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The Rev Edward Muckleston was all too familiar with the inside of a court.
The Rev Edward Muckleston was all too familiar with the inside of a court.

And he was such a notorious fare dodger that he was a marked man among railway company staff.

His attitude to bills was much the same – not to pay if he could get away with it. Here was a man to shirk his liabilities.

In a case which caused hilarity, a washerwoman called Mrs Gubbins took him to court because he had not paid her for washing his surplice (a clerical garment). He claimed the churchwarden should pay – and got off, as he often did, as people found it difficult to believe that a man of the cloth could be a liar and a cheat.

Muckleston sued a farmer over some manure which he claimed as his. He diddled his servants out of their wages. More seriously for him, he was twice convicted of fraud for fare dodging. His technique seems to have been to make long journeys, but only buy a ticket for a short, cheap journey, and he would hand in that ticket to railway staff.

Along the way this man born in 1819 into privileged circumstances in Dogpole, Shrewsbury, went bankrupt, yet in old age became a respectable pioneer in the craft of growing sugar beet.

His story is told in a new book “An Extraordinary Charge Against A Clergyman” by Janet Mackleston, who despite the different spelling of the name is related – she’s a very distant cousin, and lives in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Janet, who has a portrait of him hanging over her fireplace, says: “For many years the Reverend Edward Muckleston was a name on the family tree and there was nothing to suggest he was anything other than a kind, caring vicar who took care of his flock.

“I then came across a newspaper article relating to a visit to court regarding his fare dodging activities. I was intrigued and wondered what happened to him as a result. On further researching his life, much of which was played out in the newspapers of the time, I was surprised by what I found.

“I have written this book in an unbiased manner to allow the reader to make up their own minds about his behaviours.”

Although many of Muckleston’s deeds and misdeeds took place while he was rector of Haseley in Warwickshire, his scandalous antics had already entertained Salopians during his time as vicar at St Michael’s in Ford, where a neighbour was the previous Ford vicar, the Rev Lingen Burton, vicar of St Giles’ Church in Shrewsbury.

A dispute arose between the two clergymen about some trees near the boundary. Edward was spotted acting suspiciously around them, and they were found to be damaged, so Burton took him to court, and he was found guilty.

But what finally got him kicked out from Ford was that he took benches and books from the village school and put them in the vestry and wouldn’t give them back.

Edward died in 1913, but Janet notes that some of his eccentricity lived on through his grandson John, who in 1967 made history when he was asked to stand for All Stretton Parish Council. As it seemed unlikely that there would be enough candidates to fill all three vacancies, he agreed “to keep the seat warm” until somebody else was found.

In the event there were five candidates meaning there would have to be an election.

Janet says: “John tried to withdraw, but was told it was too late as his name had been entered on the ballot papers. He duly went out to canvass but asked everyone in the parish not to vote for him.

“He was a busy man and did not want the position and did not even vote for himself. The result was that he did not receive a single vote, the first time this had ever happened in local government history, a situation so bizarre that it was even reported as far afield as the United States.”

“An Extraordinary Charge Against A Clergyman” is published by The Book Guild and costs £9.99.

Shropshire Star