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Father Lowther - a history

CHARLES FUGE LOWDER, the greatest of the ritualist slum priests of the nineteenth century, was born in June 1820 in Bath. His father was a director of a small independent bank. Lowder was educated in small, clergy inn, private schools, and later at his public school, Kings College School, in those days still sited in the Strand. He was thus, by the standard of the times, a gentleman from the mercantile classes. In 1840 he went up to Exeter College, Oxford.

While at Oxford he attended St Mary's, where, like the best of his generation, he fell under the spell of the vicar, John Henry Newman, whose sermons guided him to the priesthood. Mr Lowder took a second class degree in 1843, and in the autumn of that year was made deacon to serve a title in the parish of Street -cum-Walton. His duties included acting as tutor to the three sons of Revd Lord John Thynne, his incumbent and the son of the Marquess of Bath. By this time Mr Lowder had become the breadwinner for his family, the bank in which his father was a partner having failed. He thus required further and better income. On his ordination as a priest, by Bishop Denison of Salisbury, on the 22nd December 1844, he took up additional work as chaplain to the Axbridge work house. He desired to work in a parish with a more advanced and catholic pattern of worship, thus he applied to become a curate at the famous ritualist centre of St Barnabas, Pimlico. This parish, then a maze of slum streets, had been built to serve the poor and was the most catholic parish in London, in both externals and teaching. In the atmosphere of a daily celebration of Holy Communion (with priest vested in cassock, surplice, black scarf and hood), daily Morning and Evening prayer, a Sunday sung Eucharist and strict patterns of parochial visitation, Mr Lowder deemed himself to be in the best possible situation for an Anglo-Catholic assistant curate. There was however dissension in the parish. A Mr Westerton opposed the high-church practices and sought election as church-warden in order to end them. To this purpose he hired a man to perambulate the area carrying a sandwich board proclaiming the message, "Vote Westerton". Mr Lowder, in what he described later as 'a moment of madness' gave some of the choir boys 6d with which to purchase rotten eggs, and so armed, they assaulted the poor board carrier. Mr Lowder appeared before Westminster Magistrates where he was fined £2, and before the Bishop of London, who suspended him from duty for six weeks. Thus one of the heroes of the Anglo-Catholic revival began his great work as a man with a criminal record and a diocesan black mark.

Lowder went to France, to spend his suspension out of the public eye. Being poor he walked, and stayed at the seminary at Yvetot. While there, he read Abelly's "Vie de Saint Vincent de Paul". This meeting with the great French apostle of the poor marked the rest of Lowder's life. He concluded that England was in desperate need of priests committed to the service of the urban poor of the great cities, just as St Vincent's Company of the Mission served the poor of rural France.

On his return to England he called a meeting of Anglo-Catholic clergy, hand-picked as the most trustworthy. The group of six came together at the House of Charity, Soho, where on the 28th February 1855 they formed themselves into the Society of the Holy Cross and dedicated themselves to lives of self-disciplined service, first of the poor, and the extension of the Catholic faith. Membership required obedience to a rule of life, Mr Lowder adopted the white rule, the strictest, requiring celibacy.

A year later the Society was approached by the rector of St George's in the East, the splendid Hawksmoor church on the Ratcliffe highway east of the Tower of London. The rector Mr King had within his parish the notorious area of Wapping, the centre of the London Docks. The area, a separate world, cut off by docks and channels, was a ghetto of poverty. The population, swelled each day by in coming sailors of every race and nation, was dependent for its economic survival on casual dock labour and prostitution. There was no school, no church, and not a single communicant in the area. Lowder took up the challenge and on Ash Wednesday 1856 held a mission service at 49 the Highway. A few weeks later he rented a sailor's house in Lower Well Alley in the heart of the area. Mission sermons were preached on the streets, Evensong sung, somewhat roughly in the house. The sermons were in terspersed with cat-calls, dancing groups of prostitutes, and the throwing of stones, human excrement and once a dead cat. The missioners persisted; in August 1856 Mr Lowder moved to Wapping, rented a dilapidated house in Calvert Street and named the new church plant 'The Good Shepherd Mission'. On the first day children were welcomed into the house to learn reading and writing, the school was thus started. In the overgrown garden a corrugated iron church was erect ed. Within a short time Elizabeth Neale, the sister of John Mason Neale, arrived with companions and, renting a house, they put themselves at the disposal of the mission as the sisters of the Community of the Holy Cross; their work with prostitutes, girls, children, the sacristy and the school was carried on for seventy years; their name is legend still in Wapping.

Father to the poor
The heroic work of Lowder and his companion group of priests, sisters and lay workers, included church school, Sunday schools, an insurance scheme for dockers without work, coal for the old, a café for the poor but proud, layettes for mothers, boots for boys and most splendid of all a 'dirty girls club'. Lowder, worked with out stint, raising finds, visiting, organising. Curates came and went, once all left the Church of England overnight, leaving Lowder alone. Those he trained in urban mission included two SSC heroes, Father Mackonochie and Father Wainright, both later vicars of the parish.

In 1866 Lowder completed work on the new parish church of St Peter's London Docks. On the day following its consecration a case of cholera was discovered in Choppins court. The next six weeks where a turmoil of work, a tented hospital was erected at the east end of the church, the clergy, sisters, and laity nursed, and cared for the victims. The daily mass was started in the Good Shepherd Chapel of the new church. When the cholera receded the people of Wapping were call ing Lowder 'the Father of Wapping', and soon 'Father Lowder', the first Anglican priest ever so called.

The next twenty years followed the Anglo-Catholic slum parish pattern, clubs, schools, confessions, daily masses, a growing church with many children. By 1880 Father Lowder was exhausted, the death of his beloved sister had created a gentler approach to others, but he was no less stern with himself.

In August 1880 he went on a walking tour of Switzerland and Austria, seeking renewal and refreshment. On 9th September at Zell-am-see he died at five in the morning after a night of fever. He asked Miss Taylor, an English woman staying at the hotel, to assure people that, in spite of the visit of a local Roman Catholic priest, he had died in the faith of the Anglican church. Lowder's body was returned to England. At St Peter's, open and thronged with people since the news of the death, Mass was said every half-hour for the soul of the founder. At the Church a solemn requiem High Mass was sung by Father Wainright, people crowded from the church along the road. The body was carried out of St. Peter's by six SSC priests, including Father Mackonochie to the swing bridge at the tobacco dock, the edge of the parish. Over a thousand lay people took a special train from Liverpool Street to Chislehurst to see Father Lowder's body laid to rest.

see Charles Lowder: A Biography
see Wikipedia

Linked toCharles Fuge Lowder (2832927)

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