prostitutes’ padre

Yesterday, Wikipedia featured their article on Harold Davidson, a Church of England priest from the early 20th century. Sounds like a very boring topic. But read on. Here’s the summary from the front page:

StJohnsChurchStiffkeyHarold Davidson (1875–1937), rector of the Norfolk parish of Stiffkey (church pictured), was a Church of England priest who was convicted in 1932 on charges of immorality and defrocked by the Church. Ordained in 1903, he worked among London’s poor and homeless. Styling himself the "Prostitutes’ Padre", his declared mission was to rescue young girls he considered in danger of falling into prostitution. In this role he approached and befriended hundreds of women, and although there was little evidence of improper behaviour, he was often found in compromising situations and his neglect of his parish and family caused difficulties. A formal complaint led to church disciplinary proceedings, in which his defence was damaged beyond repair by a photograph of him with a near-naked teenage girl. Davidson then pursued a career as a showman to raise funds for his reinstatement campaign, performing novelty acts such as exhibiting himself in a barrel on the Blackpool seafront. He died after being attacked by a lion in whose cage he was appearing. Later commentators have accepted that however inappropriate his behaviour, his motives were genuine and he did not deserve the humiliations he endured. (Full article …)

I had to read more.

Here’s the photograph that damaged his defense "beyond repair":


My favorite subgenre for the past five or ten years has been historical narrative. A lot of that shows up on this blog and in my Freeman articles.

I read Wikipedia’s summary, looked at the infamous photo, and thought, Someone should write a book about this guy, call it The Prostitute’s Padre, and use this photo as the cover image. I bet it would be a bestseller.

Well, someone did exactly that:


But it was back in 1975, and I have no idea how well it did or didn’t do. It’s out of print. A used copy costs $30. I have no idea if it’s any good. No one has reviewed it at Amazon. So I’ve made an interlibrary-loan request. I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, we have to make do with the Wikipedia article — which is fascinating. 


4 Responses to prostitutes’ padre

  1. Scott Lahti says:

    In the annals of stiff-upper-lipped uplift of a sort that skirted scandal when tendered to those in a trade known more for skirted uplift of sorts not so much metaphoric as, for a few seconds at the terminus non-interruptus at any rate, man-euphoric, pride of ministerial place will always go to the immortal Gladstone.

    Wikipedia: “although there was little evidence of improper behaviour, [Davidson] was often found in compromising situations”

    Monty Python fans may recall the Accidents sketch, in which Eric Idle is left, standing, to wait for an appointment in a darkened, stately room (whose oak-paneled door reads “Prawn Salad Ltd.”). Unbidden, a large mirror smashes to the ground, and a huge bookcase falls in an arc from wall to floor, smacking a drinks tray. A skeptical butler and maid, respectively, after each episode enter and confront Idle, who replies in turn, truthfully, “It just … fell off the wall” and “It did it all.” I was reminded of that when reading the obituaries for B-movie actor Lawrence Tierney (1919-2002), whose off-screen life was as rough as the gangsters he played. To the police who came to investigate the death of an upstairs woman he had just come to visit – who lay on the pavement below – Tierney replied, she “just went out the window.” Scholars may someday enter such usages in the lists of what they will come to term the “Idle-Tierney Defense.”

  2. Scott Lahti says:

    A Davidson-meets-Gladstone search – in league, of course, with my own missionary zeal when in the scholastic presence of a brother from another mother named Clio – compelled me to add six more links to the “More” list above.

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