James Horsburgh was succeeded at Ilkeston in May 1873 by a former student of St. Bee’s Theological College, John Francis Nash Eyre coming from Waterloo (Hampshire and Sussex) and who in the opinion of R.B.H. wasn’t “a particularly erudite divine, or a very brilliant preacher. But he was a very genial sort of parson, with no ‘side’ about him, and was very popular”.
On his departure from Waterloo, at the annual gathering of the Waterloo Friendly Society – of which he was chairman — John confessed that he had tried to be liberal but that he could not do much as the living was a very poor one, and he had spent twice as much as he had received while he was there.
He asserted that he was now going to a place in which the people, if rough, were honest.
In his first sermon to his ‘rough but honest’ congregation at St. Mary’s Church he included the words ….
“I have come to live amongst you, and probably to die amongst you”.
Thirteen years would elapse before that probability became a reality.
John Francis Nash Eyre was born at Hanging Heaton, West Yorkshire, on October 19th 1829, son of clergyman Lawrence and his first wife, Mary (nee Nash).
In 1853 the Archbishop of York had licensed the Rev. John Francis Nash Eyre of St. Bee’s Divinity College, Cumberland, to the curacy of Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire…..
and in June 1855 he was an ‘Insolvent Debtor’ ….
and in November 1861 he was appointed to the perpetual curacy of Denholme Gate, Bradford, West Yorkshire (value £150, with residence!) …
and in August 1870 he was moved to the curacy of Christ Church, Watney Styreet, London….
and in November of that year he was appointed Vicar of St. George, Waterlooville, Hampshire…..
and whence to Ilkeston.
Sheddie Kyme thought highly of the newcomer…..
“From the outset, the new vicar was looked upon by all Churchmen in the town as a gentleman worthy of his position, and from the zeal he displayed it was evident he came with lofty ideals and a fixed purpose to carry forward the work entrusted to him. The rev. gentleman had a very frank and genial countenance, and his disposition was most generous, while he seemed richly endowed by nature with a capacity for making himself and others happy.
“I recollect on one occasion playing cricket along with other youths, on the old Rutland Cricket Ground, when the vicar put in an appearance. The big bell of the church was tolling for a funeral at the time. After exchanging a few words with us, the Vicar doffed his coat and joined in the game, at the same time placing a coin in the bails for the bowler who was successful in taking his wicket. That coin was soon dislodged, and just as we were anticipating another taking its place, the treble bell rang out, this change of not indicating, as all Ilkestonians will, I think, remember, that the funeral had arrived at the entrance gates of the church. Down went the bat, and the Vicar, coat in hand, made a dart for the side entrance to the churchyard. An incident, it may be said, trifling in itself, but therein lay the key of his whole nature. In his ardent desire to amuse us as boys, he had perhaps for the moment forgotten his more serious duties.
“He may have made mistakes – the man who does not make mistakes makes nothing – but if he did it generally arose from a desire to take a burden from other people’s shoulders. He was most affable in manner, and priggishness could never for one moment have entered such a nature, as he was entirely devoid of the faintest spice of personal vanity”.
Not everyone spoke so highly of the Rev. Nash Eyre. (see Holy Trinity Mission).
Speaking at the Derby Archidiaconal Conference in November 1873, shortly after his arrival in Ilkeston, and having worked in St. George’s-in-the-East parish, one of the largest in London, John had come to the conclusion that women were the principal cause of the drunkenness that existed in society. (Laughter).
A roaring fire in the tap-room and a warm seat were comforts that were offered by many public houses and were not replicated by their wives in the homes of many working men. Consequently, as they were essentially social beings, such men would prefer their pub to their own parlour. (Hear, hear.)
Yet a cheerful home, a bright fire, a cleanly hearth, loving children and a fruitful wife were the ingredients which would persuade them otherwise. (Applause)
In John’s view it was not really the duty of the Church to preach en masse to the intemperate but rather to talk to each one individually in his own home, to bring men to a sense of their duty.
He was not a believer in public temperance meetings where attendees were persuaded to ‘sign the pledge’; in his experience such pledges were quickly broken. (Hear, hear)
In Ilkeston his aim was to establish a working men’s club, which should have all of the comforts but none of the evils of the public-houses.
Just over a year later, in another speech, to a Temperance meeting in Ilkeston, the Rev. Nash Eyre indicated that he had previously been chaplain to a lunatic asylum and to two or three workhouses, and was of the view that a large number of their inmates had been brought to their state by the effects of strong drink.
In October 1874 the University of Philadelphia conferred the degree of LL.D upon the Rev. Eyre. (Christian Age)
Derby Mercury, Christmas 1874.… Gifts to the Poor … In accordance with an old established custom small sums of money and bread have been distributed to the poor at Ilkeston at the National School-room by the vicar of St. Mary’s Church and his churchwardens.
In August 1878 the Rev. Nash Eyre’s first wife Frances (nee Pennington) died at the Vicarage.
They had married in 1859.
Her gravestone at St. Mary’s churchyard records that Frances was the daughter of the late W.Pennington and the niece of Col. Pennington of the Coldstream Guards, Jersey.
1877 Danger alert!!
About a quarter past four of an April Sunday afternoon in 1877, amid a heavy thunderstorm, St. Mary’s Church was struck by a vivid flash of lightning.
Pieces of glass and splinters of wood descended from the church tower onto passers-by. Looking up, they saw that the 30 foot wooden flagstaff atop the tower was now much reduced in height. The large ball of blue glass about a foot in diameter which had graced the top of the wooden pole was now scattered over the Market Place in thousands of fragments. Slight damage was done to the church’s stonework but as there was no lightning conductor it could have been much worse. But for the glass ball it was contemplated that the whole tower might have been destroyed.
After the incident Sheddie Kyme picked up fragments of the shattered ball — which he thought was green – as well as splinters from the broken flag pole. “Shortly after this a lightning conductor was placed on the tower”.
Sheddie Kyme admits that John ‘may have made mistakes’…. some of them financial.
By late 1878 the Vicar was seriously in debt such that in October an instrument of sequestration on the Ilkeston Benefice was issued and published, “in order that the profits thereof might be applied for the benefit of the creditors under a liquidation by arrangement on behalf of the Vicar, the Rev. John Francis Nash Eyre”. (IP December 1879)
A year later and the Vicar’s situation had not improved sufficiently.
In October 1879, the Rev. Eyre announced to his congregation that the Bishop of Lichfield had granted him a license of non-residence for 12 months — he was to leave Ilkeston temporarily…. but not just yet!!
In the following days John was served with a notice by the Bishop of the Diocese “inhibiting him from the discharge and function of his clerical office, and the execution thereof, that is to say, from preaching the word of God and administering the Holy Sacrament, and celebrating all other duties and offices whatsoever within the parish of Ilkeston, under pain of the law and contempt thereof”.
The Vicar was inhibited from performing his ministerial duties in the parish but not in the diocese.
And at the beginning of November 1879 his place was filled by the Rev. William White La Barte, who acted as Curate-in-charge at St. Mary’s.
The Pioneer breathed a huge sigh of relief at the latter’s arrival — and the former’s ‘departure’?!
The newspaper thought that the new vicar would feel at home amongst Ilkeston folk and hoped for ‘brighter days to come’ after ‘years of neglect’.
“Mr. La Barte comes to us with the reputation of being a diligent worker in a densely-populated district. He has had that trying and varied experience amongst a rough but homely class of people which justly fits him for the spiritual charge of a parish like ours, in which the lights and shades of character are strangely intermingled; and from his qualifications as a broad yet liberal-minded clergyman, and ripe scholarship, we look upon his advent amongst us with the liveliest feelings of hope and satisfaction”.
Irish-born William White La Barte was the Curate of St. Leonard’s Parish Church in Lexden, Colchester in Essex, but his stay in Ilkeston was very short-lived.
In January 1880 he returned to Lexden, being succeeded by the Rev. Francis Collins Norton of London.
The Rev. Nash Eyre did have a substantial body of supporters and these mobilised themselves in March 1880 when a petition was circulated house to house “testifying to his general worth, the deep sympathy felt for him, and the respect in which he is held by all classes in the town”. When it was presented to the Lord Bishop of Lichfield at the beginning of April it was 16 feet long and had been signed by over 5000 persons. The Vicar’s position now looked promising and there were signs that his return to St. Mary’s pulpit was imminent.
By May 1880 the Rev. Norton had departed — not to be replaced by the Rev. Nash Eyre but by the Rev. John Greenfield, D.D. as curate-in-charge. The latter had spent over 25 years in religious service in India and has recently returned from France, where he had established a church for the Colonial and Continental Society.
In the first week of June 1880 the Vicar left Ilkeston for Chatham …… a date which was to prove very significant in subsequent events. (see next section)
Then in August 1880, two years after the death of his first wife, John Francis Nash Eyre married Alice Maud Stephens, youngest daughter of solicitor Matthew Spray Stephens and Ann of Chatham, Kent.
Alice was the sister of his children’s one-time governess, Ann Spray Stephens and of Adolphus Frederick William Stephens, solicitor and High Constable of Chatham.
The happy couple then left for London en route to a honeymoon on the Continent.
At that time the Rev. Nash Eyre was still officially Vicar of Ilkeston as well as surrogate for the dioceses of Lichfield and Ripon. He was also acting pro-tem as vicar of St. Paul’s Church in Chatham.
Also at this time the Rev. Nash Eyre was still serving a period of sequestration and inhibition – he was being censured for his past misdemeanours, his living was effectively being suspended, and his functions were relegated to a curate-in-charge – and this situation led to problems in April 1881 when it was time to elect the churchwardens.
(Normally two churchwardens were appointed, one nominated by the Vicar to act as his churchwarden and one nominated by the ratepayers to act as Parish (People’s) Churchwarden).
At a vestry meeting held for this purpose, the issue of the Vicar’s warden was the first to arise. The Rev. Nash Eyre not only “had the temerity to appear .. at that gathering” (IP) but also chose to act as its chairman.
The Pioneer was clear what he should have done.
“… had the Vicar shown the deference due to his Bishop, and a hearty desire to heal the wounds inflicted through bygone differences with his congregation, he would have been conspicuously absent from (this) meeting…”
Having taken the Chair the Vicar nominated druggist William Fletcher as his churchwarden.
Whereupon curate-in-charge Dr. John Greenfield nominated Bartholomew Wilson.
Whereupon National schoolmaster William Frost intervened, stating that Dr. Greenfield was not an Ilkeston ratepayer, only a lodger, and so had no power to nominate.
Whereupon Pioneer editor John Wombell flourished a letter from the rural dean stating that the Bishop of the diocese gave permission for the curate-in-charge to nominate the incumbent’s churchwarden during the period of sequestration and inhibition.
Whereupon it was decided to enter the names of both nominees into the meeting’s minutes.
When the meeting then proceeded to the election of the one Parish Churchwarden, two names were put forward – William Wade and Samuel Streets Potter — and further turmoil was provoked.
“Personalities were freely indulged in” and a slanging match developed between the Rev. Nash Eyre and John Wombell, during which reference was made to the £100 missing from John Lowe’s Sunday School Charity. (see the Alms Houses and Ilkeston’s Charities).
Once more it was seriously suggested that the Vicar had pocketed the money for his own purposes and several members were determined that he should (re)pay the £100. Prominent amongst them was South Street pawnbroker John Moss, the grandnephew of the original donor of the charity.
The meeting then adjourned.
“Even Mr. Eyre himself must see, on calm reflection, how he has multiplied obstacles towards reinstating himself in the regard and esteem of his old parishioners by his unflinching demeanour towards his Bishop, and his antagonism towards the majority of his old congregation. He placed Dr. Greenfield in a most invidious position by the double slight of presiding over a meeting of his congregation, and in refusing to accept his nomination of churchwarden”. The newspaper was unequivocal in where its allegiances lay. “(Dr. Greenfield) had laboured hard and unremittingly to gather together the scattered members of a discontented congregation, and he has succeeded in doing much good in a place where a good shepherd was sorely needed”.
A poll to elect the Parish Churchwarden was subsequently organised – something which had not happened for over 30 years – at which William Wade was elected.
The Pioneer, which had supported Samuel Streets Potter, was duly ungracious in accepting the result, citing all sorts of underhand tactics indulged in by Mr. Wade’s supporters ….. special pleading by the Vicar and canvassing by his son, help from the Ritualists of Holy Trinity, a free supply of tea and/or beer for voters, Mr. Potter’s supporters arriving late at the poll station at which crowding and chaos made the casting of votes irregular and illegal.
In May 1881 the Bishop renewed the license of Dr. John Greenfield as Curate-in-charge for an additional year.
On hearing this news, his congregation passed a vote of thanks to the Bishop.
1882. John’s return.
However by February of 1882 it was announced that Rev. John Greenfield was to leave Ilkeston and the Vicar was to return …. and (ominously) ‘difficulties are threatening to distract the congregation’ (IA 1882)
At the end of April the sequestration upon the living of St. Mary’s was relaxed by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield, who also and at the same time removed the inhibition upon the Rev. Dr. Eyre – an inhibition which had lasted for two and a half years.
The Rev. Nash Eyre now returned to preach from the pulpit at the Parish Church.
But almost immediately the Vicar faced further difficulties when charges of immorality were laid against him by Robert William Mills Nesfield, agent for the Duke of Rutland, Bartholomew Wilson, Richard Smith Potts and John Wombell.
The clergyman was ‘accused’ of committing adultery with his former housekeeper Mrs. Sain, of failing to keep a promise to marry her and then attempting to compensate her for the injuries inflicted upon her by his failings — all actions ‘unbecoming a clergyman’ thereby bringing ‘great scandal upon the Church’ and contrary to the Church Discipline Act of 1840.
Under the instructions of the Bishop of Lichfield a Commission of Inquiry was organised at the Town Hall in early August to examine these ‘grave charges’.
(This was not a judicial process which could lead to a ‘sentence’ being handed done if a guilty verdict was returned; it was merely an inquiry to hear depositions and then report findings to the Bishop, who might then take further action based on those findings).
At the Inquiry there were preliminary arguments at which abstruse procedural issues were raised and discussed at length — all giving time for the chief witness Mrs. Sain to arrive from London.
Her train from King’s Cross was due to arrive mid-afternoon of the hearing but before she could be heard the case against the Rev. Eyre was abandoned.
The answer lay in the crucial time period between the alleged commission of the ‘offence’ and the commencement of proceedings to consider the charge.
The Act stated that this period was to be no more than two years.
Unfortunately for Messrs Nesfield, Wilson, Potts and Wombell the alleged adultery had taken place just over two years ago — before the Rev Eyre had left Ilkeston to take up duties at Chatham.
There was no case for further proceedings.
The Vicar left the Town Hall ‘with his friends jubilantly declaring the whole thing a farce’.
And the Advertiser passed on a piece of advice to the Rev Eyre’s detractors …
“See that you catch your hare before you cook it”
One of those detractors was of course John Wombell, proprietor of the Ilkeston Pioneer and one of the four who had promoted the charges against the Vicar.
The Pioneer now sought to find someone to blame for this fiasco … and its search didn’t take long to complete!!
The Bishop of Lichfield was singled out.
He had been informed of the Rev. Eyre’s misconduct in April of 1882 but had delayed to implement the Commission of Inquiry until the end of June.
“This is not the first occasion on which our episcopal chief has shown an indecision of character which might be overlooked in a parish priest but cannot be excused in a bishop”.
This sentiment was echoed by the Nottingham Journal: “The matter seems to have slipped from the Episcopal mind, overwhelmed as it is with the cares of a great diocese which extends as far as Shrewsbury”.
And by the end of June it was too late!! The Lord Bishop’s procrastination meant that the two year gap had been exceeded and the Commissioners could do nothing but return home, ‘leaving the Church of Ilkeston in disrepute’.
The Derby Mercury hinted that the Bishop had deliberately delayed the Inquiry while the Derbyshire Advertiser sincerely trusted that “the religious tone of the town will not be lowered in consequence of the … fiasco”.
Well, one can always live in hope!!
A month after John’s ‘narrow escape’ and he and his wife Alice Maud were celebrating again … this time the birth of their son Montague Henry at the Vicarage.
And then in December 1882, at a special meeting of the Ilkeston School Board, the Rev. Eyre was co-opted onto the Board, to take the place vacated by Samuel Streets Potter, erstwhile gentleman farmer of the Park who had left the town to start a new life in Colorado, USA, (and had died there a few months earlier). This nomination was opposed by Edwin Trueman who was present at the meeting only as an observing newspaper reporter .. and so had no right to voice an opinion or anything else!!
Edwin had narrowly lost out in the last 1881 School Board elections and so might have hoped that the vacant position be awarded to him… or at least not to the Vicar!!
and 1886 departure.
John Francis Nash Eyre died at the Vicarage, aged 57, on a Sunday morning in December 1886 after an illness of about two month’s duration.
Some sources attributed his death to ‘painter’s colic’ … lead poisoning contracted by sleeping in a newly-painted room.
At that time he had six children, three of them by his first wife.
He was chairman of the town’s School Board, having topped the poll at the last election. He was also vice-president of the Church Institute and chaplain to the Rutland Lodge of Freemasons.
Writing in the Pioneer a few days after the death, A Rambler was sufficiently politic in his vagueness;
“Of late years .. the deceased Vicar was oppressed with many troubles and anxieties of mind… He passed through trials and was subjected to buffetings such as would have long ago put an end to the life of many men with the strongest constitutions; and now that he has gone to his account it would be both indecent and cruel to dwell upon imperfections, the existence of which his greatest friends would not deny”.
The newspaper had been consistently critical of the late vicar for several years but now A Rambler felt than he could also be warm(ish) in his assessment;
“His ready sympathy with the poor, and his willingness to help others even when he was probably in equal need of assistance himself, made him popular with a large section of the lower classes, and accounted no doubt for the honourable position he occupied at the last School Board election. Nor can it be truthfully said that the Vicar was a man who bore malice towards those who often found it necessary to criticise his actions in the most severe language. The out-stretched hand was ever ready for a hearty shake, and there was no mistake about the genuineness of his greeting.
“Yet, much as the rev. gentleman has been condemned, and (sorry though I am to say it) deservedly so, not a few will have cause to regret that he has been called hence in what may be termed the very prime of life”.
John Francis Nash Eyre was buried with his first wife in St. Mary’s churchyard on December 30th 1886 “amid many manifestations of regret, some thousands of people gathering in the Church Yard and Market Place, to witness the procession and ceremony”. (DT Jan 1887). Shops were closed and blinds drawn.
The coffin was borne by six members of the Rutland Lodge of Freemasons — of which John had been the Chaplain — and after the religious ceremony the Freemasons ‘bade farewell to a departed brother… with clapping of hands and the throwing of sprigs of green into the grave’.
(The last clergyman dying in Ilkeston was the Rev. S.(sic) Moxon, who died exactly 50 years ago. (DM) .. this was Richard Moxon, curate at Ilkeston)
After a very short hiatus the Rev. Edward Muirhead Evans M.A. (Corpus Christie College, Cambs), vicar of Sandgate, Kent, where he had served since 1881, then took up the living at Ilkeston in May 1887 — the day before the first municipal election in the town.
(And thus got a ‘pay rise of £120 per year!! … based upon the relative value of the livings at Sandgate and Ilkeston).
No doubt the church bell-ringers were on hand to welcome him.