Six granddaughters of a notorious Victorian sex cult leader have failed in their bid to receive the £1 million (US$1.25 million) made on the sale of the group’s church.
The women are the living descendants of John Hugh Smyth-Pigott, a “sex-obsessed” former Church of England priest, and his lover Ruth Ann Preece.
The proceeds are those from the sale of the Church of the Arc of the Covenant, the cult’s London headquarters, which was sold in 2010. In 1902 Smyth-Piggott declared himself the new messiah of the Agapemonite sect, which was founded in 1846 by Henry Prince, himself a defrocked priest.
One granddaughter, Kate Barlow, told the Times about how Smyth-Pigott’s kinky sermons were full of references to the “mystic union of flesh and spirit” and were “probably quite thrilling to listen to if you were a single Victorian lady.”
The cult was funded through the leader’s relations with these well-heeled ladies, some of whom joined the group’s harem of “soul brides.”
However, by the 1950s the last member had died and so the church premises were leased to a Catholic group until their leader died in 2008. The church was then sold.
The granddaughters had claimed to be the “rightful and only true beneficiaries” of the sale, but their claim was rejected on Thursday.
Judge Andrew Simmonds QC ruled that any proceeds should go to the movement, not to any individual.
He also said the court “should not allow the delusions of Prince, or Smyth-Pigott, or indeed the dubious activities of the two leaders” to obscure the fact that “the objects of the 1892 trust deed were to promote the religious activities of a body of people who constituted a recognizable Christian sect.”
In 2006, Kate Barlow reportedly said: “It wasn’t something you could bring up at dinner: ‘My grandfather said he was Christ.’
“It’s a bit of a conversation-stopper.”