Project Canterbury

Lead, Kindly Light:
Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement

by Desmond Morse-Boycott

transcribed by Mr Robert Stevens
AD 2000


Mother Kate

THE foregoing pages have done scant justice to women of the Catholic Movement, save to Christina Rossetti and Dr. Scharlieb, and (by allusion) to the Misses Dolling and Charlotte Yonge. This is a serious weakness. Yet, while the devotion of women has been a strong foundation, their level of sanctity being higher than that reached by men (perhaps because they do not fear to commit themselves when convinced, or mind that criticism at which men quail who would courageously go into warfare), their work has been unspectacular. It has been along four lines—the quiet round of parochial labour; nursing (the effect of which needs no description); literary (but to no large degree, for the Catholic Movement can boast few giants among women); and conventual. The heroines of whom one would fain write have been withdrawn from the public gaze.

Yet my book would be sadly incomplete if it gave the public the notion that Heroes rather than Heroines have been the order of the day, for the true facts are otherwise; and I therefore turn with pleasure to magnificent Mother Kate, being the more happy to write about her because she came into touch with some splendid Heroes to whom I meant to devote chapters until I awoke, with a shock, to the knowledge that my space was filled. Her tale is told in Memories of a Sister of St. Saviour’s Priory, a book long out of print.

Katherine Anne Egerton Warburton was born on March 24, 1840, in the heart of Cheshire, in a village on the banks of the Mersey where, as she says, the cottages were smothered in damson-trees and "out-lying farms stretched away over a wild Moss, redolent with sweet gale."

There were many odd, old customs [that she witnessed with wide-open eyes], such as the Rush-bearing, when there was a sort of Wake, and carts decorated with flowers went about, and people were more or less tipsy. This took place about the middle of August, and [she supposes] was a relic of the festivities of the Feast of the Assumption. On November 1st the wilder young men used to go about with lanterns at night, one wearing a horse’s skull, which they called "Old Nobs," and went to the farmers’ homes for drink or money.

She recollects them coming into the kitchen and prancing about, much to the delight of the maids. "That must have been the relic of the Soulers, being the eve of All Souls' Day."

Her father was a keen Tractarian and wore a surplice.

No one would believe [she says] the storms elicited by preaching in a surplice! "Sacrament Sundays" were few and far between. Etiquette in many parishes prescribed that the squire, the parson, and other dignitaries, with their families, should communicate first, and then the common throng.

She remembers that there was once an uproar because a farmer's wife went to "First Table."

But the Tractarian leaven was working . . . a most wonderful episode was the story of the heroic deeds of the little band of Priests at St. Saviour’s, Leeds, during the cholera visitation of 1849-1850. . . . Sisterhoods were just making their first trial and (she remembers) hearing a good deal about Miss Sellon and her work at Devonport.

It was not until 1867 that she began to take a deep interest in these things, as a result of a mission conducted by young Mr. Henry Collins among the roughest and most sinful people in the London Docks. But Mr. Collins seceded to Rome. Years after, when she was a Sister at Haggerston, he visited her and begged her to leave the City of Confusion for the City of Peace, as Papists are accustomed to refer respectively to Canterbury and Rome.

She describes a Churchman whose name is now forgotten, Mr. Rowland Egerton Warburton, of Arley, Cheshire—a kinsman. He was called "The Squire."

And a veritable ideal squire he was, seeming, as Lord Halifax once said of him, to be a perfect combination of a good churchman, a good landlord, a keen sportsman, and a man of literary tastes. In the thirties and early forties, when Keble, Pusey, and Newman tried to pull the Church out of the depths into which she had sunk, when laymen, as a rule, took very little part in Church matters, the young squire of Arley flung himself with the keenest interest into the Tractarian Movement. When he rebuilt the Hall, he attached a beautiful chapel to it. And in days when daily prayer was scarcely heard of, the household assembled within its walls, and a surpliced choir chanted choral Matins. Never was the squire missing from his place, and on hunting mornings he always appeared in scarlet and buckskins. Right on in his old age, so long as he was able to get about, in spite of the blindness which came upon him during the last twenty years of his life, it was touching to see him kneeling still as he had done for past years, and when at last he was no longer able to get about, he was carried downstairs and wheeled in a chair into chapel. He was one of the first members of the English Church Union . . . he was a keen sports man, a daring rider—" little Rowley the steeplechase rider," as he is described in a local song of some sixty years ago. . . .

He wrote a volume of Hunting Songs. It is refreshing to find that all clergy who hunted were not spiritually slothful; this man cared for both the souls and bodies of his tenants. The allusion to Lord Halifax comes almost as a shock. One is so used to knowing that the "Lay Pope" of the Church of England is over ninety years of age that one fails to realize how many Heroes he has met and what a history of the Movement he could write.

It was at Arley that Katherine met the Rev. Charles Gutch, afterwards vicar of St. Cyprian's, Marylebone, who suggested that she should try her vocation at St. Margaret's, East Grinstead. So to St. Margaret’s in the heart of the country she went, although she longed to be in the throbbing heart of a city. And thus we come to Dr. Neale, the immortal priest-journalist and confessor.

I had meant to give Dr. Neale a chapter, and to that end had studied his voluminous letters. Alas! I am thwarted by space, but well so, for what could I say better than she has said of him whose lovely translations of old hymns whisper down the corridors of time, whose prolific pen, in tale and treatise, was more powerful than a two-edged sword to convince and convert (it is inimitable still), whose trust in Providence led him to take wild jumps and land on his feet; the intrepid restorer of Sackville College, whose slogan was: "What is possible may be done, and what is impossible must be"?

Young, ardent, enthusiastic, large-hearted, full of sympathy, a poet, a scholar, a student, and, to crown all, gifted with intense energy of purpose, never, to our judgment, did man seem more utterly out of place than was this young Priest, in the midst of (his) surroundings . . . He seemed utterly wasted and thrown away in (his) bucolic entourage (but) was to kindle a light which, by God’s grace, has shone far and wide. .

He had become Warden of Sackville College.

Below the town lies a green belt of pasture-land, beyond which the great brown ridges of Ashdown Forest sweep the southern horizon . . . away eastward, a richly wooded green country stretches away till it melts into the blue distances of Reigate and Dorking. Beautiful as this lovely view is to look at, scattered over the vast area, buried in the woods and out-of-the-way wilds, were innumerable hamlets and isolated cottages, badly built, badly drained, far from human help and resource, when fever or any illness attacked the inmates. Day after day, as he paced, as his custom was, up and down this terrace, and looked out over the fair scene, his heart burned within him at the thought of all the miseries of these wretched cottages. . . . Scholar, student, poetically imaginative man though he was, he was not one to simply sigh and sympathize, and then let things take their course. He no sooner felt an existent evil than he tried to find a remedy for it. And so it came to pass that God put into his heart to try to form a Sisterhood whose special object should be to go out into these poor cottages, to live with, and nurse the sufferers under their own roof. It seemed a wild idea, a hopelessly impracticable one. People were stiffer, and more set in their own special grooves than now-a-days, and society was more aghast at any departure from routine. Besides, the Bishop had inhibited him for having a Bible with a cross on the cover, and a cross and candlesticks on the Communion Table.

I should like, had I space, to speak in his own words of the foundation, but must hurry on, resting content with a picture of Dr. Neale by the hand of Mother Kate. It is inimitable.

What [she says] I remember so specially about Dr. Neale is the sort of energetic way in which he threw himself into all the active work of the Community. . . . If it was a fine, bright half-holiday, and he thought it would do (his) orphans good to take them for a ramble into some distant wood, or to see a quaint church in some outlying village, he organized a party, and escorted two Sisters and the older girls to view whatever might be the object of interest, and while pointing out all the beauties of a wooded glade, where the crisp young bronzy oaks stood knee-deep in blue-bells, or some eminence which had been a Roman camp, or some soft gray distance from which rose the tower of some church, he intermingled with these, anecdotes of his travels in Dalmatia, Spain, and a hundred and one interesting places, full of stories of the Saints . . . The winter of 1860-1861 was a bitterly cold one, and there was much distress among the poor cottagers. He organized the Soup Kitchen . . . if a Sister was nursing in some lonely, out-of-the-way hamlet, he would always find time to go and see her, at least once during the period of her nursing. . . . Though so very particular about the neatness of the orphans’ dress, he never seemed to notice what he wore himself. His usual costume was a cassock, and white bands such as John Wesley’s portraits have, and out of doors he invariably wore a college cap. But he was perfectly unconscious of drops of wax from the candle being on his cassock, or of frayed and worn edges, and equally unconscious of it when a new one was provided for him. His own study was a marvellous place, literally lined with books—great folios, unsightly duodecimos, parchment bound, leather bound, every size, every variety, every age, every language—treating chiefly of Ecclesiastical History, Ecclesiology and Hagiography, thronged the shelves from floor to ceiling. And these were not enough; cross shelves filled up the middle of the room, packed and crowded with books, so that there was barely space to squeeze round from the door to the little fireplace in the corner, over which hung strange and valuable ikons, brought from Russia and Greece.

Such was the man whom they stoned, because he was an Anglo-Catholic!

After the solitude Soho, sickening, sinful, sottish Soho, where she was sent to assist at St. Mary’s in Charing Cross Road, which they are seeking to demolish now. Her memories of her early days there are very touching, especially so to me when she writes of the kind of children I met so often in the Somers Town of long ago.

Dear visions of the past! How their faces rise up from the cloudy memories of bygone years, and one wonders where they now are, and what they are doing! . . . How well I remember Farden’s first appearance in our school—a tallish, red-faced, black-haired Irish boy, out of the very Irish court opposite. His real name was Johnnie Grady, but he was introduced to me by his nom de guerre of Farden-a-dozen, "'Cos, Sister, his mother, she sells apples on a stall on the Dials, and Farden, he gets all the rotten ones and sells them a farden (farthing) a dozen to the kids!" Farden never had very much to say for himself in our presence, but I believe he was the hero who led the others on to war in every raid on sweet stuff, and old women’s apple stalls, and in every street fight. He disappeared entirely from the scenes after a year of our acquaintance, most likely being provided with a residence at Government expense. Certainly his lean prehensile fingers looked as if they must close on every article that came within his reach. He was one of the costermonger race. Watkin came from a family who got their living by the hod and shovel. Square built, rough and determined, he was the massive supporter of the lithe and wily Farden in all their forays. He, too, after a little while, was lost sight of in the ever-shifting, surging crowd of humanity which ebbed and flowed in Soho and S. Giles.

Billy Day, a fair-haired, apple-cheeked lad, was a sort of aristocrat, as his father owned a coal shed and a cart and pony, and Billy asserted his dignity in all the glories of a coal-smudged face, with the same conscious pride as an Indian brave puts on his war-paint. Mr. Billy was altogether rather too grand a man for us to have much to do with, still he condescended from time to time to give a grimy look into the schoolroom, and to join, in a sort of d³gag³ way, in any lark which seemed particularly interesting—never forgetting he was the son and heir of W. Day, coal dealer.

Fatty! well, I know nothing more of him than that he was Fatty, the bosom friend and sworn companion of Farden. I never knew what his name was, or where he came from. He resembled a calf’s head in his face—fat, white and small-eyed: his clothes were more burst out than those of others, because they had the daily friction, not only of joints, but of solid fat. .

And Lygo, my poor, dear Lygo! Oh, what a big cowardly lout you were! Your comrades called you Bullocky, on account of your enormous head, thatched with shock manes of hair, and your large, grave, round eyes, resembling those of an ox. And yet you, the prince of louts, had the sweetest, prettiest little fairy of a sister that ever danced at the Olympic Theatre! You, I believe, got on during pantomime season as some sort of an animal, I never exactly ascertained what. Do we not remember you lumbering into the schoolroom one afternoon, with your knuckles to your eyes, sobbing and roaring, "Farden's hit me!" and little Punch from Newport Market, who reached nearly to your elbow, running up and saying, "Never mind, Bullocky, I’ll lick him for you after school." I believe Punch made some excuse for both his friend’s cowardice and his big head by saying, "Bullocky had tried to smoke some cigars one day, and all the smoke got into his head and had never come out again."

An organ-blower being wanted for the church, Lygo was promoted to that office, for which he was to receive two shillings a month. Should pressing and important business prevent his being at his post—such as helping his father occasionally, who was a scene-shifter at the Olympic Theatre, or, I fear, sometimes business on his own account in the rearguard of the forces of Messrs. Farden & Co., on a foraging expedition in Newport Market—he was to pay another boy a penny a right to take his place. A sharp little fellow, called Brads, from the Prince’s Row Mission, was usually his substitute, but after several wrangles over the pence which Brads claimed and Lygo was unwilling to hand over, they came to a regular dispute, which the boys decided was to be settled by single combat, after dark, in the lonely purlieus of Soho Square. Brads, yearning for revenge and pennies, could not control his impatience till the settled night, but pursued Lygo after church, and, amidst an admiring circle of choirboys, attacked Lygo (who was twice his size) in the street. Lygo, roaring and howling, fled, pursued by the wasp-like Brads, and never rested till he was safe in his mother’s room up three pair of stairs. His organ-blowing days were, however, brought to a premature end by his bringing a pocket full of hot jam tarts to church one Sunday night, intending them for refreshment during the sermon, and upon the organist expostulating and confiscating these dainties, he flung himself on the floor and kicked everyone who came near him.

. . . Once a week one of the clergy came in to catechize the children, and on this occasion an evil spirit seemed to have taken possession of Lygo. He fled underneath a gallery at the far end of the room, singing at the top of his voice the then popular song, "Oh, Bob Ridley, oh!" in answer to all the questions, and neither force nor argument could dislodge him for a long time. At last we sent Farden and Watkin into his lair, one at each end of the gallery, and they, both seizing an arm, pulled him contrary ways, while he kicked and roared and yelled, and the glass roof above was crowded by court and other boys, pitching down stones and shouting, "Oh my! look at old Bullocky going to get a clout. I say, Bullocky, here’s your father a-coming." The news spread round and one elder brother—the expertest thief in the ncighbourhood—came to the school door, swearing he should come out without a caning, while the other, a soldier, on furlough, rang at the door of the Church House, saying he "hoped they’d wallop his brother well"; it would do him no end of good. And he got the "walloping" before he left.

At Easter there was a terrible visitation of small-pox in Soho and S. Giles. A number of the children were laid up, and the school had to be closed in consequence. Some of our workers in the home also caught it, and had to be nursed until they could be moved into the country. I had gone away for a few days’ rest and change, returning one evening late in April. Doubly dingy did dear Soho look after the blue skies and pink and white apple and pear blossoms, and banks of primroses under the budding hedgerows that divided the newly ploughed fields, where the rooks stalked in solemn procession along the freshly turned furrows, from the woody coverts where the rabbits scudded over the tender young grass. There in the country everything was bright and sunshiny, and spoke of renewed life and spring; but, as I turned out of the bustle of Oxford Street, down the narrow, dusky windings of Crown Street, all seemed black and hushed, to speak of death rather than life, of decay sooner than of spring.

The dear old classroom had been whitewashed, and the haunted old house cleaned and renovated, and, after a discussion of plans for work, etc., we retired for the night. Ring, ring, came the bell-sharp, repeated rings, as of somebody who wanted something, and not one of the runaway tinkies given by some of the louts who shacked about the public-house opposite. And we found it was a poor woman, in very great and terrible distress. She lived in Rose Street: her husband and children had, and were still having, the small-pox, and a child of three was lying dead. By some negligence on her part, the body had not been removed, as it should have been, to S. Anne’s Mortuary, and now the husband declared he would cut his throat unless it were taken away, as the child had been dead five days.

"There is nothing for it but for us to go," said Sister Mary. "You"—to the woman—"go home, and we will both be round directly." Provided with a roll of wax taper and a box of lucifers, we turned out into the street; a still, dark night, for the Easter moon was in its last quarter, and the white stars scintillated in the deep blue sky in cold contrast to the yellow, flaring gas lamps down below. The entrance to the court opposite, usually blocked up by a crowd of ragged, villainous-looking young thieves, was empty; they were all outside the theatres, picking pockets. The public-house across the street was within a quarter of an hour of closing, and the din of voices rose and swelled most audibly, mingled with here and there a piercing shriek or laugh from some poor wretched girl. Outside, on the kerb, a faded-looking woman, thin, haggard, wrapped in a ragged shawl, was singing plaintive songs in a rich contralto voice, for which she might get a few pence, and now and then, when the publican was in a good temper, he sent her out a little something by the potman.

When we turned into Rose Street, all was quiet, and inside the open doorway of No. — everything was pitch dark. We lit our coil of wax and stumbled up the shallow, old-fashioned stairs to the top-floor, from whence proceeded a sickening odour of chloride of lime. Inside the room everything was splashed with and steeped in it. A bit of candle burned feebly in a tin candlestick, showing a tub, half filled with a heap of clothes in chloride of lime; a bed, a mere heap of rags, in one corner of the floor, containing two children, thick out with small-pox; in the other corner a bedstead, on which lay the little dead child. Crouching over the fire, wrapped in a shawl, was a gaunt-looking man, his face also seamed and scarred with small-pox, and his bleared eyes glancing every now and then with a half-fierce, half-frightened look at the form on the bed. The wife was moving up and down, wringing her hands and crying wildly.

We asked if the Parish authorities would not fetch the body away, and the man gruffly replied, "So they would if she"—meaning his wife— "would have seen about it before; now it is too late, they would not come," and if he had to spend the night with that body in the room, he’d make an end of himself as sure as he was a living man; and then followed abuse of the woman, mixed with half-frightened execrations about spending one more night with a corpse. Sister Mary promptly sent the woman out to see if anyone could be got to fetch a coffin, "and we will go round to the mortuary."

After ten minutes waiting, with the children wailing on the floor, the man shuddering and insisting that he would destroy himself unless the body went out, we heard the wife’s steps returning, followed by the heavy, lumbering tread of a man, and she re-entered the room, together with a rough, brick-laying sort of individual, reeling and lurching in, with a pipe in his mouth and his hat all aslant on his head. After much drunken protestation, he was induced to accompany us in quest of the coffin.

It must have been considerably past midnight when we knocked at the door of the mortuary in Dean Street—knocked and knocked and knocked almost hopelessly—till at last the door opened and an old crone put out her head. On the object of our errand being explained, she said she had been expecting the coffin to be fetched, and had waited up until 11.30, and no one had come, and now she had a bad cold, and had put her feet in hot water, and what did we mean by knocking her up at this time of night, etc., and very much more to the same purpose. However, at last she consented to give the man a shell in which to fetch the poor child.

When we got back the woman declared she could not touch the child to lift it in; the man, whom the night air seemed to have made drunker than ever, could not be tempted to do so, and she said to her husband, "Them two sweet creatures will put the little dear in," so we wrapped the little body in the sheet, put it in, and tied down the lid with a piece of old list. We could not trust the man to carry it downstairs, but managed it ourselves, and along as far as Greek Street, he tumbling and rolling along beside us, muttering and murmuring to himself. At the corner of Greek Street we put the coffin down to rest a minute, when a man came up and asked whether it was a dead body we were carrying, as it was an illegal proceeding. On our telling him all the circumstances, he roughly ordered the man to put the coffin on his shoulders instead of "letting those two females do it," and so we got it with difficulty along, by dint of walking close beside, and putting our hands on the coffin to steady it.

It was a weird night’s work, walking slowly through the dark, silent streets, with our companion stumbling along, every now and then threatening to put his burden down and fly; the man who had stopped us joined in the little procession; we found he was an undertaker living close by, and, we suppose, was therefore naturally attracted by the sight of a coffin, and we were very glad of his presence, as we felt it compelled the man to go on, and not throw up the affair, as he seemed disposed to do. We were indeed truly thankful when we arrived at the mortuary, and after much and repeated knocking again aroused the old woman, and placed the poor little burden in her charge. Our friend, the undertaker, called round the following morning, and made sundry inquiries, and, I believe, had reason to be satisfied that we could not have acted otherwise than we did.

The years sped by, and Katherine found herself at Haggerston, and Father Mackonochie’s constant visitation began to cheer the common round and trivial task. Mackonochie was the intrepid first vicar of St. Alban’s, Holborn (under whom Stanton served), whose life was fretted by persistent persecution, arranged by the Church Association. No matter how involved he was in lawsuits, he would find time to enter into the details of the Sisters’ work at Haggerston. After awhile they were but a remnant, as their chaplain, Father Tuke, "Poped," and caused them "Holy-See-sickness." In spite of Mackonochie’s care of the bereaved Priory the majority of the Sisters went over, while Katherine was working in Plymouth. They owned the conventual buildings. She says:

sad and sick of heart, I journeyed up to London. Arrived in Ash Grove, and preparing to ring the bell of St. Mary’s Priory, I was beckoned by Sister Louisa, who appeared at a door opposite, and I found that through Father Mackonochie’s exertions a small house had been secured as a refuge for the Sisters, the Priory itself being the property of the seceders. . . . Left by our comrades in arms, deserted by her, who, as our leader, not only here, but in the past years in Soho, judge how we felt!

They left us for ever,
Calmly advising us, follow my way;
As it were nothing those true links to sever,
As it were simply but wishing "good day."
Yes, they had left us, well therefore uniting
Band we together more firmly in one,
Fighting the battle they ought to be fighting,
Doing the work that they ought to have done.
Yes, they had left us, but God had not left us;
God had not left us, and God will not leave:
No! not a jot of our hope is bereft us,
Fight we more earnestly, now that we grieve—

Some of us felt it to be almost impossible to continue work in Haggerston in the very teeth of the Roman Secession. . . . Better leave the field entirely, and return to the Mother Home at East Grinstead, or concentrate ourselves . . . at Plymouth. But Father Mackonochie, firm of will and purpose, determined the work should continue.

Continue it did, but they had to move. To remain opposite the deserters was too painful and confusing. Another house was found and a new chapter begun, in abject poverty, as the seceders had all the money. Katharine, now "Mother Kate," says: ". . . we struggled on through our first year, and young, and full of hope, we rather enjoyed the struggle. . . . Oh, the pleasure of finding a farthing in an old coat when we had not a penny in the house. . . ."

The Sisters slept in one room, their beds touching each other, their only dressing room the shelter of a cupboard door; whilst she slept on a table. At times their only food was cabbage, gained by selling old bottles at the rag and bone shop.

Here I must leave the dauntless Mother, whose devotion during the small-pox epidemics is a golden page of Anglican history. "The rest of her life was less a series of events than a development of its inner spirit and its outward activities." She died on the Feast of St. Luke, October 18, 1923. But more must be said of Mackonochie.

Broken by litigation, driven from St. Alban’s, he took a holiday with the Bishop of Argyll. One day a telegram arrived. It ran: "Our dear Brother Mackonochie has been taken to his rest." Mother Kate writes:

The surroundings of his last moments are grand beyond measure. He who had lived his whole life, spending and being spent in the service of God and His Church amidst the throng and battle of mankind, in the din of the crowded city, gave up his spirit on the lonely mountain side, surrounded by the everlasting hills, alone with Him Whom he had loved and served all the days of his life.

He had set out on a long walk on the morning of December 15, 1887, accompanied by the Bishop’s dogs. He was overtaken by a violent storm, and in the darkness could not fight against the howling wind, and lay down in the snow.

The night came, and he never returned, and the Bishop and several parties of gillies and shepherds sought for two nights and two days unsuccessfully; and on the Saturday evening, despairing and sick of heart, were about to abandon the search as unsuccessful, when one of the men, glancing up the hill-side, saw the silhouette of the deer-hound sitting bolt upright against the snowy background, and immediately sent to tell the Bishop, who was with another party of searchers. When he arrived, he found the whole band of keepers and shepherds drawn in a semi-circle in a snowy hollow, kept at bay by the two dogs, who refused to let a creature approach, till they caught sight of their master, when they sprang forward with a cry of joy. . . . There, in a snow wreath lay the weary body of Christ’s faithful soldier and servant, his head pillowed on his hands, and a pall of spotless snow veiling the features. . . . As the Bishop knelt to detach the head from the snow wreath in which it lay, the dark clouds broke behind the mountains of Glencoe, and the whole west was flooded with a glorious golden light.

One would hesitate, in charity, to say that the Church Association was responsible for Mackonochie’s death, but I believe that it broke him mentally and physically. Of him it may be said, and it suffices:

We were weary, and are
Fearful, and are in our march
Fain to drop down and die.
Still thou turnedst, and still
Beckonedst the trembler, and still
Gavest the weary thy hand!
If in the paths of this world,
Stones might have wounded thy feet,
Toil or dejection have tried
Thy spirit, of that we saw
Nothing! To us thou wert still
Cheerful and helpful and firm.
Therefore to thee it was given
Many to save with thyself;
And at the end of the day,
O faithful Shepherd! to come,
Bringing thy sheep in thy hand.

A. M. D. G.

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