For thy sake, TOBACCO, I

Would do anything but die.

CHARLES LAMB, _A Farewell to Tobacco._

The use of tobacco in churches forms a curious if short chapter in the

social history of smoking. The earliest reference to such a practice

occurs in 1590, when Pope Innocent XII excommunicated all such persons

as were found taking snuff or using tobacco in any form in the c

of St. Peter, at Rome; and again in 1624, Pope Urban VIII issued a

bull against the use of tobacco in churches.

In England it would seem as if some of the early smokers, in the

fulness of their enthusiasm for the new indulgence, went so far as to

smoke in church. When King James I was about to visit Cambridge, the

Vice-Chancellor of the University put forth sundry regulations in

connexion with the royal visit, in which may be found the following

passage: "That noe Graduate, Scholler, or Student of this Universitie

presume to resort to any Inn, Taverne, Alehowse, or Tobacco-Shop at

any tyme dureing the aboade of his Majestie here; nor doe presume to

take tobacco in St. Marie's Church, or in Trinity Colledge Hall, uppon

payne of finall expellinge the Universitie."

Evidently the intention was to make things pleasant for the royal foe

of tobacco during his visit. It would appear to be a fair inference

from the wording of this prohibition that when the King was not at

Cambridge, graduates and scholars and students could resume their

liberty to resort to inns, taverns, ale-houses and tobacco-shops, and

presumably to take tobacco in St. Mary's Church, without question.

The prohibition, in the regulation quoted, of smoking in St. Mary's

Church, referred, it may be noted, to the Act which was held therein.

Candidates for degrees, or graduates to display their proficiency,

publicly maintained theses; and this performance was termed keeping or

holding an Act.

It is, of course, conceivable that the prohibition, so far as the

church and Trinity College Hall were concerned, was against the taking

of snuff rather than against smoking; but the phrase "to take tobacco"

was at that time quite commonly applied to smoking, and, considering

the extraordinary and immoderate use of tobacco soon after its

introduction, it is not in the least incredible that pipes were

lighted, at least occasionally, even in sacred buildings.

Sometimes tobacco was used in church for disinfecting or deodorizing

purposes. The churchwardens' accounts of St. Peter's, Barnstaple, for

1741 contain the entry: "Pd. for Tobacco and Frankincense burnt in the

Church 2s. 6d." Sprigs of juniper, pitch, and "sweete wood," in

combination with incense, were often used for the same purpose.

Smoking, it may safely be asserted, was never practised commonly in

English churches. Even in our own day people have been observed

smoking--not during service time, but in passing through the

building--in church in some of the South American States, and nearer

home in Holland; but in England such desecration has been occasional

only, and quite exceptional.

One need not be much surprised at any instance of lack of reverence in

English churches during the eighteenth century, and a few instances

can be given of church smoking in that era.

Blackburn, Archbishop of York, was a great smoker. On one occasion he

was at St. Mary's Church, Nottingham, for a confirmation. The story of

what happened was told long afterwards in a letter written in December

1773 by John Disney, rector of Swinderby, Lincolnshire, the grandson

of the Mr. Disney who at the time of the Archbishop's visit to St.

Mary's was incumbent of that church. This letter was addressed to

James Granger, and was published in Granger's correspondence. "The

anecdote which you mention," wrote the Mr. Disney of Swinderby, "is, I

believe, unquestionably true. The affair happened in St. Mary's Church

at Nottingham, when Archbishop Blackbourn (of York) was there on a

visitation. The Archbishop had ordered some of the apparitors, or

other attendants, to bring him pipes and tobacco, and some liquor into

the vestry for his refreshment after the fatigue of confirmation. And

this coming to Mr. Disney's ears, he forbad them being brought

thither, and with a becoming spirit remonstrated with the Archbishop

upon the impropriety of his conduct, at the same time telling his

Grace that his vestry should not be converted into a smoking-room."

Another eighteenth-century clerical worthy, the famous Dr. Parr, an

inveterate smoker, was accustomed to do what Mr. Disney prevented

Archbishop Blackburn from doing--he smoked in his vestry at Hatton.

This he did before the sermon, while the congregation were singing a

hymn, and apparently both parties were pleased, for Parr would say:

"My people like long hymns; but I prefer a long clay."

Robert Hall, the famous Baptist preacher, having once upon a time

strongly denounced smoking as an "odious custom," learned to smoke

himself as a result of his acquaintance with Dr. Parr. Parr was such a

continual smoker that anyone who came into his company, if he had

never smoked before, had to learn the use of a pipe as a means of

self-defence. Hall, who became a heavy smoker, is said to have smoked

in his vestry at intervals in the service. He probably found some

relief in tobacco from the severe internal pains with which for many

years he was afflicted.

Mr. Ditchfield, in his entertaining book on "The Parish Clerk," tells

a story of a Lincolnshire curate who was a great smoker, and who, like

Parr, was accustomed to retire to the vestry before the sermon and

there smoke a pipe while the congregation sang a psalm. "One Sunday,"

says Mr. Ditchfield, "he had an extra pipe, and Joshua (the clerk)

told him that the people were getting impatient.

"'Let them sing another psalm,' said the curate.

"'They have, sir,' replied the clerk.

"'Then let them sing the hundred and nineteenth,' replied the curate.

"At last he finished his pipe, and began to put on the black gown, but

its folds were troublesome and he could not get it on.

"'I think the devil's in the gown,' muttered the curate.

"'I think he be,' dryly replied old Joshua."

The same writer, in his companion volume on "The Old Time Parson,"

mentions that the Vicar of Codrington in 1692 found that it was

actually customary for people to play cards on the Communion Table,

and that "when they chose the churchwardens they used to sit in the

Sanctuary smoking and drinking, the clerk gravely saying, with a pipe

in his mouth, that such had been their custom for the last sixty


Although probably the conduct of the Codrington parishioners was

unusual, it is certain that in the seventeenth century smoking at

meetings held, not in the church itself, but in the vestry, was

common. The churchwardens' accounts of St. Mary, Leicester, 1665-6,

record the expenditure--"In beer and tobacco from first to last 7s.

10d." In those of St. Alphege, London Wall, for 1671, there are the

entries--"For Pipes and Tobaccoe in the Vestry 2s.," and "For a grosse

of pipes at severall times 2s." In the next century, however, the

practice was modified. The St. Alphege accounts for 1739 have the

entry--"Ordered that there be no Smoaking nor Drinking for the future

in the Vestry Room during the time business is doing on pain of

forfeiting one shilling, Assention Day excepted." From this it would

seem fair to infer (1) that there was no objection to the lighting of

pipes in the vestry after the business of the meeting had been

transacted; and (2) that on Ascension Day for some inscrutable reason

there was no prohibition at all of "Smoaking and Drinking."

Readers of Sir Walter Scott will remember in "The Heart of Midlothian"

one curious instance of eighteenth-century smoking in church--in a

Scottish Presbyterian church, too. Jeanie Deans's beloved Reuben

Butler was about to be ordained to the charge of the parish of

Knocktarlitie, Dumbartonshire; the congregation were duly seated,

after prayers, douce David Deans occupying a seat among the elders,

and the officiating minister had read his text preparatory to the

delivery of his hour and a quarter sermon. The redoubtable Duncan of

Knockdunder was making his preparations also for the sermon. "After

rummaging the leathern purse which hung in front of his petticoat, he

produced a short tobacco-pipe made of iron, and observed almost aloud,

'I hae forgotten my spleuchan--Lachlan, gang doon to the Clachan, and

bring me up a pennyworth of twist.' Six arms, the nearest within

reach, presented, with an obedient start, as many tobacco-pouches to

the man of office. He made choice of one with a nod of acknowledgment,

filled his pipe, lighted it with the assistance of his pistol-flint,

and smoked with infinite composure during the whole time of the

sermon. When the discourse was finished, he knocked the ashes out of

his pipe, replaced it in his sporran, returned the tobacco-pouch or

spleuchan to its owner, and joined in the prayers with decency and

attention." David Deans, however, did not at all approve this

irreverence. "It didna become a wild Indian," he said, "much less a

Christian and a gentleman, to sit in the kirk puffing tobacco-reek, as

if he were in a change-house." The date of the incident was 1737; but

whether Sir Walter had any authority in fact for this characteristic

performance of Knockdunder, or not, it is certain that any such

occurrence in a Scottish kirk must have been extremely rare.

Knockdunder's pipe, according to Scott, was made of iron. This was an

infrequent material for tobacco-pipes, but there are a few examples

in museums. In the Belfast Museum there is a cast iron tobacco-pipe

about eighteen inches long. With it are shown another, very short,

also of cast iron, the bowl of a brass pipe, and a pipe, about six

inches in length, made of sheet iron.

Another eighteenth-century instance of smoking in church, taken from

historical fact and not from fiction, is associated with the church of

Hayes, in Middlesex. The parish registers of that village bear witness

to repeated disputes between the parson and bell-ringers and the

parishioners generally in 1748-1754. In 1752 it was noted that a

sermon had been preached after a funeral "to a noisy congregation." On

another occasion, says the register, "the ringers and other

inhabitants disturbed the service from the beginning of prayers to the

end of the sermon, by ringing the bells, and going into the gallery to

spit below"; while at yet another time "a fellow came into church with

a pot of beer and a pipe," and remained "smoking in his own pew until

the end of the sermon." Going to church at Hayes in those days must

have been quite an exciting experience. No one knew what might happen


In remote English and Welsh parishes men seem occasionally to have

smoked in churches without any intention of being irreverent, and

without any consciousness that they were doing anything unusual. Canon

Atkinson, in his delightful book "Forty Years in a Moorland Parish,"

tells how, when he first went to Danby in Cleveland--then very remote

from the great world--and had to take his first funeral, he found

inside the church the parish clerk, who was also parish schoolmaster

by the way, sitting in the sunny embrasure of the west window with

his hat on and comfortably smoking his pipe. A correspondent of the

_Times_ in 1895 mentioned that his mother had told him how she

remembered seeing smoking in a Welsh church about 1850--"The Communion

table stood in the aisle, and the farmers were in the habit of putting

their hats upon it, and when the sermon began they lit their pipes and

smoked, but without any idea of irreverence." In an Essex church about

1861, a visitor had pointed out to him various nooks in the gallery

where short pipes were stowed away, which he was informed the old men

smoked during service; and several of the pews in the body of the

church contained triangular wooden spittoons filled with sawdust.

A clergyman has put it on record that when he went in 1873 as

curate-in-charge to an out-of-the-way Norfolk village, at his first

early celebration he arrived in church about 7.45 A.M., and, he says,

"to my amazement saw five old men sitting round the stove in the nave

with their hats on, smoking their pipes. I expostulated with them

quite quietly, but they left the church before service and never came

again. I discovered afterwards that they had been regular

communicants, and that my predecessor always distributed the offertory

to the poor present immediately after the service. When these men, in

the course of my remonstrance found that I was not going to continue

the custom, they no longer cared to be communicants."

Nowadays, if smoking takes place in church at all, it can only be done

with intentional irreverence; and it is painful to think that even at

the present day there are people in whom a feeling of reverence and

decency is so far lacking as to lead them to desecrate places of

worship. The Vicar of Lancaster, at his Easter vestry meeting in 1913,

complained of bank-holiday visitors to the parish church who ate their

lunch, smoked, and wore their hats while looking round the building.

It is absurd to suppose that these people were unconscious of the

impropriety of their conduct.