In the mid-1880s, the problem of the grinding and abject poverty, that was endemic in many parts of London, was the subject of much discussion in the newspapers.
On Saturday the 18th of December, 1883, The Reading Mercury published the following article about a lecture that had been given to discuss the issue:-
THE BITTER CRY OF OUTCAST LONDON
On Monday evening the Rev. G. W. M’Cree, of Southwark, gave an address in connection with the Castle-street Congregational Chapel Young People’s Mutual Help Society, his subject being “25 years’ work St. Giles.”
On account of the interest of the subject, which is just now engaging much public attention, the meeting took place in the chapel, which was well filled by an appreciative audience.
The choir opened and closed the proceedings with singing.
The Rev. J. R. Chamberlain (pastor) presided, and, having offered a prayer, he briefly introduced the lecturer, observing that there was no man in London, and certainly no man out of London, who knew so much about the destitution and poverty of London, as “the Bishop of Seven Dials.” – Mr. M’Cree.
25 YEARS IN ST. GILES
The Rev. G. W. M’Cree said that when he looked back upon his 25 years in St. Giles’ he sometimes wondered he was alive at all, for he had explored every part of London day and night for more than thirty years, going alone where no policeman dare go.
Having referred to the vast size and enormous population of the Metropolis, which he called the greatest mystery in the world.
The worst parts of horrible and outcast London were certainly to be found in St. Giles’, and twenty-five years ago it was still worse, but he began to work there alone, for if God called them, as he believed He called him, to work, it must be done, come life, come death.
THE REAL WAY TO DO MISSION WORK
He began his work with one man, and soon got on until he had a congregation of 24. Now they would not find less than 4,000 persons week, taking week in and week out, attending the mission services in St. Giles. (Applause.)
Let them, therefore, be willing to begin with one man; and if they saved one man, get him to save someone else -that was the way to do real mission work.
HIS WORK IN THE DIALS
Five days a week, for 25 years, he visited in the Dials, taking every house in every street, court, or slum as he came to it, and taking every man, woman, and child in every house.
To a large extent the people, he found, had no idea of the obligation of marriage, and that was one of the first things he took up, and now the feeling on the subject was much higher and more virtuous. (Hear, hear.)
Explanatory preaching was what the poor wanted and he had found it of the greatest importance in dealing with the working classes to show them how to save their money, how to beautify their homes, how to make the best of this world as well as of the next. (Hear, hear.)
LIVES OF THE PEOPLE
One of the courts he visited contained 16 houses and 80 families. In many parts of St. Giles’ he found two families in a single room; and on one occasion he preached in a lodging house where 17 persons, men, women, and children, slept together on the floor, paying a penny a night for their accommodation.
Before Lord Shaftesbury’s Act appertaining to lodging houses came into force he visited a lodging house where 36 persons slept together on a common floor, without any curtain or intervening partition of any kind. He established a mothers’ meeting, and that original meeting was now attended by about 120 every Monday afternoon, in addition to which any number of similar gatherings had been established.
He never gave any help to lazy, drunken men. They had no right to take the money of orphans and widows and poor struggling people and give it to the dirty and drunken. (Hear, hear.)
THE HAUNTS OF THIEVES AND BURGLARS
Having described some of the curious, and sometimes painful adventures, which he had met with in St. Giles’, the lecturer said that early in his experience he made up his mind to try and save some of the thieves, burglars, pickpockets, and swindlers.
He went freely into their haunts, and distributed his private cards right and left, and the consequence was that for 15 years those people came freely to his house; and he was glad to say he never met with the slightest annoyance or misbehaviour from any one of those people.
That was partly because he trusted them absolutely; and they would never do any good to them if they watched them or weighed them in the balance of respectability.
Having given illustrations of his work among burglars and “swellmobsmen,” the speaker referred to the horrible sights that were formerly witnessed amongst crowds at public executions, and went on to say that literary men had several times asked him to show them St. Giles’; but he never knew a literary man who came to write about St Giles’ finish a day’s work with him: they could not bear to see it.
Yet those were the very people who were asking what Christian people had been doing for the last 25 years.
His answer was:_ “What had they been doing, and why did they not come and help them?” (Applause.)
MOVED TO SOUTHWARK
Having gone on in that way for 2o years, he thought it his duty to leave, and became the pastor of a church in Southwark where he now had a large and beautiful chapel; but he could not forget the poor.
The first thing he did when he went to Southwark was to take a mission hall in St. George’s Market, and he found every penny of the money, through his friends, to conduct it for two years.
They also had mission work in Queen’s Buildings, and also in the Mint.
A gentleman, who deserved any amount of honour they like to give him, had written three or four articles in a daily paper about the Mint; but he (Mr. M’Cree) had a deacon of his church who had preached the Gospel without money and without price in the lodging houses of the Mint every Sunday night for 40 years. (Applause.)
If they glorified a man for having written four articles in a newspaper, how much more should they glorify a man who had given ten years of Sabbaths for every article preaching the Gospel to those poor people? (Applause.)
ADVANCE THE CAUSE OF GOD
Temperance meetings, mothers’ meetings, the School Board, Penny Banks, Sunday Schools, Bands of Hope, and the Gospel of the Grace of God, had worked wonders in the Mint, had sent forth light where darkness was, cleanliness where filth was, peace where misery was, and, blessed be God, many a soul had found, as Bunyan would have said, that there was way from the Mint to the golden gates of the City of the Everlasting God. (Applause.)
He hoped they would do what they could to advance the cause of God in this town, not forgetting that there might be a horrible Reading, and an outcast Reading, and remembering also that blessed were they who went down amongst the poor, the needy, the lost, and the sinful, to bring them to a knowledge of Jesus Christ the Saviour. (Applause.)