A Stormy Petrel
by Rev. Frank Wain
 
Edited by John Finnemore
 

AN UNFINISHED MEMORIAL

 

Griffin Memorial

 

Did you know that Haselor Church had a notorious vicar, Cornelius Griffin, 1846-1867?

Revd Frank Wain, who was vicar of Haselor from 1955–1983, spent over ten years researching information for a book on Cornelius Griffin. He found that he had got to remove repetitions and to make the whole thing significantly shorter. He did shorten it from 130,000 words and put forward a version of 104,000 words. He did not want to shorten it, even more. He sent a letter to the publishers, saying: -

The story of Cornelius Griffin could no doubt be told in a simpler manner, but I believe that a fully documented account ought to be available. I have much abbreviated the relevant documents and letters for the sake of brevity and to avoid repetition.

I believe also that Griffin cannot be fully understood without a knowledge of the history of his parish, which itself is out of the ordinary.

Accordingly, this is not merely the story of Cornelius Griffin, researched for the first time, but local history with the interesting story running through it, and giving it (one hopes) a more than local appeal. One imagines that the American tourists in nearby Stratford upon Avon would lap it up if it had a lurid dust-cover with a picture of the coffin waiting in church for fifteen years.”

The book was never finalised with pictures etc. because it was going to be too costly to publish.

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In 2016, I (John Finnemore, Walcote Farm) was given all the correspondence that Frank had received and the draft copies of the book, that was in four boxed folders and other folders and told that “I could do what I like with it.” I read a few of the 400 typewriter written pages and decided that I had got to try and get this published.

The book, has the title, “A Stormy Petrel”. I looked up the meaning and found it was a person who delights in conflict or attracts controversy. The book has all the ingredients to make an excellent, comical film. An unbelievable, true story, taken from church records, newspapers, court cases, etc. As the editor, I have added new information, comments, pictures and maps to make it more reader-friendly.

Griffin was involved in 20 court cases in 3 years and lost 18 of them. One case was a hanging offence. The jury found him not guilty. The bishop said afterwards, “that he had a merciful jury”. He was imprisoned twice at Warwick for other offences. He disguised himself in women’s clothes, to avoid being arrested. He built his own Griffin Memorial on the north wall of the church and bought his coffin, 15 years before he died, aged 73. The coffin came in useful, to store his food and other things, when living in the church.

This next part of the Griffin story, only became known in 2007, when a great-grandson of the vicar that came after Griffin, John Heath Sykes, was visiting Haselor Church and said that his grandfather had written his life story, “Life at Haselor Vicarage”.

He always expressed a wish to be buried in church, but by the time his strange ministry came to an end, a law had been passed forbidding interment in churches. However, the resourceful Griffin had made his plans, and one can see to this day the place where, according to his instructions, he was pushed in from outside through an alcove under the north window, and where his name is engraved on the stone in the wall. My eldest sister who played the organ and practised during the week declared she could always smell ‘old Griffin’ when she passed up or down the aisle. Perhaps this was not a mere flight of fancy, as my mother, soon after going to Haselor, took a Colonel and Mrs Childs to look at the church, and all exclaimed at the unpleasant smell. Upon recounting the incident to various parishioners my mother was assured that it was undoubtedly the corpse of the previous vicar making itself felt.

It was a ‘wow’ moment for me, after I had used a wire brush, to reveal his name in 2008.

This A4 size, fascinating book with 182 pages, is now on sale for £20, from John Finnemore. Please email, john@walcotefarm.co.uk to arrange to pick up a copy. Thank you.

 
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