SYDNEY BLACK BIOGRAPHY - CHAPTER 4

SYDNEY BLACK

CHAPTER 4

THE CALL OF LONDON

ON the western edge of London, partly girdled by the river, lies a vast area of small houses, inhabited by many thousands of persons, most of whom are but one degree removed from the poverty line. So long as trade is good and business brisk, they can manage, with some degree of cheerfulness, to maintain themselves and their families, but should a fortnight's illness overtake them, or should there be a falling off in the trade in which they find employment, then for a time it is the end of all things; and, except for the wonderful charity which exists between the poor, many would find their refuge, most hated and most feared, in the Workhouse.

In Fulham, there are miles of streets peopled for the most part by honest, hardworking toilers in the great City; people whose lives have little of brightness, whose work and hours of labour effectually prevent any possibility of mental or social improvement; whose days are spent in one long struggle to make ends meet, and whose nights are troubled by fears of what the morrow may bring. The streets in the summer days are close and squalid. In the winter the greasy footpath and the fog-laden atmosphere cause the most cheerfully inclined to shiver under the gloom, and to marvel at the patience or the stolidity of the inhabitants. The only signs of brightness are at the street corners, where the brilliantly lighted gin palaces captivate the imagination and arouse the appetite of the weary and nerve-worn, whose powers of resistance, already enfeebled by the conditions of their daily toil and the squalor of their home life succumb all too quickly to the warmth and odours which assail them through the ever-swinging doors. It is a district in which there is no rest, no quiet, and no privacy. All day long the neighbourhood is hideous with the raucous cries of the costers or the shrill shouting of the myriad children whose playground is the street. Space is too valuable in the place they call home. Rents are high and the lodger, who nearly pays the rent, must have the only room where the children might have played. There is a steamy atmosphere of constant washing in nearly every street, and the tickets in the windows speak of the tragedy of widows whose only means of livelihood is to be charwoman or sempstress; or, more pathetic still, there is the notice of "music lessons given," which speaks of a descent from a higher social plane into this region of dreadful night.

For the most part religion occupies little, of any, place in the thoughts of the dwellers in this region. It is not that they are hostile as that they are totally indifferent. There probably is a God, but He is too much concerned with the affairs of the well-to-do and the comfortable to be mindful of them. The labourer in his pitiable home, or the struggling clerk so wrought upon to maintain the appearance of respectability upon the wages of the carter, are both too tired, too depressed or too indifferent to care for religion, or to respond to the appeals of the parochial visitor or the tract distributor. Sunday, for many of the fathers, means half the day in bed, a dinner, and the evening spent in the public house. The children may be sent to Sunday School, but it is so that father may sleep undisturbed or mother may not be hindered in her culinary operations. In some cases there will still linger in the mind of the mother memories of her girlhood's days, where in her country home she had been taught to "remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy;" and it is from women with such recollections, in whose soul the spark of desire for the better life is not quite stamped out by the iron heel of their bitter surroundings, that the audiences which are to be found in the Chapels and Mission Halls in this district are largely drawn.

Let it not be thought that Fulham is one of the worst of the poor suburbs of London, far from it. It has an able Council and its affairs are conducted with prudence and care, but it is a district in which poverty and distress abound, and where modern improvements in sanitation and sewage do not avail against the tremendous pressure of economic forces.

It was this district, so typical of the London that is unknown to the casual visitor, which was selected by Sydney Black as the centre for his Evangelistic enterprise. London claimed him; it was his birthplace; he had seen the Light of Life there; his halting first appeal to men to come to Christ had been made in Chelsea; his parents lived there; everything called to him to dedicate his energy and his enthusiasm to the greatest problem which confronts the Churches of this country, the salvation of London. Mr. Black knew and appreciated the virtues of its people, their quick-wittedness, their kindness, their response to loving, disinterested service. Their very superficiality had its charm for him. Nor did his love for them go without return, for in Fulham, where for ten years be laboured so arduously and so well, he was everywhere beloved, especially by the poor and by the children of the streets. He had started on his tour of the world with a vision of a London to be made a City of the Heavenly King; he came back to find it still in darkness, and apparently as unresponsive to the Christian appeal as ever.

Nothing daunted by the difficulties which confronted him, by the apparent impossibility of permanently influencing the vast city, Mr. Black's faith in God and in the power of the Cross was so firm that he never once stayed to ask if it could be done. If he could not achieve all he desired, he could do something for the One who had saved him, he could help a few in the great city. His plans were always ambitious, but he would not refuse to do the lesser work if the greater were denied him. A favourite sentence of his was William Carey's "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God," and it was in this spirit that he set to work to establish the Mission in London, for which he had collected over £1,000 during his tour of the world. His decision to found the Mission in Fulham was taken after visits of enquiry to many other districts in London, and after consultation with his youngest brother, Mr. Robert Wilson Black, from whom he received the greatest assistance in the planning and carrying on of the work, and through whose ability and consecrated enthusiasm the Mission has been efficiently maintained since the death of its founder.

Whilst enquiry was being made in London as to the best locality for the projected Mission, Sydney Black was undertaking a tour amongst Churches of the homeland, preaching and lecturing in Liverpool, Swindon, Nottingham, Wigan, and Birmingham, to large and interested audiences. In April, 1893, he was in Glasgow, where for three weeks he carried on a series of highly successful meetings with audiences of upwards of 1,000 persons. In his conduct of Evangelistic work, Mr. Black was not content to be the preacher, he would be found at the street corners delivering handbills announcing his own meetings, or calling from house to house inviting the people to attend. For him there was nothing common nor mean in the service of God; he was one who was ever ready to say:-

"The hardest toil to undertake

With joy at Thy command,

The meanest office to receive

With meekness at Thy hand."

His services in Glasgow were much appreciated by the Churches, and his eager enthusiasm aroused a corresponding interest in his brethren. It was apparent to those who knew him that his ability as a preacher had become greater through the experience he had gained during his Colonial and American tour. Probably at this time his powers were at their zenith. London had not yet tried his sympathy and taxed his energy as it was to do in the years to follow.

Fulham Cross, which was to become the centre of Sydney Black's activities for the remaining ten years of his life, is a converging point of five roads in the West of London. It is a busy spot at all times, and only during the early hours of the morning is there any cessation of noise and traffic. At the corner of the Lillie Road, there had stood for thirteen years a large and imposing building, originally intended for a Gin Palace, but, owing to the licence being withheld, used as a Coffee House and known in the neighbourhood as the "Queen Anne." This building was offered to Mr. Black for the sum of £2,250, and, as it was eminently adapted by its position and accommodation for the purposes of the proposed Mission, it was promptly purchased by him. Of the sum required, £1,000 had already been given by the Australian and American brethren; his father, Mr. Robert Black, contributed a like amount, and the remainder was provided by interested friends. The one-time "Queen Anne" was re-named "Twynholm House" after the little Scottish village in which the father of Mr. Black was born. The premises were largely altered, the basement re-arranged to admit of its being used as a School Room and Soup Kitchen, and, on what had been originally designed for a brewer's yard, there was erected a handsome and commodious Assembly Hall, capable of seating 500 people. The main building provided Class Rooms, Club Rooms and a Coffee Bar. The whole place when finished proved to be very suitable for the work undertaken. While the building alterations were going on, a series of Evangelistic meetings were held in the Fulham Town Hall to prepare the way for the permanent work to be carried on soon after in Twynholm Hall. It was not, however, without controversy that the use of the Town Hall was obtained, for the Borough Council had hitherto declined to let the Hall for religious meetings on the Lord's Day; but, with that energy which always characterised him, Mr. Black pressed the matter so persistently that the Council gave way, and the meetings were held, greatly helped by the gratuitous advertisement which the discussion in the public press had given. The writer was privileged to take part in these meetings and can testify to the close and absorbed attention with which the crowded audiences listened to the burning eloquence of the preacher.

As a further means of attracting attention to the new Mission centre a little monthly paper known as Joyful Tidings was started. This little sheet has been issued ever since and is highly appreciated by the people in the neighbourhood. Five thousand copies were sent out every month without charge; and to many, its bright, helpful, inspiring pages have been a means of encouragement and grace. After the first year Sydney Black conducted the paper until his death, and its pages during those years as a faithful reflex of his temperament, his outlook, and his methods.

The new enterprise was not to be confined to preaching, though that was at all times of the first importance with Mr. Black; he believed that "Faith without works is dead" and that the Gospel of Divine Grace could be best commended to the poor and forlorn by loving ministrations to their necessities and distresses, hence the social side of Christianity appealed to him intensely. He could never say to the destitute, "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled," without at the same time giving them that which would provide the meal and kindle the fire. Often at the close of a busy day at "Twynholm" he would return home without a single coin in his pockets. With such compassion for human needs, little wonder that the Mission soon inaugurated a Food, Coal, and General Relief Fund; a Clothing Department; a Soup Kitchen and Food Supply. Rooms were provided in the building at nominal charges for the use of Workmen's Clubs, Benefit Societies, and such like organisations. Hospital tickets were obtained for free distribution among the poor, and the willing services of a generous physician secured to render medical aid in urgent cases.

Nor were the needs of the children forgotten by the warm-hearted Evangelist. Attracted one day by a little fellow in rags and in the last extremity of hunger and misery, Mr. Black formed the idea of a Home for Orphan and Fatherless Boys; and this pitiable object was destined to be its first occupant. The lad's story was typical of many others. The mother deserted by her husband had five children to provide for. To do this she had turned to laundry work, but found that the bare pittance she could make was insufficient to keep all the children, so the two eldest must look after themselves. This boy, who was one of the two, had had no dinner for three weeks, and his only bed for twelve nights had been the cold stones or the dark corner of some grim alley. To one of such warm compassion and benevolent impulsiveness as Sydney Black, this story was overwhelming, and he there and then decided to devote himself to looking after the children of the poor, and well and nobly did he do so. A few rooms at the top of "Twynholm House" were set aside for this work, but the number who needed help and home were so numerous that it was found necessary to take a house to be used solely for the accommodation of the boys. For the purpose a place was secured at 156, Lillie Road, a few hundred yards away from "Twynholm," and there for some years the Home was located until it proved to be too small. Later on, after the death of Mr. Black, larger and more commodious premises were acquired at 710, Fulham Road. The funds to purchase the property and furnish the rooms were given, as a memorial of the Founder, by his friends and by others who had known and valued his disinterested service amongst the poor and friendless, and especially on behalf of the children. In all, about £1,400 was expended on the new Home, and in it this splendid work is still carried on, under the devoted care of the present Matron, Mrs. Stickland. It is impossible to estimate the value of such a work as this. Time cannot measure it, eternity only will reveal it. Many lads have received training and education to fit them for their work in life; nearly all of those who have begun their career have remained steadfast to the teaching they received in the Home, and are a credit to their teachers; most of them have voluntarily confessed Christ and are still walking according to His commandments. Without pressure or undue persuasion these lads have come to recognise the Friend who alone can truly guide and help them, influenced chiefly by the spiritual atmosphere which only Christian love and sympathy can create.

The Home has been conducted throughout in a wise and enlightened manner. The boys are well cared for, as their appearance shows. There has been an utter absence of anything like the old Charity School spirit. They are not clad in any distinctive garb, but wear the clothes of the ordinary boy. Nothing has been done to remind them of their early distress. This is all due to the large-hearted ideals of the Founder, for to Sydney Black anything that would wound the spirit, proclaim relief, or stamp the distressed with the badge of his misfortune, was abhorrent. Perhaps of all the work begun by him none is so likely to be as permanently useful and blessed as this. He loved children. It was no uncommon thing to see him in the streets around Fulham Cross with an attendant train of some ten or twelve boys and girls, all claiming his attention, and all anxious to win his smile. For every one of them he had a kind word and an almost fatherly consideration, which endeared him to their hearts, and to the hearts of their parents. He could see great potentialities in the dirtiest urchin who ran the streets, and loved the lads both for what they were, and for what they might become.

This reference to Mr. Black's work amongst the boys cannot be better concluded than by the eloquent words of Dr. John Clifford, the hero of modern Nonconformity, uttered on the occasion of the opening of the new Home on 12th March, 1908. After referring to Mr. Black's work as Preacher and Reformer, Dr. Clifford said:-

"Surely it is a fitting thing that the memory of such a worker should be commemorated in this way. Certainly nothing could have been more congenial to his own spirit than the extension of this work on behalf of the fatherless boys. It is the work shared of God. He Himself permits us to think of Him as a Father of the fatherless. Jesus Christ has told us that it is not the will of our Father who is the Father of the fatherless, that one of these little ones should perish. In Heaven the angels do always behold the presence of their Father, but God sends angels down here to these little ones. He sent the sister of Moses to be a minister to the little babe, when the babe was lying in the ark of bulrushes. He sent Charles Haddon Spurgeon as an angel and a messenger for the protection of little children. He sent Dr. Barnardo, He sent Benjamin Waugh, the man of whose death we have heard today; and He sent Sydney Black; and I love to think of him as God's messenger. It is a work which is most precious to men, as well as dear to God. What does it do? It saves the wreckage of society. It saves the wastage of that most precious treasure the world has - child life. There is no asset the nation possesses which is so real and intrinsically valuable as its child population; and here is a hand stretched out to save those who would otherwise be lost.

"You know something about how much there is of destruction in the world, especially of child life. The destroyers are round about us, and are perpetually at work. The public-house and its destructive work abounds. It is easy to destroy the little lily-bud; but it takes a whole sun to bring that lily-bud to flower. Any one may trample out the life of a little child; but what skill and prayer, and love, are necessary to train the child. You mothers and fathers know that. We are not simply here to provide a shelter for these children, but we are supplying them with training and education. We are preventing them from drifting into the masses of the unemployed. Let Fulham take note of that. We are preventing them from becoming a burden on the rates. Let Fulham Guardians and Councillors take note of that. It is a work for the people of the City. It is a work that saves not simply the child, but saves also those who are working on behalf of social advance everywhere. But it is a more important work than that. This is a training home for Jesus Christ. These children will not simply be trained to use their hands and their brains, but their hearts and their wills - to have those wills set right for God and His Glorious Kingdom. And service of that kind is one of unspeakable value to the nation. We cannot tell what may be the product of this home - how many missionaries may come out of it, who will go the ends of the earth, and proclaim the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ - how many capable business men shall come out of it, who shall use their means for extending the principles of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a great work that is being undertaken here, and one which deserves our utmost sympathy, and our heartiest approbation and support.

"I like to think also that this building will be a witness to the people of Fulham of the necessity that there is that the children of the nation should be cared for by the nation; and that these children are our children - ours because they are Jesus Christ's. And therefore the people of Fulham have responsibilities with regard to the fathers and the mothers of the needy children that are scattered round about us. This building will be a perpetual reminder to them, saying to them, 'it is yours to take this child and nurse it for me.'

"Horace Mann, the great Educationalist of the United States, on one occasion undertook the opening of a large school in Massachusetts. A very costly building had been erected, and he said, in the course of his address, 'If only one child is saved through the putting up of this edifice, it is worth all the hundreds and thousands of dollars that have been spent on it.'

"Some one asked him if he did not exaggerate very much in making a statement of this kind, and he answered, 'Not if it were my child.' And I think that is precisely what every mother and father would say.

"Now we want to get into that attitude with regard to the fatherless ones suggested by that statement. Jesus Christ said 'Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these My little ones, yet did it unto Me.' Christ bids us see Himself in every fatherless boy, and seeing Him there, to express our devotion to Him, and our love to Him, by the richness of the gifts which we give to the children.

"I commend, therefore, to you, my dear friends, this good work, rejoicing in the fact that you are commemorating the service - earnest, sincere and wholehearted - of my friend Mr. Sydney Black, and rejoicing still more that you are perpetuating his influence, and increasing his serviceableness, in this great institution. May God abundantly bless his memory, and through it may He bless hundreds and thousands of boys in years to come, is my prayer."

Rescue work amongst women was also carried on for a time under the Superintendence of Miss Mary Hugill, to whom reference was made in an earlier chapter. The Home originally begun in Chelsea was given up, and new quarters were found at "Melbourne House," Grove Avenue, Walham Green; here a good work was done in a quiet unobtrusive way. It was, however, ultimately found desirable to disconnect this phase of social work from the Mission, and the control and management reverted to the capable care of Miss Hugill.

Early in June, 1893, the Fulham Cross Christian Mission took possession of the altered and renovated "Queen Anne." The building, standing as it does on the 'bus route from Walham Green to Hammersmith, is a prominent landmark, and it was destined to be the centre of much useful and God-honouring work in a neighbourhood greatly in need of self-sacrificing interest and sympathy. Here for the last ten years of his life Sydney Black found his energies, his hopefulness, his faith tested to the utmost. The needs and the sorrows of the people were so great, his resources in comparison so inadequate, that it would not have been surprising if at times he had given way to despondency; yet, he never despaired, but laboured in the strength of the Lord, glad that he was counted worthy to do something for his Master, and rejoicing with great joy in every victory won over sin, and in those who confessed the Christ.

The Church of Christ at Twynholm House met for the first time soon after the opening of the Mission centre. It consisted of forty members from the Church at College Street, Chelsea, who had been dismissed to form the new assembly, together with a number who had been first attracted by the meetings in the Fulham Town Hall, and who had afterwards been immersed and received into Fellowship. This little Church has grown until today it numbers upwards of 500 members, and is the largest body associated with the Churches of Christ in this country. Until the Assembly Hall was built the meetings were held in a large classroom on the ground floor of Twynholm House, but in a few weeks the accommodation was strained to the utmost.

Sunday School work was of course entered upon from the beginning, and in no long time the place was overrun with children from the neighbourhood. Under the friendly warm-hearted superintendence of Mr. Black the school soon settled down into order and grew until it reached an attendance of over 1,000 in number, and at that figure it still remains, simply because it has been found impossible to take in more.

Band of Hope work, Mothers' Meetings and Classes of various descriptions filled up every available week-night, and at most of these Sydney Black would be found enthusing and enlivening the proceedings, for he had the rare faculty of infecting every one with his own moral earnestness.

Occasional breaks in this daily routine of hard mental and spiritual labour were of course necessary, and at infrequent intervals Mr. Black would leave London to preach in the Provinces. He seems to have been unable to forget his work; everywhere and on all occasions when opportunity offered, he was ready either to preach or to tell the story of his Mission Work in London. He could for a few hours be a boy again, but at too rare intervals. Better for himself, far better for his work, had he been able to lay aside the load of responsibility; but he felt too intensely, was so completely dominated by his work, so thrilled by the "still, sad music of humanity" that he almost regretted the time given to any recreation; yet when he did play no one could more enjoy happy, harmless fun than he. At cricket he would surpass all others in the vigour of his play; in the tremendous swipes he would give to the ball, or the speed with which he would bowl. His laughter on such occasions was almost Homeric. He brought to everything he did the same enthusiasm and energy which marked his preaching. No half measures would satisfy him. His vitality at times was almost overwhelming, and friends in contact with him have been heard to say that he tired them, because he seemed to draw from them their energy and power. Late at night, when others would be ready to retire, worn with the day's duties, he would be most bright, ready to discuss any and every subject; to relate his day's experience, or to plan new schemes of work. On one occasion at midnight he complained to the writer with a humorous twinkle in his eyes, that he wondered why people wanted to go to bed so early, especially when he wished to discuss the Millennium!

In the months of August and September, 1893, the records show that Mr. Black was busily engaged in a tour of the Provinces, preaching the Gospel and enlisting the interest and sympathy of his brethren in the newly founded Mission. The Churches in Wrexham, Leeds, Wigan, South Wigston, and Nottingham were visited, and everywhere large meetings were addressed. In Nottingham Mr. Black was invited by the Committee of the United Gospel Mission to take the services in the Albert Hall on 10th September. The meetings were a great success, as many as 2500 persons were present at the evening gathering, and after an address on "The Strait Gate and the Narrow Way," thirty believing penitents confessed their Lord and were immersed into Christ. In October, after a Lord's Day in London, he was preaching in Lowestoft, Tunbridge Wells and Oswestry on successive Sundays. In November he was back again in London to settle down to a long spell of close, arduous toil amongst the suffering poor around his doors, through the bitter winter days.

The foregoing is an indication of the manner in which Mr. Black divided the years which remained to him. Nine months of ceaseless activity in the work of the Mission, varied with three months' preaching amongst the Churches.

On the 6th January, 1895, the Church of Christ at Twynholm House entered into possession of the large and commodious Hall which had been planned by Mr. Black, and in which he was to build up and sustain an ever-growing Church work during the next eight years. The opening celebrations aroused great interest in the district; the gatherings were so large as to necessitate overflow meetings. The new Hall was well adapted for the purposes of the Mission, and has proved to be a comfortable home for the Church, and a place of spiritual repair for many stricken and wearied souls. In the planning and re-arranging of the premises Mr. Black's attention to detail is strikingly seen, for every convenience necessary to the successful carrying on of Gospel work was provided. The alterations and new building cost £2,700, a large sum for the then existing membership of 100 people, most of whom were poor. The work could not have been undertaken except for the generosity and business acumen of Mr. Robert Black, and his youngest son, upon whom the responsibility chiefly rested.

With the opening of the Hall and the additional accommodation thus available, the work of the Fulham Cross Mission assumed its fullest activity. The following is the time-table for one week in the month of February, 1896, and it will serve as an example of what was done under the leadership of Sydney Black, and has been continued with slight alterations ever since:-


TWYNHOLM HOUSE AND HALL ARRANGEMENTS FOR FEBRUARY, 1896

LORD'S DAY

11.00 a.m. The Church of Christ assembles for Divine worship and the "Breaking of Bread."

2.45 p.m. Lord's Day School and Bible Classes.

3.00 p.m. Women's Bible Class.

5.00 p.m. Weekly tea and Christian Intercourse.

6.30 p.m. Preaching the Gospel.

6.30 p.m. Bible Class for Girls over twelve.

6.30 p.m. Bible Class for Youths under fifteen.

8.00 p.m. Evening "Breaking of Bread."

MONDAY

9.00 - 10.00 a.m. Twynholm House Nurse; Club Room No. 1.

2.00 - 4.00 p.m. Women's Meeting. (Tea and Clothing Sale once a month.)

7.00 p.m. Band of Hope.

7.00 - 10.00 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.

TUESDAY

8.15 a.m. Fulham Working Men's Free Breakfasts for Children.

9.00 - 10.00 a.m. Nurse in Club Room No. 1.

10.00 - 11.00 a.m. Relief Committee in Club Room No. 2.

12.00 - 1.45 p.m. Soup Kitchen.

7.00 - 10.00 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.

WEDNESDAY

8.15 a.m. Free Breakfasts for Children.

9.00 - 10.00 a.m. Nurse in Club Room No. 1.

12.00 - 1.45 p.m. Soup Kitchen.

7.00 - 10.00 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.

8.00 p.m. Gospel Service.

THURSDAY

8.15 a.m. Free Breakfasts for Children.

9.00 - 10.00 a.m. Nurse in Club Room No. 1.

12.00 - 1.45 p.m. Soup Kitchen.

7.00 p.m. Band of Hope Singing Class.

7.00 - 10.00 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.

FRIDAY

8.15 a.m. Free Breakfasts for Children.

9.00 - 10.00 a.m. Nurse in Club Room No. 1.

12.00 - 1.45 p.m. Soup Kitchen.

6.30 p.m. Girls' Sewing Class.

7.00 - 10.00 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.

8.00 p.m. Bible and Training Class.

SATURDAY

9.00 - 10.00 a.m. Nurse in Club Room No. 1.

7.00 - 10.00 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.

The nurse so often referred to was in daily attendance to receive intimations of sickness, to enrol members for the Maternity Club, and to help in many ways the poor wives and mothers of the district.

During the whole of each busy week, outlined in the time-table given above, Mr. Black would be in attendance at Twynholm House seeing a continuous stream of callers in his private room. What stories he had to listen to, what pitiable sorrows to comfort, what heartbreaking poverty to relieve! Only those who have lived or laboured in such a district as Fulham can adequately appreciate the claims upon the sympathy, the tact, the firmness of those who seek to serve the poor. In addition to interviewing applicants for help or advice, Mr. Black would be found calling on the sick, visiting the Workhouse to enquire for some distressed inmate, or the Police Courts to speak a word on behalf of some one in danger of prison; perhaps calling from house to house with invitations to the Gospel services, or speaking at a meeting, often at other places; for he was ready to respond to any call if, in doing so, he were allowed freedom of speech and was not compromising any truth he held.

It was in June of this year (1896) that the first indication was noticed that all was not physically well with Mr. Black. His throat, which had of late been a source of anxiety to him, now became so bad that he was compelled to give up public speaking for a period of three months. Little wonder, when one considers that during fourteen years he had delivered over 4,000 discourses with all the impassioned earnestness of his vehement oratory. He was often advised by his parents and friends, and he himself at times determined, to restrain his manner of speaking; yet when his subject seized him, prudence and advice were alike forgotten, and he was swept along in a tornado of eloquence, which never failed to arouse and arrest public attention. The price he paid was a heavy one, for there can be little doubt that the strain upon his constitution was so great as to sow the seeds of the weakness which was to close his work so sadly soon.

Sydney Black's interests were not confined to the work of the Mission, for with his conception of the Christian ideal as one in which the spiritual redemption of the people should be accompanied by their social betterment, it was inevitable that he should give much thought to the question of representation on public bodies. He found a spirit of compromise and toleration of evil dominating public life, and believing this to be inimical to the best interests of the people, he set about to secure that those whom he thought would be more faithful in advancing the welfare of their constituents should be nominated and elected on the various public bodies in the district. He shrank from compromise as from an evil thing. He could understand that a thing was black or white, but could not be got to recognise grey. There was no via media between right and wrong. To his downright nature, sham and hypocrisies were intolerable, and he never hesitated to say so, often at the loss of popularity and at the cost of much ill-will.

It came about quite naturally that those who agreed with Mr. Black considered him to be suitable to represent them, and he was often requested to allow himself to be nominated for public services. For several years he declined the honour, feeling that he should first securely establish the Mission, and regarding every work as secondary to the great charge committed to him of preaching the Gospel. His first connection with the public life of the district was when he became a member of the Fulham Free Church Council. On this body he remained until his death, rendering good service to the cause of Nonconformity. His abilities were appreciated even by those who differed from him, though he at times antagonised some of their cherished traditions.

One can imagine how little to the mind of some of his fellow members on the Council, would be a resolution Mr. Black moved and carried soon after he became a member, to the effect:-

"That at the sittings of the Council all distinctions between 'Ministers' and 'lay-men' be abandoned."

Equally characteristic of him was a resolution he succeeded in passing:-

"That this Council believing horse-racing as at present carried on to be a most prolific source of moral disease and terrible criminality, most earnestly entreats the Prince of Wales, and the Earl of Rosebery, to withdraw their influential patronage from this monster institution of betting and gambling in their very worse forms. It further instructs the Secretary to send a copy of this resolution to each of the above-named gentlemen."

So marked was the influence Mr. Black exerted upon the Council that it was impossible to find a seconder for a resolution of greeting to Bishop Creighton, who had then been appointed to the See of London. For this Mr. Black was attacked with violence by one of the local papers and charged with insulting the new appointed bishop. Nothing could be more untrue, for of all men Mr. Black was the least likely to insult another. His opposition and that of his fellow members of the Council was not to the scholar and the man, but to the official and representative of a Church whose avowed object they considered was to oppose and sweep away the religious faith and liberties of Nonconformity.

In the year 1899 Mr. Black was persuaded to stand for the Fulham Board of Guardians in opposition to the vicar of St. Albans, whom he defeated by 192 votes. The contest appears to have been sharp and exciting, but conducted with perfect good feeling, the relations between the two candidates being all that it should be between men who claimed the name of Christian, even though in their views they were as the poles asunder.

One of the first matters which engaged the attention of the new Guardian was the appointment of a salaried Nonconformist Instructor at the Fulham Workhouse, to which he objected on the ground that the law did not compel the Guardians to appoint a salaried one; and what was more important still, that no religion should be supported out of the rates. he also strongly dissented from an annual expenditure of £170 per annum on alcoholic liquors for the inmates because he held it had been scientifically proved that alcohol was unnecessary either in sickness or in health.

Not in many ways a Guardian to commend himself to those of his fellow members who believed in the principle of laisser faire, yet he won their secret admiration, even while they openly opposed him, for the transparent honesty of his intentions, his inflexible loyalty to principle, and his consistent life and character. The Chairman of the Guardians, in a letter after Mr. Black's death, wrote of him as follows:-

"On the Board of Guardians he was most active and useful and he very quickly picked up the complicated threads of Poor Law Administration. On the Relief Committee his knowledge of the people was most useful, and he had not been on the Board long before he brought proposals to remodel certain of the rules for the administration of relief. In the Board Room he was a keen debater, and while a very strenuous opponent, he never allowed his opposition to principles to interfere with his personal relationship to members of the Board. His retirement from the Board was a distinct loss to the Borough. My recollections of Mr. Sydney Black are in every way pleasant; as a man he was most genial and enthusiastic, and his enthusiasm was combined with emotion and strong religious convictions which gave him impulse and force of character."

Not content with the service he was able to render to the public weal as a Guardian, and feeling that he could be useful in another field, Mr. Black gave up his Poor Law work and consented, in the year 1900, to nomination as a Progressive Candidate for the London School Board for the Chelsea Division. His candidature was carried on with the same energy with which he did everything to which he put his hand, aided by the enthusiastic work of the zealous band of friends from "Twynholm." His chief battles cries were: "No religious tests for teachers," "No Creeds and Catechisms," and "Efficiency." The result of the contest was that Sydney Black was returned by a vote of 13,751, the second on the list of representatives selected. In a characteristic address after the poll, he declared that he was sent "to keep the grand old Bible in, and the presumptuous cleric out of, the schools of the people," and that he would "do all in his power to forward the interests of a National System of Education." His service on the School Accommodation and Attendance Committee, and on the Industrial and Truant Schools Committee, was much appreciated as well as the work he was able to do in the Sub-Committee dealing with Scripture knowledge. In this new work he soon found an opportunity to declare his principles, and secured a victory for Temperance by a resolution, which his colleagues approved, that the School Board should enter opposition against the creation of any new licences in the immediate neighbourhood of Schools.

His failing health made it necessary for him to lay down this work early in 1903, much to his own disappointment and to the regret of his fellow members. Not long before his retirement he vigorously denounced the Duke of Devonshire, the then head of the Education Board, for his Laodicean attitude on the question of betting and gambling, as shown in the evidence given before the Commission on Betting. The resolution which he moved, practically one of censure, was not carried, but it served to show the fearless and uncompromising nature of his hostility to everything he regarded as making for unrighteousness. His trumpet gave forth no uncertain sound. Of his work on the School Board his colleagues have born testimony that he was a man "of absolute honesty and devotion to the public service, of unswerving consistency in the pursuit of what he considered right." As a School Manager his work was much appreciated by the teachers, for reasons which will be best expressed by the following, from the pen of Mr. W.C. Pratt, Headmaster of the Boys' Department of the Lillie Road School, Fulham:-

"Mr. Sydney Black was undoubtedly a lover of children. He was never more happy than when he had a little crowd of them around him, and was by no means particular whether it were in the street, playground, or Mission Hall. The little ones were drawn to him by the power of his ever-radiant face, and were soon filled with glee and laughter by his mirth, cheery words, and ready wit. His supreme effort was to get the children under good, wholesome influence, and this meant to him a triumph for the future. Not infrequently did it happen that through the children he found a way to the parents, who, by his counsel and advice, would be brought to a better way of living - the home brightened and the character of life entirely changed. To pass from class to class in one or another of our local Board Schools was to him an unbounded delight. The teacher was greeted with a warm shake of the hand and the progress of the work very heartily entered into. The children loved him. To the teachers he was at all times a genuinely kind and sympathetic friend, and being practically acquainted with the many difficulties of teaching, his warm-hearted expressions of praise were highly appreciated, and came as an encouragement to a body of arduous workers, too infrequently thanked for their devotion to duty and care for the children."

During these busy crowded years at "Twynholm," Sydney Black still found time to visit the Churches of Christ at frequent intervals, in response to the many calls for his services as evangelist.

In 1896 he had been selected by the Co-operating Churches to become the Chairman of their next Annual Conference in Glasgow, so that in August, 1897, we find him occupying the highest position which it was in the power of his brethren to confer upon him. He proved to be most successful in the office, and the Conference was an unusually profitable one, helped by his ardent and genial direction. The address from the Chair was on the subject of "New Testament Churchmanship," and was intended as a reply to Dr. Charles Berry's address on "Congregational Churchmanship," delivered in the previous May. Mr. Black's reply dealt with the New Testament conception of Churchmanship as distinct from the "One Fold" idea of the Roman and Anglican Sacerdotalists, and of the "Many Folds" idea of the Protestant Evangelical Sects. He showed that the Divine intention was that of "One Flock and One Shepherd," and not of many flocks in the one fold. He urged the Churches of Christ to meet the error by:-

"Contending for an unqualified restoration of Primitive Christianity; by showing that all the Apostolic Churches rejoiced not in uniformity of details of working, but in uniformity of organisation and constitution; by pleading for the organic Christian union of all obedient believers in Jesus Christ upon the seven-planked platform constructed by the great Apostle to the Gentiles, under the direct superintendence of the Divine Spirit, and brought to view so clearly in Ephesians 4:4-6; and by demonstrating that the oneness for which our dear Lord so earnestly prayed instead of being realised by inter-denominational amenities and courtesies, can alone be effected by the extinction of all dividing barriers and schismatic hobbies, together with the rallying of all the disintegrated forces of Christendom in one glorious army under the blood-stained banner of the Cross."

In the same year (1897) we find him visiting the country Churches in Knapp Hill, Surrey; Leominster, and Green Hill Lane, Nottingham. A year later he found time to preach in Leicester and Wigan, in addition to undertaking the work and responsibility of arranging and preparing for the Annual Conference which was held in "Twynholm Hall." In 1899 he undertook quite an extensive tour of the Provinces, covering Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, the fishing towns of the Moray Firth, Dumfries, and Leicester.

The year 1900 was marked by the discontinuance of the old Church in College Street, Chelsea, owing to the falling in of the lease of the building, but more particularly to the fact that the larger work of the Mission had so seriously weakened the parent Church that a separate existence was inadvisable. Another element in the case was that the neighbourhood of Chelsea was rapidly changing in character; large and expensive flats for the habitation of the rich taking the place of the small, unpretentious dwellings of the poor. All these things brought about the amalgamation of the two Churches; the older cause was merged in the younger and more flourishing one, to the great advantage of both.

The passing years brought increasing claims upon Mr. Black's time and powers. Invitations reached him from every quarter, which he was not slow to accept; always, however, after he had arranged for the work at Twynholm. He was fortunate in having his brother Robert, to whom he could turn for help and relief. The devoted attachment of the younger brother to the elder was a beautiful thing, and but for it, Sydney Black could never have accomplished the work he did. Every public cause which had for its object the uplifting of the people: their deliverance from the power of drink, the betterment of their homes or the rescue of their children, received Mr. Black's immediate support. He was an ardent advocate of Housing Reform, and the National Prohibition of the Drink Traffic, and he would be found at all the meetings for such causes in the West of London. Every form of error, civic or ecclesiastic, he was ready to attack, and to offer the hospitality of Twynholm to many from whom he would differ widely on religious grounds, yet with whose general propaganda he was in agreement; for example, he twice invited the late Mr. John Kensit to address meetings at Fulham Cross in the interests of the Protestant Cause. He was a strong opponent of the Education Bill of 1902, and in Joyful Tidings he fulminated his objections with unmistakable emphasis, and declared it to be the duty of every Christian to offer passive resistance to the Act after it became law. The Disestablishment of the Church of England was another of the subjects he was greatly interested in, and many were the addresses he delivered in advocating it, and fearless were his attacks upon the principle of Establishment. On one occasion, speaking on this subject to a crowded audience, many of whom were Churchmen in a hostile mood, he referred to the fact of the State Church having both a Temporal and Spiritual head as a monstrosity, on the ground that no body can have two heads. This evoked a storm of opposition, and as the lecturer would persist in repeating the self-evident, logical, but unpalatable truth, the meeting broke up in disorder. Such a determined stand for what he believed to be truth was entirely characteristic of the man.

The ever-increasing strain began to tell upon his health, and many were the warnings of anxious friends, and of the still more anxious parents. Yet it seemed as if nothing could stay Mr. Black's eager and impetuous desire to be up and doing. It was a time full of throbbing interest to him, and how could he be idle? The plain truth is that he was overworking himself far beyond what nerve and body would bear, and indications were not wanting that nature would rebel. Would that he had heeded the warning in time!

The year 1902 was marked by an almost feverish haste and energy of work. In addition to the exacting daily care of the Mission at Fulham and his public duties on the School Board, he planned and carried out a preaching tour through the Provinces. Commencing at Egremont, Cheshire, he visited in due course the towns of Leicester, Devonport, Alfreton, Criccieth, Nottingham, Belfast and Londonderry. Everywhere he was received with delight and affection, for he was much beloved of his brethren. The Annual Conference of the Churches was held this year at Edinburgh, and it was obvious to those who knew him well that he was tired. It was pathetic to see how he seemed to be spurring himself to work. The discourse he delivered on the Wednesday evening Session of the Annual Meeting, was to be the last many of his brethren would hear. His friend, Mr. H.E. Tickle, who was present, afterwards wrote of the address:-

"How deep and strong he laid the foundations in that address for the authority of the risen Christ, few who heard it will forget; but those who may have forgotten the masterly marshalling of fact and argument in the earlier part of his discourse, cannot forget, we hope, the conclusion of that supreme effort. If ever a human instrument forgot self, it was surely Sydney Black during those few pregnant minutes. With the tongue as of one inspired, he poured out his soul in a tribute of praise and adoration to the Saviour whom he loved so well, and served so faithfully. Poetry, prayer and prose, mingled in grandest harmony to make a peroration the like of which is only listened to once in a life-time."

This address was Sydney Black's "Swan Song," for though he addressed a few meetings afterwards, they were chiefly small gatherings in North Wales and Ireland, where he had no opportunity for the full exercise of his splendid powers. As the days went by, he grew weaker. He would not admit that he was ill, but persisted in his work, until in the month of October, 1902, it was useless for him to struggle longer, and he was compelled to acknowledge that he was tired; too tired to preach, too weak even to find his way to the Church he loved so well and in whose service he had so willingly spent himself.

SYDNEY BLACK INDEX