Project Canterbury

George Rundle Prynne
An Early Chapter in the History of the Catholic Revival
by A. Clifton Kelway

London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1905. 248 pp.


Parochial organization--Degraded character of St. Peter's district-- Erection of the chapel of the Good Shepherd (1862)--Creation of All Saints' parish--Provision of new day schools--Prynne on religious education--Formation of parochial guilds--The Society of the Love of Jesus--Prynne and the Roman Catholic communion--Rev. J. Leycester Lyne and St. Peter's--Prynne and parochial missions--A Lenten Pastoral (1866).

AFTER the stormy period of the early 'fifties the parish and its hard-working staff of clergy and Sisters enjoyed comparative peace, and during this period the work of building up the parochial organization upon a sound basis went steadily on. In the decennial period from 1851 to 1861 -the population of the parish increased enormously, it being no less than one-third of the whole increase of Devon for the same period. The census of 1861 revealed to Prynne that he had now the spiritual care of a population of 10,430 souls, as compared with the 5,137 to whom he was originally sent to minister. This rapid increase, together with a marked distinction between the character of the population in the higher and lower parts of the parish, suggested the provision of a mission school in the poorer and more degraded district that bordered on Stonehouse Lane, as King Street was then called. Some conception of the district referred to may be gathered from a description penned by Prynne himself. Writing more than twenty years ago, he said:--

"When I have to answer questions touching the occupations of the inhabitants of this parish, I speak of them as labouring, manufacturing, and seafaring; but this is a very imperfect description. There are doubtless all these classes; but there are also a good many small shopkeepers, old clothes sellers, rag and bone storekeepers, coster-mongers, 'chandlers,'--who sell anything, from ladies brass ornaments down to second-hand shoes, rusty nails, and farthing dips,--small public-house keepers, lodging-house keepers for travellers (i.e. tramps), and also, I grieve to say, keepers of houses of a much worse description. The overcrowding in some of the lodging-houses is frightful, two families in some cases occupying one room. This ought to be regulated by the authorities, for it is a cause of great immorality. There is also an Irish quarter, sunk in the deepest poverty. It is, I believe, sometimes thought that in sending out appeals for help to carry on spiritual work we exaggerate the ignorance and vice around us. It would be difficult to do so, I think, as regards some parts of this Parish."

The state of such parts of the parish as this was, of course, at its worst in the 'fifties, when the degradation of the poor in the crowded quarters of all our large towns had reached the lowest point. Prynne, and his contemporary at Holy Trinity, Plymouth, often related the hideous story of those days, when whole streets were occupied, almost without exception, by houses of ill-fame, tenanted by the most debased class of wretched women, who nightly thronged the streets of this great naval and military centre. It must be confessed, alas! that notwithstanding the spread of education and social progress, and the wider realization of their responsibilities by sanitary and municipal authorities, the condition of some parts of Plymouth is little better to-day than when Prynne wrote the above description, more than twenty years ago. The overcrowding is possibly as bad, and the material condition of the people but slightly improved. As to its morality, certain streets still bear an unenviable reputation, while the removal of the more respectable classes from congested portions of the town, still further lowers the tone of whole districts.

The provision of St. Peter's Mission Chapel, a small but pretty building which still stands in Octagon Street, was accomplished in 1862, the erection of this very useful and well-situated building only occupying six months. Intended to be used as a schoolroom and chapel, a movable screen was provided to shut off the sanctuary when the building was in use for secular purposes. The foundation stone of the chapel was laid on May 12, 1862, by the Bishop of Honolulu--who at that time was acting for the Bishop of Exeter--and a large body of clergy and laity attended. The day was observed as a Holy Day, the Holy Eucharist being celebrated at 8 a.m. At 11 the Bishop and clergy, preceded by the choir chanting Psalm xlvii., went in procession to St. Peter's, where, Matins having been sung, a solemn celebration of the Holy Eucharist followed, the Bishop being celebrant. After the service the procession went to the site, singing the Psalm lxviii., and the foundation stone was laid according to customary form. A public luncheon followed. The choirs of St. Stephen and St. Mary, Devonport, assisted on this occasion; and among the clergy present were the Revs. J. Bliss and H. Marriott, of St. James-the-Less, Plymouth; the Revs. G. Proctor and C. Tollemache, of St. Stephen's, Devonport; and the Rev. A. B. Hutchison, of St. James', Keyham. The names are of interest as tending to evidence the growth of the Catholic Movement in the newer districts of the Three Towns at this early date. The chapel, which has been in turn called St. Peter's and St. Augustine's, is now known as the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. It was never consecrated, but was opened on November 2, 1862, an Octave being kept, with special services and preachers daily. It ceased to be a schoolroom when the present girls' and infants' schools were opened, in 1871, in Wyndham Square, and has ever since been used as a mission chapel for the poorer part of the parish, ecclesiastically dependent upon the mother church, but with an organization and special mission character of its own.

The erection of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd did not, however, solve the problem of the increase of population, which continued at a rapid rate, and in 1871 reached a total of 15,414. The parish, which had long since reached its limits on its southern and western sides, had been steadily developing eastwards along the line of the Great Western Railway to Millbay. In 1867 steps were first taken to obtain the sanction of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to the formation of a new parish in this district, which was originally intended to be called St. Mark's, the dedication being subsequently changed to All Saints. Funds were raised for its partial endowment, and the erection of a church was shortly afterwards commenced. The official sanction to the formation of this parochial district was deferred until after the consecration of the new church on November 8, 1874, the Order in Council approving of the formation being dated May 13, 1875. The first incumbent of All Saints was the Rev. S. W. E. Bird, afterwards of St. Sidwell's, Exeter, and he was succeeded by the Rev. C. R. Chase in 1878. Owing to lack of funds the church, designed by Mr. James Hine, has never been completed; but there is a fine chancel and temporary nave, capable of accommodating seven hundred, all the seats being free. A clergy house, adjoining the church, was built, from the design of the late J. D. Sedding, in 1887, and a commodious parish room was added in 1893, the whole forming an admirable centre for the vigorous and self-denying work which has long been a characteristic of All Saints.

Going back a little in the order of date, we find the Vicar of St. Peter's devoting considerable attention to the education of the young, a subject which was ever near his heart. The Bishop had said, in 1848, how badly schools were needed in the Three Towns; ten years later Prynne obtained a site for his day' schools, close to the church, the buildings, designed by the late Mr. G. E. Street, R.A., being opened in 1858. The trust deed conveying the site for these buildings is peculiar, and characteristic of Prynne's caution and sagacity. The land was conveyed to the vicar and churchwardens for the purpose of erecting schools wherein the children of the poor might be educated in the principles of the Established Church; but the management of the schools and the appointment of teachers was to be under the sole control of the vicar and his churchwardens, thereby, as the framer of the deed no doubt hoped, permanently safeguarding the character of the religious instruction to be given against any possible contingencies. All through his life Prynne held the strongest views as to the value of Church schools and the importance of religious education. We have noticed the attention he devoted to the subject in his early days in Cornwall and at Clifton, and how his first work in Plymouth was the establishment of a temporary school for boys, to serve till permanent buildings could be erected. In his later years he was sensibly impressed with the difficulties which free education and Board School competition increasingly caused, but he never wavered in a feeling of his responsibility to maintain the schools he had founded, and he viewed with undisguised misgiving and openly expressed mistrust the policy embodied in the Education Act of 1902. He could not bring himself to see how acquiescence in this Act could be possible without a breach of trust towards those who had subscribed to the erection and foundation of his schools. Writing in January, 1902, he concluded an exhaustive examination of the Government proposals as they then stood, with the following words:--

"Is there, I ask, any body of professing Christians existing in this country who have in the past made such sacrifices for the education of the poor, either before the passing of the School Board Act in 1870, or since that period, as the Church of England? Time and money have been lavishly spent by her members in this great cause; but to sacrifice principle is quite a different matter. And it does seem to many as a sacrifice of the principles on which our Church schools are founded, to allow any doctrine to be taught in them other than those of the Church of England, or even in flat contradiction of her teaching."

Again, writing to the Rev. W. Howard Coates, Vicar of Christ Church, Plymouth, but a short time before his death, he remarked:--

"Entrusted with the cure of souls in our respective parishes, this, of course, includes children, and involves necessarily responsibility for the religious instruction given them--a responsibility which we cannot hand over to a mixed body of managers, composed of persons not necessarily Churchmen at all, and possibly some of them Dissenters. Ours is a spiritual authority, derived from Christ through His appointed channel, the Bishops, to whom alone we are responsible for its due exercise. We cannot, without sacrifice of principle, subject our teaching to a body of managers deriving authority simply from Parliament."

In spite of his definite views in regard to religious education, always vigorously and uncompromisingly expressed, he was, in January, 1889, elected by his fellow-townsmen to a seat on the Plymouth School Board, where he did useful work until compelled by failing health and advancing years to resign his seat.

Not less was his interest in, and recognition of, the importance of Sunday schools. From the beginning of his work in Plymouth he made a strong point of having the children publicly catechised in church every Sunday--a practice which, though common enough now, was at that date generally neglected. "I feel more and more convinced," he once said, "of the importance of this feature of work. In mission work I believe it is one of the essential conditions of success; but I think it is important in every parish, old or new. Many grown-up people, as well as children, learn more from one public catechising, well prepared, than from many sermons; and though it is, doubtless, a difficult task to catechise a church full of children, yet if pains are taken with this work, and it is persevered in, the result in the long run amply repays all the trouble. The present Bishop of Exeter (Dr. Temple) in one of his Pastoral Letters has drawn special attention to the importance of this work, and with his usual acumen has impressed on the clergy the necessity f bearing in mind that it should always take the form of a 'public instruction,' so that all persons present may be able to learn something, instead of having to listen to mere questions and answers, more or less correct, from children. The object is instruction, and not simply to find out what the children know."

Another branch of spiritual work that early engaged Prynne's attention, and in the development of which, as in so many other ways, he was a pioneer, was the formation of parochial guilds. Foremost among these was the Society of the Love of Jesus, which is, we believe, the oldest existing guild in the Church of England, and which still continues its useful career at St. Peter's, having also affiliated branches in other parts of England. It was founded by Prynne on December 23, 1861, and was originally intended by him to include men, women, and children, but is now limited to the female sex. The Society is divided into three classes or rules of graduated strictness. The First Rule consists of those who, under the attraction of God's grace, and from providential circumstances, are enabled to give themselves, their time and talents, more entirely to God's service than is provided for by the Second Rule. The latter is for regular Communicants of the Church of England who are desirous of living under some definite rule. The Third Rule is for children. Each rule has its distinct obligations. The object for which it was established was to help people to realize their duties and responsibilities as members of the Church by getting them to live by a definite rule of life, and also to help them to guard against special difficulties and temptations which meet them in their daily life. Though intended to embrace a wider sphere of influence than any particular parochial guild, this Society has been the model on which countless parochial guilds have since been organized. It is expressly stated in its rules that in every parish^ in which the Society is established, it is desirable that the priest of the parish should be Warden; but when this is not possible, then, in any locality in which there are ten or more members, they shall select one of their number as Warden or sub-Superior, subject to the approval of the Superior; and in no case shall any parochial work be undertaken by the Society, as a society, without the knowledge and sanction of the priest of the parish. But no priest establishing the Society in his parish may alter the rules without the consent of the Superior, and all matters involving difficulty or dispute are to be referred to the Superior for final decision. For badge the Society has a floriated cross within the motto "Charitas Christi urget nos," and a heart lettered S. L. J.

Another guild that was founded by Prynne in the very early days of such institutions, and is still in existence, was the Guild of St. Agnes, founded in 1868. This organization originated in a great and pressing need which arose in connection with the mission district of the parish. Prynne thus described its purpose:--

"The children under instruction at the mission school were taken from the very lowest class of the population, and their homes were often so bad that there seemed to be nothing to save them from going altogether wrong as soon as they left school. The aim of the guild has ever been preventive work. We have striven to gain an influence over young girls who are exposed to very great temptations, and by care, instruction, sympathy, and advice, to save them from falling to that life of sin and misery into which so many girls in these towns sink down. In this effort we believe God has blessed us. We can point to many cases in which, but for the care bestowed upon them through union with this guild, young girls would, as far as we can see, haove gone altogether wrong. We can point to girls taken from the very homes of vice, and taught and cared for, now holding respectable positions in life and leading moral and religious lives. Prevention is better than cure; and important as penitentiary work is, preventive work is at least of equal importance and far more full of hope. To illustrate the class of life from which some of the members are taken, I may name the following incident: One day I was asked by the lady who was superintending the work of the guild whether or not I would admit 'fairies.' 'Fairies,' I replied, 'what do you mean?' 'A number of our girls' she said, 'are called fairies by their friends and companions because they are being trained to dance and act in the Christmas pantomime, and some of these wish to be admitted into the guild.' 'Oh, by all means!' said I. 'Let us get all the fairies we can into the guild. It will give us the opportunity of giving them a little more Christian instruction and training than they would otherwise be likely to get.' And so the fairies were admitted."

Guilds for men (St. Peter), boys, and married women (St. Anne), were subsequently started^the rules of the latter including such practical points as these:--

"To endeavour to make home clean, orderly, and comfortable.

"To be kind to friends and neighbours in trouble; to try and prevent young people from getting into bad ways, and to persuade them to forsake

sin, and to attend church.


"To have their children baptized early.

"To keep them clean and tidy, and to see that they are strictly modest in all their ways.

"To send them to a Church Sunday-school, and if possible to a Church day-school.

In the guild rules it is significant to note one, the observance of which was stringently insisted on by Prynne, viz., the rule that members must worship only in the Church of England. Throughout his long life Prynne's view of the Roman position in this country knew no change, and was characterised by no hesitancy or shadow of doubt. Realizing more fully than many the essential Catholicity of the Anglican Communion, he regarded attendance at Roman Catholic services in England as an act of schism, with the perpetration of which he had no sympathy. That some priests should hold contrary views on a matter which he regarded as vital, was to him a cause of considerable misgiving and uneasiness, to which he gave emphatic expression toward the close of his days.

In the various organizations of which we have spoken, Prynne was, of course, only establishing a work with which Churchmen to-day are very familiar: but at the time that he initiated them they were, be it remembered, entirely novel experiments, and as such were regarded by many, even within the Church, with distrust and suspicion. Of guilds, as of Sisterhoods, many people were, to quote the late Archbishop Benson, afraid, because Rome had once touched them. The spell of Rome was over us, and a great many saw, or thought they saw, Popery in everything that Rome had ever touched. In the elaborate development of the Church's parochial work with which we are familiar to-day, do we not sometimes forget how completely lacking it all was sixty years ago, and how much we owe to those who, like Prynne, were the pioneers of a new and better condition of things? All through the period with which we are dealing, Prynne was in close touch with the more prominent exponents of the Catholic Revival, enjoying the personal friendship of Mr. Bennett, of Frome; Archdeacon Froude; Archdeacon Denison; T. T. Carter, of Clewer; Dr. Woodford, afterwards Bishop of Ely, with whom Prynne had worked at Clifton; Father Lowder, Father Mackonochie, and other well-known priests. In 1856 he was a preacher at one of the famous Dedication Festivals of St. John's, Frome Selwood; others assisting on this occasion being Dr. Pusey, Dr. Woodford, Mr. Keble, Mr. Upton Richards, and Archdeacon Denison. This festival marked the completion of the restoration of the chancel at Frome Church, in memory of Bishop Ken, whose body lies beneath its walls. A few years later, at the invitation of Bishop Philpotts, he preached in St. Andrew's, Plymouth, at the episcopal visitation, when, so great was the excitement, that his friends felt it advisable to form a body-guard for the preacher from the chancel to the pulpit. At the conclusion of the sermon, the Bishop stood forward and publicly thanked Prynne for his words on that occasion.

During 1859 Prynne's health broke down, and he was visited with one of those distressing illnesses which, subsequently, overtook him from time to time, incapacitating him for work. His splendid constitution, however, pulled him through on this as on many later occasions, when his recovery again and again seemed hopeless. Fortunately, even at this early date, he was assisted in his self-denying labours by an able band of assistant priests and parish workers. His spiritual influence was at all times proved to a remarkable degree by the capable body of fellow-workers, clerical and lay, that he was able to attract, and the personal enthusiasm and devotion which his lovable character seldom failed to elicit. We have already referred to Mr. Hetling's splendid work during the eventful period of the cholera visitation, and of his successor's able assistance throughout the trying period of the Episcopal Enquiry. Another assistant in Prynne's ministry at this time--1853-56--was the Rev. Charles Coombes, who eventually, on his vicar's recommendation, was appointed to the incumbency of St. John's, Sutton-on-Plym, in which district his long and earnest work is still gratefully remembered. The Rev. W. G. Abbott, subsequently Rector of St. Luke's, Old Street, E.G., did his earliest clerical work at St. Peter's, assisting Prynne, first as deacon, then as priest, from 1856 to 1859. Another of Prynne's fellow-labourers about this time was the Rev. J. Leycester Lyne, who has since become widely known as "Father Ignatius of Llanthony." This remarkable person--he was at the time just twenty-three years of age--had been admitted to the Diaconate on December 23, 1860, the Bishop of Exeter imposing a condition that he should not preach in the Diocese of Exeter for three years-- that is to say, until he was admitted to the Priesthood. Prynne--wrongly described as "Canon Prynne" in the recently published "Life of Father Ignatius, O.S.B."--desirous of helping one who had already identified himself with the Catholic Movement, offered the young deacon an honorary curacy at St. Peter's, where the Rev. G. Mason was at that time working. Prynne in after years used often to speak of Mr. Lyne's brief association with him, particularly dwelling on the young deacon's warm love of the very poorest people, among whom his work lay. Writing to Mrs. Lyne thirty years ago, his former vicar observed of her son, "He was animated with a very true spirit of devotion and zeal in carrying out such work as was assigned him; and his earnest and loving character largely won the affections of those among whom he ministered." According to Mr. Lyne's biographer, the Baroness de Bertouch, "his experiences as a curate at Plymouth are inclusive of two important biographical landmarks-- i.e. the manifestation of 'the supernatural' in his own person, and the formation of lifelong friendships with two central figures in modern Church history." As regards the former "landmark," it is perhaps permissible to observe that Prynne, in his reminiscences of Mr. Lyne's work, made no reference to the power of working miracles with which that gentleman has lately been associated. The "fence of reticence," so wisely suggested by Dr. Pusey, has proved so effectual that the "Egg or Hatch" incident and the "Plymouth idyll" might never have occurred for all the memory of them that exists locally. The "famous silence" has indeed enveloped these surprising manifestations most effectually. The story of Mr. Lyne's acquaintance with Miss Sellon--in whom he found a kindred spirit--and that lady's loan to him of a Community House, has been told by his biographer. These events and Mr. Lyne's very severe illness, speedily terminated the young deacon's brief association with St. Peter's, Plymouth. The roll of Prynne's clerical helpers since that date has included men whose good work for the Catholic faith is beyond question, notable among them all being the late Rev. R. H. Fison, the memory of whose saintly life and devoted ministry at the Mission Chapel of the Good Shepherd--1885-1891--is one of the treasured possessions of the Church in that district. Another of Prynne's most valued colleagues during more than ten years, was the Rev. Arthur Preedy, who left St. Peter's in 1895 for the Vicarage of Saltash, to which he was preferred by the Bishop of Truro, Dr. Gott. The Very Rev. Dean Blakiston; the Rev. W. J. Scott, of Sunbury; the Rev. R. J. Bond, of Ashburton; and the Rev. J. Frampton, of Ascot Priory, among other well-known priests, also worked at St. Peter's at various periods of their careers.

Prynne was among the first of the English clergy to use missions as a special means of influencing the souls committed to his care. One of the earliest of such missions took place in 1865, lasting eight days, the missioners being two well-known London priests, Father Mackonochie, of St. Alban's, Holborn; and the Rev. G. Akers, of St. George's-in-the-East. The scheme of this mission was remarkably exhaustive, the subjects of the various addresses covering nearly all the great doctrines of the Christian faith. In 1870 Father Lowder was one of the mission priests in a notable mission at St. Peter's, Plymouth, with which parish he was at that time connected as one of the patrons. Several years earlier Prynne had drawn up and printed a service for Church Missions, and from time to time he conducted missions in various parts of England, when able to get away from the duties of his own cure. At the great London Mission of 1874, he was one of the missioners at St. Matthias, Stoke Newington; and he was wont in after years to recall the death of the famous layman, Robert Brett, which took place during the mission, "making," he used to say, "a vastly deeper impression than any poor words of mine." In the Three Towns' Mission of 1877 Canon Bodington and the Rev. W. J. Frere, of Wolverhampton, were at St. Peter's, the preparation in which parish was carried out with a thoroughness and care which went far to secure the full benefit of this great spiritual effort. Prynne's Pastoral Letters to his people on special occasions like these always breathed a spirit of loving solicitude for the souls committed to his keeping, together with an admirable presentation of the Church's evangelistic message to the world. The following extract from a Lenten Pastoral of the year 1866 is typical of the manner in which he commended the Message of Salvation to those in whose hearts the flame of love was yet unkindled:--

"In God's spiritual Zion--His Holy Catholic Church--there is a 'Fountain open for sin and for all uncleanness.' All sinners truly repenting of their sins, and going to that all-cleansing flood in living faith, may find pardon and forgiveness. That Fountain is the Precious Blood of our Incarnate Saviour. More powerful than the pool of Siloam, which was gifted with virtue from on high to heal the diseases of the body, this Fountain open for all in the Church of God, has power to heal the diseases of the soul. It is free to all--all may come to this Fountain and wash and be clean. Yes, 'though your sips be as scarlet,' plunged in this Fountain they may be made 'as white as snow:' ' though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.'

"There is a Fountain filled with Blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins,
And sinners plung'd beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.'

"Nor are you left to yourselves and your own unaided efforts to discover whether or not you are in a fit state to receive and profit by this cleansing grace. God has, in His wisdom and mercy, seen fit to appoint over you chosen men, whose special duty it is to instruct and guide you in the ways of salvation, and to exercise on your behalf the ministry of reconciliation. You cannot, therefore, truly say, 'I have no place to flee unto, and no man careth for my soul. We, your clergy, who are set over you in the Lord, do care for your souls. We wish to instruct you, to comfort you, and to help you on your heavenward journey; but we cannot do this for you if you keep away from us. We cannot aid you if you keep away from church, and refuse to accept our ministrations. You do this, it may be, because you are quite careless about your soul; if so, do consider what I have said. It may be, you avoid us as your ministers, because you have been told wrong things about us, and heard us called hard names, and have been led to believe that we do not preach the Gospel--the truth as it is in Jesus. But would it not be wise in you to try and find out for yourselves whether such reports of us are correct or not? Is it not unwise to allow yourselves to be led away from your appointed ministers, without at least taking care to find out the truth? You may be losing the very medicine designed by God for the healing of your souls by forsaking our ministrations; therefore, take care that you do not thus act without some serious thought and enquiry.

"The theme--the sum and substance of our preaching and teaching, is 'Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.' This you may find out, if you try to do so. Many have found it out, who were once prejudiced against us, as you, perhaps, are now. During this Holy Season of Lent we shall give you more frequent opportunities of instruction than usual. And, oh, dear brethren! may God, in His great mercy, dispose your hearts to make use of the means and opportunities of grace, which we, as His ambassadors, give you. May we be enabled so to speak, and you so to hear, that your souls may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."

These words, written forty years ago, were typical of Prynne's preaching and teaching throughout the whole of his life--teaching the transparent simplicity and deep earnestness of which carried with it intense conviction of the yearning love of souls that prompted the message.

Project Canterbury