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The Taberns of Paddington.
BY G. HOLDEN PIKE. NOT until a comparatively recent date have the aggressive forces of
Christianity ventured on disputing the ground with the enemy by seeking trophies of victory in public-houses. Viewed from any standpoint the public-house mission is a daring innovation. When first proposed some years ago, the scheme appeared to be novel, and even Utopian; so that while ordinary people were disposed to smile derisively at the broaching of such an idea, many friends of missions and true helpers of the poor doubted the expediency of carrying Gospel pearls into places where they would probably be trampled under foot. These happily groundless fears may in part have arisen from popular misapprehension as to the true nature of public-houses, and also of the sentiments of those who conduct them ; for as regards this department of knowledge, the majority of easy-going people are likely to be in a condition of complete ignorance. Public-houses widely differ in character, and only in a few exceptional instances are they worthy of being denounced as altogether bad, while not a few are as respectably conducted as the nature of taverns will allow, closing on Sundays and discouraging excess by every means. The characters of the landlords differ as widely as their houses. Unworthy characters are found among them, as they may be found among all other classes of tradesmen; but happily, numbers of men with sterling traits of character are found in the publican ranks.* Then why should not the Gospel be carried into taverns as well as into squalid courts and alleys ? As places of public resort, taverns would seem to be just the very places where those characters may be encountered whom the City Mission seeks to reclaim. If religion be out of place in a public-house, there must be something radically wrong somewhere, and to reiterate as some are in the habit of doing this popular opinion, is to condemn an influential trading community in a very sweeping manner, even though the opinion may come from persons who as nominal Christians see no harm in the calling of the licensed victualler. To raise objections on the ground of the two things being opposed to each other, is simply to associate public-houses with what is bad, and with what is bad alone.f
It is believed that no class of tradesmen more readily listen to Christian advice than publicans. They are also both sensitive and hospitable, and were not their profession too often stigmatised as altogether bad by certain people, one obstacle to a reformation would be removed. As some, however, still persist in associating the publichouse trade with depravity alone, Mr. Landlord may too often prefer
* We do not hold ourselves responsible for the way in which Mr. Pike puts the matter. We would not join in condemnatory sentences; but, for all that, the evils of the trade are incalculable.—ED.
† But a common public-house is not the place in which a person of such character would choose to live. The evils of the trade could not be endured by such ; if they stayed in it they would be under daily trial.-En.
leaving religion untouched, and so avoid being classed among hypocrites by the unthinkingly severe. Yet strange as the anomaly may perhaps appear, there are Christians even among publicans. Here is one, for instance, who professes religion, closes on Sundaye, and subscribes to the funds of the London City Mission. There is another who speaks a good word for the tracts whenever they are distributed in his bar, while his daughter is a successful Sunday-school teacher. Yet another is met with who so strongly advocates “ fair-play,” that he desires to be allowed to pay for the literature given away in his house for philanthropic purposes. So far are publicans from being advocates of Sunday labour, that many, perhaps the majority who superintend their own trade, would welcome an agitation which would secure them their portion of weekly rest. On this head my friend the missionary, whose work I am about to describe, thus testifies :-" The publicans, as a body, are not unconscious of the evils of their trade. They groan under the present state of things. Their desire to have the Sunday as a day of rest is general; and to secure this great boon and right for themselves, their families, and their assistants, they would gladly submit to some pecuniary loss. Many public-houses, however, are in the hands of capitalists, who employ active barmen and showy barmaids to serve and do the laborious part of the work. The unseen but powerful capitalists are the persons most opposed to any movement to secure a relaxation in the hours of business, especially on the Lord's-day. The Legislature and the press are not willing to view the whole subject as affecting the publicans primarily, and, through them, their customers. Reform in this direction is further off, I fear, than it was a year since. All depends now on the efforts of private individuals and evangelical societies.” My friend ranks high in the favour of certain landlords, as, indeed, he ought to do; and the fact of his being so seldom interfered with in a somewhat obstrusive work, speaks something for the genial nature of publicans in general.
Feeling considerable interest in the work of tavern visitation for evangelistic purposes, I some time ago cultivated the acquaintance of a missionary in Marylebone, and gave to the public the fruits of a brief study of his operations.* Having since become acquainted with another missionary in Paddington, I now purpose detailing something of what he has also effected in the good cause.
From what many of us know of City Mission work, we shall, perhaps, suppose that the public-house visitor must be a picked man -a man in some respects a head and shoulders above his compeers. Such as are partially illiterate may become excellent workmen in ordinary districts, and many such could be named whose labours are evidently much owned of God. He, however, whose beat includes a large number of taverns, must not only have tact and kindliness, but also a large amount of information, both Biblical and secular; indeed, it would be difficult to name any literary accomplishment which such a man is not able to utilise. It is indispensable that he be a ready textuary, that he be acquainted with the ordinary infidel arguments
* See the chapter entitled “Sunday Night in the Taverns," in " The Romance of the Streets.” (Hodder and Stoughton.)
against the Gospel, and be possessed of ready wit. He must also be one who is not easily ruffled in temper, while he must have an eye to perceive, and a hand to seize, opportunities as they occur. An agreeable testimony is offered when it said that neither of the public-house visitors already named betrayed symptoms of falling short of the standard described.
Being no stranger to the efforts now put forth in public-houses, I felt curious to look yet further into the working of this remarkable agency. I therefore arranged to meet the missionary who has charge of the Paddington district, the time being a fine Saturday evening in August. Though you may never have met him before, you can readily detect the City Missionary, and he will tell you himself that it is impossible for persons of his profession to conceal their calling. It was not long ere my friend involuntarily convinced me of his peculiar fitness for his chosen work, for he seemed fully aware that to succeed in anything one must have a liking for the work undertaken. His circuit embraces four hundred houses of call; formerly, a thousand houses were included in the area, and out of that large number not more than half-a-dozen landlords have offered any opposition to his aggressive operations. Estimated at its best, this is necessarily an arduous and a difficult calling, and fortunate is the missionary when his labours are encouraged by the advice and kindly assistance of a sympathising superintendent; such exactly is my friend's felicity. Not only has each publican in Paddington been gratuitously supplied with “ Prayers for a Week,” each has also accepted a copy of the New Testament, all being the gift of Mr. Ellis, Barrister-at-law. Besides such extraordinary donations of a more expensive kind, the distribution of tracts and other publications regularly proceeds; two thousand tracts, and two hundred and fifty copies of religious periodicals being the allowance received monthly from the committee of the London City Mission. While it is not easy to estimate the influence which one devoted man may thus be able to exercise, the fact speaks for itself when houses here and there are found closed on the Sabbath, in deference to the evangelist's advice; or when donations to good objects are made in return for benefit received. An instance has occurred in which a publican willingly suffered a loss of eight hundred pounds a year in his receipts through closing on Sundays. There are comparatively few landlords who do not appreciate what is being done for themselves and their customers. Sometimes, when a member of the trade is laid aside, or when any person in whom they feel extra interest falls sick, landlords will do their best to supply them with Christian instruction and consolation by acquainting the missionary.
Walking with my companion from the Bishop's-road station, the streets are found to wear that busy aspect supposed so well to harmonise with the last night of the week, though the quietness of preparation for the Sabbath would to our mind be far more appropriate. One looks into one, and then another, of the taverns of the larger order thickly studding this “good drinking neighbourhood," and can only account for the lavish expenditure of substantial architecture and decoration by remembering how large a proportion of the wages of certain persons goes in drink. The field is indeed white unto the harvest, and I am glad to find that my companion considers himself well adapted for the work he has undertaken, seeing he has been acquainted from childhood with the manners and customs of licensed victuallers. He confesses to having been born in a public-house, and while the bar constituted the first infant-school he attended, the duly gilded announce ment, “ Truman, Hanbury, Buxton, and Company's Entire," was the first complete sentence in English with which his opening mind was enriched. That the son of a publican should desire to promote the publicans' benefit, and should thus become an active witness for Christianity among the class to which his father belonged, some will think sufficiently strange. A more striking anomaly is found in the fact that my friend's family were succeeded in the public-house by a teetotaller, and one who remained such until death. The anomaly-hunter will find wares ready-made to his hand in bars, and in scenes behind the bars.
We are now out on a special mission, and my companion, who does not usually visit on Saturday evenings, but has made this an extraordinary occasion, is equipped for service with a bundle of tracts in one pocket, a Bible in the other, and a black leather case which encloses The Cottager, The Sunday at Home, and The British Workman, all to be distributed among tavern proprietors and their servants. We now come up to a large corner establishment or restaurant, where two waiters loitering at the side-door are soon in our confidence, and admiring a large engraving in The Cottager, of “ A Dinner Party at the Zoo.” With tact, readiness, and good nature, some necessary Christian lessons are conveyed; for the city missionary, who has a genius as well as a heart for his work, is the most surprising object & novice is likely to meet with during an evening tour through London streets. Those waiters, for instance, can laugh and chat; laughing and chatting seem to make up their native language ; but they can look serious too when some good thing is sent direct to their hearts. Leaving these and turning the corner, we enter a capacious bar, a place which strikes one as being an interesting portion of the territory we are so strangely invading. The area being large and the company numerous, the servants can allow us but small attention, though each takes a paper, and returns a kindly recognition. The landlord here so unmistakably favours the work of Christian visitation that a collecting box for the funds of the City Mission is constantly kept in use. There is a Babel-like confusion of conversation, combined with a clatter and clinking of pots and glasses, which at first is likely to make one involuntarily ask if this be not a strange place wherein to speak of Christ and to read his words. What do the people themselves think about the question ? Mr. Landlord, who is far too considerable a person to be visible other than in his representatives, says by his general approval, “Do these people whatever good you can.” As regards the servants, they really do value the attentions paid them, and would, if examined, acknowledge their obligations. But what say the people, the wider constituency of publichouse customers ? Opinions differ among these witnesses on this, as on all other questions of the age. Listen a moment to those two young fellows who are pushing their way towards the bar; they are
quietly expressing to one another their disapproval of obtruding religion into a public-house. Per contra, turn your attention to that gentleman in an opposite corner, and who is too far removed from the last speakers to catch their observations. He looks like a man who prides himself in knowing what's what, and now he advances the outspoken opinion that “ Religion aint no disgrace to nobody.” The tracts, of which there is an abundant supply, are now in requisition. Here is one called “Peaceful and Happy." "Ay, · Peaceful and Happy ;' that's your style, governor ;” and the man, who maybe thinks that it ought to be his style, accepts the little messenger, confessing that the brochure does not describe his condition. Then there is the history of “Polly Pond, the Miner's Wife ;” and the “ladies' tract” is well received by those for whom it was prepared. “« Sounding Brass ; ' Sounding Brass.' Who will have that ?” One here, and another there, until that finds favour also. “Poor Tom;' where is he to be found ? •Poor Tom'-any one here named Tom ? " "My name's Tom.” “Ah, there you are.” The namesake of “Poor Tom” is a tall, wiry-looking man, not far advanced past middle age. He takes the tract with a show of civil satisfaction, and as his name corresponds with the title, he finds much to say; and with considerable volubility, proves to the company that he can form an opinion for himself. He had even heard a sermon from the Hon. and Rev. Baptist Noel, and having once been coachman to a well-known shipowner, at Tottenham, who fitted up one of the first missionary ships, he appeared to think he had more than ordinary claim on our Christian regard, and complained of my companion's want of consideration in not having called upon him at his own house, and hoped to enjoy the pleasure of seeing him before long. It may be remarked here, once for all, that in this and other instances, the private addresses of several persons were taken down, to be visited at their homes during the ensuing week.
There is no one in this bar who ventures to decry the word, which is boldly, and it may be said, nobly spoken. Would any one fully realise the weight and authority of God's truth, they would do well to embrace an opportunity of hearing it proclaimed to a rough congregation, like that of a tavern bar on Saturday night. There is no time for trifling or for showing off ; for, distrusting the best words he can command, the evangelist will again and again fall back on the very words of Scripture. To say that I myself, as an admiring on-looker, was instructed and edified is not to say much; and hence the encouraging comments, too lowly spoken to reach my companion's ear, came as a welcome testimony. "I hold with a man like that,” said a young man of the mechanic class, to another of his own station ; “And so do I, there's no kid about it,” was the ready answer. These bar frequenters are illiterate and devoid of taste ; but they can prize honesty and courageous endeavours to do them good. Oppose their prejudices by direct appeals to the Bible, and you may often gain an easy conquest over them.
“A good beginning,” I said, when we again breathed the pure air of the street.
Well, yes, my companion thought so too. He signified that the work