Morris Fuller: The man behind the Scandal Part 6

Part 6 

More of the same in East Molesey




According to the "Life, Times and Writings" preface, published in 1886, his

work in Devon "had precluded the idea of carrying out the proposal of

composing a new biography of the celebrated Church Historian. But the

writer never laid aside the intention which had been formed in his

undergraduate days at Cambridge, and through life he had been collecting

his materials. A change of residence during the last five years, bringing him

within easy distance of the treasures of the British Museum, has enabled

him at last to externalise this desire."


East Molesey, a parish he visited and liked before taking up the incumbancy,

onhis own admission at first was a most welcoming parish. Whether it was

the distraction of his parallel literary career or just being a parish with a

disinclination to be subject to the autonomy that he was used to wielding

in rural Devon, he soon fomented the parish to quite public rebellion in the

running of his new domain. We get a brief hint that things might no longer

be entirely going to his plan when the following appears in the

April 23rd 1881 issue of the Surrey Comet:


EASTER FESTIVAL AT ST. PAUL'S. - In this Church the decorations were very

beautiful and the services fully choral.The hymns were 125,and 134, and the

anthems, "I know that my Redeemer Liveth" and "Sing a Song of Praise" 

(Stainer). The services were intoned by the Rev. Morris Fuller,M.A. The

offertory was taken as an "Easter Offering." andincluded a sealed packet

containing £5, with the words "from one who is glad of the opportunity of

showing appreciation to their vicar."


The following year, 1882 everything came to a head around the Easter Vestry

which was subject to several postponements:


Surrey Comet April 29th:





At the adjourned vestry meeting, held on Tuesday evening, there was a

larger attendance of pewrenters than usual. Mr W. Davenport was voted

to the chair, in the continued absence of the vicar. A discussion arose on

the wardens' accounts, and on the application of a reserve fund to the

general expenditure, and the audit was adjourned for explanations from

the vicar. Mr. Gillum, the vicar's warden, read a letter from the vicar,

dated Easter Monday, re-appointing him his warden, and Mr Scott of

Palace- *** , was appointed parish warden. The vicar having in his

letter stated that he would no longer be bound by the resolution passed

(with his concurrence) last Easter for the appropriationof the church

offertories, but would exercise what he deemed his legal right to have

offertories for any purpose he might desire, a resolution in terms of

that now repudiated, was again passed unanimously. Complaint was

made that noticeswere given of services to be held at the church,

and on the inhabitants attending they found the church closed, and no

minister in attendance, Discussion took place as to the pew rents

being (in accordance with law) paid to the churchwardens, and not to

the vicar as heretofore. The vestry adjourned to Tuesday next in hopes

of obtaining the vicar's attendance.




Surrey Comet May 6th 1882 

Reply to Vestry Meeeting Report







Sir,- My attention has been called to a paragraph with this heading in your

impresssion of Saturday last (April 29), to the effect that at the adjourned

vestry meeting complaint was made that notices were given of services

(plural number, sic) “to be held at the church and on the inhabitants

attending they found the church closed, and no minister in attendance.”

As this statement, if not contracted, is calculated to affect my official

reputation, will you allow me to say that it is utterly and entirely false.

Notice was indeed given of a service to be held by my  locum tenens

(during my long and continued absence in Scotland of one fortnight)

on St Mark’s Day, April 25th, but when the day came, he was too ill to

appear, and it was too late to provide a substitute. But this has not

occurred before, nor is it likely to occur again. Even supposing it had,

it would not have put many inhabitants to inconvenience, for the

services on weekdays are miserably attended, consisting, as a rule,

principallyof members of the family of the present, or late, vicar.

Two or three ladies of the congregation may occasionallyput in an

appearance, “once in the blue moon” (as the saying is), when it suits

their sweet wills and convenience: but as the poet Campbell says,

like “angel’s visits,” they are “far and few between” and comet -like

in their irregularity and excentricity, they flash through the

ecclesiastical firmament. And as for the gentlemen (who make

complaints in vestry),they are as a matter of course (with one

Honourable exception), conspicuous by their absence. Such is the

melancholy condition of our week-day congregation, so there is little

a priori probability of inhabitants being inconvenienced; and while

we, the clergy, may lament the small and almost microscopic

encouragement given us by the laity in our suburban churches in

these days of increased  spiritual activity and light, we must fall

back upon the reflection ( as our solatium) that we are brought in

contact with the practical life of this busy 19th century, and this life

correlated with the metropolis, and not with some Utopian dream

of mediaeval ecclesiasticism. To show your readers, however,

what cause the inhabitants have for complaint, we may be allowed

to tabulate the list of the services for the last six months, as a

sample, that is from Michaelmas 1881, to Easter 1882, or

26 weeks.During this period there have been given at St Paul’s

celebrations of Holy Communion, 44; Sunday services 83; and

week-day services, 185 - making a sum total of 268; and 64 sermons

were preached.The legal number of services required to be performed

by a beneficed clergyman during that period as laid down by the law.*

and acknowledged by the archbishop and bishops in their Upper

House of Convocation (on a recent occasion) would have been

celebrations, if quarterly, 2, and if monthly, 6 (this depending on

custom mos pro lege); services 52; and sermons, 26 (preached at

mattins). This brings out the following result in my favour for the

six months: Celebrations, 44, against 6 or 2 (as the case may be);

services 268, as against 52; and sermons, 64 as against the 26

prescried by law. These figures (especially remembering I am

single-handed) I venture to think speak for themselves, and sufficiently

dispose of the complaint of the “Aggrieved Parishioner,” who poses,

martyr-like, in your columns of the 29th ult. on behalf of his confreres,

and they represent proportionably and approximately the number of

services performed during my incumbency of 31/2 years. But I will

take steps that he will not have even a chance of complaint for the


Yours obediently


St Paul’s Vicarage, East Molesey by Hampton Court May 4th 1882

*Bennet and Bonnaker, 1 Hagg.25, 57 Geo III., c. 09



Surrey Comet May 13 1882





Sir. —A newspaper is perhaps not the best medium for discussing unhappy

differences between a minister and his parishioners, but the strangely

intemperate and flippant letter from our vicar that appeared in your columns

last week calls for some notice. All thoughtful persons most have felt great

regret that a minister of the Gospel could have written in such a spirit and tone

on matters relating to his church and parishioners, and I think on its perusal

theycannot be surprised to hear that the attendances at the dally services

are reduced to the "members of his own family, two or three ladies once

in a blue moon when it suits their sweet wills, &c, and of the men only

one honourable exception.” A hard dictum that the only honourable man

among us is he who attends these services. The vicar does not comment

on his Sunday services.which on his advent were so fully attended, that

he deemed it necessary to largely increase the sittings, while now the

church is generally half empty andthe offertories fallen to a point

insufficient to properly maintain the church and its services. But a few

words on the statements made by the vicar. I will not discuss the

complaint referred to; that will be met the vestry: but while giving

a flat contradiction to that complaint, the vicar makes a statement which

appears, I wont say (in his words) "utterly and entirely false,” but misleading.

He says "Notice was given of a service to held by my locum tenens during

my long and continued absence of one fortnight." 

Now, as matter of fact, the vicar left on Easter Monday and returned late

on the following Friday fortnight, being nearly three weeks; and as his

allusion to his “locum tenens during that time" may lead people to believe

he left a minister in charge of his parish, I must state that this was not so.

There was no one in charge, nor any arrangement made with any

neighbouring minister to perform any the parish ministerial offices,

visiting of sick, &c., but simply a stranger engaged to perform the

Sunday services, and this I think the vicar will not say has been

a single or exceptional case during his incumbency. And now, sir,

what does that great flourish of trumpets at the end of his letter

amount to?  He tells how many services he has given and how many,

by an old Act of Geo. lII, he was legally bound to give. I will not enter

upon the alterations and additions that in practice have taken place

with regard to services and sermons in all churches during the last

50 years, but I will put it to the vicar in this form : Did he not seek this

church, visit it, make inquiries and ascertain the number and nature

of the services?  Did he not express himself not only satisfied, but

pleased with them, and did he not publicly express that feeling and

say that he would make no alteration in them? If this be so, does he

not feel that he entered into a tacit and honourable agreement with

his patron andhis bishop to continue those services, or does he think

he is “ exceptionally honourable ” if observes the engagements he

undertook? I will only add that I trust he will try and meet his

parishioners in a spirit worthy of the holy office he holds, and If so

I am sure he will be met by them with a desire to assist and

support him in his work.

Yours obediently, AN OLD PARISHIONER. East Molesey, 10th May, 1882


And then came the meeting itself,  published in full on May 20th again in the

Surrey Comet:




Surrey Comet May 27th. 1882






Sir,—l regret having to ask a space in your columns once more, but the vicar’s

remarkable letter in your  last issue compels me to state publicly (as I have

done privately to him) who the “Old Parishioner” is, or, as he put it, “throw

away the covering protection of his borrowed signature; but although I wrote

a very temperate letter under that signature, there was no real disguise as

to the author. It was well known throughout the district, and It appeared to

me impossible that the vicar should have been ignorant of my identity, as

all the latter part of my letter was simply  a verbatim repetition of arguments

I had previously  addressed to him personally in vestry, to say nothing of

his allusion, “If he be the gentleman who recommends the pew renters to

hold the rents, &c.,” which he knew I had done, or rather had advised the

wardens, to hold them until the vicar declared his intentions to the disposition

of the offertories. No one would more strongly than myself deprecate

personal attacks made anonymously, either privately or in print,

nor would you permit your columns to be so used; but surely it is well

recognised that if letters are published containing statements affecting

parochial matters, parishioner or -ratepayer under those designations may

criticise or traverse those statements (of course sending you his name and

address) without justifying the terrible denunciations contained in Mr. Fuller’s

letter, such “ stabs in the dark,” “ moral, social, and official murder,” “ with

the spirit of those skulking assassins,” &c. If this were not permitted,

much useful information would be withheld and fictions pass for facts,

as many persons may be able to impugn or throw light on a subject in

dispute, but who, like the “Old Parishioner,” shrink from seeing their

names in print. But now to the point. What did these murderous stab,

at the vicar's moral, social. and official life consist of. I I first expressed

the regret we all felt at the tone of his previous letter (and I am glad he

does not take exception to that). Then, after differing with him as to

the length of his absence, I continued that  "as his allusion to his

locum tennis during that time" might lead people to believe he "had left

a minister in charge, I must state that was not so" . That, sir, was " the

head and front of my offending.” He replied in language  all his own,

"that these statements of 'An Old Parishioner’ are not only misleading. 

but utterly and entirely false." Very strong words these; but l am bold

enough to repeat that statement over my own signature . I say there

was no minister in charge under any ordinary or reasonable sense

of such a provision and that is the issue between us. And now let us

see how Mr. Fuller justifies giving me the lie direct. He says

(alluding to Mr. Homer, of Surbiton, who took Sunder services),

“there was an understanding between us”  that he would be

“ responsible as a matter of business for any occasional duty, such

as baptisms, funerals &c.; that a wire message would have brought

him over in half hour for the one, and 24 hours notice is required

for the other.” And the Vicar has obtained a certificate from

Mr. Homer. stating that in addition to the Sunday and Saint day

duty, he undertook any occasional duty should his services be

required, and there the Vicar stops and thinks he has satisfactorily

disposed of the “Old Parishioner" He does not seem to see that

this private arrangement was quite futile, might as well never

have been made if it were not communicated to the church

officials, and especially to the parish clerk, to whom, by a notice

which has always hung in the church porch ( and as is customary

in all parishes), applications for church offices, baptisms, funerals,

&c., are to be made; but no such information was given, The clerk

(a most trustworthy man who has held the office since the church

was consecrated) assured me positively that no information or

instructions were given him in respect of such an arrangement,

that he never heard a word about it from the Vicar, Mr Homer or

anyone else, and, as he naively added, “How was I to know

Mr Homer would come, or how could I wire him when I never

knew where he lived, and don’t know now?” Nor can I ascertain

who does now Mr Homer’s address. Now can it be said that an

understanding as above, but not communicated to the only person

who could make use of it, was “leaving a minister in charge” and

justify the Vicar denouncing my statement as utterly and entirely

false!  I think not.I had in this letter commented somewhat strongly

on that undertaking, the unpleasant construction that might be put

upon it; also on other objectionable statements and language

used in Mr. Fuller’s letter. But since writing I have received a

letter from him, wherein to my great surprise, and I think the

surprise of the whole parish, be assures me "he had not the

slightest idea of my identity with the * Old Parishioner," and that

having now heard this from me “wishes to retract everything of

a personal character.” I, of course, accept this assurance in

the spirit in which I believe it to be written, and have tnerefore

confined my letter to justifying my character from a public

imputation of truthfulness, for I feel it an honour to be thought

well of by those among whom 1 have lived for 20 years,

and the charges against me were serious, but which I think

they will now feel I have satisfactorily refuted, and I thank

them sincerely for the strong and unanimous feeling of

indignation they have expressed at the language they, with

myself, believe to nave been levelled at me. And now I trust

further unpleasantness may cease, only adding that should

the vicar at any future time address you on his parish matters,

I trust he will not permit himself that license of personal

vituperation, which can but recoil on his own head, and lessen

the respect dueto him as a minister of our church. 

I am, sir. yours obediently, 

The “Old Parishioner.” 


East Molesey, 24th May, 1882. 




Sir,- As the writer of the letter signed “An Old Parishioner” has divulged

his name this day to me, and announces his intention of stating it publicly

in next Saturday’s  Surrey Comet, I feel it only right to say that I hadn’t

the slightest idea who inspiredits authorship, and consequently there

could have been no personal feeling or animosity in what I wrote.

I simply looked upon your correspondant as the “apotheosis” of a

querulous and sectional, though I hoped temporary, discontent, and

my object was to demolish his wild and reckless statements, as well

as to traverse his charges by rebuttingevidence, ”What’s Hecuba to him,

or he to Hecuba?” The letter was written, as your readers will see, on

Monday, May 15th, before the vestry meeting, so that that meeting

neither suggested its “topic,” nor stimulated its “animus.”

I forgot to add that my family were in residence during my absence at

the vicarage, i.e. the official residence of the parish priest, so that if

anyone had applied here,which was the proper place, for occasional duty,

it would have been provided by my locum-tenens (Mr. Homer, of Surbiton),

who was virtually in charge, to whom communication would have been

immediately made. My family would not leave for Brighton- though

indisposition necessitated their removal as soon as possible-

till my return from Scotland at the end of the fortnight to prevent accidents,

and to attend to anything requiring attention. But no one, no parishioner,

did apply as a matter of fact. My churchwarden (Mr. Gilum)  and clerk,

also knew who was acting as my locum-tenens.I trust this will be final

and suffficient, and I don’t wish to write again, but as one highly placed

in the Church wrote me three years ago,when I  came here,

“Suburban flocks are notoriously murmurers”.


Your obediently,





Surrey Comet May 27th. 1882 (Editorial)





It is impossible to read the report of the Vestry Meeting at East Molesey,

and the letter of the Rev. Morris Fuller, which appeared in our issue of

last week, without distress. As a parochial quarrel, the dispute between

the vicar of St Paul’s and his parishioners, forms a miserable episode,

representing much unkind and even bitter feeling, unredeemed by any

righteous contention for principle or conscience That there are faults

on both sides, everyone must admit The tone of the vicar’s remarks at

the Vestry, and the style of his letter, are scarcely such as to command

sympathy or respect. It would have been well had the reverend

gentleman exercised the golden virtue of silence; or if he must have

spoken, to have remembered the wise old proverb that "soft answer

turneth away wrath” Not that we can altogether blame the Rev. Morris

Fuller for experiencing some feelings of irritation; for his patience was

sorely tried by the petty disputes at the vestry, over money matters.

In principles, in the frequency of services, in the ornate and ritualistic

style of the church decorations, the vicar fairly represented, we believe,

the general wishes of the church-going people of Kent Town. Much

seems to be expected from him in the way of duty, and in the observance

of Saints’ days, and much in the way of choral services and floral

decorations; and it must be owned that the vicar does not appear

to have stinted them in these respects, for the printed lists of matins

and vespers are something appalling. It was scarcely generous then,

to quibble about the cost of the flowers, or dispute acrimoniously

whether a few pounds should, or should not, have been transferred

from one offertory to supply the deficiencies of another. These are

little matters of accounts which, surely, the practical sense of the

churchwardens might easily have rectified without fuss or scandal

We sincerely trust that Mr. Davenport’s letter, which we print to day,

will end the unseemly strife; that concessions will be made on both

sides; that a more kindly and courteous spirit will be exercised ; that

the "priest" will be a wee bit less overbearing, and the people a little

more generous; and, above all, that the language and manners of

the "gentle life" may be, henceforth, more carefully observed by the

vicar and parishioners of St Paul’s.


This episode must have been the last straw for Morris and made his

remaining time very difficult for him until the Surrey Comet announces

on May 24th 1884:



The Rev. Morris Fuller has, we are informed, arranged an exchange

of livings with the Rev. George Edmund Tatham , M.A. rector of

Ryburgh Magna and Parva, Fakenham, Norfolk and rural dean.

We understand that Mr Fuller will officiate at St. Paul's to-morrow

for the last time during his ministry.



Click here for Part 7



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