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

By William Crouch

London: Methuen, [1904]

Chapter XII. Rest

IT was not long after Mr. King had resigned his last charge as Vicar of Avebury before he entered into the rest, which, by zealous discharge of duties and patient endurance of suffering, he had so deservedly gained.

For the last few years of his incumbency he was not only almost totally deaf, but also more and more a confirmed invalid. The keen air of the Wiltshire Downs, which was so bracing to the young and vigorous, and which he delighted in before age enfeebled him, made it absolutely necessary for him to winter in some milder climate. In the winter of 1882-3 the writer of this memoir had the privilege of taking charge of the parish in the absence of the Vicar, and learned from the parishioners, from the neighbouring clergy of all schools of thought, and from many others, the high esteem in which Mr. King was held by all his neighbours. He will ever remember with gratitude the kindness with which he was received in Avebury and in the neighbourhood for the sake of [156/157] his connection with Mr. King, as his locum tenens, and afterwards as his son-in-law.

In 1885 Mr. King's youngest son, Rev. Gilbert A. King, became assistant curate of Avebury, and by his energy amply made up for the growing inability of his father to take any great share of parochial work when at Avebury, and for his enforced absence from home in the winter.

For some years Mr. King, accompanied by his devoted wife, on whom his affliction made him so dependent, spent the winter at St. Leonard's. In 1893-4 they spent the winter at Weston-super-Mare, and taking a fancy to the place, and feeling that it was time for him to resign a cure of which he could no longer discharge the duties himself, having, in fact, only delayed to do so at the request of his Bishop, with whom he was on very different terms from what he had been with Dr. Tait, he resigned his benefice in 1894, and finally moved with his family to a house which he had taken at Weston-super-Mare in November of that year. Here, as everywhere, the charming personality of himself and of his wife quickly gathered round them a host of friends, foremost amongst whom was the Rev. E. J. Morris, curate in charge of All Saints', which has since become a separate parish. It came under the personal observation of the writer, too, that, although the Kings had been such a short time at Weston, whither they had come as total strangers, not only the priest, but the doctor and [157/158] solicitor who attended Mr. King in his last illness, showed themselves much more in the character of intimate friends of the family than as merely professional men.

Mr. King was not long to enjoy in this world the freedom from care and responsibility that the resignation of his benefice afforded him. In the winter his failing health became rapidly worse, partly perhaps owing to the feeling that his work, only given up through necessity, was done; and after many days of acute suffering, borne without a murmur, he entered into rest on January 30th, 1895, at the ripe age of eighty-three years, full of days and honour.

On Candlemas Day his body was taken into All Saints' Church after the parish Eucharist, and a solemn requiem was sung by his son-in-law in the presence of a large congregation, who showed by their evident feeling that they mourned for one who, though so lately come among them, was regarded as an old friend. The rest of the Burial Service was taken at the cemetery by the Rev. E. J. Morris, where the body was laid in its last earthly resting-place in sight of the waves which are typical of the storms of this life, through which Bryan King had battled so bravely, having come at last to the haven where he would be. The day of the funeral, Saturday, and the distance from London, prevented the attendance of many who would have been present if it had been possible; but the large number of floral tributes from old St. [158/159] George's friends and others, and the presence of so many neighbours, bore witness to the affectionate esteem in which Bryan King was held by all who really knew him.

Mrs. King only survived her husband a few months. They had been united more than fifty years, and never did a husband have a more faithful and devoted helpmeet. During the trials at St. George's-in-the-East her sympathy and patient courage had been an inspiring influence to the much-tried Rector, and also to the friends who rallied to his assistance. One evening after an unusually violent outburst of vulgar profanity in and about the church, when the Rector and several of his supporters had at last struggled into the Rectory, one of them, Captain Hall, a warmhearted Irishman who had served in the Crimea, said, "Oh, it is like Heaven within these walls; but it is Hell outside." The simple faith of this saintly woman, which influenced for good all around her, was reflected in one of her children in a touching incident. As Mr. King was making his way one Sunday from the Rectory to the church through an angry and excited crowd, one of his little daughters, being asked by a servant if she was not terrified about her father, immediately replied, "Oh no; God will take care of papa." For the last few years, when infirmities grew upon him, and as he became so entirely dependent upon her through his deafness, Mrs. King, having given up the cares of housekeeping [159/160] to one of her daughters, devoted herself entirely to her husband, becoming his constant companion, and invariably accompanying him wherever he went, being almost always the means of communication between him and his friends and parishioners. In the complete devotion of herself to this work she never showed the least impatience, and she was, in fact, the most unselfish woman that it ever was the privilege of the writer to know. Her own health had been gradually failing, and in the October following her husband's death, when staying with her daughter, Mrs. Lionel Peel, at New Ferry, near Birkenhead, after a few days' illness she was called to rejoin the husband from whom she had been so lately for a short time separated, her body being laid in the same grave with his at Weston-super-Mare.

The writer has endeavoured in these pages to do justice to a man who was grievously misunderstood and misrepresented at the time that his name was prominently before the public by those who did not know him, and sometimes even in later times by a few who, when the excitement aroused by the St. George's riots was past, should have hesitated to pass judgment on the partial and insufficient evidence of what was said by his enemies under the influence of passion and prejudice. Dr. Davidson and the eccentric author of the Romeward Movement in the Church of England have recently, from different motives, but with equal injustice, like the newspapers [160/161] of the time of the riots, misrepresented Bryan King as a man that they did not know, and perhaps could not understand. Enough has been written in these pages, as the writer thinks, to prove that it was circumstances entirely out of his control, if he was to follow the guidance of his own conscience, and obey what he believed to be authoritative, which led him to a position from which his whole character would naturally make him shrink.

He was not, as falsely represented--through ignorant prejudice, it may be hoped, more often than through malicious injustice--a hot-headed, self-willed stickler for external trifles, without tact or conciliation, at war with his own people. At St. George's-in-the-East, the only place where he ever had any difference with anyone, it was not his own people, except the members of the vestry, whose character and motives have been sufficiently exposed, and some others instigated by them, who opposed him. He has himself left the following statement on record:--" I believe that the great majority of those profane rioters were visitors from other parishes, because in all my pastoral visits, and in all my walks through the streets and courts of my parish, I was not once assailed by a single word of insult throughout the whole period of the riots. I shall never indeed forget one occasion when, passing along St. George's Street, one of the poor lost women by whom the street was frequented, after quietly walking some little distance at my side, said in a low but very fervent tone, 'May God bless you, sir.'"

[162] At Avebury, as elsewhere, he was on excellent terms with his parishioners and with his neighbours, whether so-called High Church or Low Church, and with the Bishops of Salisbury who successively ruled the diocese during his incumbency, with whom he was on terms of close intimacy. As an instance of his versatile geniality it may be stated that, although no sportsman, he was most friendly with the successive occupiers of the Beckhampton training stables, which are situated in the parish of Avebury, and with a well-known coursing judge who lived for some time in the parish, as well as with the well-known trainer at Manton, not far from Avebury, where any of Mr. King's friends were always welcome visitors.

He was extremely conscientious, high-minded, with a supreme reverence for holy things, naturally reserved and sensitive, without the least love of notoriety, but ever ready to do what he felt to be his duty at any cost. In fact, the being driven into conflict with his Bishop, the notoriety forced upon him, and the discovery that he had bitter enemies, were things that pained him most in the troubles at St. George's. He was, to sum up, a devout, courteous, sympathetic English gentleman; and if this memoir has failed to set him before the reader as such, it is the fault of the writer, not of the subject of it, as will be attested by all who had the privilege of the acquaintance of Bryan King.

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