Project Canterbury

Father Pollock And His Brother:
Mission Priests Of St. Alban’s Birmingham

With A Letter From The
Right Reverend Charles Gore, D.D.
Lord Bishop Of Birmingham

Transcribed by Robert Stevens
AD 2001


"Some souls there are
Who, when they smite it, bring
Forth from the hardest rock its hidden spring."

IN a chapter of Vaughton's Hole, entitled "The Bother," Father Pollock describes some riotous proceedings, and their ostensible cause, which commenced in 1867, and continued more or less for nine months.

His account is as follows:—

"I am anxious to explain at once that ritual had nothing to do with the S. Alban’s riots. As might have been expected, it was imported into the controversy; but it had no connection with its origin. I need not attempt a detailed history. As in dealing with other parts of S. Alban’s experiences, I must content myself with a few salient points. Many people, who knew nothing about the circumstances, were greatly exercised by the ‘Excommunication Case.’ A long word fitly introduces a long controversy. Moderately instructed Christians are familiar with the practice of ministers of all denominations with regard to participation in the ordinances of their different religions. Some church-people have read the long ‘Rubric’ at the beginning of the Holy Communion Service in our Book of Common Prayer, and have seen the painful responsibilities resting on the clergy in certain cases. Whether the action I took is altogether warrantable or not, I do not mean to argue about it now. At a meeting of the communicants of S. Alban’s, held at the beginning of the trouble, I gave a full and faithful account of my action in the matter. Reporters were present, and my statement appeared in full in the Birmingham papers. My address of explanation was given in reply to an address of sympathy, as follows:—

"‘We, the undersigned communicants of the congregation and district of S. Alban’s, desire to express our sympathy with you under much misunderstanding and misrepresentation, and to assure you of the confidence of your own people. We desire now, especially, to thank you for the jealousy with which you have defended GOD’S Altar from desecration, and relieved us of a grievous scandal. We trust and pray that you may always have given you the same zeal for GOD’S House and boldness in rebuking sin.’

"The address was signed by 137 communicants, and the church only held 450 people. The signatures were all written in a very few days. Some of those who signed were present in church when the ‘Sentence of Excommunication’ was said to have been delivered. No one was present when, in the open church, after Divine Service, I spoke quietly and, I believe, kindly to the person censured, urging that scandal caused made communion at S. Alban’s improper, and advising communion at some other church, and advice from some other clergyman: this was the only ‘excommunication.’ I have said that a general account of ‘The Bother’ is all that I need attempt. It might be enough to say that on every week-day for three weeks my brother and I were conducted to our house, after evening service, by the police; and that on every Sunday evening for about three months we had a similar escort. We did not, as far as I remember, ask ‘police protection.’ It was given because it was considered needful. The people of the district, as a body, took no part in the disturbances, except to protect themselves and S. Alban’s clergy from the attacks of strangers. One friend of mine, when the mob came past his house, sent all his family upstairs, and put the poker in the fire: he was then ready to give a warm reception to intruders if they came! The mob consisted mainly of roughs, who gladly obeyed the call of agitators—not knowing or caring what it was all about. In addition to the Birmingham contingent, strangers appeared in the neighbourhood on those Sunday mornings, asking for the church where the riots were; they came from the country to ‘see the battle,’ not to take a side in it. Only one person, as far as I know, got benefit from ‘The Bother.’ A publican near the church had two barrels of sour beer; the noxious stuff was not wasted, for the rioters drank it all!"

An immediate outcome of "The Bother" was what Father Pollock, with a kind of grim humour, styles the "riots proper," and which he thus describes:—

"The riots proper—if I may be allowed the phrase—began on Sunday, October 13, 1867. I was celebrating Holy Communion at 11 o’clock. The little church had been in great part occupied by a crowd of roughs. As soon as I announced the services on S. Luke’s Day, and the Harvest Festival on the following Sunday, ‘the conclusion of this statement,’ the newspaper says, ‘was greeted with shouts of laughter.’ The same report says:

‘The Rev. T. B. Pollock next took his place in the pulpit to preach a sermon the preacher kept his temper admirably, and, waiting calmly until each successive burst of coughing had exhausted itself, proceeded with his discourse, until it was brought to an abrupt termination in this wise. For some minutes the clamouring outside for admission had been increasing in loudness, and at length a sudden rush was made at the door, which gave way, and in a moment what had before been an exceedingly disorderly business became a wild tumultuous row. Women screamed, men imprecated, shouted ‘hurrah,’ catcalled, groaned, and emitted the most discordant yells which, with some little experience of contested Parliamentary elections, the present writer has not heard excelled. . . There seemed every probability of an attack upon the Altar, to resist which the choristers left their places, and ranged themselves in a body in front of it. I need not further describe the scene and its termination. The chief promoters went away in triumph, though they had not succeeded in forcing the clergyman to communicate the person censured.’

"Our manner of life on Sundays after this was to remain in church or schools from the time of the mid-day service till the police deemed it prudent to take us home—generally at a late hour at night. Those picnics in the little schoolrooms have memories connected with them that are not altogether unpleasant. The clergy, with some members of the choir and some Sunday-school teachers, occupied one schoolroom; the police had the other room beside it. Our food was sent us from home; we had a convivial tea-party before evening service. The crowd lingered about all day; they boo-ed vigorously whenever the church bell—now the bell of S. Katherine’s, Stanhope Street—began to ring for service. One Sunday they were specially demonstrative, and the inspector of police would not allow us to leave the church till nearly ten o’clock. Then the police cleared a passage in Leopold Street, and the crowd, deceived by this ruse, congregated there. In the meantime another body of police took us out by the Dymoke Street gate. To avoid the crowd we walked by a roundabout way to my house, with an escort of about thirty policemen and as many more men of the congregation.

"One week-day evening we were all vested and ready to go into church for the usual daily service. The verger came in and informed us that a mob was on its way from town, with implements to pull down the church. At the end of the Psalms for the day the verger came to me, and said, on the authority of the police inspector, that the mob was coming near the church. We all knelt down, and I said the "Grace," &c., at the end of the service. Then we returned to the vestry. Our people must have known the danger; but, after we passed, they did not omit to kneel down, according to their custom, for a concluding private prayer. Then all got away in time; and the police with their sabres, which not then only had they to exhibit, drove back the mob.

"I wanted to go to London; but renewed attacks were expected daily, and I had to wait for a time of peace. Things looked quieter, and I went away. I was talking with a man in a shop, and he casually remarked, ‘What a sad thing about your church!'

I asked him what he meant, and he told me that the Evening Star of that day announced its ‘destruction.’ He got the paper for me; the account was exaggerated, but on my return I found that not only were the windows broken, but the iron sashes were displaced by stones. One of the rioters got astride on the roof of the chapel, and tried to tear away the iron cross at the east end. The police disturbed his work, and the cross still keeps its place on S. Alban’s Girls’ School, Leopold Street.

"All this time our congregations were undiminished. The people came as diligently as ever to their church, though they had to make their way through the mob, and were admitted one by one by the policemen who guarded the doors. A few wet Sundays damped the zeal of our opponents, and early in 1868 they deserted S. Alban’s. Then I was unwell, and absent for some months. The indignation of some good people was greatly excited by my recovery and return to Birmingham. They memorialised the Bishop, and reorganised the riots. One Sunday morning we had the usual rough congregation in the church, and the same howling multitude greeted us when we came out. My brother at once formed a wise determination. We had moved to a new house, and he thought it well not to take the mob there. He proposed to me that we should go to New Street, and let loose the malcontents. We walked together down the street with a mixed multitude of worshippers and rioters attending us. When we got near the Queen Street entrance to New Street Station we quickened our pace to get near the front of the procession. The porters at the gate admitted my brother and me, and then promptly shut the gates in the face of every one else. We walked over the bridge, took a cab in Stephenson Place, and while friends and foes were looking for us went quietly home.

"My brother then wrote to the Stipendiary Magistrate, Mr. Kynnersly, and stated our case in the following words:—


May 24 (1868).

"SIR,—As a vigorous effort is being made to renew the riots at my brother’s church, will you allow me, in as few words as possible, to state our case?

"For four months last year we were outlaws. Our services were interrupted continually, and we were followed home night after night, and even at midday, by a crowd of roughs. Every kind of filth and blasphemy was shouted after us in the hearing of the police. Not one man was interfered with. We did not want the police for protection; we could easily have done that ourselves. They were useless in preventing us from being grossly insulted.

"For four months my brother has been an invalid, unable to do any duty, and for some time in a state to give real ground for alarm, through the over-excitement which he had to undergo, besides his trying work. He has just returned, still delicate; and I, almost worn out myself, have been ordered to take a long rest. Now we are threatened with the same thing over again. At our church to-day some eighty of the worst roughs mixed themselves with our congregation, and when my brother and I started for home, the old hooting began. We would not go home, but went to New Street Station, crossed it, and took a cab. The police would do nothing to stop the hooting or the following till I asked them to go away and let us do it. Then one man was arrested. . . . The thing can be stopped at once. If it is not by the police our people are resolved to do it, and we cannot urge them to longer forbearance. As I said before, we do not want the police for protection; we can do that very well. We want to be able to worship free from interference, and to go home without insult. I think we have a claim for this. We get no pay for working in a large and neglected district. Our church was built by private subscriptions, and is maintained by those who like it. I do not think we can be blamed if we feel strongly the injustice of our being looked upon, as we plainly are, in the light of outlaws! I may say again that our people are so incensed by the wantonness of the conspiracy now, that I apprehend the most serious consequences if the movement is not crushed at once. That it is a conspiracy there is not the smallest doubt. I heard of one man offering £25 to keep the riots up before. And it is well known that many were regularly paid.

"Apologising for troubling you, and for writing at such length,—I am, faithfully yours,


"The offender referred to in this letter was fined forty shillings and costs, and a promise of imprisonment without option of fine in the next case. This put an end to ‘The Bother.’

"The Stipendiary Magistrate’s prompt action was a strange contrast to the inaction of a civic dignitary, who, during his season of ‘brief authority,’ had to visit S. Alban’s one Sunday evening when a surging mob threatened destruction to us all. He walked with me up and down outside the church before service, and spent his time and mine in commenting on my duties as a priest with a ‘faithfulness’ that no Bishop has ever shown towards me. It was in vain that I ventured to remind him that the question of the moment was not what I had done, but what he could do. Having decided the religious question to his satisfaction, he showed his skill in matters belonging to his own office by walking after service a few yards with my brother and me, drawing the police across the road, and sending us to walk home alone. I am quite sure he did all in good faith, and that he did not consider that there might be other streets besides Leopold Street by which the mob might reach us. As it happened, the mob were strangers, and did not know our new streets and ‘hilly fields’ in the dark; so we got home just before they arrived in force. The papers said we ‘ran’: this is not true. We heard the scuffle outside. We did not hear till afterwards that a friendly neighbour, a Nonconformist minister, went up to one of the leading religious zealots, and asked him, ‘Don’t you remember when I saved you from being hanged, when you were drunk and were going to murder your wife and children?’ That night a man went to his house near S. Alban’s district, and said that he had lost his hat, but he didn’t mind, for he had ‘done for Pollock’s brother!’ He made a mistake; the poor fellow they ‘jumped upon’ opposite my house was a friend of mine, one of the best of men, son of an eminent Nonconformist minister. He sent for me, and I found him in bed.

"I suppose no one will tell me that ‘The Bother’ helped the work of S. Alban’s. It got us new friends, who came simply because we were persecuted. It deepened our characters, and gave us that strange power that nothing else can give. But it confirmed and stereotyped the position of isolation which, against our will and strong desire, had been forced upon us. The fact that such things were continued from month to month, and that nearly all our clerical brethren, having in vain appealed to the Bishop to put us down, left the mob to do it in another way, without their interference—these things helped S. Alban’s to stand, but, unhappily, they made it stand alone."

Father Pollock continues:—

"All the quiet, undermining work of the Aston Trustees at the office of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners during the six years, 1865-1871, did not ‘close the mission.’ The violent efforts of the rioters during the nine months, September 1867-May 1868, did not ‘wind up the whole concern.’ Their combined forces about the middle of the longer period, full of great crises, must have effected their purpose if S. Alban’s had not been very strong. What the Trustees and the rioters together failed to do must have been done by a third ally, the monster memorial, if the Bishop of Worcester had not been very brave."

Before the one which Father Pollock calls the "monster memorial," three other memorials had been sent to the Bishop. The desire of the agitators was to induce the Bishop to "cause a change to be made" in S. Alban’s district, or to revoke the license of the said Rev. J. S. Pollock. The reply of the Bishop was: "I can only counsel moderation and forbearance on all sides."

With regard to the "monster memorial" sent in to the Bishop on December 7, 1867, and bearing 23,000 signatures, for the removal of Father Pollock from S. Alban’s, "Diogenes," in a rhymed version of the New Memorial against Ritual, says:

"About the way the names were got, the less that's said the better."

The line puts the whole matter in a nutshell. The whole number of signatures were obtained in three weeks, many by most unfair means. Some of those who signed the petition confessed that they did so when drunk, Father Pollock tells two pertinent anecdotes in this Connection:—

"A few months ago I was visiting a sick man near S. Alban’s Church. Another man was sitting by the fire, He said he knew me, but perhaps I had forgotten him. He told me his name, not a common one; and I at once told him I remembered him very well, and that more than twenty years before that time he lived in Angelina Terrace in S. Alban’s district. I went on to say that I could tell him something more—that he had signed a paper asking the Bishop to send me away from S. Alban’s. The man expressed his surprise, and repudiated the idea warmly. I told him not to trouble about it, for I had at my house his certificate to prove that he signed the paper when he was drunk. I have now before me the certificate in question, signed by the man and his son, declaring that ‘we were drunk.’"

The second story is this:—

"Some years ago, when S. Alban’s schoolrooms were used as polling-booths at an election, my brother, the Rev. Thomas B. Pollock, went to the schools in the course of the afternoon, and said to a man he met there that he hoped all was going on quietly. ‘Yes, pretty well,’ said the man; ‘but there was a big fellow here making a noise about my giving the voters beer. Now you know, sir, as well as I do, that the most of them didn’t ought to have votes, for they know nothing about it. And when you go to explain things to them, if you don’t give them beer, they won’t listen to you.

It was also a matter of common knowledge that the "memorial" papers were "filled up at the paying price of one shilling per hundred"; and Father Pollock’s own record of signatures shows that very many of his poor people thought they were signing for not against their beloved and revered Mission Priest.

"The promoters of the memorial," continues Father Pollock, "by the very fact of promoting it, showed that they knew nothing of the people whose signatures they requested, and of their slender acquaintance with ecclesiastical controversies. About the date of the memorial, a worker in the brick-fields near S. Alban’s Church was overheard saying to his companion: ‘They had a young man at the Chapel, and they powered water on his yed, and called him Joseph; wait till old Pollock comes up here, and we’ll heave a brick at his yed.’ My brother was preparing a man for Confirmation. The man did not know whether he had been baptized or not. His parents were appealed to; they reported that he was not baptized, for ‘when he was born there was no such thing about.’"

Referring to the "emphatic explanations" given to make people sign their names against S. Alban’s, Father Pollock remarks:—

'We soon experienced their force in the treatment we received, not in S. Alban’s district, but in districts near, and sometimes in distant parts of Birmingham.

"For example, one day two Black Country curates had been visiting us; my brother and I were walking with them part of the way to New Street Station. The usual cries greeted us before we parted. Our two friends, soon after leaving us, were passing the door of a public-house where some men were standing. One of the men took his short pipe out of his mouth, and said in a confidential tone: ‘And them as associates is just as bad.’"

It is very interesting to read that during these troublous times at S. Alban’s it was through the influence of the Brothers Pollock that Lenten and Advent mid-day services for business men were introduced into Birmingham, and held at S. Philip’s Church. The promoters of the idea were not then known; but, says Father Pollock:—

"The services are continued still, and doubtless have been helpful to many who know nothing about their origin."

The agitators against S. Alban's failed to attain their object. It was in vain that they urged the Bishop to "revoke the license of the said Rev. J. S. Pollock, who is only a curate licensed by your lordship." Dr. Philpotts, who was a friend to the mission through all its troubles, would not take any such step. His reply was simply, "I cannot adopt the opinions of the memorialists, or take the course of action which they advise."

The personal effects of "The Bother" upon the two Mission Priests are thus summed up:—

"S. Patrick’s had not been open a year before my brother’s health gave way. He had been strong, and had conducted the whole work during my long absence from ill-health after ‘The Bother.’ He in his turn was obliged to go away; he spent two winters in France and Italy."

Father Pollock adds:—

"When my brother went to the Continent for the first time, three out of the four clergy were disabled. I was one of them; and I packed up all my goods, feeling quite uncertain as to whether I could return or not."

When speaking of these serious illnesses and his sojourn on the Continent, Father Tom used always to say that he was given back to his people in answer to their prayers. Father Pollock, with a truly Christ-like faith and charity, says concerning these troubles and those who caused them:—

"If any word I have used seems to express a thought of unkindness to those who have opposed us most, let me say in all sincerity that I do not mean, or feel, any such thing. I believe in my heart that the highest and most religious motives prompted many that have appeared to us to be hinderers of G

OD’S Word. We deserve no credit for dismissing unpleasant thoughts about the past. For all things, by the mercy of GOD, and spite of our many errors, have worked for good and made us prosper.

Bishop Gore, in a sermon preached at S. Alban's on its twenty-fifth anniversary, stated the case very clearly when he said that "the Brothers Pollock, by force of sheer goodness, lived down misrepresentation, slander, and persecution, going about their business with the sole purpose of doing what they conceived to be their duty. . . The cause for which they stood, so far as it was a cause of doctrine and ceremonial, had won the day, and the present generation was entering into their labours."

Shoulder to shoulder the Priest-Brothers fought and won their battle. Their splendid courage, their untiring diligence and self-sacrifice, their singleness of purpose, their devoted, saintly lives, gained for them in the end universal love and esteem.

Shortly before Father Pollock was called to rest, it is the Record which thus speaks of his work:—

'S. Alban's is the High Church stronghold in Birmingham, and much as we deplore the character of the teaching, we gladly recognise that in organisation and efficiency it is one of the best-worked parishes in the city. The district is not very inviting now but it was worse when the Brothers Pollock came, and they at times met with very rough treatment at the hands of some of the more violent of the people. But they held on, and pursued their work with diligence and self-sacrifice, with the result that now they are universally respected, and by none more so than the clergy of the city. There is on all hands heard the most laudatory testimony, not only to their work, but to their life; and on Sunday night the capacious and stately church was filled with a large, reverent, and hearty congregation. It may be, indeed, that their success is a personal victory rather than a triumph for their cause, for the large congregations they have built up are not to be found in any other Ritualistic church in the city. But there the fact remains that at S. Alban's the work is a pronounced success, and we freely and ungrudgingly say so."

But the health of both brothers, neither of them physically strong—Father Pollock was born with a weak heart—was seriously impaired, and, humanly speaking,—their term of mortal life shortened by these severe trials.

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