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Words of doubtful clerical wisdom

30 August 2013


Pastoral advice: Canon Roderick MacLeod, Vicar of Mitford 1897-1931, at work in his study

Pastoral advice: Canon Roderick MacLeod, Vicar of Mitford 1897-1931, at work in his study

IT is probably not advisable to criticise your new wife's skill with pastry, nor to tell her that you intend to be the boss. It is, however, wise to thrash drunks.

Some of the advice given by the nation's clergy in past newspaper columns has stood the test of time, but much illustrates how society's mores have changed during the past century.

Among old advice columns unearthed by the British Newspaper Archive is one from the Derby Daily Telegraph in 1904, which quotes a priest in Woodhorn, Northumberland: "We have no teetotal society in connection with this parish church," he writes. "Nor is there any attempt to coax or cajole people into soberness by concerts, speeches, or hymns. A better plan, surely, than all these weak devices is for a man who has a drunken neighbour to thrash him as being a scandal to a neighbourhood. . . If some straightforward way like this was adopted, we should soon hear of fewer drunkards. We are suffering from softness."

Several of the columns discovered by the archivists relate to married life. In the Western Gazette in 1913, the Revd A. J. Waldorn of Brixton, wrote: "Whatever you do, don't spoil your wedding day by telling your wife what ripping tarts your mother makes. . . Swallow the bride's pie, and tell her it's a dream of delight, and then take a pill on the sly."

In 1939, the Revd W. G. Roberts of St Clement's, Horsley, advised husbands: "Never tell your wife you are going to be the 'boss'. . . it is a tactless remark, and is fundamentally untrue." He adds that "a woman who tells her husband she is going to be 'boss' is sillier still, as it brings the whole thing to a level of brute force."

Two years after the start of the Second World War, the Revd R. H. Hawkins of Dalston cautioned women not to contemplate a war wedding, and urged them not to give in to "fear of being left on the shelf", nor the "glamour of being the wife of a man in uniform".

Amy Gregor, of the British Newspaper Archive, said this week: "The unorthodox advice given in these columns may seem odd to us now, but at the time such advice was taken quite seriously by those who read them. Until relatively recently, vicars were at the centre of nearly every community, and regarded as a source of wisdom and authority."

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