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St Michael, All Angels and Holy Cross, Wormegay
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Michael, All Angels and Holy Cross, Wormegay
The publication of the sermons in 1836 caused a national uproar and led to improvements in the Army's care of its ordinary soldiers. He applied for, and obtained the curacy of Southery in Norfolk, but fell into dispute with the new owner of the living, a wealthy brewer, who had purchased it for the benefit of his son. It appears that the brewer was eventually able to eject Henslowe by paying the owners of another nearby living to take him off his hands.
And so in 1840 Henslowe came to Wormegay. It was a desperately poor place to be a Church of England minister, as were many in this part of Norfolk. The stipend for the parish was just £12 a year, and for neighbouring Tottenhill, which came as part of the Wormegay package, another £20. The total of £32 a year is about £6,500 in today's money, quite impossible to live on. The Wormegay stipend was raised to £40 for Henslowe, probably because there was no rectory and he had to find somewhere for his family to live, but even so the new total of £60 was only £12,000 by early 21st Century standards.
first major controversy at Wormegay occured in 1844, when
Henslowe's failure to baptise a dying child in time led
to him to refuse a Christian burial for it. Unfortunately
for Henslowe, the child's parents were prominent
Methodists and the event became a local scandal, not
least because the child's parents, probably urged on by
their Methodist minister, left the child's body on the
church doorstep. It was not until a similar controversy
at Akenham in Suffolk some thirty years later that there
was a change to the national burial laws, allowing
ministers of all denominations to bury in parish
Henslowe was an enthusiastic and prolific writer. Whether this was to supplement the lowly income from his ministry, or simply because he wanted his strong opinions to be read, I don't know. Books of his that are, even today, available on Amazon as reprints, include a treatise on linguistics called The Phonarthron, or Natural System of the Sounds of Speech, A Test of Pronunciation for All Languages, as well as a polemical work of 1847 which appears to be a disgruntled attack on the position he found himself in at Wormegay, Facts and Tracts in Evidence of the Apathy, Dereliction, and Degradation of the National Clergy, by the Incumbent of Wormegay & Tottenhill, and my personal favourite, Beard-Shaving, and the Common Use of the Razor, an Unnatural, Irrational, Unmanly, Ungodly, and Fatal Fashion among Christians, in Verse.
Henslowe didn't just write on paper. A mile or so off at Tottenhill is a huge memorial to his mother, who lived in Kent but died at his parsonage house in 1859. On it, he records that she was robbed by a trustee of her inheritance and went on to live a life of strange vicissitude. It boasts that as a child she had attended the death bed of the composer Thomas Arne, and eulogises her in treacly verses which Henslowe wrote himself. The memorial is worth seeing if only to get an idea of Henslowe's writing style.
William Henry Henslowe died in 1890, and by the bequest of his will the church was almost entirely rebuilt, only the tower and the east wall of the chancel surviving. It is this wall which retains the church's most interesting feature, two elaborate image niches facing west either side of the east window. They are painted with canopies and curtains hanging from cords. Another old survival is an eroded stone depicting the crucifixion. In the 1980s, Mortlock saw this outside, on the west face of the tower. Today, it sits inside the church on the north side of the chancel.
am gratefully endebted for some of the information in this
article to the splendid The Life and Writings of the Reverend
Henslowe by RC Fiske (1990). Much of the rest was gleaned by a delightful and arcane hour or so of surfing the internet, where
Henslowe's eccentric and enjoyable mark can still be found again and again, 125 years after his death.
Simon Knott, August 2016
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