Project Canterbury

Arthur Tooth

London: The Catholic Literature Association, 1933.

'TO praise famous men and our fathers that begat us' is part of the duty of their sons. It is fitting that in preparing for the Centenary of the Oxford Movement, the five priests who endured imprisonment for the Faith should be kept in special memory.

The Tractarians, to their everlasting honour, circulated throughout the length and breadth of the country the good news that the Church in England still belongs, as it has always claimed, to the one Holy Catholic Church of Christ, and that the Prayer Book of the Church, as the Bishop of Durham has lately said, is a thoroughly Catholic Book. They reasserted the principles of a tradition which underlay all the Church Formularies, with such success that the things for which they themselves suffered are common nowadays not only in parish churches but also in Cathedrals. There has been a wonderful change in outlook, and we owe a deep sense of gratitude to Almighty God that the Church in our land and throughout our Colonies is better in every way for the 'Victorian Persecution.'

Many priests and laity came under the influence of the Tractarian Movement. Among the priests were G. R. Prynne of Plymouth, the brothers Pollock of Birmingham, Dean Randall, Mr. Bennett of St. Paul's, Knightsbridge, Father Lowder, Mr. Bryan King of St. George's-in-the-East, Dr. John Mason Neale, Canon Carter of Clewer, Father Benson of Cowley, and Archdeacon Denison.

The daily Mass and daily Offices were revived. Then came the introduction of the Catholic ceremonial which, it was maintained, was ordered by the Ornaments Rubric of the Prayer Book, and which is necessary to give practical effect to its teaching. Little by little churches were restored to the beauty of holiness, and congregations of faithful men and women were attracted and instructed in the whole faith. As the Movement grew, it naturally provoked opposition from every quarter, and an Act of Parliament was passed in 1874 called the Public Worship Regulation Act, for the purpose of putting down 'Ritualism' and 'the Mass in masquerade.' It had the active support of Queen Victoria, the Lord Shaftesbury of that day, Mr. Disraeli the Prime Minister, and Archbishop Tait of Canterbury. Under this Act a new Court was set up, presided over by an ex-Divorce Court Judge, Lord Penzance. It was an entirely secular Court, without a shadow of authority from the Church. At once, at the instigation of the Church Association, founded in 1875, prosecutions were begun against various priests who, on grounds of conscience, never appeared in Court at all, nor were represented by counsel. They were accused, found guilty, inhibited, and eventually imprisoned for 'contempt of Court.'

The names of those who suffered the indignity of imprisonment were Arthur Tooth, Vicar of St. James', Hatcham; R. W. Enraght, Rector of Holy Trinity, Bordesley; J. Pelham Dale, Rector of St. Vedast, Foster Lane, in the City of London; Sidney Faithorne Green, Rector of St. John's, Miles Platting; and J. Bell Cox, Vicar of St. Margaret's, Liverpool. The average length of their imprisonment was 147 days. To these brave priests and many others who suffered we owe a great tribute of thankfulness and praise, for it was through their determination to stand by the Church in her hour of peril that we have won the tolerance and liberty we have today. The Act of Parliament under which these priests suffered is still on the Statute Book, but for all practical purposes it is dead.

In order that Catholics today of the younger generation can understand a little of what our fathers endured, we propose to tell the story of Father Tooth, from which they can gather what happened in other parishes within living memory.


Arthur Tooth was born at Swifts Park, Cranbrook, in Kent, on June 17, 1839, and was educated at Tonbridge School and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a keen sportsman and traveller, going twice round the world. Once, in Australia, where he had relatives, he was lost in the bush while on a shooting expedition, and after much privation found his way back to civilization by his knowledge of the stars.

He was ordained deacon by Dr. Sumner, Bishop of Winchester, in 1863, and was curate at St. Mary the Less, Lambeth, to Mr. Gregory, afterwards Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral. He was a little too advanced for Mr. Gregory, and left during his diaconate, joining the staff at St. Michael's, Folkestone, in 1864, in which year he received Priest's Orders from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He did not stay in Folkestone long, and from 1865-68 he was curate-in-charge of St. Mary Magdalene Chapel at Chiswick.

In 1868 his brother, Mr. Robert Tooth, purchased the living of St. James', Hatcham, in South London, and presented him to it. The church was in a deplorable condition, and the services were badly attended. The new vicar abolished pew rents, and repaired the church, adding a sacristy and a baptistery. The sanctuary was furnished and decorated, and a second altar erected in the Lady Chapel. He introduced the daily Mass, daily Matins and Evensong, and a Sung Mass on Sunday, which was preceded by Matins. All this time he was assisted by the Revd. M. E. Kirkland, who had been trained by the Revd. W. J. E. Bennett of Frome. Father Tooth founded the Community of Sisters of the Holy Paraclete, and started an orphanage for boys, which practically became the choir school of the church. The 'Visitors' of the School were Revd. F. H. Murray of Chislehurst and Robert Brett, by whose munificence the church of St. Michael, Shore-ditch, was built.

A large congregation from the parish and beyond its borders was attracted by the simple, earnest, and straightforward teaching from the pulpit; and instructions in the faith and practice of the Church were given each Sunday after Evensong. Within five years all the 'six points,' as they were then called, were introduced. These were: (i.) Eastward Position, (ii.) Lighted Candles. (iii.) Mixed Chalice, (iv.) Vestments, (v.) Wafer Bread, (vi.) Incense.

The Guild of All Souls was founded in the parish in 1873, and Father Tooth was the first President. There was also a very live branch of the English Church Union, and a ward of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament. In these early days, the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Assumption of our Lady, and the Commemoration of All Souls were observed. In the Calendar of the Church for the year 1873 are printed out in full what are known as 'The Precepts of the Church.'

Thus we can picture a live church, presided over by a young and saintly priest, with a large body of instructed communicants, and many others attending the church in full sympathy with the priests.


The outside public and the Protestant press soon began to take notice of these popular experiments in practical Catholicism. As early as 1871, the clouds began to gather, and there is on record a memorial signed by over a thousand people praying the Bishop of Rochester 'to execute his statutory power to protect the vicar and people from molestation in worshipping God according to the dictates of conscience, and secure to them the exercise of religious liberty.' A characteristically evasive answer was made by the Bishop. The services at St. James' were carried on as before, and the congregation increased in numbers. The Revd. W. H. Browne was now assisting Father Tooth.

There had always been a very close association between the clergy of St. James' and the priests of St. Alban's, Holborn. Father Stanton and Father Tooth were bosom friends, and had many ideals in common. Dr. Pusey in 1864 had invited them to take charge of the Parish of St. Saviour's, Leeds. In 1875 Father Stanton was asked to preach during the festival of St. James, but was inhibited by the Bishop of Rochester.

In March, 1876, Father Tooth received notice from the Bishop of Rochester that legal proceedings under the new Public Worship Regulation Act were impending, the charge being the Use of Eucharistic Vestments, Lighted Candles, Incense, Mixed Chalice, Eastward Position, Genuflexion, Elevation of the Host, the sign of the Cross at the Absolution and Blessing, the singing of the Agnus Dei, and various other things which are common enough today, such as the wearing of birettas.

Father Tooth, in a series of letters addressed to the Bishop and published in the press, flatly denied the authority of the new Act of Parliament, 'which had never been accepted by the Church, which was incorrectly passed unhappily by the influence of the bishops in a mixed Parliament of every possible religion or of no religion, and wholly in disregard of a resolution of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury and York. What the final result of the invocation of a non-Christian Parliament by the bishops in things spiritual may bring about has yet to be seen.'

He goes on to appeal to the rule of Catholic antiquity--the space of 500 years and more after Christ's Ascension--as the authority 'of final appeal.' 'It is to this Court I appeal, and by it, if need be, I claim to be judged. If I have been in error, and mistaken my mission and teaching, your Lordship, I feel sure, will do me the justice to tell me on Church Law how I am wrong, and where it was that the Church of England discarded Catholic truth; when it was that with intention of condemning Catholic truth, by law and by canon she suppressed and abrogated the use of primitive and Catholic ceremonial. . . . The principle involved is grave beyond conception; the responsibility must now rest with you: the choice is still in your Lordship's hands, whether you come forward to administer Church Law independently of the State. In reference to the papers I have received and the proposed proceedings under the Public Worship Regulation Act, it may be well to say that I am unable to admit its jurisdiction. I feel it would be inconsistent to plead before the judge. I do not propose to defend myself, nor to obey when condemned.'

From the tone and wording of this letter, we can feel what was in the minds of the Catholic clergy and laity of those days--they were being intentionally persecuted; they were held up as wilful law-breakers. The secular press derided and mocked them, but they meant to stand and fight the battle for the liberty of the Church.


The laity of St. James', Hatcham, stood by the vicar, absolutely united. Letters were written to the Bishop by the churchwardens, meetings were held, and a memorial signed by 1,452 persons, being parishioners and members of the congregation, was sent to him; but it was of no avail--'ritualism' was to be stamped out at any cost. In July, 1876, Lord Penzance sat in the Arches Court at Lambeth Palace and gave his judgment under the Act. The case was undefended, and Father Tooth was ordered to refrain from the various practices complained of and pay the costs. The ornaments of the church complained of were all to be removed.

Father Tooth took no notice of the judgment, and everything went on as usual. The Feast of St. James on July 25 of that year was kept with more than usual solemnity, the Revd. Arthur Wagner, Vicar of St. Paul's, Brighton, being the preacher.

It was not till December that Lord Penzance took further action. Father Tooth was summoned to attend the Court; three times his name was called by the apparitor, but no one responded. It was proved that Father Tooth had taken no notice of the monition, and he was formally inhibited and suspended from performing Divine Service for three months, which inhibition would be continued unless he intimated his intention to conform to the order of the Court.

In answer to this order, Father Tooth read from the pulpit the following declaration. It was also printed and distributed:

'In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. I, Arthur Tooth, Priest of the Church of England, Vicar of this Parish, desire, in the present distress, to make profession, in the face of God and of my People, of my willing obedience to all lawful authority, as binding every Christian by the Word of God and the law of his Church.

'It has become my duty, in consequence of certain proceedings taken against me in a Secular Court, in respect of the manner of worship of the Church of England, to enter at this time my Solemn Protest against the exercise of Secular Authority in matters Spiritual.

'And further, in full reliance upon the Christian intelligence of my people, and upon their loving readiness to suffer for the truth's sake, I hereby call upon them to recognize no Ministrations in public Congregation, nor any discharge among them of the Office and Duty of Cure of Souls either in the immediate present or in the future, other than my own, or of those acting in my behalf under my authority.

'I make this call upon my people as the lawfully and canonically instituted Priest of the Parish, not inhibited therein, nor deprived thereof by any lawful and canonical authority. And I implore them, and if need be, require and charge them to bear steadfastly in mind that all ministrations and discharge other than my own are schismatical, and are an invasion and a robbery of the rights of the Church of England. Witness my hand this third day of December, being Advent Sunday, in the Year of Our Lord, 1876.

'ARTHUR TOOTH, M.A., Trinity Coll., Cantab.,

'Vicar of St. James', Hatcham.'


This declaration was followed up by a large meeting of the parishioners the next day, when resolutions were unanimously passed supporting the vicar's declaration, copies of which were sent to the Bishop. The Bishop, of course, deplored the tone of the resolution, and in his letter to the churchwarden, Mr. E. F. Groom, writes: 'You may depend upon it that in the extreme course you are adopting, you will not have the support and sympathy of pious and Godfearing men in this Church and nation. I am fully persuaded that the time will come when you and those who are joined with you will see things in a different light from that in which you now regard them.'

The services on the following Sunday went on as usual; clergy from St. Alban's, Holborn, and St. Peter's, London Docks, assisted at the High Mass, which 700 people attended. It was not until Christmas Eve that the Bishop took formal notice of the inhibition by Lord Penszance; he then sent a Canon Gee, his chaplain, vicar of Abbot's Langley, Herts, to conduct the service, and Father Browne, the assistant priest, had his licence withdrawn. Canon Gee was met at the west door of the church by the vicar and churchwardens and the patron of the living. Dr. Gee handed the churchwardens a copy of the Bishop's licence, which contained the inhibition by Lord Penzance, and the revocation of the assistant priest's licence. The vicar replied: 'I desire to do nothing that may be wanting in courtesy to the office of a brother clergyman, but inasmuch as the services of this church have been called in question by a Court to which I have never promised obedience, and to which I am in no way pledged; and inasmuch as you are coming here to take the services in consequence of the inhibition lately issued against me by that Court, it is requisite that I should formally and openly assert and maintain my rights as the lawful and canonically instituted vicar of this parish. I am therefore compelled to refuse you any part in the public performance of Divine Worship and to forbid any exercise of your office within the limits of my parish.' The churchwardens endorsed this statement.

Thereupon the Bishop's chaplain withdrew, and the service continued as usual. Father Tooth celebrated and preached the sermon. Father Lowder, Father Mackonochie, and many other priests were present.

Then, after Christmas Day, began a series of riots organized and paid for by leaders of the 'Protestant underworld.' Men of the lowest type were paid two shillings or more a Sunday; they came in hundreds; Catholics came too from every part of London, among them the President of the English Church Union, the Hon. C. L. Wood, now Viscount Halifax. Amid the shouts and hisses of the Protestants the Mass went on. After the service the vicar had to be conducted to the vicarage by a bodyguard of faithful men. The windows of the church were broken, and after the service, when the church was cleared, ugly rushes were made to break open the church doors, and many members of the congregation were assaulted. The police, who came in large numbers, were hardly able to keep any order; barriers were erected and broken down. The road leading to the church was packed with a throng of people interested in the struggle going on for the religious liberty of the Church. These riots continued each Sunday until January 21, 1877.

On January 22 Father Tooth was arrested in the house of Mr. T. Layman in the Borough High Street, under an order from Lord Penzance, and taken to Horsemonger Lane Gaol, where he remained, 'a glory to his friends and a gigantic difficulty to his foes.' Large and influential meetings of protest were held in London. Within a month his foes applied for his release, and he came out of prison on February 17, absolutely broken down in health. While he was in prison his friends were allowed to visit him, among whom was Dr. Liddon, Canon of St. Paul's.

During his imprisonment he wrote one letter to his people, which we give below:



'The address I have had the pleasure of receiving today from your deputation, from its importance, claims more than a verbal expression of my thanks; I therefore begged the churchwardens to give me the opportunity to reply to it by letter.

'I wish to acknowledge in the first place your generous trust and confidence which I have enjoyed during the past eight years, during which it has been my privilege to work among you, and to thank you for it. It has been a period of growth, and consequent trial, but never of embarrassment; there is no unhappy remembrance to cloud this time spent so happily together; and when the time of real trial to us all came, it was cheering beyond measure to me, in the midst of all the anxieties which weighed so heavily on me, to find so much earnest support and loving sympathy. I have no longer an opportunity for the exercise of my office, and your church is closed against you; but you once more rally round me with words of kindness and hope.

'To God's care I commend you, and may he return all your goodness to me with his own good measure.

'Yours very faithfully and affectionately in Christ Jesus,


'Vicar of St. James', Hatcham.
February I, 1877.'

It is interesting to note that among the clergy sent by Archbishop Tait to conduct the services was the Revd. Randall Davidson, his chaplain, afterwards himself Archbishop of Canterbury; he was refused admission to the choir by the churchwardens.

After his release from prison Father Tooth went abroad to recover his health, on the imperative command of his doctor. In his absence a clergyman by the name of Dale was in charge of the parish, appointed by the Archbishop; he changed the whole order of service to what may be called a 'low church' type, and removed many of the ornaments, the congregation absenting themselves from what was to them schismatical worship.

Father Tooth returned to the parish in May, and finding the church locked against him, made his entrance by a window, and again celebrated Mass, to the consternation of the Protestants and the joy of his own people.


In 1878 Father Tooth made an appeal to the Court of Queen's Bench to quash the previous proceedings, and was successful. The Court was presided over by the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Cockburn, and Justices Mellor and Lush. It was found that Lord Penzance had held his Court at Lambeth Palace, which was neither in London, Westminster, nor in the Diocese of Rochester: the proceedings were 'Coram non judice.' He then wrote to the Archbishop that he had no desire to be vindictive, and to take legal proceedings against those who had attacked him and falsely imprisoned him. No compensation could ever atone for the wrongs they had inflicted upon his parish; his health was broken, and he was content to resign the benefice and to devote himself to the extension of his orphanage work at Croydon, which he trusted would not be allowed to exist without the good wishes and blessing of his Grace.

He was succeeded in January, 1879, by the Revd. Henry Aston Walker, sometime assistant priest of St. Alban's, Holborn. By this time all the beautiful and expensive ornaments of the church which had been there during Father Tooth's vicariate had been removed by order of the Chancellor's Court, including even cross and candlesticks on the High Altar. The old congregation stood by the new vicar, though all the Catholic accessories were taken away; even the vestments were not used. Sunday by Sunday a vulgar group of the old opposition came to church and behaved during the services in a most objectionable way, submitting the vicar to every personal indignity they could. There was now a definitely Protestant churchwarden elected by a poll of the parish. This state of things went on until Father Walker had to resign through ill health, after five years' work, for the most part without any assistant priest. At his resignation it was found that the advowson had been secured privately and handed over to a Protestant trust, much to the regret of the previous patron. The Catholic congregation was dispersed, but by their faithful work and teaching in the neighbouring churches which received them, the Catholic Faith was spread, and today the churches to which they migrated are enjoying all the privileges for which the vicar of St. James' went to prison.


Father Tooth retired to a house at Woodside, Croydon. Here he devoted himself to the care of St. Michael's Orphanage for boys, and the Sisterhood of the Holy Paraclete, both of which he founded at Hatcham; he built a beautiful chapel which was furnished with most of the ornaments ejected from his old church. Here, so long as he was President, the Guild of All Souls met for its annual festival: here, in later years, the Catholic League was welcomed, and held a procession of the Holy Sacrament round the beautiful gardens and grounds on the Saturday in the Octave of Corpus Christi. Here he applied himself to the study of Philosophy, Theology, and Science. Here he received his friends, who came to him from all parts, with simple yet generous hospitality. Here he started a home for inebriates and sufferers from the drug habit. The Sisters had the care of the women patients; the men lived in the village, and he treated them by the power of suggestion and hypnotism, of which he became a master, looking upon it as a special gift from God for the healing of his people. His cures were wonderful and were lasting, as many today can testify.

The Home and grounds at Woodside were compulsorily acquired by the growing borough of Croydon in 1924, and Father Tooth, after trying in vain for many years to obtain some old religious site which he might restore, purchased a mansion with about eighty acres of ground at Otford, situated near Sevenoaks, Kent; it is on high ground overlooking part of the old Pilgrims' Way to Canterbury, and so was of special interest to him as he was devoted to St. Thomas. But he must have thought of the place only as a temporary home for the Sisters and Orphanage, for very soon after he acquired the property he set about a scheme intending to give the magnificent house and grounds to be used for the purpose of training clergy and as a place of rest, reading, and recreation. To this end he offered it in turn to the Anglo-Catholic Congress, the Diocese of Southwark, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, but it was not accepted by any of them. This was a great disappointment to him. He wished to call the place Halifax College, as a slight recognition of his friendship with Viscount Halifax.

In 1929, in his devotion to St. Thomas of Canterbury, whose shrine in the Cathedral had been destroyed by Henry VIII., he proposed that a suitable shrine and memorial with an altar should be erected in keeping with the style of the twelfth century, upon which a sum of £18,000 should be expended and £2,000 placed in the hands of trustees for its upkeep. This idea was warmly taken up by Viscount Halifax and many influential laymen. Father Tooth had offered £10,000 if the other half was forthcoming; this at a meeting held at Lord Halifax's house was considered to be quite possible, and on July I the offer was made to the Dean. He, unfortunately, was taken ill, and the consideration of the offer was delayed for months; then, after much correspondence and several meetings, a beautiful design by Mr. Comper was rejected by the Chapter. This was another great disappointment to Father Tooth. He wanted something outstanding, magnificent, and worthy of England's greatest saint and martyr, and nothing less than this would meet his wishes or receive his help. But it was not to be at that time, for the good Father was called to his rest while further negotiations were pending, and he never had the accomplishment of his desires.

He seldom came away from his country retreat. From time to time he preached in London and Beckenham; and he came to the first Anglo-Catholic Congress, where his appearance was greeted by thousands gathered in the Albert Hall. The jubilee of his release from prison was celebrated at the Church House, Westminster, on February 17, 1929, when the speakers included Lord Shaftesbury, who was chairman, Lord Halifax, and others. The great hall was packed, many persons were unable to obtain seats, and Father Tooth gave an address which will long be remembered by all who heard it.

It is fitting to close this brief account of the life and labours of such a remarkable man with a few words about his character. He was most lovable and attractive and strong, one whom his friends could trust implicitly--'a man ready to advise from an experience matured and refined by his simple life of detachment from worldly affairs.' No one could have been in his company or heard him preach without realizing his deep spirituality. The heavenly things were always present; he was at once a mystic and yet of practical mind. He was a holy man who lived in the constant companionship of the Angels and the Saints. Every material beauty reminded him of the beauty, the glory, and the peace of God. He was a lover of the poor and the outcast, and some day the Church of this country will recognize him as a saint.

He was called to his rest at Otford Court on March 5, 1931.

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