Published: London, Congregational Union of England and Wales, Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, E.C.4., 1923
Printed by Butler & Tanner Ltd., Frome and London
Kindly transcribed by Steve Chapman
Frome-Selwood is so called because it is the chief town on the river Froome, and lies in the Selwood Forest, where Aldhelm preached, and Alfred learned to become kingly. The surrounding country is very beautiful, consisting as it does of fields, woods, and hills dotted among which are many dairy farms, for it is the centre of the district famed for its Cheddar cheeses. A prominent feature of the scenery is Cley Hill, where Alfred pitched his camp. To the right of it is the Alfred Tower, which marks the spot where his followers secretly gathered in obedience to his summons, and to the left appears very conspicuously the famous White Horse, cut out in the chalk hill above the town of Westbury. This White Horse is a representation of the Saxon standard, and commemorates the first victory by which the Danes were thrown back towards their camp at Reading. Between these towns may be seen two other white horses, on the Devizes line, which are memorials of similar victories. One of them is the locus of Thomas Hughes's story, The Scouring of the White Horse.
The church in Zion Chapel, Frome, whose minister I was for ten years, originated with a few Wesleyans, who had been influenced in the direction of Calvinism by the writings of Mr. Hervey and Mr. Toplady, the author of the well-known hymn, “Rock of Ages.” They must have been a feeble folk, for the total in-come of “the Society” for the first half-year amounted only to £1 13s.6d. But they soon identified them-selves with the “Countess of Huntingdon's Connection,” which provided them with preachers from Trevecca College, one of whose students, a Mr. George Mantle, became their first minister. The liturgy of the Church of England was used at their services until the advent of Rev. Edmund Denham, who introduced extempore prayer. His successor, Rev. John Hyatt, who subsequently became the co-pastor of the famous Mathew Wilks in Tottenham Court Road, brought the church into closer union with the Independents; a policy followed by Timothy East, for whom the present chapel was built in 1810. He was followed in 1818 by Rev. Arthur Tidman, who ten years later removed to Barbican Chapel, and was soon widely known and honoured as the Home Secretary of the L.M.S. Then came Rev. Spedding Curwen, who, after removing to Castle Street, Reading, was my father's most intimate ministerial friend, and came over to Henley to baptize me and my youngest sister. In 1839 William Fernie began his ministry in Zion, the only one who died during his pastorate there. Among other good deeds he swept away the co-opted committee of management, the majority of whom were not members of the church, substituting for it a constitutional diaconate. In 1851 Rev. Daniel Anthony, B.A., became pastor, a man of highly nervous temperament, but gifted with keen spiritual insight, and at times with remarkable eloquence. He was my immediate predecessor. Under him the church was enriched by the accession of influential and intelligent people, three “Justices” among them, so that I had from the first the advantage of intellectual stimulus, addressing, as I did, some who could appreciate the best I was able to give. Most of the people, however, were tradesmen, dairy-farmers, and employees at the crape factory or the printing works, the proprietors of both being members of Zion, or, as the poor folk delighted to call it, “dear Zions."
My ordination took place in April, 1866, nearly a year after my acceptance of the call, and eight months after my actual settlement, delay having been caused by the inability of some, whom I wished to be present, to come in the autumn. Rev. H. Mayo Gunn, of Warminster, read the Scripture and offered prayer, the introductory address was delivered by Rev. Samuel Newth, M.A.; the usual questions were asked by Rev. D. Anthony, B.A.; Philip le Gros, J.P., as one of the deacons, replied on behalf of the church; the ordination prayer was offered by my dear father the charge given by Rev. Robert Halley, D.D.; and the sermon to the people preached by Rev. J. Harrison. It was a notable gathering of distinguished men, but I fear some offence was naturally given to neighbouring ministers, who, though present in large numbers, could not be invited to take part.
During my ministry the handsome schoolroom with classrooms was built, a new organ was erected in the apse, which was part of the structural alterations, an old mortgage of £1,000 was removed, and my friend, Mr. Joseph Tanner, built the detached infant schoolroom. The chapel seated about 6oo, and the Sunday-school numbered nearly 400. There was an excellent choir, and good congregations at both services. My salary was not large, averaging about £250 per annum, though just before I left the new weekly offering system brought it up to £300 and over. This, in those days of cheap food, clothing, and coal, amply sufficed for the needs of my growing family, especially as milk was supplied gratis in abundance, and presents of game and fowls were not infrequent.
When I settled in the Ministry, I was not even “engaged,” so I lived alone in South Parade, except for an aged housekeeper whom my mother sent from Henley - Martha Trotman by name. She was succeeded after six months by a middle-aged woman named Esther Prior, who devoted herself to my comfort and remained in charge twelve months after my marriage. She was most attentive to any suggestions I made. One day I happened to express a preference for brown-coloured eggs, and these afterwards always appeared on my table; but she afterwards confessed to my mother, when she was on a visit to me, that she always boiled the white eggs in coffee-grounds. So are the elect ever deceived by their womankind.
I worked hard at my sermons, three of which I had to prepare every week. My memory was never of the verbal kind, so I could not preach memoriter. Therefore I was obliged either to read a sermon, or to preach extemporaneously from brief notes, and these have always been my methods.
My pastoral visits were numerous. I have often paid ten to twelve visits in a day, but the appetite of the people seemed to be insatiable. One old blind woman always grumbled. No sooner did I cross the threshold of her little room than she would petulantly exclaim: “Ah, it's time you came! It's more than five weeks since I heeard your voice.” There were real saints among the chronic invalids, notably one named Harriet Cook. Spotlessly clean, though woefully poor, she suffered from abscesses which never left her free from torment. She always had a bright smile for her visitor, and a cheery word when he was depressed or tired. Though she was confined to her bed, she made a practice of writing every week a letter to some wrongdoer or prisoner, selecting his name from reports of police courts, and in this way accomplished much good.
One of the richest men in my congregation, John Sinkins, J.P., was a typical squire in appearance, and bluff, tender-hearted, yet boisterous in manner. He had in his stables a high-spirited Irish mare with a villainous temper. She really belonged to his son, an officer in the Guards, but as he was rarely at home, she had very little exercise. Mr. Sinkins, in a fit of good-nature, offered the use of the mare to me, and, rather to his surprise I think, I gratefully acceptedthe offer, and took her out, generally on a Monday morning, for two or three hours. On two occasions she bolted, getting the bit between her teeth; but no harm came of it, for there were no motors and bicycles to fear. Fortunately for me, our second tussle began as we were beginning to ascend the long hill up to Maiden Bradley, so I not only let her go, but forced her pace to the very top, where she stopped, covered with foam, and trembling in every limb. She never again tried to bolt with me. But her subsequent history, after being sold two years later, was sad, for she killed a groom at the bottom of a hill, and finally broke her back in a steeplechase. But she was a “boon and a blessing” to me. I was with her owner, Mr. Sinkins, just before he died, and cannot forget sitting with him at his bedroom window as he watched, with tear-dimmed eyes, his horses and carriages slowly filing by for what he knew to be the last time.
Among my deacons was a schoolmaster, who carried into the vestry the dictatorial style of the classroom. He would “object” to the giving out of any notice connected with the temperance movement, and “protest” against any statement of accounts in the Zion Magazine, which I had recently started. On the latter question matters came to a crisis at a deacons' meeting when to his angry protest I replied: “You have never helped me in regard to the magazine, and I refuse to let you interfere in it.” He rose, took up his hat, and stalked home, to the horror of all his brethren. In a few minutes our meeting broke up, as we were due at the church meeting. On the way up, Mr. Le Gros, one of the deacons, begged me to apologize, which I absolutely refused to do, saying that it was best that Mr. F[latman]. should resign. The next morning his resignation came to my hands. When I went to the meeting of the church a month later, I took it with me, read it to the members, and recommended that it should be accepted with thanks for his past services, remarking that so able a man as we all knew him to be no doubt had adequate reasons for his action. This was done, and to his credit be it said, he still attended the services regularly, and was more friendly to me than before.
The only other difficulty I had with my Frome deacons happened before my marriage, at the end of my second year. The treasurer brought me the quarter's salary at Christmas, which to my surprise was £34 instead of £62. “Have sittings been given up?” I asked. “Oh no; more have been let than ever before. But the fact is, that before you became our pastor we put in fresh gaseliers and so on, and now that things are more prosperous financially, we are paying for them.” “In other words,” I said, “you are paying by money which belongs to the minister, without so much as consulting him! Suppose that I had been a married man with a family, and was relying on the usual amount to meet my bills, don't you see what the position would be? You have not really thought this out. Take back the cheque to the deacons, and tell them that if they really cannot afford to pay debts owing before I came, I will pay them, on condition that at the church meeting they state that I am making the church a present of what was ordered before my pastorate began.” The good man was dumbfounded. I doubt if he had consulted his brethren at all. In two days I received the usual cheque, with an apology. It was just an example of what I know occurs through thoughtlessness, which, however, is sometimes tragic in its incidence.
My real mentor on the diaconate whose advice was generally sound, though over-cautious, was Philip le Gros, J.P., a man of culture and considerable wealth. He acted as a sort of brake when I was inclined to drive recklessly, putting his hand on my arm and saying quietly: “Wait, my dear friend, wait! The world comes round to him who waits.” It was excellent advice, particularly to a rather impetuous young minister.
One of the best deacons I ever had was William Brett Harvey, a chemist and stationer in Bath Street. He was the prime mover in temperance work and musical societies of various kinds. He acted as our unpaid organist and choir-leader, and was superintendent of the Sunday-school. Affectionate, genial, and devout, he was universally beloved.
My chief friend in Frome was Joseph Tanner, a man about my own age, possessed of great shrewdness and business ability. Just before my settlement in the town, he had entered into partnership with another deacon of Zion, Mr. T. Butler, who had a small printing business and published the Somerset and Wilts Journal. Tanner's ability combined with Butler's knowledge of printing speedily developed the business, and to-day the firm of “Butler & Tanner” has a world-wide reputation for good work produced under the best conditions.
These are samples of the men whom I had about me in my first pastorate, to whom I owed much for any discipline of character and success in work subsequently gained. And I could pay a similar tribute to the Christian womanhood of that church.
As a rule, a country town is far richer in folk who may be regarded as “characters” than London is, or can be, for in the latter people are like the stones on Chesil Beach, whose angles are all rubbed off by perpetual contact with each other. Peculiarities of out-look and diction asserted themselves frequently in our Frome prayer-meetings, where free expression of thought and feeling found vent. We employed a Home missionary, who visited the poor during the week, and took his turn as one of the village preachers on Sundays. He was a tall gaunt man, about sixty years of age, and good, according to his lights, but neither a scholar nor a gentleman, and extremely tenacious of his dignity. When offering prayer at one of our meetings, he suddenly burst out in a fierce tone: “O Lord, we thank Thee that we are not proud; we don't pass our poorer brethren in the street without so much as a nod.” At the close of the meeting I went up to him and said: “If I passed you in the street without saluting you, I am sorry for it, though you may be sure I did not see you. If, however, you wish to point out a fault in me, or in others, don't do it in prayer. Never again be like the Pharisee who prayed, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are,’ because you are.” For once he looked a little ashamed of himself. Of very different spirit was little Tommy Rouse, a poor rough-looking man, almost a dwarf in figure, who earned a paltry wage by cleaning boots in a boarding-school. He was a saint, but his phraseology in prayer was unique: as witness this. He had walked to the meeting through the crowded streets on a fair-day, and in his prayer he devoutly thanked God that we were not “among the poor fules who were footling and tootling down the street.” Another evening, when I was absent, and the attendance was small, he prayed thus: “O Lord, it do seem to I that when the shepherd's awaay, the sheep du straay.” Such prayers were far more helpful, by reason of their obvious sincerity, than the constantly recurring phrases of another excellent man who invariably prayed for me in these words: “O Lord, bless our dear pastor in basket and in store, and give him souls for his hire, and seals to his ministry.”
In conversations with the people in their homes I found provincialisms frequent, and I wish now that I had kept some record of them. It was not easy to understand the broad Wiltshire dialect in use, though Frome was actually in Somerset. When my father called with me on one of my dairy-farmer friends, who expatiated to me on his herd of cows, and a young mare just broken in, he said as he came out: “Alfred, what was that man talking about? I did not understand a single sentence.” Old words would often crop up in conversation. For example, the word “caddie” was in general use as a noun, a verb, and an adjective. Thus a man who did odd jobs (“chores,” as Americans say) was called a “caddler.” A woman caught in disorder on a washing-day would exclaim: “Law, sir, you do catch oi all of a caddle.” A man asked what his employment was would reply: “Well, sir, I du caddle.”
Visitation every month to members for the distribution of money from the Communion fund often had its humorous as well as its pathetic side. Good Philip le Gros was one of our almoners. He had the curious nervous habit of praying with his eyes open and turned towards the ceiling. One day he came to me saying: “I fear I must give up this visitation, for I have no gift for it. I was calling yesterday on good Aunt Morgan, and after praying with her as I usually do, standing, with my hands on the back of a chair, I gave her the half-crown, but as I was going out she said, “Couldn't we have a word of prayer, sir, before you go?” So you see they don't even know when I am praying.”
Another recipient of the dole seemed to me in perfect health, and was only about fifty years of age, though he had somehow got on the list of beneficiaries before I came. I gave him the usual half-crown, and said: “You know that this sacramental money is meant for members who are blind, or ill, or aged, but you seem to me fairly fit. If I were you, I should be ashamed to take it.” “Ah, sir,” was the reply, “it's like this 'ere. I du suffer from a curious complaint, though I doan't say much about it. You let I bide and do nothing but creep about and I be as well as moast. But give I a job of work, and I soon feel that bad all over as I doan't know what to do with myself.” His complaint, I fear, was not so uncommon as he imagined it to be.
In my Frome days I took some part in local affairs and in political elections. When I first settled there, Sir Henry Rawlinson was our member, supported by both parties as a moderate man and a distinguished diplomatist. As a rule, the representation of the borough had been controlled in turn by the two lordly houses in the neighbourhood-” Longleat,” belonging to the Marquis of Bath, an old-fashioned Tory; and “Marston,” the seat of the Earl of Cork and Orrery, a Liberal, or rather a Whig. But on the retirement of Sir Henry, who had been appointed a member of the Indian Council, we rebelled against this autocracy, and even succeeded in winning the seat for a Radical. Thomas Hughes, Q.C., the well-known author of Tom Brown's Schooldays, was one of our victorious candidates, and would have continued to hold the seat but for his unwisdom in giving public lectures in the district on the advantages of an Established Church. As 90per cent. of his supporters were Nonconformists, this made a second candidature for him impracticable. He was a fine fellow, but not a great speaker, and shone far more in replies to hecklers than in exposition of a policy. His brother said to me: “Put some one up to heckle Tom, and you will see what sort of chap he is.” I need not say that we acted on the hint, and had more lively and interesting meetings. In the contest which was known as “the Beer and Bible election,” when the Church and the publicans were openly leagued for mutual support, feeling ran very high, and drink was poured out lavishly; in fact, free beer was on draught for months afterwards for those who had voted on the right side. We organized a band of sixty “watchers,” who on the night before the poll literally dragged out half-intoxicated voters from public-houses, and saw them safely home. A jobbing gardener, who often worked for me, whose chief fault was his love for whisky, was an ardent Liberal when sober, but on polling day he disappeared. News came that he had been discovered hopelessly drunk shut up in a gamekeeper's lodge on the Longleat estate, five miles away. As we were within two hours of the close of the poll (three o'clock), a member of my congregation drove over to the cottage and brought him back triumphantly in his dog-cart, hidden under the seat. The unfortunate man was put under the pump, drenched with soda-water, and safely polled a few minutes before time! Those were lively days when some of us who spoke, or appeared upon the hustings, were howled at and pelted with cabbages, rotten eggs, and similar missiles. Bribery was rampant, for the voters were not numerous, and the result of the election really depended on eighty or ninety men, who generally waited till in some way or other their price was paid.
From the beginning of my ministry I interested myself in County Union work, seeing, as I did, the necessity for linking our churches together, even at the lossof some degree of stark Independency. I have, indeed, always been more of a Congregationalist than an Independent, to use a distinction more clearly recognized in the United States than in England. Rev. Thomas Mann, of Trowbridge, was the Secretary of the Wilts and East Somerset Congregational Union, and for many years, both before and after I lived in the county, did splendid service. He was a born leader. A tall, fine man, possessed of considerable property through his wife, and a capable man of business, he ruled well, though often rather autocratically. Driving his own dog-cart, and sometimes taking his own man-servant, he kept up regular visitations to our churches in the West Country, and as the representative of the L.M.S. his district extended to Penzance. He told me that he looked on me as his natural successor, but this was not to be. I acted on the County Executive, however, and had the honour of being Chairman of the Union and delivering the Annual Address in Salisbury.
Another incident tended to make me known not only beyond the town but beyond the county. The Sunday School Union of London instituted an examination for Sunday-school teachers, and as some of my teachers were keen and willing to work, I prepared a dozen of them as if for a University examination, with the result, surprising to them and to others, that we carried off nearly all the best prizes. Doubtless it was this which led a little later to a request from headquarters that I would speak at what was then the great Annual Meeting in Exeter Hail, and, on my settling in London, to my writing the “Notes” on International Lessons. These I supplied anonymously for years, and later did similar duty in the pages of the Sunday School Chronicle. Stilllater I became Chairman of the British Section of the International Lessons Committee, to the work and results of which I shall refer later on.
I will now come back to more personal affairs, especially to those which affected my home life.
For two years I lived as a bachelor in Frome, absorbed in my work, but not without thought of changing that lonely condition of life. Some of my lady friends attempted and effected what they regarded as promising introductions, but my memory was haunted by the sweet face of Ellen Mary Trewent, who as a little girl of twelve years first came to Henley to receive her education in my sister's school. Until she was over sixteen she remained under their care, with only one fellow-boarder, about two years older, Katie Jones. Katie was dark-haired, with the eyes of an Irish girl, though she was Welsh to the very core. Ellen was fair, with long ringlets of bright brown hair, and blue eyes that looked one in the face with singular steadfastness and intelligence. I was naturally anxious to see her again, and to learn how far she had fulfilled the win-some promise of her girlhood.
Accordingly I went down to Tenby for my summer holiday in 1867, putting up at an hotel, and my father wrote to Mr. Trewent, of Pembroke, mentioning my visit, no doubt with the secret hope that his hospitality would be extended to me. It was. An invitation quickly reached me and was eagerly accepted The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Trewent; her mother, Mrs. Treweeks, who always reminded me of Mrs. Gummidge; and three girls-Ellen, who was just eighteen; Alice, about sixteen; and Vinnie, two years younger. All these girls were educated by my sisters. They were living at the time of my visit in the “Bank House,” a tall building in the main street of Pembroke, erected by Mr. Trewent with the expectation that it would be taken by a bank.
Mr. Trewent had recently retired from business, really from several businesses, for he was a maltster, a draper, a hatter, and I know not what beside. His retirement was chiefly due to Mrs. Trewent's dislike to trade,” a prejudice inherited from and inculcated by her father, who was an official in the Dockyard. She was an intelligent, well-read woman, with the prim notions and habits of an Early Victorian. She was Mr. Trewent's second wife. The two daughters by his first wife had left home a few years prior to my visit, to become Mrs. Heath of Plymouth and Mrs. Higgins of London, their names being Martha and Diana. Mr. Trewent was a genial, kind-hearted man, of stout, almost squat, figure, popular in the town, in whose affairs he took an active part as an alderman, and twice as mayor of the borough. His kindness to us during our frequent visits up to the time of his death in 1883 was incessant, nothing being accounted by him too great a trouble.
It was into this family circle, then, that I was introduced. I found Ellen full of charm and universally beloved in the church and in the town, where she had already discharged the duties of mayoress, from which her mother shrank. Among the members of the church she was unconsciously conspicuous, like a rose among dull-hued flowers. She trained the choir, played the harmonium at public services, taught a large class in the Sunday-school, and visited the poor and sick-in fact, all the virtues and graces expected of a minister's wife were already blossoming in her. Was it any wonder, when to all this were added her personal charms, keen intelligence, deep affection, transparent truthfulness, and sincere piety, that I fell in love with her once and for ever. She was startled, almost frightened, at first by my proposal, for she had always regarded “Mr. Alfred” as so much older than herself, that she had never thought of him as her lover. But in a few days it was happily settled, and my daughters and sons know what she was, at least in part, for to her far more than to me they owe such good as is in them. Her mother's consent followed a little later than her father's, which was given at once; but the natural stipulation was made that she should not be married till she was out of her teens. That stipulation was observed very exactly, for our wedding took place on July29,the day after her twentieth birthday.
The ceremony was performed by my dear father, assisted by the minister of the place, in the new Congregational “Tabernacle,” and as it was the first service of the kind held there, we were presented by the church with a Bible in memory of the event. We had a delightful wedding trip, visiting Carmarthen, Aberystwyth, Llanberis, Snowdon, Beddgelert, Leamington (where we spent two or tbree days with Blackie), my old home in Henley, and then our new home in Frome. My young bride received a most loving welcome, and won the hearts of all the people from the first. Four of my nine children were born before I left Frome, and how my dear wife managed to discharge with efficiency all her duties as wife and mother, and yet to be the wise and trusted leader of all the ladies in our London church, will never cease to be a cause of wonder to me, and of devout thanksgiving to God, whose grace alone could have made her the saint and heroine she was.
We had a perfectly happy married life for over forty years. Laus Deo! Life has never been the same to me since she went from my side. Indeed, it was chiefly that irreparable loss which led me to resign at the close of the year following her death in 1909.
The funeral service, conducted by Dr. Horton, was held in Park Chapel, and more than 8oo sorrowing and sympathizing friends were present. At its close we made our way through a blizzard of snow (fit emblem of our darkened lives) to Finchley cemetery, where we laid the dear body in its last resting-place.
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I note, in passing, that in my Opinion the introduction of harmoniums or American organs in our services has not been altogether an advantage. Congregational singing, when unaccompanied, has often been an inspiration to me-at Spurgeon's Tabernacle, for example, where the precentor had no instrument except his tuning-fork. Indeed, in village chapels I am still an admirer of a “Nebuchadnezzar's band,” i.e. a small orchestra, consisting usually of flute, violin, 'cello, and double-bass, which drew its members into social fellowship by meetings for practice in a schoolroom, and deepened the interest of every one of them in the worship of their little Zion or Bethel. In Maiden Bradley, a small village connected with my first church, there was one of these bands, which on Sunday occupied the small end gallery, the ceilingof which was low enough to touch with the hands. After an anniversary service which I had conducted, the old 'cellist came up to me, and, grasping my hand in his rough horny palm, his face still wet with honest sweat after his musical exertions, exclaimed: “ Lor, sir, didn't the singing go beautiful? It was like heaven! There be no chapel like this 'ere for music. I do think it's like this-we be so near the ceiling that it do hit it down like on the people. It were fine!” The good man was not only a 'cellist, but a very accomplished thatcher,” and a sort of village Hampden, standing up bravely for the rights of the people, in spite of threats from the “gentry.”
Our organ-blower at Zion was another “character,” though of a different type. He was a water-diviner, who again and again found springs where experts and engineers had failed to locate them. One day I went with him to a big field near the town, for I had been rather sceptical about his powers. He first cut from the hedge a forked piece of hazel-wood. Holding an end of it in each hand, he walked silently and slowly across the field, and then partly around it. Suddenly, with no movement whatever on his part, the forked stick twisted round in his hand, with such force as to break the bark. Just there, below his feet, a fine spring of water was found, and a well was subsequently dug. Such men seemed to feel the water, which sent a thrill through them, sometimes without effort or implement of any kind.