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COACHMAN and 1830s Religious observance
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Religious Observance in England in the 1830s
Lucy's religious beliefsMy heroine Lucy Hennessy has had a rough childhood and adolescence, and until she meets my hero George Davenport she has only one solace that keeps her sane: her religious belief. She is lucky that her mother was tackled by one of the ‘slum parsons’ – a street preacher in this case – who convinced her that Jesus could save them both from their sins.
We may think these days that the Victorian era was a heavily religious one, but in fact Thomas Carlyle wrote in 1838 that his age was one “destitute of faith and yet terrified at scepticism.” A census in 1851 recorded how many people actually attended Church service on Sunday 30 March, and found that roughly 30 out of every 100 people might have good reasons not to attend – for instance the sick, the very elderly and the very young and those who were compelled by the nature of their work to labour or serve on Sundays. Of the remainder, around 40 attended services and 30 did not. I was surprised. 40% may be higher than today’s turnout which has to compete with shopping and car-washing, but it was nowhere near as high a figure as I had expected for the mid-Victorian era.
Although religious convictions and beliefs would have coloured many early Victorian social activities, active Church attendance varied both with social class and geography. Absence was highest in large towns in industrial areas, while attendance was best in small rural communities. A similar pattern appeared in the breakdown between types of church, with rural and small-town communities attending mainly Anglican services and the manufacturing areas favouring Non-Conformist chapels. This social distinction was indicated by describing people as either ‘church’ (i.e. Anglican and middle class) or ‘chapel’ (i.e. Nonconformist and working class).
Ma Hennessy and Lucy ought to be ‘chapel’ by background, but the area of Carlisle in which they live is served by both the church of St Cuthbert and the Anglican cathedral, so Ma has the chance to attend a rather more upmarket place of worship than would be the norm for her class. It doesn’t work of course: at the end of George’s visit to the Cathedral with Lucy and her mother, we see how the middle-class Dixon family look on Ma Hennessy with disfavour. In this case, it isn't so much the social sneer of one class to another, but rather a reflection of Ma's previous history (and you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is!). For my purposes, Ma's ambition means that Lucy received a better education, at the Central School, than many girls of her upbringing, which enables her to write fairly long letters. These keep her in touch with George when he goes ahead to find work in London, and then let her to brag to her acquaintances in Carlisle after she joins him and they are married. And, of course, we peer over her shoulder while she does so...
Lucy Davenport's Journal.
Kendal, Westmorland, 28 October 1838.
When we lived in the Lanes, the street preacher came to show us the Light and he, too, fought to bring our souls to Jesus. That my mother was drawn by him out of her depravity - at least in part - is the greatest reason for my gratitude to God and to His Son. Her nature, alas, is so venal that her conversion was never more than skin deep. Where I would have been content with chapel she must find a church where she might copy fine manners and scrape acquaintance with people above our station. Still I bless that man for bringing us to the Truth of God. When I gave my heart to Jesus all the sins I had been forced to commit were washed away and His armour was put upon me, so that I never again could suffer.
I do not fear my coming labour. I have endured pain before, and cruelty, but I know from the witness of my own life that Jesus will support me. My love: If I should die and leave this world it will only be to wake in the next, in the safety of His arms. I pray for a happy outcome, but if it should turn out otherwise, I leave these thoughts for you, my dearest, and for our little one. I will be in Heaven, where I trust that you may come to me in time and we shall be reunited in the love of God.
I say "I trust" because I know, my dear, how strongly you have fought against any belief in our heavenly Father. I pray nightly that you will come to know Him in all his loving kindness, as I do.
George's scepticismGeorge is more sceptical about religious belief and observance than Lucy is. His mother, as the daughter of a hard-gambling squire, may well have hoped to raise him in her own family's tradition, as an Anglican. However, his father’s family of skilled horsekeepers belong to the “artisan” class with whom the Anglican clergy are generally unpopular because they cling to the declining political High Tory party. Although George is familiar with both middle and upper class men who address him almost as a social equal on account of his driving skills, he doesn't share their political or religious beliefs. He tends to endure Sunday with suppressed impatience, and when he and Lucy attend church to arrange their wedding he is critical of the local vicar being late for the appointment.
I worried initially that if I gave him free-thinking opinions about the Church and religious observance I might be accused of anachronism. My research, however, led me to Thomas Arnold (headmaster of Rugby School) who wrote in 1832 that “it does not do to talk to the operatives about our ‘pure and apostolic church’ and ‘our glorious constitution’; they have no respect for either…” At the moment George is apolitical but I think if I were to write more about him he might very well turn out to be a Chartist!
So it turns out that the scepticism that his character kept showing as I wrote was not unusual for the period. What a relief!
COACHMANGood-looking and ambitious George Davenport travels to London with his bride Lucy, determined to make the most of his skill in driving a four-in-hand of horses. It’s 1838. Queen Victoria is crowned, and England is at peace, but it isn't a good time to be a coachman.
Just as George finds employment with William Chaplin, the “Napoleon of coaching”, the first railways are about to open across the country. Their competition will kill off the road-coaching trade. George loves both his work and his wife, so he has a lot to come to terms with… even before the boss’s daughter starts to stalk him.
Carlisle, October 1837
Lucy first saw George strolling into the Blue Bell, seeming to bring with him all the sunshine of the crisp autumn afternoon. He stood his whip against the bar and doffed his smart hat to her most politely, and when he asked for ale his smile was so firm and handsome she had to stop herself hurrying, in her eagerness to serve him.
After he’d taken the edge off his thirst he didn’t wander off to find a seat like most coachmen did. He unfastened the buttons of his driving coat to take in the warmth of the inn, and leaned his elbow on the little counter.
Lucy seldom bothered to question her customers, but there was something steady and restful in his face, and something very appealing in his warm brown eyes.
“Have you come very far?” she asked.
“Oh, around,” he said. “Liverpool, Manchester, Buxton, all over.”
“Buxton? Oh aye? I’ve heard it’s popular to take the waters if you’re poorly. But it must have done you good. You look quite healthy.” She gave a hint of a smile, inviting him to laugh, and he did.
“I wasn’t taking a cure, saucy. I was driving a coach.”
“As if I couldn’t have guessed.” She flicked a finger against the whipthong that hung like a coiled white snake from its stick. “Was it good work?”
“Not bad. I drove the manufacturers, and the commercial gents, and their wives and families. It was nothing fancy.”
This time she laughed, not believing him. “Oh, I’m sure it must have been.”
“Well,” he said, “it was a business, just like yours, I suppose. If you can give your passengers something useful about the scenery or the places they should visit, they remember you and give you a good tip.”
“And you had plenty to tell them, I suppose?”
He only smiled a little. “They’re manufacturers – the new rich – people who want to move in society. I don’t care so much for them because they don’t care how I drive – and that’s because they don’t know how it should be done! But if I had you on my coach, I’d find all manner of things to tell you.”
“Oh, I couldn’t move in society,” she said. “I’ve lived here too long! But if you have a new way to stop the customers fondling me, I’d be glad to hear of it.”
“Impossible,” he said, “unless you could put on a hundredweight of flesh and about forty years! And that would be a dreadful waste.”
She had no time to answer before Mr Farrimond shouted, “Wench! Fetch us brandy, will you?”
She excused herself and carried brandies to the fireside for Farrimond and his friend Armstrong. She considered her new customer. He seemed a bit cagey about his background but she couldn’t fault him for that: she knew what it was to need defences. Too many men had come and gone through the doors of the Blue Bell, and the other houses where she and her mother had lived.
When she came back he was looking into an empty mug.
“Shall I fill that up for you, sir?”
“George,” he said. “Davenport. But you can call me George,” and when she reached for the mug he wouldn’t release it until she’d repeated his name.
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Some referencesReligion in Victorian England
Religious Observance in Early Victorian Times
Mannix, 1947: History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Cumberland