Owen Chadwick The Victorian Church (OUP 1966)
vol 1, pages 495-501
Men are moved by ritual symbols, hallowed associations of custom. Whether these symbols are simple or elaborate, they are valued as they are inhabited, vessels for aspiration of conscience and yearning of soul. The Reformation pushed the focus of worship from altar towards pulpit; and the rational divines of the eighteenth century pushed it still farther from the chancel, into a pulpit which sometimes resounded like a rostrum, as preacher or lecturer preached on moral duty and historic evidence. But now they peered into temple clouds, and made obeisance before throne invisible.
The Book of Common Prayer avoided the word altar. But the law of England and therefore of the Church of England sanctioned to the use of that word [59 George III, cap. 134, sec. 6; 2 & 3 William IV, cap 61, sect. I.], and popular parlance used altar and communion table without discriminating. As the chancel was cleansed and restored to beauty, so the holy table demanded ornament. It possessed already a far linen cloth; in some churches two candlesticks stood upon it, though rarely lit except for light; in a few churches a cross stood upon it; and in the fifties a quest for altar reverence issued in a few chancel screens, in sanctuary rails, in lighting the candlesticks, and finally, though rarely, in Roman-like vestments for the celebrating priest and his assistant ministers. A violent argument and subsequent lawsuit at St. Paul's, Knightsbridge. and its notorious chapel of St. Barnabas, Pimlico, drew everyone's attention to the state of the law about ornaments; and the law was found to be unexpected.
Everything hung upon the ornaments rubric of the prayer book; ordering that 'Such ornaments of the church, and of the ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained and be in use as were in the Church of England, by the authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward VI.' Historical investigation proved that in this year of 1549 the ornaments of church and minister were more elaborate than in any subsequent year of Protestant England. Under this rubric a cross behind the altar (provided it is not 'attached' to the altar), a credence table in the sanctuary, candlesticks upon the altar (provided that they were used for light) and a cross on the chancel screen were formally held legal by 1857 [Liddell v. Westerton and Liddell v. Beal: consistory court (Lushington), December 1855; court of arches (Dodson), December 1856; judicial committee of privy council February 1857; judgement in Broderick and Fremantle, 117.] In that year the privy council made a sensible but ominous declaration: that though in the performance of rites and ceremonies nothing might be added to the prayer book and nothing might be omitted from it, this rule could not apply to the articles used in the church; for otherwise there would be no authority for necessary or familiar objects like organs, pews, pulpit cloth and hassocks [Broderick and Fremantle, 153].
But these were the years after papal aggression. The conscience of those with invincible repugnance was alive and pulsating and the more they manifested that repugnance in irreverence, the more strongly attached to these objects grew the conscience of Tractarian priests and their flocks. Blaspheming rabbles did as much as tickets of law to establish Anglo-Catholic ceremonies within the normal practice of the Church of England.
Parishes of unhappiness were few. Most Tractarian priests were moderate men who knew that the highest reverence was charity. Most objector preferred desertion to clamour. But in east London widow-smashing hooligans were easily conjured from their alleys. In the parish of St. George-in-the-East hooligans and ritual innovation collided with a clang that sounded through the land. The established church could never be quite the same after the vileness of St. George-in-the-East.
St. George-in-the-East had a population of 30,0000, a church to hold 2,000 or more, dunes of empty pews and fifty or sixty faithful worshippers. It was the land of docks and sailors, of dining-saloons and filthy bars, of public houses offering squads of harlots. The 733 houses within four streets of the church included 154 brothels. The handsome rector, Bryan King, suffered the misfortune to arrive at the moment of 1842 when Bishop Blomfield's charge about rubrics was damaging the London diocese. In the tedious conflict over surplices or collections or intoning, rector and parishioners were alienated for ever, and everyone who hated church rated joined the campaign to elect churchwardens hostile to the rector. For fourteen years King struggled with a loyal band and tumultuous vestries. In 1856 he discovered an ally in one of the great slum priests of the century, Charles Lowder. Lowder was one of the college of curates at the troubled St. Barnabas, Pimlico, and long accustomed to choral services which roughs interrupted, rowdy elections of enemy churchwardens, and a church where reverence was secured by a bodyguard of gentlemen. Lowder valued elaborate ritual and ornament; partly because it was assailed sacrilegiously, and partly because he saw its impact upon the heathen poor. He temporarily lost his licence from Bishop Blomfield for giving boys sixpence each to throw rotten eggs at a sandwich-man parading on behalf of the wrong churchwarden [Trench, Life of Lowder, 34, 57, 171]. He was very penitent.
Convinced of the necessity for colleges, of slum clergy, he helped found a group of priests under a rule, the Society of the Holy Cross, and looked round for a missionary area. In August 1856, with Pusey's blessing and alms, he became Bryan King's curate and head of a little mission-house at Calvert Street in dockland. It was five minutes' walk from Ratcliff highway, renowned among sailors as a the market of prostitutes. He was a brave withdrawn man with a steel will. By May 1859, when calamity began, Lowder was in charge of the Danish church in Wellclose Square, which he rented for Anglican services, another little chapel built of iron, schools with 400 children, a convent founded by the sister of John Mason Neale, and a country home for redeeming harlots. His first two assistants left for the Church of Rome. In their place he was joined by another young Anglo-Catholic of formidable courage, Alexander Heriot Mackonochie. The congregation remained small. Lowder, no preacher, had not the immediate gift of speaking intelligently to this strange mixed population. He heard regular confessions. His ritual included two lighted altar candles and the use of vestments at the eucharist., In common with many Tractarians he believed that the privy council judgement if 1857 sanctioned, if it did not order, the use of vestments by its interpretation of the ornaments rubric. No one doubted that in the year 1549 the clergy of the Church of England wore chasubles; and the ornaments rubric ordered the ornaments of 1549. Since none of the population but a few Irish knew about churches, they were neither shocked not surprised to find chasubles. Friends gave Bryan King a set of vestments, a white silk chasuble with golden edging.
Attached to the church of St. George's was an old lectureship, for which the parishioners elected the lecturer. Canvassed by placards and mounting cries of no popery, the hostile parish elected an evangelical clergyman named Hugh Allen. Bryan King tried vainly to veto the appointment. Bishop Tait of London believed that he could not refuse to licence Allen; and if he is defended from responsibility on the pleas that refusal might be illegal and that he could not see the future, an elementary knowledge of Hooker and English church history should have taught him that vicar and lecturer preaching against each other end in strife to get of of one of the antagonists. He wanted to rid the diocese of what he called childish mimicries of antiquated garments.
On the first Sunday after his licensing, 22 May 1859, twenty minutes before the usual service, Hugh Allen walked unbidden into the church with a crowd of supporters and cries of Bravo, Allen! Finding the vestry locked against him, he robed in the church. A curate foolishly blocked his way to the pulpit. A vast congregation assembled to see the game, started hissing, and ladies in the gallery fainted. Allen proceeded to the reading-desk and read the prayers; and then, finding the pulpit unguarded, ascended to preach a sermon hostile to King, wave Tait's licence at the people amid applause and clapping, and read the articles of religion [Best account in R, 1 June 1859: Allen was elected 11 March 1859, licensed 17 May. Cf Crouch, Bryan King, 46, 47; Trench, Life of Lowder, 173; Davidson-Benham, Life of Tait, i. 236; Reynolds, Martyr to Ritualism, 60ff]. Under an act of George II the rector must afford the lecturer the use of the pulpit 'from time to time'. A fatal agreement was thereafter reached by which Allen's afternoon service preceded King's afternoon service; and meanwhile press reports of 22 May persuaded Protestants and hooligans and Sunday-bored that St. George's offered fun.
Between June 1859 and May 1860, except from 19 September to 5 November, when Bishop Tait closed the church, Sunday afternoons at St. George's were the zoo and horror and coconut-shy of London. The best days witnessed pew doors banging or feet scraping or hissing or coughing or syncopated responses. The worst days witnessed gleeful rows of boys shooting with peas from the gallery, fireworks, flaming speeches from tub-orators during service, bleating as of goats, spitting on choirboys, a pair of hounds howling gin-silly round the nave, cushions hurled at the altar, orange-peel and butter, kicking or hustling of clergy. One of the altar carpets was crammed into a stove and pew number 16 in the south aisle was used as privy [PP, 1860, liii, 158]. Lowder once had to flee from the crowd; Mackonochie was assaulted and rescued by police; but the two mission-chapels were less troubled, for there it was legally possible to allow entry only to persons with tickets.
Some sixty to eight gentlemen, including that amateur boxer and ex-socialist Tom Hughes, came after the early Sundays to act as bodyguard to the rector [Robert Brett was one: Life of Brett, 92. List of thirty-three of the bodyguard in PP, 1860, liii, 139. G.J. Palmer is among them, and G.A. Skinner of Trinity College, Cambridge, and a schoolmaster G. Bond from Hurstpierpoint College]. But though everyone agreed that brawling in church was a crime or misdemeanour, no one knew how to stop it. Brawling was an ecclesiastical offence which the police could not stop. The only act of Parliament giving policemen summary powers of arrest was an act of Philip and Mary [from the 1550s - ed], designed to protect Catholic churches from Protestant rioters. Nor were strenuous endeavours made to stop the riot. For several months London believed that Bryan King could stop it easily by yielding vestments and intoning. Even high churchmen, even Dr. Pusey, blamed him for obstinacy and crotchet-martyrdom [Keble is said by King's family to have been more sympathetic, cf. Crouch, King, 132; but see Keble's worried letter to Mackonochie of March 1860 in E.A. Towle, Mackonochie, 64]. Even Bishop Tait contributed to public blindness by seeming to blame King more than the rioters. The police could not see why they should suffer broken heads to protect an illegal or fanatical clergyman. Tait ordered the churchwardens to keep order. One of the churchwardens was a Methodist and the other was the local publican, coryphaeus among the pew-thumpers.
In November 1859, after Tait offered clumsily to arbitrate and King yielded the vestments and time of service, it was suddenly seen that neither could King end the riot by yielding nor Allen by withdrawing. St. George's had become a Sunday fair-ground like Cremorne Gardens, a Sunday trip like Hampton Court. Fifty uniformed policemen appeared in church for six weeks of November and December. They were withdrawn on 1 January 1860, partly because the home office and police thought that they were protecting sin, partly because the police authorities alleged that their routine work elsewhere was suffering, and partly because no squad of truncheons can establish reverence. When they were withdrawn the rioters behaved worse than before. A local body calling itself the Anti-Puseyite League met in the Wesleyan schoolroom on Tuesday evenings to plan interruption and stimulate Protestant piety [King to Mayne, 16 November 1859, PP, 1860, liii, 129]. Fifty-one ratepayers sent a petition against policemen to the home secretary, stating, 'There has been no mob or rabble, in the understood sense of the words, in the parish church at any time.' The police said that the bodyguard of gentlemen provoked disturbance. King replied that so long as the police refused protection he needed a bodyguard.
Tait and Brougham and Dungannon hammered away in the House of Lords. The ancient Bishop Philpotts appeared in the House of Lords to assert that the abandoned vestments were strictly legal [Hansard, clvi, 1860, 910-11] and shocked Tait into a reply that the Bishop of Exeter was misleading young clergy. In June 1860, more than a year after the riots began, seventy-three policemen were stationed in St. George's church every Sunday [Hansard, clix, 1860, 1510-11; Crouch, 114-15]. Bryan King consented to take a prolonged holiday, and left early in the morning to escape the brass band which opponents hired to escort him to the station. He stayed away fro three years, until Bishop Tait found him the quiet benefice of Avebury in Wiltshire.
The riots of St. George's-in-the-East raised Anglo-Catholic ceremonial into a flag. The curates of St. George's, Lowder and Mackonochie, were men of tough fibre, and round them in the next decade gathered those who had come to identify Protestantism with gross irreverence. Tractarian disciples henceforth looked not only to the cloisters of Christ Church and the rural peace of Hursley vicarage, but to the slum parishes of East London. The older Puseyite austerity and fear of ceremonial began to vanish; for restraint was now associated with cowardice and lack of principle. The riots ensured that in the long run, unless Parliament devised some form of high commission to maintain discipline, chasubles and incense and roods and tabernacles would establish themselves more widely in the Church of England than any early Victorian could have predicted. A bill was indeed introduced in 1860 to enforce a plain white surplice in conducting services and a black gown in preaching sermons, on penalty of £10 for the first offence, £50 for the second and £100 for all subsequent offences. But a half-Anglican Parliament blushed to interfere, and men tried to imagine a House of Commons deciding that Baptist ministers should wear white ties on Sundays.
Meanwhile high churchmen found it pious to be a bodyguard. Anglo-Catholics were now a party of fighters; their organisation, the English Church Union, formed in 1859-60 out of local unions. Ritual troubles in English church and state began in earnest. The party,believing Tractarian divinity and therefore valuing bishop in idea, was marked from the first by suspicion of bishops in flesh. For bishops meant Tait, and Lord Shaftesbury, and Lord Palmerston, and a bloody-handed secularised state poking amidst fenced and holy altars within the temple of Catholic truth.
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