The poor old clerk must have been almost overwhelmed by his numerous duties, and was often much embarrassed and exasperated by the old squire, Mr. C.B. Lawton, who was somewhat whimsical in his ways. This gentleman used to enter the church by his own private door, and go to his large, square, high-panelled family pew, and when the vicar gave out the hymn, he used often to shout out, “Here, hold on! I don’t like that one; let’s have hymn Number 25,” or some such effort of psalmody. This request, or command, used to upset the organ arrangement, and the poor old clerk had to rummage among his barrels to get a suitable tune, and the operation, even if successful, took at least ten minutes, during which time a large amount of squeaking and the sounds of the writhing of woodwork and snapping of sundry catches were heard in the church. But the congregation was accustomed to the performance and thought little of it. (John Smallwood, 2 Mount Pleasant, Strangeways, Manchester.)
Caistor Church, Lincolnshire, famous for the curious old ceremony of the gad-whip, was also celebrated for its clerk, old Joshua Foster, who was officiating there in 1884 at the time of the advent of a new vicar. Trinity Sunday was the first Sunday of the new clergyman, who sorely puzzled the clerk by reading the Athanasian Creed. The old man peered down into the vicar’s family pew from his desk, casting a despairing glance at the wife of the vicar, who handed him a Prayer Book with the place found, so that he could make the responses. He was very economical in the use of handkerchiefs, and used the small pieces of paper on which the numbers of the metrical psalm were written. In vain did the wife of the vicar present him with red-and-white-spotted handkerchiefs, which were used as comforters. The church was lighted with tallow candles—“dips” they were called—and at intervals during the service Joshua would go round and snuff them. The snuffers soon became full, and it was a matter of deep interest to the congregation to see on whose head the snuff would fall, and to dodge it if it came their way.
The Psalms of Tate and Brady’s version were sung and were given out with the usual preface, “Let us sing to the praise and glory of God the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 20th verses of the —— Psalm with the Doxology.” How that Doxology bothered the congregation! The Doxologies were all at the end of the Prayer Book, and it was not always easy to hit the right metre; but that was of little consequence. A word added if the line was too short, or omitted if too long, required skill, and made all feel that they had done their best when it was successfully over. After the old clerk’s death, he was succeeded by his son Joshua, or Jos-a-way, as the name was pronounced, whose son, also named Joshua the third, became clerk, and still holds the office.
The predecessor of the vicar was a pluralist, who held Caistor with its two chapelries of Holton and Clixby and the living of Rothwell. He was non-resident, and the numerous churches were served by a curate. This man was a great smoker, and used to retire to the vestry to don the black gown and smoke a pipe before the sermon, the congregation singing a Psalm meanwhile. One Sunday he had an extra pipe, and Joshua told him that the people were getting impatient.