Employment and Temperance

The Cathedral was concerned with finding work for those members of the congregation who were destined to go into domestic service.  At the beginning of 1881 an organisation called The Central Agency was set up “with the view of enabling those members of our Congregation who require assistance, to employ their fellow worshippers who require occupation.  Butlers to wait at dinner parties, or for regular employment, light porters, charwomen, servants, dressmakers, washerwomen, etc., may be heard of here.  Sometimes also governesses and office clerks.”

By the end of 1885 a Guild of Aid was established that was “intended to find situations for young Churchwomen in the homes of Churchpeople, where it is supposed they will be more able to avail themselves of Church privileges (as a matter of fact, we have found sometimes that Churchpeople are more thoughtless or indifferent as to their servants’ Church privileges than Presbyterians.  We hope the Guild of Aid will remedy this.)  Employers apply by letter only.

Training for girls going into service was also available through The Girls’ Clothing Club which met weekly on Tuesday evenings. “The object of this club is to enable young girls, on their attaining a proper age for going into service, to enter on their first situations with a suitable supply of clothing.  The club meets weekly, and girls are expected to attend regularly, and learn to make the clothing themselves.  Girls may become members of the club at 11 years of age.  The members pay a weekly subscription of one penny.”

The welfare of workmen was also catered for and there was a request in the December 1882 Monthly Paper for “Those members of the Congregation who feel an interest in the Navvies at work on the Suburban Line, are invited to assist in some of the many ways now adopted for the happiness and comfort and religious instruction of these men.”  The Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway opened in 1884.

In 1885 The Workmen’s Welcome was opened in the Water of Leith Mission House and in February 1890 it was reported that “The attendance has been larger this year than last, and the general behaviour has been most satisfactory. There have often been present 50 in one evening.  The lowest attendance has been 20. The Welcome as its name implies is free to all; only a small charge is made for the game of bagatelle.  There is a large room for games, and a Reading Room supplied with books and papers.  It is open every weekday evening from 7 till 10, except on Saturday, when the men do not require it.  Popular works and illustrated papers are needed for the Reading Room and will be gratefully received if sent to the Chaplain at the Mission House.”


The Cathedral was very keen to support the Temperance movement with regular Temperance Guild and Band of Hope meetings.  These started as soon as the Cathedral opened and the very first Monthly Paper in January 1879 reported that a British Workman Public House had opened the previous month in the Water of Leith Mission.  Subscriptions to defray costs from those interested in the Temperance cause were called for as well as “books of a good, healthy, manly tone for the working classes, are requested to give them, as also any illustrated papers.  Such gifts can, if desired, be acknowledged in this paper.”

The concern with excess alcohol consumption was not only confined to the so-called working class as this extract from a letter to the editor printed in February 1884 demonstrates.

“Sometimes it has struck me people are very ready pressing the cause of temperance on the working men and women of the Grassmarket, and forget, perhaps, that the young gentlemen and ladies of our fashionable squares and crescents would be as well abstainers.  Even those who are not tempted themselves might give a great encouragement by becoming total abstainers themselves not merely to a “forlorn or dejected brother,” but to the young maid, young clerk, or young shopman in their employment. In that day when one hopes and prays it may be said of them, he or she “hath done what they could,” will a little self-denial or a little effort in this day of help not be acknowledged?  Is it not worth the while of every Christian man or woman of every rank to try and help to put down this widespread sin of bonnie Scotland?”

As part of the Cathedral’s work in this area, an annual New Year’s Eve Tea was held on the evening of the 31st December (or 30th if the 31st was a Sunday).  This report on the tea held on Hogmanay 1885 was typical. “The attendance was very good, and the music and readings were greatly enjoyed.  Our very best thanks are due to the ladies who arranged the room so well, and who provided so bountiful a supply of sandwiches, apples, and milk – a gentleman also gave a quantity of lemonade, which was thoroughly appreciated.  In consequence of these gifts we were able to provide a much more substantial and attractive tea than we ever did before.  The one thing apparently missed was an opportunity for a pipe!”

The December 1896 evening was not, however, such a great success. The attendance was down from the usual 120 to about 70 due, it was thought, “to changes made as an experiment last year, or to superior attractions elsewhere.”  The evening was further spoilt by “a disturbance, caused by a member of Her Majesty’s Forces having some noisy difference with his bother man in the street below, had no connection with our meeting, one way or another.  We mention it because the report is likely to bring discredit upon the meeting, and has indeed done so, if we can judge from the solitary subscription of ten shillings sent in for the whole of the expense incurred in this well-intentioned effort.”

Next – Bits & Pieces and the End of the Victorian Era