Edward Arundel Verity (1822-1910) was a parish priest who was accused of stealing his church’s silver and an army chaplain who claimed to have worked with Florence Nightingale. He was eccentric, radical and one of the more colourful parish priests.
He was born in Bridgend, Glamorgan, one of the fourteen children of a physician, Dr Abraham Verity, and his wife Catherine née Jenkins. Like his brothers, Edward originally trained as a doctor of medicine, but abandoning this, entered St David’s College, Lampeter in 1841. He was elected senior scholar in June 1844. He was awarded a BD in 1853, (the first year the college awarded the qualification).
Verity’s first clerical post was as curate of Trawden, in Lancashire. He later commented that he was ‘as much fitted for the people of the district as Livingstone [was] for Unyanembe in Africa.’ He is said to have preached his first sermon in lilac-coloured gloves and to have spoken in any accent none of his parishioners could understand. However, he was ordained priest in 1845 and appointed as first vicar of a new church, All Saints, Habergham, on the outskirts of Burnley. At this time, services were still being held in the school. The church, built by Sir James Kay Shuttleworth of Gawthorpe Hall and John and James Dugdale of Lowerhouse at a cost of £5 200, was opened in 1849. Initially Verity’s relations with the two wealthy families were good. However, a quarrel arose. Verity later attributed this to his support for the Ten Hours Bill, restricting the working hours of women and thirteen- to eighteen-year-olds to ten a day. Ironically, it is likely the Dugdales treated their employees relatively well. However, Verity had lost the approval of his powerful patrons. The Dugdales and Shuttleworths refused to provide a parsonage.
Verity was financially illiterate and, by the 1850s, he was in financial difficulties. He had lent £350 to his father-in-law, William Turner; Turner repaid the debt in September 1854, but went bankrupt shortly afterwards. In March 1855, his creditors brought an action against Verity to recover the money, arguing that the repayment constituted ‘fraudulent preference’ for a family member as against the other debtors.
Hearing of the shortage of chaplains, Verity volunteered to serve in the Crimea, leaving a curate in charge at Habergham. He mentioned the hospital at Scutari in his diary, but not Florence Nightingale. However, he later claimed to have met her. The places he visited included Balaclava, Sebastopol, Inkerman, Varna and Shumla. He then rode from Adrianople to Bucharest on horseback, describing his adventures in a book Adventures in European Turkey or a Ride over the Balkan Mountains. No copies of this appear to have survived.
He returned home in 1856. Although he was judged bankrupt and spent three months in prison, he was adamant that nothing would make him resign his living at Habergham. Sir James Kay Shuttleworth, however, offered the living to Arthur Nicholls, the husband of a family friend, Charlotte Brontë. Nicholls declined the post; Charlotte wrote to her friend Ellen Nussey, ‘… a strong wish was expressed that Arthur should come, but that is out of the question.’
Verity became interested in trade union activities, earning a reputation as one of the very few radical Church of England clergymen. He addressed several meetings during the Padiham Weavers’ strike of 1859. He was also involved in the Colne Weavers’ Strike and supported the Sheffield Cutlers. He loved controversy and he could talk or preach on any subject at almost a moment’s notice. He compared the mill workers to white slaves and the mill owners to slave holders, comparing the mills themselves to dens of iniquity. He also spoke in many towns in favour of the trade union movement.
Matters got worse when a silver communion set, given by the Dugdales, disappeared. Verity eventually admitted selling it for scrap and keeping the profits! An entry in the burials register for 1870 notes that ‘On Whitsunday June 5th the Communion Silver Service was stolen from this Church and not returned.’ Verity claimed that the set had been given to him personally in lieu of pew rents. However, the churchwardens brought the case before Liverpool Assizes on 23 December 1870. The jury found against Verity, and he was ordered to pay the value of the original silver, plus substantial costs.
Then in 1872 Verity was accused of breaking into the churchyard to dig up the corpses of John Dawson, who had died in 1871, and Alice Parker, who died in 1869. Verity was said to have buried their bodies, together with those of two children of William Beardsworth, in other graves. At Verity’s trial, he explained that John Dawson had been buried in a grave promised to someone else. Someone had requested Alice Parker’s grave so he could bury his second wife next to his first. Verity said that over the years about twenty bodies had been moved.
Taking advantage of his infamy, Verity began a lecture tour of north-east Lancashire, speaking on ‘The facts and incidents of my life in Lancashire; my trial and the lessons which may be learned from it.’ In one lecture, he described his parishioners as ‘A rude, brutal lot to whom marriage was almost unknown: dirty and smelly: living three or four families to a house.’
Despite everything, Verity remained as incumbent in Habergham for forty-four years, only resigning in 1893. He married twice; his first wife was Jane Isabella Turner. After she died in 1857, he remarried Jane Bibby, the daughter of his churchwarden. He was the father of fourteen children; sadly, seven of these died in childhood. Verity and his second wife, Jane, eventually went to live with their son, Frederick Abraham, in Castleton, near Rochdale. Verity died there in August 1910. He was buried at Habergham with his second wife. Twelve hundred people are said to have attended his funeral.
The Times. Obituary. The Rev. E.A. Verity. The Times. 25 August 1910. Available from: https://go-gale-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/ps/retrieve.do?tabID=Newspapers&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&searchResultsType=SingleTab&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm¤tPosition=12&docId=GALE%7CCS152238873&docType=Obituary&sort=Pub+Date+Forward+Chron&contentSegment=ZTMA-MOD1&prodId=TTDA&contentSet=GALE%7CCS152238873&searchId=R12&userGroupName=walamp&inPS=true&ps=1&cp=12 [Accessed 30 April 2020]
Lancashire Online Parish Clerks. The church of All Saints, Habergham in the county of Lancashire. Available from: https://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Burnley/Habergham-and-Habergham-Eaves/allsaints/index.html. [Accessed 30 April 2020]
Brigg, M. Life in east Lancashire, 1856-60: a newly discovered diary of John O’Neil (John Ward), weaver, of Clitheroe. Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire. 1968;120:87-133. Available from: https://www.hslc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/120-7-Brigg.pdf [Accessed 1 May 2020]
Verity, T.E.A., edited by Ward, J.T., (1977). Edward Arundel Verity, vicar of Habergham: an Anglican parson of the Industrial Revolution. Transactions / Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, 79,73-94
Hall, B. (1990). ‘Parson sham?’ – the Rev. Edward Arundel Verity. Lancashire Local Historian, 5, 15-27