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The Life of Father Dolling

By Charles E. Osborne

London: Edward Arnold, 1903.

Chapter V.

East London (1883-1885)--S. Martin's (Magdalen College) Mission, Maidman Street, Burdett Road--Ordination as priest by Bishop Temple (Trinity Sunday, 1885)--Resignation of the mission (1885).

'I met a preacher there I knew, and said:
"Ill and o'erworked, how fare you in this scene?"
"Bravely," said he: "for I of late have been
Much cheered with thoughts of Christ, the Living Bread." '

MATTHEW ARNOLD: Sonnet, 'East London.'

THE district in Holy Trinity parish, Stepney, over which Dolling was put in charge as missioner, with a nominal connection with the parish church (for it was little more than nominal at any time), was called by him S. Martin's Mission. It was thus the third time that he worked under the patronage of that great Bishop of Tours, who is famous both for his charity (as represented by the division of his cloak with the beggar) and for a rarer virtue in the age in which he lived--his hatred of methods of cruelty used in the cause of God, his protest against the beginnings of religious persecution. Both at the Postmen's League House, and at the Mission Church at Salisbury, this saint of charity and wisdom had given his name to the work. So now Dolling placed his first centre of ministerial labour under the same kind patron. A picture of S. Martin, while yet a military officer, bending from a prancing steed to give the beggar a portion of his garment, graced the walls of the mission. Like many other sacred pictures, the artistic qualities displayed in it were not of the highest order.

The district was a populous and then a very poor one, near that end of the Burdett Road where the great Nonconformist 'Tabernacle,' at that time ministered to by the Rev. Archibald Brown, is situated.

When Dolling invited the present writer (then a layman) to spend some time with him in the autumn of 1883, so as to gain some knowledge of work in the East End, the latter made his way to Maidman Street (an insignificant street off the Burdett Road), and, on asking for 'S. Martin's Mission,' was shown a building of the warehouse description, which had been fitted up in an extraordinary manner. True to the view that the secular and spiritual elements should interpenetrate in one religious unity of social life, the house, which was a sort of embodied symbol of this idea, consisted mainly of two or three very large rooms, besides various cubicles for missioner, lay helpers, general visitors, and nondescripts. One of the rooms was entirely used at night for a men's club, 'sing-songs,' etc., and it also served as a common room for meals in the daytime. There was another room for the women's work, such as mothers' meetings, for S. Martin's soon had one of the largest and certainly the most unconventional of these meetings in the East End. The top room was the chapel, for religious worship alone.

The first night the present writer was there, the lowest room was crowded with the roughest type of East End men, but also a tall Highlander named 'Sammy' (one of Brother Bob's old Kilrea boys), and some of the postmen were present. Brother Bob, or Father Dolling, as the people of his district quite naturally (not by artificial High Church pressure) began to call him, was king of the whole assembly. His eye kept the roughest characters in order.

Very soon we got to know them all; to be 'the Father's friend 'was a passport to the courtesy of all.

We have never, before or since, seen a place so full of the spirit of real Christianity in its most attractive form as S. Martin's Mission, Maidman Street.

Dolling had a wonderful genius for creating true friendship around him wherever he went, and he knew that the way to make people friends is to get them to do little acts of kindness and help for one another, and this on both sides, not mere condescending patronage on the one hand and passive receiving of favours on the other. A delightful spirit of fellowship was, as it were, the common medium in which all moved. But behind all this was something more than good nature. The Presence of the Christ was surely there, and the influence of His religion was like the guardian spirit, the genius loci of the mission.

At this time Dolling received the accession to the number of his helpers of his sisters, Elise, Geraldine, and Josephine, who, having left their spacious and comfortable house in Dublin, gave up their whole time and thoughts to labouring for and with their brother, often under the most unwholesome and cramped surroundings, in his East End work, as afterwards two of them did at Portsmouth, and finally at the East End again, until the close. The graces of tact and sympathy, the power of unlimited self-sacrifice, and, above all, the art so essential to religious workers, especially among the poor, of making religion lovable, and, in a true sense, human, have been granted to these ladies in a very marked degree. Added to this, they have those business capacities and gift of organisation the possession of which by their brother was also such an addition to his spiritual influence. The cooperation of his devoted sisters saved S. Martin's Mission from being too exclusively a work among men, like those federations of East End clubs which are not always found the best adapted for facilitating personal and individual influence. True Christianity, the religion of that Christ who is 'the Son 'not so much of Man as 'of Humanity,' must be at once masculine and feminine. It must draw out what is best in both sexes, and make each minister to the fulness of the complex life of which each is a part. The arrival of Miss Dolling and her sisters at S. Martin's Mission, and their residence in the 'Miss Dollings' house,' a dwelling as simple as that of any of the people around, enabled S. Martin's Mission to touch the family life, in every part of it, of the great district in which it was placed.

The spiritual side of the work also developed along with the social one, though always naturally and gradually. The deacon-missioner at its head was more experienced than many rectors, perhaps even than some dignitaries of the Church.

God seemed to bless the mission in a wonderful way. It grew day by day under the very eyes of its originator. Helpers of all kinds came forward. Money, too, began to come from his West End friends and others. The little company seemed to get from God everything they asked for. Priests, too, came forward to celebrate the Holy Eucharist for this deacon, so that 'the pure offering' might not fail, and there might always be bread for the children in the Father's house. Canon Mason, then Vicar of All Hallows, Barking, sent some of his clergy to help in this way, and assistance of the same kind was given by a priest then connected with S. Alban's, Holborn, and by other clergy.

In 1884 Dolling received a visit from a Demy of Magdale College, Oxford, who wished to meet him in reference to bringing that college, and Oxford University generally, into closer connection with East End work. The result of this conference was a visit of Brother Bob to Magdalen to kindle interest in the East End, and the beginning of that widespread influence which he gained over the younger men, not only of that college, but of other colleges in Oxford. Another result was that, although he was not himself the suggester of the idea, it was resolved that Magdalen College should adopt S. Martin's, Maidman Street, as its mission. This spontaneous suggestion was taken up and carried through. There was never, however, owing to a number of obvious circumstances, that constant personal connection between Magdalen undergraduates and S. Martin's Mission that there was afterwards between the Winchester College masters and men and S. Agatha's, Landport.

At the Chapel of S. Martin's, Dolling aimed at securing the union of the two elements of dignity and homeliness, of adoring worship and human fellowship, an ideal in regard
to which he used sometimes to say that Rome has retained the grandeur of worship and Dissent the simplicity, while we of the Church of England have lost both.

The present writer remembers on one occasion, in 1884, bringing in some young men from Woolwich (where he was then curate at the Church of SS. Michael and All Angels) to see S. Martin's Mission. We went by ferry and train by the dismal North Woolwich line, getting out at Burdett Road Station. After a few minutes' walk we were in the Maidman Street Mission House. It was in Easter week. A special service was being held, and the chapel upstairs was full. The latter place was packed to the doors with a type of persons never (or except on the rarest occasions) seen within an Anglican, or perhaps any English, place of worship. The altar was first lighted up by a boy in scarlet cassock and cotta or alb. Presently began the solemn vespers. It was a sort of worship more elaborate than that at the oratory at Mount-joy Square, Dublin (where, however, incense was used and vespers sung by members of the Episcopal Church of Ireland, even in 1880, and where the sight of a crucifix much distressed one of Dolling's young Orangemen from Kilrea when he came to see 'the young master ').

On this night at S. Martin's Mission, at the entry of the officiant, who was Dolling himself, vested in a richly embroidered cope, processional lights were carried by acolytes, and there was all the dignity of ceremonial which has ever attended the worship of the Catholic Church, manifest even in germ as she ministered in her strange underground life during the age of persecution. The people had the Vespers in little books provided for them, and easily followed the service, which consisted mainly of psalms, short lesson, Magnificat and hymns, including the office hymn. The psalms were sung lustily, being the fixed Vesper ones, and were known practically by heart. The Magnificat took its due place as the ritual centre of the service, the great hymn of the Incarnation. There was no stiffness, and there was no vulgarity. Though it was distinctly a ceremonial service, yet there was really nothing ritualistic about it, in a frivolous or artificial sense, from beginning to end. Not one person engaged in this service, except Dolling and a few of his helpers, knew of High Church or Low Church, or Roman or Sarum or Protestant modes of worship. They were simply men and women who had first been gathered in off the streets, or from the neighbouring houses, having never known what Church of England worship was like of any description. They came to worship God in the way their dear friend and God's minister, the only friend besides God of many of them, had taught them to do.

But the really remarkable thing was the sermon. The deacon-missioner, the cope being removed, sat down at the altar-step and talked to his people about Jesus during the forty days of His risen life, of the walk to Emmaus, and 'the breaking of bread,' of how the Lord appeared 'in the midat' in a homely upper room like that in which they were then sitting, of how He knew each one personally and made Himself known to each--to Peter, who had denied Him, to Thomas, who doubted about Him, to poor Mary Magdalene, whose soul He had cleansed. It was a talk which seemed as if of what the speaker himself actually saw. It was as if one were in some assembly of the Primitive Church, or among the first disciples, the lovers of Jesus, waiting for the manifestation of His presence, the power of His resurrection. As we have heard Dissenters say of Dolling, 'I don't care whether he's a Ritualist or a Roman Catholic, he preaches Christ in a way I have never heard before, and hardly ever expect to hear again.'

On other nights there would be a prayer-meeting, 'one of our little Dissenting services,' as Dolling would call it, with an amused twinkle in his eye, to some very High Church lady, a member of the congregation of some dignified Ritualistic church in the West End, who had come down all the way to Maidman Street in order that she might see 'that remarkable man, Mr. Dolling, whom we have heard so much about.'

But let us hear him for himself in regard to S. Martin's Mission. We quote from a document called 'A Tract,' which he issued to all the inhabitants of his district. 'A rum tract,' he says, some will call it. It is undoubtedly out of the common run of such literature:

' December 31, 1884.

'Will you take a tract? I see always outside music-halls and chapels in our dear East End the tract distributor. As we are a sort of chapel and music-hall combined, I follow suit and offer a tract. If I had offered you one eighteen months ago, likely you might have used it for a pipe-light; but now we know each other so well that I hope in the truest sense you will "put it in your pipe and smoke it." Eighteen months is not such a very long time, and yet it seems to me as if the last eighteen months made up the biggest part of my life. If to make friends be the best work in life, surely no future part of my life can ever be as well spent as the part which ends with ] 884.

'Coming as a stranger here in May, 1883, told the first night that the mission was opened that they "did not care to have truck with parsons down this way," it was in fear and trembling that I faced the work of getting to know you; but the fear and trembling soon disappeared, for words would fail me to tell of the friendships, tenderness, and love I have met with from every single one of you. From men, from women, from children, it has been always the same. Sometimes, of course, a passing frown, for my words are sharp, and my hand has been heavy; but I don't think that the sun has gone down on mutual wrath. And this is what I have to thank you most of all for--that you have trusted me in spite of my being a parson.

' And now what shall I say about my work t I speak of our mothers first. Dear Mrs. Hirom (how we should have missed her laugh!) comes all the way from Stratford. Some have emigrated, some are dead, but none are really lost to us, and the dear old familiar faces give us the completest, cheeriest afternoon in the whole week. ... As to the Sunday afternoon classes for lads and girls, do try to make them come out to these classes; at any rate, make it easy for them to come. Wash up yourselves instead of "dossing" after dinner, and give them a chance. . . . May I give one word of advice? Do what you can to discourage fringes, and I don't think a girl under seventeen years of age ought to "keep company."

' As to the men: when I think of the men's club at first I sometimes think I can only imagine what it was; but surely the general riot, the destroying of cards and papers, the chucking about of draughts and dominoes, are not imagination. I would wish that some hasty blows of mine and some cruel words were; and yet they had, I suppose, their necessary place in our reformation. Thank God they are over now and for ever! only I hope we are not getting too respectable--we all seem to wear collars and ties now. ... It is wonderful how we amuse ourselves. We have two good bagatelle tables; we play cards, dominoes, draughts; we box, we have a gymnasium downstairs, and we often have a concert among ourselves. I don't think you could find in all London better step-dancing than Sullivan's. He has a benefit early in January. The boards of our theatre have been occupied by distinguished amateur companies. Last time there was an audience of nearly 300. In all this great improvement I miss sometimes the music of dear Balmy's tongue, or the merry sound of his ceaseless heels; but still, order is everything, and I must to each single member of the club say a real word of thanks for assistance incalculable in the keeping of order. . . .

'And now you will say, "What a rum tract! there is nothing pious in it." Well, sometimes it is hardest to speak of that which one feels most deeply about. Now, to be quite straight, religion--I don't mean pious talk or long faces; I do mean love to God and for His dear sake to our neighbours--is the one object and intention of any act we try to do. I know no other way of worship, for nothing else in all the world is real or true. And so our chapel is the real centre of all, and surely it has grown strangely into a very deep place in our hearts. The bell dear Salt gave us makes its little voice heard in all the district. (I hope it is not a great nuisance to our neighbours.) Everything else in the chapel has a voice as well. Dear S. Martin's picture, the beautiful curtains and hangings that loving hands have made, the gentians on the altar-cloth, coming to us, as it were, from the grave; the one memorial board telling us of our thirteen holy dead perfecting in the Paradise of God, the other telling us of the emigrants; the psalms that we nearly all know by heart, the mission hymns. And yet a more real voice--God's Holy Spirit creating over 200 children of God in Holy Baptism, God's Holy Spirit confirming with His sevenfold grace the firstfruits of the mission, and, above all, the real voice of the dear Lord Jesus Himself in the Blessed Sacrament of His love.

'All these voices--or, rather, this one voice--make the chapel preach God and His love to us continually. I say--and I say it from my heart--the mission has done you very little real good unless in some way or another the chapel has become to you the dearest spot in all the house. May God's love be with you, making you all more truthful, more honest, more loving in your lives! May His love be around you, teaching you how to live, teaching you how to die!

' Your affectionate friend,

Certainly a different style of tract to that which asks you where you expect to spend your eternity, and yet probably more efficacious.

Several of the youths who came to the club had been connected with gangs of thieves. On one occasion a thief, who was a pal of one of these lads, attempted a burglary in the mission, but Dolling and the lay-helper awoke in time to cause him to take fright and get away by breaking a window before effecting his theft, but leaving his boots behind. These Father Dolling grasped in triumph and kept for some time, trying to rival Sherlock Holmes in detection of crime. Ultimately he did discover the youth, but refused to prosecute, and succeeded in turning him into a steady member of society. On another occasion a great service of reparation was held for the supposed theft of the sacramental vessels, when the real culprit returned in the form of one of the clergy officiating for Dolling, who had in the latter's absence, fearing the predatory tendencies of some of the flock, removed the vessels to what he considered to be a place of greater security elsewhere than any in the mission.

We learn the following story from a friend of Father Dolling's. It belongs to this period of his life, though not directly relating to S. Martin's Mission. A fraudulent person whom Brother Bob had befriended personated him, and so obtained a loan from a London money-lender. Not long after Dolling had occasion to expostulate with the same money-lender as to his dealings with a public-school boy. The money-lender replied, 'It is pretty cool of j'ou to take this high tone with me when you owe me three hundred pounds.' Dolling wrote back: 'I always knew you were the greatest rascal in London, but I didn't think you would have accused me of owing you three hundred pounds.'

On receiving this the money-lender took a hansom and drove to the Magdalen Mission, Maidman Street. On seeing Dolling, he said at once, 'You're not the man.' Dolling replied, 'No; but you may pick him out from this heap of photographs; I have a good many disreputable friends.' The photograph turned up, and the money-lender accepted Dolling's assurance that he would never get anything from that quarter. But the incident had not terminated, for soon after news came from Dublin that a detective had been making inquiries as to Mr. Dolling's character and solvency, whereupon he wrote to the money-lender and said, 'You have been taking away my character in my own home, and if you don't send me fifty pounds I shall prosecute you for defamation.' The fifty pounds was sent.

Trinity Sunday, 1885, was the date of Dolling's ordination to the priesthood. It took place in S. Paul's Cathedral, that great church from the pulpit of which his voice has from time to time been heard. The mission had been going on splendidly, and all the 'mothers 'of S. Martin's made an expedition with Dolling's sisters to S. Paul's to see their dear friend'fully commissioned as Christ's servant and ambassador.

But one of those extraordinary storm-clouds which were always gathering round Dolling's path as a minister of the Church of England, and which he certainly took but little trouble to avert, was about to break upon him, and in the process to practically destroy S. Martin's Mission.

His relations with Dr. Temple (the late Primate), then Bishop of London, had been up to this not unsatisfactory on the whole, though the Bishop was not satisfied with him for telling him he could 'not read,' as he had other work to do 'all day from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m.' The missioner of S. Martin's did not come, however, into much direct contact with Bishop Temple, as he was under the Suffragan Bishop (of Bedford), Dr. Walsham How, who had always recognised his peculiar gifts. Bishop How had evidently hoped that it would be possible for him, when ordained priest, to get a sort of permit or license from the Bishop of London which would enable him to be directly under himself (Bishop How), and so not to be licensed, in the ordinary way, to the Vicar of Holy Trinity; and Dolling felt that the work had grown so quickly and so strongly that it could not go on as a sort of precarious annexe of the parish of Holy Trinity, but that it ought to be made into a parish, he being responsible to raise the money to work it. Nor, Dolling believed, would the Vicar have objected, provided certain conditions were arranged in a satisfactory manner to himself and to Holy Trinity Church.

However, Bishop Temple refused to consider the matter, treating the missioner of S. Martin's as if he were simply an ordinary curate, and refusing to recognise anything exceptional in his work or influence. Dolling was handed a license, which he refused to accept, in which he was licensed as an ordinary curate to the Vicar of Holy Trinity. The Bishop of Bedford was unable to obtain any better terms. The result was Dolling's resignation and departure with his sisters.

On July 1,1885, he and his helpers left the Maidman Street House. The work was taken on by Rev. Algernon Tollemache, and afterwards by the Rev. A. Osborne Jay, now Vicar of Holy Trinity, Shoreditch (both of them acting under the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Stepney). At last the house was shut up, and the mission came to an end.

The following is from a leaflet appended to the last of Dolling's reports sent to subscribers to the funds of S. Martin's Mission:

1 POSTSCRIPT.--A lady's P.S. is the best part of a letter, but this is a bitter P.S. We are going to leave on July 1st.1

Then follows an explanation of the necessity for the mission being made a permanent parish.

' However, the whole matter has been laid--I know both tenderly and lovingly, for it has been done by the Bishop of Bedford--before the Bishop of London, and he refuses even for a moment to entertain the idea.

' Very likely you might know of some place where such work as ours is needed. I and my four workers are ready to go to any place where the present parochial system does not adequately provide for the people.

'You would think that, after all the appeals we read, there were such places in East London, but the Bishop of Bedford tells me there are not.

'Knowing the state of my people when I came, their temporal and spiritual destitution, and that the streets that we wish for are pretty much in the same state, truly the present parochial system seems to be the obstacle in the way of preaching the Gospel to the poor.'

No doubt there was something to be said on the other side; no doubt there were difficulties of a serious kind as to creating one of the districts of Holy Trinity, Stepney, into a new parish.

But the mistake made was the total lack of insight involved in refusing to see in Dolling's capacities and his actual work at S. Martin's a special opportunity for the Church of England in East London.

It was on the altar of red-tape that his work at S. Martin's Mission, with splendid capacities and opportunities, was sacrificed. Dolling could be no doubt on occasion very difficult, but this was only because of his own indomitable zeal, and he need not have been so had he been met by the recognition, by authority, of the case of S. Martin's as an exceptional opportunity, as it actually was. True statesmanship takes account of, and uses exceptions, exceptional men, exceptional circumstances. So felt Pope Innocent III. when he gave his sanction to the otherwise irregular proceedings of the deacon Francis of Assisi. But such risks of statesmanship, justified by results, could perhaps scarcely have been expected under the conditions usual in the Church of England, in spite of Bishop How's heartfelt desire to bring together the Church and the people of the East End.

At any rate, Dolling's departure was a genuine cause of regret to the Bishop of Bedford, who felt for him a sincere affection, and who perceived in him a force beyond the ordinary. The Bishop wrote the following sonnet in his honour.

It was published among some other sonnets of his called 'My Clergy':

'At morn he fed his soul with angels' food,
Holding with Heaven high mystic communing,
That from the mount some radiance he might bring
Down to the weary earth-bound multitude.
At night among the restless throng he stood,
Sharer of all their mirth and revels gay,
Yet holding over all a watchful sway,
And tempering every rude ungracious mood.
Not in cheap words he owned mankind his kin;
For them his life, his all, he yearned to spend,
That he their love and trust might wholly win,
And all their rough ways to his moulding bend,
Shielding them from the unholy grasp of sin,
And owned by them a brother and a friend.'

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