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Concerning the very Earliest Days of

Father Mackonochie's Work



From Easter Week to August 16, 1862






Published by Request






TO write a history of what occurred forty-six years ago, without the aid of a well-kept diary or any notes, is a difficult task. I have been frequently asked to record the events connected with the first few months of the Church's work in the parish of St. Alban, Holborn. I realize the fact that if I do not undertake this task, it will never be done, for no one else can; and for the simple reason that I was the only Priest who had the pleasure and the privilege of assisting Father Mackonochie in those first days of his work there. I spent a few months with him, before I set sail with the Bishop of Honolulu to inaugurate the Church of England Mission in the distant Hawaiian Islands.

Having therefore no documents to consult, I write solely from memory; but the circumstances of our daily life and occupation were so remarkable--I might say, so unique--that they have been imprinted on my mind all through these [iii/iv] years, and I cannot but think that the legions of St. Alban's friends will be glad to know what I have to relate. I therefore venture to print this Paper, lest its particulars should be lost in oblivion. I humbly trust it may be found interesting.

There are two other reasons I will give for my action:

(i.) Every circumstance in the life and work of Father Mackonochie will be affectionately treasured up in the hearts of all who knew and loved him; nothing therefore that he did should be lost sight of.

(ii.) If all the worshippers at St. Alban's of the present day were informed of what their predecessors of half a century ago had to bear with, they would more than ever value their many privileges.

If a history of St. Alban's has been already published, this record will not interfere with it, but provide an introductory chapter.

E. I.

Charing, Kent.
April, 1908.

Condition of the Church before our Arrival.

THE Church as a fabric was complete, wanting only its furniture. A lofty scaffold occupied the chancel, to enable Mr. Le Strange to paint the series of frescoes on the East wall. The large cartoons were from time to time laid out upon the floor of the nave, for inspection by such as were concerned in those decorations.

The Church, by Mr. Butterfield's orders, was kept strictly locked. I suppose he did not wish the public to see it till the paintings were finished and the necessary portions of the furniture in their places. The Vicarage on the East side, and the house for the servants on the West side, of the entrance from Brooke Street were completed and furnished, so that we could go into residence as soon as it was determined to do so.

[6] Our Arrival.

It was arranged that we should meet at the Vicarage (called then the Clergy House, for the district had not yet been cut off from the parish of St. Andrew, Holborn) on Thursday in Easter Week, 1862; and having done so, we set to work making-arrangements for our services. A small handbill was printed informing our neighbours that we had come into residence, and that a first-floor room in a house in Baldwin's Gardens had been taken for the services. It was the house then adjoining the North-West corner of the churchyard; the room looked into Baldwin's Gardens, and was approached by a very awkward, narrow, and dark staircase. There was space in the room for about three dozen chairs and a small table at one end. This common deal table was covered with green baize, and a portion of the same material was hung upon the wall at the back of it. It was not an altar, nor did we wish it to look like one; it held our books, &c. As far as I can remember, we held a mission service in this room every evening as long as we stopped there.

Our First Parish Visiting.

On the Saturday after our arrival, by which time our little handbills had been printed, we [6/7] sallied forth to distribute them--one of us going West, and the other East. We had been told that there were courts and passages in the district where "no policeman dared to venture his head." This gratuitous information had no effect upon us, and we were unwilling to think it could be true. Our experience verified our surmises. The Police in that neighbourhood did not look like cowards, nor were they such; we came across them in all courts, passages, and corners of the district, doing their duty fearlessly; and as for our two selves, we met with no interference or molestation whatever.

I remember entering a small shop where green-grocery, fish, &c. &c. were sold. I had a conversation with the proprietress, a loquacious but very pleasant person. I explained the object of my visit and hoped that she would be able to find time to come to our services. With a patronizing manner she remarked that she might possibly some day "drop in;" and then--being I suppose desirous that I should understand she considered herself a Christian unattached--she observed, "I belong to no sex," a condition of things I had never before heard of, and one which I considered unusually remarkable.

I should mention that at this period of our history Father Mackonochie's status was that of a licensed Curate of St. Andrew's Holborn, and [7/8] Vicar-designate of St. Alban's when that district should be cut off and constituted a separate parish; whilst I had no license, but was for the time permitted to work as his coadjutor.

Our First Service.

This took place on May 11th, 1862, in the upper room already spoken of. The congregation was comprised of about twenty persons, and consisted of middle-aged women, young women, and two or three young men. The elder members were quiet and orderly, the younger were fidgetty and disorderly. Our mission service was very brief--a hymn and some collects, and address. I generally said the prayers, and Father Mackonochie gave the addresses. We wore no ecclesiastical vestments of any kind, but appeared in our usual dress. The preacher walked up and down the room, speaking in a most informal and friendly way to each individual. Our idea was to make the congregation feel at home with us, as well as to show that we desired to be on similarly friendly terms with them. But for all this consideration we suffered occasionally from some interruptions. For instance, one evening a young man rose up during the address, and said in a loud voice, "Well, Bet, I've had enough of this; I'm off." Bet replied, "So am I," and they both noisily left the room. This [8/9] kind of disturbance occurred more than once, and was sometimes rendered more disturbing still when the lighted candle on the stairs was thrown in among the feet of the congregation by those who were leaving. It seemed rather a hopeless work at first, but it was ours to trust in God and persevere.

Another means of annoyance arose from the conduct of little boys in the street below. Our first-floor room being over a fish shop, boys would purchase a halfpenny-worth of periwinkles--not so much to provide themselves with a luxury as to furnish them with artillery to fire at our window. Our landlord did not seem to object, probably his business was the better as our inconvenience grew worse; however this second species of annoyance had to be borne with, but these nocturnal bombardments were distressing.

Lady Addington's Visit.

Soon after we had settled in, Father Mackonochie received a letter from the late Lady Addington (then the Hon. Mrs. Hubbard), saying she had a great wish to come to one of our services, so that she might see the very beginning of the work at St. Alban's. He replied that he would be delighted to see her, but at the same time warned her that [9/10] we were occasionally much disturbed, and she might also hear some strong language. However she was not to be deterred; she suggested coming on a Sunday afternoon (I think it was the first Sunday afternoon service we had); she would come in a cab, and alight in Holborn, and walk down Brooke Street to our gates. Also she would prefer to come "incog.," and would wear a plain cotton dress as a sort of disguise. Our kind and interested visitor came, attended our service, and bore patiently all the unpleasant circumstances of the situation. After service she wandered about in Baldwin's Gardens and the neighbouring courts, giving pictures to the children she met. Having taken tea with us in the Clergy House, she returned to Princes Gate.

Further Vexations.

When entering upon this work we made up our minds we should meet with trials, and we were grateful that up to the present time we had felt it possible to surmount such as we had already experienced. But there was another in store for us and our congregation of a far more distressing and trying kind, and for which I will honestly confess we could find no powers of endurance; it ended in our taking to flight and pitching our' camp elsewhere.

[11] Noises, rude conduct, and unpolite expressions had previously disturbed us, but we were also doomed to suffer great irritation from enemies of the stealthiest and quietest kind. We hired the room for the purpose of meeting what congregation we could gather together. The landlord did not tell us (and he could hardly have been ignorant of the fact) that we must expect a large attendance of such as we should never make much impression upon, but that rather the reverse would happen. He would have been acting kindly and quite truthfully if he had so warned us, for at our second or third service these disturbers made their appearance. They came to the front in perfect troops, and made an onslaught as if intending to devour us up; we were no match for such bloodthirsty battalions. Happily their mobility was not of a rapid kind, and their bodily powers were not invincible. When we did catch sight of some of the enemy, they could easily be flicked away with a sudden and energetic movement of a finger.

Nevertheless, it was expedient to reckon with this inconvenience at once--something must be done. Either there must be a war of extermination--a hopeless looking task; or we must ignominiously decamp. Some of the elder members of the congregation warned us that they would be compelled to give up attending our services, lest [12/13] they should be the means of transporting the noxious enemy to their own peaceful homes. We too felt we should endanger the comfort of our new clean Clergy House. I don't know what means our congregation adopted by way of avoiding any such catastrophe, but it was our practice to examine ourselves in the passage leading from the South porch of the Church to the entrance of our house, before we dared to set foot therein, lest we should convey any stowaways into our pleasant quarters. I am thankful to be able to say that this searching inquiry, repeated night after night, prevented the possibility of contamination.

Our Flight.

But this kind of thing could not be allowed to go on, so steps were immediately taken to discover some other accommodation where we could meet in peace; we were most fortunate in finding what we required, in a cellar beneath the printing offices of Mr. Knott, in Greville Street. Here we were quite comfortable. Cocoanut matting was laid down, a little recess afforded just sufficient room in which to hang up our surplices, &c. (for we there took to the use of such vestments), and we erected an altar at one end of the cellar, which was simply furnished, and upon which we could [12/13] reverently celebrate the Holy Mysteries. We were caused no annoyance here. The early Christians could not have been half so well off. It is true that our singing was heard through the window in the wall and the iron bars in the pavement, by which we obtained light and air; passers-by would sometimes stop and listen, and little street boys would kneel down and peer in; this we received an occasional from one of the assistants in the printing works above to turn on the gas: but these were harmless incidents, and in no way inconvenienced us.

At this stage of our work I remember Father Mackonochie saying to me, "I shall not begin vestments in the new Church till I can have complete sets of the different colours. I mention this as an evidence of the progress made since those days.

Anxiety on Behalf of the Chairs.

When arranging for our services in this cellar, one question arose which required very serious consideration. How could we dare to bring those chairs (rush chairs, be it known) from our late infested quarters into this clean and comfortable place? They might prove to be the abode of a secreted enemy, or the ambushment of legions of [13/14] that hateful creature from which we were then making our escape, in which case both our premises and ourselves would soon be suffering from the contagion we had introduced. But then they were new chairs, and had been in use for a short time only. It would be a great waste and a sad pity to burn them.

While we thought this over, an idea occurred--"Let us bake them." A bright idea, certainly. They should be subjected to a terrific heat for some twelve hours at least, together with potent fumes of sulphur; such a process would surely kill any fiend. But what parochial baker or pastrycook would oblige us with the loan of his oven for so long, or for such a purpose? The brief intercourse we had by this time held with our neighbours led us to regard them as kindly-disposed persons--persons who, no doubt, would become eventually firm friends, and assist us by all the means in their power; but how could we, in all conscience, ask our bakers to go the length of granting such a request as this? Think of the flavour that for some time to come might be imparted to their bread or jam tarts! No--it would not be fair to ask such a thing, and we must abandon the notion.

We set our minds to think further what steps we should take with reference to these unfortunate chairs. After renewed reflection, we came to the [14/15] conclusion that we might utilize the coal-cellar adjoining the apparatus for heating the Church. It had never been used and was quite clean. We therefore stowed the chairs away in this dungeon; we borrowed a large brazier, and when it contained a good rousing fire of bright coke, it was carried down to the chairs. After we had thrown a quantity of sulphur upon the fire we hastily decamped, locked the door, stuffed up the keyhole and chinks with paper, and left the chairs to their fate for twenty-four hours. I never once heard of any subsequent inconvenience being experienced by the use of those chairs, so I suppose our plan and efforts had met with signal success.

Choir Practices.

In our earliest days we had no choir, but we got together a few boys and held some practices in the Church. The organ had been erected in the South chancel-aisle, and was used at these attempts to provide a choir as soon as the need arose. We found it difficult to get boys and voices suited to the purpose. The first two who were eligible were not natives of Baldwin's Gardens. One was Herbert Thompson Anderson, the son of our servant, Sergeant Anderson; the other was Christopher Thompson. The former [15/16] [15/16] was in delicate health at that time. When I was Assistant-Priest at Dorchester, Oxon., he paid me a visit for change of air; he was then very ill, and soon after his return to London, died on March 7th, 1869. The latter I have not heard of for some years.

Mr. Gill, who is now Churchwarden, was one of the earliest members of the choir in the cellar. What a long, steadfast, and worthy service he has rendered to the Church! May he, by God's blessing, have strength to continue to give such valuable help for years to come.

First Function in the Church.

An interesting function was performed in the Church just before I left England. A Protest in the matter of the Gorham Judgment (which was delivered by Lord Langdale, March 8th, 1850), signed by an immense number of clergy and laity, had been up to this time in the care of Mr. Hubbard.

It was decided by those interested that this document should be entombed in the West wall of St. Alban's Church. For that purpose the central portion of the inscription over the font, "I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins," had been left unfixed, and a cavity in [16/17] the wall prepared for the reception of the tin case in which the Protest was kept.

In the afternoon of the day fixed for the occasion, a large number of clergy and laity assembled in the Church, the Protest was unrolled and laid down in the centre aisle. It reached from the chancel gates to the site of the font. The signatories searched for their signatures. (I remember the late Dr. Irons pointing out his.) When the inspection was over, it was replaced in the case. A scaffold had been prepared beneath the cavity in the wall, and on this Father Mackonochie stood, vested in surplice and stole, when he said a short Office which he had prepared; the Nicene Creed was sung to Marbeck's setting, accompanied on the organ, and the function came to an end.

I have been told that, some years after, the Protest was taken out of its tomb, and placed in the Library at Lambeth.

The First Assistant Curates.

Just before leaving, I heard that the late Rev. H. A. Walker (who was my friend and fellow-student at Cuddesdon in 1857) would follow me and take charge of the choir; and that Mr. Stanton would also form one of the staff as soon as he had received Deacon's Orders.

[18] My Departure.

On the morning of my leaving for Honolulu, when taking farewell of Father Mackonochie, he took down a book from his shelves, and put it into my hands as a memento of our friendship. It was a small volume of the "Day Hours" which he had used for some years. I kept this book carefully till some time after his death. I was then in correspondence with the late Bishop of Argyll and the Isles (Dr. Chinnery-Haldane) upon a business matter. His lordship told me in one of his letters that he had a collection of things which once belonged to our late mutual friend, and amongst them his hat and coat which he was wearing at the time of his death, his walking-stick, &c. &c. I thought this would be the most fitting place in which I could deposit the book, and I asked the Bishop if he would accept it, and add it to the collection. His lordship was delighted with the proposal, so I at once sent it. I felt that at my death the book might be sold with the rest of my library, and fall into the hands of someone who would not value it as I had done.


I have now recorded all I can remember, from the first day of setting foot in the parish until [18/19] August 16th, 1862, when I left London for my new and far-distant home. I have thus humbly complied with the wishes--I might say, with the urgent demands--of many friends. The very few months I spent at St. Alban's formed a happy episode in my life and work, and the loving intercourse with Father Mackonochie I deeply valued, and shall always remember with affectionate regard. If the foregoing record proves of interest to any one person, I shall not have written in vain.


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