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Archive for March, 2018

Family History – James Earl Furness

bethnal green map

James Earl Furness 1795 – 1876 of Bethnal Green

Baptism and Origins
James was born in about 1795, and his father Robert also a gardener, like James was to be, had James baptised in the church of St. Mary Whitechapel. This was a significant church which had been created as a chapel of ease in the 13th century, (a chapel of ease was a church building other than the parish church for the attendance of those who cannot reach the parish church conveniently). The White Chapel was painted with chalk and lime on the outside, hence its name. There were 3 St. Marys, the last one bombed in World War 2.

The church was originally called St Mary Matfelon, a name probably derived from the Hebrew word, Matfel, which signifies a woman born with a son i.e the Virgin Mary. It is significant that the second St. Mary’s had an outside pulpit from where, on occasion, the Vicar preached to Jewish parishioners in Yiddish; quite appropriate bearing in mind the large Jewish population from the mid nineteenth century.

The surname ‘Furness’ originated in the north west notably in the Furness peninsula but whereas there were many people with the surname in that area, there were refreshingly few in London in the early nineteenth century. I have details of a number of other Furnesses, especially in the East End, but so far I have not been able to definately link them as blood relatives.

James’ other forename ‘Earl’ meant warrior or nobleman and comes from the german ‘warrior king’ and which was sometimes used for servants of actual earls. It dates back to the 12th century in England.

James then followed in his father’s footsteps and became a gardener either working for and eventually taking over his father’s work or having land of his own in Bethnal Green.
In her PhD Thesis on gardening in the East End ‘Common Ground: Horticulture and the cultivation of open space in the East End 1840 – 1900’, Julia Matheson says that in 1840, when James was 45, Hackney was virtually all open land. By 1862, when James had 14 years yet to live, not much more than half the area had been built on.
Julia Matheson says that there were large areas of market gardens in Bethnal Green and points out that economic conditions were not as uniformly bleak as often portrayed.
In the census of 1840 644 men were listed as gardeners and even in 1891 there were still 423 gardeners similarly listed.

What sort of gardening did James do?

Three options are possible.
1. At the turn of the nineteenth century and for the next 30 years, Bethnal Green still had houses of the rich and famous; notably amongst these was Bishop Bonner’s Hall, the occasional residence of the Bishop of London. Bonner was the notorious bishop responsible for the burning of protestants during the reign of Mary Tudor. However even though Bonner Hall was pulled down in 1845 there were still large houses with gardens and there were institutions too which employed gardeners, though these were in decline.

2. Perhaps James was more important than that because surprisingly in Bethnal Green and in nearby Hackney there were a number of nurseries which employed quite large numbers of workers, such as Hugh Low who employed 61 men in 1851 and John Fraser, who in 1871 employed 145 men and 8 boys.
Exceptionally there was Loddiges in Hackney, which was so important that it supplied plants to Kew Gardens. Its nursery introduced 151 new plants to UK and there were also hothouses, an arboretum, and a palm house – the largest in the world. In 1830 Joseph Paxton designed a new palm house for them which became the design basis for the later Crystal Palace. Sadly, by 1852, the housing boom led to the loss of the lease for the company and inevitably the loss of the stock, which in the 1820s had 2500 species.

3. Finally there were employment opportunities in the development of the huge Victoria Park right on James’ doorstep.
Because of the dreadful poverty and overcrowded slums in parts of the area, and the huge amounts of illness and death, (even in 1856, on April 16th 1856 the priest at St. James the Less buried 14 people in one day!), it was agreed in 1840 to petition the Queen for the creation of a park for the people. The local land for this was bought through the selling off of crown land and included that surrounding Bishop Bonner’s Fields. There were also a number of market gardens which were purchased.
The resulting magnificent Victoria Park was opened in 1845 and on Good Friday that year 25000 visited it; even more on Easter Monday. The next year a lake was planned and huge areas of the park were given over to bedding plants, which, incidentally were given to the poor at the end of the season for their own gardens. So there was a huge opportunity for gardeners in this work alone.

This was therefore the environment James Earl Furness was working in.
In the edition of Lloyds Weekly on September 9th 1871 the following advertisement read ‘a pony for sale, fast trotting and its silver plated harness all going cheap and the place, 17 Essex Place’. This was James’ address and fits in with the inevitable decline of his health 5 years later and the consequent move to Providence Place where he was to die. So he must have been a market gardener and perhaps the land he farmed might have been to the east of Cambridge Heath Road, which was largely used for market gardening in 1838 and from where the gardeners took their produce for sale in Covent Garden. Another reason for the sale of the pony and its harness lies in the fact that James’ sons did not follow in their father’s profession and had already moved away from Bethnal Green.

What might James have looked like?

There were certainly no photographs of him but contemporary literature can give us some idea.

Henry Mayhew in ‘London Labour and London Poor’ describes the market gardener as follows:- the gardeners affect aprons and old straw hats. Their manner is less demonstrative and their tones less rusty and unmelodious. The navvies roar and the gardeners squeak. The gardener’s voice is meek and mild as of a gentle nature, trained to tend on fruits and flowers.

Then in ‘Sketches by Boz’ by Charles Dickens there is the description. ‘A jolly good tempered, hearty looking pair of togs, that excited our warmest regard; and we had got a fine, red faced, jovial fellow of a market gardener in them. There were his huge fat legs bulging over the togs and fitting them too tight to admit of his tucking in the loops he had pulled them on by; and his knee cords with an interval of stocking and his blue apron tucked up round his waist; and his red neckerchief and blue coat and a white hat stuck on the side of his head, and there he stood with a broad grin on his great red face. We had seen him coming up to Covent Garden in his green chaise cart with the fat tubby little horse, half a thousand times.

Mayhew suggests that there was a link between respectability and market gardening – a sign of good character and industrious habits.

Where did he live?

For most of his adult life he lived in 17 Essex Place. It is not possible to exactly pin point where this was but the marriage certificate of his daughter Ellen says that it was off the Old Bethnal Green Road. The map of 1864 Bethnal Green shows an Essex Street, so surely Essex Place was just off it. Additionally when James married for the second time in 1853 the ceremony was in St. James the Less church which is situated close to where Essex Place is thought to be. It does not necessarily mean, however, that St. James was his parish church since the priests of the 12 churches of Bethnal Green had a fairly active role in encouraging residents to marry in their church in order to make a bit of extra cash to supplement their very meagre stipends.

In the copies of Lloyds Weekly between 1866 and 1871 there are a number of advertisements offering items and services which indicate that Essex Place was a small shopping precinct and a respectable one at that. We have dried fish and milk for sale at number 4; a pony cart and harness for sale at number 6; wagons and carts for sale at number 11; an old established shop with a good trade in cake and bakings – the present people there for 3 years and now taking larger premises, living at number 13; a grinders business doing good trade with paying workshops at number 20; and reference to a fire at a beer shop – number 22.
In 1866 the shop at the corner is described as being in a populous neighbourhood. Clearly Essex Place was not in the sort of slum area we can easily find in other parts of Bethnal Green at this time.

So this was where James brought up his 9 children. Bethnal Green is where they were educated and all were literate save only one son, Charles, who signed his marriage certificate with his mark. The literacy rate for men in mid Victorian England was just over 50%.

I suggest that the children might have grown up in comparative working class affluence and from their later histories it is obvious that they had a clear sense of achievement and which they later displayed after moving away from Bethnal Green.

I imagine them taking advantage of the open spaces of Victoria Park. Even closer was the Regents Canal, which had been used for naked male bathing for some years, and which was banned in 1846. After that daily bathing was allowed in the lake in Victoria Park and Charles Paulson in his book on the Park says that in summer, and before 8 am, many thousands of men would be bathing – remember they didn’t have bathrooms at home.
In 1863 there was a successful petition for the allowing of cricket to be played on Saturdays and other days, but not on Sundays and it was from Victoria Park, in 1848, that the Chartists set out to deliver their petition to Parliament but where the torrential rain simply put so many off.

An increase in leisure time at the weekends meant that working class families could also go on picnic trips to popular places like Epping Forest or even a day’s excursion by rail to Margate or Ramsgate which left Victoria at 8 am and cost 5 shillings but without luggage.
In the 1871 James had moved to Providence Place. Perhaps he and his wife had fallen on hard times, after all he had sold his animal. Perhaps the railways had won and he had lost his lease and his livelihood or like other market gardeners he could not get sufficient produce into London faster and in great quantity. In 1862 market gardeners had been advised not to take out long leases because of the railways.

James had had a long life with a large family and love from two marriages. He died of pneumonia and heart failure on the 19th July 1876 aged 80.




Billy Graham – An Appreciation

Billy Graham

The sight of Billy Graham’s coffin lying in state in the Capitol, Washington DC and his subsequent state funeral made me feel that I wanted to write something about him.

I confess that I was a devoted ‘follower’, if that’s the right description, in the 1950s, and in those days I wouldn’t have heard a word said against him, as indeed, my parents would have ruefully confirmed.

Billy Graham began his climb to fame during a ‘crusade’, yes that was the word he used, in Los Angeles in 1947. Even in those early days he was an exceptional speaker and in the best tradition of those Christian evangelists, so beloved by Americans.

His message in Los Angeles was the typical one of most American evangelists notably that man was steeped in sin and could only attain forgiveness by taking Jesus into his heart. His authority for this was the Bible, the infallible word of God, and any sermon by Graham was always peppered with the phrase, ‘the Bible says’ – for us listeners there was no need for any other authority.

Graham occasionally strayed into areas of social concern, such as the power of the Unions. He said that heaven was blessed with no union dues and this conservative approach led to the newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hearst, to tell his reporters to ‘puff Graham’. From that point he was virtually front page news.

Graham’s meetings hardly changed in content over the years. They were invariably held in stadiums or other buildings which could accommodate thousands. Choirs of hundreds were recruited from churches in the area and their voices created a huge emotional effect which never failed to move the congregation.

Two other men served with Graham. One, Cliff Barrows, acted as the master of ceremonies and the second, George Beverley Shea, sang solos and sometimes acted as a soloist with the choir. Barrows was not averse to serenading with his trombone, but essentially he was there to keep the service going and, of course, to make the appeal for money to offset the costs of the Crusade. I have to say that this appeal was neither heavy in its content, and certainly did not contain the indecent amount of persuasion which later evangelists were notable for.

There were two climaxes to any of Graham’s meetings. The first, of course, was his sermon, usually at least 30 minutes long, and which was both persuasive and emotional in turns. He regularly used examples of people, going through valleys of despair who recognised their need for another way, and this other way, was of course, the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

The sermon always concluded with ‘the appeal’. The words were always the same – ‘I want you to get out of your seats’ and people wanting to accept Jesus were told to come to the front where they would be counselled concerning their decision. Billy always said ‘if you are in a coach party, they will wait for you’.

At this point the choir, quietly sang the hymn ‘Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and bidst me come to Thee. Oh Jesus Christ, I come’. And the people streamed forward in their hundreds, if not thousands. Anyone attending such meetings was left in no doubt that something highly significant was happening, here, and there was a belief that the whole world was in the process of being changed, because of Graham’s success.

Graham was now in demand to conduct crusades all over the USA and in February 1954 he took on the new challenge of his first foreign mission which took place in the Harringey arena, London. It lasted an incredible 3 months and by the end had made Graham into a national figure.

Britain in the 1950s was tailor made for Graham’s work. The country had hardly recovered from World War II and was still deprived of some basic necessities, but it was just a year after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and people seemed to be ready to face a new future with a sense of purpose. What better time than to infuse this optimism with renewed religious commitment., especially since church attendance had risen after the war. Consequently churches of most denominations happily associated themselves with Graham’s crusade and encouraged their people to attend. If attendance were not possible they organised sound relays of the services into churches, up and down the country.
The effect of the Harringay Crusade was extraordinary. Not only was the arena filled for every meeting but it became front page news too. The local underground station soon became used to the sound of hundreds of people standing on the platforms, waiting for the trains and singing hymns at the tops of their voices.

Additionally it became known that some celebrities had also begun to attend the meetings and this had the effect of puffing Graham further. At the additional crusades in Glasgow and at Wembley Stadium the following year it was clear that most of the churches, excepting the Roman Catholics, were coming to the conclusion that Billy Graham might have become God’s messenger to the United Kingdom and this led to Archbishops, politicians and others to join him on his platform. Even the Queen had been said to be influenced by Graham and had asked to meet him. However for some newspapers there were articles suggesting that his crusades were nothing more than a religious circus.

So it was that this 13 year old in April 1954 sat in the balcony of a church in Luton and was moved sufficiently by ‘the Appeal’ to get out of his seat and go to the front. With all the naivity of adolescence and being only too aware of the internal rages of puberty it seemed to be the only answer for me and so I joined up and committed myself to Jesus, lock, stock and barrel.

From that point there was no stopping me and there were very few people who were not told about my decision and what that was going to mean for my future. Billy Graham had become my guru and I wouldn’t hear a word said against him and there were no reasons why they shouldn’t make the same decision I had made. Perhaps even the whole world would at last become Christian.

From this point, Billy Graham travelled the world. He was as famous as the Pope and the President of the USA and his words were news. Millions and millions listened to him and many of them made the journey from their seats to the front to make their decision for Christ. Yet there was no real reason why this should have been so. He was not even a theological scholar, inspite of being known as Dr. Billy Graham, and his knowledge and understanding of the world were as limited as any other person born and raised in a farmhouse in North Carolina. Indeed there were many times when he made statements seemingly obvious for a dedicated young man in the USA but less obvious to the thinking man, elsewhere in the world, whose experience of life was markedly different. On a number of occasions he had to backtrack but I do not feel that he was the uninformed bigot some have made him out to be. If your maxim is ‘the Bible says’ then for him and for so many others there was never any doubt what your moral or religious standpoint would be but sadly, eventually for me and probably for many others too, life’s decisions were not so simple and that time of ‘coming forward’ was a too simplistic approach to what being a Christian was all about.

However Graham was not a hypocrite. There was a simplicity about him which stayed over the years and protected him from falling to the obscenities which other television evangelists fell victim to. There were no scandals about the use of money; no whiff of sexual irregularities; and he remained the husband to only one wife, and happily so.
Inspite of those naive statements about social issues, at other times he was ahead of his years. He insisted on preaching to racially unsegregated audiences and he could even have been found attending meetings of the World Council of Churches, which for most others Christians, especially in the southern states of the USA, were anathema. He happily met with popes and other spiritual leaders and behaved himself in an appropriately Christian way. It is true that his statements on LGBT issues were condemnatory and did much harm to the gay community and he was just plain wrong to do so, but I believe that given time he might have listened and perhaps even understood things better. He seemed to be like that.

Billy Graham was a child of the farmhouse and to his surprise he found himself one of the world’s most famous men and to be honest he revelled in it. If there is anything which diminishes him it is the fact that he was taken in by the unmerited greatness of his stature and by the fawning of others. Every crusade was hyped as being bigger and better than they previous one. The huge numbers of people listening to him were regularly touted and the numbers coming forward proclaimed. He rejoiced in the fact that more people had heard his message than any other preacher in history. And he genuinely liked the fact that he had become the pastor and counsellor of most American presidents and he unwittingly played into their hands with his declarations about their devotion to the faith. It was unbelievable to him that Richard Nixon could have told so many lies, especially when they had prayed together and so could only respond, when confronted with the truth, that Nixon must have been controlled by the devil at that time.

Nixon was Graham’s calvary and there was a messianic sense in which he felt he was following his Saviour. He was occasionally struck down by mysterious illnesses which made him feel that he might also be a man of sorrows acquainted with diseases. In the end he was struck down by the cruellest of conditions but he survived to live a very long life. His son Franklin is following in his footsteps but does not have the charity or charisma of his father. He is rabidly homophobic and has allied himself to Donald Trump to the extent that he seems to be oblivious to the man’s many faults. Like his father, with Nixon, Franklin has declared Trump to be the man sent by God for the good of his country. Sadly, the result may be like father, like son.



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