Francis Grose lived in Whitstable and told many stories concerning the local people and their idiosyncrasies. These recollections written down between 1750 and 1790 included comments and anecdotes on the fiery-tongued vicar of Seasalter, Reverend Thomas Patten.
The vicar described his tiny church as a cathedral and made it a practice to annoy his archbishop and most of the Canterbury clergy. Smugglers were quite willing to pay the good vicar a tariff – goods in kind – for landing contraband in his parish and making use of the church vaults when it became necessary to hide goods.
One of Francis Grose’s favourite reminiscences was a story that the vicar himself often told over a drink at the local inn. It concerned a wealthy farmer who failed to keep his promise.
The farmer, who had a son, married a second wife. The son was frequently promised a partnership in the farm or, in the event of the farmer’s death, the farm would become his.
The farmer failed to fulfil either promise and on his demise, the widow took possession of the lease and carried on the business. The son urged his stepmother to fulfil the promise or at the very least, offer him the partnership that had been promised. The stepmother did nothing.
In order to terrify her into complying, the son would ‘rise at midnight and with hideous groans drag the waggon-chain about the yard and outhouses’. He circulated a story that this noise was caused by his father’s ghost and that he would not rest in his grave until the promise had been kept.
The ghostly encounters carried on for some time until the widow who ‘had no relish to give up even a part of the farm’ sought the help of Parson Patten in whose parish the farm lay. She told the reverend that she would have ‘the ghost laid in the Red Sea’ if he could do it.
‘Thomas Patten, though no believer in ghosts, resolved to turn this matter to his own advantage. Putting on a grave countenance, he told her that what she required was no small matter: To lay a ghost, besides demanding a good stock of courage, required much learning as the whole form must necessarily be pronounced in Latin; wherefore he could not afford to do it under a guinea.’
The widow protested at the cost for some time; but eventually worn out with the ‘freaks of the supposed ghost’, who every day became more and more outrageous, agreed to pay the guinea.
Patten also required a fire in the best parlour, two candles and a large bowl of punch.
‘These being all prepared the parson took his post, expecting the ghost. The farmer’s son, who did not know the sort of man he had to deal with, thought he could frighten the parson, and accordingly at twelve began his perambulation. No sooner did Patten hear his chain and groans than he sallied forth, and without any farther ceremony seized the supposed ghost by the collar, belabouring him at the same time heartily with a good oak sapling.’
The young farmer finding himself no match for his opponent fell on his knees and confessed. He begged the parson not to expose him nor reveal it to his mother-in-law who would have been glad of the pretence to turn him out of the house. The parson, on the young man’s promise never to disturb the house again, let him go, and undertook to settle matters with his mother-in-law:
“Early next morning she came down, anxious to know what had passed the preceding night. With well counterfeited-terror in his countenance, Reverend Patten told her that he had been engaged in a terrible conflict, the deceased being one of the most obstinate and fierce spirits he had ever met with; but that he had at length, with great difficulty and experience of Latin, laid him.
“Poor wicked soul!, says he, I forgive him, though a great part of his disquiet is owing to thirty shillings, for tythes which he defrauded me, but which he desired, nay and commanded you should pay. On that condition only he has agreed to trouble the house no more; he does not insist on your completing his promise to your son, but wishes you would at least let him have a share in the farm.”
To this, the woman agreed and Parson Patten received the thirty shillings over and above the stipulated guinea. The woman likewise admitted her son-in-law joint partner with her in the lease.
The honourable Reverend’s mixed virtues.
Among the good qualities Revered Patten could not boast about was that of being a good paymaster.
“Indeed, fame spoke so unfavourably of him respecting this article that none of the Canterbury tradesmen would let him have a single article of goods without first depositing the ready money for it. Under this predicament his wig had long passed through the medium of strait hair to the state of curling negatively or inwards, or in plain terms, was reduced to the condition of being only fit for a scare crow: but how to get another was the difficulty – he had not the money, and Christian faith was wanting.”
In this situation, he accidentally heard of a new peruke-maker from London, who had lately settled in the high street.
“To him he went a little before dinner time and bespoke a full cauliflower wig. The barber, struck with the reverend appearance of his new customer (whose character had not reached his ears), gladly undertook to furnish him; and his dinner being ready, he respectfully begged the honor of the doctor’s company to partake of it, and afterwards introduced a large bowl of punch. Patten ate and drank heartily, and got into great good humour. When the bowl was out, the barber would have proceeded to business, and produced his measures; but Patten cut him short, and greatly surprised him by saying he need not trouble himself to measure him, he would get his wig elsewhere. The barber, fearing he had taken offence at something that had passed at table, humbly begged pardon if he had been wanting in respect, protesting it was unintentional, and contrary to his meaning.”
“No, no, Sir,” answered Patten, “it is nothing of that: look you, you are an honest generous fellow; it would be a pity to take you in. I should never have paid you for your wig. I will therefore get it elsewhere.”
In another story told by Francis Grose, a neighbouring clergyman, who pretended to great skill in the Hebrew and Oriental languages’ showed Patten his study in which there were books in almost every language.
“And pray, brother, said Patten, “do you understand all those different tongues?” On being answered in the affirmative, “One would think,” rejoined he, “that you had got your head broken with a brick from the tower of Babel.”
Patten refused to read the Athanasian Creed. The archdeacon reproving him for the omission told the good vicar that his grace the archbishop read it. “That may be,” answered Patten, “perhaps he may believe it, but I don t; he believes at the rate of seven thousand per annum; I at less than fifty.”
Patten, in his last sickness, was in great distress. When the archbishop, Dr Seeker heard this he sent him ten guineas via the archdeacon. Reverend Patten acknowledged the gift, saying: “Thank his grace most heartily, and tell him; now I know he is a man of God, for I have seen his good angels.”