[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]



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.


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