History / Miscellaneous

Proud to be British

In 1857 it was reported that ‘a large number of Mormonites’ had been baptized in the River Rother in Derbyshire. This was a ceremony for adults, and it caused something of a local scandal, largely because of the state of undress of those being baptized. For precisely the same reason, it also proved to be a popular spectator sport.

The following extracts are taken from the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald:

About a hundred or a hundred and fifty persons, principally women, are scattered on the bridge and along the banks of the water, waiting for the appearance of the wretched fanatics who are to be ‘dipped’. They call to each other from opposite sides, and crack jokes of a most indecent and shameless character. ‘Will they all be stark nak’?’ shouts a girl of about eighteen. ‘I hope they will.’ ‘Yea, lass, they be all nak’ with nought on,’ is the gratifying response…

The officiating minister then took up his place in the river, with his trousers rolled up:

Having fixed himself comfortably, he intimates to the attendants that he is ready, and forthwith emerge from the house men, all of whom are half, and two or three perfectly naked

The individual who is thus baptized being in every case blinded by water, there is a struggle to rise and in several instances both priest and convert roll over in the stream together. This, as may be imagined, affords immense amusement to the mob, who testify their approbation by clapping of hands, whistling and shouts of laughter …

All this time the women are making viva voce criticisms on the condition of the men, and the remarks which insult the ear from all sides are indecent and revolting beyond description.

This was a period of relative tolerance for unorthodox religion in Britain, but even so there was clearly no reason not to laugh at naked men. In which context, it’s also worth bearing in mind that this was in February. And Derbyshire in February can be cold – very cold indeed. The men were not necessarily seen to their best advantage.

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