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Rev William Dodd

Reverend William Dodd (1729-1777) was Rector of Hockliffe from 1772 until his execution for forgery in 1777. He was born in Bourne [Lincolnshire], the son of another clergyman. After studying at Cambridge he went to London where he began a literary career in which he was initially successful. He married Mary Perkins in 1751 and rented an expensive house in Wardour Street. As was to be the case for the rest of his life his expenditure was greater than his income and he returned to Cambridge where he was ordained in 1752. He was made curate at All Saints Church, West Ham, and continued his writing career, publishing a popular collection of quotations from Shakespeare and a novel, The Sisters, which the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography damningly describes as "a novel whose dullness at least conceals its limp eroticism". In the 1750s he turned to theological writing and established a growing reputation as a preacher. His preaching style was described by Horace Walpole as "haranguing entirely in the French style, and very eloquently and touchingly". In 1765 Dodd became tutor to the heir of the earl of Chesterfield and opened a small private school. In 1766 he became a Doctor of Letters and in 1767 he opened a chapel in Charlotte Street, using money inherited by his wife and hoping to attract members of the royal family and aristocracy.

In 1767 Dodd was sacked as editor of the Christian Magazine and in 1771 his school collapsed. Despite his financial difficulties Dodd supported a number of charities, helping to establish the Society for the Relief and Discharge of Persons Imprisoned for Small Debts (later the Discharged Prisoners' Society) and the Society for the Resuscitation of Persons Apparently Drowned (the Royal Humane Society). In 1772 he was appointed Rector of Hockliffe and Vicar of Chalgrave, but this new source of funds did not solve the problem of his spiralling debts as he strove to keep up appearances in dress and lifestyle which earned him the nickname "the Macaroni Parson". In the 1770s Dodd's preaching style became less popular, and his efforts to remain part of a wealthy circle only increased the gap between his income and his expenditure. His wife tried to bribe Lady Apsley to present her husband to the living of Saint George's, Hanover Square, an attempt which backfired and led to Dodd losing his position as a royal chaplain. In 1775 his erstwhile pupil, now himself Earl of Chesterfield presented him to the living of Wing [Buckhghamshire] and helped to pay off some of his debts.

In February 1777 Dodd obtained £4200 through a forged bill of exchange and was arrested. He confessed and promised to repay the money, but was prosecuted and convicted of capital forgery at the Old Bailey. The jury recommended mercy, a popular campaign in Dodd's favour was promoted in the newspapers, and Dr Johnson became a supporter, writing a number of speeches and prayers on Dodd's behalf. Despite these efforts Dodd was sentenced to death in May 1777. In spite of the presentation of a number of petitions, the largest of which had 23,000 signatures, Dodd was hanged at Tyburn on 27th June 1777.