Sunday, August 03, 2008

Ritualism and Riots in New Cross

This current disputes in the Anglican Church, including at this week's Lambeth conference, put me in mind of a previous dispute in the Church which led to riots in New Cross.

In the 1870s St James Church, Hatcham, was the scene of bitter religious controversy, at the centre of which was the Reverand Arthur Tooth (1839-1931) appointed vicar in 1868. Tooth was on the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, and among other innovations at St James he founded a Community of Sisters, an orphanage (which served as the choir school of the church) and a Lady Chapel. With others at St James he founded the Guild of All Souls, a body which exists to this day.

Tooth (pictured) fell foul of the Public Worship Regulation Act, designed to stamp out Roman Catholic ‘ritualism’ in the Church. In 1876 he was formally notified of intended prosecution under the Act, with the charge including 'the Use of Eucharistic Vestments, Lighted Candles, Incense, Mixed Chalice, Eastward Position, Genuflexion, Elevation of the Host, the sign of the Cross at the Absolution and Blessing, the singing of the Agnus Dei'.

The threat of the law was backed up by Protestant mobs who rioted regularly at the Church on Sundays between Christmas 1876 and January 21 1877, smashing windows and storming the doors. Tooth ignored a Court order to stop his Catholic practices and the day after the final riot, he was arrested in Borough High Street, and jailed for several weeks in Horsemonger Lane Gaol for contempt of Court. After being released in ill-health, Tooth returned to New Cross and in defiance of the ban climbed in through a window to celebrate Mass one last time.

Today hardly anyone bats an eyelid if someone lights a candle in an Anglican church, who knows one day gay and women priests will be treated as equally uncontroversial.

The current St James Church dates from 1982, but parts of the original 1853 building remain in use by Goldsmiths College.

Source: documents on Arthur Tooth at Project Canterbury.


Blackheath Bugle said...

I hope you're right, but I doubt it. If you listen to the attitudes expressed by some of the opposing anglicans, it is a terrifying prospect.

As Desmond Tutu said "When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land."

It's the fault of missionaries from people in repressed victorian england in the first place!

Transpontine said...

True, but given that Tutu is a bishop I assume he also thinks there is potentially something positive in Christianity too. I am not personally religious but I have lately softened my previous militant atheism as in my experience for every religious bigot there is a person of faith who is actively opposing bigotry and injustice.

Anonymous said...

As a good catholic left winger excellent article

just who did get boris johnson to agree to a London minimum wage ????

London Citizens....organisations of mainly churhes with a sprinkling of other groups such as trade unions

Anonymous said...

What about Quaker meetining houses used by progressive movement for years

Anonymous said...

One other group worth looking at are the Bible Christains from north Devon and Cornwall came into the docks in kent

like the methodists on the Left generally and certainly hated by the Tories in the south West

oh yes the Tolpuddle Martyrs of 1384 were first victimised not just becaue they were trade unionists but also methodist

it is no accident that swing riots were followed by a non conformist revival

Transpontine said...

There have been lots of interesting religious sects in South London, see the earlier post on the 19th century Walworth Jumpers