Fall and Rise of Hadleigh Rectory 1825-1868 part 1

Where is the Rector?

St James the Less from Rectory Road in more rural days. The gate led into Webster`s Meadow.
Collection of Bob Delderfield

It is highly likely that some Hadleigh villagers in the period 1825 to 1853 never once saw the Rev. John Mavor, the Rector of St James the Less. He probably visited Hadleigh to be inducted but whether he visited again, even for a few days, we do not know. He was certainly absent for the vast majority of his rectorship. Twenty eight  years was a long time for a village church to go without a guiding hand. The result of the Rector`s absence was a partially wrecked church, an almost totally ruined rectory and many associated problems including difficulties for the newly established church school.


The man concerned (or perhaps unconcerned?) was the Rev. John Mavor, Curate of Forest Hill, Oxfordshire, and a Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. In 1825 he was presented to the Rectory of Hadleigh by Lincoln College, which owned the advowson, the right to present Rectors to the Hadleigh parish church.

John was the son of a very distinguished churchman, Dr. William Mavor, whose “Spelling Book” was very popular, especially with preparatory schools. By 1838 this remarkable book, first published in 1800, had reached its 438th edition. Dr Mavor was a very significant figure in Woodstock having been Rector, Alderman and Mayor of that place.

At the age of 15, John won first prize in a competition held annually by The Preceptor or Juvenile Library a magazine for young people. The task was to write an English composition. What exactly he wrote is not known but he was awarded a planetarium and a tellurum, together worth 3 guineas.

Entering Wadham College at 16 in 1802 he gained a BA in 1806, an MA in 1808 and progressed to a Bachelor of Divinity in 1816. He was also a Fellow of Lincoln College from 1806 to 1826. On paper then, his family background and academic progress pointed to a most promising career. The problem lay with the weaknesses of his character.


Betting among the fellows of Lincoln seems to have been commonplace and on all manner of trivial subjects. We know that Mavor indulged in these activities and both won and lost bets although the winnings were mainly bottles of wine. He was also the subject of other people`s bets, one instance being whether he would sell his pony for 20 guineas before Christmas. It could have been that when he later fell into considerable debt, betting may have added to his disappearing funds.

He was certainly not popular. The Rev. Andrew Clark writing in 1908 about the fortunes of Hadleigh Rectory 1825-1853 reported that by college tradition Mavor was “haughty and imperious in temper” and that he “would brook no opposition to his views and would listen to no remonstrance”.(footnote 1)

The Rector of the College was extremely annoyed when Mavor refused the Greek lectureship at the college. He was “an indifferent scholar” and “so much ignorance and irreverence in a fellow I never before encountered” (2) railed the Rector which makes one wonder why he offered the lectureship to Mavor in the first place. Clearly college politics were complex and according to Rev. Clark were made more so by Mavor`s violent personality.

In 1823 Mavor was presented to the curacy of Forest Hill, a village close to Oxford. The stipend here was small which was why the college permitted him to take up the Rectory of Hadleigh in 1825. In that same year he also set about purchasing a substantial farmhouse and five acres in Forest Hill with the intention of turning it into a parsonage. He hoped to take on a number of private pupils to increase his income. The pupils he did acquire soon deserted him and made his financial position worse. Mavor certainly took no interest in Hadleigh and its parishioners. He decided to run the parish from afar using a curate to take his place because, as he said, Hadleigh was “situated in an aguish and very unhealthy part of the Essex coast”.(3)

Despite the fact that the college supplied £400 towards the improvement of his new residence and he was taking in two stipends including £350 per annum from Hadleigh his tastes proved rather more extravagant than his income would allow. He appears to have overspent to such a degree that he had to rely on his father to extract him from financial embarrassments.

Increasing insolvency came to a head in 1832 when his house in Forest Hill had to be sold. The newspaper advertisement for the auction of the property and his effects is very revealing as it shows that he lived in style. He was unmarried and had only himself to support but he was a hunting, shooting and fishing man, apparently with plenty of companions. For a period he was entrusted with shooting rights to Forest Hill Manor on condition that he supplied to the college eight brace of birds during the season. His property included two pointers, two spaniels, two horses and “a  capital single shot-gun, by Sykes”. His furnishings, including beds, bedding, mahogany furniture and Turkish carpets were all of very good quality. He had also possessed “a modern Dennet gig” and “an excellent library of books”.

At the same time as the auctioneers were advertising the sale, John Mavor`s creditors also appeared in the Oxford Journal as follows:

The Creditors of the Rev John Mavor, late of Forest Hill, in the County of Oxford, intend to meet at the Maidenhead Inn, Oxford, on Saturday the 10th instant, at Three precisely, to consider of and determine upon the measures to be taken for the recovery of their respective debts.”(4)


An eight month spell in debtors`prison in 1834 made little difference to his position. At his father`s death in 1838 the will was generous to John`s brothers and sisters but William had clearly had enough of his financially wayward son “ for whose advancement in life I long sacrificed my own personal comforts and independence and who has already cost me so much. ” He had first helped John by providing him with £150 and then “ upwards of £200 ”.(5) William left him only some copyhold lands on the proviso that the £150 was repayed. It would appear that John failed in this regard.

By 1844, John was once again imprisoned in the debtors section of the Oxford Gaol and remained there until his death nine years later. Meanwhile, Hadleigh was left to struggle along with poorly paid curates


Without  his viewpoint being visible through surviving letters or a diary it is quite difficult to see into the mind of John Mavor although  we catch a few glimpses from one surviving letter and the correspondence in the 1840s between the Archdeacon of Essex and the Rev. Robert Eden, the diocesan inspector. An unamed parishioner wrote to Mavor complaining about the use of the chancel as a schoolroom which was causing “ both desecration and delapidation of the sacred edifice.”(6) Eden inspected the school and immediately recommended to the archdeacon that the schoolmaster be sacked, that he be replaced by a woman and also that the school be opened every day of the week. He does not record exactly what he saw.

Two months later Mavor wrote to Archdeacon Jones an indignant letter of some length including many complaints about his financial plight. Mavor rather sarcastically remarked that he did not even know the name of the present curate nor did he have any details of the current schoolmaster. He also could not see how a female teacher could remedy the situation especially with the larger boys but he left the matter to the justice of the Archdeacon, adding,

However, having suffered most severely from oppression and injustice I do not wish to be a party to actions which may be harsh or injurious to another.”(7)

In his words there is a distinct whiff of self pity and an indifference to responsibility for what was happening in the parish.


To add to his problems the curacy of Forest Hill was removed from him by Lincoln College in 1847. This was probably the result of an indignant letter from Bishop Wilberforce to the Rector of the college in which he speaks of the “ lamentable moral and spiritual condition ” to which the parish had been reduced by the incumbency of Mr. Mavor. He worries that if Mavor were to return to Forest Hill it would spell “its utter ruin.”(8)

At an ecclesiastical court in 1848 Mavor was investigated for holding two benefices and taking two stipends. The five judges of the Arches Court found against him and the removal of the Forest Hill curacy was confirmed. Of course, all this activity took place whilst he languished in prison.


He was not friendless in prison. The fellows sent him a new suit of clothes every year and he received visits from some of them and other friends but he was not always grateful. One year the fellows thinking that “it was shameful for clerical garb to be worn in a common gaol”(9) proceeded to give him a suit of grey material although in a clerical cut but this Mavor angrily rejected.

One visiting fellow, Mark Pattison, reported in 1845. “Poor fellow! Disagreeable, odious as he is, I could feel pity for him – he must be so wretched. All the world he looks on as in a conspiracy against him.”(10)

Despite his less than pleasant nature and his weakness when it came to money and its management, he was clearly a man of some scruples. This is revealed in the report of his death in gaol on Sunday 26th June 1853.

He refused to receive the gaol allowance of food, and subsisted entirely on the bounty of his friends, who subscribed sums of money, which were doled out to him to procure what was necessary.”(11)

He had been ill for some time but refused to see the medical attendant and often refused food for two or three days at a time.

The medical officer, Mr Wood, stated his belief that the deceased died from having fainted, not having the power of resuscitation, owing to his being so reduced by obstinate abstinence.”(12)

A sad postcript to John`s death was also noted by the newspaper. If he had lived just another four months, the sequestration of the Rectorship of St James the Less, begun about ten years earlier to pay off his debts, would have been cleared and his stipend of £350 per annum would have been restored to him.

There is a footnote in The Commonwealth of Lincoln College by Vivian H.H. Green which puts an additional light on Mavor`s death which is not alluded to in the newspaper report. Mavor “ cherished a great hate ” for a local farmer whom he believed had helped ruin him. He expressed the belief that the farmer “ would be surely visited by the justice of Heaven. When he heard that the man had been struck down by apoplexy in Oxford market, Mavor became so excited that he himself suffered a stroke and died.”(13)


Unfortunately the Rev. Mavor`s debts and absence had substantial reverberations in Hadleigh. It had created considerable worry in the 1820s for Mrs Lovibond and her school for the poor of the village. It had also resulted in the deterioration of church property. During Mavor`s absence the duties of the Rector, including services, had been conducted rather spasmodically by  “the meanest clerics”. It also appears that the churchwardens had not been particularly conscientious. The Rectory so long out of use and largely made of wood fell into ruins, and much of the building materials including the small amount of stone was surreptitiously carried off by villagers. The new Rector, whoever he turned out to be, clearly had a huge task ahead of him to restore the spiritual well being of the parish and to rebuild the fabric of the church and rectory. At this juncture, luckily for Hadleigh, it was blessed with the arrival of the Rev Thomas Espin.

AUTHOR`S NOTE : Sadly, Lincoln College does not possess a portrait of Rev. John Mavor, a great shame, but if anyone ever comes across one, please let us know.”


1  “Hadleigh Rectory 1825-1853” by Rev. Andrew Clark in Essex Review, Vol 17, 1908, p.11

2  “The Commonwealth of Lincoln College 1427-1977” by Vivian H.H.Green, OUP 1979, p.384

3  Green, pp.384-385

4  Oxford Journal 3 March 1832

5  Will of William Mavor, PCC, Prob 11/1894

6  Essex Record Office

7  ERO

8  Green, p. 385

9  Green, p. 385

10  Green p. 385

11  Taunton Courier 29 June 1853

12  Taunton Courier 29 June 1853

13  Green, footnote p. 385

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  • An excellent piece of research about John Mavor. I have been transcribing the births, marriages and deaths for Hadleigh from the parish records and have only discovered one entry by John Mavor as rector. It was a burial on 2 November 1835 for William Gyant, aged 20 years. Rev. Mavor added the comment ‘an idiot’ to the entry!

    By Chris Worpole (16/02/2013)

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