Alison Bowell recalls her time spent at the Bodleian Library with Alan during his sabbatical.

I love rambling. Putting on the boots and with best foot forward, off we go…. except this isn’t that type of rambling! I did put on some boots, of the fashion kind, and along with Alan, we put our best feet forward to wind our way to Oxford to do a bit of cataloguing of the CMJ archives. Alan has been taking his sabbatical and I’ve been along for the ride. We pitched our caravan and surveyed the view.

One or two snoozing ducks ...

A Canada Goose paddling along, and then this ...

Yes we were right next to the railway line, Oxford to London. Whistles, clunking, very busy. Hey ho, such is life.

We didn’t let the distractions get in our way. Following a cooked breakfast every morning (Alan only gets one when we go away), we boarded the park and ride bus to trundle into the city centre clutching the ‘this is where you are’ map in my hand. Oxford is a busy, buzzy place and everyone seems to know where they are going, including the Japanese lady with her umbrella aloft leading her party around the corner. So when in Oxford… head down, one corner, two corners, and the Bodleian Library greets you on the opposite side of the road. With our mug shots taken for the passes, and an oath of sorts read out loud – no taking any books out, etc. – we sipped and savoured a cup of coffee before being presented with our first box each. I’m not quite sure I knew what to expect. Titles on a list of contents for archive boxes do not give many clues away. I had picked out a box of photographs, a box containing papers related to The Ladies Society, and two relating to the Wanderer’s Home. Alan had gone for the Israel selection but I’ll let him fill you in on that topic. Anyway, I wasn’t prepared for the intake of breath as I lifted out books and papers dated 1811, with names Rev. J.S.C. Frey and Earl of Shaftesbury in their beautiful copperplate writing. To think of someone taking the time to scribe these beautiful minutes and letters was just mind blowing. But when you do come down off the ceiling and start reading you realise they were just like us. The same topics come up for discussion, the same methods of raising money are noted, the same appeal letters are sent out, and the same sale of goods/books/pamphlets are advertised. Yes, just like us. It is in the detail that the differences occur. Technology today allows Jacki to take far deeper minutes of meetings. Imagine writing long hand minutes in flowing script of all the dialogue that large group meetings involve – not easy. Some of the minutes are very much ‘notes’, and sometimes it was frustrating not knowing what had happened for the particular note to be made! But on the other hand, some notes made for quirky reading! April 13th 1810, Meeting Rules. “- meet on the second and fourth Tuesdays every month at 5 o’clock and no tea or other refreshment to be allowed into the meeting room…” “The Chair to be taken by the fifth person to walk into the room…” Brilliant! Another book listed the preaching diary for the Episcopal Jews Chapel reopened after repairs in September 1858. Detailed as Date Preacher’s name Degree Text Subject Remarks The subject for the opening service was “The peculiar aspect of this sanctuary and its congregation.” And another on November 5th. “No service. Remarks - “Papist’s Conspiracy.”
Certainly brought a smile! Many detailed the numbers of people the Society was reaching. I know times have changed and most of the people of today believe they can help themselves, but are we missing something in today’s world? The Sunday School at the Chapel regularly had 165 boys and 370 girls with 37 teachers and even then they felt they were letting the younger children down. So much so that they found extra building room and two years later the numbers were 171 boys, 245 girls and 350 infant children with 43 teachers. Amazing! How many times have you stood up in your own church and asked for help with the youth? I suspect the numbers have never been that high! We look at the homeless and struggling families of today and offer the food banks and a bed for the night, but the Soup kitchen of 1886 provided “1000 quarts of good soup and 1000 loaves of bread.” Can you imagine? And they also offered something else. They offered the hope and grace of our Lord. Sermons within the building and open air were preached and many were touched and brought to faith, and many Jewish families were encouraged to attend classes to discover their Messiah.

Goulston Street and the open air pulpit of Saint Mary's Whitechapel.

Each time a service was taken when “Adult Israelites were baptised”, not only was the number noted but the number of Jewish people attending was also noted. For example “27th March 1861 evening service by Frederick Gell, 1 John ch 11 v 28. 2 Adult Israelites baptised, above 100 Jews present.” And again on “31st March Easter Sunday 2 Adult Israelites baptised, with 100 Jews present”. What a witness. We often offer the social side but how often do we present God’s word too? I’ve certainly been challenged. Many of the photographs were of people and it would be possible and interesting to build an historical ‘Who’s Who’ of the Society. I would be reading a paper, and a name or place would leap out – photo alert! From Mr Jo Zalman in Rotterdam to Rev. and Mrs Eric Payne, people and characters began to emerge. The names started to become real people. Alan and I had the privilege of collecting Reverend Eric Payne’s library a couple of years ago! So nice to be able to put a name and a face together. (Bottom left).

Now I really am rambling – sorry! So what is the next step? Alan and I have loads and loads of notes to write up. Alan has been extremely good and has nearly finished. He just has an amazing book about Christchurch and the building of the church to do – which deserves a post on its own. I’m about three quarters of the way through my notes. Once completed, we will add them into the archive list to hopefully assist any future research. Ideas for future pamphlets are endless. For example, the reports Mrs Lucy Matilda Newman wrote about The Industrial Training School for Girls in Constantinople are so entertaining it seems a shame that they are locked away. Now what did the girls get up to?! The Society, its many sub committees, and all the people that have served are a real inspiration and the number of people that God’s word reached is amazing. God has definitely been at work in and through them all. May the Lord’s name be praised!

Posted by Phil Bowell on .