James Amos.

Twelve years in Kent Street, or, Intelligence from a missionary station in London (Volume Talbot Collection of British Pamphlets) online

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vicAU OF ST. Stephen's, kent street, soithwark.


PRINTED at the




"Kent Street, with, all ts wretcliedness, seems as the
High. Street to a little city of the wretched. It is hard to
conceive what must be suffered by a sensitive gentleman and
lady during years of daily contact with such severe distress,
and daily single-handed struggle to help thousands in a
battle against overwhelming want." — UouseJiold Words, May
Bth, 1858.

" Some flowers might rise in the midst of the wilderness,
some little rill gush out from the dry land. Kent Street, St.
Stephen's, Southwark, was populated wholly by poor people.
His lordship (the Bishop of Winchester) then described the
work done for the advancement of the inhabitants, and closed
by expressing a hope that he had shown that the devoted
Christian people engaged in it were not only working, not
altogether unprofitably, but were also bringing sheaves into
the harvest." (Church Extension in South London — Meeting
at Lambeth Palace.) — J)mly Telegraph, March 8th, 1865.

" The poor-rates in it are far in excess of Bethnal Green or
of any of the Tower Hamlets parishes. In this poor neigh-
bourhood St. Stephen's is the poorest district. In the fight
between good and evil, which is perpetually carried on in the
Kent Street district, the great thing wanting on the side of
Christianity is that which is technically termed the sinews
of war. Those who are blessed with abundance could not
do better than send some of their superfluity to assist the
Christian work going on in that poor locality." (** The
Thieves' Quarters.") — Good Words, SejJtemher, 1868.

"Labours multifarious, bearing upon temporal and spiri-
tual things, have been undertaken, with what result the
Great Day will completely exhibit ; but some not inconsider-
able trace thereof may be discerned by the sympathising
observer even at the present time." ("The Practical
Philosopher in Kent Street.") — Evening Sours, March, 1871.

Donations and Contrihdions to the Kent Street Mission Ftmd will
he thankfully received hy the Rev. James Amos, i\^o. 5, Fara-
yon, Neio Kent Road, London, S.E.


5, Paragon, New Kent Eoad,
January, 1873.

Kent Street, on the south of the Thames, was
formerly part of a main road leading out of tlie
metropolis. Through the formation of new streets
and buildings, it has for some eighty years subsided
into a back street. A very large population has
taken refuge in the exaggerated courts and alleys
which flow out of this Kent Street itself, more
particularly on the left-hand side as you approach
the southernmost point. This large population of
the very poorest sort, amounting to about seven
thousand souls, forms the district parish of St.
Stephen's, Kent Street. There is of course a trades-
man here and there in Kent Street who rises above
this description, but as a class even the tradesmen
in Kent Street are but poor people. Kent Street
occupies rather a singular position, for owing to a
stream which formerly flowed in this direction, the
boundary line between the great mother-parish of
St. George's, Southwark, and St. Mary's, NcAvington,
runs right down the centre, and the same line marks
a boundary between the dioceses of Winchester and

A 2

London. It has thus happened in the subdivision
of parishes which has taken place in the last thirty
years, that many boundary lines of new ecclesiastical
districts come about here, so that now two dioceses
and four distinct parishes claim a part of Kent
Street. The parish of St. Stephen's occupies, how-
ever, the most singular position of all, that it has
really less of the main street itself; but as the
portion of the street which it has goes off into the
peculiarities of large back courts and alleys which
have been described, it rejoices in all but a small
portion of what is known as the Kent Street
neighbourhood ; and what is interesting to notice is,
that the boundaries of our parish do not as in the
other cases take in a single step beyond this Kent
Street neighbourhood. The Church and Schools
are all built in the very midst of it.

The difficulty is just this— a large number of
families, somewhere about two thousand, in very
low circumstances, in a desperate and often heroic
struggle after a very scanty livelihood, many of
these families renting only one small room. You
will find not a few men and women living in ab-
horrence of any gross vice, but, even if loosely
sprinkled amongst the others, there are certainly
some who are most dreadful examples of intem-
perance, licentiousness, violence, and crime. It
may be mentioned here that Susan Snellgrove,
whose case attracted some public attention in March
last, from the circumstance of her having suffered
from giving evidence respecting a robbery with

violence, was an inhabitant of one of our back
streets : one of her eyes was put out in the street in
which she lived the first time she showed her.-elf
after she came back from the trial. This dreadful
deed was done by two other women, friends of tlie
convicted man, who with the man himself lived in
the same street. The two women were sentenced
to penal servitude for life, the judge remarking that
they seem unfitted ever to return to society again.
The magistrates of the county and others con-
tributed upwards of four hundred pounds, in order
to make some permanent provision for Susan
Snellgrove. The habits of this poor woman have
not fitted her for making at present the best use of
so much kindness, and she herself has since been
brought into the police courts through intemperance,
and an attempt to defraud some person with whom
she lodged. I recall two other unhappy women in the
neighbourhood who have also lost an eye through
the fits of rage of those who have had a quarrel with
them. In the past year a man was brutally striking a
woman, and another man interfered, when the first
man flew at the new comer, and in a fearful struggle
they both rolled for some time on the ground, when
he who began the whole matter got the ear of the
other between his teeth and bit it quite off". The
matter, after coming once before the magistrate, fell
to the ground, as neither the ill-used woman or the
injured man would appear to give evidence; the
fact really being that the friends of the accused for
several days running kept offering one pound to the

A 3

woman and two pounds to the man not to come for-
ward. It was represented to these recipients that this
was not a creditable transaction. The reply was that
the money was taken very reluctantly, but that it was
realjy quite as much as their lives were worth to show
their faces in court. The past twelve months has
been unhappily particularly notorious for instances
of dreadful violence. Only yesterday a gentleman
on horseback, with an inviting leather bag, return-
ing from the funeral of the Emperor Napoleon, as
was supposed, had just entered Kent Street, when
he was attacked by a number of men and brought
to the ground by a most severe blow on the face.
One of the objections that a woman who lives in the
lower boundary of our parish lately made to coming
to our Church was, that the last time she came, a
few months ago, she was roughly seized hold of as
she returned down Kent Street, and her wedding
ring was torn from her finger.

Sharp weapons have in anger been freely used,
and the terrible threat, " I'll knife you ! " has lately
become rather common in the vocabulary of pas-
sionate rage. The ground from which such fruits
arise rather freely, must require an immense degree
of culture throughout, laboriously and carefully
carried out.

We have of course our Church and Schools. The
Church is fairly filled, especially in the evening,
when about three hundred are present. This is a
very considerable improvement upon the numbers
in the earlier days when the present clergyman first

came, when a dozen persons at any service was
a great matter. The Bishop of the diocese (Win-
chester) has always been most ready to give us his
aid in this most difficult matter of getting the poor
to attend a place of worship. Since he has been our
Bishop, he has regularly come to the Church at
least once every year. In the past year he came
to us, and held a Confirmation in our own Church,
when thirty-eight very satisfactory candidates out
of our own parish were confirmed. It is a very
interesting question why poor men and poor women
as a class do not attend public worship. A poor
costermonger and hawker feels oppressed in his con-
science at the thought of entering the house of God, if
his whole life is not quite what he calls " according "
to it. It is particularly humbling to the unlearned
and unrestrained to be obliged to attend to forms
of worship when they imperfectly understand the
most part of what is going on. I suspect also
that poor people in their close room contract a more
than usual love of warmth, and that a cold and
draughty Church is not very attractive. Our Church
unhappily is a very cold one ; there is no warming
apparatus, and the windows being composed of the
common small squares of glass, wdth lead a good
deal worn, the state of cold and draught in winter
is somewhat a trial even to the better disposed. A
warming apparatus in our Church would cost about
eighty pounds, and the windows might be put all
right for ab,out five-and-twenty pounds more. It
is perhaps too much taken for granted that it is

sufficient to leave the privilege of Divine worship to
overbear any ordinary inconveniences, but this is
really to leave people to play the martyr, and the
spiritual life and appreciation of the many whom
we want to bring under the influence of religion
is scarcely equal to the strain.

"We have in operation now three Schools. We
are renting as a Mission House for parochial pur-
poses a large house which, as report goes, once
belonged to the highwayman, Dick Turpin. Here
we have had a Free School, and about one hundred
children have attended. This School is at the
present moment in a transition state, and we are
about to have it opened in the evening rather than
in the daytime. The London School Board having
three difi'erent stations and Day Schools close
by, a good Evening School, with special attention
to religious instruction, will probably be the best
plan to meet the special wants which seem to arise
from an altering state of things. We have besides
a very excellent National School, in which there is
an attendance of about three hundred children.
We have in the past year opened in a separate
buildins an Infant School, attended by upwards
of one hundred young children. These two last
Schools are under Government inspection, and re-
ceive Government aid. The aid, however, which
Government gives, whatever may be merited by
results, is as usual made not to exceed the amount
which from other sources is independently provided.
These National and Infant Schools are carried on

in a way far exceeding what we could do without
Government help ; but the conditions under whicli
such help can be secured necessitates a demand
upon our funds, which makes our school expenses
really larger than they were before we received any
aid at all. In our neighbourhood, the provisions for
education of the London School Board will not take
away from the number of children attending our
Schools, but the whole action of the Board tends to
drive children to School, and our poor are warm-
hearted, and in their way respect religion, and so we
are likely to have more than we can take in.

In large poor neighbourhoods, however, the battle
is really to be fought and won in the homes of the
people. I have been able to keep together for
twelve years three Mission Women, who have
assisted in going constantly into all the rooms
of all the people throughout the parish. They
have worked with my wife in a spirit of the
deepest interest in the welfare of the poor, united
with great aptness for making their way amongst
them, joined to unaffected piety, with a good deal
of indomitable cheerfulness and sound common
sense. We have also an excellent woman of the
poorer class as a Parochial Mission Woman, to
visit the people and receive small sums of money
towards paying for clothing and anything useful.
With small aid from our funds we also secure a
Scripture-reader, and we liave had a Curate through
assistance from the Church Pastoral Aid Society.

Every night in the week our National School-


room is open for some purpose or other, the
principal occasions being on Tuesdays, when there
is the Mothers' Meeting, and on Thursday evening,
when there is the Sewing Class for girls and young
women. My wife with the Mission Women is
always present at these gatherings, each of which
numbers about one hundred in average attend-
ance. On Monday evenings for some years past,
during the six winter months, there is also a
meeting for men, the average attendance being
about one hundred also. This has been
considered specially interesting, and has had a
very excellent effect upon the parish. It par-
takes something of the Penny Readings, but with
reading of the Bible, singing of hymns, and prayer
at the close, together with a cup of tea and just a
slice of bread and butter, and a piece of cake at the
beginning. We charge one penny the evening for
this, and the additional cost is about three halfpence
each man. We find that this tea business is con-
venient for men getting home late, and it wonder-
fully warms matters and brings them and us
together to introduce this kind of evening party
arrangement. We have no trouble with tea-tables,
the man holds his cup, and with a piano playing is
quite in tune for talking, and seems rather to enjoy
your sitting down and cultivating his acquaintance.
This interesting gathering, and the cordiality and
friendship and confidence which it has given rise to,
has been followed by other operations. Three years
ago we started a Benefit Society for men, the


object being to offer men the opportunity of joining
such a useful institution without being obliged to
go to a public-house in order to pay in their money.
At the close of last year there were one hundred
and fifty-nine members, and they paid in two
hundred and one pounds in the course of the year.
In the first instance 1 made the rules for the Club,
and left it to be worked by the men themselves. I
have been interested to see that after three years the
members have asked me to take whole management
entirely upon myself. 1 have just taken the oppor-
tunity therefore of revising the rules, and the
Club is starting with renewed vigour. It is the
practice of the Clubs in this neighbourhood to share
out at Christmas among their members any moneys
which may remain over and above from what is spent
in the year during sickness of members. The highest
thing to do would be to allow this to accumulate for
an annuity in old age. What generally happens is
a member pays in sixpence a week, he receives or
does not receive ten shillings a week during illness,
and at Christmas he receives back again about
twenty shillings. These twenty shillings may really
be looked upon as a provision for the three or four
weeks in the dead of winter, wdien the means of
living are dear, and when all trade is nearly stagnant,
and scarcely a man about has got any thing to do.
And further than this, an early return of the men's
money keeps up a wholesome excitement, stimulates
confidence, and ensures a regular inspection of
accounts. Taking all the circumstances of poor

A 4


neighbourhoods, and how open the poorer classes
are to the artifices of designing people, I am not
sure that accumulated funds even for the best pur-
poses are generally advisable. It is surely a great
matter to get men to combme in a way which takes
with them, to make some provision for those amongst
them who may be visited by sickness in the coming
year, even if the matter is carried no further.

We have for some years had in connection with
our Mothers' Meeting an arrangement whereby the
women might pay a penny a week, and receive in
sickness half-a-crown a week for a month. In this
way upwards of one hundred and fifty pounds has
been raised for the sick poor by themselves. From
the great interest with which the operations of the
men's Club has been regarded, at the desire of the
women a Club Avas commenced last Tuesday week for
them on somewhat of the same principles, so that by
paying four-pence a week they will receive seven
shillings a week during illness. Sixty-five joined
at once, and to night (the following Tuesday) ten
more have joined. The real value of these institu-
tions is not merely from the immediate objects which
they have in view, but from directing these move-
ments you are brought into contact Avith that more
vigorous class of the community who are more self-
reliant, and who are likely to keep rather clear of a
clergyman who approaches them in only the more
ordinary way, but who, if he can prove himself
equal to deal with the matters in which they are
rather strong themselves, are found to attach them-


selves to him with a greater warmth than others, ,
and these are just those who are so very difficult
to reach, and whose influence is really so consider-
able and important to be thrown in the right scale.

These operations amongst the men have led us
further on. In the past year, the plan for having
a Workman's Hall built in our neighbourhood has
been carried out. It is an iron building. There
are three comfortable rooms. You enter the place
when you find three doors, one on the right, one on
the left, and one in front. The door on the right
enters into the large room, capable of holding about
one hundred and fifty men. There are curtains to
the windows : some plain, highly- coloured, but
striking pictures all round, in frames. Here and
there there are several hardy green creeping plants
in flower-pots, raised on brackets, placed against the
walls. There is also a good-sized aquarium, with
some half-dozen fish. The fire-place and grate are
very comfortable looking. Above these is a large
looking-glass, in a simple black frame ; and higher
up there is a clock, with an extra big face and large
hands. Beneath you have cocoa-nut matting, with
a fire-place rug. There are two tables with neat
cloths on, which rejoice in some books, a fair supply
of papers and magazines, some writing paper and
ink. On one of the tables there is an extra large
size water bottle and a couple of large glasses. We
have arrangements for supplying coffee to the men
at a small cost, but the water bottle is generally
emptied two or three times in an evening, which is


due, I rather think, to the bottle and glass being
like what they have never seen before. It only re-
mains to state that the walls are made of neat deal
board, stained and varnished to look like satin-wood.
Let there be in your mind's eye three rods from the
roof, each having six gas-lights in a kind of star of
brass, and you have the whole of the materials to
make out the reading-room. On your entrance, the
door to the left leads into a room somewhat smaller,
but fitted up nearly in the same way. This smaller
room is used for the purposes of the men's Club,
taking the money, &c., Eeading and Writing Classes
for the men, and will be otherwise useful for any
occasional gatherings. The door in front at the
entrance leads to two little rooms, between the larger
rooms. Here is the kitchen for making the men's
coffee, and cutting up any bread and butter they
may require. A widow woman, a faithful and
shrewd servant of the parish, resides here to look
after the place, to take the men's money, and to do
wdiat is required. The charge made is one penny
for a week or part of a week, the penny becoming
due at the beginning of each week. The Work-
man's Hall is open every evening from seven till ten
o'clock. The building was opened, amid very great
enthusiasm amongst the people, on the eighteenth
of last November. The occasion w' as marked by a
tea-meeting in the School, and by a service in the
Parish Church. The Church was never fuller,
although it rained perfect floods. Mr. Benjamin
Shaw, one of the trustees of the Church, who has


kindly advised us in the matter, and otherwise very
liberally assisted us, was present on the occasion, as
well as Mr. and Mrs. Droop, with other friends from
a distance, to whom the parish is largely indebted for
long continued sympathy and support. The impor-
tance of having a really cheerful, comfortable place
constantly open in the evening for the men to look
in at occasionally, in a neighbourhood where families
prevail who only lodge in one room, need not be
enlarged upon. In the daytime we hold the In-
fant School at the Workman's Hall : we thus gain
much needed additional school room for about one
hundred and fifty more children. The place is
carefully cleared of all signs of what has taken place
in the day by the time the evening comes on.

The Workman's Hall has cost £51-3, and other
expenses with the fitting up will be about £70
more. In aid of this undertaking, we have at
present received £417 10s. Amongst other expe-
dients to complete the payment, we have invited
our friends to make contributions for a Bazaar, to
be held in June : we should be glad of aid in
this direction. There are some difficulties attending
this when there is no congregation who can take
such a matter up, and when in the immediate
business of the padsh we are up to our elbows.
I hope that this eff'ort, if it should be kindly
taken up, will realize enough to pay for the ex-
penses, exclusive of the actual building, for which
we require rather urgently about £100 more.

Our eff'orts in drawing public attention to the


wants of our parish in reference to this Workman's
Hall, brought us into some difhculty in the early
part of last year. At my request for a sermon in
his Church in aid of this undertaking, a clergyman
very kindly said he would come down some day
and see our parish, and see the men's meeting
in the evening, and he thought that an account
of that meeting would be suitable for a magazine
to which he contributed articles, and that perhaps
it might prove of some use to us. Tlie result
was that in the March number of " Evening
Hours," an article on our whole parish appeared
by the Rev. Gordon Calthrop, of St. Augustine's
Church, Highbury. The shadows were dark — not
darker than they would perhaps strike any intel-
ligent stranger who went into the matter — not so
dark, perhaps, as they might be made if all were
known and told, but perhaps a trifle darker than
would be agreeable to come again before some of
the people who lived in the place written of.
Observations as made by myself and our helpers
were part of the article. The lights of the picture
were bright enough, and the whole taken together
seemed to many persons to represent the neighbour-
hood in a more thorough way than had been done
before in any paper. Parts of the article came to
be industriously read, with selected portions of
some of my own papers, to a certain number of the
tradesmen of the main street, particularly in that
part of it in other parishes than our own. They
were instructed to consider themselves injured by


Kent Street being shown up to the world, that
its fair name was in danger, and that trade was
likely to suffer. Anyhow for the time they were
very angry with the gentleman — who was by
some thought to be " Calcraft " himself — who
had written " the book," and also with me who
had shown him about, and had evidently, from
what I was said to have told him, not stood up,
at least for the tradesmen of tlie main street,
as they thought I should. When the subject
began to be looked into further, these men were
induced to read or hear all through what had been
written, and it became somewhat clear to them
that the dreadful sores of the neighbourhood had
really been touched with a very gentle hand,
and only with the best purpose, that of healing
them. The tide of popular feeling amongst our
own poor parishioners, contrary to what had been
thought possible by those moving in the matter,


Online LibraryJames AmosTwelve years in Kent Street, or, Intelligence from a missionary station in London (Volume Talbot Collection of British Pamphlets) → online text (page 1 of 2)