The Life of John Coleridge Patteson
The Curacy At Alfington. 1853-1855.
Preparation for ordination had become Patteson's immediate object. As has been already
said, his work was marked out. There was a hamlet of the parish of Ottery St. Mary, at a
considerable distance from the church and town, and named Alfington.
Some time previously, the family of Sir John Kennaway had provided the place with a
school, which afterwards passed into the hands of Mr. Justice Coleridge, who, in 1849,
there built the small church of St. James, with parsonage, school, and house, on a rising
ground overlooking the valley of Honiton, almost immediately opposite to Feniton; and,
at the same time, took on himself the expenses of the curacy and school, for the vicar of
the parish, the Rev. Dr. Cornish, formerly master of Ottery School.
The first curate of Alfington was Judge Coleridge's son Henry, the well-known author of
the beautiful Life of St. Francis Xavier. On his leaving our communion, it was his father's
wish that Coleridge Patteson should take the cure; and, until his ordination, it was
committed temporarily to other hands, in especial to the Rev. Henry Gardiner, who was
much beloved there. In the spring of 1853, he had a long and dangerous illness, when
Coley came to nurse him, and became so much attached to him, that his influence and
unconscious training became of great importance. The church was served by such clerical
friends as could give their assistance on Sunday, and the pastoral care, attention to the
school, cottage visiting, &c., became the employment of the candidate for Holy Orders,
who thus began his work under the direction of his disabled friend.
A letter to his sister shows how he plunged into the drudgery of the parish, doing that
which always cost him most, namely, administering rebukes; so that it was no wonder
that he wrote with a sort of elation at having lashed himself up to the point of giving a
'Feniton: July 19, 1853.
'My dearest Fan,--I am going to Thorverton to-day to stay till Thursday. Gardiner came
downstairs on Sunday, and again yesterday, and is making very rapid strides towards
perfect recovery. He even went out yesterday for a few minutes. So I don't mind leaving
him in the least; and indeed he is going to Sidmouth himself, probably at the end of the
week. I have seen him every day without one exception, and have learnt a very great deal
from him. He has studied very closely school work, condition of the labourer, boys'
homes, best method of dispensing charity, &c., and on all these points his advice has
been really invaluable. I feel now that I am quite to all intents working the district. People
ask me about their children coming to school. I know almost all the people in the village,
and a good many out of it, and begin to understand, in a very small way, what a
clergyman's life is. A mixture of sorrow and pleasure indeed! There are many very sad
cases of hypocrisy, filthiness, and wickedness (as I suppose there are in every district);
and yesterday I had a very hard-working and in one case most painful day.