Visit to the Coal

British Workman, . (1850) Visit to the Coal. [Image]

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The testimony of the Haggerstone coal-heavers, printed here in the British Workman temperance journal, is typical of the ‘reformed drunkard’ and ‘self-improvement’ narratives.



(Continuation of JAMES SKINNER’S Testimony;) See August No., p. 80.
By God’s help I kept firm; my health and strength began to mend, and my appetite for good food increased, just as my relish for drink lessened; but it was no slight struggle, I assure you.
One thing that tried me very hard, was my relations, coming to see me and wanting me to send drink for them. But I said, “No, what’s so bad for me, I’ll not give to you.” But some of them would have it and to vex me, actually fetched drink from the public-house, and began to drink in my room. I said to myself, “This won’t do !” but, how to manage rightly I did’nt know, particularly with my brother-in law, Jack Hunton, for he could talk a deal faster and better than me. After thinking a good deal about it, I went to a painter, and got him to do me a card, with “No intoxicating liquors allowed here,” painted on it. I fastened the card over my chimney-piece, and the next time that Jack came, he wanted some drink as usual, but I pointed him to my card. He jeered and laughed at me, but it was all to no use. I stuck to my resolution, and I’ve lived to see the day when Jack Hunton thanks me for doing so. If I were to tell you what my family has endured through drink, and what temperance and industry has done for us, it would make tears come to your eyes. For my part, I thank God for His mercy to me in the past, and desire to trust Him for the future.

JOHN HUNTON, of 45, Dove Row, Hackney Fields, states : -
It is five years ago, the 28th of last June, since I signed. Blessed be God that I ever did so. I called Jem Skinner a shabby fellow when he would’nt let me drink in his house; but although I ridiculed him, I was forced to respect him in my heart for his consistency. The card over his chimney piece made me think. I could’nt drink so comfortably after I had seen it. It was a silent lecturer, and at last I told Skinner that I would join the good cause.
On the first Saturday night after I had done so, I found that instead of giving fourteen or fifteen shillings out of my week’s wages to the publican as usual, I had it myself. I went home, my wife put on her bonnet and shawl, and we went off to market together! A long time since we had done that! Everything has gone on better with me since I gave up drinking, and I recommend my fellow working men to follow my example. Some people say that they cannot work without drink; but I have done without it as a coal-heaver for five years, and I am stronger and better now than I was when I took my beer. I am not so much fatigued now when my day’s work is done, as I used to be then.

JAMES MADDOCKS, of 9, Clarence Terrace, Haggerstone, states :-
“I have been upwards of seventeen years in the Temperance Society; and although I have had to work hard, I have never had the least cause to regret the step I took. I have found it to be a good thing. I had not been a drunkard previously: I was hardly ever drunk in my life. I began when twenty-five years of age. I think prevention is better than cure. The result of my sobriety is, I have not been out of a situation for thirty years, - not one week. Although I have had several situations, I have left one on a Saturday night, and gone to another on Monday morning. I have not lost one week’s wages for thirty years.”

WILLIAM PLANK, of Frederick Street, Haggerstone, Coal-heaver, states :-
“I was brought up as a shepherd, on Salisbury Plain. When I first went to work it was as a ploughboy ; and I was told to drink heartily, or I would never be able to drive the horses, or to plough a straight furrow. When I came to London. I had never tasted spirituous liquors ; but I was not long here before I was led into the drinking ways. I had several good situations at the West End, and lost them in one way or another through drink.
Then I came to Kingsland Road, among the coal-porters: I was so poor I could not afford to pay for a night’s lodging. Many a time have I laid all night in the brick-yards, and in the morning found myself white with frost. My friend Price came one day after me. He said ‘Come and join our cold water guard, and we will take care of you.’ I went with him to the meeting in William Street, Curtain Road, and from that night I have never touched a drop of spirits or beer.
I used to be called by my drinking companions ‘a good fellow,’ I am not called such by them now; but I am called by my children, a good father; by my wife, a good husband, and by my landlord, a good tenant.”

[We have much pleasure in adding that the Earl of Shaftesbury, on hearing of the temperance labours of the Haggerstone Coal Heavers, kindly presented to James Skinner, John Hunton, James Maddocks, and Wm. Plank, copies of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.]


HERE is a cobbler seated at his work, with a company of little boys and girls around him. Who is he, and what is he doing for them? The old man is John Pounds. He lived in Portsmouth some years ago, and those are poor little ragged children, whom he found in the streets running about outcast and forsaken. He is teaching them to read, that they may learn about Jesus. This is the first Ragged School that ever was established in England, and it was formed by a British Workman. What an example for British Workmen! That man will not be less diligent in his own business who has a hand to help and a heart to feel for the wants and sorrows of others.
John Pounds was a clever man besides, and like Paul, if he could not win a poor boy any other way, he won him by guile. Many a time was he seen chasing a ragged boy along the quays, and inducing him to come to school, not by the power of a policeman’s staff, but by the power of a potato. He knew the love of the Irish for this vegetable, and many a ragged urchin did he gain to his humble school by holding under the boy’s nose a hot potato!
Dr. GUTHRIE, in one of his speeches, said, “John Pounds, a cobbler in Portsmouth, taking pity on the multitude of poor ragged children left by the rich to go to ruin in the streets, like a good shepherd, he gathered in these wretched outcasts. While earning his daily bread by the sweat of his brow, he rescued from misery and saved to society not less than five hundred of these children.”
One man had thus the honour and the happiness of saving five hundred children; one man, who was a poor man and a working man too. Was not John Pounds a happy man, and would not you be happy men too, if you follow his example? Try?
“He that winneth souls is wise.”


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