The Folkestone Ritual Case

In August 1872 the ‘Folkestone Chronicle’ published a letter stating that legal proceeding had begun against Fr Ridsdale concerning ritualistic services. Other charges regarding a second altar and Stations of the Cross were dropped when it was realised that they had been correctly installed in accordance with the faculties issued.

During the winter of the same year, Fr Ridsdale and the Churchwardens were charged in the Commissary Court, presided over by Dr Tristam, with erecting a set of Stations of the Cross. The plaintiff was the secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archibald Tait. This Court found in favour of the Archbishop but an appeal was lodged in the autumn of 1873 on the grounds that the Archbishop’s secretary had no public or private interest in the case, and was therefore not a fit person to institute such a prosecution.  Heard in the Court of Arches, the appeal was upheld in November 1873, and costs attributed to the Archbishop. Shortly afterwards the Archbishop appealed against this judgement to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, but this was dismissed.

The Ridsdale Trust
Rev CJ Ridsdale

Queen Victoria, a friend of Archbishop Tait, in January 1874 urged him to introduce legislation into Parliament to strengthen the Bishops’ ability to “stop the corrosion of the Church’s Protestant character”. On 13th and 14th January at the new years’ council of the Bishops, led by Archbishop Tait, the Public Worship Regulation Act was drafted with the intention of suppressing the growth of ritualism, and instil a greater sense of unity within the Church of England. Tait reported the outcome of the Bishops’ meeting to the Queen who in turn reported the decision the William Gladstone, the Prime Minister.

The Bills passage through parliament was long and complicated with amendments being made. Finally on 5th August 1874 the Public Worship Regulation Act was passed.

Whilst Fr Ridsdale and his wife Rosamund were on honeymoon in Switzerland, three parishioners of St Peter’s, namely: William Clifton (Baker), George Millar (Shoemaker), and James Harris (Beer House Keeper) instigated proceedings under the Act against Fr Ridsdale who was thought to be in breach of the law in his liturgical practices. Fr Ridsdale’s supporters and congregation claimed that the complainants, though resident in the parish, were not regular worshippers at the Church.

National interest had grown in Fr Ridsdale and St Peter’s and became known as “The Folkestone Ritual Case”. On 6th January 1876, Fr Ridsdale was summoned to the Library at Lambeth Palace, to appear before Judge James Plaisted Baram Penzance accused on twelve points. That on Sunday 4th and 11th July 1875:

  1. Lighted candles were used on the Communion Table during Mass when such candles were not wanted for the purpose of giving light
  2. Unlawful Ecclesiastic Vestments ( Alb and Chasuble) were worn
  3. Water was unlawfully mixed with Sacramental Wine in the chalice
  4. Wafer bread was used
  5. The Consecration occurred when the celebrant had his back to the congregation.
  6. During the prayer of Consecration, Fr Ridsdale twice unlawfully knelt or bent his knee during the reading thereof.
  7. The Agnus Dei was sung
  8. At certain services, only one elderly person communicated.
  9. A procession was unlawfully formed before the Communion Service consisting of two acolytes, four banners, and a processional cross, during which a hymn was sung and Birettas worn.
  10. A procession was held before Evensong.
  11. Unlawfully setting up and retaining a crucifix and twenty four candlesticks on the rood screen and lighting the said candles although the other lights in the Church were amply sufficient to light the Church.
  12. Stations of the Cross had been erected.

The prosecution case was based upon the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer of Edward VI, as amended by Elizabeth I, and resulted in Fr Ridsdale being found guilty on every point. This was a lengthy case which attracted national interest through the reports published in the national daily newspapers.

Fr Ridsdale complied with the Court’s decision on eight of the charges, but did not abandon points 2, 4, 5 and 11 and following the Courts decision he refused to celebrate Mass at St Peter’s until his appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council had been heard. The Stations of the Cross were removed from the walls during Lent 1876, to the chant of “Misereremei Deus” and the communicants attended St Michael’s Church in Dover Road.

Finally on 12th May 1877 the Lord Chancellor gave his decision on the appeal, finding only the Eastward position acceptable. The wearing of vestments was forbidden and a writ was issued for the removal of the rood crucifix. Fr Ridsdale objected to abandoning vestments contrary to his interpretation of the Ornaments Rubric of the Book of Common Prayer and received dispensation from his perceived belief of the meaning of the rubric from Archbishop Tait.

Fr Ridsdale was the first Anglican clergyman to be prosecuted under the Public Worship Regulations Act 1874 and the immense publicity that the Act attracted, together with the subsequent prosecutions, a few of which resulted in the imprisonment of clergy, had the opposite of the intended effect. By 1897 the Archbishop encouraged the Bishops to be more lenient in such cases and use their veto on further prosecutions.

Cartoon from Punch Magazine showing Archbishop Tait trying to control the ritualist ‘black sheep

Cartoon from Punch Magazine showing Archbishop Tait trying to control the ritualist ‘black sheep” Source – Wikipedia

Past priests of St.Peter’s
Full Chronological History of St.Peter’s