When Mr. Samuel Maddock first came here as Vicar of Ropley, over a century ago, he was intensely disliked and regarded with whole-hearted aversion and hatred because "he was a good man and a just" - one who was not afraid to rebuke the wrong-doer and to stand firmly for the cause of God and of true religion. He was also sternly opposed to the smuggling practices so largely carried on in Ropley and to the drinking habits which prevailed at that time.
I have understood that on Sundays many used to be seen sitting amid the boughs of the great yew tree in the churchyard (which at that time spread as far as the porch), freely imbibing.
The people's hatred of Mr. Maddock grew more and more pronounced as time went on, until a regular system of persecution arose, and all was done that could be thought of and devised to molest, injure and annoy both himself and the members of his family.
One Sunday morning a pail of dirty water was prepared in the porch of what is now the blacksmith's house, ready to be thrown over Mr. and Mrs. Maddock on their way home from church, followed by their children walking "two and two." But although aimed with great skill the missile just missed its mark.
On another Sunday when on their way to the Church Mr. and Mrs. Maddock were greeted by an effigy of the former dressed in his "bands" and gown hanging by the neck from a bough of the elm tree which until recently used to stand at the corner of the allotment ground. Many and many of such incidents occurred, of which Miss Maddock has often told me, though I fear that I have forgotten the greater part of them. But Mr. Maddock stood his ground unmoved and still hoped in time to win his parishioners over by love.
At last it was decided to make in some indirect manner an attempt upon his life. A great deal of secret plotting and consultation (as was afterwards discovered) took place amongst the young men in the village ale-house. (Possibly at "The Five Bells" at the top of the village near the pond - now turned into cottages). This was known as "Hell Corner." A young man who then worked for Mr. Maddock was one of the conspirators, but he was good-natured and of a kindly heart. He was one of the few who liked and believed in Mr. Maddock, and it was much against his will to be drawn into the plot. But he was afraid to "stand alone." He determined, however, to save Mr. Maddock from the threatened danger, were it possible, to do so - come what might of his interference.
Every Friday evening a little service used to be held in a cottage at Charlwood about two miles from the Vicarage, conducted by the Vicar, to which he and Mrs. Maddock used to drive. One day this man came to Mr. Maddock saying "I beg of you, sir, not to go to the Cottage meeting at Charlwood next Friday."
"For what reason ?" enquired the Vicar. "I can't say more, sir, but I do pray you not to go - there is danger in it."
Mr. Maddock was not to be put off, especially as the young man could give no reason. "It is my duty," he said, "and I shall certainly go." He, however, begged his wife not to accompany him on that occasion, meaning if there were danger of any sort to face it alone. But she was as firm as her husband, saying "We will go together, whatever it may mean. If there is danger I must share it with you." So they started, Mr. Maddock putting his wife and himself under God's special care and protection and so fearing nothing at all - mysterious as the whole thing seemed. The evening was dark and ominous looking and heavy storm clouds lowered overhead.
On the long hill at Monkwood there is a steep declivity leading down from the high road into a lane. The sides of it are covered with blackberry bushes, wild flowers and bracken ; there is no rail or fence to protect against a fall. At this spot, as the sequel showed, a number of conspirators were concealed, and their intention was to jump out suddenly as soon as the Vicar appeared, cut the traces and hurl his carriage down this declivity into the lane below, trusting that in this way his neck might perhaps be broken, or that at the least he might receive some very serious injury.
"Man proposes, and God disposes" and who shall say that it was not certainly so in this case ? At the very moment of action there came a flash of lurid lightning, so vivid that it seemed to rend the heavens ("Never was such a flash seen before," said the men afterwards) and a clap of terrific thunder followed it instantly. Some say that a "Thunbolt" fell, but this may have been imaginary. Anyway the men were terribly alarmed and conscience stricken, believing that the Heavenly Powers had intervened to save their victim. They rushed up to Mr. Maddock, confessing all and begging for his forgiveness.
This incident is said to have made a great impression at the time, and for years afterwards it seems to have been remembered and discussed. Ever since my childhood's days I have met with people here who had heard of it from their parents and they still often say "My father told me." Miss Maddock who lived to an advanced age, has often given me the particulars of this incident. A truly remarkable one indeed.
It is comforting and cheering to reflect that Mr. Maddock lived to overcome entirely all dislike and opposition, and become the beloved of his parishioners, who learnt to respect and honour him greatly. He died at the age of 85 years.
Mr. Maddock's preaching and his manner of conducting the Church services would indeed cause wonder in these days ! One Christmas morning when a child I can remember his saying :-
"Now I am not going to keep you long to-day, my friends, for I know there's that nice piece of beef waiting for you at home and that beautiful plum-pudding is in the saucepan !"
On another occasion during his sermon he shouted out, "Young men, take care whom you marry - the devil always goes with the women !" This was rather naughty of him because he had such a devoted wife and such excellent daughters, and indeed all the members of the family were deeply attached to one another.
One Sunday morning, in his wonderfully realistic manner and accompanied with some half-humorous gesture he said :-
"The devil's in London, my friend's." And then louder: "He's nearer than that - he's in Hampshire !" Then, after a pause and still more impressively : "He's even nearer still - he's in Ropley !" Then, leaning over the pulpit, and very impressively : "He's in this Church, my friends !" And finally, in a whisper : "The devil's in our hearts - in yours and mine, and we must resist him !" This was before my time, but I have been told it word for word by an old gentleman who was present on the occasion. The Sunday after the day on which Mr. Maddock's eldest daughter was married to Mr. Floud, his text, as I have been told, was "The Flood came and took them away !"
Mr. Maddock had a very acute sense of humour, and he was a born "story-teller." I have heard my father say that he could hold a whole dinner-table of guests entranced, or move them to perfect fits of laughter. "Get Mr. Maddock to tell a story." This sufficed. He was of a very genial and kindly disposition and possessed many deeply attached and devoted friends. My father has often told me that the incidents and coincidences and marvellous "deliverances" in his life were truly astonishing, and that his biography should most certainly be preserved. Indeed it would seem as if the whole Maddock family had been specially and wonderfully led and guided. I fear that I have forgotten many or most of the anecdotes which go to show this.
As time went on, and the character and disposition of the good Vicar became better understood, he gradually won the respect and admiration of all. He was an ideal village pastor. In the whole neighbourhood his name was, I believe, "one to conjure by," and to his own parishioners he became a father and friend. Having for a short time studied for the medical profession, his knowledge in this respect stood him in good stead in a village remote from a doctor's aid. He also seems to have possessed a certain amount of legal knowledge, and was thus enabled to draw up short wills in proper form, as well as to prescribe for many of the simpler maladies of his parishioners. And thus "I be going down to Mr. Maddick" was the cry on all occasions.
My first recollection of our dear old Vicar was that as a tiny child he gave me a picture book as a reward for being "a good little girl in church." Children always loved him ; they were attracted by his cheery manner, and amusing little anecdotes, as also by the little packets of lollipops and lozenges hidden in his waistcoat pocket !
During the last few years of his life his enquiry of every new acquaintance was "Can you tell me where I can get a new pair of legs ?"
Pleasant little surprises seem often to have been sprung upon Mr. Maddock by those who loved and appreciated him. His daughter has told me how on one occasion when his old horse, "Evely," was becoming rather infirm and slow, he drove over to lunch with Mr. Scott, of Rotherfield Park. When the gig was brought to the door to convey him home again, behold a young and handsome animal was between the shafts ! "This is not my horse," said Mr. Maddock, "there is some mistake." "Oh yes, it is," was Mr. Scott's reply. "It is my gift to you."
As he grew older and became more infirm, my father, who was almost as a son to him, became his help and stay. The closest intimacy existed between Ropley House and the Vicarage, and Mr. Maddock used smilingly to say that he could hardly have preached his sermon if Mr. Hagen had not come into the vestry to help him on with his gown !
My father passed away just one year and five months before his aged Vicar, and I think this loss was a great grief to Mr. Maddock during the last months of his life. His body was laid to rest, together with other members of his family in a vault (now bricked up) beneath the Communion Table.
His personality and influence were remarkably strong, and even as I write these words, though my recollection of him is so distant and not always clear, I experience a strange touch of emotion and feel that I can never forget our dear old Vicar.
"My friend and neighbour, the Rev. S. Maddock, Vicar of Ropley, came to preach for me when 83 years of age. He was the son of a medical man at Nottingham, who had a young assistant, much persecuted by the others on account of his religion. On one occasion an inkstand was thrown over him as he knelt by his bedside in prayer. But he only remarked that he wished he could wipe away sin as easily as the ink. This conduct so impressed one of the doctor's sons - Mr. Benjamin Maddock - that he began to read his Bible every night. And then our friend, his brother Samuel, did the same, in order not to be outdone. This was the means of his conversion.
The following is a re-print from "The Hampshire Chronicle," of November 2nd, 1818.
"On Thursday last, John Lacey, publican of Ropley, and Tom Baker, publican of Bishop's Sutton, with John Ivy, of Ropley, were brought before Messrs. Rawlinson, Duthy and Barton, his Majesty's Justices of the Peace at Alresford, and charged with having disturbed the Rev. Samuel Maddock while performing divine service at his parish church at Bishop's Sutton, by uttering oaths and curses, and pursuing other most indecorous conduct. They were required to find securities in a bond of £50 each to secure their appearance at the next Quarter Sessions. It is hoped that the example made of these three young men will be a warning to others not to interrupt any clergyman in the discharge of his parochial duties, nor to disturb any congregation assembled for the worshipping of Almighty God."
I heard from an old woman of 85 that when Mrs. Maddock died, all the school girls had bonnets with black ribbon round them and black capes or shawls. Of these she told me "We were very proud. We wore them for six months afterwards."
I have been told that one day it was whispered in the village that Mrs. Maddock had recently purchased a new silk dress, which she intended to wear for the first time on the following Sunday. In a village so small as Ropley very trivial matters would be known and discussed. Some of the rough lads thought that this would be an excellent opportunity upon which to vent their spite. So during the evening service they procured from a neighbouring ditch some filthy black mud with which they thickly coated the stile over which the Vicar's wife would climb on her return home. In the semi-darkness the mud was invisible, and needless to add that the new silk dress was spoilt !
The following amusing little anecdote used often to be told by Mr. Maddock "against himself." But it required his inimitable style and manner to do it justice.
For many years he acted as Chaplain at the Workhouse on Tichborne Down, near Alresford. Though beloved by many there, the Chairman of the Board was bitterly opposed to him. (This must be remembered).
One day when walking in the streets of London Mr. Maddock saw in a second-hand bookseller's shop some volumes of "Common Prayer" in very good condition. As the Workhouse Chapel was in need of such, he bought all the copies, and on returning home presented them.
Some time after this Mr. Maddock one morning received an important looking official letter from the Workhouse Authorities, requesting his attendance there without fail at a given time.
"Depend upon it, Sophie," said he, turning to his daughter, and handing her the letter, "it's a testimonial. They have been getting one up for me, and are about to present it !"
Miss Maddock agreed as to this probability, and much fun and pleasing anticipation had they in regard to it. "A silver teapot, I expect it is," he said. "Yes, and may be a sugar-basin and cream jug as well; and who knows, even a pair of sugar tongs !"
As the day approached, his smile became more and more charming and genial and his anticipation more keen.
On the eventful morning when about to start, and the gig was waiting at the door, he said to his daughter, "Sophie, bring me my best great-coat and my new gloves, and give my hat an extra brush. And are my boots quite nicely blacked and shining, and do I look my very best ?"
So off he started. Arrived at the Workhouse there was no one to receive him. Not a word, not a sign. He was ushered into the long, cold, desolate Board-room, where he remained seated alone, and waited there for a long time wondering and wondering.
At length the members of the Board filed in and took their seats, with scarce a word of recognition. Mr. Maddock stood and remained upon his feet - no one placing a chair for him. He began to feel somewhat like a culprit upon his trial, so he used to tell us.
At length the mystery was explained. In a very severe tone, and handing one of the Prayer Books to him, the Chairman said : "Do you know this book ? Do you deny having presented it to the Workhouse ?" "Certainly I know it," said Mr. Maddock. "I bought it with others in London the other day."
And then it turned out that these books which Mr. Maddock had purchased in all good faith and had never particularly examined were Unitarian Prayer Books ! And this was his crime.
Of course the whole Board knew that he was not to blame, that all was absolutely unintentional on his part, and that this incident was arranged merely to annoy him.
I am unable to remember the exact ending, but it is well to know that the good Vicar was enabled at last to win over even the opposing Chairman, by his good nature and forgiving spirit.
Later on the parishioners here did present their beloved Vicar with a handsome testimonial, which my father was instrumental in getting up, and for which I as a child collected.
One more little incident concerning Mr. Maddock I feel inclined to relate as showing two characteristics of his nature - kindness, and a sense of justice towards animals. The story has often been related to me by an old man here who loves telling it.
A boy named Joe used to work daily in the Vicarage garden. One morning Mr. Maddock from his study window saw this lad eating his dinner whilst seated upon a stone.
Up came the dog and stood close by, patiently waiting for a bit. The boy held out to him a piece of cheese, but just as the animal was about to take it, there came a severe crack across his nose with a stick. The dog yelped and the boy laughed. Mr. Maddock said nothing. But the next day, he called up Joe, and said to him : "Do you like figgy cake ?"
"Oh yes, sir."
"Then here is a slice for you." So saying he held out to the delighted boy a large piece of delicious plum cake.
His hand was outstretched to receive it, when bringing a stick from behind his back, the Vicar cut a sharp crack across Joe's knuckles. "There !" he said, "now you know what poor Carlo felt yesterday."
The next day the Vicar called the lad into his study and after a few words of kind reproof, handed him a large slice of cake in return for a promise never so to transgress again.
Many years ago, and long "before my time," Mr. Maddock's wife had a most remarkable dream of premonition, which was that she must go to Bishop's Sutton (the next village, and at that time attached to Ropley) without a moment's delay. She immediately told her husband, who at first only smiled. But so intense was her conviction that this "call" must be obeyed that it was in vain to dissuade her from her purpose. As soon as the manservant arrived in the morning, the carriage was ordered (much to his astonishment) and the Vicar and his wife got in. "Where to, sir ?" enquired the man. "I don't know," said Mrs. Maddock, "but drive towards Sutton." They proceeded on their way, still not knowing their destination. Then Mrs. Maddock said, "I feel we cannot do better than call at the house of Mrs. So and So ; she knows everyone in the village, and would be sure to hear if anything were amiss." They did so. Stopping at a small house covered with creepers which remains unchanged, just at the entrance of the village - and which I know very well - knocking, and receiving no reply, they opened the door and entered. No one was visible. Something impelled Mrs. Maddock to run upstairs, and there - in her bedroom was the unfortunate woman in the act of hanging herself ! They were just in time to save her life. The chair on which she had stood was kicked away. A rope was round her neck.
This story is absolutely true, and has often been related to me by Mrs. Maddock's daughter herself - Miss Sophie Maddock - who lived to the age of 93 and was buried here in 1912.
An old man named Hall writing to me a few years ago from Tunbridge Wells upon some other subject, mentioned the fact that in his youth he had lived at one of the old cottages at Swelling Hill Pond, Ropley. He told me that once after a severe illness he was supposed to be dead. Indeed he had been laid in his coffin, which was just going to be closed down, when Mr. Maddock came to the house to offer his sympathy. He looked at the supposed dead lad, and after a few moments exclaimed "I'm sure he is still living !"
This indeed proved to be the case, and thus the boy's life was saved as by a "special providence."