Vauxhall Road Particular Baptist Chapel

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

“Don’t be so particular” is a particularly popular phrase. It comes up constantly from the rough quarry of human nature – is a part of life’s untamed protest against punctilliousness and mathematical virtue. Particular people are never very popular people, just because they are particular. The world isn’t sufficiently ripe for niceties; it likes a lot, and pouts at eclectical squeamishness; it believes in a big, vigorous, rough-hewn medley, is choice in some of its items, but free and easy in the bulk; and it can’t masticate anything too severely didactic, too purely logical, too strongly distinct, or too acutely exact. But it does not follow, etymologically, that a man is right because he is particular. He may be very good or very bad, and yet be only such because he is particularly so. Singularity, eccentricity, speciality, isolation, oddity, and hundreds of other things which might be mentioned, all involve particularity. But we do not intend, to “grammar-out” the question, nor to disengage and waste our gas in definitions. The particular enters into all sorts of things, and it has even a local habitation and a name in religion. What could be more particular than Particular Baptism? Certain followers of a man belonging the great Smith family constituted the first congregation of English Baptists. These were of the General type. The Particular Baptists trace their origin to a coterie of men and women who had an idea that their grace was of a special type, and who met in London as far back as 1616.

The doctrines of the Particular Baptists are of the Calvinistic hue. They believe in eternal election, free justification, ultimate glorification; they have a firm notion that they are a special people, known before all time; that not one of them will be lost; and they differ from the General Baptists, so far as discipline is concerned, in this – they reject “open communion,” will allow no membership prior to dipping; or, – to quote the exact words of one of them, who wrote to us the other day on the subject, and who paled our ineffectual fire very considerably with his definition – “All who enter our pail must be baptised.” If there is any water in the “pail” they will; if not, it will be a simple question of dryness. The chapel used by the Particular-Baptists, in Vauxhall-road, Preston, has a curious history.

It beats Plato’s theory of transmigration; and is a modern edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The building was erected by Mr. George Smith (father of the late Alderman G. Smith, of this town), and he preached to it for a short time. Afterwards it was occupied by a section of Methodists connected with the “Round Preachers.” Then it was purchased by a gentleman of the General Baptist persuasion, who let it to the late Mr. Moses Holden – a pious, astronomical person, who held forth in it for a season with characteristic force. Subsequently it was taken possession of by the Episcopalians, the Rev. Mr. Pearson, late of Tockholes, being the minister. He, along with some of his flock, was in the habit of holding prayer meetings, &c., in different parts of the town; the Vauxhall-road building being their central depot. But when the Rev. Carus Wilson was appointed Vicar of Preston an end was put to both their praying and preaching. When the Episcopalians made their exit, a section of religious people called the Fieldingites obtained the building. They drove a moderately thriving business at the place until permission was unwittingly given for a Mormon preacher to occupy the pulpit just once – a circumstance which resulted in a thorough break-up; many of the body liking neither Joe Smith nor his polygamising followers. After the Mormon fiasco and the evaporation of the Fieldingites, another denomination took it.

The Particular Baptists – some people call them Gadsbyites – were at this period working the virtues of their creed in a small room towards the bottom of Cannon-street; and on hearing that Vauxhall-road Chapel was on sale, they smiled, made a bid at it, and bought it. Their first minister, after the removal, was a certain Mr. Mc.Kenzie, who stimulated the elect with many good things, and eventually died. The question as to who should be his successor next presented itself; “supplies” were tried; various men from various parts were invited into the pulpit, looked at, and listened to; the object being to get “the right man in the right place.” There was considerable difference of opinion as to that said “right man;” one portion of “the church” wanting a smart, well-starched, polished individual, and the other desiring a plain, straightforward “gospel preacher” – a man of the Gadsby kidney, capable of hitting people hard, and telling the truth without any fear. This was in 1848, and about this time a plain, homely, broad-hearted “Lancashire chap,” named Thomas Haworth, a block printer by trade, and living in the neighbourhood of Accrington, who had taken to preaching in his spare time, was “invited” to supply the Vauxhall-road pulpit.

“Tommy” – that’s his recognized name, and he’ll not be offended at us for using it – came, saw, and conquered. He made his appearance in a plain coat, a plain waist-coat, and a pair of plain blue-coloured corduroy trousers; and as he went up the steps of the pulpit, people not only wondered where he came from, but who his tailor was. And if they had seen his hat, they would have been solicitous as to its manufacturer. The more elaborate portion of the “church” pulled uncongenial features at the young block-printer’s appearance, thought him too rough, too unreclaimed, too outspoken, and too vehement; the plain people, the humble, hard-working, unfashionable folk liked him, and said he was “just the man” for them. Time kept moving, Tommy was asked to officiate in the pulpit for 52 Sundays; he consented; kept up his fire well and in a good Gadsbyfied style; and when settling day came a majority of the members decided that he should remain with them. The “non-contents” moved off, said that it would not do; was too much of a good thing; escaped to Zoar; and, in the course of this retreat, somebody took – what! – not the pulpit, nor its Bible, nor the hymn books, nor the collecting boxes, nor the unpaid bills belonging the chapel, but – the title deeds of the old place! and to this day they have not been returned. This was indeed a sharp thing. How Shylock – how the old Jew with his inexorable pound of flesh-worship, creeps up in every section of human society! Vauxhall-road Chapel, which has passed through more denominational agony than any twenty modern places of worship put together, is situated in a poor locality – in a district where pure air, and less drink, and more of “the Christ that is to be,” as Tennyson would say, are needed than the majority of places in the town.

Architecturally the chapel is nothing; and if it were not for a few tall front rails, painted green, a good gable end pointed up, and a fairly cut inscription thereon, it would, ecclesiastically speaking, seem less than nothing. It has just been re-painted internally, and necessarily looks somewhat smart on that account; but there is no pretension to architecture in the general building. Between 500 and 600 persons might be accommodation in it; but the average attendance is below 200. People are not “particular” about what church or chapel they belong to in its locality; and some of them who belong to no place seem most wickedly comfortable. There is a great deal of heathenish contentment in Vauxhall-road district, and how to make the people living there feel properly miserable until they get into a Christian groove of thought is a mystery which we leave for the solution of parsons. The interior of Vauxhall-road Particular Baptist Chapel is specially plain and quiet looking, has nothing ornamental in it and at present having been newly cleaned, it smells more of paint than of anything else. The pews are of various dimensions – some long, some square, all high – and, whilst grained without, they are all green within. This is not intended as a reflection upon the occupants, but is done as a simple matter of taste.

The “members” of the chapel at present are neither increasing nor decreasing – are stationary; and they wilt number altogether between 50 and 60. Either the chapel is too near the street, or the street too near the chapel, or the children in the neighbourhood too numerous and noisy; for on Sundays, mainly during the latter part of the day, there is an incessant, half-shouting, half-singing din, from troops of youngsters adjoining, who play all sorts of chorusing games, which must seriously annoy the worshippers. The music at the chapel is strong, lively, and congregational. Sometimes there is more cry than wool in it; but taken altogether, and considering the place, it is creditable. There is neither an organ, nor a fiddle, nor a musical instrument of any sort that we have been able to notice, in the place. All is done directly and without equivocation from the mouth. The members of the choir sit downstairs, in a square place fronting the pulpit; the young men – in their quiet moments – very pleasantly at the young women, the older members maintaining a mild equillibrium at the same time, and all going off stiffly when singing periods arrive. The hymn books used contain, principally, pieces selected by the celebrated William Gadsby, and nobody in the chapel need ever be harassed for either length or variety of spiritual verse. They have above 1,100 hymns to choose from, and in length these hymns range from three to twenty-three verses. Whilst inspecting one of the books recently we came to a hymn of thirteen verses, and thought that wasn’t so bad – was partly long enough for anybody; but we grew suddenly pale on directly afterwards finding one nearly twice the size – one with twenty-three mortal verses in it. It is to be hoped the choir and the congregation will never he called upon to sing right through any hymn extending to that disheartening and elastic length. We have heard a chapel choir sing a hymn of twelve verses, and felt ready for a stimulant afterwards to revive our exhausted energies; if twenty-three verses had to be fought through at one standing, in our hearing, we should smile with a musical ghastliness and perish.

At the back of the chapel there is a Sunday-school. It was built in 1849. The number of scholars “on the books” is 120, and the average attendance will be about 90. In connection with the school there is a nice little library, and if the children read the books in it, and legitimately digest their contents, they will be brighter than some of their parents. There are two Sunday services at the chapel – one in the morning, and the other in the evening. No religious meetings are held in it during weekdays; the minister couldn’t stand them; he is getting old and rotund; and, constitutionally, finds it quite hard enough to preach on Sundays. “He would be killed,” said one of the deacons to us the other day, in a very earnest and sympathetic manner, “if he had to preach on week days – he’s so stout, you know, and weighs so heavy.” We hardly think he would be killed by it. Standing in a narrow pulpit for a length of time must necessarily be fatiguing to him; but why can’t things be made easy? If a high seat – a tall, broad, easy, elastic-bottomed chair – were procured and fixed in the pulpit, he could sit and preach comfortably; or a swing might be procured for him. Such a contrivance would save his feet, check his perspiration, and console his dorsal vertebra. We suggest the propriety of securing a chair or a swing. It would be grand preaching and swinging.

The congregation at Vauxhall-road Chapel is pre-eminently of a working-class character. Nearly the whole of the pew holders are factory people; not above six or seven of them find employment outside of mills. They are a plain, honest, enthusiastic, home-spun class of folk. A few there may be amongst the lot who are authoritative, or saucy, or ill-naturedly solemn; but the generality are simple-dealing, quaintly-exhuberant, oddly-straightforward, and primitively-pious people – distinctly sincere, periodically eccentric, and fond of a good religious outburst, a shining spiritual fandango now, and then.

As we have before intimated the minister of the Chapel is Mr. Thomas Haworth. During the first 18 years of his ministry he received 20s. a week for his services; for three years afterwards he got 25s.; during the last two he has had 30s. per week; and his temporal consolation is involved in a sovereign and a half at present. Be is 54 years of age, has had very little education, believes in telling the truth as far as he knows it, and cares for nobody. He has a strongly intuitive mind; is full of human nature; is broad-faced, very fat and thoroughly English in look: has a chin which is neither of the nutmeg nor the cucumber order, but simply double; weighs heavier than any other parson in Preston; couldn’t run; gets out of breath and pants when he goes up the pulpit stairs; has his own ideas, and likes sticking to them, about everything; has neither cunning nor deception in him; is rough but honest; is without polish but full of common sense; would have been a good companion for Tim Bobbin in his better moments, and for Sam Slick in his unctuous periods; cares more for thoughts than grammar; likes to rush out in a buster when the spell is upon him; can either shout you into fits or whisper you to sleep – is, in a word, a virtuous and venerable “caution.” He is the right kind of man for humble, queer-thinking; determined, sincerely-singular Christians; is just the sort of person you should hear when the “blues” are on you; has much pathos, much fire, much uncurbed virtue in him; is a sort of theological Bailey’s Dictionary – rough, ready, outspoken, unconventional, and funny; is a second Gadsby in oddness, and force, and sincerity, but lacks Gadsby’s learning. Unlike the bulk of parsons, Mr. Haworth does his own marketing. You may see him almost any Saturday in the market, with a huge orthodox basket in his hand – a basket bulky, and made not for show, but for holding things. He has no pride in him, and thinks that a man shouldn’t be ashamed of buying what he has to eat, and needn’t blush if he has to carry home what he wants to digest. His sermons in both manner and matter are essentially Haworthian. There is no gilt, no mock modesty in his style; there is to vapid sentimentalism in the ideas he expounds. A broad, unshaven, every-day Lancashire vigour pervades both; and what he can’t make out he guesses at. In the pulpit he seems earnest but uneasy – honest, but fidgetty about his eyes, and legs. Watch him: he preaches extemporaneously, but often peers up and winks, and often looks down at his bible and squeezes his eyes. He has a great predilection for turning to the left – that he apparently thinks is the right side for small appeals of a special character; and when he gets back again, for the purpose of either looking at his book or sending out a new idea, he makes a short oscillating waddle – a sharp, whimsical, wavy motion, as if he either wanted to get his feet out of something or stir forward about half an inch. He pitches his hands about with considerable activity, and often flings himself suddenly into a white-heat, tantrum of virtue, and the brethren like him when be does this. He is original when stormy; is refreshing when his temper is up. His style is natural – is a reflection of himself – is warm with life, is odd, and at times fierce through the power of his sincerity. His illustrations are all homely; his theories most original; his expressions most honest and quaint. He has a fondness for the Old Testament – likes to get into the company of Isaiah, Jeremiah, &c.; sometimes touches the hem of Habakkuk’s garment; and nods at a distance occasionally at Joel and the other minor prophets. We should like to see a Biblical Commentary from his pen; it, would be immortal on account of its straightforwardnsss and oddity. Adam Clarke and Matthew Henry must sometimes turn over in their graves when he expounds the more mysterious passages of sacred writ. To no one does Mr. Haworth hold the candle; he is candid to all, and pitches into the entire confraternity of his hearers sometimes. He said one Sunday “None of you are ower much to be trusted – none of us are ower good, are we? A, bless ya, I sometimes think if I were to lay my head on a deacon’s breast – one of our own lot – may be there would be a nettle in’t or summut at sooart.” He is partial to long “Oh’s,” and “Ah’s” and solemn breathings; and sometimes tells you more by a look or a subdued, calmly-moulded groan than by dozens of sentences. He spices his sermons considerably with the Lancashire dialect; isn’t at all nice about aspirates, inflection, or pronunciation; thinks that if you have got hold of a good thing the best plan is to out with it, and to out with it any way, rough or smooth, so that it is understood. He never stood at philological trifles in his life, and never will do. Those who listen to him regularly think nothing of his singularities of gesture and expression; but strangers are bothered with him.

Occasionally the ordinary worshippers look in different directions and smile rather slyly when he is budding and blossoming in his own peculiar style; but they never make much ado about the business, and swallow all that comes very quietly and good-naturedly. Strangers prick their ears directly, and would laugh right out sometimes if they durst. There are not many collections at the chapel, but those which are made are out of the ordinary run. Two were made on the Sunday we were there, and they realised what? – not £5, nor £10, nor £12, as is the custom at some of our fashionable places of worship, – no, they just brought in £63 3s. 9d. At the request of the minister, who announced the sum, the congregation set to and sung over it for a short time. Simplicity and liberality, mingled with much earnestness and a fair amount of self-righteousness, are the leading traits of the “elect” at Vauxhall-road chapel; whilst their minister is a curious compilation of eccentricity, sagacity, waddlement, winking, straightforwardness, and thorough honesty.