Monday, 20 August 2012

The Raunchy Rector, The Prostitute's Padre: The Grave of Harold Davidson, the Vicar of Stiffkey

In the quiet churchyard of St John the Baptist, Stiffkey, up on the North Norfolk coast, lies the grave of a figure who scandalised early 1930s Britain. Harold Davidson was the Rector of Stiffkey from 1906 to 1932, when he was defrocked following the sensational revelations of the less respectable company he kept. It emerged that he would regularly travel to London and wander the streets of Soho, approaching prostitutes and claiming to attempt to help save them from vice by helping them find employment within the theatre industry.

The scandal was reported nationally. Even at the time, opinion was divided over whether his intentions (and, perhaps more importantly, behaviour) were honourable: however, he was thrown out of the church in 1932 and, today, amongst those who are aware of the story, is often the source of a wry smile or two. His appearance (short, middle-aged, toothy) certainly feeds well into the tradition of the utterly-unsexy British sex comedy. (Indeed, a raunchy British comedy in the early 1980s, 'The Missionary,' may have been loosely based on the case).

He his also notable for the bizarre nature of his death. In 1937, he began working at an amusement park in Skegness, where he would stand, with tame lions, in a lion cage (a reference to Daniel in the lions' den, apparently) and talk to the audience of the injustice he had recently experienced. (The fact that this was seen as a draw highlights Davidson's continuing celebrity). During one performance, he accidentally stepped on the tail of one of the placcid lions, and was promptly mauled to death.

The quotation on his grave is from Robert Louis Stevenson.

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