Reverend George Martin

Sources are few for the Reverend George Martin (1864-1946) (Figure 15.5), who always wore a ragged frock-coat, old workman’s boots and ate only bread and butter. His classical activity is known from the pamphlet autobiography of the anarchist and Red Clydesider, Guy Aldred (whom we have met earlier, pp. 112-13), in the Special Collections of Glasgow’s Mitchell Library.57 Born into a wealthy Cornish family, Martin studied Classics at the same school as the gypsy king and journeyman printer with whom this chapter began, and at St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he read Classics and Theology in preparation for Holy Orders. At the age of 35, after a decade of service as a rural vicar and for reasons unknown, the Cornish clergyman resigned the benefice of Caerhays (X)700 p.a.) to work for around 18 shillings a week as a porter in London’s Borough Market and attend to the working poor in Southwark. For his generosity, the press dubbed him a ‘modern St. Anthony’, a ‘Priest without a Parish’ and ‘Saint George of Southwark’.’8 When a child in his community was taken ill, Martin alternated with the father keeping watch through the nights until the boy recovered.59 When a fellow worker was disabled, Martin divided his earnings with the man’s family until he could return to work.60

Aldred recalled how Martin had

persuaded himself that a Christian priest must live the life of the people and if there are social depths, must sink to them with his people. He moved about a tough neighbourhood fearlessly, but was very gentle with all who erred and suffered.61

Reverend George Martin, ‘The Saint of Southwark’ by Becky Brewis (2019). © Becky Brewis 2019

FIGURE 15.5 Reverend George Martin, ‘The Saint of Southwark’ by Becky Brewis (2019). © Becky Brewis 2019.

Aldred said that Martin fed 18 vagrants every day at Lockhart’s Tea Rooms and gave away all his money:

When not ministering to the people, he divided his life between the most severe introspection and classical studies ... He loved scholarship and his society was a joy, for its quaintness, his classical digressions, and his broad human understanding ... His love of Greek, and his interest in teaching it, amazed me for I was his victim.62

Aldred used to visit Martin’s house on Saturdays to sit and read with him. ‘He taught me Greek, in which I am not interested’.63

Aldred attributes Martin’s benevolence and open-minded acceptance of people of all creeds or none to his classical education. Martin ‘subscribed to the orthodox church theology with more than enthusiasm. But scholarship had broadened his moral sympathies and in his love of service he knew no distinction of person, creed or error’.64 He was also brave if not dangerously reckless. He was arrested for threatening to blow up some (empty) spectators’ stands which had been erected outside Southwark Cathedral for viewing Edward’s VII’s coronation procession; he saw these as symbolising ‘the league between the Church and the more affluent classes, which is at present so great a barrier to a large proportion of the people from coming into the fold of the Church’.6’ He considered it an abomination that the Church should ‘encourage the payment of large sums for such places [viewing stands] while so many of her members had not the necessities of life, and intended “to strike a blow for Christ” A friend argued that instead of prison Martin might be best served by being sent to a home to recover his senses, but he refused the magistrate’s offer: ‘No; it is my duty to go back to the men from whom I come’.67

After several more adversarial encounters with the police while defending the poor,68 Martin was knocked over by a lorry and treated in Guy’s Hospital, just across the road from the tiny cubicle in which he lived. In an article entitled A Modern St Anthony: Hermit Priest Who Lives for Poor’, The Reverend T.P. Stevens sang his praises:

Everyone loves him, and while his ragged appearance might otherwise make him a butt of laughter, his personality is so strong that he is wonderfully respected. He has done untold good, living among the poorest of the poor and doing all his own work. He lives in rooms high up in the shadow of Guy’s Hospital. He eats his bread and butter from a slab of slate, washes his own clothes, and hangs them to dry on the landing. To me he has always seemed saint-like - a mystic.69

When he died in an institution ward, he surprised everyone by leaving /22,000 to be given to the poor of Southwark as well as a legacy to St. John’s College, Cambridge, to fund the training of indigent candidates for the priesthood.70

This chapter has observed five down-and-out classicists notorious for their ragged appearance. Three of them were devout Christians, two were drunkards, most of them spent their lives consorting with the poor and destitute and all were eccentric. Die of Aberdaron and Hawkie were actually homeless: George Martin was exceptional among them, since he was by birth well-to-do, and a Cambridge graduate, but embraced the working classes and a career as a street philanthropist. The chapter’s title, indeed, was suggested by Tressell’s famous novel of working-class life we have discussed in a previous chapter, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists (see above pp. 226-30). And, in the next two chapters, our story will open out to discover classicists and classical presences in many other marginal, déclassé and shady corners of British society.


  • 1 Youings (2008) ODNB.
  • 2 Goadby (1768) 4.

Goadbv (1768) 5.

Goadby (1768) 12.

See above pp. 104.

Smith (1854) 15. N.b. ‘Hic-haec-hoc-ing it’ refers to the practice of memorising Latin grammar, particularly the declension of the demonstrative pronoun ‘hie’ (‘this’). Smith (1854) 15.

Smith (1854) 15.

Smith (1854) 38.

Plautus, Rudens 1, 2, 56; Horace, Satires II.2.7.

Smith (1854) 14.

Hansard (Commons) 14th June 1839; Carlyle (1843) chapters 3 and 12.

Smith (1854) 349-359.

Smith (1854) 287.

Smith (1853) 187.

Smith (1854) 182.

Smith (1854) 183.

Either Smith or his editor referred to the specialist Greek compositor as ‘a cockney Grecian’ in the page heading; Smith (1854) 182.

Kay (1877) 1. Vii. Most of the information about Donaldson is in Kay (1877) vol. II, 226-32.

Kay (1877) 2. 228.

Kay (1877) 2. 227.

Kay (1877) 2. 227.

Kay (1877) 2. 227.

Kay (1877) 2. 227-8.

Kay (1877) 2. 228.

Kay (1877) 2. 227.

Roscoe (1855) 4. His handwritten papers (in several scripts) may be read in the National Library of Wales archives in Aberystwyth.

Roscoe (1855) 4. There is also an account of Die’s treatment by his father in Die’s own hand at the foot of page 4 of the NLW edition of Roscoe (1822), in the ‘G.V. Roberts Collection of Literary Papers and Letters’, MS 18433C.

Roscoe (1855) 4-9. N.b. In May 1842, apparently at the request of a Liverpool Goldsmith, Mr Joseph Mayers, Dick translated Roscoe’s memoir into Hebrew. This can be found in the back of the NLW edition of Roscoe (1822), in the ‘G. V. Roberts Collection of Literary Papers and Letters’ in MS 18433C. See also Anon. (1832g). ‘Bangoriensis’ (1844).

Anon. (1832g).

‘Bangoriensis’ (1844).

Anon. (1843).

Thomas (1987) 46, lines 5-7.

Roscoe (1855) 8.

Roscoe (1855) 7.

Roscoe (1855) 6.

Thomas (1987) 46, lines 8—10.

Roscoe (1855) 11. The manuscript dictionary is held at NLW.

Roscoe (1855) 7.

Roscoe (1855) 7.

Roscoe (1855) 8.

Roscoe (1855) 9.

Roscoe (1855) 3.

There are many parallels between Die and Christopher Taylor (b.1962), who is the subject of a recent study by Smith, Tsimpli, Morgan, Woll (2010).

Smith, Tsimpli, Morgan, Woll (2010) 1.

Roscoe (1855) 10.

Ellis (1844) 9.

Hawkie was the name of the bovine protagonist in Cameron’s own The Prophecies of “Hawkie”—a chapbook poking fun at a false prophet named Ross, who predicted a flood that would destroy Briggate and converted many on Glasgow’s streets; Cameron (1823 [?]). Cameron’s visionary cow predicted a flood of whisky with hilarious results, see Urie (1908) 50-1.

‘Mashman’: a worker in a brewery or distillery who is responsible for mashing the malt (OED).

‘The patterer would buy a quire, or if short of money a dozen, of eight-page chapbooks at wholesale prices, twopence a dozen, and then sold them at halfpenny each, so for someone who could tell a good tale it was a very profitable business.’ Morris (2007) 176.

William Finlay in Cameron (1888) Appendix II, 119.

Cameron (1888) 11.

Cameron (1888) 12-3.

Cameron (1888) 98-9.

Cameron (1888) 98-9.

Aldred (1908) 28-9.

Aldred (1955-63) 66; e.g. Anon. (1948).

Anon. (1948).

Anon. (1948).

Aldred (1955-63) 66.

Aldred (1955-63) 66; (1908) 28-9.

Aldred (1908) 28.

Aldred (1955-1963) 66; Aldred (1908) 29.

The Cornish Telegraph Wed. 5th November 1902.

IVhitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, Sat. 5th July 1902.

Lake’s Falmouth Packet and Cornwall Advertiser, Saturday 22nd November 1902.

Reported in South London Press Sat. 11th June 1904; London Evening Standard Mon. 21st November 1904; Globe Wed. 9th December 1903.

Birmingham Daily Gazette Fri. 27th July 1934, 7.

Daily Mirror 6th May 1947.

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