top of page

St Mark's 1880's   PART2

Unemployment

Although the mood at the time of the Extension was optimistic, only a few months later St Mark's was struggling to keep its own finances straight, pay off the loan incurred in building the extension and yet still offer extraordinary help to local families facing unemployment. Woolston's economy was closely bound to the shipyard's ability to make and sell ships, and although. T. R. Oswald and Mordaunt, his partner, were both on St Mark's enlargement committee and both contributed to funds, the shipyard soon faced financial difficulties.

Competition in shipbuilding, not only within Southampton but across Britain must have been considerable because it was from the North of England that Mr Oswald had come in the first place, when his shipyard there faced closure. The pressure to make ships speedily and cut costs seems to have led to accidents at the yard and the grim nickname "slaughterhouse" locally, but even the hard work of Woolston people was not enough to save the firm, and local families then faced a harsh period of unemployment. The yard was taken over by a naval architect and two other firms, but it wasn't for another 15 years that families in Woolston could feel there was some job security at the shipyard.

It's at a time of difficulty like this that a church can prove its value to a community and St Mark's was blessed by a good Vicar with a spiritual and social vision. A Mission Room was rented by the church in St John's Road as there was no church hall, and the Church Army-a practical branch of the Anglican church- invited to help.

Writing in the magazine at the start of 1888, the Vicar sums up some of the ways the church tried to help the community.

"In temporal matters there has been for a great part of the year unusual scarcity of employment, and consequently much distress and anxiety. Of the different measures of relief adopted, some notice has appeared in the Magazine; the funds for the children's dinners, the soup kitchen, the ordinary relief, and the special Christmas relief have all been fully employed. The coal club, for which the annual subscriptions will very shortly be collected, has distributed several tons of coals. While the distress has been and is still great, we are thankful for the sympathetic help which it has called forth, and which we believe will continue until our present hope of a brighter future is realised."

After describing the beautiful way the enlarged church was decorated for Christmas, the hearty services and the large number of communicants at the early service, the Vicar describes Christmas in the Mission Room in St John's Rd.

"More than fifty children belonging to the Mission Sunday School had breakfast together in the Mission Room on Christmas Day. This branch of our work was begun about six weeks ago, and is making progress with children who have hitherto been attending no Sunday School; it is under the care of Capt. Prior, and several members of the Church Army act as teachers. Christmas Day was made bright to the children, not only by a good breakfast, but also by a small present given to each after school. "

It is worth looking more closely at some of the ways St Mark's tried to help the community with its charities which were "Administered to those in want, without respect to religious denomination or creed. "

Children's Dinners. These were given to children at school towards the close of 1887 and early 1888 as a special emergency.

"As happily the extreme scarcity of employment, which has been so long trying us, is now to some extent passing away, it has been thought right to discontinue these School Dinners which were meant to meet a special emergency. The last meal, accordingly, was distributed on Friday, Feb. 17th, the first having been on November 17th; thus a period of just three months has been covered, of course with the exception of the fortnight of the Christmas holidays. During that time there has been dinner at the Boys' School and at St Mark's Girls' and Infant Schools every day that the Schools were opened. " This amounted to 57 days and the average number of children dining each day was 120."

Apart from providing meals for school children, St Mark's also ran a soup kitchen which had been going for at least three years and which ended the year by asking for more contributions for the cold winter ahead.

"St. Mark's Soup Kitchen. Owing to the slackness of work in the parish much distress was caused, and the distribution of soup of an excellent quality, at a nominal price, was a great boon to the poor. It will be seen from the subjoined statement that upwards of £35 was expended in this charitable work."

The sum of £35 must have been considerable when we consider that some families must have earned less than £1.25 (£1 5/-) a week according to St Mark's Provident Club.

The Provident Club. This was a savings club run by the church for clothing for families earning less than 25/- a week (£1.25). The interest rates were high provided the money was left until Christmas, and taken out in clothing orders at any shop chosen by the purchaser. The money was collected weekly by District Visitors. The scheme, which was in existence in 1884, was considered important enough to have an entry in the Gutch and Cox Village Directory. "A Provident Club is held in connection with the Church. "

The Sunday School Boot and Shoe Club. This was a similar savings club intended for buying footwear principally but also clothing for children attending the Sunday School, and the money was collected at the vestry every Monday lunchtime.

Sunday School Clothing Club. Money received at the Mission Room, St John's Rd, every Monday from 12 till I o'clock.

".....in sickness and in health". It's hard for us to-day to imagine a time when there was no National Health Service and what that must have meant to people unable to pay for medical attention. At St Mark's there was a special fund for hospitals and the Vicar cited the Royal South Hants, urging people both at the church and the Mission Room to be generous.

"It is to be hoped that many who do not, and perhaps at present cannot, give much to support the ordinary offertories, will make a particular effort of self-denial on this occasion, as the Fund is one of great importance to our parish as well as to others in the town and neighbourhood. The Vicar, for instance, personally knows of a large number of Woolston people who have in the last year received valuable attention at the Royal South Hants Infirmary, which is one of the Institutions benefited by the Fund. "

While we are thinking about health services we should remember the influence of Florence Nightingale and her pioneering work in creating the professional nurse whose value to the community was still being discovered. "In 1875 it was resolved to have a district nurse who should visit in Peartree, Woolston, and Weston districts, the expense (about £100 a year) being met by voluntary contributions. The nurse at first lived in a cottage on the High-street hill, opposite the brewery, and afterwards at 9 Brighton Terrace. " (T.L.O. Davies, Historical Notes.) Thirteen years later and it was still with support from the churches that enough finances were raised to keep funding the nurses' home. Apart from the Vicar of Peartree who was the warden, the committee consisted of women: the wives of the 3 local clergymen, the wives of the main shipyard owners and 3 others.

"The St Mary Extra Nurses' Home. This very excellent Institution, which has been of untold good to our own and the neighbouring parishes, is, as we are sorry to hear, in financial straits. For, such an institution as this is widespread in its good results, affecting the weal of the whole community, more especially in its alleviating and preventive effects. It is a great boon to the poor, to whom gratuitous help is of such consequence, not only in relieving the sick persons themselves, but also in assisting to lift the load of care from the managers of the household. Thus, this institution should commend itself to all charitable persons; and we hope that substantial help will be readily and promptly afforded. It is especially desired that help should, where practicable, take the form of regular subscriptions; as thus the managers are preserved from the anxiety which is inseparable from the variable and precarious support of occasional donations. " (Rev. G. Hughes.)

More is written about the health of Woolston later, but sickness took its toll on the children of the area that Autumn as the sad burial list mentions two infants and two young children, and this would probably have been particularly poignant to the Vicar and the Curate, who were both to have daughters christened within the year.

The Vicar's vision for Woolston was one where the church provided a united pool of talents and abilities for the good of all. "The parochial system offers an answer suggesting that those who are brought together to live in the same place are those who ought to be bound together in the closest of Christian fellowship...some giving time, some giving thought, some giving money, some ministering, teaching, some offering visitation, and all bringing sympathy for the common good." He tried to put it into practice himself by seeing that while much care was directed to helping the poor and unemployed in practical ways, the church was active in promoting Christian education. The Vicar tried to open people's minds after years of prejudice following the troubled times of the Reformation and later disaffected groups fragmenting the Protestants by suggesting they explore further his belief in a Universal Church through classes which might lead to Confirmation. These, like education generally, were separated into men and boys, women and girls, married and elderly.

The church was also naturally interested in the education of the schools it helped set up, particularly in the standard of religious knowledge and had permission to send round a Diocesan inspector whose generally very favourable findings were reported in the magazine. It was no doubt delighted that a different inspector, an H. M. Inspector of Schools awarded the "Excellent" merit grant, the highest possible, to St Mark's Infant School "for the fourth year in succession"

Religious education for children was backed up by a Children's Service twice a month in church on Sunday afternoon and from Whitsun (1888 ) there was to be a Saturday class in St Mark's Schoolroom taken by the Vicar.

St Mark's Sunday School was mixed for the "Infants" then separated into Girls' and Boys' classes, as normally at "Day" school, with 7 classes for each, and one Bible class for each as well. Those that did well in the pre-Christmas exams, held on a Saturday, were rewarded soon afterwards at the Annual Prize Giving. Thirty-five girls and thirty boys received mention, but the list of infants was considered too long to print. There was also entertainment at the Prize Giving.

In the summer they met together for a Summer Treat in a large field, lent for the occasion. "The children of the Mission Sunday School were not present, as they have encouragements in other ways, and it was necessary to economise. " Nevertheless 305 teas and buns were served and the weather was very favourable for the games.

The Mission Sunday School met at 10 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. and had its own Christmas Day breakfast for 50 children who also received a small present, and Tea and Meetings for children at Whitsuntide outside. In the autumn there was a Harvest Service and the children also had a magic lantern show the following day, and later that season there was an American Fair.

The effects of the church enlargement, the new organ, the local unemployment, the extra demands for charitable giving, the rent for the new Mission Hall and the activities it was to engender meant an extra strain on church resources.

The churchwardens were complaining about being out of pocket, the church offertories had fallen and because there had been scarcity of work for many months, the church had given £100 to various relief funds. The organist was giving his services free and the church had to depend on entertainments to keep going. Even so, regular Vestry meetings were held to consider how best to improve the roads, the drainage and the lighting of Woolston, and even the possibility of a public library.

As elsewhere in England at that time money was scarce, and no one wanted to pay extra rates. Having a library for the whole of the St Mary Extra area was perhaps getting too ambitious it was felt, besides there was a new higher rate for the School Board already. To us today, brought up in an era when National and Local Government play such a large role in providing libraries, roads, street lighting, education and, until very recently, water and sewage management, it seems hard to imagine what it was like when people looked to the Parish Church Vestry meetings for guidance and improvements.

In 1890 Mr Methven, a churchwarden and principal of the "young gentlemen's academy" that gave its name to College Rd, brought up the question of lighting Woolston during the winter months. At a later meeting he reported that the use of 50 lamps for 6 months in the year, with an allowance of £200 for their erection would necessitate a rate of about 3d in the £ and there would be an objection to this while there was no work in the Naval Yard.

"Well, what is to become of Woolston with no inducement for anyone to live here! "

Meanwhile the drainage of Woolston was still a problem. Under the roads there were still the remains of "dead wells" some of which had not been properly filled in, and School Rd in particular was in a bad state. People were paying rates to the Board, but some had to put gravel in the roads themselves. On the other hand, the Highway Board was complaining that the dead wells hadn't been properly opened and closed.

This raised the question of the whole drainage of Woolston and the open stream at the bottom of the Parish, which was recognised as dangerous to health; while the upper part of the Parish hadn't even the opportunity of draining into the stream. The problem was made worse by the fact that St Mark's in some administrative matters was lumped together with Peartree, as part of St Mary's Extra, and that that area needed draining too but seemed slower to act. Some Woolston people favoured separation, but was St Mark's legally able to act alone? Was it tied to Peartree and did it have to wait for overall agreement and unified rates? Someone even questioned whether there was such a parish as St Mark's, Woolston. Feelings got quite strong and the Vicar had to be firm.

"This meeting is in proper form. I have legal advice to that effect. St Mark's, Woolston is constituted an Ecclesiastical Parish by authority and is properly called a Parish in the summons for a Vestry meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss and obtain advice upon a matter only as it concerns the parishioners of Woolston. May we now hear the report. "

The report explained that an inspector had told them of the " nuisance and danger of the sewage gas at the outlet and the foul stream at the bottom of the parish. "

As the Naval Works Yard was unsettled they decided to put off complete drainage but try to levy some money to improve the stream into which 300 houses were drained rather than spend money on doctors' bills and sickness.

A year later there was another meeting when 4 doctors were present. Dr Stephenson, chairman of the Drainage Committee urged:

"Dead wells ought to be cemented, often emptied and trapped. The stream ought to be reformed immediately. Children play there and cows drink. One third of preventable diseases are due to defective drainage. The houses, which have been lately specially examined, were declared defective.

What are we to think of the hundreds unexamined? It is our bounden duty to deal with the cause and not rest satisfied any longer with sitting on a dung heap!"

No more was heard about drainage so presumably matters improved and were taken up with higher Authorities, but Garnock Rd and Lyndock Place were still impassable in wet weather and not yet made public. A couple of years later a new Local Government Act put an end to the Parish's power and the need of "way wardens" and the "collectors" who helped them by collecting rates.

The confusing names of Woolston's roads and houses must have been very annoying for any visitor arriving by floating bridge or train for the first time and without local knowledge. It's probably the reason why a " Street Directory" was included at the head of the listings for Woolston in Kelly's Directory 1890. It seems like a definite attempt to decide on road names but includes the names of some of the older houses which were originally well known landmarks in a much smaller village.

This was the period when experimental bicycles and tricycles with thin, hard tyres were appearing more widely, and it's fun to imagine a two seater tricycle for a lady and gentleman with umbrella and waterproof negotiating Woolston's muddy roads. It's also the period when perambulators were seen in wealthier houses - narrow bodied, velvet lined, with twisted barley sugar handles and no brakes.

1893. St Mark's was 30 years old, and there was an October Exhibition and Bazaar to mark the occasion which was a " grand success." This event could not have been held in St Mark's Institute because it was not for another couple of years that the first proposals "for a Church Room," later known briefly as the "Victoria Hall," were made at a Vestry meeting.

1896. Local government seemed to be largely removed from the church's influence, and Vestry meetings were to change their nature and become more "ecclesiastical" and no longer of "mixed" character. The churchwardens were to give their accounts at Vestry meetings and have them printed in the Parish magazine.

St Mark's was given a new hymn and noticeboard, new offertory bags, and Mr Canning, a churchwarden, gave 2 new churchwarden's wands.

1898 The Itchen Urban District Council included Woolston, Weston, Sholing.

1899 17th October. Church House or Victoria Hall or St Mark's Institute - now OPEN.

The death of Queen Victoria in 1901 was not the sad end of a golden era for Woolston, but the beginning of a better one in many ways.

Street lighting came in a limited way and one very prominent lamp-post was in the middle of the main Woolston cross-roads, but it was still the period of gas lighting. In church new "incandescent gas mantles" which were rather fragile and lace-like tubes that went round the gas-jet to give a glowing light, were added to the chancel and, if successful were to be extended further in the church.

John. I. Thornycroft moved from Chiswick, took over the naval yard and gave new stability to local employment.

To mark the optimism of a new era, the coronation of Edward VII and peace in South Africa, the Vicar of St Mark's privately paid for the old wooden fence, fronting the church, to be replaced by a stone boundary wall, with a small commemorative inscription just inside the gates which reads:

Page26 pic1.jpg
Page26 pic2.jpg
Page 27.jpg
bottom of page