Saturday, 18 June 2011

Harold Davidson: The Rector of Stiffkey

On the 21st of October 1932 Harold Francis Davidson was defrocked in a ceremony in Norwich Cathedral and removed from his position as rector of the parishes of Stiffkey St. John with Stiffkey St. Mary and Morston, two rural areas on the north coast of Norfolk.
He had been charged on four counts of immoral behaviour including a specific charge of improper conduct 'in embracing a girl in a Chinese restaurant in Bloomsbury'.
Generally he was under investigation following an accusation from one of his parishioners that he had neglected his duties in Stiffkey and Morston to travel to London working to save 'fallen' women or women he felt were in danger of being tempted into a sinful life.
Reverend Davidson did spend his Fridays and Saturdays in London's theatre district, particularly in the areas around Piccadilly Circus and Soho, and would talk to runaways, prostitutes and waitresses, trying to convince them to find work in shops, factories and theatres before returning to Norfolk on Saturday evening to prepare himself for his services on Sunday.
Unfortunately the rector had made an enemy in Major Philip Hammond, a local landowner in Morston, who had held a grudge against Reverend Davidson after being overlooked as churchwarden.
In November 1930 Davidson missed the Remembrance Day service having been taken ill while in London and unable to travel.
Major Hammond made a complaint to the Bishop of Norwich and an investigation into the rector's activities was undertaken. A detective agency was hired and they followed Reverend Davidson for a year. They uncovered little.
The rector did travel to London and spend time with women trying to help them improve their lot but when questioned the women made it clear that the rector's behaviour remained appropriate at all times. One woman did make a statement, while drunk, against Davidson but recanted it when sober.
After a year of investigation with nothing to show for it the Church began to panic.
They had cast enough doubt over Davidson to make his position untenable but had not uncovered sufficient evidence for their charges to stick.
They asked him to resign and the rector agreed to do so if his parishioners wanted him to go but, Hammond and his cronies apart, Reverend Davidson still had a lot of local support.
Eventually a trial was convened and the rector faced his accusers.
Dozens of witnesses were called but none were prepared to support the charges and implicate Reverend Davidson in the acts he had been accused of.
The church's case was in disarray when the prosecution team suddenly produced a photograph.
It showed Davidson helping a naked girl into a shawl. The girl was 15 years old.
However, neither Davidson or the girl had any recollection of posing for the photograph and close examination shows a white line down the centre of the picture that would seem to indicate that it was faked.
Not that it mattered. The Church had the guilty verdict it needed and was rid of its turbulent vicar.
But Harold Davidson was far from finished as a public figure. He had a very definite idea about what his life would involve now he was out of the Church.
He would go back to the stage.
Having been a keen performer during his student days it seemed an easy decision to Harold. He had applied for a licence to perform public recitations while on trial and had began to write an outline of the affair from his perspective to be performed around the country. This denunciation of the Church began to be performed in some very bizarre locations.
He appeared in Blackpool in 1932 fasting in a barrel, took part in a stage show that depicted him in Hell being attacked by imps and somehow ended up on Hampstead Heath stood next to a dead whale.
Almost inevitably he was killed after being mauled by a lion.
As part of a show in Skegness Davidson was billed as a 'Modern Daniel in the Lion's Den' and was caged with a lion called Freddie and a lioness called Toto.
Both animals were partly sedated and the performances went off without a hitch until one day, mid-diatribe, Harold stepped onto Toto's tail. Her roar alerted Freddie who although old, toothless and sedated managed to swipe a paw at Davidson's neck.
The injuries were not very serious but unfortunately while in hospital Harold was wrongly prescribed insulin which sent him into a coma.
He died two days later.
His funeral was attended by 3,000 people and his widow wore white as she saw it as an occasion to celebrate the life of Harold Davidson rather than to mourn his passing.
The ceremony took place in Stiffkey, Norfolk at the request of his former parishioners...

No comments:

Post a Comment