On this day … 3 February 1866

The Preston Chronicle carried a report of an on-going court case involving the vicar of Preston in his fight to enforce the payment of Easter dues from the inhabitants of Preston, regardless of their religious persuasion.

The Easter dues and the tithe payments were a long-established source of income for the vicar, and the incumbent at this time, the Rev John Owen Parr, pursued their payment vigorously through the courts, much to the annoyance of Catholics and Nonconformists, who did not see why they should be called upon to support the minister of another faith.

A report in an earlier issue of the Preston Chronicle suggests there was no escaping the Rev Parr’s claims upon even the pennies of the poor:

EASTER DUES. — Several persons were summoned for non-payment of Easter dues, alleged to be due to the Rev. J. Owen Parr, namely, the sum of 6½d. each.
Ellen Dewhurst being called upon to state the reason why she refused to pay the sum, replied: I did not think it right; I do not know that I owe the vicar … anything.
(Applause in court.)
Mr. Ainsworth: We can’t inquire into the propriety of the law; all we have to do is to administer it while it remains in force.
Mrs Dewhurst: I will not pay it.
Mr. Ainsworth: You had better pay it, as it will cost you a good deal if we have to make an order. …
Ellen Chambers, a decrepit female aged 70 years, was next arraigned.
She replied: I am a widow, 70 years of age. I’ve been a widow 20 years, and I have never had a halfpenny out of the town; but I’ve got nothing to pay with unless I borrow it.
Mr. Ainsworth: You had better borrow it.
Old Woman, Well, it’s very hard.

The tithe claims were particularly burdensome and the penalties for non-payment could be punishingly costly. Take for example the case of the Quaker John Wilcockson who was faced with a tithe charge of £4 14s. 10d. Parr took him to court and set the bailiffs on him. Two of Wilcockson’s cows, valued at £26, were seized and sold for just £14 17s. 6d. Wilcockson also had to pay £4 3s. 4½d costs. The case was used in Quaker publications to illustrate the iniquity of tithes.

What the town was not aware of was that behind the closed doors of the vicarage Parr was hiding what was for Victorian Preston a shameful secret that when revealed created a major scandal and laid bare the hypocrisy that he had tried to keep hidden.

In 1858, as shown on his marriage certificate, Parr had secretly married Alice Stewardson, one of his servants who was thirty years his junior. He continued to pretend that she was still his servant, even describing her as a ladies’ maid on his 1861 census return. He carried on portraying himself as a widower and his new wife as his servant until his wife’s flirtation with a young man of the town prompted Anthony Hewitson, the editor of the Chronicle, to investigate and uncover the secret marriage.

The vicar, who learned of the ensuing newspaper report while he was staying in Nice, continued to preach from his pulpit until his death five years later.

More on Parr’s marriage.

Marriage certificate Rev John Owen Parr and Alice Stewardson
The 1858 marriage certificate
1871 census return for household of Rev John Owen Parr
The 1871 census return

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s