Eleanor Relle introduces a catholic pioneer

“Sissie and I to Mission Service/Mr Boys, at All Saints at 4. No canonical 3 hymns. 2 extempore prayers. Exposition on Union of Believers with Christ ignoring the Church’s means of Union.”

This entry in the diary of Mrs Frances Scudamore (21 February, 1876) tells us, not only what kind of Lent she was having, but also why she and her husband Frederick were among a group of motivated Maidstone people who had for some time been engaged in planning for a new church on the western side of their town, and why they had had a particular sense of the kind of church it ought to be. In fact the foundation stone for St Michael and All Angels’ had then already been laid, and the consecration was to take place during the following October.

While it included a lingering early Tractarian presence in the form of Archdeacon Benjamin Harrison, the ecclesiastical scene in Maidstone at the time had to a considerable extent been dominated not only by its magnificent 15th-century church of All Saints but also, for over 20 years, by the distinctly dour and almost Calvinist presence of the incumbent of All Saints’, David Dale Stewart. Stewart was well connected: he was a grandson of the 10th Chief of Clan Appin, and his wedding, at St George’s, Hanover Square, had been conducted by Archbishop Sumner of Canterbury in 1854 – in which year Stewart had also been presented to the substantial living of Maidstone, whose patron was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Not all the half-dozen Maidstone churches founded or extended in the Victorian era came under the direct influence of All Saints’ and Stewart, but something of the on-the-ground relationship is evident from a report in the Church Chronicle for January 1870: “Early Morning Prayer is shortly to be commenced in the parish church of All Saints, Maidstone, on four days in the week, the clergy of the other churches having agreed to assist the vicar in carrying out this desirable return to the former custom of the parish.” This at a time when All Saints’ had two curates as well as its vicar.

Maidstone was meanwhile continuing to expand, especially westward across the Medway from the town centre, and the little medieval church on that side of the river would not, even with its Victorian additions, accommodate the increased population.

So much for Maidstone; a similar story could no doubt be told of many English towns of its time. What of the Scudamores? They, too, were probably far from untypical, and in encountering them at 140 years’ distance, we are no doubt meeting a type as well as a family of individuals – the non-clerical, non-aristocratic Tractarians from whom, possibly without being aware of it, we have inherited so much. 

Building on the foundations of his father and his elder brother, Frederick Scudamore had achieved a distinguished legal career in the county town, and from 1861 (with a single year’s intermission) was to hold the position of Under-Sheriff of the County of Kent until his death in 1889. He and his wife Frances moved in the 1860s from a house in the centre of Maidstone, which was close to his office and surrounded by commercial premises, to a handsome ragstone residence, built in 1837, on the western side of the town, where farmland was now interspersed with growing streets of houses. Its name, the Manor House, was perhaps a flight of fancy, as were some aspects of its architecture (one chimney stack is adorned with what looks like a cruciform arrow-slit), but it was commodious without being pretentious. It had a large garden with a tennis court, a stable and coach-house, pig-sties and a chicken-run, orchards and meadows with cows and sheep. For the purposes of the 1871 census, Frederick had become “Solicitor and Landowner”, and it was part of this land – the first of many generous gifts – that he presented to become the site for the new church. 

Curious to know more about the circumstances in which my parish church came into being, I consulted the well-researched guidebook written by Mr David Cleggett in 1989. Even at that time, there were no longer any Scudamores in Maidstone, and my attempts to locate any family correspondence have so far been fruitless. Two further resources did, however, prove to be available to me: the exemplary single-name website produced by the genealogists of the Scudamore family, and the diary, now in the Kent Archives, of Frances Scudamore herself. The former illuminates the latter, but is also suggestive in another respect, which I have not yet managed to verify.

Frederick’s father was one of five sons of William Scudamore, a surgeon at Wye in Kent. Frederick thus had a number of Scudamore cousins, one of whom, six years older than himself, was the Revd William Edward Scudamore (1813-1881), who briefly held a Fellowship at St John’s College, Cambridge, and afterwards became Rector of Ditchingham in Norfolk. The Oxford Movement was making itself felt at Cambridge too during William’s years there, and at Ditchingham William proved himself a dedicated Tractarian parish priest. He devoted himself to a series of building projects, including a House of Mercy for prostitutes from Norwich, staffed by the All Hallows Sisters, of whom he was the first Warden. He was also a prolific author, his published works ranging from the scholarly and doctrinal (Notitia Eucharistica, 1872 and 1876) to the devotional (his Steps to the Altar, 1846,  remained in print until the 1920s). Although I have not yet discovered evidence of regular contact between William and his younger cousin Frederick, the fact that Frederick had a similarly Tractarian outlook and devoted so much of his money and energy to building a church does look like more than a coincidence.

As for the diaries kept by Frances: with one significant gap, they cover a period between 1849 and 1886. I have scarcely scratched the surface – and, as I had a particular agenda at the time, I began reading during the run-up to the laying of the foundation stone of St Michael’s in 1875 and the consecration of the church in 1876. Although the present closure of the Archives has made it impossible for me to explore further at present, what I have so far found has enabled me to make the acquaintance of a devout, committed, determined woman, and to see something of her life at a period when she was helping to get a new church onto its feet while at the same time overseeing the livestock and produce of the Manor House property, supporting her husband, fulfilling various duties in local society, and sometimes getting some serious reading done. 

She also had the family and the servants to attend to. At this point in their lives the Scudamores had a daughter, Frances Elizabeth (born 1854), and a son, Frederick William (born 1857). Their mother nearly always refers to them as “darling Sissie” and “darling Freddie” – which sounds less like Victorian sentimentality when one realises that before Sissie’s birth the Scudamores had been married for 11 years with no children, and that another son, Arthur (born 1859), had died at the age of five. On 1st November 1876 Frances writes: “Made cross…Sissie drove Clara to cemetery with my cross for my darling.” The cross, presumably made of greenery from the garden, would have been on the child’s grave in time for All Souls’ Day, but it looks as if, even after so many years, Frances could not face placing it there herself. Nor was she destined to see much of her living son; Freddie, perhaps surprisingly, was going to make his career not in the law but in the army – possibly inspired by Major-General Arthur Scudamore, one of Frederick’s brothers – and in 1875, his final year at Wellington College, he was one of 500 candidates in the competitive examination for Sandhurst. “The list out,” wrote his mother on 13th January 1876. “Darling Freddie 52 out of 100 successful candidates…Thank God for His great goodness!”  Never is there any sign that Frances repined at the prospect of having a soldier son, but she was anxious; her entry for 14th February reads: “Our darling Freddie left for Sandhurst at 10.15. God bless him and keep him from all evil!”  And then, on a more cheerful note, “Darling Sissie had 10 Valentines.” The household at the Manor House also included Frederick’s unmarried elder sister Benedicta Louisa; the cook, who also received “dairy wages” (“Fuss with cook over late milking” notes Frances on 9th May 1876); and two maids (“Grand row with Harriet found by Fred romping at the garden gate!” on 8th August – however, Harriet was still in the family’s service at the next census – a reformed character, one hopes). The groom and the gardeners seem to have lived off the premises, and there must have been some other help with the animals, though it is clear that Frances herself kept a close eye on the agricultural side of the property, recording in her diary the number of sieves of cherries picked in the orchard and the number of piglets produced by the “new £6 sow”. Even some of her roses went to Covent Garden to be sold.

Meanwhile, ecclesiastical politics cast particular shadows over the years during which St Michael’s was built and opened, especially perhaps in Kent. Official hostility to anything that smacked of “Ritualism” was in the air. The Purchas Judgement (1871) had been followed by the Public Worship Regulation Act (1874), and proceedings against the Revd Charles Joseph Ridsdale of St Peter’s, Folkestone, initiated by Archbishop Campbell Tait, led to Ridsdale’s prosecution – the Folkestone Ritual Case – in 1875. Then as now, Maidstone was in the diocese of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Canterbury was its diocesan bishop. The Scudamores were evidently plain Tractarians rather than advanced Anglo-Catholics, but here and there one senses in Frances’ diary her response to the challenges and tensions that accompanied the bringing into existence of a Tractarian church almost in Archbishop Tait’s back yard. While it was of course the men who acted as trustees or had seats on the building committee, the feminine point of view provided by her diary bears witness to a consistent, intelligent commitment to the kind of Christian life that Frances herself was determined to lead, and wanted to make possible for others. In some further articles I hope to do justice to Frances, not only as a local lady of the Victorian period, but as almost certainly a representative of countless lay people, all over the country, whose contribution to the life of the church in their own time is too easily forgotten over a century later, but whose legacy we are still enjoying today and whose dedication might still have the power to challenge us now.

Eleanor Relle is a Reader at St Michael and All Angels’, Maidstone.