Vaughan’s doves

St George's Church, Doncaster (now known as Doncaster Minster)

St George’s Church, Doncaster (now known as Doncaster Minster)

When I last visited Doncaster Minster, formerly the parish church of St George, I was shown the monument to Rev Charles John Vaughan (1816-1897), the much-respected vicar between 1860 and 1869.

His story, hidden for many years and still incompletely recorded, is not broadcast in Doncaster.

He was headmaster of Harrow School for fifteen years from 1844, credited with turning the school round in emulation of the great Dr Arnold of Rugby, and widely tipped for a bishopric or the mastership of a university college.

In 1859 he resigned suddenly and, to universal surprise, became vicar of Doncaster, then rapidly expanding as a major railway town.

The truth was that his love-affair with a student, Alfred Pretor (1840-1908), had come to light, and Vaughan was practically blackmailed, not by Pretor’s parents but by the father of another student, John Addington Symonds (1840-1893), who himself in adult life became a poet and advocate of male love, which he termed “l’amour de l’impossible”.  John Addington Symonds Snr, a doctor, rejected the pleas of Vaughan’s wife, Catherine, and insisted that Vaughan should retire to the life of a humble pastor.

At Doncaster he did great work among the people:  he also had a splendid new church, rebuilt by George Gilbert Scott after a fire in the 1850s;   its magnificent Schultz organ was installed in 1862.

When Vaughan was offered, and accepted, the bishopric of Rochester, a surreptitious telegram from Symonds Snr forced him to reverse his acceptance, to the astonishment of all who knew him.  When he was subsequently offered the see of Worcester, he again declined it.

In 1869 he left Doncaster to become Master of the Temple Church in the city of London.  Only after the death of Symonds Snr was he able to accept the Deanery of Llandaff in 1879.

His greatest work for the Church carries a powerful irony.  From his arrival in Doncaster until shortly before his death he prepared no less than 462 young men for the ministry.  These included Randall Davison, a future Archbishop of Canterbury.  His protégés were so recognisable and highly regarded that they were known as “Vaughan’s doves”.

He clearly had a flair for spotting and successfully recruiting Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates who shared his passion for serving God and ministering to the people.  Archbishop Edward Benson of Canterbury said of Vaughan, without irony, “No man laid the Church of England under a greater obligation.”

In the twentieth century his Harrow indiscretion would have ended his career.  In the heyday of the Victorian Church of England he achieved a remarkable redemption.

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