‘It was mere accident that led my parents to attend the United Methodist Free Church in Russell Street. That church, or rather chapel, as it was always called, became the religious home of the Raymont family, and in small sense remains so to this day.’
Thomas’ upbringing was one of a very religious nature. His parents were regulars at the local Methodist church and Thomas describes how his ‘nose was certainly kept to the religious grindstone. There was Sunday School, 9.30 to 10.30; chapel 10.30 to 12; Sunday School again 2 to 4; chapel again 6 to 7.30 and often prayer meeting 7.30 to 8, then home to bed. (pp.6) Thomas brothers Harry and Jim both went on to serve as minister in the Methodist church, an occupation of which he describes Harry as considering a ‘dearly loved occupation during his whole life, i.e. to the age of 69.’ (pp.6)
Thomas also describes reading books of his late brother Jim and how he was ‘somehow attracted by the look of four volumes of sermons which had been presented to Jim by a friend, and which Jim himself had probably not read. The sermons were those of F.W. Robertson – Robertson of Brighton. I began reading them and was soon fascinated, not only by their deep spirituality, but also by their breadth of outlook. They seemed to provide me with exactly what I wanted to free me from the narrow orthodoxy which up to that time I had been offered, but never really accepted.’ (pp.6-7)
However these sermons did not save Thomas from religious scepticism. Thomas’ describes the Sunday school teachers he was taught by at an early age as being ‘illiterate men’ (pp.6) and labels the hymns that were recited in church as ‘poor stuff in the literary sense, most of them looking forward to a home in heaven, where the sin and woe and misery of our lives on earth might be done away. Ever also, we were reminded, there was the terrific alternative of the everlasting fires of hell. Our ministers, mostly self-educated, seemed to make a point of discoursing to saints in the morning and sinner in the evening; heaven in the morning and hell in the evening.’ (pp.6)
Thomas cynicism in regards to the religion introduced to him by his parents is shown more subtly in the opening pages of his memoir as he tells the reader ‘My father, whose disposition was of the rough-and-ready sort, insisted upon our regular attendance at chapel and Sunday school on Sundays. These were the days of religious ‘revivals’ in Methodist quarters, led at one time by a Cornish ‘evangelist’, who worked up a religious frenzy, and caused scores of people to be ‘converted’ and to ‘give their hearts to God.’ (pp.2) The repeated use of inverted commas to words and sentences with religious connotations shows that Thomas, even possibly at an early age, was not convinced by religion and as opposed to his brothers who thrived in these religious gatherings and teachings, Thomas (ironically!) doubts the veracity of these religious preaching’s.
Lucinda Matthews-Jones tells us that church attendance at this time was in decline as a result of ‘an out-of-date Church that encouraged its clergy to speak a religious language that ‘was a dead language to half the people’.’ (Matthews-Jones, 2011, pp.393) We could attribute the outdated teachings and methods of the church to Thomas’ alienation as he concludes his section on religion by concluding ‘I became, and to this day have remained, essentially unattached to any particular denomination.’
Raymont, Thomas. ‘Memories of an Octogenarian 1864-1949’,
Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library,
Special Collection, 1:571, available at: http://www.brunel.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/139278/BurnettArchive.pdf
Matthews-Jones LM. 2011. ‘Lessons in Seeing: Art, Religion and Class in the East End of London,
1881–1898’ Journal of Victorian Culture, 16.3:385-403.
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