Canon Gregory Smith tells the following story of a clerk in Herefordshire, who flourished half a century ago:
In the west-end gallery of the old-fashioned little church were musicians with fifes, etc. etc. Sometimes, if they started badly in a hymn, the clerk would say to the congregation, “Beg pardon, gents; we’ll try again.”
As I left home one day, the clerk ran after me. “But, sir, who’ll take the duty on St. Swithin’s Day?”
Once or twice, being somnolent, on a hot afternoon he woke up suddenly with a loud “Amen” in the middle of the sermon.
When I said good-bye to him, having resigned the benefice, he said, very gravely, “God will give us another comforter.”
An old country clerk in showing visitors round the churchyard used to stop at a certain tombstone and say:
“This ’ere is the tomb of Thomas ’Ooper and ’is eleven wives.”
One day a lady remarked: “Eleven? Dear me, that’s rather a lot, isn’t it?”
The old man looked at her gravely and replied: “Well, mum, yer see it wus an’ ’obby of ’is’n.”
The Rev. W.D. Parish, in his Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect, tells of a friend of his who had been remonstrating with one of his parishioners for abusing the parish clerk beyond the bounds of neighbourly expression, and who received the following answer: “You be quite right, sir; you be quite right. I’d no ought to have said what I did; but I doeant mind telling you to your head what I’ve said so many times behind your back. We’ve got a good shepherd, I says, an excellent shepherd, but he’s got an unaccountable bad dog.”
* * * * *
Some seventy or eighty years ago at Thame Church, Buckinghamshire, the old-fashioned clerk had a much-worn Prayer Book, and the parson and he made a duet of the responses, the congregation not considering it necessary or even proper to interfere. When the clerk happened to come to a verse of the Psalms with words missing he said “riven out” (pronounced oot), and the parson finished the verse; this was taken quite as a matter of course by the congregation.
* * * * *
In a Lancashire church, when the rector was about to publish the banns of marriage, the book was not in its usual place. However, he began: “I publish the banns of marriage ... I publish ... the banns”—when the clerk looked up from the lowest box of the “three-decker,” and said in a tone not sotto voce, “‘Twixt th’ cushion and th’ desk, sur.”
* * * * *
Prayer Book words are sometimes a puzzle to illiterate clerks. At the present time in a Berkshire church the clerk always speaks of “Athanasian’s Creed,” and of “the Anthony-Communion hymn.”
* * * * *
His views of art are occasionally curious. An odd specimen of his race was showing to some strangers a stained-glass window recently erected in memory of a gentleman and lady who had just died. It was a two-light window with figures of Moses and Aaron. “There they be, sir, but they don’t much feature the old couple,” said the clerk, who regarded them as likenesses of the deceased.