A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
In September 1897, just as Br. Aelred was beginning to feel the demands on his time and the distractions of parish work were becoming a serious hindrance to monastic observance, he received an invitation from the Rev. J.E. Green, D.D., Vicar of Lower Guiting, in Gloucestershire, to occupy his empty vicarage-house, where an associate of the community, the Rev. Herbert Drake, usually known as “Br. Anselm, O.S.B.,” was acting as curate in charge of the parish. He had already renamed the vicarage “St Bernard’s Monastery.”
A few weeks later Br. Aelred and one of his companions went to Lower Guiting to discuss matters with the vicar, who only occasionally resided in his parish. Dr. Green must have been of an original, if not eccentric character, for in taking them round the village he aroused much curiosity among the natives by introducing the two monks as the Bishop of Jerusalem and the Pope of Rome! The Brothers were afterwards regaled with a meal of tinned salmon, new bread and butter, and extremely strong tea. The vicar sat up very late that night, entertaining his weary visitors at the piano with music of his own composition, when they themselves were longing to get to bed.
Br. Aelred returned to London fully aware that Lower Guiting vicarage was not exactly the ideal home for his community, and before coming to any decision, discussed the situation with Mr. Cowan, with whom he had been so closely associated for nearly two years. He too felt that the time had now come when it would be better for the Brothers to retire to the country, and in the end it was decided to accept Dr. Green’s offer…
“after the profession the two of us returned to the Isle of Dogs,” writes the other member of the community, “and during the evening a farewell reception was held at the Priory. I do not remember much about the farewell party, except that it was extremely lugubrious. The house was bare to begin with, as the few scanty and valueless articles of monastic property had been sent on ahead to Lower Guiting, and in these unfurnished and uncomfortable halls was gathered a crowd of boys and lads who cheered our immediate departure with their tears and lamentations… But the reception came to an end in due time, the boys said their last tearful farewells, promised never to forget us, and I believe we slept the night on the bare boards which was a mere trifle in the general mournfulness chill damp day, and the streets were wrapped in the mists of a river fog. A few of the mothers were at their doors as we passed by, wishing us good-bye with tears in their eyes…”
“It was a complete severance of old ties, and a plunge forward more or less in the dark to a new life, of which we knew very little, and which held the whole future for us. At the Isle of Dogs it had been possible to form some principles, and now the time had come for putting these principles into practice.”…
The journey took several hours, for Lower Guiting lay off the main line. Late in the afternoon the little wayside station of Notgrove, between Kingham Junction and Cheltenham, was reached, and then came a three-mile walk to the village, across the snow-covered Cotswolds. St. Benedict seemed determined to test the endurance of the Brothers. They found the vicarage locked up, and no provision had been made for their arrival on the cold February evening. After some difficulty one of them managed to get in through a lower window, and opened the door.
“What a change from London and its life and movement,” one of the Brothers wrote in later years. “Here there was dead silence, and the earth was wrapped in its white mantle of winter. The trees stood out gaunt and bare, and a solitary rook here and there broke the stillness with a dismal caw. It was like coming into realm of death, and first impressions were anything but cheerful.” (Pax, IV, No. 31, p. 574.)…
Lower Guiting (or Guiting Power to give it the official name) is one of those many old Gloucestershire villages of warm grey stone which nestle among the Cotswolds. It lies in a secluded position in the valley of the Windrush, a tributary of the Thames. It is about midway between Cheltenham and Stow-on-the-Wold, and a mile or two from any main road. Forty years ago it was much more remote than to-day, and its inhabitants lived ina little world of their own. But even in 1938 it has not changed very much, and gives one the impression that it must have fallen asleep two or three centuries ago, and has never woken up again. In 1898 the inhabitants had decreased to three hundred and seventy from the six hundred and thirty which was the population about 1870. When the Brothers arrived here they found that at least half the houses were uninhabited. To add to the strange and depressing character of the village, a large number of people suffered from epilepsy.
The vicar, the Rev. J.E. Green, D.D., had been non-resident for many years; services in the church being held from time to time by visiting clergy. The sequestration of the living for a debt owing to the peculiarly named charitable fund, Queen Anne’s Bounty, allowed the churchwardens to nominate these temporary “curates in charge,” with disastrous results. Both religion and morality were conspicuous by their absence in this village, wherein Fr. Aelred (He assumed the title “Father” after his Solemn Profession.) and his companion proposed to lead the contemplative life.
Not only did they find the vicarage locked on their arrival that snowy evening; but the church itself was in a half ruinous condition, the chancel being boarded off from the nave and transepts. (It was rebuilt in 1903 and the interior to-day is in a very different state to what it was when the two Anglican Benedictines worshipped there in 1898.)
Apart from a few rooms reserved for the vicar when he came to Lower Guiting, the large house, situated some distance from the church, was entirely at the disposal of the two Brothers and the curate-in-charge of the parish. They adapted a loft above the stables as their chapel. Either here (after permission had been obtained from the Bishop) or in the Parish Church Fr. Anselm used to say Mass every morning. But he had also to serve a Chapel of Ease about four miles away.
The same Brother whose reminiscences of the Isle of Dogs have already been quoted has left us a vivid picture of the daily life which he and his companions lived at Lower Guiting. “On Wednesady, February 23rd, 1898, the regular observance of Rule began. Matins and Lauds were said at 2 a.m.; Prime was at 6, followed by a slight pittance. The morning was given to various kinds of work, and when this was done there was a little time for reading. Sext was at midday, followed by dinner and the ‘meridian’ rest. At 2 None was said, after which came work for the afternoon until Vespers, the Prayer Time, Supper, and a short recreation; Compline and retirement for the night. It was a very quiet uneventful life, with no converse with the outside world; there was plenty of work to do in the house and garden, and a consuming interest and real love for the life that was being led. Hard it certainly was, but the Brothers were young and keen, and undoubtedly happy.” (Pax, IV, No. 32, p.668.)
The community numbered four during the first few months, but as has already been stated, one of them – Br. Alban – went off to prison during the spring of 1898, and the other man returned to secular life.
On Sundays the Brothers attended an early celebration of the Holy Eucharist at the parish church, assisted at the midday service, but did not often go to Evensong. There was sufficient room in the tiny chapel for a few seculars. Its windows at the back overlooked the village green. Sometimes a handful of the more inquisitive inhabitants would venture into the stable-yard, through the big double gates, and up the outside staircase. They followed the recitation of Vespers with interest and curiosity, also the devotions before the Reserved Sacrament which followed. From time to time one of the Cowley Fathers came over from Oxford to hear the confessions of the Brothers.
Relations between the community and the villagers were quite friendly during the first few months. Most of the latter were Nonconformists, and never set foot in the parish church, preferring the grim-looking, stone-built Dissenting chapel at the north end of the village. But there was one woman who soon began to make herself troublesome. She lived in a cottage near the stables, and whenever she heard the bell ringing at the Brothers’ chapel, “was in the habit of walking up and down the little garden, and whilst she rang a small handbell, spoke aloud her wishes that many unpleasant things might happen to the monks. One day, while engaged in this exercise before her door, the unfortunate woman had a sudden seizure of some sort, probably epileptic. She was picked up and carried indoors, and was found to be unable to speak. This poor woman was the only person who showed any decided hostility.” (Pax, IV, No. 32, p. 669.)
Nevertheless the community managed to live its own life and, on June 27th, Fr. Aelred writes that: “The Bishop has at last given permission for us to have Mass in our own Chapel, so yesterday for the first time we sang our Benedictine Mass, with Fr. Anselm as celebrant. I am steadily reading St. Bernard’s big book of sermons on the Song of songs; they are very beautiful and most helpful. The Brothers are working hard at the Psalter in English. We learn two or three psalms and then sing them together. Parish affairs are still in a most unsettled state.”
Fr. Aelred also mentions that he had “decided not to go to Llanthony” (an earlier letter having informed his correspondent that he was going to accompany the vicar on a visit to Fr. Ignatius’ monastery). “My visit would be merely a matter of curiosity, and as no definite purpose would be served I do not think I am justified in leaving our house.” It was not until some years later that he paid his first visit to Llanthony, but there appears to have been an occasional interchange of letters between the two founders about this time. In one of them Fr. Aelred mentions that he has had a “most kind letter” from Fr. Ignatius. “He signs himself ‘from your most affectionate elder brother Ignatius.’ He is a dear old man. I wish he were not so heretical in his opinions.” It is quite certain that if Fr. Aelred had decided to join forces with his “elder brother” the two of them would have never managed to agree on the principles of Benedictine life, for no two men were more unlike in character and ideals.
But other troubles were in store for the community. There were difficulties between the Archdeacon of Cirencester and the vicar; the former protesting that the latter had called a vestry meeting in his own name to elect new churchwardens. Soon afterwards the Bishop of Gloucester refused to licence the curate, or to give official recognition to the community. Finally the living was again sequestrated, and an official notice affixed to the church door, to the surprise and amazement of the villagers.
All this trouble had been stirred up by Br. Alban, who had carried on a secret correspondence with the Church Association and other Protestant organisations from the time he became a member of the community on the Isle of Dogs. He was well paid for his labours – until his arrest and imprisonment.
The local papers gave prominence to the “Scandals” at Lower Guiting (See Cheltenham Free Press, June 4th, 1898; Cheltenham Chronicle, July 8th, 1898.), which led to the village being visited by a band of itinerant preachers.
One of these would-be followers of Wycliffe arrived in a caravan on the same day as the letter just quoted was written; the van itself being dedicated to the memory of Bishop Hooper, the apostate Cistercian monk of Cleeve Abbey, who afterwards became Bishop of Gloucester. It belonged to the Church Association and National Protestant League, and its objects and aims were expressed in large letters on the outside, “The Maintenance of the Protestant Character of the Church of England.” This was rather unfortunate, since Fr. Anselm and the Brothers had been doing their best for the past four months to prove by word and example that the Church of England was Catholic!
The Protestant evangelist spent a week at Lower Guiting, conducting a vigorous campaign against “Romanism,” and especially the “evils of the Confessional.” On Sunday he behaved in a disorderly manner at the Communion service, afterwards protesting that “few Churchmen would ever dream to see such a sight in the Reformed Church of England.”
The natives were roused by his preaching to such an extent that one night they attacked the vicarage, smashed the windows, and broke open the front door. It was a wonder that the curate and the two brothers escaped alive. One of the many epileptic villagers who lived next the chapel died of fright that night as a result of the rioting.
The Protestant agitators then went on their way, but they had managed to arouse a feeling of bitter antagonism against the monks. For the next four weeks Lower Guiting, hitherto a quiet and peaceful spot, was visited again and again by young men from the neighbouring villages who harangued the natives on the green before adjourning for a prayer meeting at the local Dissenting chapel. The situation became intolerable for the Brothers, not only because of the attitude of the misguided villagers, but also because of the action of the Bishop and ecclesiastical authorities. The antagonism arose in the first instance from the detestation of the villagers for the vicar, Dr. Green.
It became clear that it was impossible for the community to follow its religious life in such an atmosphere of bigotry and strife. On Friday, July 25th, 1898, they bade farewell to the Cotswolds, after a brief stay of barely six months. The monks were “drummed” out of the village by a crowd of men and women beating tin pots and pans. Hearing of their distress, the Abbess of Malling offered the Brothers a temporary refuge until they could find a new monastery in which they could live under the Rule to which they had dedicated themselves.
When Archbishop Temple was informed that this venture had come to a sudden end, he remarked to a friend: “It was not their fault,” a sufficient proof that he fully realised the difficult position in which the two Brothers had been placed.
There is an old exercise-book which has been preserved, the contents of which reveal, even more than the personal reminiscences of those who actually took part in it, just how hard must have been the life of the Brothers at Lower Guiting. Herein are noted down the receipts and expenses of the “Community.” The former were barely enough to meet its frugal needs, and it was certainly a hand to mouth existence, which would have been impossible if Fr. Aelred had not received a very small quarterly allowance from his mother, who followed his steps with affectionate interest and sympathy. In May 1898 the Brothers apparently managed to live on £1 5s. 9d., maybe they had been too extravagant in April when their total expenses came to £8 12., but this includes several overdue grocers’ and other bills, and a mouse-trap which cost 3s. 6d.! However, as the receipts for May only came to £1 4s. 4d., and those for April to £7 9s. 8½ d., it can be seen that nobody could very well accuse them of not observing Holy Poverty!
To turn from romance to reality: it is certain that my friend’s paternal ancestors came from Pudsey in Yorkshire, and that his grandfather, Benjamin Fearnley Carlyle, resigned the united livings of Bedgeworth (sic) and Shurdington, near Gloucester, in 1849. One of his sons, James Fearnley Carlyle, who was born in 1848, and educated at Cheltenham College, failed to get into the Army because he was an inch too short for Sandhurst standards. So he became a civil engineer, and married Anna Maria Champion, who belonged to a Devonshire family…
Ben never had a real home as a child. From Sheffield he was taken to Truro, thence to Swindon and Cardiff. The choice of the last three towns is accounted for by the fact that his father had entered the service of the Great Western Railway. Very often the boy was sent to stay with his Carlyle grandparents at Cheltenham…
By the age of fifteen Ben’s interest in the externals of religion had revived… It was on August 30th, 1889, that he was curious enough to venture into S. Gregory’s Catholic Church at Cheltenham, when staying there with his grandmother. He assisted at his first Catholic Mass, and even took the trouble to find out that it was the feast of S. Rose of Lima. It must have been here that he was first confronted by monks, because the church was and still is served by Benedictines of the English congregation…
(5) Thanks to a collection of letters, mainly written by Br. Aelred, lent me by Dom Anselm Hughes of Nashdom Abbey, it has been possible to check the sequence of events between September 1897 and the autumn of 1899. This correspondence has enabled me to correct several details and dates in the history of the community which were given in The Benedictines of Caldey, 1940.
‘By the end of the summer of 1897, Carlyle seems to have been convinced that his ‘Order of S. Benedict’ was called to devote itself to what he described as ‘rescue work’ among boys.’ (5) Early in September that same year he received an invitation from the Rev. John E. Green, Mus. Doc., Vicar of Guiting Power with Farmcote, Gloucestershire, to take over the empty vicarage of the former parish as a centre for this specialized type of apostolate. He replied that this letter was the answer to prayers made for two years, and he explained that he was sure that the monastic system was ‘the obvious solution for many social problems.’ On September 14, Dr. Green came to the Priory to discuss matters, and a week later Br. Aelred and Br. Maurus travelled to Gloucestershire, where they had further talks with the non-resident incumbent. They soon realized that this Doctor of Music was an eccentric character in more ways than one. He introduced the two black-robed monks to some of the villagers as ‘The Pope of Rome’ and ‘The Bishop of Jerusalem.’ A chaplain had to be found, and Dr. Green recommended the Rev. Herbert Drake, who for the past year had been chaplain to the Sisters of S. Margaret (East Grinstead) at their Home for the Dying on Clapham Common. If this Catholic-minded priest could be persuaded to take over the spiritual direction of the monastic rescue home for the boys, he would also be able to look after the much neglected parish. Religion and morality were conspicuous by their absence in this remote village in the Cotswolds, partly because of the sequestration of the living for a debt owing to the fund known as ‘Queen Anne’s Bounty.’ Dr. Green revealed that he would be unable to pay a stipend, so Br. Aelred agreed that the curate would live at the expense of the community.
On his return to London Br. Aelred wrote to Dr. Green, asking him to have refectory tables and an enclosure ‘grille’ made by the local carpenter; hoping that he would not consider these articles of furniture as ‘too extravagant.’ He added that October 11 had been fixed as the date for sending two or three Brethren to Gloucestershire; regretting that he himself would not be able to accompany them owing to ‘some rather difficult work in connection with the Boys’ Club.’ He explained that there was no one to whom he could hand over the Church Lads’ Brigade at present, and that the Vicar strongly objected to a stranger taking charge of it.
Meanwhile Dr. Green had written to Mr. Drake, as follows: ‘Brothers Aelred and Maurus have decided to start a community at Lower Guiting, and they would very much like to have you with them, and it would be a great benefit for my parishes for you to reside there. Allow me therefore to ask whether you could go there on the following terms: (1) that I make myself responsible to pay £35 per annum to the gradual paying off of the debt you named to me; (2) that you agree to be licensed to me as vicar that amount £35 being stated on your licence; (3) that you live at Lower Guiting Priory at the charge of the Order; (4) that when required you would take Sunday duty in other churches for your travelling expenses and hospitality. A copy of this letter is being sent to Br. Aelred for his approval asking him to advise you (if possible by wire) thereon.’ Apparently Mr. Drake accepted the proposals as stated, for shortly afterwards Br. Aelred informed Dr. Green that everything had been settled for his coming to Guiting.
There was one of his community, a most promising young postulant, who showed every sign of being ‘a competent Brother to leave in charge’ of the new foundation. His Superior wrote: ‘I am very satisfied with Br. Alban and we can thoroughly trust him. He goes into the noviciate on Sunday, October 10, and will come to Guiting prepared to work hard and keep as much Rule as is possible under the circumstances.’ Br. Aelred assured Dr. Green that everything was going splendidly. Several clergymen had ‘practically signified their intention’ of joining the Order of S. Benedict. Mr. Cowan was enthusiastic about the daughter house to be established in the Cotswolds, and had promised to write to the Archbishop of Canterbury for his Grace’s sanction of the Order, also to arrange for the Founder’s long overdue profession.
Before entering the noviciate, Br. Alban who, according to the reminiscences of one of his companions, had been a special favourite of the superior and allowed far more liberty than is generally given to postulants in a religious community, went off to Brighton. He explained that his mother had her home at Rottingdean. It was not until some time later that his brethren found out that she lived near Birmingham! Armed with an introduction from an invalid clergyman, the Rev. Charles A. Douglas, the wandering monk, wearing his Benedictine habit, called on Canon Cecil Deedes. The Canon was a well-known authority on medieval brasses and the owner of a large and valuable library. He must have been attracted by this good looking and obviously intelligent young man, for he invited him to be his guest. After his departure three days later, it was discovered that several pages had been cut out of a rare book, and that a dozen or more volumes were missing from the shelves.
Within a day or two of Br. Alban’s return to the Isle of Dogs, the railway van delivered a large Gladstone bag at the Priory. When it was unpacked the future novice told his brethren that Canon Deedes had presented the books to the community. What he did not think it worthwhile to mention was that he had sold several other books to a shop in Bloomsbury for £6 6s. Having such implicit trust in Br. Alban, it never occurred to Br. Aelred to doubt his veracity. It is possible that the latter was much occupied with more important matters. He had been busy ordering furniture, bedding, and household utensils for his new foundation. Large stocks of groceries had been bought at the Army and Navy Stores. Notepaper had not been forgotten, with S. Bernard’s Monastery, Lower Guiting, Cheltenham, printed in Gothic script; also the proviso: ‘All letters , whether private or on business, should enclose a stamp for reply – as an act of charity.’
So it was that the monastic rescue home for boys was inaugurated, with Dr. Green as its ‘Father Procurator,’ and Mr. Drake – now styled ‘Fr. Anselm, O.S.B.’ – as the resident Superior and Spiritual Director. Neither of these two clergymen appear to have had any knowledge of the monastic life. They had been put in charge of the community with the status of oblates.
After reading the many letters written by Br. Aelred to Dr. Green, dealing with complaints about the running of this most unconventional monastery, one wonders how it managed to carry on for even three months. It is not difficult to understand that Br. Alban – who took the name of Br. Oswald on becoming a novice – resented being put under obedience to a young clergyman who had no knowledge of the monastic life, having been told that he himself was the obvious person to take charge of the new foundation. Br. Oswald was no fool, and he soon realized that his noviciate was little better than a farce. Growing bored with life, he found an excuse to go off to Birmingham, and borrowed money for the journey. It seems that he had already written to Canon Deedes that their mutual friend, Mr. Douglas, whose death had occurred suddenly, had made him a present of the missing books; thus virtually accusing the defunct clergyman of having stolen them.
Throughout the last weeks of October and throughout November 1897, Br. Aelred’s letters to Dr. Green were devoted mainly to advice on how he and Fr. Anselm should deal with the brethren. Matters reached a crisis, so Br. Aelred asked Dr. Green to pin up the following notice in the common room. ‘Owing to pressure of work and general irregularity, I wish each man to be a law unto himself, keeping his own Rule and being responsible to me alone for it. Offices to be said together at stated times, and everything else done according to time-table, as nearly as possible under such difficult circumstances. Each man will tell me himself how Rule has been kept, as far as concerns himself only. I trust that every one will do his best in obedience to it.’ He had no choice but to make several journeys to Gloucestershire to restore peace and order among the community. Usually he had to borrow money for his railway fare. He seems to have been in financial straits all round. For instance, he needed 21s. to buy a habit ‘of the best serge’ for a boy oblate named Sylvan, but explained that ‘it would wear for at least two years.’ Other matters had to be decided, including details of ritual and ceremonial. Fr. Anselm was urged not to start burning incense in the parish church, lest it should give needless alarm to the ignorant congregation. Br. Aelred regretted that he could not buy a thurible, or lend the one being used at the Priory on the Isle of Dogs. He wrote to Dr. Green: ‘Please let Br. Oswald come to London tomorrow…. I fail to see why he should wish to delay; he is not coming to be judged, but merely to have a quiet talk with me. He shall return to Guiting doubtless before the end of the week so that the secular world will not be exercised in its mind. There is no need at all for you to come with him; the matters I wish to discuss occurred before you knew us. I think he is needlessly frightening himself and making things much more uncomfortable by his delay.’ During the absence of this unruly novice, two of his companions, acting on instructions, searched his ‘cell,’ where they discovered, not only books belonging to Canon Deedes, but also a letter from the Church Association, offering him the sum of 25s for a report of the transactions of the Society of the Holy Cross, a private society of Anglo-Catholic priests. This document proved that Br. Oswald was more than a book-thief, and that it was through his agency that a list of the Society’s members had been published in the militantly Protestant newspaper, the Church Intelligencer.
Judging from the tone of the letters, it looks as if Br. Aelred still believed that his favourite novice was innocent, or that he had been merely led astray, for he wrote to Dr. Green: ‘I am not telling Br. Oswald much, as I deem it bad for him to dwell too much on the affairs which might make further living together in the noviciate impossible, or at all events very difficult.’ For the sake of peace Br. Oswald remained on the Isle of Dogs…
Three days later Br. Aelred wrote to Dr. Green setting forth more clearly what were the objects of his community, defined as ‘the observance of the strict Religious Life and to train men for rescue work.’ He added: ‘In coming to Guiting the dearest wish of my life is realized – more than realized, for I never thought god would send two priests who would so nobly throw in their lot with ours. I look around, and I see openings which never entered my thoughts in my most golden dreams. We must not have the nut without the kernal or the flower without the fruit, and we must water and tend our seedling, and pray and watch and wait.’…
Mr Justice Grantham sentenced the twenty-two year old ex-Br. Oswald to three years’ penal servitude…
(Meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury on February 11, 1898, at Lambeth Palace followed by his letter of February 14 – ‘My dear Sir, You have my permission to ask Mr. Richards, the chaplain of West Malling Abbey, to receive your profession, and he has hereby my sanction for receiving it. Yours faithfully. F. Cantaur.’
… by the end of February 1898 Aelred Carlyle and his Anglican Order of S. Benedict had obtained the wildest possible publicity; quite out of proportion to what they really deserved. The man in the street glancing through his favourite newspaper, might have formed the impression that the Established Church was in grave danger of being menaced by a large and powerful body of black-robed Benedictine monks who were little better than ‘Jesuits in disguise.’
‘On Saturday, February 19, 1898, the Brothers, with a few friends, went to Malling Abbey, and the next day Br. Aelred made his Profession at the hands of the Nuns’ Chaplain in the Church of the Abbey, in the presence of the Lady Abbess and her nuns…’
That same Sunday afternoon most of the party returned to the Isle of Dogs, where in the evening a farewell party was held at the Priory. As the novice recalled: ‘The house was bare to begin with, as the few scanty and valueless articles of monastic property had been sent on ahead to Lower Guiting, and in these unfurnished and uncomfortable halls was gathered a crowd of boys and lads who cheered our immediate departure with their tears and lamentations.’ That night Br. Aelred and Br. Henry slept on bare boards, which (as he wrote) ‘was a mere trifle in the general mournfulness.’…
Lower Guiting was some three miles distant from Notgrove, the nearest station on the branch line from Kingham to Cheltenham. Fr. Aelred and Br. Henry reached the Vicarage in a farm cart. The village lay in deep snow. Shivering and somewhat taken aback by the silent desolation that lay around, they found that S. Bernard’s Monastery was locked. There was no one to give advice on direction, so they forced an entrance. There was little to be done to prepare the house, because the furniture which had been installed in the first instance when Dr. Green intended to use this vicarage as a rescue home for boys, was ready for a community. After two or three days Fr. Aelred – who after his profession had ceased to style himself ‘Brother’ – instituted a regular observance of the monastic life, thus setting a pattern which was to last several years. The whole thing was an almost exact copy of the life of the Buckfast Benedictines, including rising at 2 a.m. for the recitation of Matins and Lauds. The community consisted of the Founder, one novice, and the chaplain, Fr. Anselm.
It is not surprising that by March 1, as Fr. Aelred wrote to Dr. Green, now living away from his parish, that the chaplain was in a ‘thoroughly nervous state.’ The Bishop of Gloucester had refused to authorize an oratory in the monastery, nevertheless Reservation was started. A week later Dr. Green was informed of the desperate poverty of the little community. There was no coal, so Fr. Aelred wrote: ‘We must do without milk, and the bread we can make ourselves rather than run up a big bill, and further limit our limited resources. I have only £4 in the world at present, and only £6 coming in April to last till July. Out of the £4 are two or three small bills to be settled (I can’t abide bills and would much rather pay my way, or not go any way at all)… I find we are living (three of us with an occasional visitor) on 10s. per week. So that when we get quite straight and the bills paid off I can “run” to another brother in our establishment, or perhaps two, if they are good workers. This is my tale of woe.’ From time to time Fr. Bignold, S.S.J.E., came over from Oxford to hear confessions. On Sundays the Brothers attended an early Communion service in the parish church, celebrated by Fr. Anselm. It was not until June 11, 1898 that the Bishop finally gave permission for a private oratory, which enabled Fr. Anselm to say Mass in Latin, using the Missale Romanum. Sometimes a few of the more curious villagers ventured into the stable yard and climbed the outside staircase to the oratory, where they followed the singing of Vespers (in Latin), which preceded devotions before the Reserved Sacrament. It is not recorded if these included Benediction, but Fr. Aelred may have lacked the money to buy a monstrance.
No more than four months were spent at Lower Guiting, and they were not exactly happy or peaceful. Dr. Ellicott, Bishop of Gloucester, expressed his strong disapproval of this monastic experiment, and the Archdeacon of Cirencester dismissed it as sheer nonsense. A few weeks after Fr. Aelred and Br. Henry had left London for Gloucestershire, the Church Association wrote to Archbishop Temple, asking him ‘to set at rest the uneasiness which had been excited’ by the disclosure that he had given his sanction ‘for the restoration within the Church of England of the monastic Order of S. Benedict.’ The Archbishop got his secretary to reply in a non-committal manner. The Church Association then made two further attempts to get a definite statement out of the Primate of All England, but with no result. Finally this militant Protestant organization published an article in which it deplored ‘the fact that the Archbishop was ready to fasten on our poor betrayed Church, evils from which the Reformation at its very outset set us free’; stressing the fact that the worst enemies of the Protestant Church of England were her salaried bishops. All that could be done was to make a direct assault on the monastery in the Cotswolds, and try to suppress this noxious growth by force.
Many a quiet household in England had been surprised by the revelation of ‘monkery’ after reading the newspaper reports of the trial of Br. Oswald. The very word ‘monastery’ was enough to conjure up visions of walled-up nuns and the tortures of the Inquisition. Protestant agitators arrived in Lower Guiting, and spent a week in the village conducting a vigorous campaign against ‘Romanism,’ and above all the ‘evils of the Confessional.’ The local newspapers gave up much space to ‘The Scandals at Lower Guiting,’ and applauded the efforts being made by the Church Association and the National Protestant League to suppress S. Bernard’s Monastery.’ Such strong feeling was roused in the surrounding country-side that after the van (dedicated to the memory of John Hooper, the apostate Cistercian monk who became Bishop of Gloucester in 1551) had moved off, Lower Guiting was visited week after week by free-lance Protestant crusaders, who harangued the people on the village green. Matters reached a crisis on July 25, 1898, when Fr. Aelred and two companions were hooted out of the village to the accompaniment of the beating of pots and pans by men, women and children. The vicarage had been attacked already, the front door broken open, and many of its windows smashed.
It is difficult to understand why so much strife should have been stirred up by two or three young men trying to lead a life of prayer, but it cannot be denied that Carlyle himself was mainly responsible. His conception of the monastic life was completely unbalanced. He attached much importance to late medieval externals and laid such stress on his revival of the ‘Order of S. Benedict,’ that the reaction of diehard English Protestantism is not wholly surprising. Had its militant organizations possessed a sense of humour, they would have realized that ridicule rather than a serious campaign would have been a better weapon against a twenty-four year old ex-medical student aspiring to be a monk.
It is extremely doubtful if ‘S. Bernard’s Monastery’ would have prospered quite apart from the Protestant opposition. The three men were facing more than Franciscan poverty, and were unable to pay their bills. Apart from a small quarterly allowance from his mother, Fr. Aelred had nothing with which to feed and clothe himself and his disciples. There was no way by which they could become self-supporting. So far, Anglo-Catholics showed little or no enthusiasm about endowing the only strictly monastic community in the Church of England which, thanks to the trial of Br. Oswald, had so quickly obtained widespread notoriety.
Fr. Aelred and Br. Henry found a temporary home in the Gate House of Malling Abbey, placed at their disposal by the Mother Abbess…
…throughout October 1898…
Meanwhile he wanted to sell all the furniture, bedding and household utensils which still remained at Lower Guiting to Dr. Green, for a boys’ home at Birkenhead, which the latter was thinking of founding. He explained that he could not make a present of them, because he had ‘nothing but £30 a year.’