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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

Berkin with the tears in their eyes


Closely resembling the above efforts were those made on the north-east side of the Forest by the Rev. H. Berkin, which he commenced about the year 1809, when curate of Mitcheldean. He writes--"Finding the miners and colliers of the Forest, adjoining that parish, too generally living in the neglect of moral and religious duties, I considered it a duty to attempt their improvement." In January, 1812, he opened a school-room in Mitcheldean, which he had built mainly at his own expense, although he was afterwards assisted by his private friends, and in particular by a liberal donation from the Duke of Beaufort, and eventually by a grant of 50 pounds from the National Society, 100 pounds being given at the same time to Mr. Procter's building-fund--these were the very first donations to country schools made by that estimable institution. Mr. Berkin's school was at once attended by 140 scholars, and ultimately 350 came. In the first Report of the National Society it is stated that "many of the parents expressed their acknowledgments to Mr. Berkin with the tears in their eyes, exerting themselves to the utmost to enable their children to be constant in their attendance, in spite of the numerous difficulties with which they had to struggle--such as the distance of the schools, the wretched state of the roads in bad weather, and the extreme poverty of the people, which makes it a hard matter for them to clothe their children properly, and to furnish them with a slice of bread for their dinner."

Returning to Mr. Procter's exertions to erect a building for the two-fold purpose of divine service and juvenile instruction, he found consolation for former disappointments in the following pleasing offer of Thomas Morgan, the poor cottager already mentioned:--"Take my field," said he. "With that I give you five guineas, to which my neighbours have added 15 pounds. We ask of you only to begin and build until the money is expended; in another year we will again add our mites; only lay the foundation and begin." Accordingly, in the month of June, 1812, the building was commenced, and (aided by the subscriptions which were received, especially from the Duke of Beaufort, the Lord Bishop of Gloucester, and his secretary, Mr. Ryder) was so constructed as to admit of its being hereafter enlarged and consecrated. "On the Epiphany, 6th January, 1813, the public service of the Established Church was, for the first time, read within its walls, under the authority of an episcopal licence; but on the commencement of Sunday duty a painful circumstance presented itself which had not been anticipated, viz. an astonishing inattention to the prayers of the Church: all appeared a blank--no interest, no spiritual concern. The cause was evident in the want of prayer-books, soon however supplied by the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, and one of the bishops of the Church. A schoolmaster, Mr. Edward Hawkins, previously sent to the National School in Baldwin's Gardens, immediately commenced the education of the children--300 being entered the first week. On every Thursday evening throughout the year the scholars were examined in the presence of a congregation assembled


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