Rolled out of the barrel...into the lion’s den

Ex-Rector of Stiffkey, Rev Harold Francis Davidson, entering the barrel on Blackpool Promenade for his fast "until death" in 1932.
Ex-Rector of Stiffkey, Rev Harold Francis Davidson, entering the barrel on Blackpool Promenade for his fast "until death" in 1932.
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It is 76 years ago this week that the ‘prostitute’s padre’, the Rev Harold Davidson, former rector of Stiffkey in Norfolk, died at the hands of a lion in Skegness.

Presumably putting his faith in God, the defrocked cleric stepped into the animal’s cage only to be mauled.

Before that he had stared death in the face by threatening to starve, freeze and roast to death in a series of bizarre sideshow attractions on Blackpool’s Golden Mile.

He made his Blackpool debut, officially in protest at being thrown out of the church for his predilection for helping Soho good time girls as young as 14.

In an unguarded moment he was pictured with his hand on one young girl’s buttock.

When the picture came back to haunt him in court, he declared: “I do not know what the buttock is.”

By his own account he helped 1,000 young and pretty girls between the ages of 14 and 20, claiming ugly girls were in no moral danger, and took one 20-year-old prostitute, Rose Ellis, to Paris, introducing her as his secretary Mrs Malone.

He claimed the title Prostitutes’ Padre was the “proudest” a true priest could hold – and once caught by the glare of publicity, began to court it, using Blackpool as the platform for his very public appeal against injustice.

He became an exhibitionist, sitting in a barrel and charging for a viewing, alongside an exhibition of performing fleas.

Prosecuted by Blackpool magistrates for obstruction, chased along the Prom by the police, and gazed at by thousands of bemused holidaymakers, the controversial cleric was rarely out of resort news.

After 10 days into a 35-day fast – back in the Blackpool barrel – he was acquitted of intention to commit suicide by resort magistrates, but they ultimately failed to save Davidson from a grisly end. His last gesture of defiance came in Skegness in a lion’s cage where the long-suffering Freddie finally obeyed ancient precedent and fatally mauled the hapless rector on July 30, 1937.

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