the oiling of a stiff key

What is it with men of the cloth and scandalous women? I’ve lost count of the number of rectors I’ve written about at the Gimcrack. Here’s another one from a village in Stiffkey, Norfolk.


Harold Francis Davidson, sometimes known as the “Prostitutes’ Padre“, was a Church of England priest who was defrocked in 1932 for his allegedly licentious lifestyle.

from:That Thin Line Productions

During the First World War he served as a Royal Navy chaplain. When he returned, his wife, Molly, whom he had married in October 1906 after a six-year engagement, was pregnant by another man. There was some pressure on him to leave her, but he refused, claiming marriage vows were for life.

In November 1930, Davidson was late back from London for the annual Remembrance Day service. Major Philip Hamond, who had disliked Davidson since he refused to allow him to be churchwarden in 1919 and had had several further altercations with him since, was ‘incandescent with rage’ and accused Davidson of doing it as an insult to the war dead. A complaint was made to Henry Dashwood, solicitor to the Church of England and adviser to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

Dashwood then began investigating Davidson’s activities in London. He hired the Arrows Detective Agency to follow the rector and report his activities in London. The private detectives uncovered little; of the 40 girls they interviewed only one would say anything against him and then only when drunk (she recanted when sober).

from: Married to the Sea

His defence was that his work in London had been authorised by his bishop, and that only one had actually given evidence of immorality, she having been paid by the prosecution. He admitted to trying to help up to 1,000 girls with advice and sometimes money. The rector’s family including his daughter Patricia gave evidence that some of the girls had visited the family at Stiffkey and that neither she nor her mother had objected. The hearing lasted 26 days and attracted enormous crowds.

On 8 July Davidson was convicted on all charges. After he had exhausted his appeals, he was defrocked at Norwich Cathedral. Davidson then went to Blackpool to live off his notoriety. He would appear either in a barrel or being apparently roasted in an oven while a figure dressed as a devil prodded him with a pitchfork.


For the summer season in 1937 Davidson worked at Thompsons’ Amusement Park in Skegness, where he was billed as “A modern Daniel in a lion’s den”. He would enter a cage with a lion called Freddie and a lioness called Toto, and talk for about ten minutes about the injustice he felt had been meted out to him. On 28 July, he was moving through his act when he accidentally tripped on the tail of the lioness. Perceiving this as an attack, Freddie attacked and mauled him. Renee Somer, the 16-year-old lion attendant entered the cage and fought the lion back using a 3 ft whip and an iron bar.


Davidson was taken to Skegness Cottage Hospital with a neck injury and broken collar-bone and lacerations on his upper body. The lion had mauled him at the neck leaving a gash behind his left ear. The injury was not severe; the lion was old, toothless and sedated. He was recovering from his injuries and it was arranged that he should be taken back to London when his employer, a Captain Rye, sent private doctors to treat him. They diagnosed an advanced case of diabetes without testing him for the disease. They ordered insulin and supervised the injection themselves. The rector sank into a coma and died the next morning. Davidson’s widow refused to wear black and arrived for his funeral dressed in white. She wanted it to be a celebration of his amazing life.


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33 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. perhaps all of the convicted felons of the church should be thrown to the lions…

    • Ha! I like that idea

  2. See, all us men, we just want to have sex on occasion, and there are so many roadblocks . . where’s my sex robot I was promised?

    • hey us women want to have sex on occasion too. On many occasions as a matter of fact

  3. Heh Heh… Stiffkey.

  4. i’ll never willingly go in a tiger cage. i would be the one recieving sedation.
    you can celebrate my death by wearing white, i don’t care. wear red or yellow or black, your choice.
    rector sounds suspiciously like rectum. maybe that’s what attracts ‘men of the cloth’ to scandalous women.

    • yeah big cats scare the hell out of me. Fangs….

  5. This website is coming dangerously close to making Denny smarter.

    That’s what I was afraid of.

    • Oh I don’t think I’m anywhere near that YET

  6. The old lion wasn’t so toothless after all. It’s cunning plan was clearly to get him into the hands of doctors then let nature run it’s course…

    Smart Pussy!

    The King

    • Some pussies are smarter than others.

  7. Isn’t it terrible that I’ve never felt too bad for those who are injured by captive wild animals? Justice in a sick and twisted way! I love the word “defrocked.” It sounds so severe and rolls off the tongue in an extra crispy way.

    • I plan on being defrocked just as soon as the weather warms up

  8. I wonder if that insulin number was an assassination by hardline members of the church he was defrocked from?

    • Isn’t that what Klaus Von Bulow used?

      • I think so and I imagine it would be hard to detect and link to foul play, especially back then.

  9. As an amazing, outlandish tale as every aspect of this story was, I just can’t get past his London employer…a Captain Rye. That may be the coolest name for a lounge singer in history.

  10. I blame the cassock. It allows too much fresh air round the gonads …….

    • oh I think the gonads should always be allowed to hang free daddyp

  11. This is very funny! But we also have a current scandal in England, with the Rev Alex Brown having just been found guilty of 360 – repeat, three, six, zero – fake weddings! It would seem that the marriages were mainly between Africans with about £15k seeking ‘just cause’ to stay beyond their Visa limits, and East Europeans needing about £3k in cash to pay their bills!

    Ah, let no-one say that the Church ain’t interested in money………!!

    • What? You can get paid for a “marriage of convenience”? I’m writing out an invoice to my second husband right now…..

  12. Interesting! I thought of being a priest, but (a.) I don’t believe in church dogma – any church, (b.) I didn’t want to listen to other people’s problems ad infinitum, and (c.) I didn’t want to be associated with the endless church scandals. So I didn’t. But Davidson sounds like he had an interesting life.

  13. Some guys will do anything for a bit of tail.

  14. Plus the widow was happy to be able to step out with her lovers.

  15. He got what he deserved in the lion’s den but having read his full Wikipedia entry I rather warmed to the chap.

    • I think he was delightful! Apart from the religion thing….

  16. The congregation seems to be as demented as the congregator (is that what he is?). I can’t imagine going to the fall fair to watch anybody who’s been defrocked, unless there are tassels involved.

  17. A name like the prostitutes padre and death (indirectly) from mauling by a lion? That is an amazing life.

  18. I wonder that he had time for all that activity. That ending to his life sounds just like the sort of thing to put you off doctors. DIagnosis without testing. . . dangerous practice indeed.

  19. It’s one of those tales from the undercurrents of life that I love.. apart from the demise, although that is somehow in keeping

  20. You had me at Stiffkey!!

  21. Despite the lion being toothless and sedated, I’d be concerned for my safety if my back up was “a 16-year-old lion attendant.” Call me old fashioned but I’d prefer someone with a tad more experience.

    • Ram! When did you get out of jail?

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