Harold Francis Davidson was a Church of England priest. In 1932 he was convicted of immorality by a church court and defrocked. Davidson strongly protested his innocence and to raise funds for his reinstatement campaign he exhibited himself in a barrel on the Blackpool seafront. He died after being attacked by a lion in whose cage he was appearing in a seaside spectacular.
About Harold Davidson in brief
Harold Francis Davidson was a Church of England priest. In 1932 he was convicted of immorality by a church court and defrocked. Davidson strongly protested his innocence and to raise funds for his reinstatement campaign he exhibited himself in a barrel on the Blackpool seafront. He died after being attacked by a lion in whose cage he was appearing in a seaside spectacular. Before his ordination in 1903, Davidson had a brief career on the London stage as an entertainer. As a young curate he became actively involved with charitable activity among London’s poor. In 1906 he was appointed rector of the rural Norfolk parish of Stiffkey. After the First World War, in which he served as a naval chaplain, he devoted himself primarily to his London work. His declared mission was the rescue of young girls he considered in danger of falling into vice. In this role he approached and befriended hundreds of girls and, although there was little direct evidence of improper behaviour, Davidson was frequently found in compromising situations. His neglect of his local duties over many years strained relations with his parishioners. His defence was severely compromised by his eccentric conduct, and was damaged beyond repair when the prosecution produced a photograph of him with a near-naked teenage girl. Davidson’s later career as a showman earned him much notoriety but little money. His attempts at legal redress were unsuccessful, despite recognition even in church circles that he had not been fairly treated by the consistory court.
After his death the case continued to attract public interest for decades, through fictional, stage and screen versions of the story. His descendants have continued to assert his innocence of any wrongdoing, and later commentators have generally accepted that however unwise and inappropriate his behaviour, his basic motives were genuine and he did not deserve the humiliations he endured. He was born on 14 July 1875 in Sholing, near the south coast port of Southampton, to the Reverend Francis Davidson and his wife Alice. Francis Davidson, described by Harold Davidson’s earliest biographer, Tom Cullen, as \”a tiny man … with a luxuriant beard that gave him the appearance of a gnome\”, served the parish for 48 years. Alice Davidson, née Hodgskin, was a great-niece of the educator and Rugby School headmaster Thomas Arnold. In February 1894 the pair appeared together in a school production of the farce Sent to the Tower. Within a few months of leaving Whitgift in 1894, Davidson appeared on the stage, performing a comic routine in a touring production of Thomas Brandon’s Charley’s Charcee. He later became a part-time worker at Toynbee Hall, an East End charity founded by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett which attracted many volunteers from schools and universities. Although he could be pugnacious when necessary, according to a former parishioner he was a true pastor, willing to offer help whatever the circumstances. In the face of his father’s disapproval, he decided to pursue a career as comedian.