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Twenty-one Years in S. George's Mission

By Charles Fuge Lowder

London: Rivingtons, 1877.

Chapter XIII. S. Agatha's Mission.

IT was intended that this chapter should have been contributed by Mr. Linklater himself; but his health and pressure of work delayed the accomplishment of his intention. He is now (May, 1877) on his way to Boston, to assist the Evangelist Fathers of S. John for a few months in their work in the United States; and the hope which he had held out of writing something on the voyage was dissipated by a letter containing the following lines from

"Off Queenstown.

"I wish you would say (I tried, but it is so hard to speak of myself) that I am a child of S. George's Mission, and made my first Confession in Calvert Street; so that if S. Agatha's is anything, it flows from S. George's Mission."

Happily he has left behind him matter, in two [169/170] Reports drawn up for the friends and subscribers of his Mission, which will to some extent supply the need and a description of his work.

In 1875 he had said, "My Mends will remember that six years ago they made their first combined effort, with generous and willing hearth, to start this Mission. At first it meant only a Night School for young men, and as much parish visiting as I could manage. At that time I was living at Beckenham, and could only offer to Mr. Lowder the odds and ends of my time.

"The Night School from the first became a great success. It seemed born in full vigour. The very first night we had forty or fifty stalwart fellows, and soon the average number of 100 was reached. A strong party of friends used to accompany me from Beckenham three nights a week, arriving at seven o'clock in the evening, and returning home at eleven o'clock at night. I can never sufficiently thank them for their self-denying labours. I really have never seen such a sight in my life as this large number of young men, gathered from the streets, hard at work all the evening, as quiet and orderly as possible; some learning their letters; others with distended tongue, and with sprawling arms, going through the travail of a 'copy;' and now and then some extraordinary genius turning up--as, for [170/171] instance, one young man who set himself a copy, Maxima debetur puero reverentia, which, when I asked him if he understood it, he translated word by word; and who, when I was fascinating my class with an account of the battle of Pultowa (which I had just been re-reading at home), discovered himself quite intimately acquainted with every detail and consequence of it. I at once raised him to the rank of teacher, at some trifling payment each night. Our premises, which I took on a three-years' lease at £50 per annum, were admirably adapted for the work--one monster room below, and two large classrooms upstairs, in one of which my kind friend and most valued partner in the work, the Rev. Sydney Brooke Lobb), like King Aeolus, held gentle sway over the turbulent spirits of his class. Those were dear old days, and I hope and trust our work did some good. Many of those lads we were able to get into situations, and start in life; and some we helped to emigrate, from whom even now we hear good accounts.

"As I have said, the every-night scene was quite out of common experience; yet even this was varied now and then by some striking incident. One night, in the middle of school-time, a knock came to the door; and having opened it, there stood revealed the ominous [171/172] figures of two policemen. I went to them to learn their pleasure; they had come after one of my promising pupils. When I expostulated with them for choosing such a time and occasion, they said it was their only chance. The lad baffled pursuit during daytime; but his thirst for knowledge was so great, that he ran the risk of capture because he could not resist the attraction of the Night School. The charge was, that being very hungry, he had stolen a piece of meat. I went back to my boys to consult as to what was to be done. There was no escape (the chimneys were out of the question, and the river barred egress on the other side); so I advised the poor lad to give himself up. I never can forget the unnatural hush of the large, excited crowd of boys, the stilled silence of their suspended breaths, whilst he was making up his mind; then with a stage-struck air he posed himself in the middle of the room, and said, 'Comrades, farewell!'

"Another night we had an internal commotion. A huge cowardly, hulking, savage lad had made himself particularly objectionable for many nights, both to myself and to the general mass of boys. I had to threaten condign punishment. The monster could have pitched me out of the window; but unexpected succour was at hand. One night a new face appeared, a quiet, [172/173] mild young man, who retired into a corner of the room, and applied himself diligently and, as I thought, with an absorbed attention to the business of the school. He was only biding his time. My friend the bully began his tricks, when the new-comer sprang like a lion over the desk, and gave him one! two! before he knew where he was. At once space was cleared for a fight. I did not choose to interfere till I thought the bully had had enough, and then I separated them. It was the reformation of that young man. He wiped the blood off his bruised face, and sat down like a lamb to his copy-book. Out of pity to the vanquished, I paid him some attention, when by-and-by he said, 'Did you see, sir, how that fellow struck me?'

"On Tuesday and Thursday evenings we had a Bible Class--by which name is not to be understood a nice orderly assembly of quiet, decent men, sitting all around with Bibles in their hands, and looking out their references--no; my Bible Class was a surging mob of noisy and blaspheming roughs, whom one bad to quell by psychic force, as one would quell wild beasts by a commanding eye. Yet I have often held this great roomful entranced and in wrapt astonishment, especially when I told them of their mysterious, unknown benefactors--you, my friends. I remember trying to represent [173/174] to them a picture that at the time was thrilling in my heart; a little child, daughter of a wealthy house, stealing down the staircase into the hall to give me her tiny savings, saying, 'These are for the poor Wappers.' I had to go on my knee to stoop and kiss her little hand. But I had rather not speak of such matters, or of any ministerial success or spiritual result, which after all must remain to be valued at the Judgment Day.

"I may say, however, that one never preached to a more exacting congregation, and that the effort to command their attention was most exhausting. The ordinary style of sermon, text, heads, and application would not go down at all. I may shock my readers if I confess that I once preached on such a text as this, 'If you want to spend a happy day, go to Rosherville Gardens.' They were all ears to this; and I don't know that one could have chosen a more touching subject than that ceaseless, never-satisfied craving of the heart for happiness, if only for one day, which yearning can find rest alone in the heart of Jesus. The evil and blasphemy at times were fearful, but I never would give up. One night a dead cat was flung in. Often the wretched street girls would hammer at the door, and try to lure out my poor fellows. At the end of the Night School season each year, we gave a monster tea-party [174/175] to the lads; I suppose more than two hundred were present on each occasion. Friends used to come down to help to amuse the boys and to manage the feast. To one of these ladies, a lad who was offered bread and marmalade replied naively: 'No, thank you, Miss; I helps to make it.' Another, when asked what was the time exclaimed, with apparent astonishment, and feeling his empty pocket, 'I must have left my watch on the planner.'

"The next advance in Mission work was to open a free Day School for the little children who then swarmed in the streets and alleys. This became gradually most popular with the little ones and their friends; and I was fortunate in securing as master a most conscientious and talented young man. Poor fellow! sickness had reduced him to the workhouse. He was recommended to me, and seemed fitted to the work. During the years he was our master he prepared himself for a Government certificate, and came out with high honours. He also won the prize for English literature and English history at the City of London College. The fruits of his patient labours are even now to be seen in his pupils, who have passed on to S. Peter's School, and are at the present time the head boys. This has been the great use of S. Agatha's Day School. To collect the [175/176] children in the immediate neighbourhood, get them on, and when their parents began to appreciate the benefits of a good religious education, then draft them on to S. Peter's School.

"As the children leave S. Agatha's School, either for work or for S. Peter's School, they are invited to join the S. Agatha's Guild. The object of this Guild is to retain some hold over them, to help them in their future life, and to guard them from the temptations of the streets. The rules are very simple. Once every six weeks the members of the Guild meet on Sunday afternoon for a tea. The cost of this tea-party is less than twopence per head, and it is after all a cheap way of collecting the children. But as there are six Guilds the personal labour to myself is great, as it involves attendance every Sunday afternoon.

"The Night School is a very heavy drag upon one's energies and health. Last year we kept it open for nearly eight months three nights every week. It would be labour' enough even were the lads as quiet as lambs, and eager for instruction; but when you have first of all to coax them to come in, then when inside to keep them in order (so easily written, but so hard to do) and to teach them, when perhaps all the time the opposition party outside are heaving bricks and paving stones at [176/177] the door, or chaffing their friends inside by shrieking the funniest things through the keyhole, and now and then a deputation from the neighbours--as if I were responsible for all the row which they, after the manner of London cads, passively contemplate from their doors without a word of disapproval. Oh dear, it would be impossible to convey half the worry or anxiety we have to put up with. And how one's heart fails as the evenings draw in, and the boys begin to enquire, as they are enquiring now, 'When will the Night School commence?'

"And then one can never be sure of teachers. One night we have not enough teachers for the boys present; they feel they are not properly attended to, and with the exquisite sense of justice which they possess they will not come the next night; but on the next night I have managed to beat up quite an army of teachers, who in their turn feel hurt and injured because there are no boys, and so on. It wants a heart of (I was going to say oak, but oak would break) a heart of iron to go quietly and doggedly on, and to do one's best oneself, always on the spot, and always determined to conquer. But yet I must be grateful to the Night School; for our real Mission work has resulted from it. First of all it brought one into close quarters with the [177/178] most difficult portion of our population, the young lads and men, and it is always a good thing to have dealings with men, even if no immediate results follow; but it also occurred to me one night, noticing that they were interested in some Scripture prints I had placed about the room, which they were trying to explain to one another--it occurred to me to offer to explain these pictures one by one after Night School. The thing took most wonderfully. The whole school stayed behind, and arranged themselves on the seats and desks tier above tier, I with my picture standing in the midst. If anything could inspire a man to be really eloquent, and to shake and grasp living hearts, it would be such a scene as I had now every night before me--the eager, entranced, upturned faces of those dear lads; the tear starting unbidden when I reached the crisis of some touching story of Joseph, of David, or of our Lord; the suspended breathing; the sigh of relief when all came right; the united cry of, 'Oh, please go on!' when I had finished for the night.

"The history of our special Sunday evening service is full of most important lessons. At first I merely tried a sort of class sitting round the fire. I had gathered the congregation from the street corners, and the attraction of a good fire perhaps made them more [178/179] willing to come, not but that one had to make many casts for them before they were hooked. It was a motley group, all young faces, at least all under twenty years of age, and all lads, no girls--such a gang of roughs

Well, for months they resisted; the blasphemy and misbehaviour were enough to break one's heart.

"We never dared to venture on a prayer, and often I had to stop the hymn, because they were only mocking God. In rebuking them, I used to tell them how different it might be; and once, to encourage them, I gave vent to what I then thought was an impossible fancy. I described a reverent service, the psalms and hymns sung, and they themselves the choristers. The idea took; they began to prepare; a choir class was formed, the conduct of the lads improved every week, and you could see in their faces that their lives were different; and actually, after some six months' training, and being sure that the improvement was real, on one S. Agatha's Day we inaugurated the new order of things. One friend gave me a piece of carpet, another a curtain, and so I arranged the end of our room to look something like a church; cassocks and surplices were made, and a reverent choir offered a really hearty service of praise to GOD. By-and-by a cheap harmonium was furnished, and choral Sunday evensong has from [179/180] that time been the established thing. We admit only lads, and I suppose the sight is 'of its own kind' in London. What this service has been to me, to see my dear boys kneeling reverently, and joining in the prayers and listening to the holy Scriptures, is too sacred to my heart for me to speak of.

I desire to point out the lesson. A class instruction, into which I threw all my powers to make it interesting and to touch their hearts, failed; but the mere thing of placing before their eyes the representation of a church, an altar properly vested, &c., at once commanded reverence and order. We have no rows now; caps are taken off, the lads go to their proper places, and follow the service from their books. What madness then to deny the power of Ritual on even the untamed human heart.

"Twenty-nine of these lads have been carefully prepared for Confirmation and Holy Communion, and many others are under instruction. A few of the best have formed themselves into a Guild, and Communicate regularly.

"We have a most successful bank connected with the Night School. This is its second year of existence, and the deposits vary from 4s. to 19s. each bank night.

"The greatest visible and audible triumph of our work [180/181] is the drum and fife band. It has taken years to form, and one master gave up the task as hopeless; but, to one's utter amazement, at last we have got a really good band, with a varied and extensive repertoire. Thursday in last week was their first march out, and the neighbours and parishioners were much surprised at their capital performance. This is really a most important vehicle for good, as it employs the unoccupied hours of the evening, and gives the lads a sort of martial pride in the S. Agatha's Mission.

"I am indebted to my cousin, Mr. Maturin, for our Lads' Club. He spent last winter and spring with me, and devoted himself most enthusiastically to the organization of this Club. It was a sight to see, to enter the Committee-room and watch the all-interested faces of the lads as member after member delivered himself of some wisdom of his own during the framing of the rules.

"The Club meets in the schoolroom after Night School, and on the unoccupied nights of the week, and the lads amuse themselves with bagatelle, draughts, dominoes, and picture books. It is a capital attraction to keep them away from the temptations of the streets. In summer we have a boat (the S. Agatha) on the river, a great safe man-of-war pinnace, which I picked up [181/182] cheap, and we do our little share towards obstructing the traffic of the river. Our boat and crew are well known all along the Wapping coast, slipping upwards with the tide on many a Saturday afternoon 'past many-towered Camelot.'

"I was visiting in one of the back streets of the district one day, reading and praying with a poor blind person, when I heard outside the familiar sounds of a storm brewing--a street row. The noise became so bad that, as my custom is, I went out to quiet the angry elements. I found the street thronged with an excited populace, in the midst a young man stripped for fighting, and in one of the doorways an older man also stripped, and held back from the conflict by two women. I elbowed my way through the crowd, and arrived just in time to throw myself upon the elder combatant, who was breaking from his bonds. After a deal of persuasion, forcible and otherwise, I induced my friend to enter the house, and I closed the door. After the manner of their kind, the women who had helped me with their entreaties and eloquent appeals when I was soothing down the mad passions of this poor fellow, as soon as I had calmed him began to lash his fury up again by descanting before him on the indignities he had suffered. To escape from them, I begged the man to [182/183] let me see his room. With an air of finest breeding he begged me to ascend, he himself politely leading the way; but when he saw the upstairs window open, and when he thought of those ancient and unavenged wrongs, he made one leap towards the window to jump out on his enemy. He was half out, but that I dashed after him, and with a grin of triumph pulled him back.

"We then sat down. He asked me to admire the muscles of his arm, saying, 'Be dad, there's not a finer arm than this on all the coast of Wapping!' and he ended by making me a feast of a delicious red herring, which I had to eat then and there with my fingers. When I left he said, 'Good-bye; blessed are the peacemakers!'

"This story is valuable, as showing the influence we are able to exert even on those who are not of our Communion. I wish all my experiences of the race were as pleasant as this.

"One word must be said about our Annual Excursions to the country, a most important factor in the result of humanizing my dear lads. I found they had a craving to see the country; some of the lads had never been in the country. I remember our first excursion was to Beckenham; and as soon as we got out of the railway station, they caracoled up and down [183/184] the road, to the horror of the proper grooms and coachmen who happened to be waiting. A bunch of withered last year's evergreens lying in the road seemed to them a treasure all too beautiful; they divided the leaves fairly, and decorated themselves with joy. But when we came into the veritable country lanes, they could not contain themselves. Each lad tore up a small tree (pace Fossey); festoons and garlands were made. By a lucky chance one lad discovered in his pocket a lump of red ochre; they at once painted their faces, and gave themselves up to the delightful abandonment of savage life d la Robinson Crusoe. The well-conducted people who passed us on the road shook their heads sadly and sorrowfully; and yet the dear lads were as good as gold, and not one single wrong word was spoken. To be sure, when they got tired of cricket and football, they retired behind trees for the relaxation of tossing for halfpence; but this I stopped as soon as I discovered it.

"The year 1876 has been an eventful one in the annals of the S. Agatha's Mission. In the first place, our tumble-down old room has been rebuilt; and instead of a ramshackle barn, we have now two splendid rooms, which are full night and day of an alternating crowd of day and night scholars. For this, however, we shall [184/185] have to pay a heavier rent, unless indeed our friends put it in our power to accept the liberal terms of our landlords, and buy it out-and-out (freehold) for £750; towards which purpose I have in hand £100. In the second place, we have bought a site for our permanent School Chapel near to the present building, and almost enough money has been subscribed for its erection.

"A few words must be permitted me to explain this important and unexpected turn in our fortunes. Circumstances brought me into contact with Mr. Foster, one of our landlords, who is the munificent founder of so many new Churches in the East of London. Mr. Foster, accompanied by Mr. Wilson, another director of the London Labourers' Dwelling Society, from whom I rent my premises, came down to see the necessities of the locality, and the capabilities of the S. Agatha's Mission. As a result of his visit, he offered me at a very moderate price the site which I have bought, and not only subscribed 150 himself, but at a cost of considerable time put me in the way of obtaining money from various societies, and from his personal friends. At the same time I was sent by the Additional Curates Society as one of a deputation to Winchester College, to give the boys an address on Church Work in the East of London. The boys had been previously [185/186] interested in this subject, and the purpose of the lecture was to make the feeling general, and bring it to a practical issue. Since that time Winchester College has undertaken the charge of a district of its own not very far from us, supporting a Clergyman, and providing funds for the expenses of the parish; and as a special offering, the masters and boys presented S. Agatha's Mission with £41. This sum of money, added to the £150 already in hand, formed the nucleus of our Building Fund. The Bishop of London's Fund voted us £250, and the Incorporated Church Building Society £50; and a Building Committee (of which Mr. Strickland is the Treasurer) has been organized to collect the remaining £500.

"I like, therefore, to think that we owe this start in life in a great measure to the warm, generous hearts of the dear Winchester lads, and that not only have they to look for a harvest in their own special district, but that they will have as well a share in the fortunes of S. Agatha. This material prosperity has, I am glad to say, created a corresponding advance in our opportunities of work. The new room has humanized my boys; it is so beautiful and clean, that they are awed into good behaviour. We have no loud noise, no rough play now; the days of dead-cat-shying are past and [186/187] gone. They have no longer the heart to heave paving stones at the street door, now that it is so new; our large commanding windows have actually escaped the expected shower of small stones. It seems as if the lads took our new building as a token of trust in them, and as if they were now placed upon their honour; and they guard it jealously as their own.

"Thus we have a much larger Night School (there are nearly 200 on the books), in which perfect order reigns. The lads are, generally speaking, in good work, instead of loafing about; and to give one instance of our prosperity, I have just paid out, in bright new shillings, $20; their deposits in our Penny Bank during the last two months. I have also successfully made this winter the daring innovation of demanding a fee for Night School, one penny a night, that is, threepence a week. Of course this does not nearly cover our expenses, but it cannot fail to have a beneficial effect on the moral tone of the lads, in making them feel that they now pay for what they get. It is instructive to notice that our attendances have increased instead of falling off under this new system, although at the same time I am sure that I 'should not have reached this, the lowest class of street arab life, if I had exacted a fee in the first instance.

"At our Sunday Evening Service, too, we have [187/188] instituted the Offertory, so that now they have the pleasure of helping in the charities of the place. Each Sunday I publicly give out the amount of the previous Offertory; for instance, next Sunday I shall have to say, 'The Offertory last Sunday was threepence halfpenny.' The amount fluctuates; we have had more than a shilling.

"The children's Guilds we have thoroughly reorganized. Some kind friends have undertaken to share this labour, and they have divided the children into groups under their more immediate care.

"In this way we hope to sustain in after-life the teaching and habits of piety which the children have learnt at school. There are 191 members in these Guilds, 80 boys and 111 girls. When our new School Chapel is built, we intend to use one of the rooms for the different meetings of these Guilds, such as sewing-classes, &c.; and in another room I am longing to establish a Working Men's Club for grown-up men. Our present Lads' Club is a decided success, but we cannot expect men to mix with boys; their necessities and amusements are different.

"I am so hardened to the state of things down here, the sights and sounds of our streets by night, that it is quite a novel sensation to find myself thoroughly shocked. To-night I have been thoroughly shocked; [188/189] my eyes opened--not quite opened, but a little--to see the state of things as angels see them. I sit down to try and write my sensations before they have quite vanished--before my disturbed mind settles down once more to accept as inevitable the existing state of things. I am called out to visit a dying man at the London Hospital. This poor old man, a lighterman, has lived a hard, wicked life. God has been wonderfully good to him; on his sick-bed He has brought him to repentance, a real repentance; the big, strong man has come to God with the simplicity and love of a little child. This very morning I administered to him his first Communion; to-night he is dying, and I go to commend his soul to God. I suppose my feelings are a little overwrought, because to-day we have had one of frequent tragedies. A poor wretch committed suicide in his bed early in the morning. lie had been a man in a good station of life; through drink he had gradually sunk lower and lower in the social scale; to-day his mutilated body is lying, weltering in blood, in a poor, miserable, unfurnished room in Old Gravel Lane. Many times he had taken the pledge, and kept his resolution for six or eight months, then broke out again; this was the end of his last boat. The man was friendless, so that he might have lain days unnoticed, [189/190] as he lay hours, had not a woman from the public-house called for the can in which he had purchased his last gallon of beer. The can was empty, and so was that desecrated vessel of God emptied of its crimson flood of life. Across the dirty, squalid bed, saturated with blood, the lifeless corpse lies all along.

"In the hospital I pass through darkened wards--the laboured breathing showing that many of the poor sufferers are in the jaws of death--and there at the end, lit up by the light of the lamp, is my group of mourners, the wife, and the two grown-up daughters. A joyful recognition from the poor dying man, a squeeze of the hand, some earnest prayers, and then, after solemnly commending the departing soul to God, the return home.

"It was indeed a pleasure to meet at the gate of our Clergy House some of our young folks returning from a country excursion, bringing me a tribute of flowers, and assuring me that they had spent a really happy day, and without any sin to mar it."

To these extracts from Mr. Linklater's Reports may now be added the pleasing news that the first stone of the Mission School Chapel was laid on May 17th, and that the work is now progressing; so that it is hoped [190/191] that this daughter of S. Peter, S. Agatha's Mission, may soon have a permanent abode and the requisite machinery for growth and expansion.

These interesting sketches of Mr. Linklater's work may be left to speak for themselves; and yet the writer cannot but add the expression of his own thankfulness that it has pleased God to make one who humbly calls himself a child of S. George's Mission, and whose mother kindly provided a room for the first Mission School in Wellclose Square in 1857, an instrument of so much good in this parish. It is an earnest that the work will be carried on, and that whenever and however the present workers may be removed, yet that others will be raised up for the completion of God's good purposes in the salvation of souls.

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