The Awful Case of Anthony Allington

The Awful Case of Anthony Allington

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Uploaded on 26 April, 2015

A strange case from the Napoleonic Wars about a Felixstowe Soldier who got himself into hot water singing a drunken song about Lord Nelson.

Mark Reid says:

I have been fascinated by this story ever since I heard about it a few years ago. Why should Anthony Allington be forced to leave a church just because he had sung a song about “brave Lord Nelson” even if the song was probably a satire, and it was quite common for soldiers to sing insulting songs about the Navy. Yes, he had been drunk at the time and it was considered conduct unbecoming for Baptists to behave that way, but it would not have led to him being asked to leave the Baptists.

But these were different times for Dissenters like the Baptists and also Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and similar.    They opposed the established Church of England, desiring instead to worship according to their conscience and in a way they considered more Biblical.   As a result they were disenfranchised from the political system, had limited progression in employment, had little access to education, and still had to pay taxes to the Church of England (the tithe) even though they wanted nothing to do with it.   Worse, their Anglican opponents were accusing them of being unpatriotic because they would not support the state church.

But most Dissenters like the Walton Baptists were patriotic.    In fact for Dissenters nationally, they expressed their patriotism by talking up the memory of Lord Nelson, naval hero, military superstar and legend who had died in one of the earlier conflicts in the Napoleonic Wars at Trafalgar in 1805.  By 1813 when the incident in the video took place, insulting Nelson’s memory was very unpatriotic – unless you were a soldier!

The drunken Allington sang a song about Brave Lord Nelson.    The only one I could find was a satire about Nelson making wives husband less and children fatherless.   Not a great advert and as Allington had been witnessed by many locals singing it, the Baptists took a dim view because everyone knew Allington was a Baptist and it could have landed the church in hot water.   They couldn’t afford politically to have been thought of as anything other than totally patriotic – which they probably were anyway.

This was not an isolated story.  Up and down the country, dissenters used the “Nelson factor” to silence their critics.    But should they have had to behave in this way?  The Church of England actively opposed enfranchisement and rights for dissenters.  Before the wars they dissenters did not get very far.   But after the war things changed as dissenting churches grew and they began to engage with the political system.   Many of the great reforms of the nineteenth century and values like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, widening of voting rights, social reforms and the like were strongly influenced by dissenters.  That was quite a turn-around from the marginalisation they suffered before and during the Napoleonic Wars.

For me this little story raises two issues.  For Christians, it’s a challenge to always behave in a manner becoming of whom you follow.   We should be good news to people.   If not then it reflects on your church and other Christians and on Jesus. There’s been too much focus in recent years on those that have been harmed by failures of the church or by individuals.   Christianity is about bringing high values of integrity to all areas of life where Christians are found.  As I said on the video, Christianity should be good news to anyone who comes in contact with it.  Pity that it’s so often not.

The second issue is that is you value freedom of religion (or freedom to have none), freedom of speech, democratic rights and social justice then these were hard won, but can easily be taken away if good people do nothing.  You’ve got a vote – use it.  You have the opportunity to interact with the political system in many ways – use it.   Bring politicians to account.  It’s a universal right for all citizens in Britain.   None of us can afford not to bother, because people who have axes to grind or extremist views are always bothered.

Category: Rev Mark Reid.

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