Annals of A Village Schoolmaster.

Such is the title of a little book written by Mrs. Maddock, wife of the then Vicar of Ropley. It is a most interesting and touching account of one William Faichen who was born in the parish of Alton in the year 1782 - some 147 years ago.

During his childhood the family removed to Medstead, where his father (evidently a very unsatisfactory character) kept a public-house, and where the boy William appears to have been brought under much adverse influence. He and his sisters seem to have spent many of their early days in gathering fallen boughs from the surrounding woods.

When about twelve years of age William went to work in a public-house at Winchester, and from there on to Portsmouth, where he found employment (to use his own words) "as a tap-boy, and to clean shoes at the White Hart Tavern. It was a house where officers of the Navy used to dine and sleep, so that it was a profitable place. I remained there about six months, during which time I saw many sad scenes which I delighted in."

From this place he ran away one Sunday afternoon, slipping out by the back door and carrying his little bundle of clothes with him. He at last arrived at the "Half-way houses," plastered with mud ; and so onward as best he could, riding some of the way behind a post chaise upon which he jumped, to Horndean and Petersfield, and finally to Bighton Village, where he took service with "the Rev. Mr. H." (who was I conclude the Rector of the Parish)

When speaking of himself at this time he says : "I was a miserable sinner, though I kept it from the eyes of men, knowing my new master would not surfer it. I committed sins too shocking to mention, though the Lord knew them all, and to Him I hope I have many a time made a full confession. I was a drunkard and an extortioner, and followed all manner of revellings."

After his marriage William Faichen went to reside in the village of Bishop's Sutton, where he obtained work at a carriage-factory. This industry was carried on at Sutton for many years, and I can remember the factory (close to the "Ship" Inn) very well when I was a child.

It was here that William Faichen was, as he tells us, brought under the teaching and influence of the Rev. S. Maddock "who pointed out to me, he said, the way of salvation by a once crucified Saviour, for which I shall have to praise Him throughout Eternity."

His whole heart and life and character became entirely changed. It is one of the most remarkable instances of true conversion that I ever heard of. He became humble, teachable and unselfish, living to help others and to lead them too to Christ.

His work at the factory was very arduous, he was employed there from 5 a.m. till 7 p.m. and he received for a while very low wages.

Feeling that the children of the village stood sadly in need of instruction, there being neither a day nor Sunday School in the place, William determined to give up his two hours of evening leisure for this purpose, and after some trouble, a little night school was established in the belfry of the Church. A good-natured farmer volunteered to convey bricks to form a floor, the place being cold and damp. He also helped Faichen and a few elder boys to lay the bricks, whilst another neighbour white-washed the walls. The following is an extract from Mrs. Maddock's narrative :

"One evening some of our party walked to Sutton, where we found William engaged in his usual labour of love teaching the children in the belfry. He was seated on a simple stool; in one corner was a plain and roughly formed wooden candlestick nailed on a rugged pedestal of his own construction ; a pair of iron snuffers were hanging on the stand.

"Let the reader picture to himself this good man at the close of a day of 14 hours of labour, thus spending the remainder of his strength. Let him suppose the daylight closing in upon him and the light of his single candle in the prophet-like stick shedding its dim rays partially through the aisle of the church, and see the clustered group of little heads around him to catch but light enough to read the sacred page. Follow him on till every noise is stilled, every knee is bent in worship and he alone is heard to pray that God would bless his humble labours and by His Spirit teach these children to love and fear His holy name. I was one of those who walked to Sutton Church on the occasion alluded to, and long will the events of that evening have a place in my memory."

For some time it had been Mr. Maddock's great desire to open a day school in this parish for the children of Ropley and Sutton, and on the evening which has just been described he and Faichen were led to discuss the subject together, and eventually after much consideration and prayer all obstacles were removed, and in July, 1825, the erection of the Ropley Village School, with a cottage adjoining, was actually begun. William Faichen had agreed to become its master - and indeed he was well fitted for such a post.

The work progressed rapidly, and on the 6th of May, 1826, the school was opened, and William commenced his labours amongst the little children. Himself he wrote : "A happy day it was, and one much to be remembered by many."

Not only by teaching in the village school but in many other ways did this wonderful man seek to help and benefit others. In his leisure moments he visited the sick and poor - praying with many a dying cottager, and bringing sweet consolation and assurance to doubting hearts.

"When we recollect," says Mrs. Maddock, "that in his childhood he was taught to break the laws of man, as well as those of God, and that he grew up from youth to manhood hardened yet more and more in sin, when we see such a one drawn by the cords of divine love, turning him from sin to holiness, we must own that Grace to be free indeed and that Love to be immeasurably great." He himself says : "I never entered the school the four years I was teacher without first going into my closet to call upon my God and Saviour to assist me and give His blessing upon my labours, and so also I closed every day, and many, very many seasons of blessed refreshment for my soul have I here found, such as language cannot speak or pen describe."

A friend of his when writing to another after his death bears this testimony to his character :- "Since I have known him, which has been for nine years, I can say that he was a faithful man and feared God above many. He lodged under my roof for three years and a half, he sat at my table and drank of my cup, and therefore I know his principles to be what he professed, and in all that time I think I am enabled to say before God and man that I never knew him to step out of the way of duty, nor can I at this time bring to my mind any one five minutes in which he was to be found idle."

After four years of earnest, faithful and unflagging service, William Faichen fell ill of a lingering sickness from which he never recovered. I here give a few extracts from Mr. Maddock's notes :-

"Saturday, November 28th. Called to see William and found him very weak. I urged him to give up his office of teaching in the school, but he said : 'I should be quite unhappy to give it up at present, for teaching the children is my delight and joy.' "

On the 30th of November a little missionary meeting was held in the cottage of the village school, when, we are told, "he was seated in an easy-chair by the fire, his countenance was emaciated by disease but it displayed inward peace. I feared that the service had been too long for him, but he replied with much feeling : 'I could have sat till twelve o'clock.' "

It was his wish to receive the Sacrament once more with some of his Christian friends, and (to quote his pastor's words) "Ten members of our little church surrounded his bed. It was a very solemn season.

'...The place was bright
With something of celestial light -
A simple altar by the bed
For high Communion meetly spread,
Chalice and plate and snowy vest -
We ate and drank, then calmly blest ;
All mourners, one with dying breath.
We sat and talked of Jesus' death. '

"The dying saint appeared indeed to have received fresh strength to give each a parting blessing. He said : 'Oh, my friends, I think I never knew before what the communion of saints on earth really was.'

"On the night before his death a friend visited him, who on observing his struggles for breath said : 'I fear you suffer much ?' 'Oh no,' he replied, 'this is only the passage through the river, the conflict will soon be over and I shall be at home with my dear Saviour.' His friend asked him to tell him if he were perfectly happy. He lifted his eyes to heaven and said : 'Perfectly happy - perfectly happy.' The next morning he fell asleep in Jesus."

William Faichen was buried at Bishop's Sutton on the 8th of January, 1830. He desired that the children whom he had so long instructed might follow his body to its resting place. "Those of both parishes assembled at the school house at 12 o'clock and were arranged in order, the boys at one end of the room and the girls at the other, leaving a space for the body to be carried through the midst."

I will close by giving Mrs. Maddock's own words : "The stillness was preserved seemingly without any restraint or difficulty, though including parents and teachers, there must have been upwards of 200 present. The body was carried through the group of children, not a sound bespeaking levity was heard, but many a tear was falling, and I fully believe many a heart was sorrowing, for many a mother was there whose child had told her : 'Our master bids us not to lie and curse and swear.'

"The children walked two and two (the two miles to Sutton). When the body was taken into the Church, fourteen of the elder children - seven girls with white hoods and seven boys stood on each side of the coffin, and after the reading of the appointed Lesson they sang a selected hymn :

'He is gone, and never more
Shall I hear that voice again.'

"The body was now borne to the churchyard, and as usual placed by the side of the grave. The sun which had for some time been obscured, broke forth with a splendour of clear shining. The grave was on the south side of the church nearly opposite the porch, so that the sun shone immediately on the spot, and gave a distinctive beauty and lustre to the scene. The numbers which had filled the church surrounded the grave. I shall never forget the solemn silence which prevailed.

"The little crowd was soon dispersed, the tongue was loosed and from many lips might be heard the words : 'Truly this was a man of God - he sleeps in Jesus - we shall meet again in the morning.'

"I have visited that grave again. A plain and simple stone marks the spot and tells the stranger that there a pious Village Schoolmaster rests from his labours." It is to be regretted that the inscription on the tombstone has been allowed to become much obliterated.

After the name and date there is the following :-

"Oh pause beside this lowly grave
For he who rests beneath the sod
Found the Redeemer strong to save
And sought through Him the way to God."

The old Village School, now used entirely as a dwelling-house, is still standing on the Petersfield Road between the Anchor Inn and the H.H. Kennels. Its front bears the following inscription :-

This Building
was erected for the daily education
of the Children of Bishop's Sutton & Ropley A.D. 1826.


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