Image from the Derbyshire Times
The story of Revd William ACRAMAN’s tenure as vicar of Crich between 1875 and 1900 is a fascinating one. It is a tale of court cases, scandal, school conflict, church and chapel conflict, parishioner conflict, and assaults against his curates.
Although his time in the parish was an unenviable story of conflict and scandal his legacy was not all negative. For a small community to have four schools educating its children is really down to him. Florence Nightingale appreciated him, sending her maid to listen to his sermons and giving financial support to his temperance cause. He was a gifted musician. His ministry came at time when the established church had to contend with the popularity of non-conformism. Crich had Baptist, Primitive Methodist, Free Methodist, Congregational and Wesleyan chapels in its parish. The church’s influence over education was being diminished with the establishment of School Boards.
Crich Parish during his tenure was a challenging one, it had a reputation of lawlessness and drunkenness – and was referred to as the “Gotham City” of Derbyshire” in newspaper articles.
The book entitled “Parish Life with a Troubled Vicar: Crich 1875–1900” covers comprehensively life in the parish under his ministry.
268 pages, 60 photographs ISBN 978-0-9562271-0-2
This account is told mainly through newspaper reports, letters and logbook entries. It should be of interest not only to those with Crich connections past and present, but to anyone with an interest in social history, family history, how and why School Boards were created, the rise of nonconformist religion, village life in the latter part of Queen Victoria’s reign, and the effect of rapid change on a small community.
There were a great many reports in the local and national newspapers about Revd ACRAMAN, often covering many columns and pages in extent. Below are but a very few of the headlines and shorter reports to track his life, conflict and troubles during this period.
1875 Appointed vicar of Crich
Chester Courant 29 December 1875
PREFERMENTS AND APPOINTMENTS
Rev William ACRAMAN, vicar of Crich, Derbyshire.
1880 Vicar’s world tour
It was in January of 1880 that the Revd ACRAMAN left Crich for a “World Tour”. This took in America and Australia, where he had relatives. He left because he had suffered a family bereavement and needed a rest. This was all recorded in the school logbook. He returned in November 1880 owing to health problems, also recorded in the school log book.
Derby Mercury 1 December 1880
[A long report on the village celebrating the vicar’s return with acclaim.]
1881 Florence Nightingale supports vicar’s temperance campaign
Nov 26 1881
I beg your acceptance of £3. 3 for any of your works that require it most. Temperance or Lay Reader.
I wish it were more, but the claims upon me are far beyond my means.
I trust that your fight in favour of temperance will be crowned with success as I am sure you will also pray for ours.
Drink & dress seem to be the great barriers against civilization, against God’s work in these parts. The people do not even understand their own interests: they will live in wretched quarters, perhaps 7 in family and a lodger, in two miserable bed rooms – happy too if grown up sons & daughters are not in the same bed room & even (up into the teens) in the same bed. While they spend more on eating & drinking & dressing (with no mending) than we do – and mend their clothes less than we do. There are people earning (parents, sons & daughters included) considerably more than a London Government clerk, who has to appear like a gentleman. What wonder if immorality is rampant!
I have to thank you for a sermon preached the Sunday before last against profanity, & against drinking, repeated to me, as far as I could guess almost word for word, by my maid. I always make them tell me the Sermons they hear.
I pray God to bless your work
I pray believe me
ever your faithful servt
Revd W. Acraman
[Letter courtesy of Alan Howe]
1881 Vicar appoints Henry SCOTT as new headmaster
As well as Mr SCOTT his family were also employed in the school: his wife, Laura, as sewing mistress; daughter Beatrice as a pupil teacher; and daughter Florence as monitor.
Mr Scott’s initial troubles came in two forms. Firstly, although the staff comprised mostly of his family he had a very troublesome assistant teacher in Miss M.L. LLOYD, who was, apparently, a friend of the vicar. Secondly, there was chronic overcrowding with about 350 pupils in the school. His exasperation and frustration is recorded in the school logbook.
1882 Problems at the school brew
An Inspectors’ report was critical of the over-crowding but Mr SCOTT received no support from the vicar. Miss LLOYD was causing problems for the head. SCOTT's daughter had left the school to work elsewhere. The vicar considered that the understaffing at the school was largely due to her leaving.
The school logbook of 13 and 20 January 1883 recorded the school as only having the headmaster, a pupil teacher and one monitor also there were not enough seats for all the pupils, over 300 of them. The school was very cold and dirty.
1883 School conflict explodes into warfare
In January Mr SCOTT wrote to the vicar–
The school is now left to myself and daughter. I wish to know if you are going to supply me with help or am I to take the responsibility of supplying myself.
Last week 3 teachers did the work of 6 teachers and now this week 2 teachers have to do it. I shall give half holiday tomorrow to rest ourselves
I am sir,
H. S. Scott
There was a complete breakdown of relationship between the headmaster and vicar which resulted in the headteacher being summarily sacked. The village was split in loyalties with a most supporting the popular Mr SCOTT. Baptists and non-conformists fell behind him.
1883 Vicar sacks headteacher
Sheffield Independent 3 February 1883
THE VICAR OF CRICH AND SCHOOL AFFAIRS
… Headmaster Mr Scott made to resign after disagreement with vicar despite running a successful school...
A public meeting at Crich to discuss the affair defended into acrimony, jostling, epithets with much support of the sacked headteacher .
Derby Mercury 7 Feb 1883
THE VICAR OF CRICH does not apparently find his parish “a bed of roses” just now, and it is somewhat difficult for an outsider to decide who is most to blame…. it is quite clear that such a strained condition of the relations between pastor and people, as now exists, can only result in evil to both….
Derby Mercury 7 Feb 1883
THE VICAR OF CRICH AND HIS PARISHIONERS
[There followed a long report of the meeting and conflict.]
1883 Vicar accuses parishioners of assaulting him
An aftermath of the meeting was that the vicar brought a court action against two parishioners whom he accused of assaulting him also he asked for police protection against further possible assaults from his parishioners. This case was widely reported in the newspapers:
Derbyshire Courier 3 February 1883
APPLICATION FOR SUMMONS
Nottinghamshire Guardian 9 February 1883
EXTRAORDINARY APPLICATION BY A DERBYSHIRE VICAR
…the vicar asked for summonses and police protection …
St James’s Gazette 16 February 1883
ALLEGED ASSAULT ON A CLERGYMAN
Derbyshire Times 17 February 1883
The Parochial Squabbles at Crich
The Case Before the Bench …
Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal 23 February 1883
THE VICAR OF CRICH AND HIS PARISHIONERS
…two parishioners charged with assaulting the vicar …
The case was dismissed. The vicar could provide no witnesses. He complained that parishioners even hooted at him and his curate in their clerical attire.
1883 Conflict between vicar his parishioners and the curate
The conflict between the warring factions soon spilt over into other church matters as the village meeting in April 1883 proved.
There was a contested church election for a churchwarden with suggestions of ballot rigging. Mr LEE was the vicar’s choice, and Mr IVESON the choice of those who supported Mr SCOTT. Tempers became so riled that police were called upon to empty the church.
To add to the troubles the curate, Mr BLAIR, and the vicar were in serious disagreement. Mr BLAIR, once a staunch ally of the vicar, took exception to the vindictive measures he took to avenge himself on those who had displeased him.
These acts of revenge included travelling to Derby, to the teacher training college. There he attempted to get them to stop Mr SCOTT’s daughter from becoming qualified. She was a pupil teacher, and Derby College had the authority make her a certificated teacher.
He also had an interview with the local police superintendent to cause trouble for the village policeman, who had also displeased him. On top of this he spread untrue rumours that Mr SCOTT was trying to obtain the headship at South Wingfield School.
As a result Mr BLAIR turned against the vicar. The scene was set for the vicar to plot against his curate, and for the whole conflict to blow up in a most spectacular manner with vicar and curate physically attacking each other.
Two things followed: firstly, the contested election for church warden between Mr LEE and Mr IVESON; secondly, the conflict between vicar and curate, resulting in a well-reported court case. After the court case against the two parishioners for assault went against the vicar the village unrest continued and grew more bitter against the vicar.
Sheffield Independent 30 March 1883
PAROCHIAL DISSENSIONS AT CRICH
UPROARIOUS VESTRY MEETING
DISCLOSURES BY THE CURATE
…Mr Acraman went to Litchfield to see the Bishop in a clandestine way …
Derbyshire Courier 31 March 1883
VESTRY MEETING AT CRICH
The Schoolmaster and the Vicar
Concerning the controversial sacking of Mr Scott, headmaster…
..curate and vicar argue over their seating arrangement …
Sheffield Independent 31 March 1883
PAROCHIAL DESSENSIONS AT CRICH
the proceedings throughout were of a very tumultuous character …
Nottinghamshire Guardian 6 April 1883
PARISH AFFAIRS AT CRICH
…disagreement over the sacking of headmaster Mr Scott
The vicar had also approached the Bishop to try to have his curate sacked. When BLAIR discovered this the personal feud resulted in vicar and curate physically attacking each other during a school managers’ meeting. The local doctor and the magistrate Mr HURT who were at the meeting had to separate them. Another court case resulted at which the vicar was found guilt of a technical assault on his curate.
This court case was much reported in the newspapers.
Sheffield Independent 31 March 1883
THE VICAR OF CRICH AND HIS CURATE
The Drawing Room Fracas
Derby Mercury 4 April 1883
AFFAIRS AT CRICH GROW WORSE
…when we read of a vicar and his curate struggling together on the floor for the possession of a letter, and of the former having to be pulled off the latter by a magistrate who was present, we cannot be surprised that the vestry meeting should have been disgraced by a display of rowdyism and shameful irreverence …
Derbyshire Times 7 April 1873
THE CLERICAL DISPUTES AT CRICH
Derbyshire Times 7 April 1883
A SUMMONS GRANTED AGAINST THE VICAR OF CRICH
…the vicar having committed and alleged violent assault against the curate by throwing him on the ground and kicking him …
Sheffield Independent 13 April 1883
THE VICAR FINED FOR ASSAULTING HIS CURATE
Bolton Evening News 13 April 1883
A VICAR CHARGED BY HIS CURATE WITH ASSAULT
Extraordinary Case …
Sheffield Independent 14 April 1883
THE VICAR OF CRICH FINED FOR ASSAULT ING HIS CURATE
Derbyshire Times 14 April 1883
THE CLERICAL SCANDAL AT CRICH
Mr Acraman before the Bench …
Derbyshire Courier 14 April 1883
THE VICAR OF CRICH CONVICTED FOR ASSAULTING HIS CURATE
Derby Mercury 18 April 1883
THE PAROCHIAL DISSENSIONS AT CRICH
THE VICAR CONVICTED OF ASSAULTING THE CURATE
Nottingham Guardian 20 April 1883
THE VICAR OF CRICH AND HIS CURATE
Derbyshire Times 28 April 1883
Laura ACRAMAN wrote in support of her brother the vicar…
1883 Vicar’s effigy burnt
The news of the curate’s ‘victory’ over the vicar caused great excitement in Crich. It was not good news for the vicar. Several hundred parishioners paraded an effigy of him through the village before setting fire to it outside the vicarage. The crowd then went through a mock burial service. Eventually the head of the effigy was kicked around like a football. The vicar stayed indoors! This was reported in the local press.
Derby Mercury 18 April 1883
BURNING AN EFFIGY
1883 Vicar appoints new headmaster to the Parochial School
At the end of April Mr SUMNER was appointed headmaster to replace Mr SCOTT who was now head of the new British School. It was a baptism of fire for the new head as feelings were running high in the parish. There was a scurrilous bill posting campaign organised by the Parochial School against the British School. Pupils of the British School were encourage to intimidate staff and pupils from the Parochial School.
1883 The British School was formed
After the sacking of Mr SCOTT a rival school to the vicar’s Parochial school was created at Mount Tabor chapel and was significantly supported by the Baptists. Mr SCOTT was appointed headmaster. It proved very popular drawing most of the pupils from the Parochial school ; 240 pupils transferred from the Parochial School leaving just 40 pupils there.
1883 Petition to have the vicar replaced
In February the parishioners sent a petition to the Bishop for the removal of their vicar.
Derby Mercury: Wed 14 February 1883
THE RELATIONS BETWEEN THE VICAR OF CRICH AND HIS PARISHIONERS do not improve. The vicar has held a meeting for the purpose of replying to the statements made at the meeting held in support of the schoolmaster, and the disaffected parishioners have had another meeting to reply to the Vicar at which a memorial to the bishop was adopted praying his Lordship to use his influence with Mr. ACRAMAN to get him to resign his living, as his influence for good in the parish was entirely gone.
Derbyshire Times 24 February 1883
THE PARISH DISPUTES AT CRICH
The latest move is a memorial to the Bishop asking for his resignation…
An Episcopal Hearing was held at the Hurt Arms, Ambergate on 11 May 1883
Derby Mercury 16 May 1883
EPISCOPAL INQUIRY AT AMBERGATE
Nottingham Guardian 18 May 1883
PARISH AFFAIRS AT CRICH
…statements to the Bishop from 765 parishioners against the vicar …
Derbyshire Courier 19 May 1883
THE VICAR OF CRICH AND HIS PARISHIONERS
We the parishioners of Crich being deeply grieved that after being here seven years and a half as vicar, the Rev. Wm. Acraman has in effect lost all spiritual influence among us ….
Derbyshire Times 19 May 1883
CLERICAL INQUIRY AT CRICH …
Derby Mercury 23 May 1883
THE BISHOP OF LICHFIELD AND THE CRICH MEMORIAL – The Bishop of Lichfield has replied to the memorial forwarded to him by the parishioners of Crich in February last as follows – “Lichfield 16th May 1883, Dear Sir, – As a result of the inquiry held at Ambergate on Friday last, I have to intimate to you that, although the Commissioners were far from satisfied with the state of the parish, as revealed by the witnesses whom they examined, they could find no sufficient reason to take any further steps with a view to remove the incumbent. I trust therefore that you and your friends will endeavour as far as possible to promote a better feeling than at present exists in the parish, although I am bound to admit that events that have recently occurred were sufficient to have produced a feeling of distrust and uneasiness on the part of the parishioners, and I cannot deem unreasonable the application which you made to me with a view to inquiries being instituted. – I remain, dear sir, yours faithfully, W. D. LICHFIELD. T. G. Iveson, Esq."
Derbyshire Courier 26 May 1883
THE CRICH CLERICAL SCANDAL
Letter from the BISHOP OF LICHFIELD
The complainants only had three days notice of the inquiry but had witnesses wishing to give evidence. The bishop rebuked the vicar but did not consider any necessity to remove him from office.
1883 School Board threat
Accommodation and sanitary problems at the Parochial School, Crich Carr Church School and the British School raised the odds on a School Board being formed in Crich – at a cost to the ratepayers and very much against the wishes of the vicar (who had control over Crich Parochial , Crich Carr and Fritchley schools.
Derby Mercury 12 September 1883
EDUCATIONAL AFFAIRS – A final notice has been issued by the Education Department respecting the school accommodation of this parish. On Saturday morning Mr. George Dawes, parish clerk, received the order stating that 145 children required school room – 75 for Crich and 70 for Crich Carr. The orders were posted on the church and chapel doors on Sunday. The notice sets forth that the accommodation must be provided in three months, or a School Board will be formed. No steps have at present been taken in regard to the order, but it is expected the ratepayers will hold a meeting shortly.
Derby Mercury 10 October 1883
No steps have yet been taken by either contending parties in Crich to comply with the final notice issued by the Education Department five weeks since, ordering that accommodation is to be found for 145 children. It is considered that the notice will be allowed to lapse, and a school board be formed…
Derby Mercury 2 January 1884
THE EDUCATION DIFFICULTY
A communication has been received from the Education Department with reference to the Crich Parochial School. The document is to the effect that no order for a School Board will be issued if the enlargement of Crich Parochial School and the building of the new school at Crich Carr is completed within a reasonable time. The vicar (the Rev. W. Acraman) has already commenced the work of providing additional accommodation.
Derby Mercury 2 January 1884
EDUCATIONAL AFFAIRS AT CRICH are looking more hopeful. The much-abused vicar, Mr. ACRAMAN, has succeeded in saving the parish from the incubus of a School Board. This success may, perhaps, be very unpalatable to the little knot of busybodies who would have liked to air their importance at the School Board; but the more sensible portion of the inhabitants cannot fail to be thankful that what might have been, and in all probability would have been, an intolerable burden, has been averted, and we hope that they will remember that for this they are indebted to the energy of the Vicar.
1885 Vicar arrested on a serious charge
In the October of 1885 yet more scandal was to surround the vicar. He was accused of a serious offence by his domestic servants. The Belper magistrates heard the case “in camera” so that the details were not fully covered.
Because the case was a serious one bail was not granted, and he had to await his trial at Leicester imprisoned in Derby gaol. As he was to find out, this was not to be his only stay in that place. The vicar was acquitted of the offence.
Sheffield Independent 15 October 1885
SERIOUS CHARGE AGAINST THE VICAR OF CRICH
..charged with a serious offence … the warrant was executed whilst the accused was walking along Bridge Street, Belper….
Derbyshire Courier 17 October 1885
ARREST OF THE VICAR OF CRICH
Serious charge …
Derby Mercury 21 October 1885
DERBY BOROUGH POLICE NEWS
SERIOUS CHARGE AGAINST THE VICAR OF CRICH
Derby Mercury 4 November 1885
THE CHARGE AGAINST THE VICAR OF CRICH
There were very large congregations at Crich Church on Sunday to welcome the vicar on his return and he received quite an ovation from the Sunday School. We are requested to say that the report that the charge against Mr. Acraman arose out of statements made by a member of his household is incorrect; and to supplement what has already appeared in our columns with regard to the case by saying that immediately on hearing that the charge was laid against him, he went to Belper and gave himself up.
Aberdeen Evening Express 17 November 1885
THE CHARGE AGAINST THE REV.W. ACRAMN, VICAR OF CRICH
...concerning the trial of a former Aberdeen clergyman against whom a heinous and abominable charge was brought …
1888 Vicar marries
The vicar, aged 50 married 20 year-old Esther Taylor who later died in January 1889, shortly after the birth of a daughter.
Derbyshire Times 11 February 1888
FASHIONABLE WEDDING AT CRICH
Crich was the scene of a fashionable wedding on Wednesday , the 8th inst., the bridegroom being the Vicar, the Rev. W. Acraman, and the bride Miss Taylor, elder daughter of the Rev R. Taylor, of Crich and Spilsby ….
1893 Vicar sued
The vicar’s brushes with the law continued. He was sued for non-payment of a bill for breaking in a colt that he owned. He lost his case and had to pay six guineas.
Derby Mercury 1 November 1893
A HORSEBREAKER’S CLAIM
The Rev. W. Acraman, vicar of Crich, was sued by John Jackson, horse breaker of Swanwick, for £6 6s, for breaking a colt, keep of the animal and shoes supplied…
1895 Vicar donates land for railway footbridge
There had been complaints among parishioners that the route to the new railway station was circuitous, and more than one shortcut had been the subject of talk and speculation. The problem of bridging the canal and railway was formidable and the acquisition of land on whatever track was proposed, potentially expensive.
Crich Parish Council minutes of the meeting of May 1895 record “the acceptance of Revd ACRAMAN's offer of four feet of land across his field to provide a footpath to Whatstandwell Station and the best thanks of this Council... to be given to Mr. Acraman for his generous gift to the Parish”.
1897 Vicar sacks another headteacher
On 21st May 1897 Mr Alfred W. MOODY resigned as master of the Parochial School to take up a new appointment at Bonsall. The new headteacher, Mr George Henry KENT, quickly clashed with the vicar. He began his headship on the 4th October 1897 and was fired three days later. It seems that there was a disagreement about the headmaster’s house which went with the position. On appointment he was told it was a villa which stood in its own grounds. On arrival it was found to be dirty and in poor repair. His complaint to the vicar resulted in his firing.There were accusations, counter-accusations, scuffles, court cases, intemperate letters, threats and many suggestions of wrong-doings.
Irate letter from Mr Kent to the vicar
Vicar's response to Mr Kent's letter
1897 Indignation Meeting
Such was the feeling in the village against the sacking of Mr Kent that an “Indignation Meeting” was called. Posters were displayed around the village, and the meeting was well attended with about four hundred villagers present. The vicar thought it a plot by the Nonconformists and considered it none of their business.
Derbyshire Times 6 November 1897
INDIGNATION MEETING AT CRICH
THE VICAR AND HIS PARISHIONERS
On Tuesday night, a meeting of the ratepayers and inhabitants of Crich was held in the Independent Club Room, to express sympathy with Mr Kent and protest against his arbitrary dismissal from the position of headmaster at the Parochial School. There was a good attendance, probably 400 persons being present, and including church people….
Despite the resolution of four hundred parishioners at the indignation meeting, the vicar ignored the opinions expressed. Another court case loomed.
1897 Curate charged with assault on headmaster
The sacking of Mr KENT came to a head with the curate, Revd NEVILLE, being accused in court of assaulting him.
What seems apparent is that the curate, Revd NEVILLE, went to the school, on the instruction of the vicar, to remove Mr KENT. Mr KENT was accused of working against the Parochial School and in the interest of the rival British School. The ensuing scuffle resulted in yet another court case. There were now two court cases pending over the summary sacking of Mr KENT. The first was against Mr NEVILLE for assault, and the second against Mr ACRAMAN for wrongful dismissal.
NEVILLE at his court casewas found guilty of a technical assault.
Derby Mercury 10 November 1897
A CRICH CLERICAL CASE
James Percy Neville, of Crich, described as a curate, was summoned fir assaulting George Hentry Kent, headmaster of Crich Parochial School on 13 October …
1897 Vicar’s solicitor withdraws from acting for him
The vicar's solicitor J. WHEATCROFT withdrew his services before his court appearance
29th October 1897
Rev. W Acraman
With reference to our late conference yesterday, and having fully considered the matter I have finally decided to withdraw from the business. I have no wish to add to your difficulties or cause you any pain by assigning my reasons & I therefore refrain from doing so. The course I have decided to adopt will leave you ample time to entrust the business to other hands and leave you free to allow the charge against Mr Neville to go undefended.
I send you copy of Mr Potter’s letter received yesterday which will put you in possession of the position of the business up to date. I am returning to Mr Neville by this post the summons served upon him.
I shall be pleased to reply to any letter from you, but you must excuse me in declining to lose any more of my time in useless discussions of worthless lay opinions and gossip upon legal matters.
The case of Kent against the vicar was settled out of court with the vicar paying £12 10s.
Unknown newspaper press cutting 25 January 1898
THE VICAR OF CRICH
And his schoolmaster
Action for Damages Settled out of Court.
1897 Vicar ignores instruction to close the Sunday School
A measles epidemic in the parish led to the deaths of several children. As a result the Medical Officer of Health asked that all schools in the parish be closed for a period of time. All acquiested with the exception of Revd ACRAMAN who refused to close Crich Sunday School as requested, although only one child duly attended. Parents seemed to accept the wisdom for the temporary closure. The vicar's refusal to follow the medical advoce was met with censure.
Belper News 6 August 1897
The vicar of Crich has very poor estimate of the measles, for he refused to close the Church Sunday school when requested to do so by the Medical Officer of Health (who surely ought to know something of the matter), and according to Mr LEE there was but one scholar who seized the opportunity to attend the only school that was not closed in Crich on Sunday last. Retribution has overtaken the vicar of Crich, for not only have his Nonconformist parishioners risen up against him with a petition, but the same has been listened to by the District Council, with the result that the parish priest has been rebuked.
Censured for refusing to close the Church Sunday school when requested to do so by the Medical Officer of Health. He was the only church to ignore the edict.
1898 Vicar sued for causing a cyclist’s injury
Revd ACRAMAN was sued by a cyclist for driving his horse and carriage on the wrong side of the road causing a serious accident at which the cyclist was badly injured. The vicar was driving his horse and carriage on the wrong side of the road leaving no room for two cyclists to pass. They had to crash their cycles into a wall to avoid a collision and one sustained a significant injury. At that time many bicycles would not have had effective brakes. The advent of the "safety bicycle" was in its infancy. The vicar was found guilty and had to pay a fine, costs, doctor's fees and damages to the cyclist.
Derby Mercury 7 December 1898
CYCLIST INJURED: VICAR SUED
1899 Vicar arraigned an a very serious charge
There had been rumours circulating Crich about the vicar’s attachment to a young girl. Eventually the rumour and innuendo surfaced, and the matter was brought to court. The vicar was to stand trial, be found guilty, and be sentenced to two years’ hard labour in Derby Gaol.
In September 1899 he was arrested on two serious charges against a young girl and a young boy. Amazingly, at the initial hearing in Belper his solicitor was not in attendance. Some of the details of the hearing were not allowed to be reported.
The summons for the offence against the girl stated that she was thirteen years old. The vicar was adamant that this was incorrect as she was nearer fifteen; he wanted the summons changed – even though the age of consent was sixteen. He wanted the summons for the offences against the boy dismissed, on the grounds that the boy was a known liar.
A case was found to be answered and the vicar was not allowed bail before the next hearing, despite a passionate plea that he had money for whatever bail was set. His plea to be allowed some anonymity for transportation to Derby Gaol was allowed and he went in a private carriage in the company of the superintendent.
His request for a press blackout so as not to prejudice his case could not be granted from a public court. The newspaper reports were quite extensive as the case drew a great deal of attention, not only in Derbyshire but across the country. “Disgraced vicar in sex scandal” always made for good headlines. Part of his defence was that he intended to marry the young girl.
Despite his appeals for bail – on any amount – he was committed to Derby Gaol as the Magistrates considered there was a case to answer.
Derbyshire Times 2 September 1899
SENSATIONAL ARREST OF A DERBYSHIRE VICAR
Two Serious Charges …
After being refused bail at the preliminary hearing the vicar was taken to Derby Gaol to await the case that would take place in a week’s time, again at Belper. He was allowed to travel to gaol in plain clothes, in a carriage with a superintendent. Other prisoners had to travel to Derby by rail in the company of uniformed police officers. He was spared this shame.
At the five-hour hearing in Belper the public were excluded and the press advised to exercise constraint in their reporting. This banning of the public caused quite an upset. Many of those wishing to attend expressed their dissatisfaction most strongly. A heavy police presence was needed to prevent things getting out of hand.
Derbyshire Times 9 September 1899
THE VICAR OF CRICH IN THE DOCK
FOUR SERIOUS CHARGES
“Desired to Educate and Marry a Young Girl”
AT THE BELPER POLICE COURT …
After the hearing it was decided that the evidence was such that he should stand trial at the assizes. He was granted bail at £1000 (£500 from himself and £250 from two sureties) – today’s equivalent amount would be well over £80,000. Again the newspapers reported the case very widely.
The question was, what would the vicar do whilst he was on bail? Would he quietly hide away from the glare of publicity? Not a bit of it! He returned to Crich and deliver a sermon.
1899 Vicar’s last sermon
After his hearing it was something of a surprise to his parishioners that the vicar took part in the Sunday evening service. His loyal curate, the Revd COUSENS, had been round the parish drumming up people to attend the service and the church was quite full, many apparently coming out of curiosity. When the vicar went into the pulpit to preach there was an orchestrated walkout by a section of the congregation. It was suggested that this might have been organised by the dissenters, but this was strongly denied by one of their spokesmen. Neither of the church wardens were present at the service, although they must have known he was going to speak.
The service was somewhat disrupted by rowdy youths and girls both inside and outside the church. During his final sermon the vicar protested his innocence and said it was all a plot against him by powerful people in Derby. He would be found not guilty of the charges.
As he left the church the newspaper reports of the times differ as to what happened. The Derby Mercury had the vicar running the gauntlet of youths (although they met him in silence), whilst the Derbyshire Times had him escaping through the rear of the church over a low stone wall.
His appearance in the church resulted in the Bishop banning him from church duties, the wardens having to ensure the ban was adhered to.
Such was the notoriety surrounding the case that there was extensive coverage for the events surrounding his last sermon.
Derbyshire Times 16 September 1899
THE CRICH SENSATION
THE VICAR WENT BACK TO HIS PARISH
And took part in both services in Sunday
FROM THE PULPIT HE DECLARES HIS INNOCENCE
The Bishop of the Diocese Intervenes
The curate may have been happy that the vicar had attended the Sunday service, but the Bishop, George Southwell, was less pleased. He wrote to the churchwardens, James LEE and Nathaniel HAWKES, to give instruction that this must not happen again. The vicar was banned from his church.
There were several Derbyshire Times items printed after the sermon interviewing people from the community for comment.
1899 vicar found guilty at the Assizes
The vicar was tried at the Derby Assizes in the December of 1899. The case was only thought suitable for male adults, so all women and children were ordered from the Court. The only females allowed to attend were the witnesses.
The case was covered fully in the Derbyshire Times and also received coverage in most of the national newspapers. It was a sensational story at the time. A sixty-two-year-old vicar proposing marriage to a fourteen-year-old friend of his daughter; accusations of plots against the vicar; village rumours; and the implication of grooming for sex, all made for good headlines.
What is indisputable is that Revd ACRAMAN behaved inappropriately with a young girl. Incredulity was expressed at his proposal of marriage to one so young. However, both his wives were in their early twenties when he married them, when he was aged fifty and seventy-seven respectively. It is not inconceivable that the proposal was genuine.
At the trial the vicar was found guilty as charged. The judge had little truck with his defence that he thought the girl was older than she was. He was sentenced to two years hard labour in Derby Gaol.
Derbyshire Times 2 December 1899
TWO YEARS HARD LABOUR
VICAR OF CRICH
Scathing remarks from the judge
Witness told what to say
Sensational Incident at Close of Trial
The jury retired to consider the case and come to a verdict. It took them all of twenty-three minutes to decide his fate. The judge then passed sentence on Revd Acraman. It was to be the longest sentence in prison that the law allowed. This clearly came as a great shock to the vicar.
The vicar asked for and was given permission to address the Court. He restated that he considered the girl to be slightly older than she had been given. It obviously still angered him that she was reported as being thirteen when the offences occurred, but she had been fourteen. He also made a plea for mitigation as he was in poor health and feared that the “hard labour” would injure his health even more.
The judge was of the opinion that he would be well looked after in prison and should have nothing to fear. His comments regarding the girl’s age caused the judge to pass somewhat acid remarks. He considered the Vicar had made his case ten times worse.
[NOTE:Much was made of the girl’s age. For six hundred years, between 1275 and 1875, the age of consent (which only applied to girls) was twelve. In 1875 it was raised to thirteen. It was not until 1885 that it was raised to sixteen. Had the assault occurred a few years earlier the vicar would not have committed a criminal offence and would have been spared gaol.]
Long Eaton Advertiser 6 January 1900
THE LAST CHAPTER OF A SAD STORY
On Wednesday last Messrs Watson and Son, of Alfreton, sold by auction at Crich the household furniture and belongings of the Rev William ACRAMAN, former vicar.
I understand there have been seven applications for the post of vicar at Crich. Let us hope for a brighter future yet Crich, and that the new vicar, who will be appointed early in the New Year, will work more in harmony with his parishioners that the last did. It is the feeling of some church people that the new vicar will go in for a musical service and replace the mixed choir.
1900 Vicar deprived of Holy Orders
Derby Mercury 21 February 1900
THE VICARAGE OF CRICH.
A solemn and impressive, though happily rare ceremony, took place on Tuesday in Southwell Minster, where the Bishop of the Diocese, acting under the provisions of the Clergy Discipline Act, 1892, declared the living of Crich vacant – in consequence of the late incumbent, Mr. Acraman, having been convicted at the last Derbyshire Assizes of serious misdemeanours and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour – and also formally deposed and degraded Mr. Acraman from Holy Orders…
Belper News 2 August 1901
Recently the Times contained an advertisement from Mr William ACRAMAN, late Vicar of Crich, who was deposed from Holy Orders by the Bishop of Southwell under the provisions of the Clergy Discipline Act, 1892, has “taken the surname of his ancestor MONTEAGLE, by which he desires henceforth to be called.”
Postscript on William Acraman
The census of 1901 showed William Acraman in Derby Gaol.
When he left gaol he changed his name to William MONTEAGLE, announcing the change in the personal columns of the Times. He was of the opinion that his family were descendants of Lord MONTEAGLE, who was involved in the discovery of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot.
After prison he moved away from Crich and lived on the south coast. Did he opt for a quiet uneventful retirement? That was not his style. On the 30th September 1914 in Deal, Kent, William ACRAMAN MONTEAGLE, aged seventy-seven, married his second wife, twenty-three-year-old Maud Lilian DAWSON. They had one son, born in Eastbourne seven months after the marriage. William was described as a “Retired Christian Minister (Clergyman)”. He was knocked down by a Hastings tram in January 1917 and later died of his injuries. He died in Hastings hospital on the 8th February 1917 aged nearly eighty years, leaving a young widow and a twenty-one-month-old son.
Even William’s will raised some fascinating questions. Why was his new wife not mentioned? What did he have against the town of Deal to make him stipulate that his son was not live or be educated there?
“... that my said infant son shall if possible be brought up and educated in Hastings or else in London but not in Deal”
Land he still owned in Whatstandwell was to pass on to his son. His daughter Essie had married and was now Mrs Harold IVIMEY. In his will she was asked to –
“take a kindly interest in her “little step brother” – actually he was her half-brother.
As well as leaving a legacy of four active schools in Crich parish he was also influential in the provision of the bridges over the canal and railway line enabling a much appreciated short-cut to the railway station.
Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal 23 February 1894
No sooner do the inhabitants of the mountain villages of Crich and Whatstandwell receive one concession that they want another. The Midland Railway Co. have sealed a contract for the erection of a new passenger station, and now there is a request for the making of a near cut, as the locals term it. Passengers will have to walk a little further when the old station is left. What a pity they should be so incommoded to this extent!
It took until the early 1900s for a "near cut" to be provided.
The history of the footpath to Whatstandwell Station: Jim Eggleston
In 1895 the vicar had donated land across his field to provide canal and railway bridges for the new Whatstandwell station and at the July meeting of the Parish Council a memorandum of Agreement was signed by the donor, the Revd ACRAMAN and the Chairman and Clerk to the Council. At the same meeting it was proposed “to write to Mr Hurt for formal ratification of his promise to give the necessary land….'" Presumably the reverend gentleman was the tenant of the land not its owner.
Progress on this proved to be very slow. All seemed set for the establishment of the path and the construction of the bridges. The next eighteen months in this history are remarkable for the apparent inactivity of all concerned. The reason for this hiatus becomes apparent at the council meeting of May 1904. It would seem that the law at that time required the agreement not only of the landowner, now definitively established at F. HURT Esq., but also the tenant of the land in question. Evidently the tenancy of the field over which the footpath was to be constructed had passed from Mr. W. ACRAMAN the original 'donor' to the Reverend W. A. MOUNTEAGLE who had informed the rural District Council (who had apparently become involved in the negotiations) that he did not wish to release the land. The Council resolved "that inasmuch as Mr. Hurt's tenant declines to enter into agreement with this Council to give up possession of a certain strip of land for the construction of a footpath and footbridge at Whatstandwell, and the Parish Council cannot acquire land for such a purpose except by agreements they recommend the Rural District Council to use whatever measures they think best, in order that the agreement of the Revd W.A.Mounteagle may be complete.”
[It is now known that the Revs ACRAMAN and MONTEAGLE are one and the same.]
The Reverend W.A Monteagle seem to have suffered a change of heart. In a letter to the Belper Rural District Council he 'requests the Authority to complete certain works at Crich Carr in accordance with the agreement executed some time back,' In February 1904 the Parish Council signalled their intention to submit the matter to the Local Government Board. They were reminded that they were acting as agents of Belper Rural District Council and would have to seek prior approval from the Rural District Council.
And so ended the life of William ACRAMAN, later William ACRAMAN MONTEAGLE, one-time vicar of Crich. However, his legacy is still evident in the parish, in the shape of four thriving schools; Crich Infants, Crich Carr Primary, Fritchley Primary and Crich Junior; not forgetting the bridges to Whatstandwell railway station.
He may have been accused of many things, but being boring certainly wasn’t one of them!