A Gloucestershire Sermon
Just as the people of 17th and 18th century Gloucestershire were drawn to Bristol for business and social reasons, so too they were drawn to London. It is no surprise therefore that in both cities, charities were set up by those of Gloucestershire origin who had met with prosperity, to support fellow natives who had not enjoyed success.
Both charities were named “The Gloucestershire Society”, both had identical aims and both shared many of the same members. Only the Society founded in Bristol has survived to continue its charitable work, now throughout Gloucestershire. However some of the records of the London Society still exist. They include a sermon given to its members by the Rev. Dr Edward Fowler in 1684.
Dr Edward Fowler
Edward Fowler had been born in Westerleigh, Gloucestershire and after serving as Rector of Northill, in Bedfordshire, was appointed to All Hallows in Bread Street, London in 1673. Three years later he became a Canon of Gloucester and in 1691 was consecrated Bishop of Gloucester. These are some of the moving words he delivered at the first Feast of the London Gloucestershire Society, following the Great Fire, which destroyed two-thirds of the city. They apply as much today to those of Gloucestershire origin, as they did then:
“And now my honoured and dear countrymen, God Almighty grant that this our happy meeting, may contribute towards the promoting and increase of Love amongst us: and fully answer the designs thereof: mutual society and charity. And it is my humble request to you, that this our first Feast after a long discontinuance, (that is ever since the burning of London) may give a noble example to all succeeding ones, of forwardness to this great work of charity, namely relieving the most necessitous of our Bretheren.
We have a country [county], I think, take it altogether, not inferior (to speak modestly) to any one in England, both for riches and pleasure and a country that is honoured with inhabitants of great worth and great quality, equally with most in England. And I can’t but take notice farther, of the honour which some would have to be done to our country, by an ancient proverb, the like to which no other place I ever heard of can lay claim to, except heaven itself. The proverb is this: As sure as God is in Gloucestershire.
Our country’s so abounding heretofore with Religious Houses hath been thought to be the occasion of this proverb. But though those houses have long gone, I could be content that we might never lose our proverb, and that this for the time to come might be the grounds of it: that Gloucestershire abounds above all countries with love and friendship. Then there may be a defence for such a proverb as this, for though God be everywhere, yet he is most especially and particularly there where love reigneth. For God is love and those that dwell in love dwell in God, and God in them. At St John assures us, I say on so blessed an account as this, let the proverb to all generations be continued.”