Mystery of the Missing Curate

Distressing Occurrence 1843

That’s how the Leeds Intelligencer reported the death of the Rev Thomas Dawson Lumb, Curate of Methley after his body had been recovered from the River Aire at Swillington Bridge on  Wednesday 17th December, 1843.

One week earlier the curate had left his residence at the Churchside House, Methley never to be seen alive again by family or friends.   His lifeless body was found in the river at  Swillington Bridge (Woodlesford) one week later.     The Inquest was held on the 23rd December at the Lowthers Arms, Swillington Bridge before Mr Jewison, Coroner and a  verdict of ’Found Drowned’ was delivered.

His absence on that fateful 10th and following days must have been a great source of anguish  and worry to his wife Priscilla and their three teenage daughters at the family home (Elizabeth, Emma and Fanny), as well as the two older sons who had by now left the home to make their  own way.

The Rev. Lumb was officially reported missing the following day and efforts would have been made by the constabulary to ascertain   his movements, including the new post  carrier who would have been requested to make enquiries between Methley and Wakefield.

The possibility that his body could have entered the water at Leeds would certainly have been  considered, it being seven days before recovery at Swillington Bridge. The possibility of him being attacked and robbed by footpads must have also been in the minds of the authorities.    It could also have been thought that an accident had occurred to the poor man  – it is highly unlikely that the local people could have contemplated that he would have taken his own life.

Looking back we can see that the Reverend Gentleman was a very busy man for most of his tenure at Methley (1821 – 1843) where he was curate under the Rector the Hon. Archibald  Hamilton Cathcart.   This same man who also held the Rectorship of nearby Kippax where he resided, and in the later years of his life he was the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding  of Yorkshire – a position to which he applied himself with due importance.   From this, it is not difficult to deduce that the time of Rev Dawson Lumb was fully taken up by filling in on most of  the services, fulfilling the sacraments, burials and other parochial duties for his often unavailable rector.

We know that the curate did not enjoy a satisfactory income by the fact that he ran  private  schooling from his house at church side.   There is little doubt that he would have made pleas for increased salary to both the Rev. Cathcart and his successor in that last year, the Rev.  Phillip Yorke Savile.      None of us would know the outcome of such representations.

It is at this stage I am grateful to Leeds City Library for sending me a copy of the the report in the Leeds Mercury of 23rd Dec.  I am also indebted to Debbie Cunnew a descendant of the  Lumb family who was interested enough to both raise the matter and then send me a copy of the last Will and Testament of one Richard Lumb of Well Green Swillington dated 16th September, 1840 and who was the uncle of Thomas Dawson Lumb.

The newspaper reported as follows:-
Melancholy Event
An inquest was held on Wednesday night last
At the Lowthers Arms, Swillington Bridge, on view of the body of
the Rev. Thomas Dawson Lumb, curate of Methley.  It appeared
that the deceased had left the Lowthers Arms about half past four
o’clock on Wednesday, 10th December, and was last seen to walk
towards the riverside.   He was missing the following morning, and
nothing was seen or heard of him till Wednesday last, when his body
was found in the river Aire.   The supposition is that he had fallen
into the water whilst getting over some rails near the bank of the
river, the night being exceedingly foggy at the time.
Verdict  ’Found Drowned’

The will of Richard Lumb names his nephew, Thomas Dawson Lumb as a beneficiary to  receive all his plate and plated goods (silver) with certain exceptions.

In addition he bequeathed the sum of £216. 16s 6p which was a sum owed to him by this  nephew and which may have been more a sum of borrowings rather than one individual transaction.   The will also instructed that arrears of interest should be paid quarterly  amounting to £8 annually to the sister of Richard Lumb during her lifetime. The residue was to be shared by other nephews and nieces.

It is now possible to see that the poor fellow had  been borrowing money from the uncle and it would appear that he had not been meeting payments nor covering interest for the monies.   In an act of kindness Richard Lumb had  effectively written off the debt by bequeathing the value of the debt to his nephew and at the same time he had made provision for restitution to be made regarding payment of interest.

It is not known if the Rev. Dawson Lumb was aware of the content of the will.  However it is clear now that the will contained nothing to suggest that any other member of the family could  significantly gain from the death of Dawson Lumb.

The supposition that he was the victim of an accident in the dark, accepted by the coroner was more than likely a case of  ensuring that the poor man received a proper and dignified burial which may not have been the case if the verdict had been that he took his own life.    Most people will accept that  he was underpaid with little prospect of financial improvement in his circumstances from his superiors past and present, and along with fears and worries concerning the amount of debt  owed to his uncle will take the view that he took his own life.

Additionally we know that an act of parliament was passed in 1844 to allow for the  conveyance and endowment of sites for new schools,  which later paved the way for the new school to be built at the church side. News of this forthcoming legislation would have been disastrous to the curate.

The tragic loss of his son, Richard Robert in July 1838 as a result of a gunshot accident would certainly have been another factor contributing to his melancholia.  A report from the Leeds Intelligencer of the incident, also describes the popularity and personality of the lad which as shown :-

Intelligencer Lumb Jnr.

It certainly would be possible to accept the view that he took his own life……However, why after seven days was the body pulled out of the river at the same place as its supposed entry  when by this time it should have been either lodged on the wier at Fleet Mills or in the old river at Methley?      We will never know.

20th April, 2008
E-mail from Stan Driver near Holmfirth:-

I read your article on Thomas with great interest, and broadly agree with its conclusions.  I may be able to add to your analysis of Thomas’s financial situation. I noted that the Rev. Hon.  Archibald Hamilton Cathcart generally only turned out for events related to the Savile family;  Thomas did all the other baptisms, marriages and funerals, so I believe he would have  received the fees. However after 20 years faithful service by Thomas as  curate, Philip Yorke Savile, third son of the Earl of Mexborough, and 19 years  Thomas’s junior, was appointed as  the new Rector. I don’t know whether Thomas  had had any hopes of preferment to the living, but if so, they were dashed, while at the age of 47 he may have been rather old to ask the  Archbishop for a living elsewhere. 

 A few more  interesting facts about Thomas are: he was born in Barrowby in Garforth Parish, son of Robert Lumb, a schoolmaster, and Mary Robinson, and baptised in Swillington on 11  Feb 1795. (Robert’s father, William, was schoolmaster of Swillington from 1762 to 1801). His parents moved to Lowther, Westmorland, between 1801 and 1804. Thomas was  educated at ApplebySchool, and subsequently at St John’sCollege, Cambridge, from 1815. He received his BA in  1819. Having been ordained Priest in York on 17 Dec 1820, he took  up the curacy at Methley on 1 Feb 1821, and got straight to work. He officiated at several  baptisms in Methley up to 25 Feb, got married at Orton in Westmorland to Priscilla Wilkin  on 29 Feb, and was back officiating at a baptism in Methley on 4 Mar. Some travelling for the times!
Thomas gained his MA in 1822 (presumably he couldn’t afford to pay for it until then) and  signed the register Thos Dawson  Lumb A.M. from time to time thereafter. Priscilla Wilkin was the sister of  Harriet Wilkin, wife of Thomas’s elder brother.

30th April 2008
ollow up correspondence by Stan:-
Dear Bill
I have now done some more work on Thomas Dawson Lumb. As usual, the situation is more complicated than I supposed at first. 

I did a disservice to the Hon. Rev. Archibald Hamilton Cathcart. Although it is true he did almost no work in Methley, he was also Vicar of Kippax. He carried out by far the majority  of the work of baptisms, marriages and burials in that Parish, right up until his death at the age of 77  in 1841. He may have been Deputy Lord Lieutenant, but he certainly didn’t treat his  ecclesiastical appointment as a sinecure, as I had mistakenly thought.
Given  the distance from Kippax to Methley, and the lack of a direct bridge between the  two,  it was obviously essential to have a curate to perform the duties in the Parish he did not live in. In Methley, Rev. Cathcart  buried the second son of the first Earl of Mexborough, and the Earl  himself, as  he no doubt felt obliged to do. Other than that he performed one marriage there,  of Joseph Braime and Elizabeth Stead in 1829. He baptised Elizabeth Briame in  1827,  Timothy Idle in 1834, and two more children in 1835. He seems to have been happy to leave the administration of Methley to Thomas. Thomas performed about  85% (varying between  about 80% and about 90%) of the duties in Methley between  1821 and 1841.
For the remainder, officiating ministers, either semi-retired, or  from nearby Parishes,  performed the duties. At first there are references to the Rev Arthur Ward from Methley Park. The Rector of Swillington also often stood in (his duties in Swillington were less extensive).  Ministers from Rothwell, Garforth, Oulton and Kellington also appear, even the Minister of  Goole on one occasion. It is clear, however that Thomas was in charge of the work generally.  

The situation with the Rev. Philip Yorke Savile is also  more complicated than I supposed. He was clearly marked out for the living well before Rev. Cathcart died. Philip undertook a  marriage and a burial in Methley in January 1839, presumably on his annual new year visit to his brother at Methley Hall, one marriage, two burials and three baptisms in January 1840 (by  which time he had become Rector of Ayot St Peter, a tiny parish in Hertfordshire), two more baptisms in Methley in March 1840, a marriage in August 1840, a marriage and two burials in  January 1841, and  two baptisms in July 1841. After he became Rector of Methley in about March  1842, up to the date of Thomas’ death, he took 31 baptisms to Thomas’ 89, 23   burials to Thomas’ 57, and 5 marriages to Thomas’ 11, so Thomas’ work fell to  74% of baptisms, 71% of burials, and 69% of marriages. While this would be a  fall in dues received,  it would not be an enormous difference compared with 85% of the dues. Thomas’ last baptism was on 3 December 1843, his last burial on 7 December 1843, and his last marriage on 18 June 1843. 

At this point I accept that the curate was left with say 70% of the duties, however I am still of the opinion that the reduction along with the threat of the loss of the  school income and the debt owed to his uncle was enough to turn his mind to taking his own life.  It was a way out sought by many after this time by people who had little hope.

A minor addition to my note about Thomas’ parents move from Swillington to Westmorland is that his father became Agent to the Earl of  Lonsdale, who was of course either the owner, or  the brother of the owner, of Swillington Hall.

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