ANOTHER year is gone amidst wind rain and a New Year has burst upon us with warmth and sunshine. Had we been called to choose, we should probably all have asked - for a good hard frost. It is said that “a green Christmas makes a full churchyard.” Let
us hope that this proverb may not prove true of our parish during the coming year. Last year it was certainly not. for in spite of a green Christmas the healthiness of Downham was shown in a wonderful way. During the year 1896 there were only fifteen deaths. Of these seven were children under two years, two died by an accident, and four were over seventy years of age. Only two died between those ages, one was twenty and the other fifty seven years old. There was no death at all between June 17th and December 9th, This is a remarkable record for a parish of about eighteen hundred inhabitants.
From a farming point of view the past has been distinctly a more prosperous year.
The sudden rise in the price of corn was perhaps too rapid to be maintained. Still all those who farm land have derived some advantage. The only class to receive no benefit, we regret to say, was the labouring class, for whilst wages remained stationary, the family bread bill has been considerably increased. Whether the day will ever come when all classes will suffer and pain alike by market fluctuations is more than doubtful. In one way perhaps all have benefited, there has been more work about and less compulsory idleness than for some time past.
THIS is not the best time to speak about the Schools, because the School year does 'not end till April, but we may stop a moment and congratulate ourselves, that we have now good school for the whole parish, with an efficient staff of teachers. These latter have done their duty well, and that at times in the face of great difficulties. Of the fourteen teachers employed, only four do not belong to Downham. These four, however, are not only responsible to us for the education of the children, but they are training no less than ten other teachers belonging to this parish, who are thus already earning money, and are being prepare.] for a most promising profession. All this is being done without any expense to either ratepayers or parents. Few parishes can boast of such advantages.
THE Feoffee Charity, we think, has been devoted to the greatest advantage of all classes of people. All the details of its management are well known to all who care to interest themselves. This year at the suggestion of the Trustees the Charity Commissioners have modified, and so settled the whole scheme, that now there will be two popular representatives added to the Trustees. This has been done to give force to the intentions of the Local Government Act. According to that Act the Parish Council cannot appoint representatives on any Charity which has to do with education. In order to get over this difficulty, we have now legally divided the Trust Fund into two, the Charity and the Educational branch. Thus it is made possible for the parish Council to appoint two trustees for four years to act on the Charity Branch. These need not be members of the Parish Council. At the end of two years one of the two will retire by lot, and another will be appointed ~ the same one may be re-elected). In that way one popular representative will retire and a new one will be appointed every two years.
Trustees have to thank their tenants for their punctual payment of rent. Their aim is after the payment as originally settled of £150 to the Schools to use the funds at their disposal for the help of those who most need and deserve, help. As the cottages fall vacant, they will be used for widows or aged couples. Others are made to pay rent. The Feoffees are anxious for entire publicity in all these matters, and are always glad to listen to any suggestion as long as it is offered for the general good.
IN the material part of this church the past year has witnessed a considerable change. The dilapidated and uncared for appearance presented to anyone entering the village is now changed. A very considerable amount of work has been done; in fact~ all that was absolutely necessary for the maintenance of the fabric. The accounts will be published as soon as all has been settled.
WHEN we turn to that aspect of the parish towards which everything else should help, namely, the spiritual side, there have been as might well be expected, some encouragements and some disappointments, The Sunday Schools are flourishing. We are gradually achieving what must be our aim-that all the teachers should be regular communicants; we have to thank them for all the help they have given. As to the children it is not so much numbers we are anxious for, as that they should be well-instructed, adopt religious principles which will help them to grow up good men and women, become reverent worshippers of God, and thus enter upon the sure path of prosperity in this world, and better still, salvation in the next. On the Sunday mornings the children receive religious instruction in the School. In the afternoon they are publicly instructed and examined by the Clergy in church. Grown-up people are heartily invited to be present.
OUR Communicants have steadily increased in number, and, we pray, also in reverence and godliness. The numbers at Christmas since 1891 are as follows: 25,51, 46,57, 63, 76. At Easter and at other times there has been proportionately the same increase. It is indeed satisfactory to find so many becoming obedient to our Lord's command, and celebrating one of the most evangelical acts recorded in scripture, "for as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till He come."
Now we are entering upon a New Year. Our hearts' wish for all is that it may be a happy one happy in the sense of earthly prosperity as far as it is good for us, in the sense of a high moral tone, in the preservation of purity, and above all in the cultivation of the love of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. For this we must live and work, and we will take for our motto, "His banner over me was love."-(Cant. ii, 4.)
ONE great challenge. at the beginning of this year awaits us. Mr. Bull is leaving us. On Trinity Sunday, 1882, he was ordained to work with the Rector at Northampton. With the exception of three years during which Mr. Bull was Vicar of Stoke, in Suffolk, he has continued to work with him. -Now; Mr. Bull has decided to offer himself to the Society of S. John the Evangelist, Oxford. He may stay in England or he may be sent into any part of the world where it is thought his services will be useful. Wherever he may be, he will always have a place in our prayers and carry our affectionate regards with him.
THE Coal and Blanket Clubs, the Needlework Classes, the Bible and Mutual Improvement Classes and the Glee Club will all be resumed again at once.
OWING to the frost. the ploughing matches have been postponed. Everything had been got ready, special Committee of Management appointed, land kindly offered for the purpose by Mr. Walter Brown ;
A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL.