Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Tempted London : Young men, [Anon.], [c1889] - Chapter 17 - The Polytechnic

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 THE other great young men's society is the Young Men's Christian Institute at the Polytechnic, Regent Street, familiarly known amongst its members as the "Poly." It has grown to its present dimensions in the space of a few years from a very small beginning in a street off the Strand it now numbers over 10,000 members and students, and has attained high rank as the most successful attempt yet nude to establish a popular technical college in this country; for its principal feature is the technical education offered within its walls to aritsans and apprentices of every conceivable trade. It would take up too much space if we tried to enumerate all the subjects here taught, but they are roughy classified under four heads -viz, practical trade classes, such as carpentry, plumbing, upholstery, etc.; technical classes, as telegraphy, drawing as applied to cabinet-making, etc. ; science classes and general classes including languages, music, elocution, etc. The Institution is open to its members from 5.30 to 10.30 p.m. every day of the week, and within its walls are a large and elaborately fitted gynnasium, with a gallery running right round [-283-] it, a library and reading-room, swimming-bath, large and small lecture-hall, social room with refreshment-bar, lavatory and bath- rooms and several class-rooms. A recreation-ground of twenty-seven acres is connected with it, situated at Merton Hall, Wimbledon, and numerous athletic clubs belong to it as well a company of Rifle Volunteers, of the Medical Staff Corps, of Artillery, and of Engineers. It possesses a military band, an orchestral and a choral society, a savings-bank, a sick-club, and a Christian workers' union. The leading spirit of it all is Mr. Quintin Hogg, but its affairs are managed in great part by the members themselves, who elect a council formed of representatives of each section. Every night it resembles nothing so much as a busy bee-hive. Youths are seen clustering round the entrance, passing in and out on their way to gymnasium, swimming-bath, entertainment, or class-room, and so the swarm keeps moving until about 10.30 p.m. The students of the "Poly" have distinguished themselves in numberless examinations and exhibitions and in all branches pf technical education. They have won medals and prizes of all descriptions, and have shone in the fields of sport as much as in the examination-room.
    The class of young men for whom it is designed is that of artisans and apprentices between sixteen and twenty-five years of age. The subscription is three shillings a quarter, entitling members to free use of the library, reading, social, chess, and draughts-rooms, the use of the gymnasium and swimming-baths, admission to the concerts, entertainments, etc., that are constantly being given, to many of [-284-] which they may bring their sisters, or sweethearts, or wives.
    Religion here, as at the Y.M.C.A., occupies a foremost position. Let the programme for one week illustrate this:-

Sunday - 9.30 a.m. Mr. Studds Berean class.
    "        - 3.15 p.m. Mr. Quintin Hogg' s class for men only, in Great Hall.
    "        - 7 p.m. Mr. Paton's evangelistic service in Great Hall.
    Wednesday. - Evangelistic service, 8.30 p.m.
    Thursday. -Bible-class for young men, 8.30 p.m.
    Every evening.-Short service, 10.15 p.m.

    Each athletic club has its occasional festive reunion, and some of them give an annual ball, which, though not held on the premises, evidently has the sanction of the heads of the Institute.
    An air of freedom, business and happiness reigns throughout the whole place. It is a grand philanthropic achievement, and has, we believe, solved what to some seems an insoluble problem - how to combine the highest regard for the promotion of personal Evangelical religion with a wide sympathy for those youthful instincts that demand amusement and social entertainment as well as piety and prayers. Within its range of work may be found provision for body, soul, and spirit in all their various yearnings, and it is pleasant, but not  surprising, to note that numerous similar institutes, smaller "Polys," offspring of the mother " Poly" of Regent Street, are springing up in different parts of the metropolis. Although it touches a different [-285-] class from that reached by the Y.M.C.A., it proceeds on much the same principle. Conversion to God is the great object of its being but it seeks to convert the whole man, to train intellect, motions, and spirit to offer the best they can to His service who has formed them.
    With these two institutions are connected more than 20,000 young men of Tempted London, and their numbers are rapidly increasing. Is it not a matter of thankfulness and of abounding  hope that so many are eagerly seeking admission to societies where they know that religion of no perfunctory type is considered the chief thing, and where, though it will not be offensively obtruded upon their notice, it will be kept well before their eyes ? It is the mainspring of it all, it has prompted and sustained the noble generosity and untiring energy of the men who are carrying on this great work, and  what other motive but that of true religion could have done likewise ?
    From what has been written it is apparent, then, that there are very few Churches indeed that are not doing something on behalf of the youth of London; but what does it all amount to? Of mutual-improvement societies, debating-clubs, and Bible-classes there is no lack at all. They abound everywhere, and it is a most satisfactory sign of the times that the number of young men periodically meeting for the systematic study of the Holy Scriptures is rapidly increasing,. But these efforts, however praiseworthy and successful, touch but one side of the question. They may do much to preserve their members from temptation, but they [-286-] offer no attraction to the more frivolous or to the worldly. They make no appeal to the young mans craving for amusement and excitement, which has been shown to be the chief factor in the accomplishing of his ruin. A few Churches, therefore, have ventured farther, and introduce into their programmes concerts, social clubs, and even dances, but most hesitate at this point, and openly confess that it is no part of Christian work to compete with worldly devices in framing allurements for the young. They believe that they are quite unable to cater for the pampered appetite that seeks satisfaction in the ribaldry of the music-hall, and therefore confine their efforts to evangelistic agencies, which, by changing the desires of the young, will cause them to be contented with the less stimulating fare to be had within their borders. But others maintain that it is quite possible to offer healthy excitement "within the limits of becoming mirth," and that it is legitimate Christian work to do this. And these two opinions will no doubt continue to be held, however much they may be disputed. But the discussion cannot do harm, and may be productive of much good. It being taken for granted that the temptations of the young derive their chief force from a natural love of amusement and excitement and the cravings of the social instincts, is it the province of the Church to provide such amusements? Some will answer Yes, and some No, according to their personal characteristics for as we have seen personal character has much more weight with the young than particular method. One man may gather his young people together for dances or dramatic [-287-] entertainments, and effect much good by so doing; another, by the same means, would do infinite harm. It cannot, however, be denied, we think, that until very lately the Churches have failed to approach the young on that side of their nature which is most approachable, and their labour has therefore been to a great extent in vain. Let us take but one aspect of it. A young man comes to town from the provinces. At home he has the companionship of his fellows, of his sisters and his friends' sisters, cousins, and others, all of whom are in their social position respectable and respected. He moves freely about amongst them, restrained only by those natural limits of decorum that prevail in all respectable society. From the moment he comes to London  this is changed. He sees none on terms of intimacy but a lot of young fellows in precisely the same position as himself. But out in the street he can meet with companions, male and female, some of whom are by no means the monsters of vice that good people paint them, but who have lost the respect of their neighbours and their own, and who are free from any strict restraint whatever. This, then, is the only variety open to him in the way of companionship, and if he have a few pence in his pocket it is easily obtainable. What more natural than that he should avail himself of it, until the ideal he had formed of all that is manly and womanly in human nature fades into unreality? And the Church offers him nothing but a Bible-class or a mutual-improvement society. As a clergyman remarked to the writer a day or two ago, "If that were all they could do for me after ten [-288-] or twelve hours at the desk, do you think I would take it? Not I." So it is not to be wondered at if billiard-saloons, gaming-clubs, music-halls, and dancing-classes are crowded as soon as the shops and  offices are closed. The Churches, it must be repeated, are doing little to gratify the social instincts of the homeless youths entrusted to their care; but they are becoming aware of their deficiencies, and by means of the two great societies we have referred to much is being done to repair them. It is on these lines they must proceed, remembering that Christ claims the whole man, spirit, soul, and body, to be preserved entire and presented blameless at His coming; nor must the reproach any longer be needed that Christians are so intent upon saving souls that that they have no time to save men and women.

 Printed by Hazell, Watson and Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury.

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