4th February 1860. Protestant Riots.
In the 18th century Church of England Clergy, often squires as well as parsons (‘squarsons’), were more renowned for fine-living, hunting and shooting than for holiness.
As a consequence, though the rural poor might be well served by the local parson, many were to turn more to the simplicity of Methodism away from an unreformed, indolent Church concerned to maintain a status quo of absenteeism and pluralities.(1)
In the early 19thc there was doctrinal desire to establish a reaction to a widespread religious scepticism and some determination to establish a broad church and to accept the ritualism of the Oxford Movement, Anglo-Catholics.
This and the moves to disestablish the Irish Church was to result in a bitter Protestant back-lash which resulted in bitter disputes with the militant Orange-Men, The Manchester Protestant Thousand, which broke up many a High Church service with riots
This was seen Today in 1860 when on the clergyman’s arrival for afternoon service at St George’s-in-the-East, this Hawksmoor church on the Ratcliffe Highway in East London, was subjected to, ‘hisses, cock-crowing, cat-calling and the rude howling of nigger songs; slamming of pew doors, stamping of feet and the sharp, disagreeable crack and scent of matches struck heedlessly across woodwork’.
Riots had been going on every Sunday for nine months, the complaints being about ‘Romish’ candles on the altar and choirboys in surplices. ‘Unless you desist from your hellish and Popish practice’, said an anonymous letter to the Rector Bryan King, ‘I shall take foul means to prevent you doing so’.
However as the Rector, incumbent since 1842 said when he first went there, ‘the local poverty-stricken community would no more have thought of entering the church as of entering Buckingham Palace’.
By King’s account it was not the dress or ‘restored ritual’ of the Book of Common Prayer, but the appointment by the Churchwardens’ of a weekly Puritan preacher who hated Papistry.
At that time the ‘Churchwarden’s Vestry’, members of which didn’t even have to be members of the Church of England, was appointed by the local people.
The Vestry in fact did nothing to stop the riots and the Eastern Times thought the worst thing was, the ‘filthy language of the degraded women in the throng of blackguard boys’.
In the 1880s The Protestant Truth Society led by John Kensit was to add to the turmoil and riotous behaviour against the Anglo-Catholics, well into the next century when a modus vivendi gradually took hold.
Oh! to see more fervour today in our moribund church.
(1) Absentee bishops and parson left the running of the church to lesser clergy. Pluralities involved holding many church livings.
Ref: Daily Telegraph. 30.5.2009. Celebrating 150 years of Ritual Riots.