How The Bishop Kept The Blokes Out Of The Pub

Back in the days when the Archbishop of Canterbury was the Bishop of the End of the Land- or  Truro, Cornwall, to you and me- he had a bit of a problem.

Truro, in Cornwall, had only just got its bishopric in 1880.

Queen Victoria had newly accorded the settlement city status. The surrounding tin mines had become money spinners, what with better technology and the rocketing price of tin, and the mine owners had become distinctly prosperous. The railway arrived from London Paddington in 1860. Truro was a hotbed of decent employment opportunities, what with the iron smelting works, and the pottery, and the tanneries.

You know your Dickens. On Christmas Eve employers would let their men leave early, and Christmas Day was always a day off.

Where better to go, then, when they knocked off on Christmas Eve, than the pub?

And you know how it is. You have one pint and you lose all sense of time, and before you know it is after midnight, and time to be kicked out by the landlord to roll beerily home and thrash the lights out of the wife.

So those of your who are perceptive will guess readily what the bishop’s problem was: he needed to keep the Truro men out of the pub, or all hell would let loose come 1am on Christmas morning.

What to do?

The Bishop came up with a singular solution: make them all come to church.

He invented a service. Nine lessons, nine carols. That should keep ’em out of mischief. Last an hour or two. Edward White Benson – for that was his name – organised a service at 10pm on Christmas Eve, the 24th December 1880. He organised it in his temporary cathedral: essentially a very big wooden shed.

And it worked, it seems. So well that Nine Lessons and Carols became so much of an institution that in 1918 Kings College Cambridge ran it that year, and every one after; and from 1928 onwards, the BBC broadcast its Christmas Eve Service.

It’s a tried and tested formula. Same nine lessons, and generally the same carols.

For the next nine days, starting this evening,  I’ll be looking at a lesson and a carol a day.

And then, friends, it will be Christmas.

Cartoon from the superlative Dave Walker at cartoon He's addictive...

Cartoon from the superlative Dave Walker at cartoon He’s addictive…


11 thoughts on “How The Bishop Kept The Blokes Out Of The Pub

  1. Squashed like sardines in a pew and if you are unfortunate you are under that dripping candle sconce. It may Look romantic and the stuff of movies, but the draughts blowing like a gale force wind at knee and feet levels, soon kills the mood. Is it any wonder the clergy wear long robes!

  2. In this mainly Catholic country, the Vendee is particularly Catholic. The Vendee, alone, stood against the Revolution, with the Vendeens remaining monarchist and Catholic until the majority of them were dead. They haven’t been replaced because most of churches are empty except for expat choirs of every denomination singing away and thinking of England. I don’t go at all as you may have guessed:)

  3. This is going to make me feel terribly guilty, more so than usual this Christmas Eve. I always feel like we should drag ourselves to Montreal’s version of Notre Dame after stuffing ourselves with Christmas Eve dinner. We never do, though. We always just go back to our room. Still, I know I will enjoy this series. 🙂

  4. I can emphathize with the men, having to skip the alcohol haze for the good of their souls, although I do empathize more with the women and kids at home when daddy comes rolling in from a pub bender. It’s too bad that the only solace from the Victorian misery of drudgery in mines and mills was drinking or churching.

  5. I did not know that this was how the lessons in carols began. We have a lesson in carols, on the first Sunday of Advent. Yes, 9 carols, 9 lessons, and no one feels bad for not going to the pubs instead. Of course, everyone goes home and most set themselves down to football, beer, and nibbles. Ah well . . .

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