Adapted from illustrations in A History of Wednesbury, in the County of Stafford by John Nock Bagnall, printed in 1854 and therefore out of copyright. Coat of Arms of the Diocese of Lichfield: Image taken from Wikimedia Commons and used under a Creative Commons licence.


[1] John Atcherley (1806), The Curate of Wednesbury and His Vicar.
[2] D B Robinson (1984), Staffordshire Clergy in 1830. In: South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions, vol. XXIV, pp 84-98.
[3] Letter from Norman Tildesley to his niece dated 26 Sep 1971. Copy viewed at
[4] Frederick William Hackwood (1899), Olden Wednesbury: Its Whims and Ways. Being Some Odd Chapters in the History of the Old Town. Page 50.
[5] Peter Hampson Ditchfield (1907), The Parish Clerk. Pages 289-291. Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
[6] Wednesbury St Bartholomew, Staffordshire, marriage register covering 1775 to 1812, entries for marriages from late 1804 to 1807. Copies viewed at Findmypast – Staffordshire Parish Registers Browse.