A Tale of Two Prayer Books


We’ve all heard stories of cats who somehow get trapped in a car and end up stranded miles from home, only to re-appear weeks later after having walked a few hundred miles… I didn’t realise that some books have similar tendencies!

A while ago, my brother rang to say he’d saved two prayer books from being binned by the enthusiastic new curate at his church. He thought I might like them. “They’re a bit big,” he told me. “I’ll leave them at mum’s for you to collect.”

I was amazed when I finally picked them up. Too right they’re big. They’re massive! Twelve by eighteen inches and about two and a half thick, they  were printed in 1814 and cost one pound fifteen shillings each – the equivalent of about £500 two hundred years ago, and a small fortune in austere wartime England. It would be another year before Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo.

They would have been bought for the Trinity Chapel in Bordesley, Birmingham, built in 1820 and later renamed as Holy Trinity Church. This rather foxed me at first, but I found a photo of a medal clearly demonstrating that they are, in fact, the same place.


It still stands as an early example of the Gothic Revival in church architecture, but sadly, it was closed in 1970, probably more due to the proximity of the nearby flyover than dwindling congregations. This is where the story gets interesting.


It seems that Holy Trinity was at the centre of a notorious conviction in Victorian England known as ‘The Bordesley Wafer Case’. The vicar at the time was a man called Father Richard Enraght, who became the incumbent priest in 1874. His Sunday evensong and sermon is reputed to have attracted as many as 800 people, which might explain the heavy use of this section of the book.

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Fr Enraght was an Anglo-Catholic who burnt candles and incense, used wafers at the Eucharist, wore a chasuble and alb and mixed water with the communion wine. In addition, he did such things as making the sign of the cross towards the congregation. If you thought this was perfectly normal in the Church of England, then you’d be right. But amazingly, it most certainly wasn’t normal back then. Enraght fell foul of the radical protestant reaction against ‘ritualism’ and was put on trial in 1879: a trial he refused to attend. He was convicted under the Public Worship Regulation Act, a new law pushed through the Commons by influential Evangelicals in a bid to put an end to ‘Romish’ practices in the church, and finally imprisoned at Warwick. He was released after 49 days and a considerable national uproar, but his career never recovered. After being shuffled around various parishes he settled at Bintree in the wilds of Norfolk – about 15 miles from Norwich, which is where I live and where these very books that were used by Father Enraght ended up!

As fond as I am of the Book of Common Prayer I really don’t need two this big, and since Enraght is now thought of as one of the rather dramatically titled Anglo-Catholic martyrs, it occurred to me that perhaps the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham might like one for their library – another contemporarily imprisoned priest, Fr Arthur Tooth, is entombed within the shrine.

Walsingham is another place in Norfolk that’s just up the road from me, and I’m glad to say that not only did they gratefully accept it, they were actually very excited – and they furnished one last, fascinating twist.

It seems that after Fr Enraght’s death in Bintree (he is buried near the east wall of the church there), his wife and some of his children went to live in Walsingham. His daughter eventually married the vicar of Walsingham, Fr Edgar Reeves, the predecessor of Fr Hope Patten, founder of the shrine.

As Julian of Norwich famously once said, ‘all’s well that ends well’. Or, at least, I think she said something like that…?

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