Project Canterbury

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

By William Crouch

London: Methuen, [1904]

Chapter IX. The Work at St. George's

OWING to the fact that public attention has been concentrated on one aspect of Mr. King's work at St. George's, the opposition which it aroused on the part of the ungodly, and his very natural failure to win his way with a mob opposed to any religion, it has been too hastily assumed that his work was a complete failure. This was very far from being the fact. Although the circumstances of the case militated against any very large, immediate, apparent results of a ministry carried on in the face of such terrible distractions, there were many who were led to make their peace with God in the midst of the surrounding strife. Some proof of the self-denying zeal of those who attended St. George's has been given in the record of their liberal almsgiving in a previous chapter. Other instances may be given here.

The founder and senior partner at that time in the firm of John Knight and Sons, who owned the largest manufactory in the parish, had been brought up a member of the Society of Friends. Having been [126/127] elected overseer some time before Mr. King went to St. George's, he attended the services of the church, as was the custom of the overseers, for whom a special pew was provided. He was so struck with the beauty of the Church prayers that he continued to be a constant attendant, although remaining un-baptised, always stopping on his way into church to give a word of greeting and a small gift of money to a few poor women who attended the church from the workhouse. When, on a visit to the manufactory, Mr. King noticed a number of women and children doing work which he thought could be done more cheaply by machinery, he was told by Mr. Knight that it was generally done by machinery, but as they were all widows and orphans, he was sure that he would lose nothing by employing them. One of the first expressions of sympathy in his trials came to Mr. King from this good old man in a present of a salmon sent to the Rectory "from a sympathising parishioner," the first of many similar acts of kindness. On hearing some time after that the Rector was in need of an infant schoolroom, Mr. Knight built one at his own expense, and on its completion sent the Rector the key. Mr. King had often spoken to him about baptism without effect, until, after he had left St. George's and was living in Bruges, he heard of the serious illness of his old parishioner, and sent him an earnest message, when he was persuaded by his son to receive Holy Baptism, saying immediately [127/128] afterwards that he felt as if he was being washed with blood. That son with his family continued to be amongst Mr. King's staunchest friends and warmest admirers, and was present at the reopening of Avebury Church to share in his satisfaction at its restoration. To win in the first place the respect and sympathy of such a good and upright man, brought up in such a different religious belief, and ultimately to gain his adhesion to the Church in the face of such unpopularity and opposition, is a tribute not only to the attractive power of the Church upon single-minded men when the Catholic faith is plainly set before them, but also to the faithful way in which Mr. King exercised his ministry, which gained for him through all his troubles a band of enthusiastic supporters.

During the troubles at St. George's Mr. King received an anonymous gift of a beautiful silver-gilt chalice and paten with the simple inscription: "Pray for the offerer, a sinner, 17th March, 1860." The chalice was soon afterwards borrowed, and returned to the Rector on Easter Day enriched with very costly jewels, which had been contributed for the purpose by friends and sympathisers. As it became known about this time that Mr. King was suffering pecuniary loss, on account of the riots causing very considerable falling off in the amount received as fees, hampers of provisions and remittances of money were sent to the Rectory by numerous and, for the [128/129] most part, anonymous sympathisers, the gifts of money amounting to no less than £380.

Although there was very real though not abundant immediate fruit of Mr. King's ministry amongst his own congregation, and although a share of the glory of the later successes at St. Peter's, London Docks, must be attributed to him, the influence of the line he took at St. George's was more felt at the time outside that parish, and indeed is felt still throughout the English Church.

One immediate result of what took place at St. George's was that no less than four of the young men engaged in business who used to attend the church to protect the Rector from the violence of the mob were so impressed with the importance of "contending for the faith," which had been so outraged before their eyes, that they gave up their secular occupations, and went, one to Oxford, another to Cambridge, and the other two to King's College, London, to prepare for Holy Orders, which they afterwards received. One of these was the late Rev. W. Pankridge, who did such good work at St. Bartholomew's, Smithfield; another was Canon Richard Rhodes Bristow. In a similar way it was the later riots at St. James', Hatcham, which had the greatest influence in determining the line of Church work of the present secretary of the English Church Union, Mr. H. W. Hill, which ultimately led him to give up a promising business career in order to devote himself to Church work.

[130] Even amongst the rioters themselves there were several who, perhaps having gone to join in the outrages out of sheer idle mischief, were brought to a better mind. Some joined the choirs of neighbouring churches, and others took part in promoting the work of parochial missions, thus helping to set forward the faith which they had once striven to destroy. On the occasion of Mr. King preaching at St. Peter's, London Docks, a few years after he left the parish, he was greeted after the service by several people who told him that they had been his bitterest opponents, and who took leave of him at the church gates with enthusiastic cheers.

Some eighteen months after he had left St. George's Mr. King was staying at Stepney with the Rev. R. Lee, who showed him some recent decorations of the chancel, which surprised Mr. King, because he was aware of the prevalence of dissent in the parish. On being asked how he had been able to accomplish this, Mr. Lee replied, "Through you; because the moment that any opposition was expressed every person of ordinary respectability at once said that we will have no St. George's ruffianism here."

The persecution to which Mr. King was submitted called forth expressions of sympathy from various societies and individuals throughout the country. The usual effect of such persecution manifested itself. Those who understood and sympathised with the beginning of the Catholic revival were of course [130/131] confirmed in their convictions and stirred up to maintain them more earnestly; while many, who had been kept back by ignorance and prejudice from recognising the truth of the principles on which that revival was based, were led to examine and thus to accept those principles.

Among those distinguished no less for holiness of life than for orthodoxy of belief who gave practical expression to their sympathy with the victim of mob violence and episcopal betrayal was the saintly John Keble: the one man who in the early days of the Oxford movement always kept his head, and never said anything that could be misconstrued and used against the cause for which he lived; whose intense single-mindedness made him see clearly his own way in times of greater perplexity, and at the same time prevented his being misunderstood, except by those who deliberately misunderstood and misrepresented him: the one man apparently who, when others were painfully struggling towards or wide of that truth, which has been made so plain to us partly by their mistakes, had a clear conception of the English Church as the Catholic Church in England: the man whose faith in the Church was so intense that, when so many were losing heart and silly resolutions were being passed at meetings of High Churchmen to the effect that the Church of England could not survive this or that act of tyranny on the part of her enemies, or of treachery on the part of her rulers, [131/132] he was able to say that whatever might happen the Church of England would still be found in his parish: the man who loved the Church of England as the Catholic Church in England all the more devotedly because so many were faithlessly leaving her. He not only wrote expressing his sympathy with Mr. King, but, knowing that he had a family of young children, and fearing that the scenes which they had constantly to witness would be injurious to their health, he invited two of the girls to Hursley for a visit of some weeks, insisting on paying all expenses, and, being unable to receive them at the Vicarage on account of Miss Keble lying ill there, he secured for them the kind hospitality of his principal parishioners, Captain and Mrs. Simeon. Keble saw more clearly than Dr. Pusey that the revival of Catholic ceremonial was the natural and necessary consequence of the Tractarian teaching, and had therefore fuller sympathy with those parish priests who thus put into practice the teaching of the Tractarian leaders. When Mr. King told him that Dr. Pusey had written to him in terms of real annoyance because he would not alter the services at the demand of the mob, Keble said with characteristic simplicity, "Oh yes, Pusey is very funny in some things." It is well to remember that Pusey was not a parish priest as Keble was. The schoolmaster or college don is apt to take a purely academical view of ecclesiastical policy which, unproved by experience, is often out of [132/133] harmony with facts. It is on this account to a considerable extent that so many of our bishops, from want of experience of parochial work, have failed so lamentably to understand the needs of the Church.

From all parts of the country and from people of very different theological views, from dissenters as well as Church people, letters of sympathy--individual and collective--were received by Mr. King. The following letter from Dr. Molesworth, who was not in anything like entire sympathy with the Rector of St. George's, is selected out of many that have come into the hands of the writer as typical of the way in which the riots were regarded by honest men who had the courage to say what they thought on the unpopular side, and who did not sacrifice truth and justice to base ideas of ecclesiastical or political expedience.

"Blackpool, Lancashire,
"10th February, i860.

"Rev. and dear Sir,

"I do not uphold all the ritual observances to which (whether truly or falsely) the disgraceful riots in your Church have been publicly attributed. But you have the same rights of judgment as I claim for myself, and if in the exercise of these rights we err, we have no reason to complain if legal or legislative means of correction should be applied to us. But that is no justification for this country being disgraced by brutal outrages, worse than lynch law, as being equally violent, without having the same pleas of necessity from an imperfect or uncivilised state of society.

"Here even the slightest disability, however indirectly touching sectarian or capricious opinions, nay, even the [133/134] open denial of Christianity or all religion, is furiously denounced as persecution. But the same parties practically, if not expressly, maintain the monstrous theory that a clergyman of the Established Church, intending, with great personal sacrifices, to carry out its doctrine and discipline according to his judgment of their spirit, should be delivered over to the outrages of a blasphemous and riotous mob instigated by intolerant bigots. To the eternal disgrace and guilt of our country this theory has been approved by members of the Legislature styling themselves 'Liberals,' has been heard without condemnation and in dastardly silence by others, and has received indirect encouragement from the insinuated satisfaction with which men administering the law and holding high position in the State have palliated the persecutors and sneered at the persecuted.

"You have had to bear, and have bravely borne, this persecution. But more is due to you, and from every man who has a heart to feel for the oppressed and to protest against oppression. Reasonable and civilised men should act according to their sentiments. In supporting you they should do their best to let it be felt that there are yet a remnant who view with indignation the base desertion and bigoted intolerance which uphold rabble outrage and profanation.

"With this view I beg to contribute £10 to your 'Defence Fund,' and will contribute more if required. One of my sons also has handed me £1 for the same object, and writes to you by this post. The two sums, £11, I will direct my Rochdale Bankers to pay into Messrs. Prescott and Co. as the advertisement points out.

"I have the honour to be,

"Rev. and Dear Sir, yours faithfully,

"Vicar of Rochdale.

"You are at liberty to use this note either publickly or privately."

[135] The effect of Mr. King's struggles and sufferings for the faith was more widely felt than it was possible for him at the time to imagine. He himself stated long afterwards that when he attended the services at some of the advanced churches in London, his highest ritual at St. George's seemed to him, when contrasted with what he saw there, as little better than abject Puritanism. All, and more than all, that he fought for, and was so bitterly abused and ill-used for fighting for, is now at least tacitly accepted, and for the most part generally approved in the Church by all but a few ignorant and insignificant fanatics. There is no bishop who would dare attempt to put down any one of the practices for which Bryan King was betrayed to the mob by his Bishop, Dr. Tait.

The sympathy and prayers which supported Mr. King in his time of trial were more than he was aware of. As a suffering member of the body of Christ he was helped by many who were unknown to him in the flesh. One expression of sympathy the writer of this book was able to make known to him many years later. A few years after he had married Mr. King's youngest daughter, his mother having been dead several years, an old friend of his family, then resident in Italy, sent home some letters written by his mother. Amongst them was one written at the time of the riots, in which she spoke of the sadness of the state of things at St. George's, and said that she would so much like to tell poor Mr. King [135/136] how much she sympathised with him. This was a very few years before she died, and it was some thirty years later that her son had the gratification of giving his father-in-law this message of sympathy from one who had long gone to her rest. On receiving the message Mr. King said that he had always felt that the sympathy and prayers of those known and unknown to him had done much to sustain him in his trials.

The faith and patience with which he endured, and the victory won by him and others, ought to encourage all who have in any way to follow in their steps. Our difficulties are inconsiderable compared with theirs. They have made our main position impregnable. It would be well if we had their faith and patience. We certainly need in these days to be on our guard lest, with the abundance of spiritual privileges which we enjoy through the labours and sufferings of those who have gone before us, we be less ready than they were to endure that opposition which the truth must always find set against it.

There is too often, it is to be feared, a false standard of spiritual work, which people are inclined to measure by worldly standards. Immediate apparent results are sought at the sacrifice of principles. Popularity is too frequently the test of methods, and leads to the profanation of holy things, as all kinds of sensational services are substituted for the attraction of the Cross of Christ. The better way is the way of our spiritual [136/137] forefathers, who have won for us all that we now enjoy in the way of spiritual privileges, not by sensation mongering, but by unflinching adherence to principles, at any cost and without any regard to consequences.

Amongst the large number of well-known priests who gave Mr. King the support of their active sympathy may be mentioned the Revs. Arthur Wagner, W. J. E. Bennett, E. Stuart, and T. T. Carter, who wrote not only offering to preach himself but undertaking to get other country clergy to do so, in the hope that such strangers to the parish, who had not been mixed up in its controversies, might be heard without disturbance.

The effect of Mr. King's faithful struggle was felt even outside the Church. Amongst the letters of sympathy which he received were several from dissenters. The following is an extract from a letter of one who had been brought up a dissenter:--

"Now let me say that the persecution you endured was the means under God of confirming me in the faith. I had many struggles, for I was educated a Dissenter, and there are more persons than you think who have become true Catholics from the effects of your persecution."

Mr. King was one of the first members of the Council of the English Church Union, which was formed out of several local unions at the time of the St. George's riots, and mainly as a consequence of those riots.

[138] The weddings at St. George's were very numerous, averaging before the riots about 300 in a year, and, of course, with a seafaring population, out of that number Mr. King had some strange experiences. One woman who came to obtain information about getting a marriage licence could only describe her intended husband as Giles, not knowing his Christian name, as he was a sailor and had only been on shore two days, "so of course she could not know all about him"!

On another occasion a foreigner came to ask if it was the church in which he had been married a year before. His name and that of his supposed wife were found in the Marriage Register, but only as witnesses, the fact being that a casual acquaintance had told him that he would arrange everything for him, as he and his intended wife were strangers in London, and had actually got married at his expense, he and his intended wife being duped into acting as witnesses to the friends' marriage.

The Rector had once to marry a deaf and dumb couple, an interpreter attending to convey to them the terms of the vows, etc., and he was then particularly struck with the remarkable significance of the signs by which the vows of the bride and bridegroom were expressed.

Mr. King has left on record one very important fact bearing upon the statement sometimes made by those who wish to change the law of the Church [138/139] which forbids the union of a man with his deceased wife's sister, to the effect that it is desirable in the interests of the poor. Mr. King was in the habit of making strict inquiries in the case of widowers in regard to the maiden name of the former wife, and in the event of there being any impediment of kindred he of course dismissed the couple with a grave warning. Now out of the several thousand marriages celebrated at St. George's during his incumbency only five couples presented themselves whom he had to reject on this ground, and out of those five couples no fewer than three presented themselves with marriage licences, so that there could not have been more than two of those couples who belonged to the class of the really poor.

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