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

By William Crouch

London: Methuen, [1904]

Chapter VIII. The Result of the Riots at St. George's

THE Bishop of London said in the House of Lords on February 8th, i860: "I have no hesitation in saying that if both parties had been willing to place the matter in my hands I could have settled it without difficulty." The Bishop's actions must be taken as showing how he would have sought to accomplish his task. He persuaded or bullied Mr. King into giving up a considerable part of what the mob and the vestry objected to, and subsequent events show that their demands would have been still further complied with, if Mr. King had placed the matter in the hands of the Bishop. It is an easy thing to put an immediate end to a dispute, if you can persuade one party to yield to all the demands of the other, regardless of the justice of the case; but even this method of mediation does not produce a lasting settlement, as will be proved in this chapter from the testimony of Mr. King's successor. The Bishop was soon to have the opportunity of fulfilling [113/114] his boast, and the result shall be told in the words of Bishop Piers Claughton, then Archdeacon of London. In a letter to Mr. King, written when Dr. Tait had his own way at St. George's, he says: "I preached at your old church the other day. They have made it a solitude and called it Peace"

The way in which this came about was thus. Left to the mercy of the mob by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, Mr. King's health eventually utterly broke down. A proposition was made to him in May, 1860, that he should leave his parish for twelve months on a licence of non-residence, which the Bishop was ready to grant, and that he should leave his church and parish in the Bishop's hands for that period. This was naturally declined; but in June Dean Stanley and Mr. Thomas Hughes proposed that their friend Mr. Hansard, afterwards Rector of St. Matthew's, Bethnal Green, should be put in charge of the parish, they guaranteeing to provide his stipend, and the Bishop being willing to license him. Mr. King at first refused on the ground that the Bishop would probably demand further alterations in the service. But at last an agreement was come to by which Mr. Hansard bound himself to make no alterations without the consent of the Rector, who then left the parish in his charge at the end of July. It was only by starting from the Rectory at an unexpectedly early hour that Mr. King avoided the unwelcome accompaniment of a [114/115] brass band which his opponents had hired to conduct him to the station.

The absence of the Rector, however, did not produce peace. The riotous interruption of the services continued, and on September 27th the vestry passed a resolution making in effect further demands for the Bishop's interference with the services. On October 1st the Bishop replied that, if the vestry would secure decent behaviour in the church for a few Sundays, he would see what he could do for them. It was immediately shown that the members of the vestry were the instigators of the rioters, inasmuch as for a few Sundays the services were conducted without interruption. On November 14th the Bishop wrote to Mr. King:--

"I this day received in Mr. Hansard's presence a numerous and influential body representing very fairly (as I was assured on all hands) the Parishioners and Congregation. These gentlemen were unanimously of opinion that the Parish very earnestly desires and petitions for a change of the service in the following points--that the Psalms of the day may henceforward be read instead of chanted; that the choristers may not henceforward appear in surplices; that the Hymnal introduced by you may be discontinued; that the Sermon may not be preached in the Surplice; that the Communion Table may be assimilated to the usual appearance of other Communion Tables in the great body of parish Churches in the Diocese. I have always felt with you that, while disturbances continued in the Parish Church, disgraceful to the parish and highly detrimental to the whole Church, there was a great difficulty in meeting the [115/116] wishes of the Parishioners, after a course opposed to their wishes had once been adopted. [Mr. King remarked afterwards to the Bishop that this was an astounding comment upon the entire course of his own proceedings.] I am decidedly of opinion that the time has come for a graceful concession. I should be very sorry indeed if the matters were not settled by you, and were thus left to the exercise of my Episcopal authority. I should never wish to press this authority if it can be avoided."

In a paper of minutes of proceedings accompanying the letter, the Bishop gave the names of the members of the "numerous and influential body" with which he had consulted, and informed Mr. King that they had only guaranteed to keep order in the church until November 25th.

It is difficult to see any difference between yielding to the threat that the riots would be recommenced if the demands of the vestry were not conceded, and yielding to those demands while the riots were going on; but the Bishop seems to have persuaded himself that there was some difference.

In regard to the gentlemen whom the Bishop consulted, Mr. King, in a published letter to the Bishop of later date, said:--

"Of the sixteen gentlemen whose names you gave me, a great proportion, if not the great majority, were vestrymen. I only recognised one who had ever been a member of the congregation of the parish church, and he (as he afterwards informed me) had protested against the whole proceedings; of the rest, against one of them proceedings had been [116/117] attempted in the Consistory Court for brawling, but he had been screened from prosecution by your Chancellor, . . . whilst another of them had occasionally acted as the Chairman of the Anti-Puseyite League in my parish, and had otherwise made himself prominent amongst the rioters."

Mr. King had already given another proof of his conciliatory disposition, for before he received this communication from the Bishop, having been informed that several respectable parishioners had begun to attend the church who had not previously been members of the congregation, he had expressed to Mr. Hansard his willingness to consult the feelings of a bona fide congregation in respect to the manner of conducting the services on points not involving questions of principle. He had also requested his friends, the Rectors of Stepney, Poplar, Wapping, and Shadwell, to communicate with Mr. Hansard and learn the real feelings of the congregation, with a view to advising him as to what the circumstances of that particular time required. No one of those incumbents could possibly be called extreme; so that the genuineness of Mr. King's readiness to accept anything reasonable in the way of conciliation cannot be disputed by any reasonable person.

Without waiting for the result of these negotiations, however, the Bishop on November 22nd took upon himself to entirely supersede the Rector and his wishes, and issued a fresh batch of illegal monitions, requiring the abolition and demolition of [117/118] everything that had been demanded. Mr. King learned this on Saturday, November 24th, from Mr. Hansard, who at the same time informed him that he had consequently resigned his charge of the parish, and that the Bishop's chaplain proposed to take the services on the 25th.

Mr. King was informed that Mr. Hansard was willing to resume charge of the parish, if requested by him to do so, under the altered circumstances which made his former agreement impossible to be observed, and accordingly requested him to do so, only stipulating that the prayer for the Church Militant, which had been omitted by the Bishop's chaplain, should be said at the morning service, when there was no celebration of Holy Communion, if any part of the Communion service was said, which had been the continuous practice at the church since 1842. In utter defiance of the Rubric the Bishop gave Mr. Hansard a positive direction not to say the prayer for the Church Militant when there was no celebration of Holy Communion. Accordingly Mr. King, being quite unable, owing to a complete breakdown of his health, to return to St. George's, and finding that the Bishop entirely disregarded his authority as parish priest, refused to have anything to do with the appointment of another curate-in-charge, and left the Bishop to do as he pleased. Thus was at length brought about that state of things so briefly and pertinently summed up by [118/119] Bishop Claughton. The riots were ended,--but at what a cost!

A few months after Mr. King had left the parish the Bishop was confirming at Poplar Parish Church, and, after making inquiries of its Rector, Rev. T. T. Bazeley, as to the state of Mr. King's health, said that he hoped that Mr. King did not think that he bore him any ill-will. Mr. Bazeley's reply was: "I am sure that my friend King is incapable of any such suspicion; although I know that he considers that you sacrificed him to a godless mob." Mr. Bazeley's character and reputation in the diocese were so highly regarded that, even if he had wished, the Bishop could not show any resentment at this outspoken statement; and eventually he acted upon a suggestion of Mr. Bazeley's made some two years later to the effect that, in the event of Mr. King's return to his parish, he would feel bound to vindicate his rights as Rector, that fresh outrages would probably occur, and that it was therefore desirable for the Bishop to provide another sphere of work for him, either by an exchange of livings or otherwise.

In 1863 the Rev. T. W. Nowell, Rector of Poplar, and Mr. J. B. Knight, one of Mr. King's staunchest supporters, unaware of the previous representation of Mr. Bazeley to the same effect, went to the Bishop, and informed him that Mr. King's health was sufficiently recovered to permit him to resume work, and that the Bishop must expect him to refuse any [119/120] further extension of his licence of non-residence, and to return to his parish.

The Bishop urged them to use their influence with Mr. King to persuade him not to return to St. George's until he should have tried to procure him another parish. Soon afterwards the Bishop effected an exchange of livings between Mr. King and the Rev. J. L. Ross, an old college friend of Dr. Tait's, Vicar of Avebury, Wilts, a living in the Diocese of Salisbury, then in the patronage of the Lord Chancellor.

To show the injustice of the accusation that it was Mr. King's unreasonableness which led to the difficulties at St. George's, and the vanity of Dr. Tait's boast that he could remove all difficulties, it is only necessary to give extracts from a letter to the Standard, dated September 2nd, 1872, written by Mr. Ross, who was chosen and sent by the Bishop himself to St. George's to carry out the Bishop's own scheme for the pacification of the parishioners.

After dealing with his difficulties with the vestry about the payment of the organist's salary and other necessary expenses, he says:--

"The Vestry, who are principally Dissenters, have opposed all the Rector's efforts to resuscitate the parish and improve the social and religious interests of the people, and upwards of a year since they appointed as senior and acting churchwarden a Dissenter who, with his colleague, never previous to or since their appointment have attended [120/121] Divine service, much less the Holy Communion, which is celebrated every Sunday in accordance with the time-honoured custom of this church. . . .

"And it must be added with shame and regret that, though there has been, and can be, no possible charge of Ritualism on my part, such as was made the foundation of the former riots in this parish, I have received several communications acquainting me that several influential members of the parish have been using every means in their power to withdraw the usual respectable congregation and choir from renting pews (which is the practice here and in many other churches) or attending Divine service in the parish church. . . .

"Such, sir, is a brief narration of the condition of St. George's-in-the-East, which, as an influential inhabitant stated a short time since, has been distinguished from all other London and other parishes for nearly a century by its normal and persistent opposition to all the rectors. The preponderance of Dissent is probably the cause of its past and present disorders and opposition to the Church. After so many years of labour, anxiety, and exile in this parish, it is sad and discouraging to have failed in, I now confess, my too ambitious and sanguine expectation of ameliorating and restoring this parish to an equal and respectable rank among the great parish or mother churches of London. As this is my first, so it will be also my last, public allusion to either the condition of St. George's or its recent proceedings, which have been only too partially referred to by your correspondent this morning. I feel, however, that I have spared no means or efforts in my power, during my lengthened incumbency, to discharge the solemn promises and vows which I took on my institution to this arduous and (as it unhappily turns out) thankless charge."

[122] To this may be added the following extract from a letter written to Mr. King by Mr. Ross in the same year:--

"The church is entirely cleaned and painted; the pews altered in position and cut down, and varnished the original colour, oak; the old reading-desk is gone, and the pulpit, completely purified and beautified, has been transferred to the south side against the pillar near the robing vestry door; choir seats and clergy stalls have been erected; there are about ten choirmen and choirmaster, and as many trained boys, and the Sunday morning and evening services (not the afternoon) are choral, and perhaps as well, if not better, done than in many cathedrals. It has cost a good deal of funds, but more trouble and opposition, and the Architect and I have been left to pay the debt of £130! The Vestry are, as of old, up in arms, and last Easter appointed a Dissenter and manager of the large Wesleyan Chapel as Senior Warden, and his colleague is almost worse than himself. They presented me to the Bishop lately, but had no other charge than that I had not given them an account of the Sunday weekly offertories, which I stated were prepared annually at Avebury and St. George's, and were duly presented to the Bishop. Since their defeat (a deputation of five attended at London House) they have stopped the Church Bells on Sundays and week days, but as the Bishop is too busied to move, I take no notice of these proceedings beyond informing him that when he finds me another and more eligible position I am quite ready to resign; (the Vestry had requested the Bishop to remove me, which he begged to decline!); and so the Parish of St. George's and its affairs rest for the present, which I treat with perfect indifference and pursue steadily, as long as I am here, my own course. They are unable to find any [122/123] charge against me or my doings, and I presume are sorry that they cannot charge me with Ritualism or ritualising tendencies. This is, as I have found shortly after my appointment, one of the worst parishes in England, and the people are most base, ungrateful, impracticable, and irreclaimable. I am sorry I can give you no better an account of your former flock, who seem to oppose all ecclesiastical authority."

It is not within the scope of this book to give the history of St. George's-in-the-East further than it is connected with that of Bryan King; but, as the result of that movement in which he took a leading part, it seems right to mention two facts that came within his own personal observation, and which he used to mention as striking instances of the reaction that resulted from the riots. In the very church where the chanting of the psalms and canticles was so bitterly opposed by the mob that they endeavoured persistently to howl it down, not many years had passed when the services on festal occasions were accompanied by a full band. Still more remarkable, in the same church, when Mr. King had been consulted as to the form of a memorial to an old friend and parishioner, Mr. John Knight, and had suggested a series of sacred symbols in mosaics in the large panels of the walls of the apse, not, however, venturing to suggest anything so extreme as a cross for the central panel above the altar, the members of the vestry were dissatisfied, and expressed a wish to [123/124] have figures in the panels, and eventually a faculty was obtained, at the unanimous request of the vestry, for the erection of a life-sized Crucifixion in mosaics in the most prominent position in the church.

He who sometimes permits the enemy to break down the carved work with axes and hammers forgets not the congregation of the poor for ever, but arises and maintains His own cause. (Psalm lxxiv. 7, 20, 22.)

The following letter written to Mr. King's brother-in-law, Harvey Goodwin, then Dean of Ely, needs no comment. It does credit no less to the writer than to Mr. King:--

"Christ Church Parsonage,
"Rotherhithe, S.E.

"December 22, '62.

"Very Rev. and dear Sir,

"I believe you were present at St. George's-in-the-East on the morning of Michaelmas Day, 1861, when the service was conducted and the sermon preached by myself. I have no doubt that you were pained and grieved by many of the expressions and statements I then made use of in my sermon.

"I now write to you to express my deep regret for having uttered many of the said things, more especially those which condemned, or appeared to condemn, the conduct and motives of the Rector of the Parish. I have since been led to see that much (I do not say all) of what I then spoke against is the truth and power of God.

"Will you pardon me if I request that--should you have mentioned to Mr. King what then happened--you will also [124/125] lay before him this my retractation and apology? I ought in justice to myself to add that (1) I write this not at anyone's request or even suggestion, but of my own mere will, (2) I by no means say that I ex animo assent and consent to all that was done during and before the time of the riots by the Rector and clergy of the parish, but I do feel the respect for what I now believe to have been their integrity and singleness of heart, and I very much regret my ever having been guilty of so ungentlemanly an act (to say the least) of opposition to a clergyman in his own church.

"I remain, dear sir, with much respect,

"Your faithful servant,

"John Hammond."

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