Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Tempted London : Young men, [Anon.], [c1889] - Chapter 14 - What the Churches are Doing

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IN view of the facts that we have brought before our readers, many will ask, What is being done to counteract these evil influences?  What allurements to good are being presented? What means are being used to "strengthen such as do stand, to comfort the weak-hearted, and to raise up such as have fallen"? We propose to answer these questions from the mouths of representative workers and the records of accomplished work.
    The Churches of England have not been unmindful of their duty, but until very lately they have had little idea how to set about it. They have been out of touch with those for whose salvation they have prayed, and are only slowly acquiring it.
    All who have followed carefully the foregoing chapters must have noticed that the chief hold the tempter has upon the youth of London consists in the monotony of their lives and the homelessness of their surroundings.
    Employers cannot do much to remedy this state of things. In the larger houses of business all that they can do is to provide convenient and comfortable quarters for their employés, and this they do. But no matter how comfortable a young man's surround-[-252-]ings are, affording him in many instances all the conveniences of a club, he cannot shake off the sameness of them. He may boat or play cricket, debate or cycle, but it must be in pretty much the same company all the year round. Its life is at best a barrack life, and his temptations are near akin to those that attach all barrack inmates. 
    Can the Churches do anything to alter this state of things? or is it their business to do so, supposing they can?
    It is generally thought that those clergymen and ministers whose lot is cast in the heart of the city have magnificent opportunities for solving the knotty question of how to get at the young men of London. To some of these we have gone to gather the fruit of their experience, and though we cannot in all cases give the names of our informants, yet we shall as far as possible confine ourselves to the words of the representative men who so kindly afforded us an nterview.


    No one is better known or more universally respected for the work he has accomplished amongst the youth of the city than the Rector of St. Nicholas Cole Abbey, in Oueen Victoria Street, the Rev. H.C. Shuttleworth. When appointed to the living the church was pre-eminent amongst its neighbours for the meagre congregations frequenting it. The former incumbent was a good and able man, but his working days had long gone by, and new men and habits had arisen that demanded new methods. Mr. Shuttleworth had already acquired a reputation for [-253-] independent ways of speaking and acting while Minor Canon of St. Paul's, and people looked with curiosity to see what a parson who felt at liberty to stand on the same platform in a Hyde Park demonstration with notorious Radical and Socialist leaders would do when he had a free hand as a city rector. One invaluable gift was his - that of music ; and another was added to it even greater - an indefinable sympathy with the young, expressed by the much-used phrase of b&ng "in touch" with them. He came from the rugged shores of North Cornwall, where his boyhood had been spent in a secluded vale that opened out into Padstow Bay, and here as a lad he had gained all hearts, as the writer, who spent some weeks in his father's now his brother's parish, has had good reason to know. In London his experience seems to have been much the same. Between himself and his youthful hearers there already existed an affinity that opportunity only strengthened and confirmed. We dwell on this because it is a fact that there are hundreds of well-intentioned, hardworking pastors of churches who never will or can gain the hearts of their young men, however much they merit and enjoy their respect. And they may pipe until doomsday, but the listening youth will not dance to their piping. The chief cause of the wide-spread abstention of the young from communion with the Church is the absence, not of kindly interest in, but of instinctive sympathy with their requirements on the part of the parsons and their coadjutors.
    But let us hear what the ministers have to say. The Rev. H. C. Shuttleworth declares that the Christian Churches, in his opinion, are wasting their [-254-] energies upon suppressing the symptoms of moral disease rather than destroying their causes. Intemperance and immorality are symptoms, not the disease itself, and you might just as well drive inwards the eruption of scarlet fever or small-pox as think of removing such evils while the root of the distemper is untouched. What, then, is the root to be attacked? Overwork and the consequent monotony of existence. Long hours, sameness of employment, and dull surroundings when business is over are the occasion of most of the vice of the young. Is it not natural that the first thought on escaping from such an environment should be amusement? This the must and will have. If no one will provide it for them in a proper and healthy form they will get it how they can.
    Now the chief remedy for this would be the passing of the Eight Hours Bill, to apply to all occupations. But this is hardly yet, we urged, within the range of practicable politics. It soon might be, was Mr. Shuttleworth's reply. If Christian people would take the matter up, in five years it might be the law. It would ruin a few capitalists, but only such as deserved to be ruined, and it would no doubt be bitterly opposed by the more selfish section of the working classes. It was quite time the Church raised her voice against the sin of accumulating wealth by the sacrifice of thousands of young lives.
    But would not so much leisure afford increased opportunities for indulgence in evil? He did not think so. His experience was that the vicious classes were those who had nothing to do and those who had too much. Either of these was an unhealthy [-255-] condition of moral as well as physical life. Let a healthy man go into the fever ward of a hospital, and the probability was that he would come out unharmed; but let an unhealthy one do the same, and he would succumb to the disease. A great number of those living in the city inherited moral disease, and surrounded as they were by contagion, they readily fell victims to it, and indulged in drunkenness, fornication, and the like. It was time to cease tinkering. He believed in God : many good Christians seemed to believe only in the devil.
    When he came to St. Nicholas's the congregation consisted of a few old women who went there for the sake of the charities attached to it. it was not long before the church was filled to its utmost capacity with young men and women from the wholesale houses, post-office and telegraph clerks, etc. The question was how to become personally acquainted with them. He instituted classes of one kind and another, and this did something, but not much. At length he began a system of registration by which all who wish to be considered under his pastoral charge enter their names on the church book and receive a card of membership. There are now about five hundred so enrolled, He invited them by parties of thirty to his house to spend the evening, and at length he was able to say that he knew them all personally.
    As soon as his rectory was built he taught his people to regard it as their church-house - indeed, to look upon it as their home, where they would be at any time welcome in the drawing-room or at the dining-table. When the Church provided the parson [-256-] with a house he imagined it was not for his exclusive use, but for the benefit of the people generally.
    Church life in London was not parochial, but congregational. It could not be otherwise. According to primitive custom, the people had a voice in the election of their pastors, and so it should be now. In London they had practically the choice of their minister, for they went where they found the one they liked, regardless altogether of parochial boundaries.
    From amongst his young people he had trained an efficient choir of sixty voices, and had accustomed them to render the masterpieces of sacred musical art in the course of their Sunday' services. A grand piano stood in the church just below the pulpit, and the "sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music" were introduced into the service of worship.
    He did all he could to afford facilities for social intercourse amongst the young people of his congregation in the form they liked best. To this end they were in the habit of holding periodical dances. Young people would dance and if they could not do it in a respectable way they would in another. He was not a dancer himself had never learned to dance, although he occasionally attended dances ; but he promoted such gatherings in the sincere hope of doing good, and he had his reward. Young men who would have lounged the evening away in questionable resorts came there and spent their leisure hours morallv and rationally ; and overworked. dreary- aced girls that had their lives brightened and cheered by an occasional gleam of pleasure and many hours of anticipation. Besides, what opportunities were there of young men and women meeting [-257-] for social intercourse except at such gatherings? Their only alternative was the street or the public-house.
    For the men he had instituted or encouraged smoking concerts. He was chairman of half a dozen or more that were held from time to time in the neighbourhood. In all these forms of work he was greatly hampered for room. Except his church and rectory, he had no meeting-place for his people, and of course the hire of rooms, etc., added considerably to the difficulty of developing his ideas for their social benefit.
    But was there not a danger of the young regarding the Church as a merely social institution, a kind of club to the exclusion of its spiritual nature altogether? Mr. Shuttleworth did not think so. Many of those he had gathered round him were now real, earnest Christians, who had been sceptics and scoffers and indeed vicious in disposition and life.
    Altogether apart from his own parish there was a young men's club in which he took a deep interest. It is situated in Wardrobe Place, and is named the St. Paul's Cathedral Club. The Cathedral authorities provide the house, at a rental of £250 per annum, and it stands in a quiet nook in the shadow of tall trees within a stone's throw of " London's central roar." Here are bi1liard-rooms, rooms, writing-rooms, reading and smoke-rooms, all substantially but plainly furnished; and tea, coffee, bottled beer, and simple refreshments are at hand for all who call for them.
    In these and other ways the Rector of St. Nicholas Cole Abbey is striving to counteract the evil influ-[-258-]ences of Tempted London, and his efforts are certainly meeting  with deserved success.


In the course of our inquiries we called upon another representative clergyman, the minister of a large and crowded church that lies outside the city boundaries, but which numbers a great proportion of young men amongst its congregation and Church workers. He felt doubtful of the wisdom of the Church seeking to gratify the social demands of either young or old. He  imagined a clergyman's time and energy could be better employed in purely spiritual work than in maintaining men's or youths' clubs, etc. This was good work, but it was not the Church's work. He found such institutions required a great amount of nursing. In another neighbourhood he had worked hard and spent a great amount of time and money in keeping a youth's club going, but he felt it was practically labour lost. It would have been better employed in putting another curate on the ground to minister in more purely spiritual things. In a case which he regarded as typical a club, which had arisen out of a Bible-class, had completely overshadowed the origina1 institution, and well-nigh strangled it. Nor did he much esteem such efforts as a draw-net for the Church.  He did not find that they attracted many to it. As an environment, a kind of garden surrounding the Church, no doubt they had great value, but he did not think they drew many inside it. In other words, it was well for those who were members of the Church to have such places under its shadow where [-259-] they might meet for other than spiritual purposes, but it was not the case that many were led through such surroundings into the more spiritual centre.
    As a matter of fact, he had every reason to be gratified with the success of his work amongst the young. They formed a large proportion of his congregation, and his spacious church was crowded to the doors on the Sunday evening, and very many were communicants. The evils of impurity and gambling were gigantic and innate, but he did not believe in "straight tips" or special recipes for the cure of either. It was certain1y very important that the heads of Christian households should recognize their responsibility towards those who were without the advantages of home life in a great city like London, and as far as possible throw open their doors to young men and women of good character, and thus confer upon them the inestimable boon of congenial domestic society. But he doubted whether there was such a demand for clubs as was sometimes represented.


    Here, then, are the opinions of two able and energetic clergymen, each of whom has reason to be satisfied with the success he has achieved, but who differ widely in their methods of work. Let us turn to a third, the minister of a church in the very heart of the wholesale warehouses, who has a well-appointed church, ample lecture-room accommodation, and who is young in heart and years. He has been for some time now on the ground, but he confesses that so far with regard to the young men of the neighbour-[-260-]hood he has hardly begun to "feel his feet." Strangers told him what magnificent opportunities he had for "getting at" the youth of the city, and no doubt they were right, but he should consider himself a happy man if any one could give him the secret of getting at them. Indeed, he had come to think that the less you tried to get at them the more likely they were to come to you. He was inclined to doubt the expediency of special efforts on behalf of young men. They fought shy of the man who was too lavish of his bait, or if they took it they considered themselves as conferring a great favour upon him. Of course there was a small percentage of serious youths who gladly availed themselves of the services of the Church, but the majority were eager only for amusement. He had been beating about to find some line of address that would interest them, but so far to little purpose, and he had been told by those who ought to know that the wholesale warehouseman cared for none of the great social or religious questions of the clay, he thought of nothing but how to amuse himself when the hours of work were over. 
    And it was difficult to work even upon that side of his character, for almost every large house of business had its own athletic-club, rowing-club, debating and literary society, etc., so that there was nothing for the Church to do in that way. They were well-provided with all means of recreation, so that he found it an extremely difficult matter to get into contact with them. We omitted to inquire whether the gentleman were a bachelor or a married man, or whether he had tried the hire of attractive female [-261-] society; but we knew that unfortunately he was compelled to live at a great distance from his church, so that he was heavily handicapped in his efforts to benefit the young around him. Our business was to inquire, not to recommend anything; but it occurred to us as we listened that in the immediate neighbourhood were a great many young ladies, employed in the fancy drapery houses, who might be induced with little difficulty to meet their brothers in toil once a week for social relaxation and amusement under the genial presidency of the minister and his wife, and that by such gentle pressure both young men and young women might discover that there were other and purer delights than the excitement of the billiard-room and the music-hall. And in this matter we know the great houses would not venture to compete, for we have not yet heard of one that possesses a common hall - or drawing-room, shall we say? - where ladies and gentlemen in their employ can meet for mutual society, benefit, and entertainment.

source: Anon., Tempted England: Young Men, c.1889