Hugh Stowell Brown was born on the Isle of Man in 1823. His father was an Anglican minister there. In 1839 Hugh came to the mainland and found employment with a land surveyor and in 1840, like many other men of his time, he found his way to the new railway works at Wolverton. There was nothing especially remarkable in this except that he recorded his experiences later in his life when he wrote his autobiography, Notes of my Life. He was by this time a famous man.
Here is one assessment of his life:
In the second half of the 19th Century Hugh Stowell Brown was a household name in Liverpool, but today he is virtually unknown. His brother Thomas Edward Brown is better known as a poet, at least his name appears in my encyclopaedia. He was born in the Isle of Man, his father being the minister of St Matthew’s Chapel in Douglas. He came to Liverpool when he was 16 years of age, and was engaged in secular employment for a number of years until he felt that God was calling him to preach. The death of his father, however, took him back to the Isle of Man for some time, and during this time he did some preaching in Douglas. One day he received an invitation to preach at Myrtle Street Baptist Church in Liverpool (opposite the Philharmonic Hall) which he accepted. After a few weeks he was invited to become the pastor on a 3-month trial. At the age of 23 years, with no experience in pastoral work and little in preaching, he took on the role of permanent minister there. It then had 239 members but by the time he retired this had risen to 849 members. He was an immensely popular speaker both in his church where people crowded to listen to his robust and energetic teaching, as well as in public lectures that he used to give in the Concert Hall in Lord Nelson Street, where crowds of up to 4,000 people used to regularly go and hear him speak. He was especially popular with the many Americans who used to stream through Liverpool every year and the deacons of the church would sometimes struggle to accommodate up to 200-300 strangers turning up in an already crowded chapel. He was very active in the Baptist Church, being a member of the Baptist Missionary Society, as well as being appointed president of the Baptist Union in 1878. He also took a very keen interest in the sailors of the port of Liverpool and was chairman of the Liverpool Seaman’s Friend Society. He was also involved in a number of good causes, and there was no movement for the benefit of the people of Liverpool in which he was not actively involved. His death in 1886 fell with a heavy blow on Liverpool and he was much lamented, so much so that no less than 10,000 people attended his funeral. Spurgeon, who was a long time friend of Brown, was also devastated. In a sermon after his death, he said, “The grief is to us who are left behind. What a gap is left where stood Hugh Stowell Brown! Who is to fill it? A statue was raised to him in 1889 in the churchyard of Myrtle Street Baptist Church, and this was later moved to Princes Road/Avenue in 1954. The now empty pedestal stands close to the Princes Park Gates, the statue having been moved because of its frail condition. Stowell Street, opposite the Philharmonic Hall was named after him.
The author is not quite correct in saying that he came to Liverpool at 16 – in fact he only left Wolverton in 1843 when he was 20. I reproduce below some extracts from Notes of my Life, published in 1888, where he describes his Wolverton experience. From the Wolverton historian’s point of view the writing is invaluable because he gives a first hand account of what life was like on the shop floor and how this new enterprise made its uncertain beginnings.
I GO TO WOLVERTON.
I HAVE sometimes wished that I had continued on the Ordnance Survey, but I had made up my mind to become a mechanical engineer. Mr., afterwards Dr. Carpenter, of St. Barnabas, Douglas, was acquainted with one of the directors of the London and Birmingham Railway, and through Carpenter I obtained permission to go to the Company’s works at Wolverton, whither I accordingly went in the month of August, after little more than a month of Ordnance Survey.
And here begins a new chapter of my poor history. The London and Birmingham was then the pride of English railways. It was indeed the best line of railway in the world, and I don’t know a better even now. It was the greatest of Robert Stephenson’s achievements. He had tried his ‘prentice hand in the construction of the Liverpool and Manchester, and this larger work was his masterpiece. To this day on going from Liverpool to London, after going over the Trent Valley, the traveller, as he proceeds from Rugby to the metropolis, feels that he is on a firmer, smoother, better road. He is then on the old London and Birmingham. It had been opened throughout about two years when I entered the Company’s service, Wolverton station, fifty miles from London and sixty from Birmingham, was regarded as a half-way house, and every passenger-train stopped there ten minutes for refreshments. I believe the Company’s original intention was to take the line by Northampton, and to have their engine-works there, but the wiseacres of that town fought against the Bill, and so far succeeded in cutting their own throats as to divert the line, not allowing it to come within five miles of them. It was a grand mistake; they shut themselves out of the world. When they wanted to go to London or Birmingham they had to jog along those five miles to Blisworth station in omnibuses. Had the engine-works been built at Northampton, the town would have added to its trade perhaps £2000 a week, besides all the profit of building works and houses. For many years Northampton had to be satisfied with a branch line, and now (1879) after more than forty years the original design is in part being carried out by means of a loop from Roade to Rugby, whereby the long tunnel at Kilsby will be escaped. Had the Northampton people been wise that tunnel need not have been made.
The engine-works were then established at Wolverton. They consisted at first of a large, square building enclosing a quadrangular yard, and ordinary smith’s shops, turning and fitting shops, erecting shops, pattern shop, iron foundry and brass foundry, with an engine-shed, and the number of men employed was about five hundred When I went to Wolverton there were not more than about twenty houses for the workmen. The majority of the men lodged in the villages round about—Old Wolverton, Cosgrove, Castlethorpe, Haulope, Bradwell, Calverton, and in fire towns of Stony Stratford to the west and Newport Pagnell to the cast. Wolverton is in Buckingharnshire, on the border of Northamptonshire, and in the valley of the lazy Ouse, which creeps through the railway, half a mile north of the station. Like the parishes which surround it, its occupation is wholly agricultural, with the addition of lace-making, carried on in the cottages by the women and children. The country is prettily adorned with many goodly trees, and many quaint and picturesque old churches; Haulope with its noble spire being particularly fine. Beneath the trees is embowered the little church of Cosgrove, where lie the remains of Dean Mansell. But more interesting is Olney, fragrant with the memories of Cowper and John Newton. It is also a pleasant walk to Wootton Abbey on one hand, and to the stately Stowe near Buckingham on the other. The geological structure of the district is the well-known oolite, so common in Northamptonshire and neighbouring counties. The two towns, Stony Stratford and Newport Pagnell, were, as they still are, very dull, dead-alive places. They had just been shorn of their glories. Each, situated on one of the great roads from London to the north, had seen many coaches pass through it every day. The railway had superseded every one of them. No longer was heard the guard’s horn, no longer seen the well-appointed equipages, each with its four fine horses, and its proud driver with a bunch of flowers in his button-hole. Looking along the Stratford High Street, one saw on either side many sign-boards swinging in the wind—’ The Cock,’ ‘The Bull,’ ‘The Cross Keys,’ and at Old Stratford ‘The Saracen’s Head.’ The number of inns, large and small, was numerous, each being patronized by its own coach or coaches. But now, small indeed was the custom at these once busy hostelries; and the grass grew long in Stratford Market-place, and we railway folk were looked upon with much disfavour. We had ruined the trade of the town; but yet I should think that after all Stratford lost little by the change. Most of the wages paid at Wolverton came into the hands of the Stratford shopkeepers, and not less than £100 was spent in the Stratford publics on every Saturday night by the ‘station – men,’ as they were called. And not a few of the ‘station-men ‘ also, when they saw that the daughters of Stratford were fair, took them wives who fared much better than they were likely to have done but for these strangers. Still the talk of the townspeople was full of sad references to the good old coaching days.
RAILWAYS IN 1840.
IN the summer of 1840, when I went to Wolverton, the traffic on the London and Birmingham differed greatly from that which we witness now after a lapse of thirty-nine years. It should be borne in mind that this line had all the traffic between London and the north. There was no Great Northern Company for the trade between London and Scotland; the Great Western had not gone to Birmingham; the Midland poured all its London traffic into the London and Birmingham at Rugby. The only connection between the metropolis and Northampton, Aylesbury, Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Stafford, Derby, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Holyhead, Leeds, Preston, Huddersfield, Bolton, Bury, Halifax, Bradford, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow, was by that one line from London to Birmingham. In fact, if you exclude the eastern counties, you may say that the whole of Great Britain north of London, together with the larger part of Ireland, depended for its traffic with the metropolis upon the one line of railway of which Wolverton was the centre. The Grand Junction at Birmingham, and the Midland at Rugby, brought goods and passengers from the north; coaches from many places ran to the various stations on the line, which was a gigantic monopoly, its only competitor in goods being the Grand Junction Canal; in passenger traffic it had no competitor at all. And yet to what did its traffic, its passenger traffic, amount? The Company ran per diem nine through trains each way, and two others, one between London and Wolverton, the other between London and Aylesbury, the branch from Cheddington to that town being the first and in 1840 the only branch in existence. And the trains were very light. There were, as far as I can recollect, few trains of more than ten carriages, each containing three compartments. They were little more than half the size of the carriages now in use. Those small trains and small carriages sufficed for all the passenger traffic of the vast district above defined. And now! Well, now, the Midland has withdrawn its share and runs to St. Pancras, taking to a great extent the midland county passengers, competing with the London and North-Western Railway for the traffic with Manchester and Liverpool, and all Scotland, and connecting with Northampton, and much more of the old London and Birmingham ground. The Great Northern, another formidable rival, has a large share of the northern traffic. The Great Northern bids against the old line for the trade with Birmingham, Leamington, Wednesbury, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Chester. Thus the district once entirely monopolized by the London and Birmingham for London is now shared by three other companies. And yet how stands the case? In stead of nine through trains per day, there are thirteen, together with many more which run to and from Rugby, taking in Trent Valley for the north, and many more of a local character; and taking into account the number and size of the carriages, the passenger traffic at this day on the old London and Birmingham must be more than fourfold what it was when it had not a single rival to compete with.
It is interesting to notice the difference in speed. The fastest train, and there was only one such per day, was five hours on the road between London and Birmingham, and now in five hours we go nearly twice the distance—i. a. from London to Liverpool. The greatest distance run without a stoppage was from London to Tring, 31 miles, and now we run from Willesden to Rugby, about 76 miles, without stopping. The fastest train stopped four times between London and Birmingham; it now stops only once at Rugby. There were sixteen stations between the termini; there are now twenty-four. The fares were high: first-class, London to Birmingham, 32s. ; second, 25s.; but there was a second-class which was open to the weather, and the charge by that was 20s. And now to Liverpool, the first-class is 29s. 6d., and the second, as good as the first was then, 21s. 9d. In fact, the present fares are little more than half what they were in 1840. There was no third-class, and working people could not afford second-class fares; so they went on foot. Our workmen at Wolverton came and went on tramp from Lancashire and from London, and when discharged walked back again, or elsewhere, in search of work. Almost every day when we turned out at the dinnertime we found some half-dozen tramps, smiths, fitters, turners, boiler-makers, sitting under the wall of the shop in very shabby clothes, with blistered and bleeding feet, and to show them hospitality by taking them to dinner, was one of the prime duties that devolved upon us. The railway was not of the slightest advantage to workmen who had to travel. It probably was rather a disadvantage. In former days a lift on the coach or on the carrier’s waggon was common, but coaches and waggons were now all driven off the road.
Edward Bury, of the Liverpool firm of Bury, Curtis and Kenedy, was the company’s locomotive engineer. We very seldom saw him, and he did not very often look round the shops. He took care that Bury, Curtis and Kenedy should make a good thing out of the company. The locomotive plant consisted of fifty-five engines, nearly all made by Bury, Curtis and Kenedy at the Clarence Foundry in Liverpool. There was an iron foundry in the Wolverton works, but it was never used, for Bury, Curtis and Kenedy furnished all the castings. Wolverton was simply a repairing shop, and every cylinder, every eccentric, everything in cast iron, was supplied by Bury, Curtis and Kenedy. No railway company at that time built its own engines. The locomotives on the London and Birmingham were small and light compared with those now in use. A few used in the goods department were coupled. The passenger-trains were run by an engine on four wheels, the driving-wheel being about five feet six in diameter. They were swift, but hardly strong enough for the work, and many of the trains required two engines to draw them, and a pilot engine was always on the station at Wolverton ready to go in search of belated trains, and assist them. The Gifford feeder being unknown, the only way of supplying the boiler was the pump; and many was the time the pilot engine, as the steam blew off and the water got less, was trotted up and down a mile or two that its pumps might supply it. Some time afterwards came the device of two blind wheels stationed under the line, their unflanged ones forming a few inches of the line itself.
Thus the engine was slowly drawn until its driving wheels rested on the blind wheels, and then it could pump away without moving; but I believe that to get it off or on the blind wheels it had to be pushed with a crossbar. It was not the infancy, but still the childhood, of locomotion, and Bury, Curtis and Kened having their drawings, templates, and patterns, were in no hurry to introduce improvements.
We were in all about five hundred hands, a mixed group of Londoners, Lancashiremen, Yorkshiremen Scotchmen, Welshmen, Irishmen; and among us was a man of great stature and magnificent proportions, Polish gentleman, who kept himself very much to himself, and was very taciturn. Our foreman was a Scotchman, named Patch, who afterwards went to be superintendent on the Edinburgh and Glasgow line. I knew most of~ the men, but of the five hundred I don’t think I knew~ more than a dozen who went to church or chapel. Those who in these times so speak of the working men as to produce the impression that they have fallen away from religious ordinances are very much mistaken. Of these in Wolverton, with abundance of church accommodation not far off~ with no counter attraction but the fields, with no reason to complain of being shut up all the week in the close and unhealthy atmosphere of’ smoke, not more than two per cent. ever went to worship. Are things worse now? I very much doubt it, There was, however, very little to induce us to go to either church or chapel. Most of the neighbouring clergy were gentlemen who followed the hounds. The parson at Stony Stratford had spent some years in prison as an insolvent debtor; the remembrance of which must have been strong upon him, for as he droned through the service, he grew animated and earnest in praying that those evils which the craft and subtlety of the devil or man worketh against us be brought to nought. All that I can remember of the old chap is his extreme stupidity and dulness, and that loud emphasis upon the word ‘man.’ Many of the clergy were very hopelessly in debt, and were held in very little esteem. There was not one for ten miles round who could preach so as to interest any mortal creature. One of them, a great fox~hunter, was a magistrate, who occasionally fined a station-man for trespass or for poaching, and, of course, was hated and cursed by all the station-men. The attendance at the churches was wretched; the station-men were not the only men who did not go to church. Not one farmer or farm-servant out of ten was often to be seen within the consecrated walls. The congregation at Old Wolverton Church was seldom a score, and considering what a dismal fool the parson was, I wonder there were so many. He seldom preached; there was some attempt at reading a sermon once in two or three weeks, and it was once too often; and he mumbled the incomparable Liturgy in a most atrocious manner, the object evidently being to get through the thing as soon as he could. There was only one service on the Sunday, and in this good old style, as in the Isle of Man, the parson and the clerk had it all to themselves.
The state of Nonconformity in the district was not much better. At Newport Pagnell there was an Independent Minister, Mr. Bull; but Newport is four miles from Wolverton. At Stony Stratford there were two small ‘interests,’ an Independent and a Baptist. The Independent Minister sang mournfully through his nose, and was very dull and prosy; the Baptist Minister, Mr. Forster, was a man of considerable abilities and a good preacher. There was a Methodist Chapel also in the town; but it was only a poor little thatched cottage. There was nothing attractive about any of these places.
It was in the fine summer weather of August 1840 that I went to Wolverton, having a second-class pass from Liverpool. I arrived on Friday evening, and went into the erecting-shed on Saturday morning; and at the dinner-hour had to pay my footing. This was done at the vile public-house close to the station—a house which went by the name of ‘ Hell’s Kitchen,’ a name it well deserved. An old proverb says, that if an Englishman settled on an uninhabited island the first building he would put up would be a public-house. A public-house was the first thing built at Wolverton by the directors of the London and Birmingham There was no church, no school, no reading-room ; but there was ‘ Hell’s Kitchen.’ And in that ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ that first afternoon, I had to pay about ten shillings for drink. ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ was a horrid place; always full of mechanics, navvies, labourers, tramps of all kinds; at least one hundred station-men spent there half the dinner-hour and perhaps half their wages. Working men drank just as hard in those days as they do now. That afternoon, as I came up from ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ I was very much disgusted. I had taken no drink myself. I saw a workman leaning against a paling, who said to me in most unmistakable Cockney, “Well, mate, what are you going to do with yourself to-morrow?” I answered that I did not know, and did not care. “Well,” he said, “I am going over to the Independent Chapel at Stratford; will you go along with me?” I said I would, and we went. That good man was John Page, an engine-fitter, a godly character, a man who said very little about religion; but that quiet invitation to go with him~ unaccompanied by any cant had a quiet power. It had much to do with settling me into good habits ; it made me the companion of a good man, and saved me from other and very different company. I used to lodge with Page at the house of an old man named Stoney in Old Wolverton. Old Stoney had a son named Edmund, who worked in some capacity at the station. I lodged in his father’s cottage for but two or three months, and then lost sight of him. But this year (1879) I had a letter from him. I had, of course, all but forgotten him, having heard nothing of him for thirty-nine years. He informed me that he was a grocer in Sheffield, whence his letter was dated ; reminded me of our old acquaintance, spoke of his business as good and prospering, and would be delighted to see me and have me as his guest when next I might be in Sheffield. I replied, thanking him. In less than a month he wrote again, asking me to lend him fifty pounds to save him from having the bailiffs put into his house. Now I saw why he had written to renew the acquaintance!
My wages at Wolverton were for the first year 4s. a week, 5s. for the second, 6s. for the third; for the remainder of my needs I had to draw upon my father’s scanty means. At that time he had nine children to support upon less than £200 a year; my brother Robert in Liverpool being still the only one in part able to keep himself. The tools employed in the works were of a very simple character in comparison with those now in use. There was no steam-hammer; all the forging was done by hand, and it was a fine sight to see seven or eight stalwart strikers, at the forging of a crank-axle, plant their huge hammers in rapid succession upon the spot indicated by the smith with a piece of rivet rod-iron. We had no travelling-drill; all key-ways had to be first drilled in round holes, and then cut with a crosscut chisel, and finished with the file. With the exception of a small machine for cutting nuts, we had no shaping machine of any account. Every surface that could not be formed by the planing-machine had to be chipped and filed. All the light turning was done by hand, without a slide-rest. Altogether, the work of an engine-shop was much more laborious than it is now, and required much more skill. Machinery has to a large extent superseded both muscle and brain, and a boy set to a machine can do more and better work than would be done by a skilful mechanic. Yet there were men who could do wonderfully true work. I have seen a fitter take two rough pieces of wrought iron of more than one pound weight each. I have seen him chip them to a surface almost perfectly smooth, and then with files so perfect the surface that when placed one upon the other the lower piece would hang to the upper by the force of molecular attraction, as if glued to it. Of course I do not mean that they were so fast joined as glued surfaces, but it required a sensible effort to separate them. I never could do anything like that; in fact, I was but an indifferent workman. My best performances were at the hand lathe ; there I did pretty well. Our best mechanics were, I think, the London men; one of whom, named Airey, a relation of the Astronomer-Royal, could turn out an extraordinary amount of good work. The Lancashire men came next, and I think the Scotchmen were the worst. The fitters’ wages varied from 28s. to 33s. per week; smiths about 30s.; labourers, 16s. to 18s.
MY MATES AT WOLVERTON.
I CANNOT say that we worked very hard. It was an idle shop. In the fitting-shop we took our turn to watch for the foreman as he came up the sheds, and the word ‘nix’ saw every man and boy at his place. The lathes and planing-machines had been moving, hut doing nothing else; now the tools were thrown into gear, and all was work and bustle. But we had some shameful idling. I am sure that every set of taps and dies made by Figg the tool-maker must have cost more than its weight in silver. And Mr. Figg was a local methodist preacher, who always wore a white shirt and black trousers, and was quite a swell. Another man who made cross-heads rarely did an hour’s work in a day. Most of his time was spent in arguing in favour of socialism, and turning the Bible into ridicule. There were a considerable number of knobsticks in the shops; men who had gone in on strikes in London and elsewhere. “What are you talking to that fellow for, don’t you know that he’s a —— knobstick ?” So said a society man to me, when he saw me conversing with a shopmate whose knobstickism I was not aware of. There was much angry disputing, much sullenness, much hatred, hard words, and occasionally hard blows over this knobsticlc business. Yet the knobsticks were as a rule good workmen. Airey was one, and so was Cole (called from his cadaverous look, Captain Death), the only man to whom was entrusted the difficult job of -turning the crank-axles. Among our men was one from Birmingham, a brother of a well-known atheist. He was a particularly poor creature in mind and body, and held his brother’s opinions. We had a number of infidels among us. One of these died avowing his atheism to the last in the most horribly profane manner. A few of us went before the funeral to ask the parson old Quarlby, whether he could omit the expression “in sure and certain hope” as he read the funeral service. We told him that the whole band of infidels would be there to sneer and to triumph, as poor Alec was honoured with Christian burial. Old Quarlby had just come in from the hunt, and was taking his boots off. His reply was,” Lord love ye, but what the devil would the bishop say to me if I did as you wish?” So the atheist was buried in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection, and three of our Churchmen from that hour were Non conformists. The talk in the shops was for the most part profane and beastly in the extreme; the least profane and beastly among us, with the exception of the few Christians, were some of the infidels, one of whom, a Scotch-man named William Angus, was one of the finest men whom I ever knew. The Shorter Catechism had made him an unbeliever. The leading infidels at Wolverton and the chief drunkards were Scotchmen. I remember very little conversation upon industrial subjects, and although it was a time of great political agitation in regard to Chartism and Free Trade, there did not seem to be a spark of political intelligence or spirit among us. We never saw a newspaper, excepting the ‘Weekly Despatch,’ a few copies of which came on Sunday morning, but that was read chiefly for the prize-fights and other sporting intelligence which it contained. I should think that one-third of the men were unable to read a single word, and I often wrote their letters for them, and read for them letters they received.
Four of us, Edward Hayes, William Harvey, William Mickle, and myself, drew together. They were journey men, but young, the oldest not more than twenty-five years. We agreed to lodge together with a peasant named Cox at Old Wolverton. Hayes was a little man, a clever, skilful workman ; he came from Manchester, and was great in phrenology, and in Combe’s ‘Constitution of Man.’ Harvey was a Derbyshire man, one of the best workmen in the place, and gifted with a dry and pleasant humour. Mickle was a Scotchman, brought up in London; a boisterous but kindly fellow, whom Hayes pronounced to be a man in whom combativeness and self-esteem were abnormally developed. The four of us slept in two beds placed in one small room. We had our meals in the lower room of the cottage, which was the kitchen, and there was a small room, about eight feet square, which we converted into a study, and in which we tried in the evenings to improve our minds, which, sooth to say, sorely needed improvement. On Sundays, Hayes generally went out into the fields to meditate; Harvey went to the Methodist Chapel at Stratford; Mickle wandered from one place of worship to another; and I went to church somewhere in the neighbourhood, generally to Stratford, because there was an organ there, which, however, was very execrably played. Our studies were various. Hayes went in for philosophy; Harvey for theology; Mickle for mechanics ; I for mathematics. I don’t think we read a novel all the time we were together, and our whole stock of books was not worth £5.
The three years passed with very few incidents to break the monotony of our lives. We rose at half past five and walked to the works a mile off, cooked our breakfasts at one of the forges in the smiths’ shop went home to dinner at one, returned at two, and the bell rang again at half-past five; on Saturdays at four; in all 58½ hours per week, with every evening free. I think far too easy work.
One event of these years I cannot forget. It was my first visit to London at Christmas 1841. I well remember the lurid glare in the sky as in the winter evening we approached the great metropolis. I had only three days in London, but I used them in seeing all that I could see. Among other places I got into the ball of St. Paul’s, where I found three sailors who insisted on my drinking some of their rum, the effect of which threatened to make my going down much more rapid than my going up. No place known to me has altered more than London in my time. The alterations have not all been improvements, i. e the railway-bridges over the Thames.
Among my excursions, for which there was no time but Sunday, was one to Olney. In the neighbourhood there is or was a fine old tree called ‘Cowper’s Oak,’ hollow, with a seat in it. I met an old man who well remembered the poet sitting there. I once went with Mickle to Northampton, walking thither on Saturday evening, and walking back on Sunday evening. In the afternoon we heard a Mormon preacher haranguing in the Market Place. Mickle, the combative, attacked him, and had a long wrangle with him, in which I joined. It was my first attempt at public speaking. Strange to say, thirty years afterwards, I heard the same Mormon deliver the same sermon (or one very much like it, and on the same text) in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.
I BECOME A TEETOTALER AND SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER.
Abou this time I became a teetotaler and a Rechabite, as did my fellow-lodgers. This brought me into great disfavour with the drinking workmen, and I was commonly called “a —— teetotaler.” The teetotalism led to my going to temperance meetings. The first in which I took part was held at the village of Daneshanger, where in attempting to make a speech I utterly broke down in confusion. Temperance meetings were scenes of great interruption and uproar: for attempting to persuade people to sobriety we were persecuted, hooted out of the villages, and pelted with mud. At the station close to the canal bank there was a small temperance coffee-house, kept by a man named Spinks. A few of us thought that we might hold a Sunday School there. We obtained the use of the room, and started the Sunday School, and I taught there on Sunday forenoon and afternoon for some time. That was the first and for more than a year the only religious service of any kind in Wolverton. Neither clergy nor Nonconformist ministers took the slightest interest in the people, altogether numbering about one thousand, that were gathered about the station. That was my first Sunday School teaching, and my last. I disliked the work immensely; I had no gift for it. It is my duty to take an interest in Sunday Schools, and I have had for a great many years as good Sunday Schools as any in Liverpool; but I have always been thankful that no more than an occasional looking in has been required of me, for a Sunday School, and indeed any school, is no pleasure to me to this day.
It is proverbial that corporations have no conscience. For a time this seemed true of the London and Birmingham Railway. They had brought a large number of men, women, and children to Wolverton, and children were increasing in number rapidly. There was no school of any sort within two miles. The nearest were the National Schools at Stony Stratford, kept by the clerk of the church, a very drunken rascal, and that school was hardly large enough for the requirements of the town. But for years the Company made no school provision, and the children at the station were growing up in utter ignorance. At last the Company proved to have somewhat of a conscience, and they built a British School, a poor shabby thing it was, in keeping with the abominable cottages, which they built for the workmen. The Company’s conscience was indeed so exercised that they sent a parson, a Church of England man, to hold service and preach in the school. This was the Rev. George Weight; he had been one of Rowland Hill’s people; had, I believe, been assistant to him in his last days at Surrey Chapel, but became a Churchman, and cordially hated Dissent. But he was a thorough evangelical, and a capital preacher. I went to the school on the first Sunday of Mr. Weight’s services, and a good many of the men attended, moved by curiosity. There was at Wolverton a drunken Scotchman named Dan Rintoul; he was considered the most intemperate man on the place. He was at the service, and as usual was very drunk.
He had probably never before seen a clergyman dressed in a surplice. When Mr. Weight, who was very precise in his ecclesiastical vestments, made his appearance, Dan cried out, “You fool, go and put your breeches on, and don’t come here in your shirt.” Dan was soon hustled out of the place by Bill Webber, a little Cockney knobstick, who acted as clerk. That was the beginning of public worship in Wolverton. Dan was taken before the magistrates and fined heavily and of course neither he nor any of his pals ever went to church again. The Company soon after built a small church at the station, but I don’t think that more than a dozen station-men ever entered the place. It was a great mistake to appoint a knobstick as clerk, that of itself was quite enough to keep three-fourths of the men away.
I introduced myself to Mr. Weight as the son of a clergyman, and found him very friendly. I had already begun to cherish some thought of becoming a parson, and Mr. Weight encouraged me in the project, and proposed to give me lessons in Greek, of which I was wholly ignorant. I procured a Greek Grammar, Lexicon, and Testament, and most of my evenings were spent in this new study. As 1 have said, Wolverton was an idle workshop. At that time I was engaged for some weeks or months in tubing boilers, and I generally took the fire-box end, having a very lazy mate at the smoke-box end on the look-out for the foreman, whose approach was signalled to me with a stroke of the hammer on the boiler. I did a good deal of study, and by the light of a candle wrote my earliest Greek exercises on the sides of the fire-box with a piece of chalk.
I DECIDE TO BECOME A MINISTER OF RELIGION.
TOWARDS the end of 1843 I ventured to write to my father, telling him of my wish to enter the ministry. He very reluctantly gave his consent. He never was hearty about it, and would much have preferred my continuing at my trade. I don’t wonder at it. The ministry had been to him a life of poverty and hard ship, and, as I have already hinted, he was only half a Churchman. My mother, however, viewed the case more favourably. She had always wished me to be a minister, and my going to business was a sore disap pointment to her. And so it was arranged that I should leave Wolverton at the end of the year, and return to the Isle of Man, and go to King William’s College.
The end of the year came, and I left Wolverton and went home. I have no doubt that the three and a half years’ intercourse with so many working men from all parts of the country has proved of great advantage to me in my ministry. The practice of speaking acquired at the temperance meetings was also a great help, and my practice of going as much to chapel as to church gave my religious views and sympathies a breadth which is perhaps unusual at so early a period of life. Yet I had often thought that it was cruel towards my parents to take the step I took. My restlessness had given them much trouble already; I was in my twenty-first year, and was still a burden to them. Receiving 7s. a week and sometimes l0s. (when we worked over time), that burden was being lightened. In another year, perhaps half a year, I should have been earning my own living, to their great relief; and yet in this new notion of becoming a minister I threw myself again upon them. I think my father had good reason to grumble, and I have sometimes wished that he had finally refused his consent, and kept me to my work, for I was not so vain as to suppose that God’s cause could not have gone on quite as well had I never entered the ministry. Here the proper and orthodox way would be to cant about an inward call to the ministry, a burning love of souls, an intense desire to consecrate myself to the service of Christ. Of such things I say nothing. I never felt that the Lord had need of me, as he once had of one disciple at Jerusalem. I suppose I called myself to the ministry urged by various motives, and if all men who speak upon this subject spoke in honesty and good sense, I think they would say much the same thing as I say here. The stories of men whom I have heard at ordinances and settlements, about the Lord having called them and led them, have often turned out fictions, or something worse. Before bidding farewell to Wolverton, I may add that, while the Company did provide a school and a church, they did not, until after I had left, provide anything in the nature of a Mechanics’ Institution or Reading-room. They did not want the men to improve their minds. Not a single thing did the Company for the amusements of their men save and except ‘Hell’s Kitchen.’ They did a year or two afterwards build a Mechanics’ Institute, but it was a poor, mean, shabby concern ; an utter disgrace to them.
I left Wolverton for Douglas in the beginning of 1844, to study for the ministry of the Established Church. On reaching home, I found my father in no way gratified by the resolution I had taken, and, as stated above, I do not wonder at his dissatisfaction and want of cordiality, for I felt that I ought not to have cast myself upon him for support. It was intended that I should go to King William’s College, where, as the son of a Manx clergyman, I would have instruction gratis. However, the greater part of the College was burnt down, and the arrangements of the Institution so disturbed, that I could not be conveniently received, and it was thought best for me to study with my father until August, when the College would begin its second half-year. From January until August there was I at home; but never did any poor wretch feel himself less at home. Indeed I think that home ceases to be home when a fellow has reached his twentieth year; he had far better be somewhere else; he is a man without a man’s freedom. I felt this horribly. My father was morose, feeling, no doubt, that he had done enough for me, and that I ought to be on my own hook. I read with him, chiefly Latin; thrashing away at the Greek by myself; for of Greek I suspect my father was innocent, as he had never looked at it since he left Castletown Academy. I have no wish to dwell upon those miserable seven months.
The seven months previous to my going to the College were spent in very diligent study, and in August I went to King William’s, lodging in the house of Mrs. Kewley, on the Green, Castletown. The Principal of the College was the Rev. Robert Dixon, known by the lads as ‘Bobby,’ a Cambridge man. My chief business with him was in the Greek Testament and other Greek—Thucydicles and Homer, Sophocles, Euripides. The Greek Testament used was Bloomfield’s. The second master was the Rev. J. G. Cumming, who had scientific tastes, and was considered an authority upon the geology of the Isle of Man. Under him I read Latin, chiefly Sallust, Virgil, and Horace. I did something, but not much, in mathematics. I ought to say that, under Dixon, most of us intended for the Church dabbled a little in Hebrew. I certainly worked hard all the time I was at King William’s; rising at six in the morning, reading a great deal, and preparing for the classes and lectures. But it was not a school for me. I wish I could have gone to Oxford or Cambridge, but that was hopeless. I made the best of such chances as I had.
The society in and around Castletown was generally good. We were fairly well fed and cared for by Mrs. Kewley, there being about a dozen College lads in the house. The clergyman of Castletown was Mr. Parsons, a kindly, hospitable old fellow, and I and some others of the College were often asked to his house. There was a company of soldiers in Castletown, the garrison for the whole island. The soldiers went to Parsons’ church. The Government chaplain, John Howard, was at one time his curate, and preaching rather longer than usual one Sunday morning, Parsons, looking up from the desk to the pulpit, said, “John, John, come to a conclusion the Governor’s dinner is getting cold.” The beadle’s name was Buchan, and popular rumour fastened upon Parsons the old Joe Miller, that a dog came into the church and yelped while he was reading prayers, “That it may please thee to bless Adelaide the Queen Dowager, the Prince Albert, Buchan put that dog out, and all the Royal Family.”
While I was at Castletown there came a new governor, Governor Hope. I was present at his installation in the Castle. In the name of ‘ Victoria Rex,’ silence was commanded the Governor took his oath that he would administer the law as evenly as the back bone doth lie in the herring.
[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]