Benjamin Piggins 1816-1899


Angel's Visits

George Chilman, Rose Lane, St. Peters, Ipswich, shoemaker, v. Benjamin Piggins, Norwich Road, Ipswich, pork butcher .—

The particular demand in this case was — "To one quarter's salary for playing the harmonium at Apostolic Church at your request, £3 3s. 0d."

Mr Pollard appeared for the plaintiff: Mr Birkett for the defendant.

Mr Pollard, in opening the plaintiff's case, said the Apostolic Church was situated in Tanner's Lane. The plaintiff, who was a man in poor circumstances, at first played the harmonium at the place voluntarily, but afterwards the defendant, who was the deacon, agreed that the man should be paid.

The plaintiff said in June, 1871, he commenced playing the harmonium at the Apostolic Church, at the request of Mr Piggins. Nothing was then said about salary. He only played on one Sunday in the month. This arrangement continued about four months, and after that time there was a service every alternate Sunday, morning and evening. This continued until last October, when there was weekly service.

Pollard: What officers are there in this church?

Plaintiff: There is only the deacon. Mr Piggins is the deacon.

Who is the head of the church? — Mr Brewster is the angel or head of the Church.

His Honour: An angel! He has not got wings, has he? (Laughter.)

Plaintiff: No.

His Honour: Angel is nothing but messenger; that is what is really meant.

Mr Birkett: Quite so.

Mr Pollard: They might use a more appropriate term.

Mr Birkett: It is a matter of taste.

His Honour: Does the angel descend upon the church every Sunday? (Laughter.)

Plaintiff: I cannot say. I don't often see him. (Laughter.)

The Angels visits are "few and far between" are they? (Laughter.) — Yes.

Where does the angel live? (Laughter.) — At White Notley Hall, Essex.

Mr Pollard: He is one of the most influential of the congregation?

Plaintiff: Yes.

His Honour: But he rarely descends upon the church? (Laughter.)

Plaintiff: Very rarely.

Who officiates? — They generally send a minister down from Chelmsford.

There is a similar church at Chelmsford? — Yes.

Is this a community set up by Irving?

Mr Birkett: Yes, your Honour.

Examination continued: After the services commenced every Sunday, I was asked to go and see Mr Lucking, who came from Chelmsford to officiate, and who lodged at defendant's. I went and saw him and he recited the sermon I had already heard in church.

His Honour: then you heard it twice?

Plaintiff: Yes. He said if there were any temporal wants in the church and I would let him know, he would attend to them. He also asked me what my means were, and I told them that they were small. I thanked him for his advice and left. In consequence of that I went the next morning and saw Mr Piggins and told him what Mr Lucking had said, and I added that I considered from what Mr Lucking had said that I was entitled to a salary for my services. He said, "yes, they wish to pay you for your services, and Mr Brewster said it was time you had a salary." I then said I should charge £3 for the last quarter and say nothing about what I had done previously. He said, "I don't think they will object to that." In addition to playing on Sunday, I practised with the choir during the week. On the following Sunday the deacon came to me in the vestry, and gave me a blank denial, saying they would not give me any salary at all, but he would get up a subscription for me. After that I saw the officiating minister, Mr Marion, who is a bankers clerk residing at Chelmsford. He said I had asked a very great salary for my services. It was as much as the church or room. He then said, "Will you take what the church will give." I said I would, but I told him I should not play the next Sunday unless they settled. He said, "then we will do as well as we can without the music." I have not played since.

What does the deacon do?

Plaintiff: he takes a portion of the service.

What portion of the service? — He reads so many prayers, and collects all the offerings in the church.

Then he is the cashier? — Yes, and he pays all the expenses.

How did they collect the money? — They pay by tithes of the rate.

Did the congregation increase? — Yes, the place was full at times.

Are you a member of the church? — No, they took me in as a member, but they did not treat any as such. They had me merely for my services.

His Honour: Where do you attend now?

Plaintiff: The established Church.

Mr Pollard: Did they find fault with your playing?

Plaintiff: they laid any fault on to me, but I had no choir to deal with.

His Honour: Had you to play and sing, too? (Laughter.)

Plaintiff: Yes, they used to teach me to begin at the bottom of the hymn. (Laughter.) Since I have left off playing, Mr Piggins sent for the music books, some of which they had given me. I did not give them up.

Mr Birkett: What justified you in saying that they took you in for your services?

Plaintiff: From their treatment to me.

Did not they receive you into membership before you played the harmonium? — No, they did not.

When did you become a member of this community? — I don't understand the working of the thing, but last November there was a confirmation, they call it, I think. I think I was admitted in February.

His Honour: What happened to you then?

Plaintiff: They admitted so many into fellowship.

Cross-examination continued: They are nearly all poor people in the church, but there are a few small tradesmen.

Mr Birkett: Is it not one of the principle of this Association that the members of it should render their services voluntarily?

Plaintiff: Yes.

This is one of the prominent principles, and you were aware of it? — Yes.

Mr Piggins performs a great many services does he not? — I am not sure. He has been brought into office since I left.

His Honour: Has he taken the harmonium since you left?

Plaintiff: I don't know, sir.

Mr Birkett: Does he not give up a great deal of time and labour for the benefit of his community?

Plaintiff: No, he does not.

At this stage of the proceedings, his Honour said there was not the slightest shadow of a legal contract. Besides, the services rendered during the quarter sued for were proved to be voluntary. He (the learned Judge) should order the plaintiff to be non-suited.

Some arguments ensued as to the costs, but Mr Birkett stated that Mr Marion would forego his, adding that had the plaintiff continued to have rendered his services he would, in all probability, have received more than he had claimed, but his client refused to be forced to pay.

The above report comes from the Ipswich Journal of 1873/03/22. The Irvingite movement, or Catholic Apostolic Church, had been established in about 1831. Its three grades of ordained ministry were the bishop (referred to as "angel", following a passage in Revelations chapters 2 and 3, in the above case Brewster), the priest (Marion) and the deacon (Piggins). As noted in the transcript, the deacon was responsible for management. Edwin Frederick Brewster, a rich farmer of White Notley, supervised several local Irvingite churches.

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