Green, Sir George of Paisley (1843-1916)
Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Northerner in the series “Some of our Stalwarts”
MOST of our stalwarts have the advantage of having behind them generations of Primitive Methodist ancestors. If ever they have been tempted to forsake their Church this fact has helped to keep them true. Many of them, too, have the advantage of having resided in the same town or neighbourhood all their lives. They have never been subjected to the test of the loss of the bulwarks of social and religious environment. How many who have been, lost to us and the Church as well, would have been Primitive Methodists still if they had not been transplanted to a new place of residence. Undisturbed the plant would have survived; torn up by the roots it died.
The stalwart whose romantic story is here to be chronicled has had neither the advantage of a Primitive Methodist ancestry nor of continued residence in a given circuit. He did not come into membership with us until some years after his conversion, and his early associations were with another Methodist Church. Moreover, he was born and reared under Episcopal and Tory influences. Then since he became a Primitive Methodist he has had to tear up his roots more than half a dozen times. Often his lot has been cast where our cause was feeble, burdened, depressed, or non-existent. Yet through all he not only remained loyal to our Church, but has over and over again lifted it out of difficulties and set it on its feet. And if there was no cause he would start one. A stalwart under such circumstances must be a stalwart indeed, and one gifted with quite exceptional loyalty, individuality, independence, and initiative.
Sir George Green was born in Stockport, on December 15th, 1843. The eldest of a large family, of which five grew up and four are still living, he began life in the “hungry forties” and in a house the rental of which was not more than a shilling a week. His father was a power-loom weaver whose wages would not average more than twenty shillings a week. These early experiences have had no little share in making him an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Lloyd George’s Insurance Act.
But George Green must have inherited qualities physical, mental, and moral of no ordinary kind. The big, breezy personality, the volcanic energy, the tenacity of purpose, the initiative and “go” and business faculty, as well as the tact and authority of the born ruler, must have been a natural heritage. Men of his type are, no doubt, born and made, but we should be disposed to give the lion’s share to the first of these sources of origin. Lord Furness when a lad of eighteen made his first deal and pocketed £50,000. The great captain of industry leaped full grown into the arena, although the power which afterwards organised a vast shipping and commercial business was partly the result of experience and training. Similarly Sir George Green revealed from the first the qualities which have given him his phenomenal success. It may be doubted whether he could have filled his later position without the training of previous years; but he would never have been daunted by the prospect. The first post he occupied revealed the possession of qualities fitting him for a far larger and more onerous one; and so on with each promotion that came to him. There was always the vast reserve power which warranted the belief that he would be more than equal to the larger demands of a higher position.
Bedford, Chesterfield, Liverpool, London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow, were all phenomenal. Sir George Green’s business career, in short, has been one of unbroken success. His indomitable perseverance, his immense energy, his shrewdness, his tact and bis sound judgment, combined with integrity, have won for him his extraordinary success, and it is not surprising that the Prudential Assurance Company have rewarded him with successive promotions, culminating in his present position as Scottish manager for the Company. Hard work and merit have enabled him to win his way to the top.
It is sometimes said of a man who has succeeded remarkably in his business career, “If only he had been a Christian and had placed his great gifts at the service of the Church what might he not have achieved?” Happily the fire and enthusiasm which have carried everything before them in business have, in the case of Sir George Green, been also devoted to the service of Jesus Christ. He may not believe that a church can be “run” with the same qualities and precision which ensure the success of a business concern, but he is convinced that earnestness, devotion, hard work and self -sacrifice will go a long way to make a Church successful. And he is right. Always given the presence of the indispensable spirituality and Devine power the qualities just named will command success. Nothing can be done without hard work in the Church or anywhere else, and to the service of our Church, wherever he has been located, George Green has been ready to devote his time, his energy, his enthusiasm, and his means.
Not the least among his advantages has been that of a clear and striking conversion. It came about apparently without any distinct human agency. He was arrested, called, suddenly, unexpectedly, when seventeen years of age. Employed in the same mill as himself were quite a number of persons connected with the Methodist New Connexion. He was strongly opposed to them, and never lost an opportunity of holding them up to ridicule. There came to him a deep sense of sin, and when in the throes of conviction he spoke to one of these Methodists, and at once joined the Mount Tabor Methodist New Connexion Church. Still the light had not dawned, and for some weeks he continued in deep distress. Then assurance came with a vividness and power that settled the great question once for all. For four years previously he had steadily refused any longer to attend the Episcopal
Church and School. He had, however, attended the famous Stockport Sunday School, which was then, and still remains, the largest Sunday School in the world, and here he found at a critical period a valuable steadying influence.
Soon after joining the Methodist New Connexion Church and School he was made a teacher, and on his eighteenth birthday, or fifty-one years ago, he preached his first sermon under authority. ‘Fifty-one and not out’ is not a bad score. The greater part of that score has been made as a Primitive Methodist.
Removing to Bedford to undertake his first superintendency, George Green found himself ecclesiastically stranded. There was no Methodist New Connexion Church anywhere in the neighbourhood, so he became a Primitive Methodist, and a Primitive Methodist he has consistently remained ever since. As a local preacher he found he had undertaken no sinecure.
The Bedford Circuit was a wide one, and to walk twenty miles on a Sunday was a common experience, and, either for the Wesleyans or ourselves, he generally preached twice every Sunday. Chesterfield gave a similarly. wide and arduous field of toil. In neither case was the stay long enough to leave any deep mark on our position, but in Birkenhead, where he resided when he took charge of Liverpool, it was otherwise. During George Green’s six years here a big step forward was taken by our Church in the erection of a new chapel. Our friend’s share in this movement may be inferred from the fact that the name of his native church at Stockport, Mount Tabor, was given to the new building. In the success of that Church Sir George Green has been deeply interested from that day to this.
Removing to Clapham, London, George Green found no cause in the neighbourhood, so he started one, renting a house for the services, and looking after the pulpit himself, while one of his daughters superintended the Sunday School. We owe both Dorset Road and Balham Church mainly to Sir George Green. How many busy business men without any Primitive Methodist ancestry would have acted thus in the circumstances? At the end of five years he left vigorous causes behind him.
At Edinburgh, his next station, he found a depressed and dispirited cause. He soon had the debt off and the church renovated. We cannot tell the story of Birmingham and Glasgow in full. Sir George Green belongs to Scottish Primitive Methodism, and some of its most daring projects in recent years have been largely indebted to his encouragement and generous help. It is a great thing in making a critical new venture to have a layman at your back, ready to guarantee support in the earlier stages of the enterprise. That is the position in which some of our most daring ecclesiastical statesmen in Scotland have found Sir George Green, to their great joy, in the wonderful advances that have been registered in late years north of the Tweed. It is a fine thing to have some men at your back in a stiff fight, whether municipal, political or religious. It means heart and hope and courage and victory.
Concentration in one sphere is usually essential to most men if they are to succeed. It must be a case of “This one thing I do.” But Sir Geo. Green’s amazing energy and vitality could not find adequate scope in one or two spheres. Business and religion must have added to them politics.
Although his education was limited to the years from about five to eight, his earliest distinct memory being of writing his name in a copybook about October, 1849, he availed himself of the opportunities of a half-timer for two years more. Fortunately he acquired a taste for reading, and soon obtained emancipation from the Episcopal and Tory views of his family. As early as the Parliamentary election of 1865 he was working strenuously on the Liberal side, and he has been hard at it in every election of every kind that came his way ever since. His first vote was given in 1868 in favour of the disestablishment of the Irish Church. On that occasion he took entire charge of a large area which he had been carefully educating for some years. It was open voting in these days, and he has always been proud of the fact that he polled two to one in his area for Liberalism. In every town and city where he has resided he has been a stalwart in the cause of social, temperance and political reform. He remembers well Mr. Joseph Chamberlain’s candidature at Sheffield, and heard him deliver an hour’s speech, his first as a Parliamentary candidate. But it is in Glasgow, to which he came twenty-one years ago, that he has achieved most. In 1891 Liberalism was still reeling under the Home Rule split, and was altogether in a sickly condition. Joining the party at Partick, he was elected President of the Liberal Club and Association, and rose steadily to the highest office in the gift of Scottish Liberalism. For twenty years he has been chairman. of the Partick Liberal Association; for seven years Chairman of the Scottish Liberal Association, and Chairman of the Scottish Band of Hope Union. He is a member of the Advisory Committee to the Lord Lieutenant of Lanarkshire, and of the Committee for Scotland under the Insurance Act. If the story could be told of how he captured a seat on the Lanarkshire County Council, defeating the Chairman of the Conservative Executive, it would be a stirring one. George Green has always delighted in the task of leading a forlorn hope. His seat was won by so conclusive a majority that it has never been contested since, a period of eighteen years, and he was elected Vice-Convener and then Convener of the County Council. He is a Justice of the Peace for the county, and now wields great influence in the councils of the Liberal party, especially in the West of Scotland. His election to the Chairmanship of the Scottish Liberal Council, when Lord Tweedmouth went to the Admiralty, was unanimous, and he has been unanimously re-elected every year since.
In the dark days of Liberalism he fought the Tradeston Division of Glasgow in the Liberal interest, and at the Khaki election of 1900 nearly captured a seat in his native town of Stockport. He was absolutely assured of victory had he stood at the next election, but for reasons of health declined to stand. A stranger was then accepted as the candidate, and not only won the seat by a majority of nearly two thousand, but has easily held it ever since. For his distinguished social and political services George Green was knighted in 1911, and the honour, so well deserved, gave unbounded satisfaction to his wide circle of friends.
While some important spheres of service must here be passed over; some reference ought to be made to Sir George Green’s temperance work. The pluckiest thing he ever did was in connection with the famous Whiteinch licensing case, in which he was successful in upsetting a practice which had obtained for many years. An application for a license was granted at the Justice of the Peace Court in April, 1898. Mr. George Green, as one of the Justices, called attention to the fact that the license had been granted not by a majority of those present, but by a majority of those voting. He then raised an action in the Court of Session to have the license reduced on this ground, although there seemed so little hope of success, and the costs in case of failure would be so large that the leader of the temperance party advised him to drop it. The Lord Ordinary sustained the contention, and his decision was appealed to the First Division, whose unanimous finding was that there must be an absolute majority of the Justices assembled in favour of a certificate being granted, otherwise a certificate is null and void. This was the first test case in Scotland for seventy years, and but for George Green there would have been no test case at all. This judgment made it almost impossible to get a new license in counties. In recognition of this distinguished service to the cause of temperance the temperance party presented him with his portrait in oil, the public presentation being made by the revered philanthropist and Christian worker, Mr. John Colville, M.P.
Primitive Methodism has not been slow to confer such honours as are in its gift upon our friend. ‘The unusual honour of the Chairmanship of the District Meeting has been his twice, and the first occasion was as far back as 1887. He was elected Vice-President of the Birmingham Conference in 1904, gracing the position and rendering distinguished service during his year of office. The last Conference must have been well on for the twelfth of which he has been a member, and he is still in labours more abundant. There are spheres of service in which he has engaged for many years of which no mention can be made here. But overwhelming evidence has been adduced to show that Sir George Green is a stalwart of our Church, and a standard-bearer in the great army of humanity and progress.
He has been a great traveller, both in America and the East. How many times he has crossed the Atlantic he probably could not tell off-hand himself, and for health reasons he has spent several winters in the East, visiting the Holy Land, as our illustration shows. His son, Dr. Green, is an active worker in one of our Glasgow Churches, and all who have had the privilege of enjoying the hospitality of old “Methven,” in Partick, will testify to the fine religious atmosphere maintained by the man who has always been a priest in his own family.
Nothing could be more delightful than the kindness and geniality of Lady Green’s hospitality, and she seconds her husband loyally in all his labours and enterprises. Very strikingly does our friend exemplify the truth of the words of Holy Writ:— “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.”
George was born on 15 December 1843 at Stockport, Cheshire, to parents Thomas Green, a weaver (1851), and Elizabeth Meadows. He was baptised on 21 January 1844 at St Mary, Stockport.
Census returns identify the following occupations for George
- 1861 cotton weaver
- 1871 superintendent of assurance agents
- 1881 superintendent of agents – Life Assurance Co.
- 1891 inspector – Prudential Assurance
- 1901 inspector for assurance
He married Jane Heywood (b1844) in late 1865 at Stockport, Cheshire. Census returns identify eight children.
- Mary (b1865)
- Jane (b1868)
- Lucy (b1870)
- Joseph (b1872)
- Florence (b1873)
- Annie (b1875)
- William Ewart (1880-1908) – died at Detroit, Michigan
- Louise (b abt1882)
He married Mary Heywood (abt1840-1915), Jane’s sister, after Jane died.
George died on 8 April 1916 at Partick, Glasgow.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1913/113
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers