Robert William Dale

Robert William Dale was born on 1st December 1829 in Newington Butts, London (now Elephant & Castle, London Borough of Southwark). His parents were Robert, a hat trimmer, and Elizabeth (nee Young). It is believed that he attended church at Whitfield’s Tabernacle, Moorfield, with his parents.

During his mid-teens, he became a school teacher in Andover, Hampshire, and there he joined the Congregational Church. He sought to attend a Congregational college, and it was this that first brought him to Birmingham; in 1847 he began at Spring College to study theology.

Although he went on to study further at the University of London, earning a B.A. in 1850 and an M.A. in 1853, he returned to Birmingham to become an assistant to John Angell James, a Nonconformist clergyman, at the Carr’s Lane Chapel. Dale had begun preaching whilst in Andover, and had read James’ work as a teenager. In 1855, he married Elizabeth Dowling on 21 February with whom he had three children.

Dale was a passionate orator, and did not shirk from expounding arguments for change. Indeed, the traditions of Carr’s Lane Chapel were Calvinistic when Dale arrived in Birmingham, but he initially aroused opposition when he attacked Calvinistic doctrines in his sermons. Dale was a strong advocate of the disestablishment of the Church of England, arguing that any vestige of political authority impaired the spiritual work of the Christian church. This belief extended to support of social improvement and he was an advocate, alongside George Dawson, of the Civic Gospel.

Dale took a particular interest in public education, and held a seat on the Birmingham school board. He believed that there was moral and religious work in the civic duty of improving public wellbeing in Birmingham, and he advocated many important causes, including: free public education, the recognition of trade unions, and the understanding of the links between poverty and crime.

Despite his active role in municipal life, he did not preach politics. However, he was a Liberal party supporter and worked with other Birmingham reformers including Joseph Chamberlain, who Dale supported when he resigned from the Liberal government in 1886 over the proposals for Irish Home Rule.

Dale’s activism and sermons, many of which were committed to print, made him a national figure in Britain. He also travelled abroad on invitations to speak. In 1877 Dale travelled to the United States, where he delivered nine lectures on preaching at Yale. These were well received when they were published.  Dale rejected an invitation to Melbourne in 1862, but in 1887 he travelled to Australia and toured there for fifteen weeks with his wife and daughter. While there, he spoke publically of the many factors that he believed justified a ‘buoyant faith’ in Australia’s future.

Dale remained a preacher at Carr’s Lane until his death, delivering his final sermon there a month before his death in 13th March 1895, at the age of sixty-five. He was buried in Key Hill Cemetery, where the headstone has been lost and the grave is marked by an inscription that commemorates his daughter, Harriet, who is also buried there. Dale is commemorated by a Birmingham Civic Society blue plague on Carrs Lane Church.

Charles Vince

Charles Vince was born in 1823 in Farnham, Surrey. In his childhood he attended a local school and became an apprentice to Mason & Jackson, the firm for which his father worked as a carpenter and builder. After a Baptist conversion, Vince entered Stepney College (run by Particular Baptists in London’s East End) in 1848. On being inducted as a minister in 1852, he was assigned to Mount Zion Chapel in Graham Street, Birmingham.

Vince first came to public notice as a supporter of Birmingham’s Civic Gospel in 1866, when he delivered a speech at the mayor’s luncheon. During his speech, Vince expressed a desire – in line with the aspirations of individuals such as George Dawson or Robert Dale – for a new standard of business-like and idealistic municipal leaders.

Vince was a strong advocate of public education, and he was a member of a number of bodies that supported this; he sat on the Free Libraries Committee, was a founding member of the Birmingham Education Society in 1867, and a founding executive committee member of the National Education League in 1869. He was a particularly staunch adhered to secular education.

According to the Birmingham Daily Post, Vince was ‘well known as an elegant, persuasive, and most earnest preacher.’ Robert Dale’s son wrote that Vince was a man of ‘genial humour, who always fought smiling’. Such descriptions indicate why Vince was so well respected throughout the country, and why he was not only an accomplished religious preacher but a political speaker, too. Although his vocation denied him a seat on the Town Council, he spoke publically in support of Liberal party members including George Dawson and Joseph Chamberlain.

Even by the standards of the time, Vince’s death in his early fifties in 1874 was premature, and shocked his Liberal associates. His character and work were praised by a plethora of public figures and in a range of publications.