Project Canterbury

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

Transcribed by Robert Stevens
AD 2001


"The love of JESUS would not let them rest."

THE full Catholic Faith was ever taught at S. Alban's, and set forth in a stately ceremonial which never varied during thirty years. From the beginning of the mission work in 1865 it had always a voluntary choir of communicants.

Here is Father Pollock’s own statement concerning what sort of doctrine was taught at S. Alban’s. It is quoted at length from "Vaughton’s Hole."

"It is, perhaps, still supposed by some people who know nothing of S. Alban’s that it is a school for Ritual, and that our people are well posted up in what some one called ‘the postures and impostures.’ A closer view would let them see that all such questions were well considered and done with at S. Alban’s twenty-five years ago. And if they questioned the clergy, they would be surprised to find how many details of that subject have been forgotten in the pressure of more important matters. While many good people, clergy and laity, have been learning and advancing, we have been forgetting, and remaining as we were at first.

"If any one desires to know what we have taught our people, I point to what has been done with regard to the great subject of Holy Baptism. If we have failed—as we have—in many things, we have great cause for thankfulness here. We have not promoted new fads, nor have we introduced, as some tell us, ‘a religion of our own.’ We have pressed the old-fashioned Church doctrine, the Church of England doctrine of Baptism, as taught in the Bible and the Church Catechism. Let me be understood. People may divide themselves into parties as they will; there is one division into two parties which the Church makes, and she keeps wide asunder those who belong to the two religions. The great vital question for each soul is not where, or in what direction, or in what garments the Priest stands—all proper questions in their own subordinate place—but where he stands before GOD. The Church tells him plainly; nay, that there may be no mistake about a question of life and death, she bids him say it for himself. She makes him affirm in his early childhood that he was at a certain definite time made ‘a child of GOD.’ She tells him to make that fact the starting-point of his religion; and by implication she denies and repudiates all other methods of making the start.

If some people, in and out of the Church, refuse to believe the ‘blasphemous figment of Baptismal Regeneration,’ she asserts it in defiant, definite terms. She does not by any ‘judgment of charity’ or cruelty declare that to be true in the case of every baptized child which she doubts in the case of any one. It was the vindication of this cardinal doctrine of the faith by Dr. Pusey which gained for orthodox Churchmen long ago the dignity of being called Puseyites. That holy and venerable man, who through evil report remained to the day of his death firm and unshaken in his allegiance to his mother who taught him, vindicated her ‘Scriptural views of Holy Baptism’ in one of the famous Tracts.’ We follow not Dr. Pusey only, but the Bible and the Church, in asserting the same truth. We rejoice to see that the Church bids all her baptized children claim their places in her and in the family of GOD. That gift, bestowed by free grace alone, without any ‘works, merits, or deservings’ on their part—nay, in the time of their unconscious infancy—she declares to be the beginning of the application of GOD’S salvation to the soul. It is life, though, like natural life at its beginning, it is weak, and in danger of death. What may come before it is something different from, something less than, ‘being born of water and of the SPIRIT’; what comes after it is not a monstrous third or fourth birth, but a re-quickening of that which, perhaps, was ready to die. That gift, as the Church teaches, her children got; this they must keep; this they must return to if they fall. This first new birth they must not let go till they enjoy its consummation in the other day of birth when they will be ‘children of the Resurrection.’

"I am anxious to emphasise all this, because it is important for all men to understand that the Church’s controversy against doubters, far or near, concerns the way and method of salvation. This one article of the faith being accepted, all the rest comes as a matter of course. If the washing of water be not a mere putting away of the filth of the flesh, but a being buried and risen with CHRIST in—not apart from, or signified by, but in—Baptism, then the Bread and Wine are not a weak revival of Jewish symbols, but are what the LORD ‘verily, verily’ says they are. And, if such holy mysteries are dispensed, it stands to reason that their dispensers must be carefully set apart and authorised, and that the Community within which they are dispensed must be an organised body, to which all should flee, and from which none should depart."

Speaking of another aspect of Holy Baptism, Father Pollock once begged his people not to delay bringing their children until they were old enough to exclaim at the Font, as did one little girl whom he baptized, "I’ll tell my mother what you’ve done to me!"

Concerning the ceremonial at S. Alban’s, Father Pollock tells this story in his Vaughton’s Hole

"Speaking of ‘the influence of Church ritual,’ Dr. Oldknow remarks: ‘A Wesleyan Methodist, who lately witnessed the procession of priests and choristers proceeding from the vestry to the chapel of the (S. Alban’s) mission in this parish, singing a hymn as they went, told one of the clergy that he could not help bursting into tears. ‘I shall not leave my own place,’ he added, ‘but for all that I shall come and see you sometimes.’"

It may be mentioned, however, that the use of incense was discontinued by Father Pollock in obedience to the injunction of his Bishop.

The brothers were, both in doctrine and practice, good soldiers of JESUS CHRIST. Father Pollock has been called "a people’s parson" and "a teaching Priest." The names are fitly bestowed, and are just as suitable to Father Tom. One who knew them and their work well, and was associated with it, says that "as Mission Priests they stood on a pinnacle." The keynote of their devoted lives may be found in the title, "a servant of servants," which the younger was wont to apply to himself. They lived themselves in the plainest and simplest manner. They made themselves personally responsible for debts on the church and schools, and by sacrificing much of their patrimony in the Isle of Man, and by untiring efforts to gain help from others, the Mission Priests of S. Alban’s raised £100,000 in twenty years for church and school work in their district.

S. Alban’s was worth £150 a year, but Father Pollock maintained three assistant clergy, besides his brother and himself" six lay-readers, and four sisters.

Of what condition were S. Alban’s people Father Pollock gives a vivid picture in reply to some who said that S. Alban’s had "a very wealthy congregation, able to pay for all that is wanted." "In reply I offer no opinion of my own, but quote from the column of our Baptismal Register marking ‘Quality, Trade, or Profession’ of father, and give all the entries for the last 100 baptisms of our twenty-five years, and the first 100 baptisms of the twenty-sixth year:—Baker, barman, basket-maker, bedstead polisher, blacksmith, bone-turner, boot-finisher, bootmaker, brass-caster, brass-dresser, brassfounder, bricklayer, bricklayer’s labourer, brickmaker, brushmaker, burnisher, butcher, cabinetmaker, cab proprietor, carpenter, carriage-lamp maker, carriage-lamp spinner, carter, carver, chandelier maker, chandelier worker, clerk, coach axle-tree turner, coach-painter, collier, commercial traveller, compositor, cook, cooper, coppersmith, currier, electro-plater, electro-plate finisher, engineer, engine-driver, engine-fitter, factory worker, fender maker, file-cutter, filer, fireman, fitter, French polisher, fruiter, gardener, gasfitter, general dealer, glassblower, grate-fitter, gun action filer, gun-maker, hairdresser, horse dealer, horse keeper, house painter, iron plate worker, jeweller, labourer, lamp maker, leather bag maker, machinist, mail-cart driver, maltster, metal-roller, millwright, moulder, nail-caster, packer, packing-case maker, painter, paper-cutter, paperhanger, pin pointer, plane maker, plasterer, plumber, police-officer, purse maker, railway guard, railway porter, refreshment house keeper, rule maker, saddle-tree maker, slater, stable man, stamper, steeplejack, stick-dresser, stoker, stove-maker, surgeon, sweep, tailor, thimble maker, tinner, tinplate worker, tube drawer, upholsterer, venetian blind maker, vice maker, warehouseman, wire drawer, wire weaver, wood paviour." The "surgeon" was very probably Dr. J. W. Taylor, the eminent specialist, a saintly and beloved physician, author of the Coming of the Saints, sometime churchwarden of S. Alban’s, and a contributor to the pages of The Gospeller, who was but recently called to his well-earned rest.

Of the people of S. Alban’s Mission, whose "quality" he has just stated, he writes:

"These are our people—not merely the inhabitants of the district in which we work, but our people in a higher sense—those who accept our ministrations and seek the ordinances of GOD at our hands. The 50,986 copper coins which they contributed to the offertory last year, gave another proof of their attachment to S. Alban’s. And, let me add, these good people have an attractive power peculiar to themselves. The history of our town parishes is a history of change, retirement, and promotion. No other district in Birmingham has retained the same Priest for the last twenty-five years; two Priests at S. Alban’s are in the twenty-sixth of their work there.

"The three parts of the work must be maintained. But whatever we do, we must not neglect the definite mission work for which S. Alban’s was founded. A ‘show church’ would be an absurdity, as well as a profanity, in S. Alban’s district."

Among the good, loving people of whom Father Pollock speaks so affectionately, and who of their penury gave so willingly, was an inmate of the almshouses near S. Alban’s Church, who collected no less than £36, 5s., chiefly in pennies, from her poor neighbours.

The beginning of S. Alban’s Mission was in a small building, called disparagingly by some "the shed." What it had grown into at the end of the labours of Father Pollock and his Brother may be judged from their last announcements on the covers of The Gospeller, their Parish Magazine.


S. ALBAN’S, S. PATRICK’S, S. COLUMBA’S, and S. KATHARINE’S contain 2260 kneelings, all free and Unappropriated at all services.

HOURS OF SUNDAY Services, Sunday Schools, and other Sunday work, see "S. ALBAN’S CLOCK."

WEEK-DAY SERVICES at S. Alban’s: Holy Communion, daily except Thursday, 7.30; Thursday, 8; Mattins, daily, 11; Litany, Wednesday and Friday, 7.30 a.m.; Evensong, daily, Choral, 8. Sermon at Evensong on Friday.

S. Alban’s Church is open all day for Private Prayer. The Clergy may he seen after any Service, or by appointment; Saturday, 12, 5, and 8.30.

HOLY BAPTISM on the first Sunday of each month, at 4 P.M., and every Thursday, at 8 P.M. during Evensong. No Fee of any kind for Baptism. Churchings a quarter of an hour before any Service, except Evensong on Sunday and Friday; no Fee, but Offerings may be given.

Baptisms in the eleven years, 1884 to 1894, 8237. January, 1895, 66; February, 53; March, 64; April, 36; May, 71; June, 50; July, 57; August, 42; September, 56; October, 59; Total, 554.

SUNDAY SCHOOLS.—See S. Alban’s Clock.
DAY SCHOOLS.—Five Schools; accommodation, 1450.
MOTHERS’ MEETINGS conducted by the Sisterhood of S. Agnes and by the Sisterhood of the Holy Name.

POPULATION OF S. ALBAN’S DISTRICT.—In 1865, about 4500; in 1871, 8766; in 1881, 12,723; in 1891, 13,444.

A glance at the S. Alban’s Clock, a striking feature of the parochial Organisation, will show how Sundays in S. Alban’s district were spent.



The same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.

Every Sunday in the District of S. Alban the Martyr, Birmingham.

7.30 HOLY COMMUNION S. Patrick’s.
9.30 Bible Class for Men Leopold Street.
10 Sunday Schools Leopold Street.
10 Sunday Schools Highgate Street.
10 Senior Classes for Girls S. Katharine’s.
10.30 †Mattins S. Alban’s.
11 HOLY COMMUNION and Sermon S. Alban’s.
11 Mattins and Sermon S. Patrick’s.
11 Children’s Service S. Katharine’s.
3 Sunday School Leopold Street.
3 Sunday School Highgate Street.
3 Bible Classes for Young Men Leopold Street.
3 †Bible Class for Men S. Alban’s.
3 Senior Classes for Girls S. Katharine’s.
3 Senior Classes for Girls S. Patrick’s.
3 Bible Class for Women H. N. Home.
3 Infants’ School S. Agnes’ Home.
4 †Sunday School Service S. Alban’s.
4 Sunday School Service S. Patrick’s.
4.30 Parish Library S. Alban’s Depot.
6 †Litany S. Alban’s.
6.30 Evensong and Sermon S. Alban’s.
6.30 Evensong and Sermon S. Patrick’s.
6.30 Children’s Service S. Katharine’s.
7 Evensong and Service S. Columba’s.

Services at S. Alban’s Church, Conybere Street, are marked thus †

Of the position of affairs in S. Alban’s Mission in 1890 Father Pollock writes:—

"Our ‘plant’ is excellent and well placed; and the generous, self-sacrificing zeal of our loving people has made it, for the present, free from debt and danger, They proposed to raise £1700 to pay off the balance of the church building debt, as a thankoffering at the end of our first twenty-five years’ work, and in four months they raised £2200. In our four churches, some slight alterations now being made give us room for more than 2200 worshippers, every kneeling free and unappropriated. We have the largest of the day schools in Birmingham that are not under a ‘Board’; two or three of the Board schools exceed our accommodation. And S Alban’s schools are in a high state of efficiency.’

The schools of S. Alban’s Mission were especially dear to the heart of Father Pollock and his Brother. Both of them often said they would sooner lose their church than their schools.

Looked at in a merely secular light, their day schools were excellent and among the best in Birmingham; from a religious point of view, their influence for good is incalculable when we think of the thousands of children who received Christian education there. Here are some of Father Tom’s own words about "Our Schools":

"Our Schools—we love them; though all else be weak,
They are our strength, and for themselves can speak.
We want to make them stronger, and to give
Help to the earnest ones whose work will live
In those whom for both worlds they teach and train,
And educate in conscience and in brain.
We do not think the R’s are only three,
We think Religion first of four to be.
These little ones are given to our care;
Betray our solemn trust we cannot dare;
We’re bound to them and GOD to do our best,
And as we bring them blessing we are blest."

Both the brothers were extremely fond of children, and in their walks through the district were ever accompanied by a train of often smutty-faced and ragged little lambs. One who was intimately associated in the work of S. Alban’s Mission writes:—

"I have several times seen, when walking along the streets with Father Pollock, the children kiss the hem of his cloak as he passed along; but I think he was quite oblivious.

One of his favourite stories concerned a little girl, who teased her father so persistently to come to the Mission Chapel that he exclaimed at last, "You would worry the leg off an iron pot."

Father Tom had pet names for his small friends. One dear little golden-haired lassie he always called "Shiney," because he never saw her without a smile on her face. He was wont to say, with more than a measure of truth, that he knew more about the babies than many of their own mothers did. The comment on his verses "Mother and Child," by an excellent mother, not one of his people, who read them unaware of their authorship, was "None but a mother could have written those lines." Father Pollock used himself to confess that he almost broke down whenever he read the Lesson about the little lad (2 Kings iv.), and there was a poem, ‘Little Evelyn," by the Rev. Basil Edwards. Which he said he could never read without tears. He would never turn away any boy from Sunday School, and he was lenient with the failings of this part of his flock. "Boys," he used to say, "always rhymes with noise": of which fact there is small doubt. But both Father Pollock and Father Tom could be stern enough when real wrong-doing or irreverence was in question; and there was one game, "Kiss-in-the-ring," which was never allowed either at the Christmas gathering or the Summer excursion. The last-named event was a day of days at S. Alban’s. The whole neighbourhood used to turn out to see the great procession from the schools in Leopold Street to Camp Hill Station. The procession was accompanied by the brass band and drum and fife band, and carried many banners. Upon one occasion, says the Parish Magazine, "No less than 1189 boys and girls, with 210 teachers and friends, assembled. Two special trains bore this great gathering of youth and happiness to Kingsbury." The trains were sometimes more than filled. The present writer has seen the parcel rack laden with laughing little ones, for whom no other room could be found.

It was almost always fine weather for the excursion into the country. Father Tom used to tell the children to pray for the Angels to put all their wings together and keep the rain off.

On the day of the excursion the two brothers belonged to the children, and they did what they liked with them. It was a sight to see the return procession, which the whole neighbourhood again turned out to meet and admire, and dear Father Pollock, with his hat encircled with wild flowers, looking very tired, but happy, and, as some said, like a sacrificial victim decked with garlands!

Father Tom was wont to say that "as a rule, when people are happy, they are good," and after one of the happy school treats he wrote:—

‘I was teaching a large class of children. Our school excursion to the country, a few days before, had been very happy. The weather had been perfect, and all had gone well. I spoke to the children about it. I asked them who had most pleasure in seeing their enjoyment. Every hand was held out. I told them to answer together; all said at once ‘GOD.’ They were surely right, and happy are those who learn thus to think of their Heavenly FATHER as One who loves to look upon His children’s joy, and can enter into their feelings about all He gives to make them glad."

The procession of children from all S. Alban’s Mission Sunday Schools on Festival Days was another great sight, which all the district turned out to see. The children perambulated the parish, and then assembled with their banners and the drum and fife band at S. Alban’s Church in Conybere Street, where a very impressive little service was conducted by Father Pollock.

No picture of S. Alban’s Mission can be complete without the mention of two names—that of Sister Emma, with her rosy, winter-apple face, bright eyes like a bird and brisk, cheery manner. Her alert figure, in grey cloak and bonnet, was familiar in S. Alban’s district for many years, and she has been truly called the "right hand of the Brothers Pollock throughout their long and Stormy life at S. Alban’s." She survived them by some years. Of her work at S. Agnes’ Home, Father Tom’s Christmas "Prologue" of 1892 says:—

"No words can toll, for no one really, knows,
What to S. Agnes’ Home S. Alban’s owes.
That quiet wisdom and that steady force,
Like sun and air, we take as things of course.
But things we take for granted while we use them
We wonder what would happen should we lose them."

The boys from S. Agnes’ Home used to serve the Altar in S. Alban’s Church, and there were some among them of whom the Church might well be proud.

The other name is that of good old Thomas Litchfield, the Cross-bearer for many years, whom the present writer remembers as an always venerable figure in S. Alban’s procession, and who also survived Father Pollock and his Brother, living himself to a patriarchal age.

Of the parochial work of the two Mission Priests volumes might be written. Men of high intellect, culture, and refinement, more fitted, seemingly, for the quiet of a cathedral close or a university quadrangle than for Mission Priests, must have found much that was uncongenial in the grimy slums of Vaughton’s Hole. But none could have guessed it, for the heart of each was in S. Alban’s. At any hour of the day and night, in all weathers, were they ready to answer the calls of their people either for spiritual or material aid, and though neither of the brothers was over strong in health, they never spared themselves. One anecdote of Father Pollock will show how his parish work was done. One bitterly cold night, when he was far from well, a call came from a remote part of the district. Late though it was, Father Pollock set off at once to the place, where he found a man very ill, and in a state of great destitution, there being neither food nor fire in the house. With no thought of his own fatigue or frail health this devoted Priest returned to his house, with his own hands filled a barrow with coal and wood, wheeled it himself to the miserable abode, kindled a fire, and remained with the sick man all night. This incident was related in a Dissenting pulpit the evening of the Sunday on which Father Pollock was called to his rest; and the preacher concluded his narrative by the question, "Which of us would have done that?" Such deeds were but matters of course with the Priests of S. Alban’s. One of their people, who knew the mission from the first, on being told of the above incident, remarked that it was nothing compared to the things done by Father Pollock and his Brother during the terrible smallpox time.

Concerning the terrible smallpox time, Father Pollock himself only says that "throughout S. Alban’s district the visitation was very severe. As soon as the smallpox came to Birmingham it attacked S. Alban’s district, and, when it had left nearly every other part, it lingered with us. A list of streets was published in the papers, giving the number of cases in each; two of our streets were very near the top of the list. For many months our poor people suffered severely."

Those who knew anything of the methods of Father Pollock and his Brother can read much between the lines of this plain setting-down of facts. Some of Father Pollock’s remarkable stories of the supernatural have to do with the dreadful days of the smallpox epidemic.

Father Tom took a special interest in the improvement of the sanitary condition of the crowded district in which he worked, The remarkable letter he wrote to the Daily Post drew widespread attention to the subject; and the improved state of sanitary affairs in S. Alban’s parish was no doubt due to his spirited action in this matter. A few extracts from his letter may fitly be quoted here:—

"We found and support great hospitals. Most of the outlay on these ought, I solemnly believe, to be spent on prevention. We knock a man down with one hand, and hold out sticking-plaster with the other. We poison men, and then buy costly antidotes."

"When epidemic breaks out, people turn up their eyes and talk of Providence. I have no patience with this ignorant slander of the Almighty. Men lay to the charge of GOD what is done by their own greed and dullness."

"If I breathe bad air, or live in dirt willingly, I am a suicide. If I force others to do this, or do not do my best to help them, I am a murderer."

A good illustration of the practical interest Father Tom took in the temporal welfare of his poor people is given by a little story from his parochial experiences, which he calls "Down Stairs," and relates in his own dry, racy fashion:—

"The right and usual way of going down is to put one foot before the other. Sometimes—very often, it is to be feared—the feet go wrong, and the head goes first. This happened to an aged person about a fortnight ago. I saw her to-day. Her head is wounded severely, and she has sustained other serious injuries.

"‘For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.’

For want of a rope or rod or some simple contrivance of the sort, several people fall and hurt themselves.

"Some of the stairs in our new jerry-built houses are awful to look at. In some streets the two flights of stairs commonly are in one straight line, and it is a service of danger to go up or down. No wonder that a good old woman said to me some days ago, ‘I pray to the LORD before I go downstairs, and I pray to the LORD when I go up.’ And well she might if she lived in one of the houses I describe.

"But, as I said, a rope securely fastened might be a great comfort in guarding against danger to old and young, and in lessening the trials of the feeble.

A similar instance from the present writer’s own knowledge will show how Father Tom endeared himself to the hearts of his people. He one day went to see a parishioner who was very ill, and found his wife in great distress. Her husband, a very stout, heavy man, had taken the fancy that he would be more comfortable if his bed were turned round, and there was none in the house who was strong enough to do it. Father Tom at once went away, and returned immediately with the S. Alban’s verger, and together they moved the bed with the sick man in it into the position he desired.

The Mission Priests of S. Alban’s were indeed at all times ready to spend and be spent in the service of their flock (the grapes in their greenhouse were just enough, as they said, for their sick people). This willingness of service was sometimes abused. Father Tom used to tell a story of a man, described as being very ill, to whom he was summoned one Good Friday after he had taken the Three Hours’ Service and was much exhausted. The messenger was asked whether, as the Priest was so tired, the next day would not do. But, being assured the case was urgent, weary as he was, Father Tom set off, to find his importunate parishioner suffering from the effects of a drunken revel, and to be confronted with the appeal, "Oh, sir, if you’ll only pray the beer out of me this time, I’ll never touch it again."

Father Tom’s medical knowledge stood him in good stead in his parish work, Frequently he used to take out the children’s teeth for them; some of the little ones, if they had a loose tooth, would save it till Father Tom’s next parochial visit, and he has been known to dress very carefully and tenderly the scalded foot of one of his old people. It is on record that this patient would willingly have retarded recovery for the sake of his attendance!

Father Pollock was out among his people during the fearful gale of November 1890, when Lord Cantelupe’s yacht went down; and a bitterly cold morning with deep snow in February 1895, when they were out at the early Celebrations, was to both brothers the last straw of the heavy load they had carried unflinchingly for so long. Both were at this time in very weak health, and neither of them had strength enough to throw off the ill effects of the chill and their exertions of that day, and the life of each might then have been numbered by months. It was no marvel that they came to be regarded with an almost idolising affection.

How the poor people felt about their Parish Priests is best described in the words of one of them just after Father Pollock’s death. "We felt as if we had lost everybody belonging to us." The scenes at the funerals, within a year of each other, amply justified the saying.

The literary labours of the Priest-Brothers, no small part, indeed, of their day’s work, and inextricably interwoven with it, need only be mentioned here, as they are considered at length in another chapter.

Very weary and exhausted at the close of each day must these toilers in the LORD’S vineyard have been. Talking one day to a young member of his flock upon the subject of reading in bed, "People go to bed to sleep," Father Pollock remarked, and added that he himself always repeated "Sun of my soul," the last thing at night, and was usually asleep before the first verse was finished.

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