The Foxearth and District Local History Society
Violent and Indecent Behaviour in the Church

Foxearth & District Local History Society


It seems fantastic that this case should ever have got to court, but two years later was to come an even more ridiculous display of pique when a corpse was dug up by night from the graveyard and transferred to a different church. Just nine years later, the rector himself was to end up in the same court, charged with the rape of a girl. The names of Viall and Gardiner link the stories, though, and there would seem to be a long-standing feud within the area, involving these farming families, and the formidable rector, Rev John Foster. 
On the surface, this particular quarrel involved a difference of opinion over whether a pew could be reserved, or 'appropriated' for a particular family. Such appropriations were simply a matter of custom and had no legal basis. Members of the congregation were, at one time, allowed to erect their own box-pews at their own expense but they had no basis in law from excluding others from using them. It simply became tradition over the centuries that the more important and influential families sat nearer the chancel. The seating of the church was left to the discretion of the churchwarden and they had every right to put an end to this unchristian practice. Mr Gardiner behaved in an arrogant and offensive manner not untypical of farmers at the time. The 1860s were a time of social change when farmers were at the peak of their prosperity: Rev John Foster was a liberal and high-churchman who was determined to break the stranglehold that the farmers had over the rural economy. His eventual success is recorded in a separate publication.
Foxearth & District Local History Society

from the Bury and Norwich post September 30th 1862.

A farmer charged with violent behaviour in church

At Castle Hedingham Petty Sessions on Tuesday, Mr Edward Gardiner, a large land owner in the parish of Foxearth in Essex, appeared before N.C.Baraardiston, Esq, (Chairman) the Rev C.H.Gooch, the Rev W.K.Borton, L.Way Esq and A. Majendie Esq. charged on information of Mr H.E. Maplesden, clerk to the works superintending the erection of a new tower and spire at Foxearth church, with having on the 7th of September been guilty of violent and indecent behaviour in the church at Foxearth, contrary to the Act 23 and 24 Vic, chap,32,-

Mr Cardinall of Halstead appeared for the prosecution, and Mr Jones of Colchester for the defence. Mr Cardinall having opened the case for the prosecution, Henry Ezra Maplesden, the complainant, deposed as follows;

Mr Maplesden

'I have been residing at Foxearth since the 17th of May last, and am clerk to the works at the church. 
On Sunday, the 7th of this month, when the bells had half finished ringing, about ten minutes or a quarter to eleven, I went to church accompanied by my brother Samuel, and we took a seat in an open bench in the body of the church. There was room for two or three others in the same bench. 
Before service commenced, Mr Gardiner went past the bench to the chancel, towards the church warden; Mr Aldham. Mr Gardiner appeared very excited when he was speaking to Mr Aldham and I heard my name mentioned but did not hear what passed.
Mr Gardiner returned to where I was sitting and came directly into the bench and said to me 
    "You consider yourself a gentleman, but you have proved yourself a low blackguard". 
He was in a great passion and this was said loud enough to be heard all over the church. I said 
    "Thank you for your compliment". I spoke in a quiet whisper;'

-Cross examined;

'I did not know that the seat where I sat had been assigned to the defendant. I had been told by defendant that it had been assigned to him by the Bishop'

-to Mr Gooch;

'I was told on the 13th of July. I was in his seat then; he asked me to leave and I refused and he and his wife and child left. 
Defendant afterwards called at my house and asked what he had done that I should insult him by taking his pew, he dared me to continue to do so; I told him I should and he said he would instruct his solicitor. I said he might do what he liked and after the notice what had been given, I should sit where I liked this side of the chancel and I shall not turn out as all the seats were non appropriated. I was not aware then that my wife had been turned out. When he called on me I said one reason why I should not turn out was because he had been so ungentlemanly as to turn my wife out.
 I told him he was no gentleman. He said he would go to the law and I said I would defend the case. I said " if you take it up I will spend what I have got upon it". 
On one other Sunday I sat with him; there was room and he made not the slightest objection. On another occasion Mr Gardiner's daughter and a lady came in and there was ample room for two but the lady sat in the aisle. On this occasion defendant had two ladies with him, but I have sat there with four other persons. 
What Mr Gardiner said was quite loud enough to be heard all over the church; that I will swear. I did not go early to get that precise seat; I did not take that seat to annoy him'.

-to Mr Gooch;

'There were before me and behind me empty seats where I might have sat'


There was plenty of room to come in the seat. On no occasion have I prevented Mr Gardiner or his family from sitting there. Mr Gardiner put his hat down on the 7th of September and when the Creed was read, Mr Gardiner turned to the North instead of to the East. When the clergyman was on the pulpit stalls Mr Gardiner took his hat and walked out of the church.

Mr Richard Aldham, chuchwarden was next examined-

Mr Richard Aldham

'I am churchwarden of Foxearth and was at church on the 7th of September. Before the service defendant came to me very excitedly and asked me to go and remove Mr Maplesden, I was sitting in the chancel. Mr Maplesden was sitting in Mr Gardiner's bench. 
I said "I shall not interfere". 
He said "you ought as Churchwarden; you ought to be ashamed of yourself to behave in this disgraceful manner". This was spoken in a loud tone, loud enough for people to hear around, he then went to his pew. I did not leave my pew and could not see where the complainant sat. I heard nothing said by the defendant to Mr Maplesden or anyone else; it could not be heard all over the church. 
A notice declaring all seats free during the alterations was put upon the church doors'

~Cross examined,

"I do not know I have no power in point of law to put up such a notice; I put it up at the Rector's desire. The bench was appropriated to Mr Gardiner in consequence of communication from the Bishop; the condition was that Mr Gardiner and his family should be there before the commencement of Divine Service, there was no other condition; they were there before the service commenced. 
There was room in Mr Gardiner's bench for two other persons, I do not know whether he had two or three with him at that time.

A letter from defendant to Mr Aldham was here read to him by Mr Jones in which defendant complained of Mr Maplesden's intrusion into the sittings assigned to him by order of the Bishop and asked Mr Aldham as Churchwarden to see the seats were not filled before the proper time, to his (the defendant's) exclusion, stating there was plenty of room in the church for all but that Mr Maplesden had expressed his intention to repeat his conduct next week.

Mrs Harriet Elliston, Mr Samuel Maplesden and Mrs Maria Brand having been called in corroboration of this evidence.

Mr Jones in addressing the Bench on behalf of his client said that after the evidence which had already been given, the Magistrates could not doubt for a minute but the whole difficulty had arisen from the complainant pertinaciously taking possession and insisting upon in the pew which had been by the Churchwardens and with the consent of the Bishop, assigned or appropriated to the defendant. What more, he asked could the defendant do than what he had done under the circumstances! he was nearly the largest occupier in the parish and had applied to the Churchwardens and to the Bishop for church accommodation and the pew in respect of which this dispute had arisen had been appropriated to him by the only recognised authority in these matters. 
When the complainant, who was a stranger, paying neither scot nor lot into the parish came and took possession of the pew, the defendant asked him to give it up but he refused and the defendant called at his house and asked him why he wanted to insult him and the young ladies who were with him by refusing to let him have his seat, when according to his own there were no less than twenty unoccupied seats close by. 
The complainant himself stated the reception Mr Gardiner met with at his hands and failing to induce him to relinquish the pew, he wrote to the Churchwardens requesting their assistance in the matter, but as it seemed with no good result upon the very occasion in question before anything had taken place, the Churchwardens interference was solicited.

The magistrates, he submitted, could have no doubt that the complainant had taken possession of this pew for the express purpose of annoying and irritating the defendant and after asking them what more the defendant or they if they had been in his place, could have done, he confidently appealed to them not to support a conviction, a person whose conduct had brought the matter under investigation and was actuated by the spirit that could actuate the mind.

Mr Jones then called for James Honeywood who is in the employ of the defendant who said he saw Mr Gardiner return to his pew but did not hear him say a word although he was within eight or ten yards of him. Ruth Inch also said she was about two yards off Mr Gardiner's pew and saw what passed but heard no noisy talk. The Magistrates retired and after an absence of nearly half an hour the Chairman said that the Bench felt called upon in the present case to convict, for although no doubt the defendant considered there to have been great aggravation, yet the Act of Parliament admitted of no justification under any circumstances, and therefore what he had to complain of must form the subject of inquiry elsewhere.

The Bench ordered the defendant to pay 40s fine and expenses but declined to allow costs.

A cross summons has been taken out by Mr Gardiner against Mr Maplesden, but Mr Jones said that after what had taken place he would withdraw the information, trusting that after what had fallen from the Bench, Mr Maplesden would see the propriety of not again intruding himself into Mr Gardiner's pew.

The Rev J.C.Gooch-

'I think he had better promise to that effect, he cannot do less.'

Mr Cardinall-

'I am instructed to say in reply that there are no appropriated seats, nor will there be, in the parish church at Foxearth.'

(Note: In the 1861 census Edward Gardiner aged 42 was living and farming 272 acres at Lower Hall in Foxearth, he lived with his wife Mary aged 48 years and daughter Emma aged 9 years. He kept two servants, James Kemp aged 18 years and Mary Inch aged 19 years. He employed 13 men and 9 boys. GH)