(curate of Todmorden 1662-1685)


A self-styled "rustic court magician" by the name of Henry Crabtree descended on Todmorden in 1662 to take up the curacy of St. Mary's. He has to be the most eccentric odd-ball ever to hold the position of vicar, yet he lasted there for an unbelievable 23 years. He wasn't a scholar, but was a blunt and honest Yorkshire man, born in Sowerby. He worked in an age when superstition and belief in witches and wizards was rife, and all daily misfortunes were blamed on such witches and wizards.

Henry was not only a clergyman but also a physician, mathematician and astrologer. His wages of £12 a year from the Parish were augmented by attempts at healing the sick. Blood letting was his favourite treatment, but he preferred prevention rather than cure. In 1685 he wrote and had published a book entitled "Merlinus Rusticus", or Country Almanac, in which he gave a month by month prescription for keeping healthy.

In February it is:

"exceeding good to take a little quantity of honey of roses every morning 3 hours before dinner, it will comfort the stomach and cleanse the whole body"

In March

"if you stand in need you may vomit, purge, or bleed, but be sure you keep warm this month"

In April

"purge, vomit and let blood, but abstain from wine and strong drink for it more defiles the blood in this month than in any other"

In May

"rise early, walk in the fields by running streams of water, and feast thy lungs with fresh air. Sage and sweat butter is an excellent breakfast. Clarified whey, wild sage and scurvey grass, ale and wormwood beer are now very wholesome."

In June,

"beware of lying on the ground this month, and of drinking hastily or too much when you are hot. Let honest labour and moderate exercise procure your sweat. To lie too much or long upon the lower sheet is very hurtful for the body this month. A sparing and thin diet is best."

In July

"Beware of purging, vomiting or bleeding. This month eat no strong meats, nor drink over much strong drink"

In August

"to eat sage is wholesome. All meats and herbs that are moderately cold of quality are wholesome. A glass of brisk wine moderately taken is good."

In September

"this month is good for blood letting. Take diet drinks several mornings together to prevent diseases in the winter and preserve your bodies in health till the next spring"

In October

"the time now requires that you consult with your tailor, as well with your physician. A good suit of warm clothes is worth two purges and one vomit"

In November

"the best thing this month is clothes, good diet and strong drink. The best exercise is hunting or tracing hares, but be sure that the pack or Lordship be your own, and then you need not fear an indictment or fine at the next Sessions."

In December

"the best thing this month is good meat and the strongest drink you can get, warm clothes and moderate exercise".

Henry is credited with being the first incumbent to keep Parish records of baptisms, marriages and burials at St. Mary's. Far from the often brief entries of his counterparts to follow, he added many an astrological comment to the register, and sometimes very caustic remarks.

On June 23rd 1669 he buried Edmund Kershaw, adding in the register "with all men's consent", whilst Ruth Fielden was "well buried" on 24th May 1670. In 1685 he baptised James Taylor, who he comments "was born near the setting of the sun and also near a full moon - a sure sign of a short life." His parents were more than likely very unimpressed.

His longest obituary in the burial register concerned the death of John Bairstow, who had lost his wife and daughter not long previously. Henry wrote:

"he presently began offering sacrifice unto Bacchus.."

He goes on to describe how John Bairstow took to the hills to drink himself senseless in an effort to "comfort the cockles of his heart". Henry concludes:

"it is to be supposed that being over-charged with immoderate sorrow, his heart burst from grief and he died in a rage for want of ale, and he came to Todmorden to be buried."

Such antics may now be considered quaint, but Henry had a dark side to him. He and his immediate followers were great QUAKER hunters. At that time, non-conformist beliefs were illegal, and considered dangerous to and by the Established Church. Henry and his men broke into peaceful Quaker meetings and took the names of all present, which were then handed to the authorities.

Two particular instances have been recorded whereby they broke into the house of Henry Kailey at Todmorden Edge and the home of Daniel Sutcliffe at Strait Hey in Langfield. The men's names were taken and they were later called before the Justices of the Peace. The heads of the families of those two houses were fined substantial amounts of money, and the others lesser amounts.

Kailey's Barn at Todmorden Edge in 2004


Some of these Quakers refused to pay their fines and distraint orders were issued. The FIELDENS of Bottomley and others at Mankinholes in Langfield and Shore in Stansfield were subject to these distraint orders, and suffered the indignity of having their household goods seized in lieu of the fine. Some of them were sent to prison. All thanks to the Rev. Henry Crabtree.

His actions as a physician were eventually his downfall. His biggest mistake was treating a young man who suffered from fits by over-zealous blood letting; "enough for six men at once". He was accused of being in league with the devil and discredited for the rest of his life. He died before 1695 in Todmorden and is buried in an unmarked grave with no reference to the burial in the registers he so carefully created. His wife outlived him and was buried at St. Mary's on December 15th. 1718.