Holt, Anne (1936), A Ministry to the Poor: being the History of the Liverpool Domestic Mission Society 1836-1936, Liverpool: Henry Young and Sons Ltd.

Tuckerman, Joseph (1838), The Principles and Results of the Ministry at Large in Boston.

Carpenter, J. Estlin (1905), James Martineau.

Thom, John Hamilton (1895), Spiritual Faith.


"In going to them as ministers of Christ,"  he [Joseph Tuckerman] wrote, "our object is, as far as with God's blessing we may, to extend to them all the good which Christianity would extend to them. We would carry to them Christian knowledge; awaken in them Christian convictions, interest and desires." [1] This was the object which lay behind the movement. But the gospel which Tuckerman was prepared to preach, and which has been preached since by his followers, was not sectarianism. " We profess to be, and we are, of no religious party," [2] he said. It was a faith which should sustain the poor and sorrowful, and bind up the broken-hearted, not a faith which turned on metaphysical unrealities.

Tuckerman's method was in the first place to visit the homes of the poor, which led to the name "domestic mission" being given to his enterprise. Contact was often made through the children whom it was sought to gather into Day and Sunday schools, [3] education not yet being a public charge. Then families could often be approached through their physical wants. Tuckerman had found that if the gospel was to be preached to many it must be in their homes, for as often as not they did not wish to meet with others in churches or chapels, and, even if they did, they frequently had not the clothes in which they would care to come. On the other hand, there were many who were glad to attend

[1] Tuckerman, 104. [2] Ibid 135, [3] Ibid 100.


religious services if given the opportunity, as Tuckerman discovered when he opened his chapel in Friend Street. Some women indeed managed to be present even though they had to borrow the clothes to go in. [1]

Another advantage of the movement was, as Tuckerman saw it, to form "a Christian connexion between the rich and the poor, the virtuous and the vicious,' [2] and he wished to see the ministry-at-large brought into the closest possible contact with the churches, and indeed considered that it should be an extended ministry of those churches. By the interchange of the minister-at-large with other ministers he hoped to see the churches enabled" to co-operate in the blessed work of extending Christian sympathies and influences to every family and individual without their own limits." [3] As for the qualifications of the minister, Tuckerman pertinently remarked that "everyone is qualified for some good work, and no one for every good work." [4] He desired that his minister-at-large should be one who could preach, and preach with effect, but above all he should be one who had proved himself acceptable to those for whose spiritual good he was to labour. [5]

The movement had been watched with interest on the English side of the Atlantic. W. J. Fox, then secretary to the British and Foreign Unitarian Association, was in touch with Tuckerman, and, in 1834, a mission was opened in Manchester, and

[1] Tuckerman, 131. [2] Ibid 30. [3] ibid 182. [4] Ibid 106. [5] Ibid 181.


the next year saw the beginning of one in London.

In Liverpool, at this time, the two chief congregations of Presbyterians, or Unitarians, as they were so soon to be called, were those of the Renshaw Street and Paradise Street chapels, now represented by Ullet Road and Hope Street churches. There was a strong union between them, and one of their ministers has described them "as one congregation which, for purposes of convenience, meets in two places". [1] In the year 1835 the ministers of both were remarkable young men. In 1832, at the age of twenty-seven, James Martineau had come to Paradise Street from Belfast. The minister of Renshaw Street was John Hamilton Thom, an Ulsterman. He had been appointed in 1831 at the age of twenty-three. It is not surprising therefore that when, in 1834, Tuckerman visited Liverpool, he found ardent listeners. Sixty years later Martineau recollected how his enthusiasm had come " upon us like the Angel descending to stir the sleeping waters". [2] The object was now to start a corresponding movement in Liverpool, and, we imagine, that the two young men had little difficulty in enlisting the help of members of their congregations. Probably much work had already been done, when on Christmas Day, 1835, Thom pleaded from his pulpit that a movement similar to Tuckerman's should be set on foot in Liverpool.

[1] Carpenter, 397, note. [2] Thom, Introduction xv.


Choosing for his text Matthew xi, 2-5, "Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said unto him: Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see ; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them." Thom pointed out that it was the last sentence which Jesus produced as the essential evidence that he was the Messiah. He thought that Christmas Day was a suitable occasion for them to ask if the spirit of Christ was with them. The poor were not there, worshipping at their sides. Though many of the poor might be religious they had, on the whole, no wish to come and hear the gospel. "Leave them to themselves," he said, " and you leave them to live and die as they are." So, "if the poor will not come to the gospel, the gospel must be brought to the poor. One might consider that this was the work of the Established Church, but the Church had never cared." The poor do not come to it. At one time Methodism had fulfilled this service, but it had ceased to do so." Who then, is to do this work ?" he asked. " Whoever would prove that he has the Spirit of Christ, as Christ proved that he had the Spirit of God." Thom thought it would be impossible to combine a suitable ministry for the uneducated with that of the educated. "You must preach in a different way to each; but you


must provide for both."With the uneducated there were two methods of introducing moral truth; either through the senses and imaginations or through the affections. The former way was closed to such a class of Christians as they were. Therefore they must proceed through the affections, and this entailed coming into close contact with individual minds, " preaching, not to congregations, but from house to house; dealing not in general statements, which it requires some exercise of mind to bring to bear on the circumstances of our own experience, but carefully searching out the very feeling you are to address, the individual lesson you are to give, the individual irritation you are to smooth." To do this a special ministry was necessary. To provide for this need was obligatory for every class of Christians, but it was an obligation peculiar to themselves, because, less than others, did they provide for the poor in their public services. "But whilst we follow Christ in using this test, whether the Spirit of the Lord be upon us, we do not mean that you are to be individually employed in preaching the gospel to the poor." Thom described the kind of man whom he believed that this ministry needed. "I would say then, rather abandon it altogether than consign it to an inferior man. He must be no hewer of wood and drawer of water, who is to inspire the very poorest with worthy views of their nature and their destinies.... He must be no ordinary man, and have no ordinary knowledge of human nature.

"The ministry from which alone we venture to


expect great good," Thom declared in a further sermon "must be that of a man who will consecrate to it his life and his mind, who takes it as his mission on earth, who knows no other interest so dear to him, who lives in it and for it, who thinks on it by night and by day, and whose education and mental training have qualified him to act upon human nature, to penetrate its secrets, to read its indications, to gather its love upon himself, to sympathize with the sources of its weakness, and to supply its wants. But, whoever was to be its workman, the congregation there present must be its originators. In the second sermon, Thom dealt more definitely with the work of the proposed ministry. The Minister to the Poor was to find families unconnected with any congregation. These were to be his charges. He was to be " the minister of outcasts and the friend of sinners." "This Ministry should have," Thom declared, "a peculiar and well-defined territory. Let it perform a work which no one else is performing or attempting. It will find unclaimed wastes in the heart of the vineyard." "Do you ask me," he said, "what authority has any man to seek, unsolicited, such a connection with the poor? I answer, no authority but that which Christ had when He preached the gospel to the poor." It was not the original intention that the minister's connection with individuals should be permanent. Having awakened the spirit of religion he was to consult with the individual as to which religious teacher, or to what religious body he wished to be


attached. Pulpit services were not meant to be any part of the regular ministry, and, though it was not intended to have any chapels particularly for the poor, it might prove necessary to have a room in the neighbourhood to which the poor could come.

Shortly afterwards, at Martineau's request, Thom repeated these sermons to the Paradise Street congregation. A provisional Committee was formed and a prospectus drawn up and circulated. It stated that the Ministry for the Poor had " for its object to bring under the influence of Christianity those who are now excluded from the means of moral and religious culture." It was calculated that out of Liverpool's population of 200,000, probably 70,000 persons or 14,000 families were without religious affiliations, An additional supply of ministers and churches would not help. " What is wanted on the part of these ten thousand families is not temples to frequent," it stated, "but the desire to frequent them," Under the heading "A statement of the modes of operation to be employed in this Ministry the writers urged that the Minister to the Poor should seek for families abandoned to themselves and be to them both a religious teacher and a Christian friend. "The field of this Ministry is strictly limited. To the poor, who shrink from an exposure of their poverty, - to the feeble and the aged who cannot come, - to the degraded, who will not come to the preaching of the gospel,- the Minister of the poor is to go and preach the


gospel." He must win their affections and their trust; influence and guide their children, sanctify their temptations and trials, stir up their social ambitions, teach them self-subsistence and inspire them with confidence in themselves and in God. But he was not to look for new members for any particular flock. He was to try and bring individuals into connection with whatever communion they felt inclined to join. He was also to discover the needs of those he visited so that he could direct charity.

On Good Friday, the ist of April, 1836, after the usual service at which Martineau had preached, a meeting was held in Renshaw Street chapel. William Rathbone, fifth of that name, was in the chair. The first resolution, moved by Thom, and seconded by Thomas Bolton, declared it to be the moral obligation of Christians to extend Christianity to the destitute. The second, proposed by Henry Booth [1] and seconded by Christopher Rawdon, drew attention to the 60,000 who in Liverpool passed "from childhood to age without any efficient means of a religious culture." A third pointed out that, although the existing places of worship only provided room for half the population they were never full. The fourth suggested that an important moral influence might be exerted by a distinct ministry for the poor. Then James Martineau moved, and S. S. Gair seconded the resolution that the success which had attended Dr. Tuckerman's plans in Boston, and the conduct

1 For biography see D.N.B. [Dictionary of National Biography].


of the Domestic Missions in London and Manchester "justified the expectation of corresponding results from the establishment in Liverpool of a similar Ministry." After which the Rev. Blanco White [1] proposed and T. B. Barclay seconded "That the appropriate duties of the Minister for the Poor shall be, to establish an intercourse with a limited number of families of the neglected poor, to put himself into close sympathy with their wants and feelings, to become to them a Christian adviser and friend, to promote the order and comfort of their homes, and the elevation of their social tastes, to bring them into a permanent connexion with religious influences, and, above all, to promote an effective education to their children, and to shelter them from corrupting agencies." The next resolution, moved by the Rev. Dr. Shepherd [1] and seconded by William Jevons, proposed "That a Society be constituted for the purpose of carrying into effect the above objects, to be called the Liverpool Domestic Mission Society; and that an annual subscription of any amount, or a donation of ten guineas should constitute membership." Further resolutions were passed establishing the rules of the Society. William Rathbone + was elected first President, Thomas Holt+ =, Treasurer, and John Hamilton Thom and Robert Fletcher * =, joint secretaries. The ministers of the Renshaw Street, Paradise Street and the Park or Ancient Chapel

[1] For biographies see D.N.B. + Member of Renshaw Street Chapel. = Member of Toxteth Park (Ancient) Chapel. * Member of Paradise Street Chapel.


were ex-officio members of the committee. Other members of the original committee were T. Avison *, T. B. Barclay, Thomas Bolton += , Samuel Bright +, S. S. Gair+, George Holt +, Christopher Rawdon +, R. Roscoe + and R. V. Yates *=.

* Member of Paradise Street Chapel. + Member of Renshaw Street Chapel. = Member of Toxteth Park (Ancient) Chapel.


Education continued to be a first charge on Mission activities. Steinthal, like his predecessors, urged that girls should learn to sew and knit and do other women's work, and he kept going the already established sewing school. The year 1858 was marked by the opening by George Melly and George Holt the younger, of a day school for boys which was put in the charge of a Mr. Harrison. In 1860 this school was taken over by the Ragged School Society, though it continued to be held in a room of the Mission.

The Sunday services continued to play an important part. Both Jones and Wilson started cottage services in their districts. Close on a quarter of a century after the foundation of the Mission, it was possible to use language almost identical with Johns's. In 1860, Wilson thought that many did not even have a traditional faith. Heathenism, as dark as that of pagan lands, rests upon them, and this in the immediate vicinity of our places of worship." In June of this year the Committee decided to leave the ministers free to bring what religious influence they chose to bear upon the poor so long as it did not increase expenses. But by this year both Wilson and Jones were demanding schoolrooms which could be used for Sunday services.


The activities of the Mission were often hampered, and the Committee worried, by lack of funds. In 1860 it was declared necessary that annual subscriptions should be increased by at least £70 a year, but in 1862, the Committee was able to raise both assistant ministers' salaries by £15 a year.

The strenuous and unhealthy work of the Mission took regular toll of the missionaries' health. In 1862 it was necessary to give Steinthal three months' leave and, later in the year, the Committee begged him to content himself with work in the Mission House and around it, as he persisted in overworking. His chief interest outside the Mission was the co-operative movement, and he was for many years the President of the Liverpool society. In his last report he devoted several pages to justification of the movement, perhaps a rejoinder to the Committee's wish to restrict his activities. But neither leave of absence nor restriction of labour improved Steinthal's health, and throughout 1863 he was again away. On the 22nd of December of that year the Committee was forced to accept his final resignation. During the interregnum caused first by Steinthal's absence and then by his resignation, the supervision of the Mission was entrusted to the Rev. John Robberds, minister of the Ancient Chapel, who was paid £150, not as a remuneration, but as an acknowledgement of a service that could not otherwise have been supplied. In August of 1863, Wilson was invited to become minister of the Mission started in Birmingham by the New Meeting congregation. Apparently, he had wanted


alterations in the management of the Liverpool Mission, but the Committee had regretted that they could not remodel it to suit his schemes. Robberds seems to have been moved by a sense of duty rather than by an actual love of the work, and it was only with reluctance that he was induced to undertake it at all. He declared himself to be too overcome by the degraded condition of the poor to have any strong faith in his own power to elevate them. The two reports which came from his pen are gloomy reading. He noted that the congregation of the Mission chapel was formed from a more pros-perous class than that which the missionaries visited, and that there was no reason why its members should not worship in the ordinary chapels. The use of blasphemous language and brawling were said to be on the increase. Thomas Jones, still and for many years to come the faithful assistant, wrote at this time that the Mission seemed to have done little for the lowest and most degraded classes, and he believed that, with the exception of London, there was no town in the kingdom where poverty and vice put on such revolting forms as they did in Liverpool. Later he could make a comparison between the methods of relief practised in Liverpool and in Paris, entirely to the latter's advantage.

The Mission Committee was true to precedent in taking time to find a suitable successor to Steinthal. Attempts were made to secure the services of Dr. Philip Pearsall Carpenter, [1] but, perhaps rather

[1] Philip Pearsall Carpenter (1819-77), youngest child of Lant Carpenter. By 1863 he was a famous conchologist. Later he conformed to the Anglican Church. D.N.B.

JOHN SHANNON, 1865-1878 71

fortunately, he refused. On the 7th of December, 1864, it was decided to invite the Rev. John Shannon of Hull, and on the 2nd of January, 1865, he was formally appointed.

Shannon came of a type rather different from the preceding ministers. He had been born in 1823, at Newtownhamilton, in Armagh, the son of a farmer. He had been educated for the Calvinistic Presbyterian Church at the Royal College, Belfast, but his views had become liberalized and, when licensed to preach in 1844, It was by the Remonstrant Presbytery of Bangor. From 1845 to 1864 he was minister at Hull. He married firstly a daughter of George Kingston of Malton. She died in 1861, and in 1879 he married a daughter of T. A. Wilkinson of Hull. [1] As an Ulsterman, Shannon was probably already known to Thom. As we follow the reports of the next thirteen years, we come to see him as a man of true piety and Christian charity, but not as a man of the same intellectual standing as that of the previous missionaries.

In many ways Shannon's reports are replicas of his predecessors'. For the next thirteen years, along with those of his assistants, Thomas Jones, John Burdon, and Frederick Summers, they continue the story of a gallant fight to implant the gospel in the slums of Liverpool. They all unite in the belief that the greatest curse of urban life was the public house and that drunkenness was the greatest sin of the poor man. But in some ways a new hope

1 Inquirer, 7 February, 1885.


enters into the reports. They tell of activities on the part of the sanitary authorities. Frequent references are made to the kindness and skill of the district nurse, for, in 1859, William Rathbone VI had originated the scheme of nursing the sick poor in their own homes. The early 'Seventies were years of increased prosperity, and it is to be hoped that the diet of the poor had improved in the decade, for in 1864 Jones had written that bread only and tea only were "the almost unvarying diet of the poor." There also began to be a certain migration of labour away from Liverpool to the shipyards of the north-east coast and to the iron foundries of Barrow-in-Furness. At the same time, the introduction of steamships was doing much to regularize work at the docks. Previously the prevalence of an east wind had meant unemployment. Housing conditions were slowly improving, though, with the spread of the town into the country, open spaces vanished, and with them the allotments which Johns had started in Parliament Fields. In 1877 Shannon complained that the only two playgrounds in the district had been sold for building. Poor people, he considered, required open spaces at a reasonable distance from their homes, and very sensibly suggested that the playgrounds of the new board-schools should be opened to the public in the evening. And there is much wisdom in his observation: "Poor people want more space. Their lives are over-excited and over-crowded."

Meanwhile, the question of education was

JOHN SHANNON, 1865-1878 73

undergoing a profound change. Gladstone's great reforming government was in power from 1868 to 1874. In 1870, Forster's Education Bill became law, and, if it was a great deal less than the Nonconformists hoped for from a Liberal ministry, still it was an important step on the path to civilization. It was not until 1880 that primary education was made compulsory, and not until 1891 that it was made free.' Throughout Shannon's ministry the Day and Evening schools continued to function, and in 1868 the Committee resolved "that it was desirable to put the schoolroom into better order in view of the anticipated visit of H.M.'s Inspector."

Though, as the years pass, the Mission often seems almost overcome with the cares and worries of this worlds underlying these reports can still be traced the purpose for which the Mission had been created, that the poor should have the gospel preached to them. "Domestic Visitation," wrote Shannon, in 1867, "is the work for which your Society was specially instituted, and it is un-speakably important. The way to a poor man's heart is over his door threshold." The Mission movement, he declared in 1869, was an effort to tackle the social problem caused by the growing rift between the rich and the poor. And the next year he wrote that his increased acquaintance with the wants and conditions of the poor

1 See G. M. Trevelyan, British History in the Nineteenth Century. The 1870 act set up school-boards. These were enabled to pass bye-laws making education compulsory in their districts, and enabled them to pay fees in necessitous cases.


strengthened his conviction that vital religion was the only effectual remedy for their ills and woes.

Thomas Jones, the assistant minister, was also of an evangelizing spirit. He thought that poor-laws were as old as the Bible and he was certain that modern civilization had done little to improve them. As well as his regular mission work, he kept going in Mill Street, opposite the present Mission premises, a Unitarian mission, for he believed that liberal religion could do more than orthodoxy. But, in 1872, at the request of the Committee, he had to close this room. Jones himself thought that these evening services had done much to lessen sectarian bitterness, and declared that at them could be seen "the Episcopalian and the Methodist, the Baptist and the Independent with some of no creed at all, eagerly listening to our simple representations of the good news of God, and reverently joining together in a worship everywhere spoken against. And if the many folds can be made one, only on a small scale, and for an hour a week, I feel that the labour and expense involved are not thrown away.

Jones had been assistant minister since 1852, and for most of that time had been resident on the Mission premises, which were affectionately known in the district as "Jones's Mission up-steps." In 1870, he obtained leave to reside away, when the house was handed over to the district nurse. Early in 1875 he resigned and subsequently became minister at Prescot. In September, 1875, the Committee approached the Rev. John Burdon with

JOHN SHANNON, 1865-1878 75

a view to his taking Jones's place. He accepted the situation temporarily on a six months' basis, as he was not sure that he was sufhciently in harmony with Unitarianism. He began work in January, 1876, but by June he decided that he could not continue and, in the following October, the Rev. Frederick Summers was appointed at a salary of £150 a year, and to live rent free in the Mission Houses where coal and gas were provided.

Shannon and Summers continued the work until 1878. Holidays seem to have been few and far between. In 1876 Shannon had complained of ill-health, and had been ordered two months' rest. On the 15th May, 1878, he handed in his resignation as he was threatened with consumption. Summers carried on by himself until 1879, when, on the appointment of the Rev. Henry Shaen Solly, of Padiham, he resigned.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful