Two sides to every story (Part 15)

Martin & Mandy

Today we're going back for some history – not too far back - so we're going to tinker with names. You can't always believe everything you read in the papers and we would hate to repeat an accusation made by a paper (even if it is 130 years ago) only to find that someone's great grandfather was actually a fine upstanding citizen and not a drunken reprobate as he had been presented!

In our investigations about Layston Church we had cause to look back through the archives at Hertfordshire's record office and we stumbled, by accident, across a series of articles entitled "Alleged Misconduct by a Hertfordshire Clergyman" published from the 25th Febuary 1882 onwards.

The Reverend Butt, who came to St Bartholomews as the vicar in August 1853, was accused of "Intoxication" & "the use of improper, profane, and indecent language." From reading the articles this comes down to being in public houses beyond "his honest necessities" and saying "Damn it all" and "Blast it all" a lot. It was also said that "no-one's good name was safe with him".

The coverage was very professional – and the whole of the proceedings were reported seemingly word for word, but we'll try to give you a flavour with just some of the choice phrases from the hearing which took place in the George Hotel in the High Street.

As background information it seems that complaints were made against the post office resulting in an inspector from London coming to enquire into the management, and it seems the Reverend Butt had some connection with those complaints. Looks like this was the root cause of the ill feeling towards the Reverend, which resulted in these accusations being made against him. There were three main witnesses giving evidence against Reverend Butt, and we'll call them Mr Smith, Mr Jones and the Sergeant.

Mr Smith, who was connected with the Post Office, kept a diary of all the Reverend's alleged visits to public houses, but stated that he himself had never been intoxicated (!) You get the feeling that this might have been stretching the truth just a tiny little bit, as this exchange of the solicitors suggests: Mr Bund (for Butt): Have you ever seen Mr Smith drunk? Mr Jeune (against Butt): I object to that question. Mr Bund: Then I won't press it, but I can easily understand why my friend does not wish any questions to be asked about Mr Smith.....

Published VersionThe Sergeant at one point in his evidence felt the need to state his sobriety – although at that stage no-one had asked him about it "I will swear I was sober last night" he stated Mr Bund replied "What ! Were you not drunk last night ?" "I will swear I went to bed sober. I swear I was not drunk yesterday and I don't care what other people say. I went to bed at eleven o'clock last night, and I was sober then" came the reply. Mr Bund continued "Will you swear you were not drunk at any time yesterday?" "Oh, I ain't going to say anything about yesterday." Mr Bund repeated his question "Well, I was a little the worse for drink…." It turns out it took several men to get this particular witness back to his lodgings the previous evening and Sergeant appears to have lost his job as a policeman over his fondness for the bottle - might well be a case of the pot calling the kettle black here!


It looks like a dentist but look carefully next time our passing.

Mr Jones presented a story regarding the Governors of the Grammar School – He maintained that the Reverend Butt used to turn up at their meetings in the afternoon a little the worse for wear and had threatened to shoot the Headmaster's dog! I just love the end of this account he gave:- "I may say that in consequence of Mr Butt's excited manner in the afternoon, the Governors unanimously decided to hold their meetings in the morning. Mr Butt is as different as possible in the morning to the afternoon. I believe he dines early……"

Another phrase which made us smile came about because one of the solicitors asked "Was he drunk?" which produced an objection from the other that it was "hardly a proper way of putting the question". The response to this was "I beg your pardon. I have had the pain of appearing in several of these enquiries before Lord Penzance, and he has decided that it is the proper way of putting the question." Which prompted the Chairman to remark: "If Lord Penzance had decided so, there is an end of it." Lord Penzance was obviously not a man whose decisions could be questioned!Published Version

The case lists in detail all the public houses the Reverend is alleged to have visited, The Green Man in Royston, the Falcon, the Railway and the Green Man in Standon, plus the George, the Chequers, the White Hart, the Bull & the Railway Inn in Buntingford. It seems the only pub in Buntingford he passed in his daily life, but was not said to have frequented, was the Fox & Duck – one can only imagine he was barred for some reason (Joke)!

These accusations are rather more fun than the testimony of the rest of the witnesses, who basically all agreed that the Reverend Butt was a jolly nice chap – not given to cursing or drinking, and was generally an all round good egg. From the subsequent coverage in the local paper, which was nowhere near as thorough, we can gather that this was indeed the case, and the rather sensationalist story fizzled out when it was learnt that the Reverend wasn't quite such an old soak after all!

In his summing up Mr Bund submitted that "it was too beastly to suppose that any man in Mr Butt's position would have used such language". If only that were the case today – we could all do with cleaning up our language.

For the full story visit The Hertfordshire Archive office at County Hall and start with the papers on microfilm published in February 1882.