Chats with the Clergy
The Rev F. ST. JOHN
CORBETT, M.A., F.R.S.L., RECTOR OF ST. GEORGE-IN-THE-EAST
It is now a year ago
since the Rev. Frederick St. John Corbett succeeded the Rev. R.W.
Harris as Rector of St. George-in-the-East. Mr. Harris was compelled
by the persistent ill-health of his wife and family to seek work in
the country, and Mr. Corbett came, at the suggestion of the Bishop of
London, from one of the loveliest parishes in Westmorland, to
undertake the charge of a very important London parish. It is true
that he had enjoyed experience in the Metropolis. Ordained Deacon by
the Bishop of Ripon in 1885, and priest in 1887, after graduating
B.A. at Trinity College, Dublin, he commenced his clerical career as
curate of Hunslet, Leeds. While he held this curacy, he acted for
five years as Chaplain to the Leeds Rifles. In 1891 he entered the
London Diocese as curate of St. Michael's, Chester Square, returning
to the North in 1896, as Rector of Long Marton, on the presentation
of Lord Hothfield. Here he had time to develop his literary gifts,
and his considerable list of published works attests both his
industry and his versatility. It includes in the department of
theology, 'Sermon Outline,' 'The Preacher's Year', 'A Thousand Things
to say in Sermons', and 'The Communicant's Little Book'; in the realm
of fiction, 'Two Men and a Girl'; and in the domain of verse, 'Echoes
of the Sanctuary' and 'Led by a Little Child'. A Fellow of the Royal
Historical Society, he has also produced this year 'A History of
British Poetry, from the earliest times to the beginning of the
Twentieth Century', and is an occasional contributor to various
periodicals. It was satisfactory to learn from Mr. Corbett, when I
visited the Rectory the other day, that neither he, nor Mrs. Corbett,
who takes the keenest interest in the affairs of the parish, has
suffered in health by the change from the country to the heart of the
We do not, in the
least (said Mr. Corbett) regard ourselves as martyrs, but find life
in St. George's very pleasant.
What is the present
population of the parish?
consisting, with very few exceptions, of the very poorest. A large
proportion of these are aliens, who frequently come to the clergy for
help. Though we make but few converts, we draw no distinction when a
case is deserving. It is for this reason that our work is supported
by Lord Rothschild and other members of the Jewish race. They know
that we will help a Jew if he be starving through no fault of his
own. The work is encouraging, and the people are very friendly with
the clergy, and well-disposed to the Church. In fact, there would be
no credit in being "jolly" here, as Mark Tapley  used to
say, if it were not for the financial burden.
Is that very heavy?
Yes, and it falls
entirely upon the Rector, there being no Financial Committee. There
is absolutely no endowment for assistant clergy or parochial
expenses, and the grants are very small. The offertories on Sunday
only average 30s., and there is generally a deficit on the
churchwardens' annual account of between £20 and £30. The actual
working expenses of the various parochial agencies amount to £1200
How do you contrive to
raise such a large amount as this?
About £400 is
contributed in subscriptions and donations, £400 by means of
bazaars, concerts, and other entertainments, whilst the remaining
£400 has to be raised by the Rector as best he can, either by
special extra appeals or by a heavy dip into his own pocket. The
people themselves are most generous, and never weary of flourishing
the collecting card, but they cannot get at the hearts and purses of
the rich. At the present moment we are wondering where we can get
£70, with which to send our teachers and children for their annual
trip to the seaside, but we live largely by faith, and all the
arrangements are made.
When then do they go?
the Rector with a smile). The only disheartening feature in these
matters (he continued) is the small response to the urgent appeals
sent out, even by rich, and notably generous people. Almost all have
so many calls upon them at home that they cannot help. I sent out
twenty appeals in one day not long ago, and all I got for my trouble
was six postage stamps! But some people act very generously.
But do you not receive
regular help here from any West End parish?
'No, like Japhet, we
are in search of a father. Can you find us one?
You certainly have an
indisputable claim to be affiliated to some parish where money is
fairly plentiful, and I hope your search will soon be successful.
I am sure I hope it
may. With regard to the church, it is said that there has been an
edifice on the site for many centuries. The present building, which
is a beautiful specimen of the Queen Anne style, was consecrated in
1729. It holds 1200 people, and contains, as you have seen, several
features of great interest . The East window, in the apse,
representing Faith, Hope, and Charity, was copied from a window in
the chapel of New College, Oxford; the mosaics at the East end, which
were put in in 1880, are very striking; the massive pulpit, in oak,
richly carved, and complete, with a sounding board, is one of the
finest to be found; the organ, of venerable date, is supposed to be
worth £2000, and the wood-carving, which is carried throughout, even
to the corners of the vestries, is remarkably good. Finally, there is
a splendid peal of eight bells, which are rung by voluntary ringers.
My predecessors, the Bishop of Islington, and other Rectors, did much
to beautify the church, and improve the parish.
How are you off for
We require no more,
except a clergy house. At present we rent one from the Earl of
Winterton . With the Rectory of St. George's is incorporated the
living of St. Matthew's, Pell Street, and by permission of the
Bishop, St. Matthew's is now used for meetings and parish purposes,
instead of for services. There is only one thing we require, of what
may be called a structural character, and that is an altar, worthy of
St George's Church. I have a scheme on foot to raise one as a
memorial of the Queen's visit.
As there have been
some contradictory accounts, I should like to know from you exactly
how it was that the Queen came to your flower show?
I will tell you. As I
have mentioned, we depend very materially upon the money we can raise
by special effort, and though, up to this year, the flower show has
only paid expenses, I hoped that by having a sale of work at the same
time, we should obtain a profit. Accordingly, I fixed the date for
July 14th, and the Countess of Winterton and Lord Teynham  promised to
attend. Some little time after I had, with great difficulty, made all
the arrangements, I took up a daily paper, and saw that the Queen was
to visit the People's Palace, which is quite close to us, on the same
Did you not feel
There was general
consternation, and at first I thought that the flower show must be
postponed. Then I remembered that the Queen was always kind, and I
ventured to send her a letter, pointing out that the flower show had
long been fixed for July 14th, that it could not be a success under
the circumstances, and inviting her to visit it on her way to the
Had you to wait long
for a reply?
Ten days. Then, the
Queen's Secretary wrote that inquiries were being made, and ten days
later I had a letter to say that her Majesty would be very pleased to
visit the flower show for a few minutes. I was asked to go to St.
James's Palace to make arrangements with her private secretary; and
the day before the show the Queen sent from the gardens at Windsor a
collection of beautiful flowers. As you know, she came to the show,
and I may add that she stayed half and hour, made a tour of the
stalls, made some purchases, expressed herself greatly pleased with
all that she had seen, and told me that she should send me £25 for
the poor. This she sent, and also a letter, expressing her pleasure
at all the arrangements for her reception.
What effect did the
Queen's presence have upon the receipts at the flower show?
circumstances we might have made £50. This year we made £150. So I
think that we ought, in gratitude, to have a memorial tof the Queen's
I think that the
garden itself ought to be mentioned in connection with the church?
It is certainly a
great feature. Originally, it was a burial ground, but no burials
have taken place for many years, and some time ago the care of it was
handed over by the Rector to the Borough Council. Flowers and shrubs
abound in it. A corner was reserved for the Rector, who has also the
right of closing the entire garden to the public fourteen times
during the year, if he requires it for private purposes.
Have you anything to
say respecting the character of the services?
You are doubtless
aware that in former days, when Bryan King was Rector, St. George's
was celebrated for Ritualistic services, and there were serious
disturbances. The ritual is more moderate now than it was then,
though it and the teaching are thoroughly Catholic, but we are
untroubled by any note of discord. We have an early celebration of
the Holy Communion every Sunday at eight, and every Sunday, except
the third, at mid-day. On the third Sunday it is at 9.30 instead. We
have also Celebrations on Saints' Days, Tuesday, and Thursdays, at 8.
Matins and Evensong are said daily in the side chapel in the church;
there is a children's service every fourth Sunday afternoon, and on
festivals, and a service for men only occasionally.
Do the people seem to
attach much importance to the sermons?
I think that they
thoroughly appreciate good preaching. Though our time is so much
taken up with other work, it would not do for us to neglect the
sermon. If we did, many of the congregation would walk out of church
before it was delivered. I am a great believer in elocution, and have
spoken at various Church Congresses on the subject. It is too much
neglected in public schools, and at the universities.
Have you done much
During five years in
Yorkshire I preached special sermons in fifty churches in that
county; and I have been constantly employed as a special preacher for
such charitable institutions as the Queen Victoria Clergy Fund,
Curates' Association Society, etc.; and I recently preached at St.
What is your
experience here as to church attendance?
Owing to the steady
increase in the number of Jews, the congregations are not as large as
they once were. Though they can never be eclectic, they are of
encouraging proportions when all the circumstances of the people are
considered. The Sunday morning congregation is small. The men are
resting after a week of hard work; the women are getting the Sunday
dinner ready, which, in many cases, is the solitary hot meal of the
week. On Sunday evening the congregation is good. One striking
features is that nearly all the congregation are communicants, nearly
three-fifths of them .
That is a very
satisfactory point, and one of which outside critics can know
Exactly. The work,
cannot, however, be measured by the number of persons who attend the
services in the church; and in this matter the statistics of Mr.
Charles Booth, and of the "Daily News", would be equally
misleading. On Sunday afternoon, between three and five, a great many
different organisations are in operation. For instance, there are
three Sunday schools, three men's Bible classes, comprising
considerably over 100 men, varying in age from seventeen to seventy;
and several young women's Bible classes, not to mention baptisms,
weddings, and churchings.
And during the week?
The work is
continuous, and occupies the whole time of four clergy, besides a
large number of lay agents, paid or voluntary. Several ladies are
good enough to come to us from the West End as district visitors and
Sunday school teachers. We have, amongst other organisations,
Communicants' Guilds, a branch of the Girls' Friendly Society,
mothers' meetings, penny banks, a vigorous Temperance Society, and
Band of Hope, clubs for girls and lads of the Hooligan class. At St.
Matthew's, under the care of the Rev. Henry Iselin, there is a most
successful club of this type, said to be the roughest in London. The
young people, as a rule, are very well-behaved, though occasionally
pocket-handkerchiefs and other articles of light value are missing.
It is even true that one of the lads murdered his sweetheart a few
months ago, but that, happily, is a rare event. I have heard it said,
however, that if every parish had its due, we should have credit for
some of the so-called Whitechapel murders; but my friend, Mr.
Poynder , is quite welcome to all he can gain by this reputation. I am
hoping soon to establish a branch of the Church of England Men's
Society, and of the Church Lads' Brigade .
How should you
describe the parishioners generally?
They are chiefly small
shopkeepers, artisans, and dock labourers, a portion of whom are,
unfortunately, out of work during a large part of the year. Many of
the artisan class are comfortably housed, in model dwellings, but a
considerable portion are huddled together in old houses, which will,
happily, disappear as the leases fall in. Aged persons, however poor,
have a deep-rooted objection the workhouse. Consequently, there are a
great many individuals in the parish whom we must only speak of as
parochial pensioners. In dealing with these, we are assisted by the
Charity Organisation Society. A Church Army Labour Home, which exists
in the parish, and is under my supervision, is useful for housing men
of the submerged type, who do such work as the sorting of paper, for
their keep and a small wage. The clergy are very much harassed by
applications from mere tramps.
Does the Jewish
element affect you prejudicially?
It is detrimental to
the Christian population. Landlords are only too ready to evict
Christian tenants, because they know that they can accommodate three
Jewish families in the space where only one Christian family would
reside. That is a special difficulty here; but I fear that one of the
greatest troubles which the Church has to face, is the awful dearth
of curates. I want one now to complete the staff of four clergy, but
I have been advertising for nearly three months without finding one.
I have had applications, but every man would not suit a parish like
this; nor would every suitable man have the courage to come to it .
Are there general
features in the parish which merit notice?
There is one
public-house for every three hundred people. The means of the people
may to some extent be judged by the fact, that there are only five
families who keep a domestic servant.
Have you any
There is a splendid
town hall, with a library and reading-room, which are largely used by
the working classes, and too largely by the idle classes. Of schools,
there are five. One is the famous Raines Foundation School, in which
Church teaching is allowed, and of which the Rector is an ex-officio
governor. The other four are Board schools, and I am also one of the
managers of these. Fortunately for myself, I am not chairman,
although I am in great danger of being appointed in the future . St.
George's is the mother church of four daughters: St. Peter's, London
Docks; St. Mary's, Johnson Street; St. John's, Grove Street; and
Christ Church, Watney Street. A filial feeling exists in each of
these four parishes towards the mother church, which is very pleasant