A country parson

In “Guarding the Holy Fire,” Roger Steer relates this tale of Parson William Grimshaw (1708-63):

Grimshaw’s dress was plain, even shabby at times. Often he only had one coat and one pair of shoes. He ate plain food and hated any form of waste. Picture the scene in one of his services. He is short but well built, robustly healthy and with sharp eyes. Before the prayers he casts a searching eye over every man, woman and child in church. If he sees anyone lounging forward rather than kneeling, he rebukes the offender by name. If he sees a stray dog in the church, he chases it out himself…

After the Third Collect, he may engage in extempore prayer, addressing the almighty with a fervor which suggest to his congregation that he has been walking closely with God. Then he ensures that the Psalm before the sermon is a long one, for at this point he has important business to perform.

He takes his tout riding stick from the vestry well and marches out of the church. He looks around to see if any lazy parishioners are idling their time in the churchyard, the street, or one of the four alehouses within a stone’s throw of the church. If he finds any, he rounds them up and drives them into church.

A friend of John Newton’s, passing one of the alehouses on a Sunday, saw several people jumping out of the windiows and leaping over a low wall just beyond, and thought the building must be on fire.

“What’s the cause of the commotion?” he asked.

“Parson Grimshaw’s coming!” they shouted.

John Newton himself, who sometimes visited Haworth, noted that the villagers were more afraid of Grimshaw than the Justice of the Peace, but added that “his reproof was so authoritative and yet so mild and friendly, that the stoutest sinner could not stand before him.”

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