Brethren Archive
Friday March 9, 2012

"No persons of good character will be admitted"

As a follow up to Theatre Preachings and Extraorinary Tea Meetings I wanted to write a bit more about William Carter and his labour in the gospel.  Mr Carter I have found out was himself a convert chimney sweep, who had addicted himself to work amongst the poor of London  He would organise tea-meetings, with the aim of bringing men and women under the sound of the gospel.  His co-workers would distribute tickets for these meetings on the days or nights before and it seems each meeting would have between 500-1000 people present, and generally they were oversubscribed and plenty more would have come in if there had been room.  The prospect of a free meal for the poorest classes in those days acted as a great incentive but many also desired to hear the Word, not least because of the changed lives of many of their friends who had been converted in these meetings.

Various venues were used, including the Victoria Theatre, Astley's Theatre, the Surrey Theate, and the Lambeth Baths.  All these would today be found in the borough of Southark.  Other mission stations were opened too, in Bermondsey and Deptford, and within the space of a few years, the number of different rooms being used numbered in their teens.  These tea meetings seemed to take place on at least a weekly basis, and Mr Carter also took up preaching to similar size companies on the Lord's Day as well as opening and running the South London Refuge.  The amount of work he acomplished in such a short space of time is staggering, and no wonder that his health broke down for a while, and he had to take leave and rest in Paris.

Some of the classes that meetings were organised for were; Costermongers, 'Rogues, Thieves & Vagabonds', Wood Choppers, Dustmen, Scavengers, Chimney-Sweeps, Policemen, Gasmen & Lamlighters, Tanners, Curriers and Dyers, as well as 'Mother's meetings' being organised for the women.  Hrere is a very interesting report of one such meeting, for 'Outcast's', in which we also find a testimony given by Ned Wright, who became infamous as a converted burglar.

"On Tuesday, we gave a tea meeting to outcasts, and indeed those who came were outcasts. Scores came with scarcely any clothing on their bodies, and no shoes on their feet. They were in a most loathsome, filthy condition, the very worst specimens of fallen humanity; one-half of those present were of this class. There were also a great number of the lowest class of thieves, many of whom had just come out of prison. We only began to distribute the cards of invitation the day before. One special statement made on the tickets was, "No persons of good character will be admitted," so that they came professedly as all bad, and no good. If we could have accommodated a thousand, the place would have been crowded. We had to close the iron gates for want of room. The scene while the tea was being served out was only a repetition of what we have had before in the Hall upon like occasions. They pounced upon the provisions like hungry wolves, and ate like savages. They laughed, stamped then feet, rattled the cups and saucers, and holloaed out, Hurrah! This went on all the time the tea continued. When they had eaten up all we had to give them, with great difficulty we gathered up the cups and saucers, that is as many as we could get, for although we look out sharp, we always lose a great number, for they pocket them. In the midst of the uproar, we began to sing -

"The pearly gates are open, and you may enter in,"

and then I introduced to the people " W. ----" a returned convict. He began by saying, "Many of you know me. There is a man sitting there that I was in penal servitude with at Portsmouth, and there's many of you that's been in the Model Prison with me, and other jails; indeed, there's but one prison in London but what I have been in, and I can't tell you how many I have been in about the country, nor how many times I have stood my trial at Newgate, and this is how I passed my life, till eleven months ago, when I was invited to come to this Hall to a similar meeting to this, and it suited me, for a bigger rogue, thief, or vagabond than I was never walked London streets. I came into this Hall that night, and sat over there, as vile a sinner as ever lived. My wife was in the hospital, and I did not care whether she came out dead or alive. I solemnly declare that, up to that night, I did not know what love was. I had no love for my wife, children, myself, or anybody else. This is truth, before God. My heart was as hard as a stone, until I heard Mr. Carter preach Jesus. Oh! I shall never forget, when the thought came into my mind, that there was a God, and that He loved me, a vile wretch like me. For the first time in my life, to my remembrance, I felt the tears trickle down my face. All my sins rose up against me, and I went home most miserable, and so I continued for several days, until Sunday morning, when I came to this Hall, and saw them break bread; it was the first time in my life that I willingly went to church, and while I was looking on, a costermonger sitting near to me said, 'We have nothing to do with this;' but that moment I felt I had something to do with it, for I plainly saw that Jesus died for me, and that all my sins were forgiven. That is now eleven months ago, and I have honestly worked for my bread ever since. Don't you think I get any thing by coming to this Hall. The Lord knows I never get a shilling. Mr. Carter has got nothing to give us; I get blessing to my soul, and that is why I come. I am now out of work, and I am resolved rather to bury my days in a workhouse, than do that which would dishonour the Lord Jesus. I have one strong desire, and that is to go and tell the convicts about Jesus. I would do anything that was lawful to accomplish this. I would not mind being shut up with them, and spending the remainder of my days among them for the sake of telling them of God's love in the gift of Jesus."

He then sat down. 'C. ---' then stood up to speak. He burst into tears, and sobbed out-"My heart is full, my dear fellows ; I do love you, and yet God knows I never knew what love was till I went into the Victoria Theatre, and heard from dear Mr. Carter about God's wonderful love in the gift of Jesus. Till then I never had love for my wife or children, or anybody. I can truthfully say, I never knew anybody to love me, till I found out that God loved me. I was brought up in a workhouse, and at ten years of age I was taken out, and sent to sea; I ran away from that, and tramped the country for seventeen years, robbing and plundering all I could. I have been often in prison. My chief pleasure consisted in dog fighting, cock fighting, and man fighting. I have been so battered about, that upon several occasions I have laid in hospitals, never expecting to come out alive. Once, in Bartholomew's Hospital, when the physician told me that I should die before morning, I laughed at him, and said, I hoped I should, for I knew nothing about God, neither did I know that I had a soul which must live for ever. I was indeed an outcast. I have walked from London to Birmingham with only one halfpenny, and no one would give me a bit of bread. I slept under hedges,and in ditches, and when I robbed anybody, and got a few pounds (and often I have had fifty pounds), I would spend it all in drink, and afterwards have been nearly starved. My only reason for mentioning all this is to prove to you, my dear fellows, that none of you can possibly be worse than me. For seventeen years I was one among you, and often I have been like some of you are to-night, without a shirt on my back, or stockings on my feet, nor fit to be touched with a prong. Now see what grace has done for me, a poor outcast, that no one would have anything to do with. It is now two years since God, for Christ's sake, pardoned all my sins. The grace of God has transformed me from a lazy, drunken, wandering out-cast, to an industrious, sober follower of the Lord Jesus Christ."

I then introduced a man called "Ned," who has been one of the most courageous and notorious burglars in London. He began by saying-"I see that you have lost one of your number," pointing to a gang of thieves who sat in the centre. "He was sitting among you the last thieves' tea meeting Mr. Carter gave in this Hall. He would like to have the chance of coming here to-night, but he is safe in the Model Prison. I don't mind your laughing now, you know it would not have been lucky for you to have laughed at me a few months ago. What grieves me more than anything is, the sorrowful reflection of having made many of you what you now are. I have put you up to most of the dodges and schemes that you know, but now I would do anything in my power to get you converted. You know what a change there has been in me these last six months. I am really converted to God. I am thankful to say, that although I was a villain, a thief, and everything that's bad, I was never lazy, so that directly I was converted, I turned to work, and have been hard at it ever since. I have been paying off my debts, for before I was converted I used to get into debt with everybody I could, but never would pay any one, neither did I intend to; but since I have been brought to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, I have felt a desire to pay every one; what is just." He then went into detail, and gave an epitome of his life, too shocking to write. My heart sickened while he told out his former cruel practices, and daring exploits. I permitted this, because it was the only way in which the hearts of these outcasts could be reached, and it prepared the way for the preaching of God's love in the gift of His beloved Son. After him other converted thieves addressed the meeting. An old man of sixty told an awful tale. He declared that for near fifty years he had lived by plunder, and that he would have taken anybody's life for money. These men did not tell out their lives in a boasting spirit, but contrariwise. Most of them wept while they spoke, and I believe they did it only to show those present that they had been quite as bad as they had, and that God who had saved them, was equal to save the vilest of sinners in the Hall. They certainly made such revelations as quite astonished myself. The histories of these thieves would fill volumes. I knew before that they had been thieves, but I never knew so much of their antecedents till this night they told it out to these outcasts, and I believe it was the means of awakening hope in the hearts of many of these forlorn, degraded creatures, who had been for a long time hopeless. With my heart full, and my breast big with emotion, I read a portion of the fifteenth chapter of Mark, spoke to them affectionately of God's love as manifested in the gift of Jesus, and the Lord helped me by His Spirit

Many of the most hardened thieves, who had maintained a firm and unflinching look while the young converts were addressing them, now wept, and some hid their faces. One, especially, a black man, was much affected. He declared that if the Lord could save such fellows as those who spoke, He could save him and anybody. This man really appeared with all readiness of mind to receive the truth in the love of it. Several prayed, and after this many came forward and asked what they could do, for they were desirous of abandoning then present wicked lives. They said, "You say that God loves us, and we believe it, but what are we to do, there is nobody else that loves us." My dear wife and helpers assured them we loved them, but that it was out of our power to help them. Many of them left the Victoria Hall to wander about the streets all night, and I left the meeting to my helpers, and retired to the back of the Hall, pondering over the solemn questions which have for a long time occupied my mind, viz.-What can be done for thieves? What can be done for outcasts? What can be done for the DESTITUTE POOR? By the help of God I have been enabled to found the South London Night Refuge for houseless men and women; also a Public Soup Kitchen for the resident poor. But I have not yet been able to establish a temporary home for thieves; such an institution is needed for them as much as for poor fallen women. What are they to do? If they are willing to abandon their practices, who will employ them? And when they come out of prison, where are they to go? Of necessity, they must go back to their old haunts. What is to be done for thieves-the thieves of London ? My prayer to God is, that He would put it into the heart of some wealthy person or persons, to provide funds for the purpose-ONE THOUSAND POUNDS IS NEEDED TO START WITH."

Astley's Theatre, where many preachings took place:

Astley's Theatre

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