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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

Curiosity brought some of the colliers to hear


Mr. Procter then goes on to relate how he was brought to attempt their improvement.--"After a few months' residence I was invited to take the afternoon duty of the chapel at Coleford. Curiosity brought some of the colliers to hear, and the report they carried home with them induced others to come and judge for themselves. We passed on very quietly for a little time, when a collier, named Thomas Morgan, sent to request that I would call upon him. I did so. After the accustomed salutations were passed, he assigned certain impressive reasons for wishing to see me, and, in stating them, his eyes, his voice, and humble gesture strongly marked the agitated feelings of his soul. After an interesting conversation of two hours, I promised, at his request, to call upon him again the following week. On taking my leave he said, 'I hope your honour will not be offended, but some of my relations and neighbours are in the same ignorant state as myself; they would be happy to hear your conversation, and with permission I will ask one or two to come.' Under the impression of a private conversation with six or eight people, I went to the cottage at the time appointed. Upon laying my hand on the latch of the door, the opening of it was prevented--the resistance proceeded from the number of people collected within. A profound silence prevailed. The collier smiled and looked for a pardon. Astonished at this unexpected scene, not being accustomed and perfectly unprepared to address such an assemblage, I felt for some moments at a loss how to proceed. But there was no time for hesitation; taking the Bible, the 61st of Isaiah was the chapter read and commented upon. The attention with which the poor heard, the very humble manner in which they returned thanks, and the earnest hope they expressed that I would come again, made a deep impression in their favour. Under these circumstances I was led, as it were, unintentionally to the commencement of those lectures which continue to the present time (1819). The first effects of these lectures were seen in the observance of the sacred duties of the Sabbath-day; our congregations at Newland increased, and the aisles of the church became occupied, in which the Foresters were now seen. Year after year passed away, the Thursday evening lectures continued to be well attended, the moral habits of the people improved, and a knowledge of the Scriptures obtained. Religion had evidently taken root; much was effected, but infinitely more remained to be done. The means only were wanting--the opportunity was present. _Could we raise a building to contain about 200 people_? Such were our limited views at that time."

In 1807 a memorial was drawn up and signed by some hundreds of miners and colliers, praying the officers of the Crown to grant a portion of land on which to erect a lecture-room, and also timber for building it. Dr. Huntingford, the Bishop of Gloucester, presented the petition to Government; but the law officers of the Crown, Sir S. Romilly and Sir A. Piggott, found that it could not be carried into effect without an Act of the Legislature. Under Mr. Perceval's administration, Mr. Procter renewed the attempt by a personal interview with that minister, who, whilst expressing his deep regret that he could not officially assist, suggested an appeal to the public, to which he would give his name and support, as well as an application to the National Society about to be formed. To him, in fact, is due the insertion at this juncture of the clause in the Act of 52nd George III., chap. 161, sec. 27, to enable the Commissioners of the Treasury to appropriate small portions of land, not exceeding five acres, for ecclesiastical purposes, and which has facilitated the erection of the Forest churches.


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