The church had difficulty in placing vicars at Seasalter. It was regarded by the clergy as an unhealthy place to serve the Lord and clergymen rarely lasted a year in the position.
One man did, however remain in the job from 1711 to 1764, the Reverend Thomas Patten. He was originally a sea chaplain and much of his tar-like roughness came from his time at sea.
The fact that the Church of England had not been able to find a vicar prepared to stay for long in the area should raise questions concerning the motives behind Reverend Patten’s calling and his tenure of 53 years.
Thomas was frequently condemned by the Bishop and shunned by his colleagues, but it seems his parishioners were fond of him.
It is more likely that the Church could not find any replacement for this turbulent priest who had many bishops shaking with anger or fear.
When Dr Wake was archbishop, some tale bearer informed his grace that Patten had given a marriage certificate signing it with the title, Bishop of Whitstable. When the bishop arrived at the church for his annual visitation and asked Reveremd Patten whether the report was true, Patten replied I shall answer your grace’s question by another – “are you fool enough to take notice of it?”
Revd. Patten usually referred to himself as the Bishop of Seasalter and his tiny church as nothing less than a “cathedral”.
He was a man with a frosty temperament and a sharp tongue. Some indication of his character can be found in the parish registers. Here, he makes comments about the severe weather as well as giving us a lively commentary on his flock:
‘The summer of the year 1725 was the most dreadful for continued rains, cold and tempests, that ever any history mentions. Not a day from May to October without rain. The fruits of the earth spoiled. And according to their different religions, some grumbled, some swore, and a few prayed.’
No way to talk about parishioners.
His observations on parishioners were hardly flattering. Against one entry in the marriage register of 1734 we read:
‘John Ponney of Canterbury, Huntsman to that ancient Corporation, and Elizabeth Johnson, daughter to the Devil’s vicegerent, commonly called a Bailiff, were tramelled by licence at the Cathedral of Seasalter, June 6, 1734.
Tom Taylor and his betrothed are also the subjects of the Reverend’s sardonic pen:
‘Old Tom Taylor, the great smoaker of Whitstable, and a deaf old woman called Elizabeth Church, were married at Seasalter with two rings. Oct 29, 1734. Si quis ex successoribus nostris hoc forte legat, rideat si velit.’
And in another comment from the records of 1744 we are introduced to:
‘John Honsden, widower, a young gape-mouthed lazy fellow and Hannah Matthews, hot ‘apont, an old toothless hag, both of Feversham were trammelled by licence in the Cathedral at Seasalter June 6th 1744. A Caspian bowl of well-acidulated Glimigrim.’
Earthly rewards or heavenly hopes?
On Patten’s death, Archbishop Thomas Secker, a moderate and modest man by all accounts said:
‘Thomas Patten – described as “half mad, impudent, poor” and who died on 9 October, 1764, aged 80 – had been vicar of Seasalter since 1711 and perpetual curate of Whitstable.’
The archbishop was no doubt remembering his first encounter with this priest from Seasalter:
“When Dr Secker was enthroned, or soon after, he gave a charge to his clergy, and among other articles found great fault with the scanty allowance frequently paid to curates.
Patten who was there, (though not summoned because the bishop was fearful of some of his remarks and ordered the proctor to leave him off the list) got up, and bowing to the archbishop, said with a loud voice, “I thank your grace.”
After the charge was over, the proctor by mistake called the Rev. Mr Patten, who, bustling through the crowd, came up to the archbishop; he seeing he could not avoid it, began with the usual question, ‘You are, Sir, I think, curate of Whitstable?’ Patten replied, ‘I am, may it please your grace, and have for it received from your grace’s predecessors the paltry sum of thirty pounds per annum although the living brings in above three hundred!’ ‘Don t enlarge,’ said the archbishop. ‘No, but I hope your grace will,’ rejoined Mr Patten.”
Reverend Patten was certainly eccentric. He was also brazen. He wore ragged and dirty clothes to embarrass his Bishop into increasing his stipend and lived quite openly with his mistress.
Mr Patten could hardly be called a rigid high priest. He used to call the prebendaries of Canterbury, cardinals, and all the young fellows of his acquaintance who came over to Whitstable, his nephews.
But whatever we make of his behaviour, the parishioners appear to have found some redeeming features in their minister. Nor were the people beyond the ability to manipulate him when the occasion demanded it. The dear reverend often ended his sermon early if a parishioner made an offer to imbibe him at the local Blue Anchor.
Thomas Patten was put in place at the little church he called the ‘Cathedral of Seasalter’ but he soon became the eyes and ears for the Seasalter Company. He was ideally suited to keep watch along the Seasalter coastline, surrounding marshes and forestland.
Taking his duties seriously.
Revd. Patten was not above employing stern measures against smugglers who ignored his presence – especially when they refused to pay a tithe for landing their contraband on his coastline. On one occasion in early 1714, a group of 130 men landed a cargo and Patten reported them to the local customs authorities in a letter. This had two effects:
First, it made smuggling along that part of the coast more hazardous and dangerous for gangs. The authorities’ attention had been drawn to the location. (The Seasalter Company carried on untroubled because they had family members in the local preventive services.)
Second, it reinforced the disguise of this fiery-tongued vicar in the community. Who, after all, would suspect a half-mad man of the cloth to be ministering to an extraordinarily well-organised gang of smugglers?
Anecdotal evidence for Francis Grose FRS. 1801
Wallace Harvey research notes