On average, 12 children were baptised each month during the Victorian period with 1887 leading the way with 154 christenings. Unsurprisingly, the most popular names were William, James and John for the boys and Mary, Margaret and Elizabeth for the girls. Although there were some unusual names such as Mafeking, Redvers, Ermentrude and Marmion. Happily, the number of confirmation candidates was also buoyant averaging 99 per year over this period. Indeed, in some years there were so many candidates that two confirmation services each year were required.
Sadly, however, in some years 24 children under the age of 6 died. We know this from when in 1887 the age at death, as well as the names of the departed, were printed in the Monthly Paper. In the period 1887 to 1900, 224 children under the age of 6 died, adding up to over 33% of all deaths.
Despite this sobering figure children featured in many positive ways in the Monthly Paper from participation in sewing classes, to the Sunday School, education and, of course, the choristers.
Every Saturday afternoon from November to May, sewing classes met in the Water of Leith Mission in the Dean Village and the Dalry Mission. The average number enrolled for these classes totalled 160, with 120 regularly attending each month. The class started at 2:30 with the signing of a hymn followed by an hour of instruction finishing with another hymn. As well as producing clothes for themselves the children also sent their work to Africa as part of the Cathedral’s overseas mission commitment. On the last Saturday in May all the children met together in the Water of Leith Schoolroom and after having tea together they received their prizes and the clothing they had made themselves.
In addition, from December 1884 a Girls’ Clothing Club was established.
“This Clothing Club has been begun, in order to enable young girls, on their attaining a proper age for going to service, to enter on their first situation, with a suitable supply of clothing.
A weekly meeting is held, to which the girls are expected to come, to learn to cut out, and make the clothing themselves.
They have also to pay 1d. a week, and in return, after, the first year’s membership, have a right to a certain amount of clothing, (more or less according to the time they have been members), with a small bonus added.
The clothing will be of thoroughly good material.
Clothes not to be given until the girl has got a situation.
The meetings are held in the Cathedral Mission House, Water-of-Leith.
Girls wishing to join had better go to one of the meetings, and see the teacher.”
The Sunday School classes for the Cathedral children were held in the Water of Leith Mission. In April 1879 there were 111 children, by July 1894 the number had increased to 400 and by 1900 the combined Water of Leith & Dalry Sunday Schools numbered 831. There were two sets of classes each Sunday at 10.00 am and 3.00 pm and from February 1881 the lessons taught in Sunday School were listed in the Monthly Paper “for the sake not only of the teachers and the children, but also of the parents, who will know what their children have been learning, so that they can question them at home upon what they have heard at school.”
From 1884 younger children could attend a Day Nursery in the Water of Leith’s Mission House while their mothers attended the morning Sunday service. For this facility a charge of a half-penny per child was levied although bread and milk were provided. This initiative was reported as being a success with 24 children attending by the second week. Presumably for security reasons, the door was locked at 10.45 am and opened again at 12.45.
There was, usually in June, the annual Sunday School Outing. The outing in June 1881 was typical and this report in the July 1881 Monthly Paper gives an idea of what happened on these occasions.
“Sunday School Treat.
On Tuesday, June 21st, our Sunday school children were taken to Dalkeith for a summer treat, the Duke of Buccleuch having kindly given permission to the school to play in his park.
A special train was put on at the Haymarket Station for them, which ran straight through to Dalkeith; about 365 children and 48 adults made up the party. On their arrival, they found lunch ready, after which they played cricket (the Dalry and Water of Leith boys playing a match), had bowls, swings, croquet, ran races, and seemed thoroughly to enjoy themselves. Then they had tea, prizes for racing, etc., were given away, and then they marched off to the station in capital order, and reached the Haymarket Station in safety and happiness.
Great thanks are due to those who organised and carried out the arrangements, which were most admirable. The improvement in the tone and behaviour of the children was most marked, so that there is abundant cause for thankfulness and every reason to believe that our Sunday schools are doing real practical good.”
There were also winter treats; this is from the February 1884 Monthly Paper.
“Sunday School Treats.
During the last month the various Sunday Schools (we have four – Water of Leith, Dalry, Gorgie, Tynecastle) had their treats, which were greatly enjoyed. Our newest school, at Tynecastle, had its treat in our new Mission Hall, and the Gorgie children joined them. The children were greatly delighted by some really beautiful magic lantern pictures illustrating the Prince of Wales’ visit to India, and Sir John Frankin’s expedition in the Arctic regions. Everything seems to promise well in our new mission field in Tynecastle, and we wish our people would warmly interest themselves in it.
Mrs Tuke appeals strongly for an additional Teacher at Gorgie. It is some way out from the town (1½ miles), but surely it would be a labour of love to many. Perhaps the Mission will stir up hearts to undertake this, no doubt fatiguing but really useful Church work.”
A shortage of Sunday School teachers appears to have been a common problem shared by other churches and an appeal for help from St Columba’s was printed in the October 1883 magazine.
“My congregation is now, with a very few exceptions, composed entirely of the working class, and we must look elsewhere for the assistance of competent teachers. We have both boys and girls without any one to instruct them. It is the afternoons that we more especially need assistance. Will no one who reads this appeal come over and help us? Yours faithfully, Charles E. Bowden, Incumbent of S. Columba’s. – September 17, 1883. “
The general school education of the Cathedral’s children was a matter of concern to the clergy, the main worries centred round the children being exposed to the Presbyterian Catechism and to a prejudicial view of the Episcopal Church’s history. There were frequent appeals to parents not to send their children to Board schools but to use Church schools instead. It was pointed out that “The Dean School is not a Church school. We mention this because a parent confidingly sent a child there, thinking it was the Dean’s School!”
The Episcopal Church did have a representative on the Edinburgh School Board, and he was successful in persuading the Board of “the need for the observance of Christmas Day. In future the schools under the Edinburgh Board will be closed on that great Festival. It is, however, greatly to be hoped, that if ever Christmas Day becomes a public holy-day in Scotland it will never be sullied by the conduct which characterises the observance of the so-called National feast of New Year’s Day.”
The choir sang three services on Sundays – 11.00 am Morning Prayer followed by Communion and Evening Prayer at 3.30 pm and 7.00 pm. On Monday to Saturday there was Evening Prayer at 5.00 pm. From May 1880 the choir also attended Morning Prayer at 11.00 am. Interestingly, the term ‘Evensong’ was not used and ‘Matins’ only occasionally. There was also a Children’s Service on the 3rd Sunday of each month which from November 1893 was supported by a choir consisting of probationers.
As well as services within the Cathedral the choir boys also visited the Sick Children’s Hospital each January to sing carols as this report printed in February 1897 illustrates.
“The rapt attention of the little invalids, some of whom kept time to the carols by tapping on their dinner boards, while other tuneful ones essayed a supplementary lilt of their own; the bursting into song of a pet canary at the loudest parts or choruses, the fraternising of the Choir boys with the occupants of the cots between times, were all incidents full of tender interest, and the visit was felt to be one of mutual profit and pleasure.”
As with the Sunday School, it was not all work for the choristers and there was an annual outing usually to Aberdour via the ferry from Leith harbour. This report in the September 1884 Monthly Paper is typical.
“Forty-two boys and 5 adults assembled at the east end of the Cathedral, at half-past six of the morning of August 7th, and after driving to Leith harbour, embarked in the Lord Morton, and had a delightful sail to Aberdour.
There breakfast was awaiting them in the hotel, supplied by the excellent Mr. Grieg, and superintended by himself and his attentive maidens. The friends of the choristers will be glad to hear that this year they had perfect weather, although they were reminded of the thunder of two former occasions, by the constant boom of the guns of the Sultan, which was that day bombarding the innocent island of Inchkeith.
The boys seemed to enjoy themselves very much with football, tug-of-war, and other games, and bathing for many of them. Luncheon was brought on to the ground, and a famous tea was done justice to on returning to the hotel at six o’clock.”
However, the weather was not always kind and in 1889 “the sea passage was by no means so agreeable as it had been in the early morning; the consequence being that several of the band were made aware of an unpleasant illness, which inexperienced travellers on the deep are often liable to suffer from. “But all is well that ends well”, and though upon arrival home many were almost soaked by the heavy downpour of rain, yet the next day there were no bad results of the journey and wetting.”
The work that went on behind the scenes to keep the choristers presentable for services was undertaken by a team of ladies led by Miss Clementina Gamgee and this extract from the August 1887 Monthly Paper illustrates the work involved. “Perhaps many in the congregation who see, week by week, the choristers appear in clean surplices and tidy cassocks, have never thought much of the great labour involved in keeping these vestments so carefully in repair. When it is known that nearly a hundred cassocks and surplices have to be re-made, mended, patched, and constantly examined from time to time it will be seen that there is no light responsibility up on those who undertake the work. And who is there, that knows anything of boys and their ways, that will not sigh at the thoughts of cassocks rent by carelessness, buttons plucked out by the very roots, and holes torn in the neck to hang them up by?”
There were also recreational activities and visits to the Corporation Baths in Caledonian Crescent, which opened in 1885. These trips where the boys were taught how to swim by the Precentor, Rev. Alfred Griffiths. On Saturday 21st November 1896 two of the senior choir boys, William Toddie and David McGibbon cycled from the Cathedral to Berwick-on-Tweed accompanied by the Precentor. The boys came back by train arriving home at 9.00 pm. Interestingly it is reported that “McGibbon was mounted on the bamboo machine, and Toddie on a Haymarket, specially built for the boys by Mr. Downie.” William Toddie was killed in action on 4th June 1917 at the Second Battle of Arras.
Former choristers kept in touch after they left the choir and by June 1900 there was a Cycling Club which met every Wednesday and a Cricket Club which practised in the summer on weeknights and Saturday afternoons in Inverleith Park.
Towards the end of the Victorian period in 1900, there is reference to a Boys’ Club based at the Dalry Mission. The May 1900 magazine has an article which is written in an unusual way.
“A visitor writes that ‘he recently attended the Mission Hall at Dalry to see the progress made by the boys under Sergeant Fraser of the 3rd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, an experienced instructor, who was secured through the interest of one of the Sunday School teachers. Sergeant Fraser has worked wonders, and the raw material is now in a most workmanlike condition. The boys enjoy the physical exercises and drill, and appreciate their instructor – a great point. The lads assemble every Friday at 9 p.m., for one hour. The club was started and is carried on, by the Misses Ramsay and Miss Milne-Miller, to whose interest, and almost unknown labours, much credit is due. Boys and young men between the ages of 15 and 21 respectively, and who are either members of the Dalry Bible class or Sunday School, are admitted,. If members of the Cathedral congregation would kindly give themselves the opportunity some Friday evening before the middle of May (when the physical tuition will cease until next autumn) of inspecting the boys at their exercises, encouragement would be given to the founders of the Club, the teacher, and the boys themselves. So far there have been no visitors with the exception of the writer!’”