Hardwicke spent the first two weeks of 1875 at Halton Holgate, during part of which he was ill and confined to bed. His mother records in her diary that he left for London on the morning of 16 January. In London he was a lay preacher with Rev. Robert Gwynne at St. Mary’s, Soho, and a volunteer worker at the Newport Market Refuge for the Destitute. Little is known of Hardwicke’s work with Gwynne. In addition to supporting the inmates of the Refuge, Gwynne was keen to innovate in other directions and use St. Mary’s to teach the poor of the district. One innovation at the church was the setting up in January 1875 of a Saturday Cookery School for girls. Lessons were held in the clergy house and each attendee paid 3d a lesson for which they were taught not only how to cook, but how to buy and barter for the ingredients in the local market. These lessons were closely tied with teaching the pupils how to read, write and do simple arithmetic of weights and measures. Hardwicke was a teacher in these activities.

Another development was the establishment of a Working Men’s Club at the Church and Hardwicke is known to have asked the Librarian at Balliol for books to be donated to a library that was being set up at the Club.

It was in London that Hardwicke became acquainted with Octavia Hill who, with the help of John Ruskin, had purchased and refurbished a large number of houses that were let out at reasonable rents to the poor. For a time Hardwicke assisted in collecting rents from some of the tenants.

In July, Hardwicke represented the family at the service and burial of Lady Jane Franklin, his mother’s Aunt and wife of the explorer Sir John Franklin. Soon after the funeral Hardwicke fell ill, through overwork his supporters have said. Octavia Hill had connections in the Lake District and she arranged for him to spend time recuperating at The Croft in Ambleside, the home of John and Elizabeth Fletcher. It was here that he met their daughter Edith who was later to become his wife. While recuperating, Hardwicke continued to think what he should do next, with consideration given to going to Ceylon as a missionary. Finally, however, possibly with the help of Thring, he decided to accept the post of curate at a newly-formed mission in the St. Barnabas parish of Bristol.

Clifton College Mission, Bristol

The mission was a joint venture between Clifton College, led by its headmaster, Dr. John Percival, and the Bristol Church Aid Society. A district in St. Barnabas parish had been chosen for the mission. Hardwicke was ordained as deacon at Gloucester Cathedral on 19 December 1875. He was also licensed as a curate in St. Barnabas parish. He was to live with the vicar, the Rev. Ernest Adolphus Fuller.

The vast majority of the population of the parish did not attend church. Many were very poor people struggling to exist. It was not uncommon to find ‘two families living in most of the houses, five to a family’. The area in which Hardwicke’s congregation lived was liable to severe flooding in heavy rain. Hardwicke described the area of his mission:

Muck-heaps and farm refuse, on which jerry-builders had set up rows of houses, which periodically got flooded, and sucked up fever and death from chill for the poor folk who lodged therein. No lamps. Streets only wadeable through. A few public-houses of the worst sort surrounded a bit of open ground which was called “the gardens,” in which were tumble-down low huts of squatters in old time. These dwellers were the pick of the neighbourhood. . . . The work of the Mission lay round the lowest little public-house and an old carpenter’s shop.

When Hardwicke arrived in Bristol there was not even a mission room. Initially ‘a room or two in a cottage’ were made available for his use. A number of premises were also assessed for their suitability as a mission venue, as was the erection of a new building. Nothing came of these investigations. Eventually an engineer’s workshop and two adjoining houses, at the junction of St. Nicholas Road and Newfoundland Road, were purchased by Clifton College. The new mission room was approximately 400 metres from St. Barnabas Vicarage where Hardwicke was living. After refurbishment, the building was opened on 19 May 1876. Twelve months later a Working Men’s Club was added.

The various services and classes were demanding on Hardwicke’s time and in his reports to the College he states that more help was needed if they were to be kept going. The Mission also arranged outings for Sunday School attendees, Mothers’ meetings, swimming classes, cottage lectures, a Discussion Club, and Penny Reading evenings. The latter, in particular, were well attended, but relied heavily on the involvement of Clifton College and other helpers. Other entertainment evenings were also organised, often in conjunction with coffee and cocoa evenings, with admission only costing one penny. The need to get families to help themselves was also a part of the mission work. A Penny Bank, under Post Office authority, was started. Various Provident clubs were established, including a Boot and Shoe Club, as well as a Dispensary Club. Unfortunately, some of the attendees at the various clubs, services and meetings were unruly, an issue which certainly caused friction with Percival.

Hardwicke’s achievements at the Mission in such a short period of time are remarkable considering his age, lack of experience and the problems he had to tackle. But he also immersed himself fully in the life of the city. In less than a month after his arrival he attended a major conference on Temperance organised by Fuller. Even as a young curate he was not afraid to voice his opinions. Echoing Thring’s belief that leisure hours should be productively used, Hardwicke told the conference that the problems of alcohol would not go away without ensuring that working men had other amusements to which they could turn.

He joined the recently formed Bristol and Gloucester Archaeological Society and even loaned it a letter from John Franklin for one of its exhibitions. He also became actively involved in the campaign to save St. Werburgh’s Tower from demolition. In late July 1876 he took a holiday in Switzerland, his first trip abroad.

During the 1860s and 1870s coffee and cocoa evenings became popular throughout most cities and towns. Many organisations arranged such evenings as an alternative to going to a public house. Such evenings were organised during winter months at the Clifton College Mission, for example. Not all such gatherings, however, were arranged by charities or welfare organisations. Profit-making companies were set up to entice people away from pubs and other drinking establishments. One such company was the Bristol Tavern and Club Company. This was registered in April 1877 with capital of £20,000 in £5 shares. Amongst its directors was H. D. Rawnsley.

A Book of Bristol Sonnets, Hardwicke’s first book, was published in March 1877. One reviewer wrote:

[Though] not a Bristolian by birth, [the author] is evidently a keen admirer of all that is historical or picturesque in our good old city. Indeed the present volume shows that it is possible for a comparative stranger to have a far more thorough acquaintance with local history, customs, traditions, and topography, than a large majority of our native citizens.

In January 1878, two years after starting as a mission curate in the city, Hardwicke left Bristol. The exact reasons for his leaving are uncertain. Percival and other commentators say he resigned. More recent critics have said that he was dismissed by Percival who was unhappy at the way the Mission was being run. Whatever the reasons the last few months of 1877 were very busy ones for Hardwicke. He became engaged to Edith Fletcher in late September and accepted the offer of the living of St. Margaret, Low Wray, in the Lake District, made by his cousin Edward Preston Rawnsley. Hardwicke’s congregation were very sorry to see him go. They genuinely did all they could to persuade him to change his mind. This included taking a petition signed by 300 people to Percival in person.

In preparation for his new career Hardwicke was ordained a priest at Carlisle Cathedral on 23 December. He left Bristol on 14 January 1878. His mixed feelings at his departure are clear in a postcard he sent to his twin sister:

Dear F, Thanks for the note. Left Bristol with regret. Very trying day of it yesterday. Poor people would appear so grieved & not a few honest tears were shed at farewell after service last night. There is no such joy as the sympathy felt & expressed from poor men’s hearts & from women’s eyes.

Clifton College Mission took nearly three years before finding a suitable replacement.

 Next: Edith Fletcher and Marriage