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Legend of the 'Pickled Parson' used to promote historic parish

19 May 2017

©The St Edmund’s church Inspired Futures team 2017

Preserved: an illustration from the booklet, depicting a salt-encrusted Rector propped up at his desk while his wife collects the tithes at the door

Preserved: an illustration from the booklet, depicting a salt-encrusted Rector propped up at his desk while his wife collects the tithes at the door

THE legend of a Pickled Parson has been enlisted to boost visitor num­bers at a historic church in north-east England.

The story of the Rector of St Edmund’s, Sedgefield, in County Durham, is that when he died unexpectedly, his wife preserved his body in salt to convince tenant farmers that he was still alive, so that she could receive the annual tithes that funded his living. The priest, denied an immediate burial, haunted the rectory until a fire gutted the building years later.

The tale has now been retold in a booklet, launched this month by the Friends of St Edmund’s, which details the history of the 13th-century Grade I listed church. An illustration shows a salt-crusted Rector propped up at his desk, while his wife collects the tithes at the door.

The booklet is part of a campaign, Inspired Futures, by a group of parishes in the Newcastle and Durham dioceses, to improve facili­ties and open up churches for wider community use. It is backed by a £221,900 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

Brian Mutch, of the Friends group, said: “We have produced notices telling people the church is open, and information boards are inside. Now we have launched this booklet, and our next step is an interactive guide around the church.

”We get up to 600 visitors each year, and now we hope to get many more. The tale of the Pickled Parson has been around since the 1700s, and is well-known locally.”

Tradition identifies him as the Revd John Gamage, who was ap­­­­pointed Rector in 1728 by his benefactor, the Bishop of Durham, William Talbot. He came from a Welsh family which furnished the church with about 20 priests in the 17th and 18th centuries. He did not spend all his time at Sedgefield: he was also a prebendary at Salisbury Cathedral.

When Mr Gamage died, aged 56, in August 1747, he was living 200 miles away in the village of White Ladies Aston, near Worcester.

The legend maintains that the tithes were due in December, and his absences might explain how his wife, Mary, was able to collect the money.

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