[From Our Centenarian Grandfather]
IN the year '36 Mrs. Philpot became so ill that she went over to Leamington and remained there on and off under the care of the then well-known Dr. Jephson till her husband left the island. The latter paid her flying visits when he could. But his brief adventures at Warwick and Leamington, as here related, were mainly concerned with the local clergy and the occasional sermons he preached for them and those he heard them preach. In plain black and white, without knowledge of the sweetness of his character and his overmastering sense of duty as he unswervingly regarded it, certain passages of arms he had with one or two of his brother parsons in Warwickshire would give an unfair impression of him. He was now, however, about forty-five, quite elderly as things went then, and warranted by the privilege of age for putting in a word in season when he considered his juniors to be evincing any errors of doctrine, as he conceived it, in the pulpit. Not that disparity in years was always indispensable when he felt called to uphold the faith that was in him! He tackled on one occasion the then youthful Montague Villiers, at the time Rector, I think, of Kenilworth, after lunch one Sunday on some heresies in the morning sermon, and the eloquent young divine, naturally perhaps, did not like it. However, he wrote the Archdeacon a letter a few days later which quite altered the strained relations and in later years the two became fast friends and remained so. Strange as it may sound for a man who enjoyed health and strength for nearly a century the Archdeacon had his third severe attack of brain fever in this year.
The second had occurred in 1833. For at that time, while wearied no little by his constant and arduous labours, he was suddenly called to Suffolk by the elopement and marriage at Gretna Green of his only daughter by his first wife with a young man he objected to and wrongly or rightly regarded as a fortune hunter. Over-work, and worry on this other account, a bad cold and a long tedious journey to London, combined to lay him suddenly low in rooms at Blackheath where his solicitor lived. Nursing homes were not yet, and blood-letters still on the warpath. Indeed the Archdeacon was a convinced one himself. So a surgeon was called in who bled him ruthlessly, and the fever was mastered in a shorter space than on other occasions but left him helplessly weak for some time. But his wife sent over Miller, the children's head nurse, to look after him, and in due course he was on his super-active legs again
The last and third attack at Branst [Braust] was much worse. The fever raged with great fury and for some days his life was despaired of. Two local doctors watched him and nursed him sedulously and affectionately, for they were friends as well, and bled him till they daren't bleed him any more. This presumably implied the end of their resources. There was nothing more to be done, and his probably impending demise was announced to his agonized family, who with the two doctors joined in prayer in the drawing room. But the tough Archdeacon was not disposed of so easily. His vitality suddenly asserted itself with a rush, threw off the fever, and calm sleep supervened, the precursor of returning health. To what the patient and his household attributed his apparently miraculous. recovery it is needless to state and out of place here to make comment upon. " As I was dozing off," says he, " I was conscious of Dr. C- peeping through the bed curtain and ejaculating 'wonderful' and Dr. T-- following his action with an 'amazing.' "
The Rectory at Andreas was occupied all this time by the divinity students, a sort of theological college in miniature and known as the Minor Prophet's house. The Archdeacon himself farmed the glebe, kept a flock of sheep which surnmered on the mountains and wintered on the low pastures, several cows and of course horses and a large stock of pigs and poultry. " We consumed two sheep a week, worked their wool into blankets and made candles of the fat, while we and our neighbours killed a bullock in turn and shared the meat." The Sabbatarianism of the more godly in the parish was too much even for the Archdeacon and almost outdid that of their Scottish neighbours. One, Teare, who did their butchering, was usually a sober man and always a religious one. But not turning up in church one Sunday the curate asked him the reason. " Well, your Reverence, I'll tell you the truth and no lie. I was at Ramsey market on Saturday and took a drop too much and couldn't shave that night and I hope I know myself too well to shave on Sunday morning." This was not a mere lame excuse, for the redoubtable Captain Kneale, who shared the perils of the tavern warfare with the Archdeacon, came to the latter one day with a long face regretting that he had to report something bad about Mr. M-, one of the most zealous of the Minor Prophets, who had left the Rectory for church work in Ramsey. The Archdeacon braced himself for the shock. " Well," said the Captain, " I was in Ramsey on Sunday morning and I grieve to say I saw Mr. M-- shaving himself at the window so that everyone in the street could see him breaking the Sabbath." The Major Prophet breathed again !
" The hovels in which the poorer sort lived had something the appearance of a sleeping walrus, the rough branches which constituted the roof were covered with the course bent which grew on the Curragh. At one end it was carried up and tied round some rough stakes to form a chimney for the peat smoke to escape. At the opposite end it was brought down to a long tail and kept tight by a large stone swinging dependent from it. The walls were built of sods. The interior was shared with pigs and poultry and sometimes railed off at the end for a cow if the intack could support one. They parcelled off the latter too among their married children, raising turf hovels for each so that they lived in small clans. Their nomenclature was hopelessly confounding, the surname getting quite lost in the ordinary intercourse of life. Robert Kissack's son William for example would be Billy-Bob and William's son Richard would be Dick-Billy-Bob. I never knew the names of many with whom I was quite familiar till I came to marry or bury them. Among the local surnames were those of Cormode, Brew, Camaish, Christian (of course), Quirk, Whane, Teare and Kaynon."
The island was naturally exposed to storms from whichever quarter the wind blew and there were many wrecks on the coasts of this northern parish in the Archdeacon's time there. After a night of storm it was his custom to start at daybreak on horseback for the more exposed shore and there are several notes in the MSS. of disasters of which he was a witness. I cannot resist one of these, as to our more frivolous generation it may appeal in rather a different sense from that in which it was written. An American vessel getting quite out of hand, after many perilous escapes among rocks and reefs ran by good luck right up on to a sandy beach. As the skipper dropped from the bows by a rope on to terra firma and safety he signalized the joyful moment by " a most fearful imprecation." Being an old-fashioned American skipper he naturally expressed his gratitude with one of those fullmouthed oaths on which his type prided themselves ; it was inevitable. But unfortunately he alighted plumb under the nose of the Archdeacon and the yet more rigid Captain Kneale, who knew nothing about Americans or their vocabulary and both were vastly scandalized. It was the Captain who on this occasion up and spoke the word in season and expressed his horror that a man just snatched from the jaws of death should celebrate the moment " in such a fearful manner." I do not suppose the skipper thought he had done anything of the kind! . He might even have considered that he had hardly done justice to such a unique occasion.1
It was in January of the Archdeacon's last year that the worst hurricane within living memory struck the island and his parish. "I heard it gathering the greater part of the night and early in the morning we secured our doors and windows so far as possible. Only one of our windows was in fact blown in, but everything in that particular room was wrecked. While I was reading prayers [the Archdeacon would not have missed them for an earthquake and would have read them with composure all through one] the gale with added impetus struck the house like the buffet of a huge bolster and though the walls were of thick stone, it seemed for a moment or two to sway. But the destruction of the poorer dwellings in the parish was complete, hundreds were left houseless and my barns and coach-house were thronged with them. Stacks were blown away wholesale. My tithe stacks were lifted up and thirty or forty tons of good hay disappeared into space. The Rectory, the Minor Prophet's house, on account of a recent ordination, only contained at the moment a married candidate from London with his wife and two children. He, Mr. H--, paid a man 5s. to crawl his way to me at Braust and ask me to come to them as they were in extreme danger. [Even the Archdeacon was a little roused by this.] " I paid the man to go back again and assure Mr. H-that when the safety of my own ten children and their mother were secured I would go to him if I could. Eventually I reached the Rectory with difficulty and found part of it in ruins. The maidservants had just got up when a big chimney stack fell through the roof and carried their bed through the floor."
Shortly before this the Archdeacon and part, at any rate, of his family had been in much greater danger than when the hurricane struck the stout old house at Braust and in this case too owing to a storm, though of a different type. He and his wife and two sons were returning one evening in the close carriage from a distant visit when a tremendous thunderstorm came on. " The lightning was so vicious that it set a stack on fire as we were actually passing it. It was quite dark too and torrents of rain were falling. The coachman was blinded for a time by the lightning and consequently drove us into the rapid river at the ford near Balla Salla at the wrong place, where we got entangled among the large boulders which lay in the stream, so that we could move neither backward nor forward. The water was rising rapidly and already nearly up to our waists in the carriage and there seemed no help at hand. I climbed out on to the roof and shouted at the very top of my voice for many minutes. At last the lightning showed us that people were assembling on the bank for there were a good many houses about. I then shouted to them to bring ropes: this was quickly done and one was hurled to me several times but I could not see to catch it. At last a flash of lightning lit up the rope just as it was above my head and enabled me to seize it. Then getting down the sides of the carriage I managed with great difficulty in the rapid, rising water to get the end round the axle trees and knot it. There were by this time scores of people on the bank and I shouted to them to pull away. There must have been fifty men and women on that rope and between them they succeeded in dragging us by main force out of the river. One of the horses fell down apparently dead on the bank, but came to after a time. The people told me that when they heard the shouting they merely thought it was a drunken man, but when they heard a boy's voice, for William had contributed his shriller note, they knew there was something wrong."
A tombstone may be seen today in Andreas churchyard which commemorates one William Cooke and his wife who died there after forty-seven years service in the Archdeacon's family. Something of pathos attaches to its simple story. For "poor old Will Cooke had lived many years with my uncle in Suffolk and continued with me till I went to the Isle of Man. He was then very old and I advised him and his wife to. go to their son-in-law promising to give him a pension. On my first return visit to Walpole afterwards I found him very unhappy and he kept on repeating, ' I want to go with you to the Isle of Man.' After another flying visit a year later I was stopping at Barrack's hotel in Cockspur Street. The Liverpool coach called for me in the morning and who should I see sitting in the front but old Will. Hullo, William, where are you going?' I called out. 'I'm going to the Isle of Man,' he replied, and sure enough he did. I sent for his wife later. For some years he did little jobs about the yard and then one morning, as he didn't turn up at prayers, I sent one of the maids to see what was the matter. She returned pale and speechless, but signed to me to follow her, which I did to the cow house where poor old Will lay dead on a bundle of hay he was taking to the cows.
Bishop Ward paid his last visit to the island, a brief one, in 1837, when the Archdeacon stayed with him at Bishop's Court and preached in the Chapel, feeling convinced he would never see his chief again. Nor did he, as he died a few months later at his Essex rectory. There was a long interlude before his successor was appointed though there was nothing new in that ! But this delay was probably occasioned by some lingering chance of the diocese being absorbed by Carlisle. And the reminder here may be timely that there was no dean and chapter, nor any endowment for it, no canons, minor canons nor precentor, nor as yet even any cathedral. The latter was erected much later. A bishop, archdeacon, vicar general, registrar, three rectors and fourteen vicars, with perhaps a dozen curates, comprised the whole clerical staff of this miniature diocese in those days. Moreover the parish clergy virtually had to be Manxmen to conduct the Manx services that were still maintained alternately in, I think, all districts. The Archdeacon himself mastered the language sufficiently to read the service though he never ventured to preach in it. But then he always kept a Manx curate, a fine example of one, physically and morally, to whom he was devoted, who served him for years at Andreas, became in time bishop of the diocese and finally, as an old man, read the burial service over the beloved old Rector of the days of his youth.
Naturally enough while the appointment to the bishopric was in abeyance, wishes were expressed all over the island that its Archdeacon should fill the vacancy, for as we have seen he had been acting the part for years, even as Vicar-general during the failing health of the late Archdeacon. However the present one gave it out, to save all misunderstanding, that he was in no case a candidate for the honour. Later on Archbishop Howley despatched an emissary to interview him on the subject and ask whether he had definitely made up his mind to refuse the appointment if offered him and he replied that he had. It was not the office, nor the nature of the work which daunted him. On the contrary he had grown greatly attached both to the island and its people, and the tributes he received on his departure are evidence enough that he gained the affections of the whole element whose affection was worth having. The baser sort, and possibly some of the slacker parsons, were doubtless relieved to see his back. He occasionally intimates in his notes that his constitution was being taxed, not by the normal work of a rector and archdeacon but by the strenuous fashion in which he performed it. He sometimes speaks of being weary, which is not surprising, and he had brain fever as we know three times. It was in truth none of these things, but the fact that his wife could no longer stand the climate, nor live cut off from her own doctors, and furthermore that he had ten children under fifteen whose education and circumstances had to be considered, for which the island at that time offered no satisfactory solution. So he made up his mind to return to England. Dr. Bowstead, fellow and tutor of Corpus College, Cambridge, was eventually appointed and my grandfather remained for another year at the new Bishop's request for the obvious assistance he could render him as a stranger.
" He was a very suitable man, truly an enlightened Christian, of a clear perception and vigorous mind, but unfortunately a single man. He had while reading in the North of Scotland fallen in love with a minister's daughter, but delayed making an offer till his return in the following year, when it was too late and he found her just married. This disappointment seems to have affected him permanently as regards marriage." For this bishop had come to the island to stay. The Crown were awaking to the fact that bishoprics were sufficient employment for one man and as annexes to college masterships and fat livings were not effective. Dr. Bowstead applied himself at once to his duties. He and his Archdeacon worked together in the most friendly manner and enjoyed one another's society as each had an excellent reason for doing. " He often came over to Braust and stayed a night or two. One day just before I left we rode out together to examine something on the coast near the Point of Ayre. As we were cantering along the Ayre I had forgotten for the moment that the sandy soil was full of rabbit holes and I shouted a warning to the Bishop who was ahead of me to pull up. But before he could do so the fine, big blood horse of mine he was riding put his foot in a burrow and the Bishop flew over his head some yards and alighted on his own.
" I saw at once that he had a slight concussion and when he came to himself I begged him to let me bleed him, for I always carried a lancet. He consented at first and took his coat off." But the Bishop changed his mind. His host believed in bleeding as we know he had apparently some cause to, and was longing to get his knife in. They rode slowly home to Braust and after administering some refreshment the Archdeacon again handled his lancet persuasively. But Dr. Bowstead would have none of it. So he was despatched in the carriage to Bishop's Court and to the professional advice he was obviously hankering for. He was very soon afterwards, as was the misfortune of these minor sees, transferred to Lichfield, where after a brief tenure he died of some brain affection, and my grandfather was convinced to the end of his life that the premature death of this "good and able man" was due to his having refused to be bled on the Point of Ayre. " At my departure in August, 1839, he took over my whole stock of carriages, horses, wines, etc. We had no valuer. We each put down on a piece of paper what we thought each article was worth and in almost every case the bishop wrote down a higher value than I did." This happened I fear in most of the Archdeacon's transactions of the kind throughout his life and he hadn't always conscientious ecclesiastics to deal with!
All this last year my grandfather had of course been planning for his future. His light had not been entirely hid under a bushel in this remote diocese. He had kept in personal touch with the Bishops of Chester and Carlisle, preaching for both occasionally on his trips to England ; while Kaye, his old co-fellow at Christ's, was Bishop of Lincoln. His activities in the island had not passed unnoticed, more especially in Evangelical circles, and he was offered among other things the living of Bath, which for various reasons he refused. He finally took that of Great Cressingham and Bodney in Norfolk, for which there seemed no particular reason unless it were a hankering after East Anglia again and incidentally that the rectory was a large house which was a sine qua non in his case, though he had seen neither the place nor neighbourhood. just before leaving he gave a great picnic to all the school children of the island in the ruins of Peel Castle. His departure was signalized by farewell addresses from all quarters, public and private. " It was a sad parting from a people whom I sincerely loved and they on their part I truly believe felt it deeply. I had wished to leave with as little notice as possible but the deck of the steamer Tynwald (there was steam communication by this time) was crowded with old friends and I shall never forget the scene on Douglas pier and the many sad farewells." There was the governess and ten children, two or three Manx servants and an enormous quantity of luggage to be conveyed across England. But the Archdeacon was used to that and now the railway helped him as far as Weedon. They had nevertheless a couple of mishaps such as had never occurred in all their former long journeys. For the cart conveying their luggage from the steamer to the railway terminus in Liverpool upset and scattered their belongings broadcast in the street. Some stalwart Manxmen, however, who had crossed on the steamer and were following the same route, were able to render their Archdeacon a last service by rushing to the rescue, warding off the rabble and reloading the waggon.
The first experience of a railway was sufficient excitement for all the company but the head of it. At Weedon they posted in three carriages by Northampton to Cambridge and reached Cressingham on the third day. The second adventure was more serious, for coming out of the old George Hotel at Northampton, one of the carriages containing some of the party took the curb stone, tipped over and deposited both passengers and effects on the street in front of All Saints' church, but happily no serious damage was done. During the last stage from Swaffham, East Anglian though he was, the heart of the Archdeacon, his keen country-wise senses alert for everything, began to sink within him. The hills and streams of Man had bitten deeper into his nature than he thought He loved his own part of Suffolk, undulating and well-wooded. He loved the great fens and marshes. But this ! " ' We are not near Cressingham ?' I said anxiously to the driver. No, sir, not yet," and I felt relieved. Still no improvement as we rolled on through the dull unrelieved landscape and again I put the question more fearfully. I Yes, sir, this is Cressingham,' and my heart sank. We soon, however, dipped into a hollow, crossed a nice clear stream, a fine church stood on the ridge above and the large handsome rectory, in well wooded grounds, confronted us, and my heart leaped up again. I thanked God and asked his blessing."
1 Even wrecking had not died out, with the occasional lighting of fires to lure ships to their destruction. My grandfather would sometimes ride out on stormy nights on this account, and kick out any fire that had a sinister object.