THE town of Froome was originally called Froome-Selwood, to distinguish it from many other "Fromes" scattered over England. It derived its name from the little river on which it is built, as do some other "Fromes" from their rivers. The name is pronounced as "Froome," and for this reason Mr. Bennett, who had something of an affection for phonetic spelling, always, after the first year or two of his incumbency, wrote the word "Froome."
The name of the town no doubt comes from its little river, and Mr. Bennett derives the word from a Teutonic root, "fromm," signifying "pure," a name no longer applicable to the river in its present state! But the Rawlinsonian Professor of Anglo-Saxon kindly informs me that the name of the little stream, as of the many other "Fromes," is of Celtic origin, and is derived from a word which in early Celtic would have the form "frama," whence comes the modern Welsh "ffraw," as in the river name "Aberffraw." This, borrowed by the Saxons, would become, in Old English, "From," and in later English, "Froom." This is historically the more correct spelling and justifies Mr. Bennett in his way of writing the word.
The meaning is probably merely "river."
Mr. Bennett, as we have seen, estimated the population when he was appointed at 12,000, and it continued at nearly the same figure during his incumbency, being in 1891, 11,500. The population of the district attached to the parish church, was, however, not above 3000, the churches of Holy Trinity, of Christ Church, and of S. Katharine's, Woodlands, supplying the needs of the rest of the people.
The population is largely manufacturing, there being works of broadcloth "and other fine woollens," as also foundries, and the town is likewise said to be "noted for its ale!"
The state of the town as regards dissent was terrible. So far back as 1819, Mr. S. Hyde Cassan, Curate-in-charge (Mr. Phillott, the Vicar, being nonresident), described the place in a sermon on this subject as
"one of the grand hives of schism, where very many of those who are professed members of the Church are in the regular habit of attending also the conventicle."
And in the notes to this sermon, which was published, he asks--
"Where can Dissenters be more fitly opposed than in such a schismatical place as Froome, where they are almost as four to one to Churchmen?"
"A town unhappily proverbial for its mongrel Churchmen and liberalizing religionists."
It must have continued much the same down to Mr. Bennett's time, for in the Old Church Porch he says, in 1854--
"Our poor old Church so utterly gone from the hearts of the poor; every kind of spurious worship and religious error embraced with eagerness; every man doing that which was right in his own eyes."
It was therefore no easy-chair in which he now found himself placed. There was plenty to do, and he set himself with all his energy to do it.
The work which he accomplished at Froome seems to divide itself into the heads of: I. The restoration of the church; II. The services, music, and ritual; III. The organization of the. parish; and it will be also interesting to record the story of--IV. The Finances.
I. We must first describe the history of the great work of restoring the splendid old Church of S. John the Baptist.
Those who knew Mr. Bennett in his later years only will hardly be able to separate him in their recollections from the church which he so wonderfully restored. "The Vicar "and the church seemed to form one whole.
Mr. Freeman, once lecturing on the church at Froome, complained that he had a difficulty in making out its history, and would have liked to have seen it before it "was pulled about." This is no doubt in the correct antiquarian spirit, which regards an old church as a building to be placed under a glass cover and lectured about, rather than as a place for worship. But the great excellence of the restoration was precisely in this very point that the church was restored as closely as could be ascertained to its former state, and at the same time most perfectly adapted to the splendid services which were to be held there.
"There is no restoration of any church in England to be compared with it," said Archdeacon Denison, in his memorial sermon.
The old church consisted, in 1852, of nave with two aisles, chancel, two porches, four chapels, tower and spire. To this the only addition in the course of the restoration was the enlargement of the vestry, which had been too small. The history of the church in brief is this: a church was probably built in Saxon times on the spot by S. Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmsbury, which was rebuilt in the time of King Stephen. It was enlarged at various periods, and contains work of the original Saxon church, and likewise of the Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular styles, so that its story is wonderfully complete. The four chapels--the Lady Chapel, and those of S. Nicholas, S. John the Baptist, and S. Andrew--were added at various times.
It had reached a state of almost ruinous decay. Galleries blocked up the aisles; fire-engines were stored there; chapels were filled with rubbish; the tower and spire had been in a dangerous state since 1736. But in 1845 Lady Bath had repaired the chancel; the south chapel had been restored in 1844 in memory of Bishop Ken, whose grave lies just to the east of the chancel; the fire-engine had been expelled from S. Andrew's Chapel; the fragments of the font had been unearthed by Mr. Dusautoy, the Curate, and the restored font was replaced in its old position in 1846; attempts were made to strengthen the tower and spire, but, as we shall see, without much success; Mr. Wyatt, "the eminent architect," spoiled the fagade of the west front; and the roof of the chancel was made entirely new also in 1846.
Yet in spite of these improvements already effected, Mr. Bennett's description of the state of the church, when he arrived there in 1852, is terrible. The churchyard, he tells us, was filled with nettles; mounds of graves were piled up so high as to be above the base mouldings of the church; the walls, in consequence, were mouldering into rottenness. The tower bulged out from its foundation; the spire inclined to one side; in the roof of the nave the beams were in several places separated from the walls, which were supposed to support them; the chancel arch had gaping rents on each side, showing that it was parting from the tower; and the north wall, overwhelmed by the weight of the galleries, was dragging down with it in its settling the pillars of the north aisle, its foundations having been apparently undermined by the numberless burials on the north side of the church.
Inside, the arrangements were of a parallel nature. The reading-desk was placed about the centre of the church on the south side, halfway between the west door and the chancel; below, the clerk's desk, above, the pulpit--the usual "three-decker." Pews of various dimensions and shapes surrounded this structure--some oblong, some square, some circular. Those to the west of the reading-desk faced towards the chancel, but those to the east of it faced towards the west and turned their backs on the altar. Towards the pulpit all eyes were directed; for that as the principal end of worship the arrangements of the church were constructed.
"In fact, the church seemed but little other than a mass of wooden offices, barricading off, with solitary exclusiveness, each man from his neighbour. It was the type and relic of the Puritanism of the sixteenth century. The pulpit was the attraction; the altar was out of sight."
The reformation commenced at once. In the summer of 1852 the pews in and near the chancel were abandoned by their owners. Temporary benches were placed in the chancel, and the prayers were chanted from a desk placed therein, with a choir of boys at the side of the priest. By 1854 the churchyard was levelled and made into terraces. "The alterations in the churchyard was a work he would have done reverently, and spent many a day seeing everything replaced with reverence." In the same year the pews which faced westward were removed, and open seats put in their place. In 1855 the pulpit was moved to the north side of the chancel arch, and the remaining pews were changed for open seats. The galleries were pulled down in 1856. Such changes brought about in so short a time, and at that date, are very interesting, as showing the hold Mr. Bennett had so quickly gained upon the affections of his parishioners. "They cheerfully abandoned all prejudices," he says, "about their pews--prejudices which were at that time very strong."
The progress made in four years seemed to justify an act of thanksgiving. Accordingly, the first of the "Octaves" was held in the year 1856. The preachers were: Dr. Pusey; Upton Richards, of All Saints', London; Prynne, of Devonport; Evans, of S. Andrew's, London; Archdeacon Denison; and Woodford, Rector of Kempsford, afterwards Bishop. Keble was prevented from coming by illness, but his sermon was read by Dr. Pusey.
The good will which he had won from all his parishioners was yet more strongly shown in 1858, when 164 persons, including Dissenters and Dissenting ministers, subscribed to purchase and present to the Vicar and churchwardens a shop which stood much in the way of projected improvements in the churchyard. But all this had scarcely touched the ever-recurrent question of the safety of the whole building, and in 1860 Mr. C. E. Giles, who acted throughout as architect, reported that the church was in parts altogether unsafe, and that with more delay the complete rebuilding of the church might become a necessity. As the work progressed, the state of the building was found to be worse than could at first be seen, and it was necessary to rebuild the whole of the north side of the church, including the porch and the Chapel of S. Nicholas. The north arcade had also to be taken down and replaced on new foundations. The roof of the nave had to be replaced, and the tower and spire made safe. When this latter work had been accomplished, a service was held on Saturday, October 22, 1865, on the summit of the scaffolding of the spire (as had been done at S. Barnabas' when the top of that spire was reached), and the Te Deum was sung there. "The service," says the Froome Times, "was distinctly heard in many parts of the town, notwithstanding the roughness of the weather." At the same time the weathercock was replaced in its socket by the Vicar and workmen.
The whole of these works occupied the years 1860 to 1866, and in that year Mr. Bennett published his history and description of the church, dating his preface, "Preparing for the Feast of S. John the Baptist, 1866."
To describe adequately the church as it now is would be merely to transcribe Mr. Bennett's own book. It will suffice to notice the special characters of the scheme of ornament.
The church was without any doubt dedicated in honour of S. John the Baptist; nevertheless, an idea had sprung up that S. Peter had been its Patron Saint. Investigation of old documents proved clearly that Mr. Bennett was not "robbing Peter to pay" S. John, when he restored the name of the Baptist. It was, however, curious that one of the side chapels was also in honour of S. John the Baptist, and this chapel was now devoted to the organ, for which its position well suited it. The Chapel of S. Nicholas became the baptistery.
The whole is full of history and symbolism. Thus in the stained windows of the aisles is depicted the history of S. John the Baptist; in the Chapel of S. Nicholas, the history of that Saint; in the Lady Chapel, the history of the B.V.M., with its types and prophecies; round the font on the floor are the seven virtues expelling the seven deadly sins; the floor of the chancel is ornamented with exquisite marbles from various places--Connemara to Egypt. At the west end within are figures of S. Aldhelm, S. Alban, S. Andrew, and S. George.
Outside, the west front has figures of the four Evangelists, and above, of S. John the Baptist; the Lady Chapel has the Madonna and Child; the vestry a figure of S. Katharine; and the south porch a sculpture of the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple.
But the glory of the churchyard is the Via Crucis. This leads up the hill from the street below to the north door. Under canopies are sculptures of Our Lord condemned by Pilate; Our Lord going forth bearing His cross; Our Lord falling under His cross, and supported by Simon of Cyrene; Our Lord meeting the daughters of Jerusalem and His mother; Our Lord stripped of His raiment; and Our Lord nailed to the cross; the seventh being the Death on the cross, placed over the door of the north porch.
On the south side of the church was erected in the churchyard a stone cross which, for some untraceable reason, he brought away from the quadrangle of S. Barnabas'.
One prominent part of all old churches he did not, for some reason, restore--the rood screen and loft. To the writer remarking that he ought to complete the work by this, he merely replied that he must leave something for his successors to do. Undoubtedly he had not left much for them, but it may fairly be concluded from this reply, and from his giving no other reason for not having restored it, that he would not have in any way objected to the replacement of the rood screen, which was admirably carried out by his successor, Mr. Hanbury-Tracy. This restoration seemed the more called for on account of the rare and curious fact that an old piscina still exists on the level of the upper part of the rood loft, from which it may be safely concluded that it had been the custom to say Mass on the top of the screen, and that an altar had been originally upon it. There were altars, it is known, on the screen loft at York Minster, at Grantham, and Little Hereford; and at Westminster Abbey and at Little Hereford there was a piscina in the loft, as at Froome.
An immense number of gifts, from parishioners and outsiders alike, contributed to the beauty of the church, but the point on which Mr. Bennett seemed to pride himself most was this: "The old church still continues," and reviewing the work that had been done he repeats--
"Our great pride and delight has been that the church now does not in the least differ from the church of the olden time. It is 'THE OLD CHURCH STILL.' "
II. Great was the change which came over the spirit of the services of the Church of England in the last half of the nineteenth century. Instead of "preaching houses," the churches became truly "places of worship." And the period of greatest change was probably the twenty years which followed the consecration of S. Barnabas'.
Mr. Bennett was one of the earliest and most thorough of the restorers, by means of music and ritual, of that warmth and beauty which the worship of God ought to have. Ritual is, of course, like the use of the voice or the bending of the knee in the services, itself an act of adoration; but Mr. Bennett lays much more stress upon it as setting forth doctrine before the eyes of men. Every one knows the dictum of the old Roman poet as to the different effect on the minds of men of telling them a tale and of acting it before them, and Mr. Bennett was one of the first to see that if the doctrines of the Movement were to be brought to the masses of the people it must be by means of ritual.
"Such is the weakness of man," he says, "that doctrine would perish unless it were preserved under the external guardianship and shelter of forms and rites."
In his farewell letter to the people of S. Paul's and S. Barnabas' he replies to the accusation brought against him that he had deserted them merely on a question of ceremonial. He points out at length that under the ceremonies principles were at stake. For instance--
"In bowing to the altar and doing reverence in going in or out of the chancel--what is the doctrine conveyed? The presence of GOD, and at the altar His presence in a most special manner."
He quotes the Bishop of London's own words in his charge of 1850--
"I would have you to consider whether the vague and uncertain notions respecting Baptism which have prevailed in the Church for the last hundred years have not in a great degree been owing to the careless and irregular administration of the Sacrament itself. The office mutilated--the font thrust into a corner out of sight of the congregation."
Mr. Bennett comments on these excellent words of the Bishop thus--
"Now, what is true of one Sacrament is surely true of another. The doctrine of Regeneration has been lost or perverted because, among other reasons, 'the font has been thrust into a corner' and treated irreverently. Is it not the same with the Altar? Suppose we had always faithfully retained due reverence for that most holy place--treated it with respect and devotion--decked it with ornaments suited to its sacredness--made that obeisance before it which the Canons permit--would not those outward emblematic actions have trained us up in a spirit more ready to receive the doctrine of the Real Presence and the Sacrifice?"
He gives another reason for ritual--the nature of man. Religion cannot be a matter of pure intellect.
"If GOD had willed us to be entirely and solely spiritual He would have given us spirits without the encumbrances of the flesh.
"Hence GOD in His mercy has ever made religion sacramental, in order that it might accord with the nature of man's life. It is sacramental to suit both extremes; partly external to meet the weakness of nature in the objects of the body; and partly internal to meet the same weakness of nature in the objects of the soul; partly material to lead the mind from things without to things within; partly spiritual to adapt the spirit for the contentions of the world in things visible and without.
"Thus, then, I contend for externals. Thus I contend for the things of GOD in His worship--that they cannot be too great, too glorious, too magnificent--that they cannot be studied with too accurate minuteness, too anxious care or too earnest love."
Yet one more point of his views on ritual deserves notice. In his "Plea for Toleration "he asks, "Why should we be all alike?" He describes the variations of ritual within the Roman Communion; Milan different from Venice; Vienna from Paris; Jesuits from Oratorians; while in Cistercian monasteries there is no decoration and no sculpture but the crucifix; candelabra of iron; censers of copper; few lamps or tapers; vestments of linen or cotton; the chalice itself of some base metal; and the music of a severely simple kind. In places the Greek rite is allowed. All the trouble comes, he says, from the Act of Uniformity.
The movement for the revival of ritual in the services followed that for the restoration of doctrine at a considerable distance. Although the earlier leaders "were very anxious about ritual," as Dr. Pusey said, they seem to have feared to introduce it till the doctrines had first been accepted. It was, however, certain to follow. Newman, even so far back as 1836, had a stone altar at Littlemore which was carved and conspicuous by its beauty. Dodsworth, at Christ Church, Albany Street, was allowed flowers "in moderation" on his altar, about 1843, although the Bishop had, in 1842, in his charge expressed his strong disapprobation of flowers altogether, especially if they "had some fancied analogy to the history of the saint who is commemorated," i.e. apparently in their colours, as in using red on the festival of a martyr.
In 1839 Oakeley began his work at the little Margaret Chapel, on the site of which All Saints, Margaret Street, was afterwards built. He desired "an opportunity of trying the effect of Tractarian principles upon a practical scale." The place was frequented by Gladstone, Littleton, and others equally well known, and Oakeley was assisted by Newman and "Ideal" Ward. In celebrating he wore only the old-fashioned garments--surplice, scarf and hood. Nor, of course, did any one in those days venture on anything further. He was allowed candles on the altar, provided he did not light them, and one bouquet of flowers (which must have looked rather queer), and the restriction as to not having flowers of appropriate colours was insisted on! He might preach in a surplice in the morning, but must observe the important ritual of exchanging it for a black gown in the evening. He had one chorister by his side in a surplice! He had daily Mattins at 8 a.m. and daily Evensong at 5, and they sang the psalms to Redhead's Gregorian psalter called Laudes Diurnae. It is amusing to learn that introducing alms-bags was "a perilous novelty." None of these things caused any sensation--Margaret Chapel was probably too little known.
A little advance in ritual was made by Mr. Upton Richards, who succeeded Mr. Oakeley in 1845, at Margaret Chapel, but such terrible doings as those we have described may be considered as the ritual of the "advanced" Church of the days before 1845.
Mr. Bennett began his part in the work of reviving ritual at Portman Chapel, which was his first independent charge. "All things were done reverently and carefully; the pulpit was not put before the altar, the prayers were not read to the people," says Mr. Wake-ling. In 1841 he published his sermon on "The neglect and apathy of the public in the psalmody and responses in the Church Services." In this he chiefly complains of the people taking no part in the services, compares the Church unfavourably with the Dissenters and their vigorous singing, and urges his hearers to display the like enthusiasm.
He made it a rule throughout his life to explain beforehand the reason for any change.
"Nothing was ever done in a hurry or without long and careful preparation by sermons and teaching, in various ways. Before the beginning of the daily Celebration, and, again, of the use of incense (at Froome), he preached during a lengthened period on worship under the Jewish dispensation, and then in its higher development in the Christian Church. Another course of sermons on 'The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life,' preceded some other change. He had a great dislike of anything fussy or exaggerated, and always desired that ritual should be the expression in act of doctrine and reverent worship, and taught that without this it was valueless." [From Mr. and Mrs. Compton, formerly of Woodlands Vicarage, near Froome.]
It was soon after Mr. Bennett's sermon on "The apathy of the people in worship "that the Bishop of London gave his charge of 1842. In this he openly gave his advice in favour of ceremony. His words were admirable, and deserve to be recorded not only for their own truth but, in our immediate subject, because they had so strong an effect in confirming Mr. Bennett in his views on ritual. The most important sentence was this--
"The truth is, reverend brethren, that until the Church's intentions are completely fulfilled as to her ritual, we do not know what the Church really is nor what she is capable of effecting. It is the instrument by which she seeks to realize and apply her doctrines; and the integrity and purity of the one may, as to their effect, be marred and hindered, in what degree we know not, by a defective observance of the other."
It was scarcely wonderful that, after hearing these words, which so fully agreed with his own ideas, a young and vigorous priest should set himself to discover what those "intentions "of the Church were, and then to do his best to "fulfil" them. Yet for so doing, and that in a very limited and cautious way, the Bishop, terrified by a mob, turned him out of S. Barnabas'!
His beginnings were, indeed, "a day of small things." On January 1, 1843, he introduced some very startling novelties at Portman Chapel. He was himself ill, and his assistant, Mr. Beaufort, who succeeded him as minister of the chapel, explained these changes in his sermon, which was published. They were "consequent on the Bishop's charge," and being summed up amounted to the following: Surplice in pulpit in morning, but black gown in evening, as recommended by the Bishop; the use of "The Bidding Prayer" (in which the people are told for what they are to pray and for what they are to praise God; ending with the Lord's Prayer) before the sermon, in accordance with the 55th Canon; the use of the new psalter compiled by Mr. Bennett and his organist; and an alteration which depended on the congregation themselves--that henceforth they were to STAND at the offering of Praise and KNEEL at the Confession, the Absolution, and the Blessing.
What they did before Mr. Beaufort sayeth not, but we may guess from Mr. Bennett's records in Chapter II.
Beyond these very moderate improvements there was no advance made at Portman Chapel, which was not, it seems, an entirely independent charge, and in the course of 1843 Mr. Bennett was transferred to S. Paul's, Knightsbridge. In May of that year, before his removal to S. Paul's, he published his "Letters to my Children," to those who were "literally so, but in a second sense to those who were spiritually so." In this work he prophesies the speedy disappearance of the black gown in the pulpit and the restoration of the cope at the Celebration, conceiving at that time that that vestment was the one intended by the Church of England. He interprets the Ornaments rubric to include also the use of two lights on the altar at the Celebration, and says--
"This, among other emblematic and spiritual signs of our Church, will be reserved for you, my dear children, to appreciate and rejoice in."
He did not expect, it seems, to introduce them himself.
But in 1845, in his book "On the Principles of the Book of Common Prayer," he contends for the use of the lights, of the Eucharistic vestments, and of the pastoral staff and mitre for Bishops, and again prophesies that they will reappear.
In the same book he admirably sets forth the case for monotoning the prayers--on the ground that the prayers are not intended to teach some doctrine while they are being said, nor to impress the congregation, but to be addressed to GOD.
We have already, in Chapter III., described the services at S. Paul's, Knightsbridge. The most striking of his improvements were: daily service from 1846; lights at the Celebration, of which the date is uncertain; from 1848 an early Celebration on Sundays; and the use of the eastward position in a modified form. At first when he went to S. Paul's, he stood at the north end of the altar till the Prayer of Consecration, then he went to the front of the altar and stood so that the "manual acts" might be seen. During the last five years at S. Paul's he used the eastward position throughout.
A much greater advance was made at S. Barnabas'. If S. Paul's was a proper sphere for the experiment of reviving ceremonial, much more so clearly was S. Barnabas'.
I have already given something of the ritual at S. Barnabas'; it is interesting historically to note the points to which ritual had attained in 1850 somewhat more completely.
The eastward position was used at that time, he tells us, by Mr. Upton Richards, Mr. Dodsworth, Mr. Murray, Mr. Irons, and some others in London diocese, and by Manning and others in the country.
Mr. Bennett placed the epistoler and gospeller "at the steps," i.e. facing eastward. In other places they stood at the south of the altar.
The two candles on the altar were lighted at all Celebrations.
He had advocated the revival of the vestments in 1842 and 1845; so that we are not surprised to be told in the "Plea for Toleration" that--
"in 1850 the vestments were prepared for use at S. Barnabas', but misfortunes came upon us through Lord John Russell's Durham Letter, and they were set aside for the time."
The choir at S. Barnabas' wore black cassocks, and those surplices, which were in fashion for a time, made in an exact circle with a hole in the centre for the head, and without sleeves.
The surplice was used in the pulpit both in the morning and evening.
At the commencement of the sermon the Invocation was used, and both the preacher and others present made the sign of the cross.
The offerings at the Eucharist were received by the priest and offered upon the altar, the priest standing in front of the altar to do so. This, which is now almost invariable even in the most Low Church places, was, it seems, so little the custom then that Mr. Bennett had to specially request the Bishop to do it at the consecration of S. Barnabas'. The point would not have been worth mentioning had it not been for an extra piece of ritual which Mr. Bennett wished to introduce at the consecration, but with which the Bishop would not comply. It was, and still is, the normal custom at Westminster Abbey for the clergy in the presbytery, both canons and minor canons, to present their offerings at the altar individually. Mr. Bennett wished this to be done at the consecration of S. Barnabas'. The Bishop demurred. He
"considered this mode of offering to be at variance with the rubric which directs the alms to be collected and placed on the Holy Table by the priest, as the representative, I conceive, of the whole Church. I am aware [the Bishop adds] of an inferential argument in its favour; but I do not think it sufficient."
This "inferential argument" is apparently from the custom at various places--S. John's College, Oxford; S. Augustine's, Canterbury; and S. George's, Windsor, where it is the custom for the Monarch and the Knights of the Garter to go up separately to give their alms.
The choir and clergy entered and left the chancel in procession, as is now almost universally done. But this was in those days so much of an innovation that Mr. Skinner gives it as one of the things "which raised such fury against us." But the Bishop specially allowed it.
At this entrance and departure the clergy (but not apparently the choir) made their obeisance towards the altar. The Bishop, in 1842, "saw no serious objection to this."
The prayers were, of course, said in the stalls within the screen. The Litany was said at a faldstool, at the entrance of the chancel.
The choir were communicated before the rest of the congregation, a custom which Bishop Blomfield afterwards said was "excessive ritualism." There was daily Celebration of the Holy Eucharist at 7 a.m., and the daily Mattins and Evensong were fully choral.
Lastly, the sexes were seated separately on opposite sides of the church.
These were the actual points of ritual attained during the months which elapsed between the consecration of S. Barnabas' and Mr. Bennett's departure. Of course they were accused of a great deal more, and Mr. Bennett tells amusing stories of the canards which went round concerning the services at S. Paul's. He was accused of using incense at the Celebration; the Bishop of Salisbury (Archdeacon Denison's brother) wrote to say that he had been informed that the sanctus bell was rung, but on inquiry it appeared that a neighbouring dinner-bell was the cause of this alarming report.
The contrast must have been great when Mr. Bennett, expelled from "the gorgeous temple of S. Barnabas'," found himself in the dilapidated church of Froome. Yet Froome had one advantage which S. Barnabas' could not have--its church was old. It had a long history behind it, and that gives to one of our old parish churches a charm and a sense of unity with the past that no new church, however beautiful, can possess. What remained after the restoration of the church to its former glories was that the services of the old church should be restored to their former glories also.
But it was of necessity a slow process. It was a fresh start, and much caution was needed. Other churches, in London and elsewhere, naturally advanced more quickly, and Mr. Bennett could be no longer a leader in this. But in the end the services of Froome were probably more magnificent than any in the kingdom. Nowhere else perhaps were the services so completely in tune with their surroundings.
We have seen what the state of the church was when Mr. Bennett arrived; and amusing, if the facts were not so deplorable, would be his description of his first experience of service there.
"The north gallery, opposite the pulpit, seemed to topple over with the weight of the people within it who flocked thither as possessing the most advantageous view of the preacher, while at the back of the pulpit many of the worst style of boys of a national school rushed into another gallery where, not having anything to read nor anything to see, nor any possible knowledge of what a sermon could be about, they busied themselves with fighting and with nuts and oranges. The noise which these urchins made at the preacher's back was harmoniously interrupted from time to time by the schoolmaster, whose cane, descending on the backs of the delinquents, not a little terrified the surrounding audience. The clerk's solitary 'Amen'; the responses of the people reluctantly made, if made at all; the psalms or hymns, though creditably sung (for Froome seemed for long to have maintained a fair character for music), but still, coming from a gallery on high, and eliciting no sympathy with the congregation,--these and suchlike things will be sufficient to depict the character of the worship."
He soon set to work to alter all this. The choir and priest got, as we have seen, into the chancel. The stalls and the low stone screen separated them from the congregation, and the progress continued steadily till the services became of the most elaborate and devotional character.
Although services of this description are now very common, it will be interesting to describe the arrangements made by Mr. Bennett, as they were in some ways different from those in other churches.
The High Celebration was at 8 a.m. on Sundays; on Holy Days at 8.30 or 9. In having his chief Celebration so early he followed, to some extent, the advice of Bishop Sparrow, who, in his "Rationale upon the Book of Common Prayer," which was written in 1684 and reprinted by Newman in 1839, says--
"the usual hour for the solemnity of this service was anciently, and so should be, nine of the clock, morning; this is the canonical hour, thence probably called the holy hour. In case of necessity it might be said earlier or later, but this was the usual and canonical hour for it. One reason for it is that at this hour began our Saviour's Passion. At this hour, therefore, is the Communion Service (part of which is a Commemoration of Christ's Passion) performed. Another reason given is because this hour the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles. Lastly, because it is the most convenient hour for all to meet and despatch this with other offices before noon. For till the service was ended men were persuaded to be fasting, and therefore it was thought fit to end the service before noon that people might be free to eat."
There was, however, once or twice a month a Celebration for old and delicate people at 10 a.m., and a daily Eucharist at 7, in the Ladye Chapel or the Chapel of S. Andrew. In quite early days there was a Celebration at 5.15 a.m., for the working people, to whom he afterwards gave coffee at the Vicarage. He refused to have a Celebration at 11, and in his "Catechism of Devotion" he describes Evening Communions as "simply abominations." On Thursdays there was a Celebration at 9, which was attended by the school children, who sang special hymns suited to them.
Mattins was sung later fully choral. He was wont to say he would not have Mattins degraded. Evensong was, of course, fully choral, both Sundays and weekdays, with incense at the Magnificat on festivals.
It was in "the sixties" that the vestments and the incense were begun, but the exact dates do not seem to be recorded or recollected. The vestments were introduced at the request of a large body of the communicants who presented them to the church. Mr. Bennett had refused to use them till a request was made by a sufficient number of persons.
The ritual of the other great Sacrament was also full of teaching. Baptism was administered, according to the rubric, after the second lesson at Evensong, even at great festivals. The choir, with crucifix, acolytes carrying candles, and the officiating priest proceeded to the gate of the baptistery and there met the sponsors. The gates of the baptistery were closed till the sponsors had made the response, "I renounce them all." Then the priest exchanged his purple stole for a white one, and all entered the baptistery. The crucifix, with the candles on each side, faced the priest, and the whole of the persons taking part stood round the font. Nothing could more forcibly impress on the congregation the solemnity and importance of the Sacrament of Baptism. There was also a very complete ritual for funerals, the Holy Communion being celebrated when the mourners wished it.
It is worth while recording that processions were made, as they should be, a separate service before or after some other service, but not merely a proceeding into church. The choir went down the nave, completely round the church and returned up the nave again.
The procession was headed by Ashby, the sacristan and sexton, who wore on his arm a silver plate bearing the arms of Sir Thomas Champneys, a former owner of Orchardleigh, near Froome, the appointment of the sexton being an appurtenance of that estate.
The same order was observed at the children's service on festival afternoons, when all the children left their seats and held a procession round the church.
All this, of course, grew slowly, and the natural order of development, so to speak, was followed, whereby each advance was prepared for not only by instruction and explanations, as we have seen, but also by the worshippers being gradually accustomed to more elaborate ritual.
In carrying out all this, a great deal of organization was obviously necessary, and each person concerned was carefully instructed in his duties. The manuscript books in which the detailed instructions were recorded, and Mr. Bennett's memoranda, both for himself and for the assistants of every class, still remain.
What is more important to observe is the extreme reverence which marked his carrying out of the ritual, and the care he took that reverence should be equally maintained by others. One most excellent rule was the enforcement of silence in the vestry, unless it was necessary to speak of something connected with the service.
We may here speak of the Octaves which were kept every year after that, which we have mentioned already as the first, in 1856. The Octave began with the Evensong of June 23--the "first vespers" of S. John the Baptist's Day--and was continued till the Evensong of July 1. During this time "open house" was kept at the Vicarage, and meals provided for a large number of friends from far and near. When the Octaves were "at their height" these meals were in the schoolroom close to the Vicarage, and a large number of visitors availed themselves of them. Many delightful acquaintances were thus made, and in the middle of the day friends made excursions to the neighbouring points of interest. But the date of S. John the Baptist's Octave unfortunately corresponds partly with a cold season of six days, well known to meteorologists, June 29 to July 4, and this was recognized in the phrase which became a household word at the Vicarage--a spell of showery, cold weather in summer being called "Octave weather."
During all these Octaves the custom was kept up of inviting great preachers for the evening services; the High Celebration was daily at 8.30 or 9 a.m., various parochial events took place, and these gatherings left an always delightful remembrance in the minds of those who were privileged to take part in them.
III. "To be an efficient parish priest," said truly the Saturday Review, "was Mr. Bennett's speciality." And one essential part of being an efficient parish priest is the gift and power of organization. Of this art Mr. Bennett was a master, and although many things which he established are now quite commonplace, they were not so by any means in the days of S. Barnabas', Pimlico, nor in his early days at Froome. In most of the organization which he set up he had a predecessor and teacher in Dr. Hook, at Leeds, but his life record would be incomplete without some account of the way in which the work at S. Paul's, at S. Barnabas', and at Froome was arranged.
"He had noble ideas of Church work," wrote Mr. T. T. Carter, of Clewer, in the Guardian, in 1886, "and he nobly carried them out. His pastoral ministry at S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, still living on the old lines which he laid down; the creation of that great centre of life, with its community principle of priests, beside their church and schools, at S. Barnabas', which has been the example of so many similar works, though none that I know of equalling their original; and the results of the labours of his later years under yet more difficult circumstances at Froome, have placed him in the very forefront of the great army of priests who in late years have raised English parochial life to such a high standard."
Mr. Bennett, in his pastoral letter of 1846, gives an account of the "Societies and Institutions" at S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, at that time--A "Provident Society," in which threepence was given as interest for every shilling saved--a large addition only possible in so rich a parish; and a Lending Library, now common in every village. More important were the four schools of different sorts; and lastly, an attempt to establish "Sisters of Charity," which was, as he says, "premature." But something of the kind was established later by Miss Law, in the parish.
At S. Barnabas' these things were extended. The college was the centre. The affairs of the school were governed by a committee of parishioners. A monthly lay visitor inquired into the state of the schools, and reported to the committee at the end of each month as to education, attendance, cleanliness, and general improvement.
Twelve boys were on the foundation, being trained, educated, and clothed free, as choristers.
At the time of the cholera in London (we are told in a letter signed by a number of parishioners and printed in the Morning Chronicle), Mr. Bennett,
"stimulated by the misery he saw around him--the badly ventilated dwellings, the imperfect medical aid, the scanty and unwholesome food of the poor, oftentimes predisposing them to disease--resolved upon endeavouring to better their temporal condition, and with this view induced a number of gentlemen under his guidance to form themselves into a parochial board for improving the state of the poor in his district."
The result was the establishment of a soup kitchen, a dispensary, an arrangement for sending medicines, etc., to the houses of those who needed them, and for sending a qualified medical attendant in confinements, a nurse maintained by the committee, and
"a lay visitor who attended daily to hear the complaints of the poor, and to see that the object of the Charity was honestly carried out."
At Froome the organization was very complete. Mr. Compton, who was Curate from 1862 to 1871, says--
"Mr. Bennett's love of order and method was very remarkable, and showed itself in every detail. Schools, classes, dispensary, provident clubs, soup kitchen, blanket and other charities, were all in perfect working order, and his authority was felt in all the details of their management.
"The parish was carefully divided into districts; every house was visited, and, when possible, every name and circumstance was entered in a book, so that each of the twelve district visitors knew in a measure those under her care, and was charged to visit rich and poor alike if allowed to do so."
The Vicar and the Curates had each his own district of the parish to attend to--in all, four divisions. Each felt himself responsible for the visiting of his own portion of the parish. Each of the clergy taught daily in the schools.
The schools were at first entirely under his management, and were carried on by the subscriptions of himself and the parishioners. And though in the end he was compelled to lease them to the School Board, the religious instruction of all classes of children was provided for and was cared for in the schools of every sort.
A very useful part of the organization was the "College," a large and roomy building in a quadrangle, lent to him by the Marquis of Bath. In this, as before at S. Barnabas', about twelve boys were lodged and educated as choristers. Its large rooms were the scene of many festivities and entertainments.
Another very excellent institution was a Home for girls who worked at the factories; and yet another was a creche for the care during the day of the babies of mothers who were employed in the same way.
In our modern arrangements a parish magazine has become a recognized part of the organization, and Froome of course had one in the later days of Mr. Bennett. But in earlier days there was The Old Church Porch, which from the history Mr. Bennett gives of its beginning seems to have been the first idea of such magazines. Although it did not contain the parish notices, which are now an important part of such productions, and though it circulated beyond Froome, it was nevertheless primarily intended for the people of Froome, as may be easily seen from its local allusions.
The story of its inception is told in the preface to "Cousin Eustace," which is a book of conversations on the Prayer-book, edited by Mr. Bennett.
"I had intended, had it pleased GOD to permit me to remain at S. Barnabas', to publish a little monthly paper for the use principally of the poor and unlearned and the children. In this little monthly paper I had intended to give various explanations of the customs of the Church; her rites and ceremonies; our Prayer-book; the ancient practices of the Christians and their devotions; and especially those points of observance which seem, ever since the Reformation, to have caused so much animosity among Dissenters from the Church of England.
"I thought that much good might be done by a local periodical press as an organ of communication on holy things between the priest and his flock; especially in such a large parish as ours, where even sermons do not reach one-third of the people and private pastoral intercourse is confined to a very scanty number indeed. For this purpose I had prepared many little bundles of papers of various kinds and degrees of interest, ready to begin on the first of January, 1851, and so continue on the first day of every month. Of course I could not attempt to do all this myself, so I had asked many kind friends among the clergy, and others who might take interest in such matters, to help me.
"The bulk of these papers I must, alas! put by and reserve for another place and another flock, should it please GOD ever to give me one again; and it may be that they will come forth in another shape if GOD so will."
This preface was written just before his departure from S. Barnabas', and he says the book, "Cousin Eustace," which was a part of the papers so collected, is "a little legacy to the catechumens of SS. Paul and Barnabas," and that the writer, Mrs. Lear, was formerly taught and instructed by himself. "I call it a legacy because I cannot call it a gift. A gift is of one living; a legacy of one departed. And I am now, alas! as one departed." So the other bundles of papers remained for a while, and then The Old Church Porch began on January 2, 1854, and continued monthly till April 1, 1862.
Various societies were, of course, represented in the organization of the parish. There was a ward of "The Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament"; a branch of "The Guild of All Souls"; a branch of "The Society for Promoting the Unity of Christendom"; a "Guild of the Holy Cross," for both men and women; a "Guild of the Holy Child," each member undertaking to look after one or more poor and neglected children in the parish.
There were classes for boys and girls after Confirmation--a much needed institution; classes, besides the Sunday school, in preparation for the Sunday catechizing; Communicant classes before the great festivals, and various classes for instruction on points of doctrine and worship. Every class of person was thought of and looked after as far as might be, and, as one of the curates remarked once to the writer, work was "crowded out" sometimes on Sundays from the impossibility of being in two places at once.
It may well be supposed that Mr. Bennett did not neglect the valuable institution of parochial missions. In his preface dedicating to the Cowley Fathers the sermons which he preached at the great London mission of November, 1869, he gives an admirable account of the effect which missions produce on both the priest and people of a parish. In the previous Lent he had had a mission conducted by the same Cowley Fathers at Froome, and he sent his brother at Freeland Vicarage a copy of his address to the people of Froome on the use and object of it, with the characteristic inscription--"We are hard at work in this, and the battle is raging."
In all these works he was assisted by many devoted friends. Two sisters of Sir Frederick Ouseley came to Froome in order to work with him. The father and mother of Mr. Lowder spent their last days at Froome in order to be near him. He was immensely helped by many workers who came to Froome for the purpose of devoting themselves to the parish; and of his lay helpers who were of Froome itself the name is legion. Earnestness and work ever beget earnestness and work in others.
Of his Curates at S. Paul's and S. Barnabas' were Mr. Cowie, afterwards Dean of Chichester; Mr. De Gex; Mr. George Nugee, afterwards of Wymering; Mr. S. T. Smith, afterwards Archdeacon of Jamaica; Mr. Henry Stretton, well known to clergymen as joint author with Sir W. H. Cope of the excellent book, "Visitatio Infirmorum"; Mr. H. Fyffe, and Sir Frederick Ouseley.
To Mr. De Gex, who was a Curate at Froome in the early days, he gave the living of Christ Church, Froome. Mr. C. E. Taunton, afterwards of S. John the Baptist's Church, Harlow, was in charge of the College at Froome in 1857. Mr. Compton, Curate from 1862 to 1871, and afterwards Vicar of S. Katharine's, Woodlands, which was in the latter year made a separate parish, writes of the friendship of himself and Mrs. Compton with the Vicar for twenty-four years, as "one of the most sweet and valued memories of their lives." Prebendary Linklater, now of Stroud Green, has in another part of this volume recorded his experience of Mr. Bennett's kindness in offering him one of the curacies. Dr. A. G. Mortimer, author of so many most helpful works, and now Incumbent of S. Mark's, Philadelphia, was Curate for some years from 1874; and Mr. T. O. Marshall, for so long the energetic Organizing Secretary of the English Church Union, was also for three years Curate to Mr. Bennett.
IV. The question of FINANCE is one unfortunately unavoidable in the work of most parish priests. Mr. Bennett was one who not only was successful in collecting much money for the war against evil, but who initiated a revolt against the then prevailing methods of finance, and his work in this direction assuredly ought to be recorded and remembered. He was not wont to get money out of people by amusing them with bazaars and entertainments, but plainly asked them for their money for the work of God, set them the example himself, and got what he wanted.
We begin with the building of S. Barnabas'. In a sermon preached on the Dedication Festival of that church in 1867, twenty years after the idea of it came into his heart, he tells us that he asked--
"the enormously wealthy inhabitants of the parish and the enormously wealthy landlord of it" to aid him. "Their idea in receiving this proposal was to build four brick walls, a roof, a recess, and what they called a Communion Table; then to let the church out at so much a head for sittings (as it is called), and so to ensure by payment of pew rents the services of an incumbent. This incumbent would, in the usual course of things prevailing at that time, have had services once a week, on Sunday; the Administration of the Blessed Sacrament once a month; and prayers perhaps on Wednesdays and Fridays. The cost of the church would have been about £3000 at the utmost."
But in his pastoral letter of 1847, in which he put forth his scheme, he asked for £15,000. He calculates that the three extra curates can be provided for out of the offertory, which is to be divided into three portions--one-third for the poor, one-third for the maintenance of the new church, and one-third for the clergy there. How far this plan succeeded I do not know, but, alas! the offertory of S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, is not likely to be paralleled in the experience of most incumbents.
We now come to the finances of Froome. They divide themselves into: (i) The restoration of the church; and (2) The current expenses of the parish.
(i) The first estimate for the church--merely to make the fabric safe--was £3000 or £3500. Delay, he says, might have made it £10,000. "The church would have been a ruin." But as investigations went on, more and more dilapidations were found, and in the end the repairs needed to obviate actual danger came to £16,398. The work was spread over the years 1862 to 1868. In order to save the church from ruin he advanced £8000, and this, again, could not be done by most incumbents. Here is an example of the enthusiasm he inspired. The Ladye Chapel was restored with money contributed or collected by those who had the name of Mary. One little girl of that name was so eager that she sold her kitten for 2s. 6d. to a farmer, from whom she had asked a subscription, and brought the half-crown to the Vicar.
Alongside this "mite" we may record that Lady Bath gave, in 1852, £5000, and in the succeeding years many gifts, from £200 to £800. Both had the same spirit--the "great lady" and the little maiden, and perhaps the little maiden missed her kitten the most!
(2) The history of the current expenses of the church and parochial work at Froome is even more instructive.
At his first vestry meeting, "early in the year 1853," he adopted the bold plan of abolishing both the Church rate, which was compulsory then, of course, and the pew rents, which were illegal. He "took," the Gloucester Chronicle thought,--
"a most extraordinary course. Having taken the chair, he opened the business of the meeting and stated the origin, purposes, rules and legal opinions on Church rates, and advised the meeting to abolish them altogether."
The Church rates had been in Froome for a long time a source of complaint on the part of the Dissenters, and this step on Mr. Bennett's part so pleased them that (as we have seen) they joined in buying for him the tenement which stood in the way of the improvements in the churchyard, and one of the leading Dissenters sent him a cheque for £100 for the restoration of the church.
The result of this plan he gives in his second pastoral letter to the people of Froome in 1857. The arrangement was that one-half of the ordinary offertory should go to the churchwardens for Church expenses; one-fourth to the poor through the Visiting Society; and one-fourth to the schools.
In the year 1853-4 this ordinary offertory amounted to £340, in the next year to £341, the following year it fell to £290, and the next to £260, so that it was necessary for him to urge the people to make further exertions, and he outlines a scheme of giving according to various classes of wealth, just as he had done in his plan for the building of S. Barnabas'.
In 1861 he published a pamphlet, "Why Church Rates should be Abolished." In a note on this pamphlet he tells us--
"From 1853 to the present moment, 1861, there has been no mention of a Church rate in any shape whatever in the parish of Froome. All the expenses of the public worship of the church, together with the supply of the schools and other charities of the parish, and the formation and support of a choir, with many other incidental things, have been supplied by the voluntary oblations of the faithful within the walls of the House of GOD, and laid every Lord's Day upon the Altar."