Anthony Trollope’s The Warden was the first of Trollope’s hugely successful Barchester Chronicles, appearing in 1855 and reversing the rather unfortunate sales of his previous three novels. It concerns the story of Mr. Septimus Harding, Warden of Hiram's Hospital almshouses and Precentor of Barchester Cathedral. The discrepancy between the living of the clerics and the living of the bedesmen in the almshouses becomes a cause célébre, with Barchester and, in particular, Mr. Harding becoming the centre of a whipped up storm in the national newspaper The Jupiter.
At the time when Trollope was writing The Warden, several financial scandals had rocked the Church of England, and he drew on one in particular for the background to his story. The Reverend Francis North had been appointed as Master of the Hospital of St Cross in Winchester, and some serious discrepancies had emerged between the vast revenues of the hospital and the rather less great work of the Master. The Times was very closely involved in the publicising of the St Cross story and is very clearly the model for The Jupiter. However, when he was gently teased by The Times for his very personal attack on the editor of the paper, which it claimed to see thinly disguised in the character of Tom Towers, Trollope denied that any personal attack was involved, saying that he’d been in Ireland for the whole of the St Cross scandal and was totally unaware of any particular characters involved.
The Warden is a totally engrossing 'history of an old man’s conscience', as Henry James described it. Trollope leads us further and further into the life of Septimus Harding, and we grow more and more fond of him and await with increasing dread the inevitable catastrophe.