Following the death of the Reverend Edward Thomas March Phillips, his curate, Edward Smythies was appointed Rector of Hathern Parish Church. He proved to be unpopular with many of his parishioners, and his life here in the village was marked by a series of unfortunate events and court actions.
Edward Smythies was born in 1818 at Crondall in Hampshire. He graduated from Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1842, and was ordained as a priest two years later. He was subsequently appointed curate at Bitteswell , Shepshed, Sutton Bonington, Newbold-on-Avon and, finally, at Hathern from 1844. During this time he married Miss Elizabeth March Phillips, daughter of the much-loved Reverend Edward Thomas March Phillipps. On the death of his father-in-law, Edward was presented to the living at Hathern by Mr. Charles March Phillipps, the last Protestant Squire of Garendon. He became Rector of Hathern in 1859 and remained in post until his death. He was also Rural Dean from 1876 until around 1871, and Chairman of the Leicestershire Chamber of Commerce and served on the Loughborough Board of Guardians.
Edward and Elizabeth had eight children, six of them sons. Their first child, Edward Henry Phillips Smythies, was born on 25 August1846, but he unfortunately died in infancy.Arthur Smythies was born in1848. He served in the Indian Woods and Forests Department and he wrote several treatises on the subject of forestry for the use of the students at the Imperial Forests School. Frederick Kynnersley Smythies was born in 1849. His son, Wilfred, born in 1876, died at sea in May 1898 aboard the ship Benin. There is a memorial plaque to him in the south aisle of Hathern Church. The couple’s fourth son, Walter James Smythies, was born in 1851. In 1898 his life ended violently in Argentina in 1898 when a local man and ex-employee slashed his throat. The elder daughter, Mary Emily Smythies, was born 1853. She was followed in 1854 by Edward Powell Smythies who became a Commander in the Royal Navy; he died in1930. The last two children wereFrances Elizabeth Ethel Smythies, born in 1856 and Harold Parkinson Smythies who was born in 1858 and died at the age of 19 years at Hathern Rectory.
Edward’s first wife, Elizabeth Smythies, (pictured here) died in 1866, and two years later he married Miss Georgina Bucknill. After a stormy career in the village, he became seriously ill and died on 7 October 1891 at the age of 75 years. The funeral took place at Hathern Church, and his grave is visible in the churchyard close to the South door. It is noticeable that no members of the Church Vestry Committee are listed among those attending his burial. Their absence may be explained by the animosity between the Rector and certain members of the committee during the last few years of his life. During his incumbency there were a number of serious disputes between him and this committee, together with many other individuals. Theseresulted in the involvement of Edward Smythies in a series of civil and criminal court proceedings between 1854 and 1891. It could be argued that his ministry was judged in the light of the achievements of his predecessor, the Rev. E.T. March Phillipps, and that he fell short in terms of his moral and spiritual commitment to his flock. It appears that he was particularly intolerant of Nonconformists, and he was unforgiving and vindictive towards those whom he perceived to have slighted him.
Court proceedings involving the Reverend Edward Smythies
The Leicestershire Mercury, Saturday 15 July 1854. Report of a hearing in the Loughborough County Court in which E. Smythies successfully claimed £1 damages from the defendant. The latter had sent a servant to Loughborough market, and the defendant sold him two pigs, but refused to give him change.
Civil suit Smythies v Dutton. This concerned the quality of potatoes Smythies purchased from Mr. Dutton. Verdict: judgement for the defendant, with expenses of one day.
March 26. Sampson Gadd claimed a balance of £8s.2d from E. Smythies for decorating and alterations to a cupboard. Smythies maintained that Gadd overcharged him since the sum of 15s was excessive, and that Gadd did not work the time he charged for. He also produced a valuation that stated that Gadd had been overpaid for the work. The case was adjourned pending a second valuation.
Loughborough County Court, 15 November 1862. Thomas Hutchinson claimed £6.2s balance of tenant right from Smythies. The latter tried to have the sum set off against fencing materials and a promised subscription to the restoration of Hathern Church. The judge viewed the set-off as ridiculous and the matter was left to the valuers.
County Court, February 17th 1968. Action by Edward Smythies against a horse dealer from Loughborough for recovery of £23.19s.2d damages. He claimed that the horses he had purchased from him were unsound. The jury found for the defendant.
Court, December 1870. Smythies was the defendant in an action brought by Mr. Edward Lowe, a parishioner. He claimed that Smythies had tampered with voting returns in order to deprive him of his right to be waywarden of the parish. The jury found for the plaintiff who agreed to reduce the damages from Smythies from £20 to one shilling since he had achieved his goal, namely a favourable legal judgement.
At a further court hearing, Smythies successfully made a complaint that he had been charged an excessive toll fee in Hathern. The defendant was fined 6d with costs.
Meeting of the Loughborough Highway Board on 4 April. They had received a letter from Smythies and a copy of a printed letter circulated by him. It was resolved to initiate proceedings against him in the County Court in order to recover £10 damages for the trespass he had committed.
County Court April 1872. Loughborough Highway Board against E. Smythies. Allegation that he broke into an enclosure called Moley Rock near Shepshed, removing 30-40 tons of granite, the property of the Board. The judge concluded that he would formally find a verdict for the plaintiffs, and would grant a case for the Queen’s Bench if they desired.
May 28 1874, Meeting of the Loughborough Highway Board. By agreement of both parties, the dispute between the Board and Smythies had been left to an arbitrator. He concluded that there was no case for either side. The Board paid legal expenses. Smythies had written an unpleasant letter on May 16th to the Waywarden, mentioning malice and spite and wicked machinations. He threatened to sue the Board if they replaced the locks on the quarry gate. The case grumbled on for a total of six years.
Continuing the quarry saga, Smythies sought leave to appeal against the verdict. The Chairman of the Bench stated that the appeal would be dismissed, and no order was made as to costs.
April, May and June 1877. Further court sessions in the dispute between The Loughborough Highway Board v. Smythies. It was stated that in 1864 Smythies had claimed the right for himself and other parishioners to use the stone for parish purposes and for private dwellings in the village. He stated that the land had been the property of John Hassall and that it was later sold to certain parishioners for £8, but no formal legal conveyance existed. There followed a protracted discussion about the ownership of the land and the right of access to the stone. Eventually the Judge found for Smythies. An appeal was launched by the Board; the case was heard on 15 June and a new trial was ordered.
Loughborough Petty Sessions. Smythies appeared before the Bench stating that he wished to make an application on behalf of 14 ratepayers to appoint an overseer for the parish; a Mr. Woolley said that Mr. Dutton was already an overseer. The matter was adjourned for a week.
Leicester Spring Assizes, 30 March 1878. Nisi Prius Court. Common jury case, Hull v. Smythies. Hull claimed to recover the price of beasts sold and delivered to defendant. He said that Smythies had asked him to supply some Herefords, and he delivered 14 shorthorns at £12 each. Smythies refused to pay, offering him £11.10s, and the matter was put in the hands of solicitors. The jury returned a verdict in favour of the plaintiff that the beasts were worth £12 a head, and Smythies was obliged to pay the sum in full.
It is apparent that relations had deteriorated markedly between Edward Smythies and certain members of the Vestry Committee during the latter part of 1888 or even earlier. On 2 February 1889 an article appeared in the Leicester Chronicle and Mercury entitled The Rector of Hathern and his Parishioners. Remarkable Correspondence, giving an account of two letters from Edward Smythies to William Tollington who instigated the following legal action:
Police Court, Loughborough, 29th January 1889. Mr. Deane, representing William Tollington, requested an application for a summons against Smythies to be bound to be of good behaviour. Two letters were produced to the court that were signed by Smythies and addressed to William Tollington.
In the first, dated 27 December 1888, Smythies addressed Tollington as “a most unmitigated little blackguard, a man of ignorance and deceit...an infamous little brute” He claimed that Tollington would not allow him to see his dying wife or allow her to have the bottle of wine he had brought. He claimed that Tollington’s wife was dying because of his “continued brutal ill-treatment” and “lack of nourishment.” Tollington’s solicitor wrote to Smythies asking him to withdraw the accusations, but Smythies replied that his charges were not libellous as they were made in a private letter; he made no apology or offer of withdrawal. Tollington’s counsel said that Smythies had written to a member of the press making the same allegations. It is likely that Mrs. Tollington’s emaciated appearance was caused by consumption, from which she died shortly afterwards.
On 16 January 1889, Smythies sent a second letter to Tollington, calling him a “mean and scandalous liar.” Tollington requested that the court to issue a summons against Smythies and make him enter sureties of good behaviour. The Magistrate, sitting alone, referred the matter to a fuller court.
Loughborough Police Court, 6 February 1889. The case was resumed. The bench said they had carefully considered the case, but decided that they could not grant the application for a summons as Smythies had not made any threats of physical violence.
Saturday 6 July 1889. The Leicester Chronicle published an open letter from Smythies to the “The Ratepayers of Hathern” dated 22 June 1889.
On 29 November 1889 a haystack belonging to Edward Smythies was set on fire in his field on the Whatton Road. No arrests appear to have been made in connection with the fire.
Loughborough Police Court, 1 January 1890. John Berrington, framework knitter from Hathern Turn, was convicted of stealing a quantity of wood from the Rev. E. Smythies. Fined 30s or 14 days’ imprisonment.
Leicestershire Assizes February 1890. Mr. John Moss, butcher and farmer, brought a successful action against Smythies for slander. He was awarded £80 damages and costs.
Leicester Chronicle 1 March 1890, Another “Pastorale” from the Rector. This is an article describing a vestry meeting at Hathern Church on 30 April 1890 to nominate parish officers for the ensuing year. Correspondence from the Diocese was presented that referred to communications between Smythies and the Bishop. Smythies had questioned the legal entitlement of the Nonconformist, Mr. H. Mitchell, to continue as People’s Churchwarden. The Rector was absent from the meeting, having written to say that he would not attend “with a gang who have already taken to incendiarism, and will probably go on to dynamite.” Those present expressed their shock at this letter, and they voted to forward it to the Bishop. They then considered a further letter sent by Edward Smythies on 10 February 1890 in which he stated that the appointment of Mr. Mitchell was illegal, and he referred to the “wickedest” reputation of Hathern and made vague allegations of dishonesty in the handling of the Hathern Charity Estate.
Leicester Chronicle, 12 April 1890, reported on “A Lively Vestry Meeting.” The Rector presided over the meeting in which there was discussion about the legality of the post of People’s Churchwarden, held by Mr. H. Mitchell from 1886. Differences between him and the Rector had grumbled on since the previous year. There was a majority vote electing Mr. Mitchell as a Churchwarden, who then asked the Rector to turn the books over to him. Edward Smythies refused to do so and closed the meeting. Editor's note. If you look in the newspaper archive for early 1890 you can see the dispute rumbling on. Followin you can also see the remarkable handbill produced by Rev. Smythies and the furious response from Messrs. Tollington and Mitchell.
Leicester Chronicle, 8 February 1890, reported on “An extraordinary Scene” at the annual meeting of the trustees of the Hathern Charity Estate on 6 February. Mr. Smythies asked Mr. H. Mitchell to leave the meeting as he was not a legally elected Churchwarden. He refused to leave, and the Rector called in a policeman to eject him, but the Constable refused to do so.
Loughborough Petty Sessions 16 April 1890, Cross-Summonses. The Reverend Smythies was charged with assaulting John Berrington. The Rector had entered the framework knitter’s shop on Derby Road for a third time that day in order to provoke him with accusations that it was he who ahd set light to his haystack and an adjacent hovel during the previous year. They had came to blows in the presence of Mrs. Berrington and her three small children. A counter-summons was brought by Edward Smythies. The Bench dismissed both parties, ordering them to pay their own costs.
The Hathern Burial Scandal. The funeral of Mrs. Harriett Randon, 15 October 1890.
A new scandal rocked the village in October concerning the funeral of Mrs. Harriett Randon. At the Loughborough Police Court, on 3 December 1890, Mr. Thomas Randon applied for a summons against the Reverend Smythies for causing delay to the burial of his wife Harriet on 15 October. The Rector met the celebrant, a Nonconformist Minister, at the churchyard gate and demanded possession of the death certificate. The Minister refused to hand it over as he alone was legally entitled to hold it. Smythies then instructed the sexton to lock the churchyard gates to prevent the burial of Mrs. Randon. The gates remained locked for 20 minutes and an unseemly scene ensued in the presence of the coffin and mourners. Two weeks later the Court reconvened and it was decided to withdraw the case after an expression of regret was eventually extracted from Edward Smythies. The Court clarified that Smythies did not have the legal right to demand death certificates from Nonconformist ministers.
Queen’s Bench Division 19 June 1891. Alleged libel case Pinnock v Smythies.Damages of 100 guineas and costs were awarded to the plaintiff, Mr. Pinnock, who was acting on behalf the Imperial Fire Offices in a case against the Reverend E. Smythies. He made a claim in respect a fire that had occurred at Whatton Row Farm, one of the farms he owned. Mr. Pinnock was sent to assess the damage. After the visit Smythies wrote “certain letters” to the Imperial Fire Offices alleging that Mr. Pinnock was guilty of improper conduct at his visit.
Within a few months of this last entanglement with the law the Reverend Edward Smythies was dead. He must have been a very unhappy man who made the lives of many Hathern people intolerable. The contrast between him and his saintly father-in-law, the Reverend Edward Thomas March Phillips could not have been greater.
Source : article by Andree Bagley