The First Catholic Charitable Society of Preston – Chapter 10


The oldest records of the Society are happily carefully preserved. They bring us down to 1853, giving us interesting and cherished details of the first hundred and twenty-two years of the Society’s existence. We have the minute books kept by Secretaries since April, 1887. What happened between those dates we have no means of ascertaining, except by inference and conjecture. The minute books have been lost. Where they went we can only surmise. They were probably kept, when complete, in the home of the Secretary for the time being. Later they were thrown away as useless.

We should have been particularly pleased to have had information in regard to the doings of the Society in the later fifties. Those were difficult days for any Society connected with Charity. There was great distress in Preston then. There was a lock-out in the cotton mills. There was a great influx of Irish emigrants owing to the Potato Famine. The Russian War had its effect. We know that all who had means in the town did their utmost to help those in distress. We may be sure that the First Catholic Charitable Society led in this noble work. But what did it do? How did it help? Answers to these questions would be more than interesting. They would be of practical help in like circumstances.

We propose in the pages that follow to give an account of the Society for the last thirty-six years. Perhaps we may find references to events that took place during the previous thirty-four.

On January 11th, 1887, a Special Committee was appointed at an Annual Meeting to consider as to the Officers and the position of the Society. This Committee consisted of the Rectors of the six parishes in Preston and two lay representatives appointed by the Rector of each district. As this Committee, as will be seen, was responsible for codifying the rules, which except for some few subsequent changes, now govern the Society, it will be well to record their names. The Committee was composed as follows:—

St. Wilfrid’s: Rev. Thomas Dykes, S.J., and Messrs. Edward Harrison and Richard Westhead.
St. Ignatius’: Rev. Vincent Bond, S.J., and Messrs. T. N. Thornton and Thomas Langtree.
St. Walburge’s: Rev. N. C. Papall, S.J., and Messrs. Richard France and Yates W. Booth.
St. Augustine’s: Rev. Laurence Cosgrave and Messrs. Edward Pyke, J.P., and R. H. Smith.
St. Joseph’s: Rev. John Walmesley and Mr. William Clarkson.
English Martyrs’: Very Rev. Dean Pyke and Dr. J. J. Byrne and Mr. J. W. Carter.

The Committee thus formed held its first meeting on February 17th, 1887. The report of their findings was delivered to the members of the Society at the quarterly meeting held in the Castle Hotel on April 3rd, 1887. It ran as follows:—

At the outset of their deliberations the Committee found that the existing rules of the Society were of an incomplete character and quite inadequate to meet present-day requirements of the Society; and they were of opinion that any recommendations they might decide to make as to the officers and the mode of their appointment and other matters would be more practically useful if made on the basis of a new code of rules. They, therefore . . . proceeded to revise and make additions to the existing rules, and they now submit with this report a draft of the new rules for the future government and conduct of the Society, which they recommend should be adopted by the members.

The Committee in framing the proposed new rules have been guided by a desire to retain, as far as possible, the traditional usages of the Society, many of which do not seem to have been hitherto defined by rule.

In providing for the management of the Society by a Committee, in conjunction with the officers (whose duties are specifically defined), the Committee confidently believe that a more responsible interest will be taken in the affairs of the Society, and that consequently the scope of its charitable and other work will be extended.

The Present Officers of the Society, namely, the President, the Honorary Treasurer, and the Honorary Secretary, have signified their willingness to co-operate with the Committee in their desire to establish the working of the Society on the basis of the new rules at the earliest possible date by at once resigning their respective offices, and the Committee recommend that Officers should be elected in accordance with the new rules at the next quarterly meeting to hold office until the annual general meeting in January, 1888.

The new rules were then discussed and passed by the general body of members. They were given in a previous chapter of this book. With few alterations they are observed to-day. An extraordinary general meeting of the Society, however, was called on May 2nd, 1887, at the Castle Hotel, formally to adopt the rules and to elect Officers, Committee, and Auditors, in accordance with them, to serve until the annual general meeting in 1888. It will not be out of place to give the names of this first governing body of the newly reconstructed Society. They were:—

President: Mr. Edward Pyke.
Secretary: Mr. John Lovelace.
Treasurer: Mr. Richard Westhead.
Committee: Rev. N. C. Papall, S.J., Rev. John Walmesley, Messrs. J. Walmesley Carter, Thomas Langtree, R. H. Smith, T. N. Thornton.
Auditors: Messrs. Yates W. Booth and Richard France.

In October, 1888, a further innovation was introduced. It was decided in Committee that Special Meetings for the Reading of Papers and Discussions thereon should be held from time to time. The educational value of such meetings can be readily understood. These meetings have been dropped as special meetings, but to this day very interesting papers are read and discussions take place after the ordinary business of the quarterly meetings is at an end. We shall give later a list of the more important of these papers. A paper by Dr. A. P. Mooney on “Catholic Organisation,” read at the first of these meetings, on October 28th, 1888, was to have very great effect later on. So too had a paper on “Boys’ Homes,” read by Mr. R. H. Smith in April, 1889, which was followed by one on “Rescue Work,” by Mr. W. P. Meagher.

On November 27th, 1890, a new departure was made and a precedent set that we regret is not more followed to-day, for these social gatherings of Catholic laymen of prominence in the town do much to bind Catholics of various parishes together, to make them less parochial, to promote intercourse, and to form a body of men ready to work together for the good of their common Church. On the date mentioned a smoking concert was held at the Mess Rooms, Starkie Street. As the first of its kind on record in the Society’s story, it deserves special mention. It was apparently, to judge by an old newspaper cutting, a great success. The programme was opened by Mr. W. Jones, who sang “A Tar of the Queen’s,” and later on “Jack’s Yarn.” Mr. Mahon contributed “The Star of Bethlehem” and “By the Fountain”; Mr. Meagher, “Thy Sentinel am I” and “Saving the Colours”; Mr. Cassidy, “The Low-backed Car” and “The Cruishkeen Lawn”; Mr. Crow, “Father O’Flynn.” (How quaint these old song titles sound to our modern ears! But have we songs to-day like the songs they loved to sing then?) Mr. R. Shepherd sang “Let me like a Soldier Fall” and “The Last Watch.” Mr. Shepherd was then and for years to come a noted operatic tenor in Preston and Lancashire. Two flute solos, a concertina solo, a clarionet solo, and a pianoforte solo swelled the programme; and recitations were given by Mr. Sam Lee. One, “Eawr Folk,” appears to have been particularly popular. Dr. Brennan supplied fun by his songs, “She was, She was, She was” and “Rollicum Jollicum.” Mr. Lovett was the accompanist during the evening.

At various times during the history of the Society the sordid question of money seeking crops up. It did in what we have called “The Old Society.” It does at frequent intervals in the new. Members are remiss in paying their subscriptions. This means that the Society is hampered in its work. The poor suffer. Thus we find many times in the minute books entries like this on July 7th, 1891: “The Secretary reported that numbers of the members of the Society were in arrears with their subscriptions. On the motion of Dean Pyke, it was resolved that special application be made by letter to all members who are one year’s subscription in arrears.” It is well to read that at the next meeting “the Treasurer informed the members that the Secretary’s appeal to defaulters had been responded to by many.”

The question of refreshments at meetings troubled members at the beginning of 1892. Some were for abolishing them. It is well that they failed. It would have done away with a very old tradition of the Society, one that links the present with the past and carries us back to those bad old times, when, as we have seen, the pipe and the tankard served as a disguise. There was a compromise, and certain periods during the evening’s business were fixed for the handing round of these refreshments.

It was at the April meeting in 1894 that Fr. J. F. Splaine, S.J., read a paper on the “History and Work of the First Catholic Charitable Society.” This paper was later amplified and printed. It is this paper that we have so frequently referred to and so largely drawn from in drawing up the first part of this present work.

There was great anxiety felt in 1896 by all who had anything to do with Catholic education on account of a Bill that was proposed, which would have had disastrous results for Catholic schools. Catholics throughout England turned to Lancashire, and Lancashire showed an unbroken front. Mass meetings of protest became the order of the day. Naturally it was to be expected that Preston Catholics would be staunch. And staunch and unbending they were. Unequivocal was the message that they sent forth. It has been already said that the First Catholic Charitable Society is the “Cadre” of the Catholic Army in Preston. At the signal it mobilises and brings itself to strength. The call came at the general meeting in January, 1896. We quote the entry in the minutes of that date: “Fr. O’Hare, S.J. appealed to the meeting to rally round our Bishop at the forthcoming educational meeting and to support the resolutions which would then be proposed.” There was the call. And well the Society rose to it.

Another matter which was taken up by the Society was the rescue of Catholic children from non-Catholic Poor Law Schools. As we shall see, it was largely due to the exertions of the Society that St. Thomas’ Home and St. Vincent’s School owe their existence. It was certainly, as our minute books bear witness, at meetings of the Society that they were first proposed and discussed. The subject was first mooted in papers on “Boys’ Homes” and “Rescue Work” read by Messrs. R. H. Smith and W. P. Meagher in April, 1889. The matter was pressed at a meeting in July, 1898, when a somewhat heated discussion took place.

We have already drawn attention to the fact that much of the work of starting every new Parish in Preston was undertaken by the Society. We drew attention to help given in very early times to quite distant Missions. We are not surprised, therefore, when we find entries like the following, which occur in the minutes of the Annual Meeting in January, 1899: “Mr. R. H. Smith introduced the subject of Newhouse Mission and asked the members of the Society to assist it in its struggling state. He referred to the Concert to be held in the Public Hall. If the Concert were successful, the labours of the Preston Committee on behalf of Newhouse would be completed.” Fr. Myerscough also asked the Society—Note how all turned to the Society in their needs !—for help in making a Fancy Fair at St. Joseph’s a great success. On another occasion we find Fr. Papall, S.J., going to the length of organising a Special Smoking Concert for the Society, in order to interest its members in a Bazaar in aid of St. Walburge’s Church.

On January 22nd, 1901, a circular was sent round announcing the usual Annual Dinner. But, before the date for this arrived, news came of the death of Queen Victoria. The Dinner was postponed. The Committee of the Society put it on record that “it received with the deepest regret the sad news of the death of our beloved Sovereign Queen Victoria.” A letter of condolence was addressed to His Majesty King Edward VII., to which a formal acknowledgment was received from His Majesty’s Secretary of State.

We have dealt in an earlier chapter with a long sustained discussion, which finally ended in the addition of a clause to Rule 9, limiting the Spiritual Fund to £100. This was first proposed by Mr. James Seed in 1903. The proposal was rejected by the Society then. But it was brought up again by Canon Cosgrave two years later, and was adopted.

On June 3rd, 1907, a further break from the past took place. For the first time since the Society was founded a general meeting of members took place in other than an Inn or Hotel. The meeting was held in the Hall of the Catholic College. Furthermore, it was decided that for the future the meetings should be held in a room of the newly formed Preston and County Catholic Club in Winckley Square. And there they have been ever since the Club’s hospitality was first availed of for the Quarterly Meeting on August 20th, 1907.

It will be remembered that on the occasion of the Eucharistic Congress held in 1908 at the Cathedral of Westminster, it had been the intention of His Eminence the Cardinal, to carry the Blessed Sacrament in solemn procession around the Cathedral through the Square, known as Ashley Gardens. Protestant Societies cried out in protest. Such pressure was brought to bear that the then Prime Minister forbade the procession to take place. In consequence the following protest was sent from a meeting of the Society held on October 19th, 1908: “We, the members of the First Catholic Charitable Society of Preston, assembled at our October Quarterly Meeting, express our emphatic protest against the Prime Minister’s action in interfering and preventing the Eucharistic Procession, which was to be the culminating point of the great Congress.

“We also, as loyal citizens, demand our full civil rights and religious liberties, and the removal of all such disabilities from the Statute book.”

On the death of King Edward VII a loyal and sincere message of sympathy was sent to the Home Secretary for transmission to Queen Alexandra and the Royal Family. It laid stress on the appreciation Catholics felt for “his unfailing courteous recognition of the loyalty and devotion of his Catholic subjects, whose prayers rise for those so sorely afflicted, and for him whose kindliness and tenderness so greatly endeared him to all.” It was signed by Richard Westhead, President; Laurence Canon Cosgrave, Vice-Chairman, and James Wilkinson, Secretary. A formal answer of thanks was received from Mr. Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, in the name of His Majesty, King George V.

Again in 1911 we find the Secretary and Treasurer in difficulties with members, who failed to pay their subscriptions. Twenty-six members are in arrears to the extent of £2 and upwards. A collector was engaged to collect these arrears at 10 per cent. commission. This is a quite new departure.

Letters of congratulation were sent from the Annual Meeting of 1912 to Most Rev. Dr. Thomas Whiteside on his elevation to the Arch-Bishopric, and to His Eminence Cardinal Bourne on his receiving the Cardinalate.

At the same meeting it was decided to send a protest to the Government against the regulations existing in regard to Catholic Secondary Schools. The resolution read as follows:

This meeting of the First Catholic Charitable Society of Preston, established 1731, desires to express its strong condemnation of Articles 5, I8, 23, and 24 of the Board of Education’s Regulations for Secondary Schools, as they were inserted without Parliamentary discussion, as they impose restrictions on Denominational Schools, where definite religious instruction is given, as they treat Undenominational Schools with special privilege, and as they practically render impossible the opening of new Catholic Secondary Schools, no matter how necessary such schools may be; and it calls upon the Government, in justice to Catholic taxpayers, to withdraw these regulations without delay.

At the Quarterly Meeting in April, 1913, Mr. Joseph Crombleholme opened a discussion on the question of re-organising Catholic Charities. He pointed out the necessity of some kind of organisation, and suggested, as a beginning, the founding of a central office for registration and visitation only, leaving in the hands of the various local Charities the distribution of their own funds. In closing the discussion, Fr. Wright, S.J., remarked that if anything were done it should be taken up by this Society. Nothing, however, was decided. The matter was left open for further discussion. And there it ended, though the question was brought up in a desultory way on a few later occasions.

During the years that follow, as may be expected, there was little activity in the Society. A few spasmodic bursts of energy appear from time to time in the minute books on occasions when the question of education cropped up. Lectures were not so frequently given. On several occasions debates took place, as to why the meetings were so sparsely attended, and why there was so little life in the Society. Various causes were alleged. Various remedies were suggested. It does not appear from the minutes that the real cause occurred to anyone. The Great War was being waged. The Society had been robbed of its youth, its energy, its enthusiasm, when its younger members donned their King’s uniform and showed to the world that Catholics are among the first in Loyalty to their Sovereign and in love for their country, when these ask any sacrifice short of their conscience.

Some alterations were made in the rules during this period. It was decided in October, 1916, as we have already seen, that in future the Committee should consist of the Officers and 14 other members, two from each parish. In October, 1919, the same Rule 4 was amended by the following addition: “The Rector of each parish, or one of his Clergy nominated by him, shall be a member of the Committee.”

A matter of interest to Catholics was taken up in 1920. The Society instituted a public protest against the Divorce Bill before Parliament. The wording of the protest was as follows:

We, the Catholic voters of Preston, strongly protest against the Divorce Bill now before Parliament inasmuch as (1) it violates the law of God; (2) it is contrary to the interests of society and is a menace to the public good, tending to a disregard of the marriage tie and a low standard of morality, and ( 3) it is not demanded by the majority of the people of this country.

And so we come to the present day.

This chapter gives the main features of the history of the new Society. It should show, too, that in modern times the First Catholic Charitable Society has not been unworthy of its grand old founders. All prominent Catholics of the town belonged to it. It took the initiative in every good work of the town. It was the “Guard” of the Catholicism of Preston. On it the Church could always rely in her day of need. It is to celebrate very shortly its bicentenary. May it prosper long and continue in its ways. Floreat et Crescat.


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