Recollections of Dr Roderick MacLeod (extracts)

by the Countess of Caithness

I have a vivid recollection of my grandfather, Dr. Roderick MacLeod, and spent many happy days as a child at the old Rectory in Dean Street [St Anne Soho]. At that time there was a porch over the step to the front door, and what is now Mr. Miiller's shop was then the dining room. The present fine oak staircase led up to the drawing room, which was on the first floor above the dining room.

I remember my grandfather as a very earnest and popular clergyman, bright, warm-hearted, full of vivacity, and fond of his joke. He had a short, thin, well-proportioned, wiry frame. With age he became so short that he could with difficulty be seen in the high pulpit. He wore knee breeches, black silk stockings, and silver buckles, with the shovel hat of a Doctor of Divinity. He took snuff and powdered his hair. He was a good preacher, and the Church was well attended during his time. As a child, I used to be much impressed by the opening of the vestry door at the west end of the church, and the appearance of the procession of two beadles in rich toggery, with cocked hat in hand followed by the Rector. My brother recalls the fact that the beadles also escorted him, when the prayers were over, from his pew to the vestry, and when 'gowned', conducted him again to the pulpit stairs. St. Anne's had then a 'three-decker'. The fine organ was at the west end, and the charity children in their picturesque dress sat in lofty galleries on each side of the organ.

I remember a curious old custom on Christmas Day. On the ledge in front of the galleries large quartern loaves were placed, and after service, they were reached down by means of ladders, and given to the poor people who had been invited to receive them. Another tradition is that of the two beadles, before mentioned, standing on either side of the chief door upon Collection days, holding two gilt plates and repeating every second  "Please remember the poor." Speaking of curious customs, there was always wine and a biscuit in the Vestry to recruit the preacher before the sermon, and I have been told that Mr. Selwyn, afterwards the famous Bishop of New Zealand, when he was officiating at St. Anne's for a few weeks in my grandfather's absence, attempted to abolish this custom, but his action met with no approval from the Rector.

On the Queen's accession Dr. MacLeod was selected to present an address from the London clergy, being the oldest in office and years. On that occasion, having handed the address, in returning backwards he tripped on his robe. To save his falling the Queen stepped forward and caught his arm. At that time he was eighty-four years of age. He was a genuine Highlander, for it is stated that he would get very excited at the sound of the bagpipes, and would snap his fingers with delight when anyone came and played in front of the windows of the house. He retained his activity to a very advanced age, when my brother remembers his joining the children's round dances in the drawing-room. The old rectory was the place for many happy family meetings, and for much kindly hospitality. ...

... [T]he Rector's daughter, Miss Wilhelmina MacLeod ... was his right hand in all parish work, indeed Bishop Blomfield used to call her 'the Rector of St. Anne's'. She lives in the memory of all who knew her as a singularly gifted woman, and as one who devoted her gifts of mind and heart to her father's parish. I well remember how she bore the burden of that exhausting work, as the old man's infirmities increased. Her fund of good spirits, and of keen appreciation of the ludicrous, never deserted her. How she brought home many an amusing story of her intercourse with the poor, which she would afterwards recount with the richest sense of humour ! She was one of the early converts of the Oxford revival, and thoroughly grasped the ideas of the movement. She died at the age of sixty-two, and for years before her death courageously visited the haunts of vice and poverty, in spite of weakness and bad health. A letter which she wrote on March 2, 1838, shows her active and cheerful disposition, and gives a glimpse of the parish of St. Anne at the beginning of the Queen's reign. She says: I have been very busy of late, trudging in the mud, and on dirty stairs, down into kitchens, and up to garrets, to find out which of the poor people stand most in need of relief, as we have had a subscription for them in consequence of the late severe weather.

The following letter written to a curate shows the good terms on which the Rector worked with his colleagues and the keen interest which he took in his parish at the age of eighty-four. It is dated August 27, 1838:

My Dear Sir,
You are a naughty man. I fully expected to have heard from you by Mr. Langton, but received only three lines from George, with this conclusion, 'No news whatever'. Now I expect much news of what has been done in the parish since I left it. In this expectation I meet with no sympathy from my young folks here. They ask 'Why do you think so much of dirty Dean Street?' They do all they can to make me forget it, and pull me about often against my will, and say, as usual, it is all for my good. I have much cause to be thankful for their affectionate care of me, and am better in health than I have any right to expect. I sleep well at night, and they do all they can to amuse me through the day but I still wish to get back to the old Church, and to relieve you of some part of your duty which must, I fear, press hard upon you, in my absence. Pray tell Sawyer tho' he has done so much for me, I shall go back as poor as any Church rat, and I hope he will endeavour to get the remainder of my Midsr. rents paid up before I return . . . Who is to assist you at the Sacrt. the first Sunday in Septr. I am forbidden by the Dr. to write, and you may see I am unfit for it, but it will drive no blood into your head to write me a long letter, and 1 shall be most thankful for it. Pray accept our united best regards, and believe me to be, my dear Sir,
Yours very faithfully,

On the following day he wrote I have received yours and am, as I promised, most thankful for it. I own I liked to see the Sunday School children before me at the Altar, but as the Teacher seems reconciled to the change, I must submit . . . Ever yours,  RODK. MACLEOD.

This same Curate remarked to a relative of mine that when Dr. MacLeod was about eighty-eight he could always trust to a clear answer on any difficult question arising in the parish if he saw him in the morning; but he forgot all about the subject later in the day. ...

I remember my grandfather's habit of reading the Times from end to end advertisements included, it was alleged. He was never known to require glasses to the day of his death. He appears to have been much interested in the events of the Peninsular War, for he made a special study of the Wellington Despatches, which he read word for word on their publication.

During the last few years the Bible was his sole reading, his favourite chapters being those of St. John from the 14th to the 16th. His mind became slightly confused during the last year. He would imagine country scenes from the windows. The setting sun could not be seen from the rectory, but a few months before the end he was living near town, and he frequently sat gazing at the sunset with thoughts far afield. Very touching to remark! An accident shortened his days. Rising from his arm-chair (as was his custom) to replenish the fire, he sat down on the arm of the chair, which upset on him, breaking his thigh. It is a curious fact that in his last illness he said his prayers to himself in Gaelic, which he could seldom have heard spoken since his boyhood.

He died on December 14, 1845, in his ninety-second year. My brother was at the funeral which was, in accordance with the custom of that time, a very elaborate and costly ceremony. The vault extended under the length and breadth of the Church. The procession entered at the west end, and walked up the broad centre span. Coffins were arranged on each side, some covered in gorgeous gilt and crimson velvet. Dr. MacLeod's remains, were placed under the altar, in a space allotted to the Rectors. I possess the bill for the funeral, which was carried out by Messrs. Chittenden Bros., of 43 Greek Street. It amounted to £96 15s., of which £50 16s. 6d. was for scarves, hat-bands, and gloves, and the remainder for the coffins and church dues. This expenditure was an extravagant concession to the taste of the times.

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