Social history and a ‘tipsy’ clergyman in the Harbord papers

Many of the bundles within the papers of Edward Harbord, third Baron Suffield, are sorted by subjects such as his education, his travels, his admission to the bar and political correspondence on the abolition of slavery, game law and poor law. Most of this sorting was carried out by his biographer, Richard Mackenzie Bacon, who published many of the letters in these bundles. A few bundles appear to be more eclectic and contain some fascinating social history.

A summary of returns for the parishes of Antingham, Southrepps, Colby, Felmingham, Suffield, Hanworth, Northrepps and Thorpe Market gives data on population and employment in response to set questions, dated c. 1831. Such data may be of interest to anyone wanting to research rural social, labour and economic history.

Summary of returns from parishes in the county of Norfolk belonging in part or wholly to Edward Harbord, third Baron Suffield (GTN 5/9/51/17)

Some of the records are of a more narrative nature.

James Hogg’s novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Henry Raeburn’s painting, Reverend Robert Walker (1755 – 1808) Skating on Duddingston Loch and The Smiths’ song, Vicar in a Tutu, are all examples of how the arts often challenge our perceptions of the clergy. In the same bundle as the population statistics shown above there is a portrayal of a clergyman which might be considered just as surprising. A deposition of Emma Lines of Roughton regarding the drunkenness of the Reverend Fleetwood Churchill of the same parish, tells tales of the drunken antics of this clergyman. She claimed to have ‘very frequently seen him in a state of intoxication and has seen him tipsy in Church’. She told of his being unable to perform a service one Good Friday, requiring the Clerk of the parish to take over this duty. She also described an occasion in which the ‘tipsy’ minister’s visit to her sick mother resulted in Emma’s being shocked and injured and her mother frightened. Click on the images to read the full story.

Deposition of Emma Lines regarding the drunkenness of the Reverend Fleetwood Churchill (GTN 5/9/51/21)

The authenticity of records found in archives does not always guarantee their reliability and this account only presents one view of the events described. However, Emma Lines’s claims were made under oath.

With a little patience, one can find a wealth of social history in the Harbord family papers. As soon as I have finished cataloguing this substantial and noteworthy series I will let you know on this blog.


About guntonarchive

Gunton Project Archivist at Norfolk Record Office
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3 Responses to Social history and a ‘tipsy’ clergyman in the Harbord papers

  1. Chris says:

    Fleetwood Churchill is one of the brothers of my x5 Grandmother. Reading the letter made me chuckle.

  2. From trying to read Parish Registers, I sometimes think a lot of clergymen were in this state.

    • I don’t know whether he was typical of rural ministers and we only have one side of the story but the archive certainly includes some entertaining stories.

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