Arthur Tooth

Father Arthur Tooth SSC (1839–1931), a Ritualist and clergyman in the Church of England, and a member of the Society of the Holy Cross, is most famous for having been prosecuted in 1876 under the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 for using proscribed liturgical practices. He was also, briefly, imprisoned as a result of the prosecution in 1877.

Life before the prosecution

Tooth was born on 17 June 1839 in, Cranbrook, Kent. He was educated at Tonbridge School and, in 1858, became a student of Trinity College, Cambridge. He graduated in science in 1862.

After he graduated from Cambridge, he travelled round the world twice (he became an accomplished horseman and crack shot) and he discovered a vocation to the priesthood - although no satisfactory explanation seems to have been found for what sparked off his interest in Ritualism. He was ordained deacon in 1863 to a title at St Mary-the-Less, Lambeth, but he spent only a year there, because his churchmanship clashed with that of his vicar. He was ordained priest in 1864 and served a second curacy at St Mary's, Folkestone. From 1865-68 he was minister of St Mary Magdalene's mission church in the parish of St Nicholas, Chiswick. In 1868 he became vicar of St James's, Hatcham, a working class parish in south-east London.

Tooth's efforts to renew the life of St. James', Hatcham, started to attract large congregations. His approach combined capable preaching, the introduction of ritualist practices, and the establishment of parish organisations designed to help the more needy residents of the area. He also established the Guild of All Souls at St. Jame's in 1873.

Prosecution for Ritualism

When the Public Worship Regulation Act was passed in 1874, those who disapproved of his ritualist liturgical practices set a prosecution in motion. He was charged with (among other things) the use of incense, vestments, and altar candles. The case came before Lord Penzance at Lambeth Palace on 13 July 1876. Tooth did not attend as he refused to recognise the authority of the court. He ignored both the judicial warnings that resulted from his non-attendance and the legal attempts to restrain him from exercising his ministry, although he was now facing disruptions when he presided at worship caused largely by people hired for the purpose by his opponents.

Eventually, on 22 January 1877, as a result of his repeatedly ignoring the decisions of the Court of Arches, he was taken into custody for contempt of court and imprisoned at London's Horsemonger Lane Gaol. This action immediately transformed him in the eyes of Anglo-Catholics from a rebel into a Christian martyr, and his story became national headline news.

The agitations that resulted from his arrest and imprisonment played a central role in bringing the Public Worship Regulation Act into disrepute. His conviction was quashed on a technicality.

Life after the prosecution

The whole experience of the prosecution had a devastating effect on Tooth's health and he was only nominally in charge of St James's until November 1878. He lived for a further fifty-two years, but was never again given charge of a parish. Furthermore, he had no desire for fame or notoriety. He spent the rest of his life involved in the running of a boys school and with involvement with a religious sisterhood. He died at Otford, unmarried, on 5 March 1931, and was buried in Crystal Palace District Cemetery.

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