Project Canterbury

Bryan King and the Riots at St. George's-in-the-East

By William Crouch

London: Methuen, [1904]

Chapter V. The Riots

AS might be expected by all who have studied the history of the Church at any period of renewed vitality, the success of the patient and persevering efforts of the Rector, so far as it went, and the new departure in the battle against the powers of evil involved in the opening of the St. George's Mission, only provoked a keener and fiercer antagonism on the part of those who made a profit of ungodliness; and this brings us to that part of Bryan King's history which is of the widest public interest--the abominable riots which gave such unenviable notoriety to the parish of St. George's-in-the-East.

The immediate occasion of the outbreak of riotous behaviour was the appointment of the Rev. Hugh Allen as lecturer in the parish church of St. George's, for which a full share of responsibility rests with Dr. Tait, then Bishop of London. The election of lecturer lay with the vestry of the parish elected by the inhabitants of the whole civil parish, containing then a population of about 50,000, under the Metropolis Local Management Act, the main duties of the [45/46] vestry at that time consisting in providing for the paving, lighting, sewering, etc., of the parish, there being nothing to prevent all the members of the vestry from being dissenters, Jews, or atheists. On a vacancy in the office of lecturer occurring in December, 1858, the Rev. Hugh Allen, from the neighbouring parish of Whitechapel, was nominated. Mr. Allen was conspicuous amongst the clergy of that part of London for his violent and extravagant Protestantism. In that very month he took part at a public meeting of the friends of Mr. C. H. Spurgeon, and there advocated the contribution of funds for the building of Mr. Spurgeon's tabernacle. He had lately been elected as lecturer of the neighbouring parish church of Stepney, but the Rector of that church had successfully prevented his entrance upon the office by the interposition of his veto against his being licensed by the Bishop. The election was conducted on the usual lines of elections to secular offices. Inflammatory placards were circulated in the parish exhorting the parishioners to vindicate their Protestantism by procuring the election of Mr. Allen; scurrilous abuse was heaped on the Rector; and on the 31st of March, 1859, Mr. Allen was elected to the office of lecturer. Then came the opportunity for the Bishop to show some sense of fairness by treating the Rector and congregation of St. George's as he had treated them at Stepney, and refusing the license. Needless to say, as the Rector of St. George's [46/47] was branded as a Ritualist, that opportunity was lost. In vain the Rector exercised his presumed right of veto, pointing out the mischief that would result from Mr. Allen's violent antagonism to the whole system of worship and teaching carried on in the Church. In vain he sent to the Bishop a second protest on the ground of Mr. Allen's promotion of schism in the case of Mr. Spurgeon. In vain he requested the Bishop to investigate the scandal alleged to have been caused by the circumstances under which Mr. Allen had resigned his lectureship at St. Luke's, Old Street, about four years previously. Without any further communication with the Rector, whose last protest was sent to the Bishop on May 14th, Mr. Allen was licensed on May 17th. We hear sometimes now of sufficiently high-handed refusal by bishops to license men of unexceptionable character; but even the refusal by a bishop to license or ordain a deacon who would not pledge himself, in the remote contingency of his becoming an incumbent, to comply with any and every possible "opinion" of any possible Archbishop of Canterbury, scarcely exceeds in wrong-headed despotism Dr. Tait's mischievous action in forcing Mr. Allen upon the congregation of St. George's.

The Act under which the lecturer was appointed enjoined that "the lecturer should be admitted by the rector to have the use of the pulpit from time to time." But Mr. Allen assumed the right of using [47/48] the pulpit at any time he pleased. The Rector was absent from home when Mr. Allen was licensed; and on Sunday, May 22nd, the new lecturer entered the church about 3.40 p.m., needless to say without the consent of the Rector, and amidst shouts of "Bravo, Allen!" from a large mob of strangers to the church who accompanied him, against the protest of the curate-in-charge, insisted on saying the Litany and preaching, thus interfering with and superseding the ordinary parochial service of Litany and catechising at 4 p.m. This was the occasion of the first disturbance and uproar in the church. When Mr. Allen went into the pulpit and triumphantly brandished the Bishop's license in his hand, he was greeted with repeated shouts of applause. On being informed of this, and requested to prevent the repetition of such unseemly behaviour, the Bishop "earnestly recommended" Mr. Allen not to attempt to officiate again in St. George's until his and the Rector's rights should be settled, either in a court of law or otherwise. Mr. Allen complied with this recommendation; but his adherents, having seen the churchwardens openly abetting Mr. Allen, had learned that they could commit outrages in the church with impunity. On the following Sunday afternoon, on account of the threatening aspect of the crowd in the precincts of the church, no attempt was made to conduct the usual service; but on Sunday, June 5th, as soon as the church was opened for the usual Litany [48/49] service, it was filled with a mob of people, who hooted the clergy and choir as they entered the church, and persisted in their violent clamour, so that it was quite impossible to conduct the service, and the clergy and choir were with difficulty got out of the church with the assistance of the police. On the same day at the evening service the church was again the scene of disgraceful outrage. The incumbents of several of the neighbouring parishes and other clergy, unsolicited by the Rector, were present to give him the moral support of their presence; but at the end of the service it was with difficulty that Mr. King was rescued by them and by several policemen from the attack of the mob.

In consequence of these profane outrages, and of the refusal of the Chief Commissioner of Police, at the instance of the churchwardens, to allow the police to keep order, or to protect the clergy and choir in the church, the Rector felt compelled partially to close the church on the two following Sundays.

In the meantime the vestry had applied to the Court of Queen's Bench for a mandamus to compel Mr. King to admit Mr. Allen into the pulpit of St. George's Church. The case was argued on June 16th, when the Court decided that the act of Mr. Allen on May 22nd was an unlawful intrusion, and that he had no right to preach at any time when the Rector chose to do so, suggesting that he should be allowed to hold a service on Sunday [49/50] afternoons after the conclusion of the Rector's usual service.

In accordance with this suggestion the Rector, in a conference with Mr. Allen's solicitor, offered him the use of the church for such a service at 5 p.m.; but upon it being urged that this was an inconvenient hour for Mr. Allen and his congregation, the Rector consented to allow Mr. Allen's service to precede his own, and to commence at 2.15 p.m., thereby making a greater concession than was suggested by the Court. Under this arrangement Mr. Allen held his first service on Sunday, June 29th, and showed his appreciation of the concession made to him by reflecting severely on the character of the services held in the church. As reported in the East London Observer, "the preacher did not forget that he stood in the pulpit of a Puseyite rector, and was appointed in antagonism to him. He found occasion, therefore, to dwell repeatedly, and in a marked manner, on disputed doctrines, and pomp and ceremony, troupes of choristers, and ritualism, as being opposed to the everlasting Gospel." This appeal was responded to by some two or three hundred of Mr. Allen's congregation remaining in the church after his service was concluded, and taking possession of the choir stalls, to prevent the Rector conducting his service, which he was unable to do. On the following Sunday this was repeated, upon which the Rector warned Mr. Allen's solicitor that, if his [50/51] service was molested in future, he should act upon the strict letter of the suggestion of the Court of Queen's Bench, and only allow Mr. Allen's service to be held after his own. Accordingly on the following Sunday Mr. Allen's followers were persuaded by himself and the churchwarden to leave the church at the close of his service, and for several Sundays the Rector was permitted to conduct his afternoon service in comparative freedom from disturbance.

But again members of Mr. Allen's congregation began to attend the Rector's service for the purpose of disturbing it, and on August 14th they took possession of the choir stalls, and interrupted the singing of the Litany with hisses and shouts, until in the middle of the service the officiating clergyman fell down in a fit, and was carried, apparently lifeless, out of the church amidst the laughter, shouts, and execrations of the profane crowd, some of whom called out "It is a judgment of God against him--now down with Bryan King!" etc.

After the service there was a cry raised by some cowardly miscreants: "Let us attack the choir boys." The boys had taken refuge in the baptistry, and some of the Rector's friends had placed themselves outside the baptistry door to defend them. In defending their position one of these latter struck one of the ringleaders of the mob on the hat with his umbrella, and the rioter returned the blow. The churchwardens prosecuted the man who was [51/52] defending the choir boys and defended the rioter against the charge of assault which was brought against him, and the vestry subsequently paid the expenses both of the prosecution of the Rector's friend and of the defence of the rioter.

It is no wonder that under the harassing trials to which they had been exposed the health of both Mr. King and his assistant curate gave way, and they were compelled to go away for rest, the conduct of the services devolving on the clergy of St. George's Mission, who never failed the Rector in his time of need, and upon such other clergy as came forward to help him in his extremity. The riots continued unabated. Sometimes one of the Sunday services had to be suspended altogether. The churchwardens, even when present in the church, never gave a single offender into custody, however ruffianly may have been the outrages committed, until on Sunday, September 18th, the Rev. A. H. Mackonochie, who had entered the church to say the Litany, was assaulted by the mob in the presence of one of the churchwardens, and was with difficulty rescued from their violence by the aid of five policemen.

It may be asked by those not experienced in Protestant riots what the police were doing all this time to permit such scandalous outrages. Churchmen pay rates and taxes just as Protestants do, and have an equal right to that police protection which they pay for as well as others. The worst kind of [52/53] murderer is protected by the police from being lynched by the mob, but the mob can do as it pleases in a so-called ritualistic church, unless the congregation take the law into their own hands, and defend themselves, their clergy, and their altars. It certainly was a disgrace to the police, and to the government of the day that the riots were allowed to go on so long unchecked. Even if Mr. King had been breaking the law of the land, it was the business of the officers of the law, whilst punishing him according to forms of law, to protect him from mob violence, as the worst criminals are protected. But on the only point on which a legal decision had been obtained, that is, the relations of Mr. King and the lecturer, whose appointment and subsequent behaviour were the immediate occasion of the riots, Mr. King had not only been declared by the Court of Queen's Bench to have the law on his side, but had actually gone beyond the suggestion of the Court in the way of conciliation. Various excuses were made by the authorities for not promptly and vigorously suppressing the disturbances. At first it was urged that the police could not be lawfully employed to keep order in the church. Then when they were subsequently allowed to do so, and their employment in this way was gradually becoming effectual, they were suddenly removed all at once, in spite of Mr. King's urgent request that they might be withdrawn gradually, the consequence, of course, being that the good [53/54] they had done was nullified, and the riots became as bad as ever. The Chief Commissioner of Police even took it upon himself to inform the Rector that he had reason to believe that "an alteration in some matters of merely ceremonial observances would allay the lamentable excitement." This was written more than a month after Mr. King had informed the Home Secretary that he had received the following communication, which was only one of many of a like nature, from one of his anonymous opponents: "Shut up the church, except for the afternoon service of H. Allen, or else quit the rectorship in toto; only look at the angry multitude who were ready last night bent upon any mischief or assault possible, ay, and next Sunday will double it. People from all parts of the country will come now that the church is open. We will never, never rest until St. George's-in-the-East is stripped of all drapery, crosses, candles, choristers, intoning, preaching in the surplice, or any one thing tending to Popery and Puseyism. You shall either abide the disturbance, which will increase tenfold, or shut up the church; next Sabbath will be a sample." This is only a specimen of the threats which were constantly made, not only in anonymous letters, but at meetings of the Anti-Puseyite League and the National Protestant Society, and by the rioters in and about the church, and the Chief Commissioner of Police had reason to believe that concessions in what he was pleased to call merely [54/55] ceremonial observances would satisfy these ungodly ruffians, whose instigators, the proprietors of public-houses and houses of ill-fame, foresaw, as subsequent history has proved, that the faithful preaching of righteousness made their craft to be in danger.

Appeals to the Home Secretary had no more effect than those to the Chief Commissioner of Police. The Secretary of State, ultimately responsible for the protection of the persons of all subjects, could see "no sufficient reason" to comply with Mr. King's request that the police might be gradually withdrawn from duty in the church, in the fact urged by the Rector that, on the Sunday immediately after the withdrawal of the police, Mr. Allen was to preach for the last time in St. George's, a certain occasion of excitement and disturbance, his services to the Protestant cause having been recognised by a partisan Government in his presentation to the important and valuable rectory of St. George's, Southwark.

In a letter to the Chief Commissioner of Police, complaining of the insults and assaults to which the clergy and members of the regular congregation were exposed, not only in the church, where it was at first pretended that the police had no legal authority, but in the public streets, where it never was suggested that there were any doubts as to their rights and duties, Mr. Mackonochie stated that he always found the police "quite ready to act up to their instructions [55/56] in preserving order." This shows convincingly that it was the fault of those in authority that the riots were permitted to continue, and there is too much reason to believe, as one may gather from the "Correspondence relative to Disturbances in the Parish of Saint George's-in-the-East," ordered to be printed by the House of Commons on the motion of Mr. Lygon, afterwards Lord Beauchamp, on February 8th, 1860, that the reiterated refusals of the authorities to sanction the effectual interference of the police to quell the disturbances, only modified as the session of Parliament approached, were the deliberate result of a spirit of partisanship hostile to the Rector. Letters included in the correspondence from a Mr. Motion, who described himself as "not of the Rector's principles altogether," claiming from the authorities protection for himself and his fellow-parishioners, and begging the Chief Commissioner to discard from his mind the question whether it was High Church or Low Church, as well as the letters of the authorities themselves, seem to substantiate this view.

When it was pointed out to the Chief Commissioner by the Rector in August, 1859, that an Act of Parliament (1 Mary II. 3) empowered and directed constables to apprehend persons guilty of riotous behaviour in the Church, the Chief Commissioner cynically pointed out that the Act also empowered any other persons to apprehend such [56/57] offenders, and suggested that the Rector should himself cause any offending party to be apprehended without the interference of the police, knowing, as he must, the impracticability of the suggestion. These letters were not included in what claimed to be a "Copy of all Correspondence that had taken place between the Clergy, Churchwardens, and Inhabitants of St. George's-in-the-East, with the Home Office and the Police Authorities, relative to the Disturbances in the Parish Church," ordered to be printed on February 8th, 1860, and were only supplied on a special order being made for them on the motion of Mr. Lygon on February 29th.

A most extraordinary inability to see the common justice of the case, to put it in the mildest terms, characterised the action of the police magistrates, when charges arising out of the disturbances were brought before them. An extract from a letter of Mr. King to the Bishop of London will clearly show this.

"Though many of these unhappy rioters have been tried before the magistrates for their offences, upon not one has any penalty been inflicted; at least, the only penalty inflicted has consisted in two of such offenders having been called upon to sign their names to an engagement undertaking not to disturb divine service in the future. So that, as I am informed, the expression is now commonly used at meetings of the 'Anti-Puseyite League,' in reference to any pending prosecution, 'Oh, the magistrate dare not convict.'

"But now, mark the contrast of the apparent leniency [57/58] towards one side with the course which has been pursued towards the other.

"It is certainly not generally understood that the clergy of the parish have been the only offenders in all these months of riots; but it is not a little remarkable that, in fact, the clergy, together with one of their friends, have been the only parties upon whom any penalty has been inflicted by the magistrate.

"The Rev. C. F. Lowder was fined 2s. (December 8th, 1859) for an alleged assault upon a person whom he prevented from forcing his way into the church through the door which led through the vestry. The Rev. T. D. Dove was induced by the magistrate (March 8th) to pay 405. expenses on the withdrawal of a summons for an alleged assault in preventing another person from entering the church through the same door. On the same day a gentleman was fined 60 s. for an alleged assault in vainly attempting to remove a trespasser from the church at my direction; whilst on the same occasion I was myself convicted for an alleged assault, and fined with the sum of 5s.

"And now upon the circumstances of this last conviction I would venture to make a few remarks. I was summoned by three separate complainants for having assaulted them in endeavouring to remove them from the church on the afternoon of Sunday, March 4th.

"Now, as I do not know that I had ever yet been accused of uttering even an angry word in return for all the abuse and contumely and violence to which I had been subjected for the last ten months, it is perhaps scarcely necessary that I should here most emphatically declare that I never so much as touched any one of those complainants, save that, on my addressing any one of them with the request that he would leave the church, inasmuch as he was [58/59] committing a trespass, and on his pretending not to hear me, I laid my hand gently on his shoulder merely to call his attention to my repeating my request. If he then persisted in remaining, or if he refused to leave, I then requested some of my friends to remove him.

"The first case then was gone into at the Thames Police Court on March 8th, the witnesses on both sides were examined, and the case was dismissed. Upon this, the solicitor employed by the complainants said that as this was his strongest case, and as he had now no expectation of gaining a conviction upon the others, he should withdraw from prosecuting them; but now the second complainant insisted upon prosecuting his own case; he was rebuked by the magistrate for his offensive conduct in the witness-box, and his case was also dismissed. Upon this, the third complainant failed to appear, another case was called on, and it was, of course, assumed by myself and by all interested that the third prosecution had been withdrawn. My counsel, my solicitor, and my witnesses all left the court, I myself by a mere accident remaining; but after the termination of the last case here alluded to, the third complainant against myself appeared in the witness-box in order to prosecute his complaint, and I may here state that I was never so amazed and really appalled as when I saw a police sergeant (whom I had sent for into the church, and of whose conduct there on March 4th I had been obliged to complain to the Home Secretary in my letter of March 6th) distinctly swear that he saw me commit a most ruffianly assault upon this complainant in the church. He was, indeed, rebuked by the magistrate for the palpable exaggerations of his statement, but he was followed by two or three constables, who dutifully supported their sergeant with very much the same story. Then on the magistrate beginning to adjudicate [59/60] upon the case, I appealed for an adjournment on the ground that my witnesses had left the court under the conviction that the summons had been withdrawn. On the magistrate asking whether I could produce the gentleman who actually did remove the complainant from the church, I replied: 'Yes, M-----, for instance, was one of them; he had been waiting here the whole day, but has now left the court'; when the magistrate replied, 'Oh, Mr. M-----is a personal friend of my own; I don't think that my view of the case would be affected by any additional evidence'; and then decided the case on the very original application of the avowed principle of 'giving a triumph to neither party' by fining me with the sum of 5s. for the assault.

"Now I do not wish to accuse the magistrate in question of committing the slightest act of conscious injustice. On the contrary, I believe him to be a most high-minded man; but I cannot help fearing that his decisions in this and similar instances may have been unconsciously warped by the strong popular feeling which has been exhibited on one side of these questions."

Most people who read this will be inclined to reflect in somewhat harsher terms on the unfair attitude of the magistrate, but Mr. King always spoke in the gentlest manner possible even of those who most bitterly and violently opposed him, showing far more pity for their ignorance than indignation at their malice.

In regard to the conviction of Rev. C. Lowder, referred to by Mr. King, the only offence that he committed was to prevent a suspected rioter from [60/61] entering the church through the private door of the vestry, by which a certain number of personal friends of the Rector were admitted in order to occupy the choir stalls until the clergy and choir entered the church, and so prevent the mob from getting possession of the choir stalls and excluding the choir from sitting in their proper places. Counsel's opinion was obtained from Dr. Robert Phillimore and Mr. J. D. Coleridge, who agreed in the opinion that the magistrate's decision was incorrect, but the Home Office simply acknowledged the receipt of the Rector's request that the decision might be revised. Unfortunately, the matter was not carried to the Queen's Bench, where it may be hoped that law and justice would have triumphed over prejudice.

To illustrate the difficulty of obtaining justice, the correspondence shows that on the occasion of certain stone-throwing taking place on Sunday, January 15th, when some of the mob accused the Rector's friends of throwing stones from the courtyard of the Rectory, the evidence of some of those who were amongst the mob, together with that of a policeman who avowedly adjourned from the scene of the riot into the adjoining public-house, presumably in the company of rioters, was received more favourably by the police authorities than the written statement of some thirty of the Rector's personal friends, including the following names: R. Rhodes Bristow, G. J. Palmer, [61/62] Henry B. Baker, G. A. Skinner, Robert Linklater, Frederick Stutfield, etc.

The inspector of police on duty at St. George's said that he could have put down the riots in a single day, if he had been allowed to act. But so impossible was it to induce the authorities at the Metropolitan Police Office or the Home Office to take any effectual action to stop the riots, that at last the Rector had to appeal to the Bishop for authority to temporarily close the church, and accordingly on September 25th, 1859, the church was closed by an order from the Bishop of London addressed to the churchwardens.

No one who has not experienced it can understand what it is to face a mob furious with fanatical hatred of the Catholic religion. Some who have experienced it have got through somehow, though terribly frightened. But Bryan King, far from showing the least sign of fear, proved by his calm and dignified bearing that he was absolutely fearless.

Dean Farrar, in his Life of Christ, referring to the vain attempt of the people of Nazareth to cast our Lord headlong from the brow of the hill on which their city was built, says:--

"There is something in defenceless and yet dauntless dignity that calms even the fury of a mob."

And he adds in a footnote:--

"Some of my readers may be aware of an instance in [62/63] which a clergyman still living walked untouched through the midst of a brutal and furious London mob, who had assembled for the express purpose of insulting and assaulting him. It was observed by more than one spectator that if he had wavered for a single instant, or shown the slightest sign of fear and irresolution, he would in all probability have been struck down, and possibly have not escaped with his life."

The writer has failed in his attempts to identify the clergyman referred to by Dr. Farrar, and it seems impossible now to do so; but the description, whether intentionally or not, exactly fits the case of Bryan King. An eye-witness describing what took place one Sunday afternoon in the early part of 1859, says:--

"At the close of the service the Rector left the church for the Rectory, walking down the nave to the west door. He was wearing his college cap and gown, and Mrs. King was leaning on his arm. Directly he got outside the church, the mob, who were swarming on the church steps, in the churchyard, and in front of the Rectory, assailed him with hissing and hooting and (I think) opprobrious names. But the Rector looked calmly at them and walked with head erect and firm step into the Rectory, and no one dared to touch him. Although this happened more than forty years ago, I can still see the scene in my mind's eye--the Rector calm and majestic, Mrs. King leaning on his arm, and the howling and hissing mob struggling around the church steps. If you know the position of the church and Rectory, you will be able to realise the ordeal the [63/64] Rector had to go through before he could reach the shelter of his home."

Another eye-witness says, in reference to the quotation from Dean Farrar:--

"I cannot imagine that the reference can be to anyone else than Bryan King. I went myself to St. George's during the riots occasionally. It was his very characteristic."

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