Twist of the Collar - Clerical Memoirs by Rev. L. E. A. Ehrmann
II - In The City
[p13] One day in June, 1886, my father received a letter from the manager of Messrs. Rosing Brothers and Company. General Merchants, asking whether he would like his son (myself) to enter commercial life. Concerning this I had great misgivings, for personally I wanted to study chemistry in a far fuller manner, incidentally deploring (as a lad would do) having to leave the school laboratory, and also, as already mentioned, my mother desired me to become either a parson or a medical man. All through my life I did my best to learn a good deal about medicine and I had many opportunities in the City of doing so. It will be seen later that I eventually sought Holy Orders.
Our circumstances, however, led me at this stage to accept the offer and I accordingly entered the City of London that year as a clerk. As I write this in 1949 I look back and see the enormous changes that have come over the world since then. I started my life as a junior, which practically meant an office boy until I had learnt something of the ways of a merchant's office. I started with the fabulous sum of £20 per annum, which naturally barely paid for rail and lunch. I had to be in the office of 10, Basinghall Street at 9 a.m. sharp, and seldom left before 7.30 p.m., often having to run to the G.P.O. with late fee letters. It was the time of long hours. The young people worked hard in those days.
[p 14] I do not think many details of city life would interest the general reader, but a few things I should like to state. First of all, the long hours never worried me, I took an interest in my work and was seldom scolded for omissions, Then I had a variety of work, so that during the years I was there I had done nearly every kind of office work - postage, invoices, account books, ledgers. etc., but as shipping clerk I had the most interesting time of my city life, for it sometimes meant trips to the London Docks and much running about interviewing the Steamship Agents. When I had what was virtually charge of the department for Mexico, I learnt much about that wonderful country. I had a good deal of correspondence some of which was in Spanish.
It is worth recording how office work was done in those days, for vital changes are now in existence. Copies of letters written, for instance, were made in a clumsy way, and woe to the junior who was careless in "copying" for a record would so be hopelessly ruined. There was the Copy Book with a sort of tissue paper. An oilskin was placed in the book, a brush with water was run over the page, then a drying sheet placed on the page and a gentle squeeze in the press - after which the letter (written in copying ink) was placed on the page and then thoroughly squeezed in the press. Nowadays shorthand-typists are the rule and a much more simplified method of carbon copies takes the place of the above system. Similarly in book-keeping, with adding machines and other devices to take the place of older systems. Altogether, an office today is a totally different institution to what it was in my day. Shorter hours and more pay are now the rule.
In my early years at the office, the chief partner was Mr. Rosing, but later on Mr. A. Segnitz became a partner, and with him I had most to do. He was of a rather severe nature and I made little progress, financially, at first, though my salary advanced rapidly in later years. When I left I was earning £250 a year, quite a good sum in those days, which was a great help to my parents. By careful living I managed to save money, and this came in most usefully afterwards. On leaving Mr. Segnitz gave me a beautiful gold watch.
In the meantime I kept up my Church subscriptions and purchased many religious books, most of which were of help to me when I left the City in September, 1903. My keenness for the Church of England was greatly stimulated when one day I saw in Cheapside a placard "Bishop of Lincoln Prosecuted," or something like that. I felt indignant at such a thing happening, so I bought The Church Review regularly, and followed the matter (as well as other things) most carefully. At length there appeared the Lambeth Opinion, allowing most things which the saintly Bishop Edward King had done at the Church at St. Peter at Gowts.
During my City life I had many friends who were most helpful. The Rev. Charles S. Wallace. Vicar of the Church of the Ascension, [p15] Lavender Hill, at whose Church I was a Server and Sunday School teacher he allowed me to be licensed to his parish as a Lay Reader, although my work lay chiefly at Longfield, Kent, where the Rev. Edward Smith was Rector. I would often serve at the Altar at Ascension at 7 a.m., go home for breakfast and travel by train from Wandsworth Road to Fawkham. I would return late Sunday evening. But after a while the kind Rector and Mrs. Smith invited me for week-ends, and a lasting friendship grew between us. And here I must not forget to mention the help I received from Bishop E. S. Talbot and Canon R. Rhodes Bristow, the latter being Warden of the Guild of the Forerunner to help spiritually those who desired to enter the Ministry—a matter that now occupied my very serious attention. I joined the Guild on 2nd January. 1899, when Dr. Talbot was Bishop of Rochester.
At first I had to experience one difficulty after another. e.g., a serious illness,* long hours of work, lack of finance, etc., but gradually these all faded away. I am thankful to say I had enough faith to carry me through what after all was a great venture. I only hope now that what I am writing of my life may stimulate some young men to seek Ordination, and I trust that the last chapters of this book will show that it is worthwhile. I regard it as a great privilege to be one of the servants of the dear old Church of England. If one has the inward "call" to the Sacred Ministry, I can now see, that God will make it possible. If only we have a real faith and, in spite of all obstacles, we persevere, the Holy Spirit. I write it reverently, will do the rest.
The Church of England has had many controversies to deal with, but I think none so grave as when Pope Leo XIII issued a "Bull" in 1896 concerning Anglican Orders, it came as a surprise to many clergy and laity, but in parishes where the teaching was thoroughly Catholic the matter was at once taken in hand and the laity had the whole subject laid before them historically and doctrinally. Many less Catholic Churches often ignored the matter in public. We were fortunate enough at the Church of the Ascension. Lavender Hill, to have lectures week by week by the Rev. T. A. Lacey, and these. I remember, made "mincemeat" of the latest Roman "opinion." This "Bull" was not given "ex Cathedra," so it was thought it might be reversed one day, but surely that is extremely doubtful.
The official Roman decisions are unintelligible to the lay mind. for there always appears the idea of aloofness whereas our Blessed
* I had a most serious illness - emphysema and pericarditis in the year 1891, and it took a whole year to be able to return to business. I was operated upon in St. Thomas' Home owing to pleurisy, but I must mention the skill of our local practitioner, Dr. J. Scott Battams, who spared no trouble. My final recovery was due to a stay at Margate in March the following year. As a result of thankfulness for getting well again, I decided to offer myself for the sacred ministry when it might become possible.
[p 16] Lord desired unity and fellowship, and so long as Rome persists in this attitude of superiority, it would seem impossible for Reunion to take place. It was supposed that the Roman hierarchy in England pressed the matter in Rome, as the Church of England was now so keenly alive to her great National Calling, but I must leave this matter in some doubt. But whatever feeble minds thought of this "Bull," which savoured more of a "bull in a china shop," many of us took courage, and it had this advantage, that it put us all on our mettle, and we were, perhaps, better English Catholics than before.
To our great delight, on lath February, 1897, our two Archbishops, of Canterbury and York, issued in English and Latin their "Answer to the Pope's Apostolic Letter," addressed to the "whole body of Bishops of the Catholic Church." it was a masterpiece of careful thought and deep knowledge regarding Anglican Orders and, in fact, of Roman Orders as well. This reply, which was sent worldwide, must have opened the eyes of Romanists, who (we heard) were amazed at the excellent Latin of our scholars.
I have often read the above "Answer," which has always been on my bookshelf since publication. Space will not permit me to make many quotations from it. A few, which show what the English Church teaches, will be found in the Appendix.
I must add, too, that we had at the Church of the Ascension two parochial Missions, in 1891, it was the best Mission I have ever taken part in. conducted by the Rev. John Wakeford, and whose Doctrinal Verses will be found in the Appendix. In later years the author gave me full permission to use them in my parish, and here I feel compelled to state that I, like his wife, believe him absolutely innocent of the charges that were brought against him later on. The other Mission was conducted a few years later by the Rev. Paul Bull. The Rev. C. S. Wallace, whose whole life was most saintly, and who was loved by all, even when they did not agree with him, was greatly disturbed when Bishop Talbot asked him to "suspend" the use of incense owing to the Protestant agitations. He did so, only at the wish of the Bishop and not for any other reason. His "obedience" was, however, rewarded, for although some of the congregation said he was "weak" in consenting, before very long the full use was restored and he was made an Hon. Canon of Southwark. As a matter of fact, incense was not completely abandoned, for each Sunday before the Sung Eucharist, Thurifer and Boat boy would go round the Church censing as they went. Did not George Herbert write about perfuming the Church with incense? If part of the congregation did not actually see incense arising, they could not help smelling its perfume in the Church. Thus the custom of incense was kept alive at the Ascension.
About this time several disturbances occurred in London Churches, of which S. Ethelburga, Bishopsgate, was one. I used [p 17] to be there a good deal at the Sung Eucharist when the Kensitites presented themselves. Mr. Charles Farris was Churchwarden at the time and he was glad to have supporters so that he could separate the above gentlemen as much as possible.
Now and again the Kensitites were a nuisance at the Ascension. On one occasion they came to the Church, but found so large a body of men that they did not come again. On another occasion "No Popery" was chalked up largely on the wooden palings around the Church. Many were indignant, but not so the calm Vicar, who remarked. "It is quite right, there is no popery here."
In connection with my Church work at the Ascension, I was Sunday School Teacher for a time, and a Server, but I was also Branch Secretary of the Guild of All Souls. In the year 1896 a dreadful disaster happened off the French coast. The Parish Priest of Molene was most kind and helpful to the survivors of the S.S. "Drummond Castle" and, having the idea of Reunion also in my mind I suggested to the Guild of All Souls that a presentation should be made to him. This was duly effected as will be seen in the Appendix.
"The Catechism" was admirably well conducted by the priests at the Church of the Ascension. On one occasion the Catechist asked the children "Who fell from the roof?" Eutychus here should have been the reply of course. Instead many hands went up, and the unanimous reply was "George Abbot, Sir." This lad had fallen from the scaffolding near the roof into the Church and was almost killed. The Church was in process of building a further section of the permanent Church. The tower still remains unfinished.
I should be ungrateful if I omitted to mention the kindness of the Rev. Walter Carey. now Bishop, while 1 was at the Church of the Ascension. I still possess the Greek Lexicon which he gave me, and which I have often found most useful. His brother, William, was also well known to us and I remember visiting him in Brighton not long before his death. A great friend of mine also was Mr. H. H. Stokes, the excellent Sunday School Superintendent.
I cannot pass to the next chapter without mentioning two things:
1. I was attracted by the teaching of Father Ignatius and frequently heard him in Kensington Town Hall, He lived before his time, one might say, for I feel confident that the Episcopate of to-day would never have dealt with him as they did, as also in the case of John Wesley. The Church in our time is out to gather in. not to disperse.
2. The Ritualistic Reporter, as the gentleman was called, was very active in my early days. A London "Daily" had the remarkable piece of news of a "Procession from the Reredos to the Altar," and a local South London newspaper in giving an account of a service at the Church of the Ascension wrote about "the scattering of incense amongst the congregation" during a procession. Surely, the Reporter must have realised what a dangerous [p 18] thing it would have been for incense to fly off from burning charcoal Further, the Rev. Bradley Abbott was said to have gone in procession in his Church at Clapham on Palm Sunday riding upon an ass. Needless to say there was no truth in it.
Other priests can tell many such tales.