Project Canterbury

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

Transcribed by Robert Stevens
AD 2001


"Give me the man who bears a big load lightly,
And looks on grave things with a blithe face brightly."

FATHER TOM'S original, inimitable rhymed "Prologues," written in the metre of Pope's "Essay on Man," and showing a very keen and shrewd, yet altogether kindly and charitable knowledge of human nature, are unique in character. Each "Prologue" contained an epitome of the last year’s history, and these records in rhyme give an excellent idea of the work of S. Alban’s and of the spirit in which that work was done. The reading of the "Prologue" by its author, in his own dry, humorous manner, was one of the chief attractions of the Christmas social gatherings.

The "Prologue" selected and quoted almost at length is the last ever produced, being recited at S. Alban’s Christmas gathering, 1894:—


Another, yet another! so we tell
That years are born, and ring their parting knell,
Each as it comes fresh promise seems to bring,
Each seems to fly away on swifter wing
The hours that men so slowly learn to prize
Seem less in number and of smaller size,
For, stretch them as we may, they cannot hold
New claims born daily, crowding on the old.
Time is not wasted while we rest awhile,
Or with some pleasant sport our cares beguile.
No heart is merry idly and in vain
That doeth good, like medicine in our pain.
S. Alban’s keeps its thirtieth Christmastide,
And we are few who, working side by side,
Through all those years have had the joy to share
Together all its varied strife and care
And year by year, as welcome friends we gain,
Old friends we miss, who in our hearts remain.
Their memory must inspire our heart and will,
Our work must show their spirit with us still.
The men of old shrank not from utter loss;
They bravely faced the lions and the cross.
Now men are traitors to their cause, and fear
To own their faith, because the godless sneer.
In times of peace they feebly cast away
What heroes won in many a fiercest fray.
Ours be the heart of those who onward pressed
To find new work, not selfish ease and rest.
Shame if the smallest vantage ground be lost,
Which those before us won with toil and cost.
Shame, if degenerate and faithless grown,
Our highest aim is but to hold our own,
To live in pleasant mutual admiration,
To care for self, and call it concentration.
We have what others wrought, in trust and charge,
To deepen, broaden, strengthen and enlarge.
Our gains reveal the wants that still abound;
The lights that shine show darkness all around.
S. Alban’s as a Mission lives and grows;
No other name, no other calling knows;
We tend the tree that lifts its towering head,
So fruitful branches will their shadow spread
We make the centre strong that it may prove
A sun, around which other lights may move.
Our profits have a limit, only one
‘Tis measured by the work that can be done,
And that upon the workers and the size
Of what we well may call our factories.
We started with what scoffers called a shed;
It proved too small; we built a Church instead
In cottages and shops we opened schools,
Untrammelled there by the Department’s rules.
We tried to look before us, and provide
For what was coming, using as our guide,
With wisest prudence, not our cash in hand,
But what the needs around us might demand.
Rashness in dealing about stocks and shares,
Is business foresight with our sort of wares.
There is a bank on which the Church can draw,
Managed by no hard economic law;
Blank cheques are in the hands of faith to sign,
Dishonoured never by the bank Divine
S. Alban’s stands, a monument to those
By whose united gifts and prayers it rose:
A witness to the world of higher things
Than those to which the earthly spirit clings
A home where rich and poor may feel the rest
Unknown to stranger, or to passing guest.
Its ever open door, its frequent bell,
Of holy brotherhood and welcome tell,
Its walls already show the mellowed tone
That age bestows on blended tile and stone,
While arch and roof and pillar and arcade
Show softening harmonies of light and shade.
We know and love it better year by year,
And crowding memories make it grow more dear
S. Patrick’s Mission is of age; it pleads
With modest confidence its rights and needs.
The Sunday Schools to such dimensions grow,
That Church and every Schoolroom overflow
And like the ancient dweller in a shoe,
We often simply know not what to do.
Small girls are restless, and we know that boys
Must always be a word that rhymes with noise,
And classes jostle, close packed side by side
To conquer in a school, you must divide.
Bravely the worried teachers persevere,
Upheld by hope that some relief is near.
We must not spoil their work, or drive away
The elder boys and girls who wish to stay,
But whom we must make up our minds to lose,
If what they come to get we long refuse.
At present we are cabined, cribbed, confined,
The Church is hid where it is hard to find:
We want a Church that passers-by can see,
We want to set the iron building free
For other uses—’tis a want that presses;
So every one who knows the facts confesses.
We have the ground; ‘tis paid for and our own;
We ask no guarantee or friendly loan;
We will not mortgage, or in reckless way
Fresh needless burdens on S. Alban’s lay.
We wish to work for duty, not for pride,
And keep our banker’s pass-book as our guide.
That shows us how some hundreds volunteered
Before appeal or statement had appeared.
We dare not doubt that when our needs are told,
The means shall be forthcoming as of old.
Are Schools worth keeping? So the faithless ask,
To whom school work is but a weary task
Who only reckon up the care and cost,
Forgetting what would follow were they lost.
Who feel not for the lambs, whom Angels high
Are ever watching o’er with jealous eye.
Some ask rate aid, and are content to share
With aliens what is all the Church’s care.
Let us be sure that it is better far
To trust in Him Whose own the children are,
Than trust rate-payers, and by gold beguiled,
To part with more than half of every child.
This would not be to safeguard, but to slay,
And all that is worth keeping give away.
The Church’s Schools are Hers; they are not ours;
We hold a trust; we have no selling powers.
If we are faithless, men will hear our name
In after days with anger and with shame.
We want to educate, not merely teach,
To watch o’er every child, and give to each
That which for all its nature will provide
For all its life a sure and upward guide.
We want such teachers as, through all the day,
Teach both by what they are and what they say,
Not hirelings whom rate-payers might employ
To force through standards so much girl or boy.
You say that this means money, self denial;
It does, and now the Church is on her trial.
Shall we lose life to save the cost of food,
Betray our greatest vantage-ground for good,
And bring upon our niggard souls the guilt
Of tumbling down what those before us built
No niggard souls are yours; you’ll do your part,
As you have ever done, with cheerful heart;
You’ll show your sense of blessings you receive,
You’ve learned the blessedness of those who give.
The Sale of Work has not been held for nought,
Thanks to the workers and to those that bought
But surely we can pay our debts without
A way so wearisome and roundabout;
If all will give what honestly is due,
The burden will not crush the willing few,
The blessing, too, will be more widely shared,
And time and toil for other work be spared
How many works there are that, year by year,
With growing strength and growing claims appear!
The Guilds, the classes, it is hard indeed,
To keep them all in mind and know their need.
The orchestra deserves a grateful word,
From time to time it makes its voice be heard.
The drums and fifes shrill pleasant uproar make
The neighbours say it keeps their babes awake.
Three new departures prove our keen desire
To have each year fresh irons in the fire.
The Lad’s Brigade will happily employ
The restless energies of many a boy.
The Class for Men on Sunday afternoon
Long waited for, will count its hundreds soon.
The working men have found a home at last,
Their wandering life in tents will soon be past.
The Club will open with the opening year,
The house is taken, and the way is clear.
Too clear the rooms of fittings—who’ll supply them,
From unused stores, or give the cash to buy them?
We want chairs, tables, and we can’t afford
To buy a bagatelle or billiard board
The gift of a piano would be pleasant,
We’ll have them all, though maybe not at present.
Then papers of the week and of the day,
And pictures too to make the walls look gay
This wearies you; for you have come to hear
Not tales of work, but words of restful cheer,
To banish thoughts of care, and live awhile
As if all faces always wore a smile
Together let us try with all our powers
To brighten, as they pass, these social hours
Let us be merry, helping, every one,
The common cause of friendliness and fun.
S. Alban’s must unite us all as friends,
Who meet together as the Old Year ends,
United by our common memories,
And common hopes and aims and sympathies
The New Year’s wishes that our lips express
Will rouse to seek each other’s happiness:
Let us remember through the coming year
The words of greeting we have spoken here
And one in hearty fellowship aspire
To work the ends we say what we desire.

A previous chapter contained some lines from one of Father Tom’s "Prologues." The following extracts from various years are also well worth quoting, for the gems of thought and wisdom they enshrine.

‘Another Christmas brings its thoughts of cheer,
We speed the parting, hail the coming year;
We think of work accomplished, battles won,
And brace our strength for what must yet be done.
We learn, while looking back upon the past,
How dangers yield, and troubles do not last;
The hardest task, that strains our faith and skill,
Is but a task worth doing with a will
With but one life to live, who would not choose
A lot that sloth or cowardice would refuse,
The fortunes of a struggling cause to share,
And with the brave and earnest, do and dare?"

And again—

"We are not thoughtless, though we are not sad.
The truly thoughtful are indeed the glad,
For Christmas joy its conquering light can throw
Where hangs the shadow of earth’s darkest woe.
Let weak-kneed folly mope with downcast eyes,
Let us be strong, be merry and be wise.
If grudge exist, or loss of confidence—
No matter what the plea or the pretence—
That in this Holy Season has not died,
Let him who hugs it carry it outside.
Let idlers quarrel we have not the time,
Who feel that lack of diligence is crime
The waste of energy we can’t afford
Which lays aside the spade to wield the sword
The passing year goes by to come no more,
It leaves of good and hope a goodly store.
Prepared for light and dark of coming days,
We fearless face their yet untrodden ways.
The records of the past this truth declare,
That triumphs are for those who do and dare
And though the future no one can foretell,
With duty’s soldiers—all is always well."’


‘True friendship neither years nor space can sever,
True friends, where’er they are, are friends for ever."


"We must forbear and bear, and try to feel
What seems unkind is often only zeal,
Like Marryat’s hero, who, the book declares,
In purest zeal, once kicked a man downstairs."

To conclude, there is a wealth of true wisdom in these trenchant lines on education

"Some people think they have a revelation
Vouchsafed to them alone on education
They talk of things self evidently true,
As if of things quite wonderful and new.
They boast of things that they have just found out,
Which long ago the Church knew all about;
And then in quite superior tone they preach
To those who taught them all that they can teach.
And they put on a manner wondrous wise,
Like kittens with their newly-opened eyes,
As if the things which they begin to see
Were things that only now begin to be."

Project Canterbury