Project Canterbury

Twenty-one Years in S. George's Mission

By Charles Fuge Lowder

London: Rivingtons, 1877.

Chapter X. The Riots in S. George's Church. The Working Men's Club.

BEFORE taking up the thread of the history of the Mission, it is necessary to dwell for a short time on the sad episode of the Riots in the Parish Church.

When Mr. King was appointed to S. George's, in 1842, he found a parish of 39,000 souls committed to his care. His predecessor had scarcely entered the Church for seven years; but a popular curate had just been presented to the incumbency of a District Church taken out of the original parish of S. George. His removal withdrew a large portion of the congregation, besides which the more respectable inhabitants were leaving the district in order to live in the country. At the same period the charge of Bishop Blomfield, impressing upon his clergy the duty of observing the rubrics of the Church more carefully, especially the use of the Prayer for the Church Militant, and the surplice [139/140] in the pulpit, was producing much excitement and opposition even amongst the clergy. Mr. King, on his institution, deemed it his duty to conform to the Bishop's wishes, and thereby incurred his full share of this unpopularity, and further reduced the numbers of the congregation. The opposition in the parish attained such proportions that the vestry only paid the organist on condition of his not performing his duty.

Under these circumstances, some of the congregation in 1846 subscribed to the support of a paid choir, in order to introduce a Choral Service. Subsequently, in 1856, the Eucharistic Vestments were presented to be worn by the Rector. Matters, however, went on more peaceably until the appointment of the Rev. Hugh Allen, Incumbent of S. Jude's, Whitechapel, to the office of Lecturer in the parish. He had been similarly appointed to the parish of S. Luke, Old Street, but in consequence of certain representations publicly made had withdrawn. His appointment at S. Dunstan's, Stepney, had been successfully resisted by the Rector; and now he was thrust into the pulpit of S. George's, in consequence of the extravagance of his Puritanical opinions, and in opposition to Mr. King. The results were such as might have been anticipated. A few malcontents, urged on by Mr. Allen's intemperate [140/141] harangues, at first interrupted the services. of the Church. The violence, unchecked by the churchwardens or the police, gathered strength Sunday after Sunday; the responses and psalms were shouted out irreverently, in opposition to the chanting of the choir; scuffling of feet, coughing, groans, laughter, profane songs, interrupted the sermons, hymns, even the reading of the word of God. The Church was thronged Sunday after Sunday by rabble gathered out of the streets and surrounding slums; the Clergy, choir, and even ladies were hustled, struck; spit upon, insulted, and for more than a year the Parish Church was the scene of tumult unparalleled in the history of the Church of England. Efficient help was refused the Rector, both by the Bishop of London, the Home Secretary, the magistrates, and the police, so that for nearly eighteen months the mob was master of the situation. On three occasions, when the disturbance was lessening, and there seemed hopes of quelling it without yielding every thing to violence, either the unfortunate action of the Bishop or the withdrawal of the police caused fresh outbreaks, until the Rector was driven out of his parish.

The Mission Clergy frequently took part in the services of the Parish Church, and were thus exposed to the violence of the mob, which often followed [141/142] them home. In September, 1859, the Parish Church was closed for several Sundays. The rioters, enraged at the loss of their usual opportunity of disturbance, descended upon the Mission Chapels, and on two occasions invaded each of them, threatening very seriously also the Mission Houses. . Upon this we determined to admit none to the services except by tickets, which we gave to the members of our own congregation, or to any other respectable persons. For one or two Sundays the mob assembled more than 1,000 strong in Wellclose Square, and attempted to break through into the Church. The gates, however, formed an effectual barrier; and though our congregation had great difficulty in forcing their way through the crowd, yet some succeeded, and the service was carried on without actual interruption. No one present on that occasion could easily forget the sense of awe created by the solemn stillness within the Church, contrasted with the noisy hum of voices indistinctly heard without. Attempts were likewise made to annoy the Clergy, choir, and congregation on their way home, but happily without any serious effect; and after a Sunday or two the excitement ceased, and our services have been conducted without any serious interruption ever since. The feeling aroused in the parish to some extent affected our progress, but on the whole [142/143] not injuriously. It proved a good test to the sincerity of our people; threw us back upon the soundness of our own principles; and tended to consolidate and establish our work. It was of course disagreeable to meet with insults and abuse from rude girls and ignorant boys as we passed along; but we patiently bore these when we felt that our real work for the salvation of souls was progressing. The very dregs of the people were taught to think about religion. Many were brought to Church through the unhappy notoriety which we had gained; and some who came to scoff remained to worship.

In looking back upon these unhappy days, and considering the results flowing from them, there is great cause of thankfulness to Almighty God for the long peace which we have now enjoyed. In the Parish Church those unsightly pews which were filled by the profane rabble are now swept away, and replaced by open seats and an orderly congregation. The choral service, which was an object of so much opposition, is restored; and though there are many improvements which might be desired, yet there is the preparation for better things. In S. Peter's, now Consecrated for ten years, a Ritual and dignity of service accompanied by the full teaching of the Catholic Faith, with all the [143/144] privileges of sacraments and worship--have been maintained far beyond what was attempted in S. George's. Instead of opposition, we have now the heartiest sympathy of a devout congregation, and the good-will of the parish; so that attempts from the outside to stir up a prosecution have been made in vain. Surely this may be an encouragement in the trials of the present day, and prove that however the truth may be overwhelmed for a time, yet persecutions are the strength of the Church.

Peace having at length been restored to the parish, we were permitted to carry on the Mission work without any such painful interruptions as have been already described. Mr. Mackonochie's valuable assistance at S. Saviour's was bearing good fruit. The conversion of many souls in the way of true repentance, the increase of communicants, adults and children brought to baptism and confirmation, the better organization and instruction of the schools, and the careful administration of the charities of S. Saviour's, all bore witness to the zeal and power with which his Missionary labours were carried on. He was ably assisted by the Rev. H. A. Walker, who also took charge of the musical training of the choirs of both Mission Chapels. In 1862, Mr. Mackonochie was removed to the more important sphere [144/145] of S. Alban's, Holborn, where he was joined in a few months by Mr. Walker. Mr. Lyne (now Brother Ignatius) gave much valuable help for nearly a year, and was succeeded by the Rev. J. P. Kane, who kindly came to our aid at a time of very great need, and devoted himself most heartily to the work. Mr. Akers joined the Mission in 1865, and succeeded in a very remarkable manner in winning the love of the people, and was actively assisted by the Rev. F. M. Windham.

Among the special works in Wellclose Square, some account must be given of the Working Men's Club. Its foundation was laid by a friend who, though living in a distant part of London, had been attracted to the parish in the time of the riots, and offered his services to the Rector. He thus became impressed with the importance of making some effort to win the working classes of the parish to the side of order and religion. He accordingly proposed to us to open an Institute for them, which should provide the newspaper and periodical literature of the day, lectures, classes, and opportunities of rational amusement, such as chess, draughts, &c. This was first commenced and carried on during the winter in our Boys' Schoolroom, and although the arrangements were not so satisfactory as we could desire, yet a very fair beginning was made. At any rate, the promoter felt [145/146] encouraged to enlarge very considerably his original plan, and to secure more convenient premises. A good house next to the Mission House was taken, the founder moving into it himself as resident honorary secretary. A very attractive programme of lectures, classes, and other advantages, was put forth, and the new season opened under very favourable auspices. Reading Rooms for two classes, with varying payments, were opened, a smoking and conversation room, in which coffee was provided at cost price, a circulating library, and a separate room for boys. Classes in reading, writing, and arithmetic were carried on, as well as in singing, French, and drawing; for the latter some casts were kindly presented by Mr. Ruskin; many presents of books were also made for the library, and several very excellent teachers connected with the Working Men's College in Great Ormond Street kindly gave their services.

A large number of members soon joined; indeed during one year about 400 were admitted, though only a small proportion could be regarded as regular attendants. The Rev. F. D. Maurice gave the opening lecture, on the objects and advantages of the Institute; and lectures were continued once or twice a month by various friends, the present Archbishop of Dublin and [146/147] the Dean of Westminster, Rev. T. J. Rowsell, Thomas Hughes, J. M. Ludlow, Parker Snow, and Spencer Nottingham, Esqs., &c.&c. It was very gratifying to observe the intelligent interest with which these lectures were attended and listened to by the working men, and to find the good spirit which prevailed amongst the members thus brought into close connection with each other night after night in the Reading Rooms and Classes. The existence and success of the Institute plainly proved how little the real working men of the parish sympathized with the abettors of the disturbances in the Parish Church; for had they done so, the very 'lame of this Institute would have been a bar to its success, whereas, on the contrary, not only did it flourish in spite of any such prejudice, but a few feeble attempts made to interrupt one or two of its lectures elicited a great amount of good feeling on the part of the members, and exposed the weakness of the opposition.

Although at times many difficulties had to be encountered, arising from the resignation of the honorary secretary, and the difficulty of supplying his place; from the want of funds to meet the first outlay, and various other causes incidental to the commencement of a new institution; yet we had great reason to be thankful for the results which attended these first efforts. When the [147/148] work in Wellclose Square was abandoned the Club was removed to S. Peter's district, and held in a house in Old Gravel Lane, where it did a good work for some years. It has however finally somewhat changed its character as a place of education, and become rather a dining than a literary club. In its present form it is able nearly to pay its own expenses, which it was not before, and provides a cheap meal for the working man, who chooses to avail himself of the dining-room, or for his family, when fetched home by his wife or children. The room itself also provides a suitable place of meeting for various societies. The Church of England Temperance Society has held many of its social gatherings, readings, and lectures in this room. The Friend of Labour Society meets here every week, and has done a good work in lending money in small sums, on sufficient security, to working men and small tradespeople.

The Penny Bank has proved a safe deposit for the little savings of the poor, and encouraged provident habits. During the sixteen years of its existence, under the careful and unwearying management of Mr. Barton Stutfield, a sum of £2,439 has been deposited in it, in the pence of the poor. At present the deposits amount to £264.

[149] It has been indeed found impossible to maintain the somewhat ambitious character of the first Institution, and yet a portion at least of the object originally aimed at--viz., the social improvement of the working classes--has been more or less attained. Provident habits are inculcated, good food and a place to eat it in is provided, temperance is encouraged, while lectures, readings, concerts, and even dramatic entertainments, given by the kindness of friends near or at a distance, have formed a counter attraction to that of the publichouse.

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