Articles, records and resources relating to the history of the Lancashire town of Preston
The First Catholic Charitable Society of Preston – Chapter 8
VIII.—PROGRESS OF THE SOCIETY
The Society, as we have seen, was founded on June 6th, 1731. We have given a glimpse of the state of things in Preston at that time.
The members quietly and steadily went about their self-imposed tasks for some years. They met secretly in ale-houses. They recited the prayers and performed the other acts of piety that they had undertaken. They paid their subscriptions. They assisted the poor and needy.
Not only in Preston was help given, but in most of the neighbouring towns also those in want were assisted. We shall give as an Appendix an interesting selection from the expenditure columns of the old account books, made by Fr. Splaine, S.J. To illustrate our point let us quote here only the following:—
1731 Pd. to poor box at Ferniough (Fernihalgh) 1s.
1746 To the prisoners at Lancaster 4s.
1760 To the Grimbsay (Alston Lane) Chappell 10s. 6d.
1773 Towards Chorley Chappel 5s.
1783 Towards building Catholic Chapel at Blackburn £2 2s.
1786 Towards building a Catholic Church at Brindle £2 2s.
1786 To the Incumbant at Lower Hall (Salmesbury) 10S. 6d.
I789. To a new Chappel at Garstang £2 2s.
These are but a few entries. Others mention Craik, Osmotherley, Yorks, Chester, Goosnargh, Lea, Stockport, Clitheroe, and other places.
The account books at the beginning show a quite wonderful regularity of attendance. Hardly ever do the subscription columns show a blank after a member’s name.
The Society did not grow, for it will be remembered that the Society was limited by the first rules to 40 members. Only when a member died or resigned were new members admitted. This seems to have been faithfully adhered to. Thus we have entries like the following:—
Robert Cooper of Curden Greene Departed this life the 15th Day of August 1832. And Elected in roome his Sone.
Mr Willm Winard Departed this life ye 11 of Aprill 1737″ And this followed by the entry: “Richard Worden enterd & paid 1s.
Sometimes we find notes of isolated “enterances,” but these probably were to replace such as resigned. For the numbers remained stationary at just under forty. With scrupulous care—though in very bad writing—the accounts were kept and an annual statement of accounts made. But towards the end of the decade things began to go wrong. Irregularities began to appear. Troubles began to disturb the comparative peace that had reigned in the country. Noises of a fresh attempt at invasion began to be heard, though this did not happen for another six or seven years. But these troubles reacted on the Society also. More absences from meetings are indicated. It is shown by the exhortation entered in our old account book. It took the form of a passage from the Gospel telling how those would be punished who failed, how those would be rewarded who did help the needy. No comment is made more than the line: “Hitherto are the words of Christ himself.”
But, though still exact to a penny piece, accounts show signs of having been written up long after date. Here is one:—
Colected in ye year 1738
to Ball: in hand left …
Disbur: in ye year 1738
June 1739 John Grostock entd
Jan. 6 Mr Melling enterd & pd.
May 28: 1741 Mr. Winkley ent & pd.
Peter Boscow . . . pd.
1742 June 13th Mr Petre entered & pd. 1s.
Colected in ye year 1739
Disburst in ye year 1739
In Hand Remains
It will be noticed how this covers, if the date of Mr. Petre’s entry is correct, part at least of five years. But worse was to come. Several years elapse without any entries being made, either in the expenditure columns or in the receipts. For some years even no entries at all are made; or, if made, they are written in various hands. Prince Charles Edward had come to Preston. Hatred of Catholics, known to have sided with him, burst out again. Again they were forced to hide.
At the beginning of 1753 two pages of the account book are filled with the following entry: “Whereas this Charitable Societie so piously instituted and so fervourously carry’d on for so many years in this town of Preston for ye benefit of ye poor & to ye increase & encouragemt of Christian Morality hath been obliged during ye late storms to lie under ye Bushel for so long a time that it has in a manner quite expired: But as ye hand of God is no ways extenuated, wch raises ye weake feeble to confound ye strong it is hoped yt thro his all powerful Assistance this Charitable Sodality will revive & like ye Phenix rise to life again from its own ashes.
Human nature if not corrupted with barbarity is endowed with an innate inclination of treating our fellow creatures with tenderness & humanity. It is from this Principle ye very Turks and Infidels erect hospitals for ye poor and distress’d & what is more for ye very brutes. Hence the heathens as Caesar tells us in his commentaries instituted a confraternity in ye Province of Aquitania whose Institute was to communicate & and partake of each other’s prosperity or adversity acknowledging ye man yt lived for himself to be quite useless & superfluous in ye world. And how much ye more oughtn’t Christians with far greater alacrity & cheerfullness to cooperate to so glorious an end since ye Divine Spirit never ceases to touch our hearts softly instilling ye sweet principles of Charity both with respect to God & and our neighbour in wh ye whole Law of God is comprised. How well St Paul practiced this when he said Cor. ii C. 29v. who is weake and I am not likewise weake? Who is offended and I burn not? This spirit of Christianity is recommended to us by Christ our Lord in sundry places of Scripture. And ye more pure and disinterested our intention is in ye practice of Charity ye more ye Lord will reward us even in this world: for tho’ what is thus given be a free gift it is likewise a holy usury; Christ having pledged his Divine & sacred word to refund & pay it back with interest cent p’ cent nay a hundred times cent p. cent even in this life … God is neither willing nor is it possible for him to deceive us He expressly gives his word as ye strongest security.
It may not be out of place to call attention to the above passage and to the evidence that it and the many other extracts, that we have made from the old volumes of accounts, afford of the Catholic spirit of those splendid men who founded this Society. Fr. Splaine, S.J., paints their picture well in the closing paragraphs of his little book. We make no apology for reproducing them He wrote:—
An atmosphere of Christian charity and peace hangs around them always. ‘If it please God that love and union may be upholder amongst us.’ This is their constant aspiration. Among them were no secret conclaves, no caucus to carry out the policy of a party. Party spirit and individualism were alike unknown to them. They seem to have had but one heart among them, and that one throbbing through the veins of all, obedient to the movement of the Holy Spirit, whom they so constantly invoke.
It is to be remembered that from internal evidence it is manifest that the pious allusions and solid homilies scattered through these volumes are not the studied compositions of learned men, but gleanings generally from Holy Writ, expressing the natural outpourings of the honest hearts of simple unsophisticated citizens, who know less, and probably cared less, about grammar, and spelling, and tall talk, than they did about leading good and useful lives without humbug. He who reflects on their utterances, and reads the modest record they have left of their works, cannot help feeling that he stands in the presence of his betters, and he half expects to hear from an older world a chiding voice, asking, “Can anyone in whom faith abides expect that virtues will continue to live when the practice of them has been dropped, and that works and prayers may be abandoned without charity growing cool? You have changed the rules and customs laid down by your forefathers; think you you have improved on them? You have laid aside their practices and their prayers, have you preserved their spirit? “Sapientiam omnium antiquorum exquiret sapiens,—” the wise man will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients.” Eccles. xxixi 1.
Many of the old customs have been handed down, it is true. But are they always the best customs that have been preserved? May we not be tempted to think of Lord Byron’s address to modern Greece?
You have the Pyrrhic Dance as yet.
Where has the Pyrrhic phalanx gone?
Of two such lessons why forget
The nobler and the manlier one?
The extract from the old books made above, before digression, tells us of the reasons for the long inactivity, the extinction almost of the Society. The “late storms” were the cause. But the Society was revived. And it was revived because of the Brethren’s belief in that “holy usury” of which mention is made. And they hope for new members to help them in their works of charity; and they hold out as an inducement God’s promise of “a hundred times cent p. cent even in this life.”