Tuesday, 28 December 2010
The British Library retains one published sermon of the Rev. George Ainslie, Rector of St Peter’s Church, Walworth, in the mid-nineteenth century. The bound copy is signed by the Rev. Ainslie to his “affected friend” Samuel Smith, M.A. It was preached to his congregation at St Peter’s, on the morning of Sunday 24th September 1837, on relinquishing the Ministry of that District. The message was written down word for word as it was delivered.
The sermon, delivered by a man assured he is about to depart from his flock for good, is on the well known text of Philippians 4 v 8. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
After a brief exposition of each clause in the verse, he exhorts the flock to embrace them. Ainslie then deals with the first word in the text. Like the Apostle it was finally that he must appeal to them on this theme. He had been their beloved pastor for seven years, and they had gathered together within the walls of St Peter’s on so many joyous as well as sorrowful occasions. His ministry unto them was drawing to a close, and indeed within a week he was to hand over to another’s care that which he so long had treasured.
He makes no statement of the actual circumstances that brought about his imminent departure, or induced him to “quit a sphere of duty, in all respects but one, more satisfactory and congenial to my desires.” That “one” exception, to what was otherwise so perfect a calling, he found alone “in the overwhelming nature of the services I had to perform, and for which each day’s experience told me I had not sufficient strength either of mind or of body.”
Perhaps he could not cope with the child mortality rate, with its constant stream of infant burials and the overwhelming grief that undoubtedly caused. Or the general poverty and suffering all around him in an area which was fast becoming known as the Walworth slums. He had now been called, he felt, “to a different sphere of duty, one in which by God’s help, I trust I may be able to advance the cause of Christ and strive for the salvation of the souls entrusted to me, without the fearful conviction that I am daily leaving much that should be performed still undone, whilst I yield to those better qualified for so arduous a post as this, the task I have but inefficiently though heartily fulfilled here.”
He further urges those he leaves behind, to alleviate the condition of their poor neighbours, especially during the cold winter months “when the pangs of poverty are most acute”, and not to fail in cheering the destitute and friendless. These were days when there was no ‘welfare state’ as we know it today, and relief more often than not came from good old Christian charity. New poor laws had also taken effect and great workhouses had sprung up in every parish, bringing scenes of degrading cruelty and indescribable horror.
“Having been much in the abodes of wretchedness I am indeed competent to declare how through your exertions many deserving families, the sorrowing widow, the neglected orphan, have been year after year comforted and relieved when but for such a systematic distribution, they might have been utterly disregarded. Such have been the benefits resulting from your charity amidst the crowded population of this vicinity, from the alteration lately made in the laws I cannot but fear that the ensuing winter may witness an increase in distress, and though I feel also confident that you will be ready, as formerly, to aid the children of want, it would have ill become me to withhold now my word of approval from the plans we have so repeated and successfully pursued.”
The humble pastor thanks his fellow-labourers at St Peter’s, especially those who formed the Visiting Society in the district, “though verily they have their reward without the dross of my poor acknowledgments.”
The liberal offerings collected at St Peter’s had continued to feed and fire the less fortunate in the locality for over a decade, proving the great generosity of spirit and practical Christianity of the believers. But of all the various charities connected with Ainslie’s ministry at this favoured church, there was one that was most dear to his heart – the Sunday Schools. “I might almost call it the youngest child of my affections.” he said. And he could not but bring this great work before them, continuing, “If only to proclaim the regret with which I give up my connection with it, and all its ties of interest, and bequeath it to you as an institution of fair promise, if not already of abundant fruitfulness.”
Although he was leaving these Sunday Schools in their infancy - only the second year of existence having begun in 1836 – they were in such a healthy condition that justified the expectation of a long career of usefulness. “May the Almighty bless and further the efforts of all who strive to make them so; indicating that most precious of all sciences, the knowledge of God the Saviour, and of His Holy Word in the yet untutored mind, and implanting in the breast of many a neglected but enquiring child, those truths which will improve hereafter of inestimable price, and which, for such friendly interference in our part, perhaps, would never be attained. It cannot be denied, that in this age when the seeds of error are industrially scattered abroad to the hindrance of the true, and pure and heavenly doctrines of Christianity, all who love the Lord in sincerity should join in their attempts to train up the little ones, over whom they can exercise control, in the knowledge and fear of God, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and what a help it is to such a work to have an assembly like this of ours in which the day appointed for the rest and refreshment of soul, is made available to its real and lasting improvement, and the heart becomes imbued with the first holy principles of a spiritual life! For the sake of him then who has said ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not’, for their sakes, who are enriched by your instruction, for your own, for mine, brethren, think on these things and fulfil my joy as you strive thus to reveal the source of eternal and incalculable joy to others.”
Ainslie repents if he has caused any offence, or brought discredit to his office. He was clearly a very sensitive man and of exceeding humility and charitableness. Although worthless in his own sight, he displayed an immense love for Christ’s kingdom in Walworth, visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and keeping himself unspotted from the world.
Postscript: In the end Ainslie’s departure from his beloved parish turned out to be quite brief. He made a welcome return to St Peter’s Church in 1839, founding the day school, and continuing in the work until 1848. How glad he would be to know that a hundred and sixty odd years later St Peter’s Anglican Church and its associated School would still be in existence. But then how sad he would be to see how far we have departed from that “most precious of all sciences, the knowledge of God”. A knowledge and science that is on too few present day teachers list of principles.
Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2010
Thursday, 23 December 2010
In the Victorian days it was not unusual to find twenty people living in a small house that today may be occupied by only four or five. Several families living in the same house was a major characteristic of the vastly overcrowded St Peter's district of Walworth. In such conditions ventilation was all-important, especially regarding young ones whose delicate lungs were more injuriously affected by the stuffiness of the bedroom. However, keeping the bedroom door open all night was out of the question, but it was always possible to have a window slightly open allowing air into the room. The night air was not as unhealthy as the highly polluted day air, but nothing, wrote Rev. Horsley, was as “unhealthy as the atmosphere of a closed room breathed over and over again by its sleeping inmates.”
Following his induction Horsley soon became one of the most familiar faces in the neighbourhood and regularly visited his parishioners. His advice to parents on hygiene and good health is well known, as are his labours to bring about better conditions for poor people. His answer to many local ills was to educate the people and get them to change their habits. “I visit a case of consumption, I say to myself, what else but consumption could you expect. You have caused it as much as you cause a fire when you put lighted match to paper.”
Thursday, 2 December 2010
The very first Sunday School Account Book dating from April 1836 to March 1845 reveals much about the beginnings of St Peter’s School, which developed from the original Sunday School. The book contains the list of subscribers and contributors to the fund that initially got things going, and kept them running smoothly for many years. Without these people St Peter’s School would not exist today.
Commencing the 25th April 1836, the first name recorded is that of the Rev. George Ainslie, vicar of St Peter’s Church, with a donation of ten shillings and a five shillings annual subscription. (Note: A shilling equals 10 pence today but was obviously rather more at the beginning of the Victorian period.) The list of subscribers continues with dozens of church members and friends of the minister all wanting to partake in this venture. [This, of course, is of great interest to the local historian, for it supplies us with actual names and addresses of the folk who made up the congregation in the early days of the parish church here in Walworth.]
Edward Jones, one of the first contributors was a local worthy, living in Carter Street. “His purse” we are told, was “ever open to the appeals of the really destitute and deserving, and [his] heart ever warmed to the plea of the widow or the cry of the orphan or distressed.” Born in 1780, Jones was a liberal contributor to local charities and the poor of the district.
One gentleman, Mr Potts of Queens Row, made a large donation of £5, which was twenty times the annual subscription! Within a fortnight there was over £16 in the treasury, ample enough to begin to supply the Sunday School with essential equipment and various sundries. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) was contacted by Mr William Cripps, the Sunday School Superintendent, and an initial quantity of text books were ordered for the schoolchildren at a cost of over £7.00. A further four pounds four shillings was spent on twelve chairs and two tables, provided by a local carpenter Mr H. Roe. Another tradesman of the same craft, Mr W.J. Twiner, put together ten forms [benches], three bookcases and some cloak pins. But perhaps his charge of eight pounds fourteen shillings and sixpence was thought to be a little bit too steep, for as soon as another table and six more forms were required Roe’s workshop was returned to.
Although the St Peter's Sunday School began in the mid 1830s the day school did not open until 1839. A new school building was moved into in 1851, followed by the present one which was opened in 1905.
Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2010
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
No picture of St Peter’s School in the Victorian age would be complete without making reference to the Rev. John W. Horsley. The 48 year old Rev. Horsley arrived at St Peter’s Church as the new Rector in January 1894. He was six feet tall and had had a beard since he was 16. He immediately created an impression in the area, and is almost singularly responsible for opening up the crypt of the church to community activities, turning a disused graveyard into a park and later securing the deal that would give St Peter’s its present school building in Liverpool Grove.
He was a regular visitor to the school, and eventually taught the children religious instruction daily. His keen interest in botany and zoology meant he was more than just a teacher of religious education. He specialised in Conchology, and often brought an assortment of shells from his large collection in to St Peter’s School for the pupils to study and draw.
The menagerie was fondly remembered long after Canon Horsley's demise. Even today, a century later, there is still a part of the church grounds that is known as 'The Monkey Garden' or 'the Monkey Park.'
This illustration of the new St Peter’s School building appeared in the Illustrated London News on the 3rd July 1852. It was situated in Shaftesbury Street, which is now called Aylesbury Road. The present allotments on the corner of Brettell Street and Aylesbury Road is approximately where the building was positioned.
The architect responsible for the design of the Shaftesbury Street school building was Mr Henry Jarvis, who gave his services free of charge. There is a marked similarity with St John’s Church in Larcom Street, which was another of Jarvis’s designs. The Schoolmaster and Mistress lived in the house attached. On Sundays the main building was also used for divine worship.
The school comprised of two large well-ventilated and efficiently warmed rooms, measuring 15 metres in length by 8 metres wide: the boys upstairs, the girls downstairs. The Infants School until 1885 was on the site of the present St Peter’s Rectory. By the end of the 19th century, and in keeping with its surroundings, the old St Peter’s School had fallen into such a state of disrepair that plans were underway to erect a new building. This eventually took place in 1905, but only after a vast area of the local slum dwellings were cleared away to make way for nicer homes. The old St Peter’s School building stood in the way of a new street, so it was a good opportunity to relocate to its present position in Liverpool Grove.
Notice the condition of the road in the top illustration. Tarmacadam was not in general use in 1852. Road surfaces were made up of gravel, crushed stones and waterbound grit. It was also forty four years before the invention of the motor car, and most vehicles were horse-drawn.
Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2010