Monday, September 01, 2008

The Crime Of Fornication

Amy and I went to church the other day. It is not that we have undergone a conversion on the road to Brighouse, nor - in the face of the credit crunch - have we been driven to find comfort in what good old Karl Marx described as "the opiate of the people". We went, to St Matthew's Church in Rastrick, in search of a monument to the Rev George Braithwaite, an incumbent of the parish in the eighteenth century. I came across the Reverend whilst reading the "History of Brighouse, Rastrick and Hipperholme" by J Horsfall Turner. Tucked away amongst a series of outstandingly boring lists of local worthies is an extract from the "Archdeacon's Visitation" which reads as follows:
"1766. Rastrick. The Rev. George Braithwaite, Clerk, Curate, for neglecting to perform Divine Service in the said chapel on Sundays and Holy Days and particularly on Sunday the 15th day of June last past. For being guilty of great profaneness and immorality in Drinking to excess and being Drunk within the said Chapelry of Rastrick. For gaming and playing at Cards att (sic) public houses within the same and att other houses within the said Archdeaconry of York. For committing the crime of fornication with Mercy Lacey of Rastrick aforesaid, single woman [and begetting on her body one male bastard child] and in general for acting and behaving in several instances so as he ought not to have done, and for omitting to act and behave in others as was his duty to do, as a Clergyman of the Church of England, and as Curate or Minister of Rastrick aforesaid." The next mention of the affair was in 1769 when it is recorded that poor Mercy Lacey "performed penance" for "fornication with the Rev. George Braithwaite. There is no record of Georgie-boy being punished. Indeed, he seems to have remained as a minister at the church until his death in 1798. There should be a monument to such a man .... but I couldn't find one.

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