[From Thomas Street Sunday School, 1935]
A rumour of the existence of old minute books connected with Thomas Street Methodist Sunday-school led to a diligent search for the hidden treasures. Imagine an old scholar's delight when he discovered them. They were in a Methodist home, carefully guarded by one of the best of the daughters of Metho dism. Minute books containing the prosaic proceedings of a religious institution are supposed to be as dry as summer dust, yet we may find in the old minute book which is suffused with the Christian spirit, dust of gold, for there is the romance of a spiritual campaign that ought to thrill the soul of the man or woman who is shepherding the young in the fold of the Sunday-school. The writer sends forth these gleanings from the records of Thomas Street Sundayschool to encourage officers and teachers in their sacred calling and to revive the faith and zeal that characterised Methodism in its ministry for the young in the early part of the 18th century.
The first record in the school minute book is dated February 23rd, 1834, just a hundred years ago. The teachers' meeting began with a careful scrutiny of the regularity of the attendance of the teachers by the superintendent minister ; then a discussion arose respecting rewards to the scholars. It was resolved that the children be rewarded on the basis of their attendance and their behaviour while in school and at the service in the chapel. A memorandum or the conduct of every scholar was kept by each teacher and presented to the superintendent or his assistant at the close of the afternoon school, and a brief report of the general work of the school was written by the school secretary at the close of every Sabbath-day. These reports are interspersed with minutes of committee and teachers' meetings, anniversaries, tea meetings, marriages of teachers and obituary notes on the deaths of scholars. Particular instructions were given to the teachers that they should, every Sabbath, see that the scholars were present at the service in the chapel and report to the superintendent accordingly.
The report of May 11th, 1834, reads "The school was well attended this morning, and closed by Mr William Quiggin, when we sang part of that hymn beginning, "Happy the child whose youngest years." Number of girls, 150; boys, 100; total, 250. To compare the morning attendance of Thomas Street Sunday-school to-day with 100 years back raises questions a to the effectiveness of modern Methodism among the young people.
When reading these old reports, one is convinced of the untiring devotion of the teachers to their work. They disciplined themselves to self-sacrifice, they contributed towards the support, of the school, and they did not resent the strict inspection of their work.
The wording of the minutes and the beautiful penmanship from the first entry unto the 15th May, 1836, indicate that the secretary was a youth highly qualified for the office he held. A young man so methodical end fervent in religious work was destined to achieve an honourable niche in the history of the Church he served so faithfully. The secretary was William Thomas Radcliffe; he became one of the greatest preachers and administrators in Methodism. His worthiness has been unrecognised, and he is almost unknown to the present generation. Lest we forget our debt of thankfulness to those Manxmen who lived to high purpose, W. T. Radcliffe was born in Douglas on January 4th, 1816. When a scholar in Thomas Street Sunday-school, he was converted at the age of 16 years. His new life of consecration led to active service in the Sunday-school. Soon he became a local preacher on the Methodist plan, and in the year 1838 he was one of the first students to enter the Methodist Institution to be trained fen the Christian ministry. His ministry extended over a period of fifty-nine years. It is recorded that he was a born administrator, that he believed all he preached and preached all he believed. He died in 1897. W. T. Radcliffe had a venerable appearance. He was spoken of as having a beautiful soul in a beautiful tabernacle. The Manx traits of reticence and cautiousness were prominent in his character. He was judicious and courteous, and he had sufficient strength of will to enforce the methods he considered best for the prosperity of the Church he loved. His preaching was of the highest order. The truths of the Gospel were adorned with the choicest language, and his sermons were delivered with a controlled fervour that at intervals rose to climaxes of burning eloquence. It was preaching that brought conviction to the reason and comfort to the heart. It would have been an unpardonable sin for Radcliffe to have offered his congregation a poor sermon. To his audience he gave the impression that his sermon was delivered without notes, whereas his method was to have a written outline of the sermon, which covered one page of the pulpit Bible
While listening to him, you felt that he was a master in Israel, who stood as the King's ambassador and delivered his message with kingly grace and prophetic power. As an administrator, he acted on the principle that "order was Heaven's first law,"
Strict and methodical, he insisted on correctness in Methodist doctrine and Methodist discipline. His examination of local preachers would have disconcerted a student for the Christian ministry. To a youth on trial, the following were among the questions put, which made the callow youth painfully conscious of the magnitude of theology: "Would you say the Bible was a revelation from God or a revelation of God? " "What is a person?" "What is Socinianism?" "What is Pantheism?"
The Sunday-school during the years of Radcliffe's secretaryship was an active centre of spiritual work for the young people of the town. The vision of the officers and teachers was expansive. Their work extended beyond the boundaries of Thomas Street. Two teachers, William Karran and Peter Graves, were appointed to search out every Sabbath the children who did not attend any Sunday-school but spent the day rambling in the fields on the outskirts of the town. No doubt some of these kiddies were wild as the untamed Indian's brood, but the seeking love of the Sunday-school missioners often led them to the Christian fold in Thomas Street.
March 13th, 1836, is memorable as a forward movement in Douglas Methodism. The old minute book contains the following:
"Under the influence of those principles which invariably lead the Christian to seek the welfare of his fellow-creatures, the Trustees of the Chapel, with which the School is connected, have resolved to erect an additional chapel in Well Road. more particularly for the benefit of the comparatively neglected inhabitants of the north end of the town. The teachers with the scholars according to a resolution adopted at a meeting held at one o'clock this afternoon, marched to the site of the intended erection at three o'clock, when the Rev. S. Broadbent delivered an appropriate discourse to the congregation assembled in the open-air, on Luke, chap. 7, verse 5.
"On Monday, March 14th, the foundation of the chapel was laid. The Circuit Ministers who were present were S. Broadbent, J. Keeling, and F. Ward. The children of Thomas Street were present at the ceremony, and the most enjoyable part of the service to the children was the presentation of a cake to each of them."
The Well Road Sunday-school, under the direction of the committee of Thomas Street Sunday-school, was opened on Sunday, January 26, 1837, the minute stating, "We are happy to learn that there were upwards of 70 names enrolled in the books. The officers appointed by THE committee of Thomas Street School were Thos. Cain, superintendent; John Wilson, assistant; John Christian, secretary and librarian. Thomas St. Sunday-school supplied all the books for the school
The new Methodist Chapel was opened on Wednesday, March 14th, 1837, by the Rev. Theophilus Lessey, of Liverpool. He delivered an excellent address in the evening in Thomas Street Chapel. On the Sunday following, the Rev. F. J. Jobson preached.
In the general working of the schools, the teachers' supreme aim was the salvation of the children; all other claims-social, recreative, and entertaining - were secondary. Monthly prayer meetings were held in the school, which were attended by many of the scholars. The teachers met each week for religious instruction. The Bible and Todd's "Sunday School Teacher" were the books they studied. Looking back from these modern days of increased knowledge and educational advancement we are inclined to think that religion was overstressed in the Sunday-school curriculum. The strictness, the constant insistence on the seriousness that was attached to religion, and the aversion to the play instinct in young life was not ideal. Our view may be wrong, as we cannot project ourselves into a past age. Possibly this age looks upon the virtues of the fathers as defects. Nevertheless, the early Methodists met the worldly spirit of their day and wrought righteousness, waged a holy warfare against the powers of evil, and rejoiced in the work that God had called them to do.
On the 6th April, 1839, in the early hours of Saturday morning, a fire broke out in the cabinet-maker's shop underneath the school house. The Town and Sun Insurance fire Engines were on the scene, but within a few hours the whole of the premises were destroyed. The Mechanics Library, the Labour Friendly Society's paraphernalia. and all the Sunday school books perished in the flames, including the registers and old records of the school. The reference to the fire in the old minute-book concludes with a sad reference from the secretary, James Coole He writes, "Thus was destroyed all the glory of the Wesleyan Methodist Thomas Street School, the labour of many years." On the following Sunday, in consequence of the burning down of the schoolroom, the children met in the chapel.
Concern for the welfare of the children led to a further advance in the year 1841. in the opening of day schools at Well Road. The school was under the management of a representative committee, who met on the first Thursday of every month; there was an additional committee of ladies. who elected their own secretary. The ladies visited the school and instructed the girls in sewing, and exercised a general oversight of the scholars' behaviour. The children who were admitted into the school had to be recommended by the committee or by a subscriber to the school's upkeep. Only in special cases were children admitted under six years of age. They were to be clean and neat in their person and they were to depart from the school quietly and orderly. The fees for their education were one penny per week and twopence a week if they could write. No child was to continue in the girls' school who had no regular attendance at a place of worship on the Lord's Day. The children were examined once a quarter by the committee to ascertain their progress in learning. Rewards were given to those who passed a creditable examination. The subjects taught were reading, writing' arithmetic, English grammar, knitting and sewing. School hours were from 9 to 12 and from 2 to 5 in summer, and to 4 in winter. Holidays-a fortnight in summer and a fortnight at Christmas.
In 1843, there were 114 girls in the day school and 101 in the infant department. The numbers in Thomas Street Sunday-school were: Boys, 120; girls, 193; total, 313.
The day schools were maintained by contributions from the Chapel-folk and as many parents set small store on the value of education, the committee had neat difficulty to obtain the school fees. Many of the children's parents were too poor to pay and others ignored their indebtedness to the school authorities. The master of the school was S. B. Moffatt. No school teacher of the present day would envy his position or covet his salary. In 1844, he writes an appealing letter to the committee for an increase of salary, after 3½ years' service in the school. The letter concludes: "I hope you will take the matter into consideration and I am persuaded that every reasonable individual will consider £30 or £33 a year a very inadeqeuate remuneration for discharging the arduous duties connected with such a responsible situation."
A letter written several months later, states: "It would be more pleasant for me to labour if I had the fixed stipend of £40. I can only add that you will not consider me too troublesome in making this request; at the same time, if possible, I should like a little more encouragement."
The committee, with regard to another master, :resolved that, provided Mr Dewsbury collect the weekly pence from the scholars, his salary shall be £40.
In 1847, Miss Ann Kneale agreed to perform the duties of mistress of Thomas Street day infant school for £25 a .year.
There are many items of interest among these old chronicles, which throw light on the social customs and religious lives of the people of 100 years back. For instance, in reference to the desecration of the Lord's Day, the record states, "We are sorry the minister had to advert to some of the boys who had been playing on the sands on Sunday last, and were taken to the Black Hole. We hope that this lesson will in future teach them to avoid all such depredations of the Lord's Day. We feel obliged to the police for their trouble." What a contrast to the Sabbath of the 20th century.
In 1837, reference is made to the smallpox raging in the town, in which numbers of children and people were taken away. On Friday, the report states that no fewer than four funerals went together to Kirk Braddan. in 1847 a Fast-day was held to return thanks to God for the safe preservation of the Island from the cholera which had visited England, Ireland and Scotland, causing great mortality. In the centenary year of Methodism, the children assembled in the chapel and were presented with a medal with engravings of John and Charles Wesley.
The last entry in the old log book is dated July 15th, 1849. It is the roll call of all the officers, teachers and scholars. The superintendent was George Crebbin; assistant superintendent, Henry McIver; secretary and librarian, Thomas Goldsmith. These officers, with the teachers, were a noble band. They found in the steadfastness of their faith and in their sacred calling an anchor for their souls. They lived in days which were free from the complications and complexities of modern days. No flying machine rattled in the sky, no speed machine flashed along the public road, cinemas and wireless were unknown; the feverish restlessness of a world gone mad on money-getting and pleasure-seeking did not disturb them. The church and worship and the ordinary duties of daily life occupied their time, and they were happy and content with a simple life of trust in God. So they kept the even tenor of their ways, and wearied not in well-doing. They knew their work was not perfect, but they cherished the hope that it would not end in failure; that in du,(, time they would reap the reward of their labours. and at the last they would share in the peace and joy of the Harvest-Home.
"There to reap in joy for ever Fruit that grows from seed here sown."
The careful preservation of the minute books of the Thomas Street Sunday-school has provided a window through which we can view the growth and development of Methodism in Douglas for nearly a century.
The second minute book records the history of the schools from, the year 1846 to 1857. The book passed through the hands of three secretaries who were well qualified to see to the well-being of the young people. They were John Mylrea, head of the firm of Mylrea and Allen, stationers; Thos. Goldsmith, jeweller; and Fred J. Moore, who became Canon Moore, Vicar of Braddan.
The increased activities of the church by the erection of Well Road Chapel and the founding of the Day Schools called for an enlarged staff of workers. There is evidence in the minutes that the zeal and enterprise of the earlier Methodists had subsided into the calm of the ordinary routine work within the Church_ Special appeals had to go forth for teachers for the Sunday-schools. Often the surface of things was ruffled in the difficult task of managing the Day-schools, which were burdened with a deficit balance sheet and a constant change in the teaching staff. In 1847, educational affairs became serious. The minute states that the attendance at Well Road Day-school had declined so much that a total annihilation of the school was apprehended. At a later period, the Well Road Sunday-school collapsed. Then a new school was begun in the chapel, by workers who demanded to be free from the control of the Sunday-school Committee of Thomas Street. Finally an arrangement was agreed upon which was beneficial to both Sunday-schools.
In the year 1850, an effort was made to incorporate the Well Road Boys' School with the Thomas Street Girls' School, and to obtain a certificated master that the school might receive a Government grant. When a master, named S. Parkin, appeared before the School Committee, he was asked, "Have you a Government certificate of any class, or have you undergone any Government examination?" he replied, "I have no Government certificate, nor have I undergone any Government examination." " Have you any private testimonials?" "I have no private testimonials?" "Do you consider yourself competent to undergo an examination for a first, second or third-class certificate?" "I will hold myself willing to be examined at the next inspection visit," was his reply.
In 1852, the Council of Education was petitioned to send an inspector to examine and report on the state of the schools; also that the Wesleyan Council of Education give a grant to assist the School Committee in their work. In the same year a request was sent to the educational authorities for her Majesty s inspector to visit the school at Thomas Street. The Council of Education replied that they did not feel at liberty to incur the expense of a visit to the Island of one of H.M.I. of schools which were not in connection with the Church of England, unless a greater number of schools in the Island made application for annual aid or were otherwise rendered liable to inspection. The Committee would not accept defeat. They determined to pay the expenses of engaging an inspector from Liverpool, and they purposed to send S. Parkin to Westminster Training Institution to undergo an examination; but that gentleman wrote to the Committee, saying, "I have come to the conclusion not to submit to another examination; at the same time I have no objection to the school being under inspection." In 1853, notice was forwarded to S. Parkin that his services would not be required beyond a certain date.
The progressive evolution of education in the Wesleyan Day School was plainly evident in 1854, when circular was issued by the School Committee, with the following information:-"This school for children of both sexes will be conducted on the principles of the "Glasgow Training System" by Mr. James Cannell, a qualified Master from the Wesleyan Normal Institution, Westminster, who has been engaged under the direction of the Wesleyan Committee. Terms may be known by applying at the school. Children under six will not be admitted. The school will be open to visitors on Wednesday afternoons.
"The branches of instruction are: Spelling, reading. writing, geography. English grammar, derivation of words, history, arithmetic. bookkeeping, mensuration, algebra, mechanics, elements of natural philosophy, mapping, drawing, vocal music, and scripture lessons," a truly ambitious scheme of elementary education, and nearly equal, in appearance at least, to that of many present-day high schools!
There was also a code of rules and requests to the parents and guardians of children. For instance: "The children are expected to attend the public worship of Almighty God on the Lord's Day, and their attendance at a Sabbath-school is desirable, but such place of worship and Sabbath-school shall be left entirely to the discretion of the parents."
The school log book recounts the building up of the edifice and the strengthening of the heritage that had been passed on from the earliest Methodists. We note the broadening outlook, the catholic spirit and the recognition of the moral and religious value of a liberal education. The School Committee consisted of men of vision, who sought by the most practical means to deliver the children of the people from the ignorance and lack of knowledge that prevailed, and they were wise enough to be convinced that an education which is not allied to the Christian religion may result, in producing a social conscience that is so bereft of godliness that it will become a menace to the righteousness that exalteth a nation.
The third minute book refers to the quiet and effective work continued in Thomas Street Sundayschool. It was a period when the school was staffed with teachers of exceptional ability. There was a sacred comradeship among them. New methods were introduced in the management of the school. The- held quarterly teacher tea meetings, at which subjects on Sunday-school work were discussed. Every Sunday afternoon the superintendent announced the lessons for the following Sunday and the portion of Scripture and the hymn to be learned by the children. Mr W. Cotterell and Mr J. L. Hicks, masters in the Day-school, were teachers in the Sunday-school, and Mr George Beves-a little man with a big soul and a magnetic personality-had a wonderful influence over the young men and young women of the church.
Those were days when Douglas Methodism was exceptionally favoured with a pulpit ministry of the highest standard. The preachers were Revs. J. Watson, G. W. Oliver, Paul Orchard, and Joseph Bellamy. It was said that Oliver would have been President of the Conference had he relinquished some views he held regarding the future life. Orchard was a giant in stature and a giant in his intellect. When in -his discourse he paused and drew a long breath, tha'. was audible to his congregation, all were attentive, then would pour forth from the preacher the mighty truths of the Gospel, which produced in the hearts of his hearers a reverential awe and convinced them of the majesty of God and the greatness of His redeeming love, and the people left the sanctuary compelled by the preacher's message to think of what was spiritual and eternal.
Joseph Bellamy was a young man, handsome in appearance. gifted with dramatic power anti with an eloquence that had a wonderful effect upon his congregation. When Bellamy at the opening of a service read the first verse of Wesley's hymn `Give me the faith that can remove and sink the mountain to a plain," many of the congregation would be in tears. When he pictured the prodigal coming home from the far country, Bellamy would stretch out his arm and point to the door of the chapel, and several in the congregation would look round to see the returning prodigal. Frequently on the Douglas shore, before the evening service, he would hold a service, and a crowd of men and women would follow him into Thomas Street or Well Road, to hear him preach. He was a burning, and shining light, and the most popular preacher in the Island. There was a rumour that he was extinguished by a Supt. Minister, who commanded Bellamy to sit down when he was in the full tide of an eloquent address in Thomas Street Chapel. There can be no doubt that in ecclesiastical quarters the most overbearing human creature is a chairman who is jealous towards his colleague. When Bellamv passed into the Anglican Church, men said that the glow of his Methodist fire vanished, that the eloquence that had captivated their hearts had lost its charm. The sceptre had departed from Judah. Orchard. and Bellamy were great preachers; one appealed to the intellect, the other to the emotions. Diversity of gifts, but the one spirit inspired each.
There was T. T. Dilks, whose evangelistic missions in Peel and in Douglas are memorable in the history of the Island's Methodism. He was the means of adding many to the church who became zealous workers in every good cause.
You may be assured that it is a law of the Kingdom of Heaven that if you would reap a spiritual harvest you must cast good seed into your furrow. So it was in the Sunday-school at Thomas Street. The quality of the religious instruction and the fidelity of the teachers in their work brought forth a harvest over which the sower and the reaper rejoiced. In the year 1861 there came the breath of that spiritual revival that bloweth where it listeth, and it swept over the Sunday-school and the Day-school. It was remarkable that without any persuasion or missioning from the officers or teachers of the schools, the young people requested the use of the schoolroom, where they could meet to pray. Large numbers of children attended these prayer meetings on successive evenings, and for a time they met in one of the vestries for prayer at the dinner hour. Occasionally, they assembled in groups on the rocks adjoining the Lighthouse on Douglas Head. The scholars were evangelists seeking to win their companions to a religious decision for the King h:rn of Heaven, and it was notable that some of them who had given most trouble and anxiety to their teachers were entirely changed in their character and conduct. The officers and teachers lost no time in establishing Bible classes and society classes for the young converts, where they met on week evenings. Mr. Cotterill, master of the Day-school, conducted a large class for elder girls. and no fewer than 125 young people were enrolled members of the classes.
There were critics who talked a great deal about the movement and did nothing to advance the good work. Thev expressed that trite cnmment that the 'work would be effervescent and fleeting. The same criticism survives in these modern days to chill the fervour of those whose life-work is among the young in our Sunday-schools. Such critics forget that "if Methodism ceases to expect and preach for conversions, she has turned her back upon her founder, her history, and her heritage. The evangelical preacher is, after all, the only true Methodist preacher."
In September, 1867, a special minister appointed by Conference visited the Wesleyan Sunday-schools, to confer with the teachers and ascertain the most improved methods of management.
The third minute book is incomplete, and there is an unfortunate blank of eight years until we enter the new era in Methodism in the year 1875. with the secretary's first entry. "The anniversary services on behalf of the School were held on Sundav and Monday. June 20th and 21st. The Rev. Harrison Fenwick. of Darlington. preached. and the collections amounted to £42 16s 3d.
In 1875, a new era opened in the history of Thomas St. School. There was a splendid staff of teachers, and the liberal mind and progressive spirit were in the church and school. The friendship and religious influence of George Beves had captured the hearts of the young men and young women for Christian service. To-day, there are scholars of the school who owe a priceless debt . of gratitude to the teachers who counselled them in the formative period of their lives. The officers of the School in 1875 were:Thomas Caine, hop. superintendent; R. W. Moore, supt.; J. Mylrea, treasurer; J. D. Kellett, secretary; G. A. G. Burr. asst. secretary; G. H. Clucas, librarian; J. More. asst. librarian. Upon the retirement of Mr Robert Nioore, Mr W. J. Kermode was elected superintendent, and Mr J. D. Kellett, assist. supt. We well remember some of the teachers-Miss Corkill, teacher of the reserved class of girls; Mrs McArthur, Ellie Cannell, and Mary Cawte; W. J. Kermode, teacher of the young men's Bible Class; T. P. Ellison, Treasurer of the School; J. D. Kellett. and others, who year in, year out, were rarely absent from their classes. W. J. Kermode, the superintendent, spent every Sunday serving his church and Sunday-school and every weekday in doing acts of kindness to men and women. irrespective of their social status.their creed or their character. He belonged to the brotherhood of Good Samaritans who have eyes to see and hands to help the wounded on life's perilous way. His best record is in the lives of those who in the days of their youthhood and girlhood were encouraged to be true to the highest ideals. He was a combination of sanctified commonsense, tempered zeal, humour, forceful will power and compassionate tenderness. Laughter and tears were closely connected and he had a vocabulary that sometimes surprised strangers. At one of the school anniversaries, Mark Guy Pearse was the preacher. He arrived somewhat late for the morning service. When Pearse reached the vestry door, he heard a voice say, "Where is that blooming parson that he is not here?" Such a greeting to Pearse was an insult to his ministerial dignity, and there had to be a reconciliation between parson and superintendent before the morning service.
A valuable auxiliary to the church and Sunday-school was the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Class, under the presidency of Mr. Wni. Jas. Kermode. It retained the elder scholars in vital connection with the school and the church. They were a band of youths who did not ask what will the Church provide for our amusement? Nay, they said, What can we do for the Church? So they hired at their own expense a room in the "Old Brig" in Hanover Street, and carried on a gospel mission.
The recurrent problem of keeping the elder scholars attached to the Sunday-school was thus almost solved at Thomas Street. The presence of the voting men retained the elder girls. Enduring friendships were formed between youths and maidens in the Sunday-school. Doubtless some of those elder girls anticipated and hoped for that domestic felicity which is the crowning joy of a woman's life; and what is more effective to create courtesy and gallantry in a youth than friendship with a maiden whose character corresponds with the excellent lady portrayed in the 31st chapter of Proverbs. There are those still living that can testify that some of the excellent of the earth were discovered in Thomas Street Sunday School.
In the year 1881, owing to the increasing numbers of scholars, a separate Junior Department was established in the lower school, under the superindence of Mr J. E. Douglas. A staff of lady teachers from the eider girls' Bible class gladly gave their services to make the junior school a success, and in 1894 there were 254 scholars in the upper school and 253 in the junior department.
For several years, the officers of the school were: Upper school-supt., W. J. Kermode; asst. supt., T. Anderton; Junior department-supt., J. E. Douglas; assist. supt., A. Caley (with the following officers for the united school -- Secretary, R. G. Fargher; treasurer, T. P. Ellison; librarian, T. W. Kelly: asst. librarian. Jas. Oates. Two enthusiastic workers in the school were Miss Annie Kermode and Miss Oates. The visitors for absentees were Misses Stowell, Corlett, Robertson and Crellin and Mr Curphey. The annual reports which were issued at this period were of special value as records of the general working of the school.
It was under the presidency of Mr. W. J. Kermode (" William James," as he was called by his intimate friends) that the school reached the zenith of its prosperity. In 1890, there were 571 scholars on the registers, with a staff of 41 teachers. Where are the scholars of this goodly host? Some of them have emigrated unto the earth's remotest bounds; but they have not lost the precious memories of their Sunday-school and their teachers. Who can forget John Daniel Kellett-ever pleasant, ever natient, and the soul of kindliness. There was one of his scholars located in a firm in Liverpool. When his old teacher visited the city, he searched and found the scholar and treated him to a day's holiday in the city of Chester. We remember T. Anderton. with his lads clustering around him like a swarm of bees to listen to his American stories; and there was Moses Hampton, one of the most worthy citizens of Douglas, who taught the writer of these reminiscences.
The numerical strength of the Methodist Sunday-schools was in evidence at the centenary of the Sunday schools demonstration in 1880. There were present on that occasion 1,847 Sunday-school scholars from the Wesleyan Sunday-schools.
Old scholars of the school will remember the circuit ministers of this period--Henry Douthwaite, supt., T. Hargreaves, J. A. B. Malvern, J. Hirst (supernumerary). Douthwaite was among the princes of the churches. Laymen capable of judging the quality of a sermon said he was the most original preacher that ever occupied the pulpit in the Douglas Circuit. The construction and style of his sermons were akin to the sermons of Rev. W. L. Watkinson. With a weak voice, which was pitched on a high key, he possessed the art of clear enunciation, so that he could be heard at the farthest end of the church. Douthwaite, delicate in appearance and sensitive, was armoured with sarcasm (a dangerous weapon to use in the pulpit, but most effective to take down the mighty from their thrones of pride and arrogance).
When addressing a crowded meeting one evening in Thomas Street Schoolroom, his remarks raised the ire of a group of young bravadoes who were at. the far end of the room, and they began to hiss. Douthwaite paused, then calmly said, "I was unaware that there were geese in this room." Silence reigned for a minute, then the speaker continued his address without interruption. He was not an admirer of grandiloquent oratory. He was chairman at a meeting where a young speaker, who had a short-lived pulpit popularity, was describing in flowery language the glories of heaven and the golden crowns that adorned the brows of the white-robed saints. Douthwaite remarked after the meeting to a friend, "I kept looking for the golden crowns to drop at my feet on the platform."
His criticism on the quality of the teaching in the Sunday-schools of the Circuit in 1883 was true in some cases, but the indictment had such a caustic flavour that the teachers of Thomas Street School stood on the defensive, and passed the following resolution:
"The attention of the committee was called to the report of the Rev. H. Douthwaite in reference to the teaching in the schools of the Circuit, which was characterised as 'antiquated and in many cases ignorant'. The committee, having had under notice the said report, whilst regretting that such a report should have been published, desire to record its judgment that such terms cannot be applied to the Thomas Street Wesleyan Sunday-school."
The pulpit was Douthwaite's throne. His prayers were homelies on Christian doctrine, his sermons were steeped, probably for weeks, in the calm wisdom of his philosophic mind. With_ what eagerness the young men looked forward to his evening services at Thomas Street! Douthwaite was superb when dealing with the great texts of the Bible, such as "The word was made flesh" (John 1, v. 14) ; "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God" (Rom. 8, v. 19); "There was a rainbow round about the throne in sight like unto an emerald" (Rev. 4, v. 3).
In the pulpit, or speaking from the platform, Douthwaite was unattached to any manuscript or scrap of notes. It was a privilege to be in his class-meeting, for each evening the members were feasted with a beautiful exposition of some portion of the Scriptures. Who can forget the watchnight services conducted by Douthwaite? The great congregation filling the aisles of the church, the solemnity of the occasion, the rapt attention, the silence that brought whispering voices to the heart, as the preacher expounded the text, "We all do fade as a leaf."
Speaking of the summer season in Douglas, Douthwaite said, " The people wrapped up their souls in tissue paper until the winter returned." He considered that the country folk had as great a claim on his services as the town congregations, and it was his delight to visit every country chapel in the circuit on stated Sundays or weekdays. If correct, Douthwaite had no desire to attend the Wesleyan Conference, and we never heard that he had any recreation beyond his study, save a walk in the country. After his ministry in Douglas, he returned to his former circuit in Manchester. and then was appointed by Conference to City Road, the Shrine of Methodism.
In 1911, Mr J. H. Clarke was assistant superintendent of the school, and in 1911, after the death of Mr W. J. Kermode, he was elected superintendent, which office he held until 1920. In the death of Mr Clarke, the Douglas Circuit lost a local preacher of exceptional ability and one of the most ardent workers in the Methodist Church. The secretary of the school during these transitional years was Mr R. D. Gelling. In 1920, a deputation from the school waited on Mr J. E. Douglas, who had retired from the superintendency of the Junior Department in 1895. He consented to act as superintendent until the school committee found a substitute, and he held the office until 1927. The minute records "that the best wishes of the teachers and scholars go with him in his retirement after 50 years' active work in the Sunday-school."
In 1928. Mr. E. W. Clucas was appointed the superintendent. For several years before coming to Thomas Street, he was superintendent of the Esplanade Wesleyan Sunday school. Mr Clucas had a rare combination of gifts for work among the young people. He was musical from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot and excelled in training the children to sing with expression. Ile governed the school and -kept strict discipline by the power of quietness. His patience, sympathy and kindliness won the love and respect of all young folk. Unfortunately soon after entering upon his duties, he was incapacitated by ill-health anti had to relinquish the office. There followed a rapid change of superintendents-Mr Granville Clague, Mr. E. H. Faragher, culminating in the appointment to the office of Mr A. E. Corkill.
Among the items of interest in this minute-book are the annual reports of the secretary, Mr R. G. Fargher. They contain valuable information relative to the general work of the school, and are models of conciseness, unadorned with any superlatives or sentimental comments. The following is an extract from the annual report for 1888: "In presenting the report of T.W.M.S.S., we have to report that the school prospers satisfactorily. The number of teachers is 48, against 41 last year. Scholars, 577, against 507an increase of 7 teachers and 41 scholars. In the Band of Hope, there are 181 members and 28 teachers. 11 meetings have been held with an average attendance of 100. Total attendance, 1099." Mr R. G. Fargher was appointed secretary of the school in 1884. In 1888, he went to London, but returned to the Island, when he again took up the duties of Secretary. and. completed 25 years' service in that office. On the appointment of IVIr J. E Douglas as superintendent of the school, he again took up the office of school secretary; his services to the school extending over 410 years, and he still retains the secretaryship.
One who rendered valuable service was Mr T. W. Kelly, who acted as librarian for 23 years. He was a master of detail and an example of what. could be accomplished by a quiet, unassuming fidelity to the duties of his office. His report in 1887 states that the issue of books during the year was 2,180, number of readers 29:5; books in library, 648.
Another long-service worthy is Mr. E. Quaggan, who as a teacher and treasurer of the school has a record of 50 years' service.
The minutes contain special references to the musical training of the children by Mr Andrew Craine and Mr J. D. Kellett. Much thought and care was given to the selection of the anniversary hymns and to the quality of the children's singing. By the request of the school authorities, Mr Craine presided at the organ for each Sunday-school anniversary for 13 ,years, until Rose Mount demanded his service.
It is interesting to trace the gradual advancement of the Temperance sentiment in the history of the school. The minute of a meeting held in 1885 says there was an application from the Odofellows, for liberty to dine in Thomas Street School, and a resolution was passed "That the room be not given to the Oddfellows, or to any other society where we cannot have a sufficient guarantee that no drink will be used or improper conduct manifested."
About the year 1884, the Band of Hope became an important branch of the work in the school, and in a few years there were 240 pledged abstainers from intoxicating drinks. Many were the speakers and advocates that instructed and warned the young people against the demoralising effects of alcohol.
Time would fail to tell of all the faithful and their untiring devotion to the welfare of the school. Their names do not appear in the limelight nor on the cinema screen. Their names are in the old minute booksthe memorial rolls of the School. There is a sacredness clinging to these old records, and a Sunday School with such a history ought to purchase a safe for their preservation, lest the thief of time and the moth that fretteth a garment destroy them.
When Rose Mount and Salisbury Street Churches were erected with their Sunday schools attached, Thomas Street, as a great central institution in the town, lost its prestige. The teaching staff was depleted and the number of scholars declined. In some respects the former days were more glorious than the present. With a few exceptions, from what we know, this is the general condition of the Methodist Sunday-schools throughout the Island, and in some schools there was, and is undoubtedly need for improvement and a deeper interest in the work.
In summarising the contents of the minute books, the question naturally arises - what of the future of Thomas Street and other Methodist Sunday schools in the Island? There is a saying in the Talmud, "That the world is saved by the breath of school children; even to rebuild the temple the schools must not be closed." Sir Oliver Lodge has said, "If the nation is to be regenerated it must be regenerated through the agency of the Church, and the kind of society which allows its children to be befouled and degraded is likely to be dealt with by a millstone and a rope."
Doubtless, the chief factor for replenishing the Church is the Sunday school. A neglected Sunday-school means an impoverished Church, and a Church which has lost interest in the children and the Sunday-schoo is doomed to be ineffectual as a moral and religious force in the social life of the people.
For the last twenty years or more, there has been a perilous drift from the Christian Churches, and since the war the difficulties and problems that confront the Sunday-school teacher have increased. The social changes which are taking place are revolutionary, and no one can forecast what the ultimate end will be for the nation. There is a revolt against the traditional standards of morality, a demand for a life of freedom and licence unrestricted by religious principles. The forfeiture of the sanctitude of the home and the Church, the conversion of the Lord's Day into a week-end holiday: these with the liquor traffic and gambling in league to capture the young life of the nation, will not create an ideal commonwealth. What will arrest the drift, bring back the Christian Faith, and save us from the menace of a Christless society? They say. to save the young from these perils it is better to erect a fence at the top of a precipice than to provide an ambulance at the bottom. Next to a consecrated father and a saintly mother in the home to fortify the voung for life's conflict, is a divinely-chosen teacher with a living faith and a burning heart to take care of the boys 'and girls.
The young people to day demand from the Church an intelligent answer to satisfy their questioning minds. Youth must be convinced of the reasonableness of the Christian Faith. The teaching, therefore, must harmonise with modern knowledge and methods that have become obsolete will have to be discarded. The Sunday-school, to be progressive and efficient, must concentrate on the senior scholars; it is in this department that the personality and the qualifications of the teacher count.
There are many auxiliaries connected with a modern Sunday-school which have a moral and religious influence, such as the Christian Endeavour movement, and other Guilds, Scouts, and Girl Guides, but organisations, new buildings, new methods, courses of lessons, social entertainments, will be futile unless the master motive is in the heart of the teacher to win the scholar to a personal decision of loyalty to Christ, and in this high calling and work the teacher is the prime factor.
We reverently close these old minute-books We think of the goodly company of the faithful, our comrades who have passed beyond the veil. They have bequeathed to the officers end teachers of Thomas St. Sunday-school a sacred trust, a religious institution with a spiritual history that dates back to the first Methodist society class, that was formed in the town of Douglas by John Mason (one of Wesley's helpers) in the year 1776.
The message that comes from the silence of past years is, one of hope and encouragement. It is that the Sunday-school teacher is a builder of the City of God. To glory in past achievements ,will not build a Christian Commonwealth, but to emulate the zeal and untiring devotion of those who laid the foundation stones of Thomas Street Sunday-school will.produce results over which angels and men will rejoice. The clarion call to-day is: Value the opportunity God has given you to win the heart of a little child for citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.
"And the work that we have builded,
Oft with bleeding hands and tears,
Oft in error, oft in anguish,
Will not perish with our years.
It will last and shine transfigured,
In the final reign of Right,
It will pass into the splendours
Of the City of the Light."
The Old Day School. Circa-1850.
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HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2007