THE MESMERISING VICAR

Posted 31st October 2017 by Maggie Clowes

THERE CAN HAVE BEEN FEW DULL MOMENTS IN APPLEBY AFTER THE ARRIVAL OF THE REVEREND ALBERT WARREN AS VICAR OF ST MICHAEL’S, BONGATE.

There can have been few dull moments in Appleby after the arrival of the Reverend Albert Warren as vicar of St Michael's Bongate. He hit the local headlines with a no holds barred correspondence about the use of mesmerism as a cure, he organised the restoration of St Michael's neglected church, started a cycling club and a debating society, accused the council of neglecting Bongate and casually referred to his time in the Franco-Prussiasn War working with the Red Cross.

He was born in Cambridge, the son of a man described variously as a wine merchant or a commercial traveller. Having entered Downing College in 1867 he transferred the following year to Caius College but didn't get his degree until 1875; later in life he referred to cycling holidays on the Rhine so one wonders whether he spent "gap years" there and got caught up in the fighting in 1870-1871.

As a newly ordained deacon he arrived in Warrington in 1874, where he seems to have been married to Louise Akers in 1875. Two years later he moved to the newly built St John the Evangelist church in Barrow-in-Furness. This was one of four churches built in the town to cater for a rapidly increasing population. Named after the four evangelists they were temporary churches built of brick and timber and were all dedicated on September 26th 1878 by posse of bishops - they came from Carlisle, Hereford, Sodor and Man and York (an archbishop no less). Two years later Albert Warren took over as vicar. While there he set up a branch of CETS (Church of England Temperance Society) and recruited 600 members, the largest group in the diocese.This Society is only mentioned once in our Appleby archives probably because there were already very active Bands of Hope in Appleby and the surrounding villages.

He came to Appleby in 1880 and stayed until his death in 1915. According to the census of 1881 Albert and his wife , Louisa, were both 34. They had two young children, Harriet who was 4 and John 3, both born in Barrow. (Also living with them was Percy Price, 52, originating in Cambridge, described as a monthly nurse and 22 year old Jane Margette nurse and domestic servant).

AWSt Michael's Bongate was in a bad way. An ancient building it had been restored by Lady Anne Clifford in the seventeenth century but now badly needed re-roofing and "restoring in a manner more suited to the requirements of town and district". A visitor dismissed it as looking "tumbledown" and described the graveyard as "little better than a desolate wilderness". He went on, "The flagged path . . . to the quaint old porch was a trifle overgrown with weeds " and wondered how often the good folk of Bongate made their way there. The parish now had many more residents. The coming of the railways had seen a spate of building on the hill above the Sands. Clifford Street, Pembroke Street and Belle Vue residents were all in St Michael's parish.

Albert Warren spear headed huge efforts to raise the funds to not only restore the church estimated at £1,640 (£81,000), but to add a tower at the cost of £1,000 (£48,000). The first of many such money-raising events was entitled "A Grande Olde Englishe Fayre". and involved many local people in hours of preparation in creating Tudor type costumes and displays. A temporary museum of curiosities was set up with items such as a giant fish, a stuffed cuckoo and a brace of pistols used in an infamous Kendal murder. The band of the 4th Border Regiment played and in the evening there was a Grand Ball. He had the AWsupport of Lady Hothfield and the local benefactress, Miss Hill as well as that of influential families in the town. He was renowned for repeatedly "bringing the hat round " but St Michael's was indeed thoroughly restored, the new tower erected and bells purchased. When his first wife died he obtained the grudging support of the bishop for painted murals in the church, grudging because to many this smacked of Popery. The bishop was clearly unhappy about this request but since the murals were in memory of a much-loved clergy wife in the church of one of the most active clergy in the diocese he gave permission but cleared his conscience by declaring that as they would be on the west wall parishioners would have their backs to them! In fact murals appeared on either side of the altar where they couldn't be missed - an episcopal blind eye?

Not content with tending to souls, this enterprising vicar set up other activities. A debating society started to meet in the school room, discussing such topics as women's emancipation and whether suicide could ever be justified. One such debate was about the provision of free libraries and it led to a town meeting on the subject; as usual in Appleby the threat of even a penny rate was enough to provoke considerable opposition.

The town did have a Mechanics Institute but it had fallen on hard times and its governing body was happy to offer its premises and stock of books to form the nucleus of a public library. One of the opposition even said he did not think that the Bongate Debating Society was a responsible body and "The Rag, Tag and Bobtail would come". Albert Warren countered that it was a disgrace that the oldest borough in England did not have a free library. The problem was that a penny rate would bear most heavily on the larger farmers. As one of them said, they were not going to be priest ridden. He'd never been to the Mechanics Institute and wouldn't go. He had as much reading as he could manage. The proposal was lost by 44 votes to 33.

An art class was suggested but not mentioned again so it didn't attract any members unlike the cycling club which was a great success. AW addressed the initial meeting reminiscing about riding a boneshaker in Cambridge. He then refers to going to Germany where he explored a great part of the Rhine area by bicycle. Returning to England he designed his own machine and explored much of England on it. Members paid a subscription of 2s 6d; we read of road races and church parades following outings (heavily criticised in some quarters) In 1893 the cycling season opened with a lantern parade, "the machines decked in a very artistic manner" through the town followed by supper , a church parade and an evening of songs and sketches.

The mayoral banquet in 1887 saw AW proposing the toast to the Lord Lieutenant and the magistrates. He seized the opportunity to complain about the disgraceful state of Garth Heads Road; this new road was being created to link the new housing near the station with its parish church, St Michael's but was the source of endless discussion and disagreement. With a captive audience he proceeded to criticise the council:

"He thought the magistrates of Appleby who were in part the corporation of Appleby might give the poor benighted folks over the bridge (in Bongate) a little more consideration in the matter of sanitation and light. In some respects the old corporation had treated them better than the new." Another speaker hit back, " it was difficult to keep the roads in Bongate in good repair these days considering the immense traffic to Bongate church. Such large numbers flocked to this church that he would advise the vicar to make an extra collection."

He really hit the headlines in 1893 when a lecture to the Bongate Debating Society was reported in the press, oddly in the Yorkshire Post. .He had claimed that with the use of mesmerism and hypnotism cures could be effected when traditional medicine failed. He cited the case of a woman diagnosed with untreatable cancer who lived for seven more years following his treatment. This provoked the ire of a local doctor who penned some very critical letters under a pseudonym: "Let him confine himself to feeding the hungry for the sake of his Master and to ministering to the poor and leave off trying to perform miracles on hysterical old women." The correspondence between the two was long winded and at times vitriolic. It emerged that the critic was Louis Stevenson, who practised in Temple Sowerby. He had trained at Edinburgh University and served as a house surgeon at the Infirmary in Carlisle. the entire correspondence can be read in the Heelis scrapbook 1893 -1896 p. 1,2,3

He was heavily criticised again when, instead of delivering a sermon which he had written himself, he followed what was apparently a growing practice of condensing some of the sermons of the best preachers and delivering them from the pulpit. This went down well with the congregation but the editor of the Yorkshire Post who basically approved of the practice recalled the tale of a vicar in Lancashire who employed an obscure unemployed newspaper reporter to write his sermons - 3 for 25 shillings. However a local editor was far from amused. "Great Heavens. Has it come to this? We scoff at a bowderalised edition of Shakespeare, we hate Miss Braddon for condensing Scott's novels, we loathe those who alter a poet's hymns, are we to praise AW for cooking other people's sermons and omitting doctrines and phrases that do not jump with his ideas? Heaven forbid. Perhaps AW favours disestablishment and thinks this is the best way to bring it about."

Albert's wife, Louise, died in 1898 after a long, distressing illness which according to the local paper "defied the highest medical skill". Sadly it also defied his mesmeric skills . He remarried in1911 and died four years later ,still at St Michael's. He was spared learning of the death of his youngest son in the closing months of the first World War.