Controversy involving the vicar, 1886

Rev H.A. Douglas-Hamilton alienated his nonconformist and Liberal parishioners by being an active Conservative and (allegedly) a boycotter of businesses which disagreed with him (see the 1885 and 1886 elections). The correspondence below began with a complaint against him in the new Liberal newspaper, the North Bucks Flying Post (not available to transcribe here). See controversy over burials in 1883 for some of the background. It continued in other local papers. "A Protestant" who defended the vicar sounds very much like Dr Newham.

Buckingham Advertiser, 6 Nov

Nonconformist Ritualism.
(To the Editor of the Buckingham Advertiser and North Bucks Free Press.)
  SIR.- If any of your numerous readers have any time to waste in looking at the columns of a new Radical paper, they must have been greatly amused and edified at the rubbish that appeared in the issue of the 23rd inst.  There we were informed that “the Vicar of Winslow charges practically whatever he pleases for the use of his freehold.”  If the writer of the paragraph does not already know, it is quite time that he should be informed that the fees are settled in a legal manner by ancient custom, sanctioned by the Archdeacon in his court, which is more than can be said for the pew-rents in Little Bethel [i.e. a Nonconformist chapel], where brother Stiggens may charge as much as he can get “for the use of his freehold” benches.  Again, as a matter fact, the burial fee at Winslow is only 8/6, not 9/6 as stated, out of which the clerk receives 5/6 for digging the grave.
  The “passing-bell” which some Protestant dissenters are breaking their hearts for is an old Church custom, and was originally intended as a call to the parishioners to pray for the soul passing into eternity.  This was one of the Church ceremonies which the sturdy old Puritans consistently opposed as being “ungodly, vain, and superstitious.”  Now, behold, a change has come over the spirit of their dream, for dissenters can no longer depart in peace unless they are rung into another world by the very bell whose summons in this life they have treated with neglect and scorn.  Behold the ritualism of our Nonconformist brethren!- they protest against the Church while they copy its ceremonial as closely as ever they can; and imitation we know, is the sincerest form of flattery.  There was a time when dissenters had a virtuous horror of “steepled houses,” but now their services lack unction unless they are accompanied by the tolling of the Church bell! Here again extremes meet.  Romanists attach extreme importance to the sweet tones of consecrated bells; but even they would never say their services were not valid unless accompanied by the bell; but here we were plainly told that in spite of the blameless life of the deceased, and the weeping mourners, and the fervid eloquence of “the reverend dissenting clergyman,” the function did not rise higher than “the burial of a dog.” [This refers to the 1884 burial of J.L. French, as deplored by his son W.H. French]  Mind I did not say that; it is the insulting term the writer in the new Radical paper applies to this truly respectable funeral.  Yet this article was professedly written by a sympathising friend - well, “save me from my friends!”
  I cannot for the life of me see anything improper in the Vicar asking the parishioners to repair the churchyard fence [see 1885 vestry], though I see great inconsistency in the unauthorised reply of a certain dissenting gentleman.  The churchyard is public property when any dissenting functions are to be performed there; but the Vicar’s freehold when the parish is asked to subscribe to its maintenance.  I will impale the writer upon the horns of this dilemma - If it is the Vicar’s freehold what right has anyone to go into it without his permission? and every such intention, even to perform an Act of Parliament burial, is a political burglary [The 1880 Burials Law Amendment Act established the right to carry out burials in parish churchyards without the rites of the Church of England].  If, on the other hand, it is free to every parishioner, let those who use it pay for it in an honourable and gentlemanly manner; and I am convinced it is the intention of the Winslow people to meet the Vicar’s request in a liberal spirit, apart from all political or religious differences, though it may suit the purposes of this Radical paper to stir up strife and contention.
  This curious series of little paragraphs winds up by insinuating that two Nonconformist ministers would take the Union chaplaincy [at the Workhouse] for nothing.  This is even cheaper than Theodore Hooke’s estimate of his own worth when he offered to be Prime Minister for £300 per annum, and do the work of all the rest of the Cabinet for £200 more.  But if the poor inmates got only the same amount of visiting that the sick poor usually get from their chapel minister, the Guardians might find they had made a dear bargain even at that price.  I once knew a gentleman who wrote to Lord Carnarvon to ask for a certain post at his disposal, offering to do the work for nothing if only he might have the honour of serving his Queen and his country in that capacity, but the then Secretary of State for the Colonies wrote back to say that England could afford to pay her civil servants.  Similarly the Winslow Guardians can afford to pay their chaplain.
                                                                        I am, Sir, yours obediently,
                                                                                    A PROTESTANT.

Buckingham Advertiser, 13 Nov

  NOTICE.- We have received a letter signed Liberator, but we feel compelled to omit the greater portion of it.  In it the writer says: Sir,- I noticed in your last week’s paper a letter signed a “Protestant,” with the heading “Nonconformist Ritualism.”  Now, Sir, it seemed to me as I read it, that he ought to have signed it “A Ritualist.”  Not only boldly does he stand up in defence of the Vicar and his salary, but in doing so, I think he over hits the mark when speaking of the fees being settled in a “legal manner” by “ancient custom,” &c.  Is not this entirely false ?  Why does the Vicar vary his charges ?  Why does he charge more than did Mr. Preston (the former Vicar) ?  Have not bills been issued for 12/6 when the grave has been dug a little deeper ?   Is it true that the clerk does dig the grave ?  Again, if these “ancient customs,” &c., are sanctioned by the Archdeacon, why do the charges for burial and grave digging, &c., change, and vary so much in the villages around ?  As for the Churchyard fence, if it is the property of the Vicar, and he is so proud of it, I only say he ought to pay for the repairing of it.

Bicester Herald, 19 Nov

To the Editor of the Bicester Herald.
  SIR,- A rather remarkable letter appeared the other  week in your Buckingham contemporary, headed “Nonconformist Ritualism,” and signed “A Protestant.”  With your permission, I wish to ask this gentleman a few questions for the benefit of the Winslow public.  First, why did he go out of his way to find such an offensive heading? For he does not bring one single item to support it.  Was he thinking of Winslow church, or did he head it so merely to catch attention?  He finds fault with Dissenters because, he says, they want the passing bell.  Does he know that every parishioner has a legal right to the use of this bell, but the majority of Winslow Dissenters prefer to do without it?  He says the vicar of Winslow has as much right to his fees as the minister of any little bethel to his pew rents.  Will he state which denomination he is referring to, as neither Baptists nor Independents have pew rents; their system is one of voluntary offerings, and they have neither tithes nor parish lands.  He says the churchyard is free.  What is his idea of being free?  Does he consider paying £1 for head-stone, another £1 for body-stone, and £6 for a brick grave being free?  Let me ask him whether these fees do not go into the vicar’s pocket? and if so, whether he does not consider the vicar should keep his own property in repair?  Let me ask him whether it is not true that £3,500 has been raised from the public for the purpose of putting the church in good order, and that nearly the whole of this money has been spent in decorating the interior of the church, leaving the churchyard in a state which would be a disgrace to any little bethel.  He contrasts the services of the vicar with the dissenting ministers.  Does he know that the Baptist minister, at a salary of £80, does more good amongst the poor than the well-paid vicar and curate?  One more question.  Will he say how many months elapsed between the vicar’s asking the vestry to grant him an allowance towards the curate’s salary and his acceptance of the paid chaplaincy of the Union?
                                                                        Yours, &c.,
                                                                                    TRUE PROTESTANT.
Winslow, Nov. 17, 1886.

Buckingham Advertiser, 27 Nov

Nonconformist Ritualism.
(To the Editor of the Buckingham Advertiser and North Bucks Free Press.)
  SIR.- If I am not trespassing too much on your space, I should be glad to say a few words upon some subsequent letters in answer to my first bearing upon this controversy.  In a Radical contemporary of last week [presumably the Flying Post] there was a very remarkable letter signed “Winslow-wite,” containing some mysterious allusion to the Duke of Hamilton [i.e. the vicar].  I read it over several times, but failed to see the point of the joke.  I then thought it must be a letter upon some matrimonial appointment, but it was not in the “agony column;” finally I concluded it was a conundrum, and as I could not guess it I had to give it up.  I hope the editor will give the answer next time.
  Your own correspondent “Liberator” falls foul of me on several counts.  Allow me to assure him my statements about the burial fees being settled “in a legal manner by ancient custom” are perfectly correct, as he may find out for himself by writing to the bishop’s registrar to enquire.  The fees at Winslow are no higher now than in Mr. Preston’s time.  If bills have been presented for 12/6, it is only when the grave is cut very much deeper, for clearly it takes very much longer to dig a deep grave than a shallow one, as your correspondent would find to his cost if sent to dig one.  The scale of charges is at the rate of 1/- per foot in depth.  Not an excessive amount.  Let me assure “Liberator” the clerk does dig the grave, or at any rate is personally responsible for its being dug.  “Liberator” wants to know why burial fees vary so much in villages around- I can only reply Why do “ancient customs” vary so much upon other matters?  Why do our weights and measures vary in different districts?  Why is butter sold sometimes by the yard and sometimes by the lb.?  Why is barley quoted in some markets at so much per quarter, and in others at so much per bushel or “coom”?  Any why do the salaries of dissenting ministers vary so much?  Is inequality of income a necessary condition of “religious equality” Is it consistent with the eternal principles of justice, equity, and “religious equality” that a reverend doctor at the City Temple should have an income of many thousands while many equally pious dissenting ministers are starving in the country on £50 a-year?
  Your correspondent also objects to my signing myself “A Protestant.”  It would be beside the question to go into a theological discussion upon the original meaning of the word, but I maintain I am entitled to it for this reason, if for no other, because I do most strongly protest against an orderly Christian interment being called offensive, insulting, and ungentlemanly names, merely to try by so doing to annoy somebody else.  This is like “hitting your nose to spite your own face.”
                                                                        I still remain, Sir,
                                                                                    A PROTESTANT.
Winslow, Nov. 17, 1886.

The following letter concerns the related issue of whether the churchyard should be closed to new burials. The report below explains the issues. It was in fact decided in 1886 that this was not necessary. A cemetery would have been nondenominational and funded from the rates. Winslow didn't actually get a municipal cemetery until the 1980s.

Buckingham Advertiser, 13 Nov 1886

Winslow Churchyard.
(To the Editor of the Buckingham Advertiser and North Bucks Free Press.)
  SIR.- Seeing the strong feeling that there is in Winslow in reference to the burial question, and looking at it from a sanitary point of view, I am more than surprised that such a go a-head people as the two dissenting bodies appear to be do not go in for a cemetery.  I know villages where the churchyard is surrounded by dwellings like Winslow, and where the parishioners have been compelled to discontinue burial in them.  I fancy the Rural Sanitary Authority of Winslow is not a very active one, or the churchyard would have been closed before now.  I often ask myself, how about the wells and water supply of Winslow close to the churchyard, which seems over-crowded ?  It appears to me that an application to Dr. Hoffman would soon set the burial question right, and save the parishioners from heart-burnings and bickering.  I cannot understand how it is that some towns escape all sanitary restrictions, while in others the authorities are down upon them in a most arbitrary manner.  Take the town of Newport Pagnell for instance, where I happen to reside - it has had a cemetery for about 20 years.  Since then it has cost the rate-payers thousands of pounds in sanitary alterations - I do not say improvements; and now, through the intervention of a few persistently active spirits, the Local Government Board have thrust water works upon us to cost thousands more.  I am inclined to think it is a very happy state of things when they have no agitators in a town - no restless spirits to disturb the even tenor of their ways - like they are at the good old town of Win-slow.
                                                                        I am, yours truly,
                                                                                    CONSTANT READER.

Bicester Herald, 7 Jan 1887

  WINSLOW CHURCHYARD.- The state of Winslow churchyard and the fence surrounding it, has been for some time discreditable.  An effort was made some little time ago, by some individuals to obtain an order from the Home Office to close it against interments, which would have involved their having a cemetery.  That effort failed, as the inspector would not certify that it was absolutely necessary.  Various plans have been suggested.  The following has, at length, been adopted.  The funds are to be raised by voluntary subscription.  To remove the pair of gates at the side, next to Mr. Willis’s garden, to the entrance from Church-lane; rehanging them so as to open inwards.  The same to be done to the gates at the post-office entrance, and to be moved to the position marked by the existing posts.  To provide new wrought-iron gates at Morgan’s-entrance, to open outwards - one gate to be usually fixed - leaving the other for foot traffic; and this gate is to be so hung as to be self-closing.  To provide two wrought-iron gates for footpath and barrow road at Church-lane and post-office entrance, to open outwards, and shutting against oak posts.  The gates to be self-closing.  To fix the existing gate at Russell’s-entrance, so that it shall close against the pier.  All main gates to be open on Sundays, and for marriages and funerals.  The wall opposite Church-lane entrance to be re-built in good nine-inch brickwork for the length of 32 feet.  The wall at the spot where the public lamp now stands to be two feet high, and to gradually slope 16 feet each way to the level of the present path, to be coped with sharp ridge Staffordshire tiling.  The wall at Russell’s-entrance to be repaired to slope along the path 36 feet to path level, and coped.  The wall at Morgan’s-entrance to be repaired, sloping a distance of 26 feet to path level.

Map of churchyard and gates

Buckingham Advertiser, 16 April 1887

  Winslow Churchyard fence is entirely demolished, and in its stead there are four gates (one at each entrance), the adjoining properties forming the boundary, except where it adjoins the High Street.  The cost is said to be £40, and it was executed by Messrs. Walker & Russell.

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Copyright 5 April, 2021