Friday, March 08, 2013

Rev John “Mad Jack” Alington

A sketch of Rev John Alington in his leopard skin robe by Samuel Lucas.

Rev John “Mad Jack” Alington
Also known as: The Mad Vicar of Old Letchworth

  •   Born 4 May, 1795 at Baldock, Hertfordshire
  •   Inherited a fortune from his maternal grandfather - 43 farms, a million pounds cash and a country seat, Letchworth Hall in Hertfordshire. 
  • First married to Elba Frances in 1822. She died in 1838 leaving him to look after 8 sons and 3 daughters. 
  • Married Elizabeth Tufnell on 27 Mar 1841. 
  • He was granted a BA from Balliol College, Oxford, in 1817 and an MA in 1822. He was ordained as a priest on 17 June 1821.
  • Samuel Hartopp Knapp, the vicar of St Mary’s Church, Letchworth, invited him to take a few services. Alington took all but the funerals. His erratic behavior and bizarre preaching led to his suspension from office. 
  • Alington started holding church services at Letchworth Hall which were attended by the people of the village, who lived on his land and worked for him, as well as transients, gypsies and prostitutes. Free beer and brandy were further inducements to attend. 
  •  Instead of customary vestments he wore a leopard skin robe, played music boxes and an old piano he called “tidlee bump” 
  • “He would begin reading the sermon, usually a story about free love, then disappear behind a screen, then reappear in another part of the hall through a trapdoor, or would occasionally career up and down the aisle, staggeringly drunk, in a four-wheeled cart propelled by a couple of servants. To signal the end of his service he generally removed his wig and tossed it into the air.” Curing Hiccups with Small Fires: A Delightful Miscellany of Great British Eccentrics by Karl Shaw, page 76. 
  • Liked to be carried around his garden in a coffin. 
  • Transformed his pond into a model of the world’s oceans and would give geographical lectures while paddling around it in a boat. 
  • Died on 11 December 1864 at Letchworth Hall, aged 69. 
  • He had taken ill and refused the doctor’s medicine opting instead for a tumbler of neat brandy. He died shortly after drinking it.

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