A CONGREGATIONAL PASTOR
IN 1860s PARTON: ROBERT POOL
Extracts from the book "The Life Story of a Village Pastor (Robert Pool)" by his son the Rev. John J. Pool (1897).
Robert Pool, born 11 Feb 1832, became a Congregational (or to be specific, Independent) missionary, working in the Caldbeck area of Cumberland for a salary of £60 per year and started a family. He was very successful, and after the Bishop of Carlisle tried unsuccessfully to tempt him to switch denominations (offering the post of Anglican vicar in a nearby village, for £120 per year plus a house) the Congregational church offered him a more settled post as pastor in a small village by the seaside, for £80 per year (but he'd have to find his own house). The place was Parton, where a chapel had been established in 1861. Although Parton was even then "in a not over pretty district", he accepted, and began work there on 1 November 1862.
...the sea made up for much... whenever he was feeling the loneliness or the fret and care of his work particularly trying he would wander by the sad sea waves and somehow gladness and strength would flow into his soul...
The chapel at Parton was a little Bethel holding only about 250 people, and the members of the congregation were mostly of the poorer class, the greater part of them being engaged as 'hands' in the Lowca Iron-Moulding Works... he was expected to preach twice every Sunday, and to give an address at a week-night service, so that practically three discourses had to be prepared every week... It kept Mr Pool in his study at least six hours a day, for he was determined he would not give to his people that which cost him nothing...
Callers seeking sympathy and advice Mr Pool always gladly welcomed, but... gadabouts who were wasting his time he determined to discourage... [The narrative here includes a long account of his discussion about the problem with a fellow-minister at Whitehaven, who confirmed that he was similarly afflicted, but had found no cure; Pool was reluctant to be rude by simply asking people to leave:] there was something he could do, that he had been thinking of doing, and that was to fix up a printed notice over the mantelpiece of his study, asking callers to value his time and their own, and not to stay longer than was really necessary. And this accordingly the new pastor at Parton did, to the amazement of many of his parishioners but to the offence of none. The hint was taken... The minister also engaged his wife on his side, and got her to deny him to all she could, though she was instructed never to turn away a person in trouble of any kind, or one anxious about spiritual things.
One day two gentlemen called at the house and most politely requested an interview with Mr Pool... Yielding at last... to their importunity, she ushered them upstairs, but to her dismay, immediately they saw which was the study door, they threw it violently open, and ran in, and locked it in her face... The two men were lunatics who had escaped from an asylum. They were religious maniacs, and conceived that they had a mission to torment poor parsons, though more in the way of frightening them than anything else. One was an old man, and the other about thirty years of age.
Mr Pool, fortunately, had had a varied experience of strange characters in the days of his home missionary work, so... he kept his nerve, and quietly asked why the door had been closed so sharple, and even locked. "To keep out the devil" was the reply he received. And with that, the older lunatic, who spoke, marched to the door and threw it open; but after looking ut for a moment, closed it again in abject terror saying, "Oh he is coming, he is coming".
"Let us pray," said the younger lunatic. The transition from the fearful exclamation of the one to the calm request of the other was almost too much for the minister's gravity, but happily he preserved it, for his visitors were not men to be trifled with.
Seeing this, Mr Pool replied, "Yes, let us pray." He meant to pray himself, but was forestalled by the man who had suggested prayer. And beautifully and touchingly did the poor lunatic offer up prayer for himself and his friend, and for the pastor in whose study they were, and for his family, and for his congregation, and for all the people of Parton. It was an extraordinary scene, and when the three men rose from their knees, the original politeness of the lunatics had returned to them, and they begged to wish Mr Pool a pleasant good day, and he showed them out, past his trembling wife and neighbour, into the street, with every sign of attention and goodwill, happy to be relieved of their presence, and yet truly sorry for their sad state and condition of mind. The men were shortly afterwards overtaken, and were carried back to the asylum from which they had escaped.
Mr Pool himself was a splendid visitor. His home missionary training had made visiting easy for him, and he went in and out amongst the people for two or three hours every day, with the greatest acceptance, and with most satisfactory results. Families that had not been in the habit of attending any church were drawn to the House of God, and other families, the members of which had been inattentive to the public means of grace, now turned out regularly to attend the ministry of the new parson.
As a preacher, as well as a visitor, Mr Pool was very acceptable to his little flock. His carefully prepared sermons were gracefully and reverently delivered. His appearance was prepossessing, for he stood erect in the pulpit, showing his six feet of height to the best advantage. At this time he had dark hair and a long dark beard. His eyes were brown and piercing, his voice was clear as a bell and musical, and his action was easy and appropriate. His pulpit matter was varied, as he made it a point to touch yearly, if possible, on the main doctrines of the Christian religion, while at the same time practical moral topics were dealt with... As Mr Pool said frequently to his people,
"Faith and works are like the two wings of a bird. No life can soar that does not combine the two."
Perhaps at this time the zealous pastor dwelt a little too much on the future pains and penalties of sin. He had not yet learnt the lesson that the flock of Christ may be led, but must not be driven. Sometimes his sermons were rather too long, and the people were inclined to weary. That was the age of long sermons. Mr Pool did not often err this way, and when he did he was always sorry... Once when he did so the closure was applied to him, even in the house of God, and by one of hs own family too, a little boy of six years of age- the present writer, to wit. When the preacher had gone on for three-quarters of an hour, and seemed still to be far off the closing point, up jumped his six-year-old son on to a seat, and cried out in a voice that all in church could hear, "Amen, pa, amen." The audience smiled, hugely delighted at the timely interruption, especially at the quarter from which it came, and the minister smiled too and stopped, and frankly acknowledged that his son had taught him a lesson that he hoped he would never forget...
These were happy days at Parton, though the period of six years' service was broken into by a very serious illness. While away on a short visit and lecturing tour in the Caldbeck district, Mr Pool slept in a damp bed and caught a chill, and returned home to go to bed, from which he was not able to rise for many weary and painful weeks. He had an attack of rheumatic fever, and was almost at death's door. Indeed, the doctor who attended him had only slight hopes of his recovery for a time, and... when the fever had left him, he told him that he had better take a few bottles of port wine to strengthen him...
It was like shaking a red cloth in the face of a bull to speak to a teetotaler of Mr Pool's stamp of port wine... The doctor now became touchy in his turn, and declared that he would not attend a patient who would not obey his instructions and take any medicine he ordered him... "Medicine! Poison you mean!" That was enough. The doctor marched out of the house in disgust, and slammed the door after him... The enraged physician was heard to declare that Mr Pool might die of his illness for anything he cared; but that was only talk, for the doctor was a kind-hearted, though short-tempered man, and when he met his somewhat obstinate patient in the street at Whitehaven a while after, and was greeted with the exultant speech "You see I am not dead yet, doctor!" the good man answered, "And I am right glad to see it, Mr Pool, and may you live long, and stay long with the good people at Parton."
The latter was not to be, however. Mr Pool received a call to another church, and after careful consideration accepted it. When the hour of parting arrived his people presented Mr Pool with a purse of gold, and with an illuminated address, in which, after acknowledging that they were most of them the fruits of his labours, they said, "We cannot suffer you to leave us without an expression of our sincere love for your person, respect for your character, and appreciation of your ministry. We owe you more than we can express. The interest which you have taken in our spiritual welfare, and your unwearied efforts to promote it we can never forget. We shall always remember with gratitude that by the space of six years you ceased not to warn us night and day, and taught publicly and from house to house, testifying to all, repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."
It may be asked, "What good reason had Mr Pool for leaving Parton, seeing that he was so happy and successful there in his work?" Sickness was the real reason. His dreadful attack of rheumatic fever had left him very weak and ailing. Mrs Pool also was far from well, and the children did not seem to be as healthy as they ought to have been. It was thought that the sea air did not suit the family, the ozone perhaps being rather too strong for them on the wild Cumberland coast..."
The move, on 30 June 1868, was in fact to Ravenstonedale in Westmorland, accompanied by a healthy salary rise to £90 per year. At Parton, where there does not seem to have been a resident minister before his arrival, Robert had built up a congregation, started a Sunday School, and on 8 May 1864 witnessed the translation of his chapel to a full church. Ill health did eventually force him to retire, but he was still alive when this biography was written.
My thanks to the Local Studies section of Cumbria County Council's Carlisle Library