Anglican Notables – Arthur Tooth ( Ritualists ) – 5 March

Anglican Notables – Arthur Tooth ( Ritualists ) – 5 March

[ This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel.  Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, _Ut Unum Sint_, this series occasionally acknowledges differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and does so in a spirit of charity and respect.  However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us. ]

Arthur Tooth. Born 17 June 1839 (Swifts Park, Cranbrook, Kent, England) – Died 5 March 1931 (Otford, Kent).

[ Image 1: Samuel A. Walker’s photograph of “the Reverend Arthur Tooth.”  “The portrait was entered at Stationers’ Hall, along with six others presumably taken on the same occasion, on 22 January 1877, the same day that Tooth was imprisoned.’  (The Library of Nineteenth Century Photography.) ]

Tooth is best known for being one among a number of clergymen of the Church of England who were prosecuted under the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874, which proscribed liturgical practices in worship.  A number of these priests were imprisoned.  Tooth was prosecuted in 1876 and imprisoned from 22 January to 17 February 1877.

Tooth was imprisoned on a technicality (for contempt of court, because he, denying Parliament’s authority in such matters, refused to appear in court) and eventually released on one as well.  But the purpose of the Public Worship Regulation Act was to put down “Ritualism” and “the Mass in masquerade.”  It had the support of Queen Victoria, the Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, and Archbishop Tait, the archbishop of Canterbury.  Imprisoned for contempt of court, Tooth and an increasingly interested public knew that the real reason for his several weeks in prison was because he had introduced at his parish church, St. James’s, Hatcham, all the ritualist “six points,” as they were called:  (i.) Eastward Position, (ii.) Lighted Candles. (iii.) Mixed Chalice, (iv.) Vestments, (v.) Wafer Bread, (vi.) Incense. 

The young Tooth had been educated at Tonbridge School and Trinity College, Cambridge.  Ordained a deacon in 1863 and a priest in 1864, he had apparently indicated he was “a little too advanced,” as the Catholic Literary Association (CLA) biography puts it, to climb the ecclesiastical ladder in the often-understood sense.  In any case, his brother, Robert—who had moved to Sydney, Australia, and was proving a successful businessman there—purchased the living of St. James’s, Hatcham, for his younger brother and presented him to it in 1868.

“The church was in a deplorable condition, and the services were badly attended. The new vicar abolished pew rents, and repaired the church, adding a sacristy and a baptistery. The sanctuary was furnished and decorated, and a second altar erected in the Lady Chapel. He introduced the daily Mass, daily Matins and Evensong, and a Sung Mass on Sunday, which was preceded by Matins. … Father Tooth founded the Community of Sisters of the Holy Paraclete, and started an orphanage for boys, which practically became the choir school of the church. … A large congregation from the parish and beyond its borders was attracted by the simple, earnest, and straightforward teaching from the pulpit; and instructions in the faith and practice of the Church were given each Sunday after Evensong.” (CLA)  But! He made the Ritualist changes, the “six points,” by the time he had been at St. James’s five years.

As noted above, his imprisonment was in the winter of 1877, which might help explain why the brief time in prison took a considerable toll on his health.  But there seems to have been a considerable mental toll as well in the sense that one who apparently had no interest in fame or notoriety had been all too prominent in the public eye. 

[ Image 2: Sir Leslie Ward, _Men of the Day_, “The Christian Martyr,” (1877), caricature for _Vanity Fair_ ]

Tooth eventually left St. James’s (by the end of that same year) and devoted himself to the care of St. Michael’s Orphanage for boys, and the Sisterhood of the Holy Paraclete, both of which he had founded at Hatcham but had removed to the relative seclusion of Croydon.  He built there a “beautiful chapel which was furnished with most of the ornaments ejected from his old church. Here, … in later years, the Catholic League was welcomed, and held a procession of the Holy Sacrament round the beautiful gardens and grounds on the Saturday in the Octave of Corpus Christi. Here he applied himself to the study of Philosophy, Theology, and Science. Here he received his friends, who came to him from all parts, with simple yet generous hospitality. Here he started a home for inebriates and sufferers from the drug habit. … He seldom came away from his country retreat. From time to time he preached in London … and he came to the first Anglo-Catholic Congress, where his appearance was greeted by thousands gathered in the Albert Hall. The jubilee of his release from prison was celebrated at the Church House, Westminster, on February 17, 1929 … The great hall was packed, many persons were unable to obtain seats, and Father Tooth gave an address which will long be remembered by all who heard it.” (CLA).

Br. John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.


Catholic Literature Association.  Arthur Tooth.  London: Catholic Literature Association, 1933).  Available online at


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