The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Rev Arthur Wagner

Rev Arthur Wagner

In 1860 sixteen-year-old Constance Kent took her four-year-old half-brother Francis Savile Kent from his bed in the middle of the night, murdered him, and stuffed his body into an outside privy. The case - known as The Road Murder after the Somerset village where it occurred - gripped the popular imagination and generated prodigious quantities of column inches in the nation's press. Suspicion fell on everyone in the house but in the absence of any conclusive evidence no charges were brought. Five years later, Constance confessed her crime to the Reverend Arthur Douglas Wagner (1825-1902), vicar of St Paul's in Brighton, a church very much in the vanguard of the Catholic Revival. He persuaded her to come forward and surrender herself to the law, which she duly did. However, when called upon to give evidence at her trial, he claimed that the seal of the confessional forbade him from revealing what had passed between them. Although his evidence was unnecessary - Constance was not contesting the charge - the resulting controversy placed the unfortunate priest and his church at the centre of a storm of rage, abuse and vituperation. Father Wagner was physically attacked and the violence even extended to the Sisters of St Mary's Home, where Constance had found refuge, and to the ladies attending the church, who were insulted and pelted with stones. The arguments continued for years and there were calls in the House of Commons for a Select Committee to inquire into the manner in which divine service was conducted in St Paul's, with particular reference to the practice of sacramental confession.

Constance received the mandatory death sentence, subsequently commuted to life imprisonment, of which she served twenty years.

Photographed by W H Mason of 108 King's Road, Brighton.


Code: 123453
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