[from the Middlesbrough & Stockton Gazette, 17 September 1869; some paragraph breaks added for readability]
"This surely can be the funeral procession of no ordinary man," was the natural observation of the by-standers as they witnessed the gathering of thousands of people in Church-street and High-street, Stockton, on Monday afternoon, Sept. 13th, to follow the remains of the late Joseph Spoor, Primitive Methodist Minister and superintendent of the Stockton circuit, to their last resting place in the Middlesbrough cemetery. The mass of the people accompanied the funeral to the commencement of the new road to Middlesbrough; the rest of the procession consisting of mourning coaches, cabs, carriages, and other vehicles (about thirty in number), together with large numbers on foot, went right through to Middlesbrough. The officials, in a body from Middlesbrough, joined the funeral at Newport. Several boat loads from Stockton, Norton, &c., also joined here. The order of the procession at this point was thus : — Middlesbrough friends, preceding the hearse; local preachers next, senior members following. Immediately after the hearse — mourning coaches with relatives; cabs and other conveyances with ministers and other fellow labourers; next, friends from Stockton, &c., on foot; strangers and friends from Newcastle, Shields, Sunderland, Durham, Barnard Castle, Darlington, Stokesley, Northallerton, and other places, were present. On approaching Middlesbrough a suitable hymn was sung with great earnestness.
On arriving at the cemetery a circle was formed around the grave. The Rev Henry Philips, Darlington, conducted the service. After reading in a very solemn manner, appropriate passages, the Rev James Jackson, from Durham, engaged in prayer. The Rev Henry Kendall, from Darlington, delivered an exceedingly beautiful, touching, and instructive address. He commenced by saying that, "To-day we who were in the midst of an ingathering of a natural harvest were also sowing seed, and must look to the resurrection day for the ingathering." He contrasted a death like this, which causes sorrow in every heart for the loss of departed worth; sorrow that we could not retain his council and example longer to guide and cheer us; with the death of another man, the sorrow of whose friends through his bad life was that he had ever lived at all. There were two things for which their departed friend was greatly characterised in his preaching — first, great earnestness in seeking the conversion of souls; second, a constant endeavour to push Christians to higher attainments. He had died emphatically "in harness." It was the wish of the great founder of Methodism that he might so die, and even when an old man he frequently repeated these lines :-
"O that without a lingering groan,
I may the welcome word receive;
My body with my charge lay down,
And cease at once to work and live."
He did not know whether such were the wishes of him to whose memory they had met to pay the last tribute of affection, but he could not conceive anything more desirable. They had to mourn because of his comparatively early removal — but he had worn himself out in the service of God, of Christ, and the world. Their departed friend was distinguished for great firmness and decision in the discharge of the duties which devolved upon him, as superintendent of the various circuits in which he moved, combined, however, with such mildness and kindness, that he created few enemies. He prayed in conclusion that in this dispensation, Providence might sanctify the event, to the advancement and improvement of all — both friend and relatives.
Mr Spoor's health during the last few years was unusually good; his attack was short of duration and comparatively unknown. The intelligence of his death, therefore, came like a thunder shock amongst the wide circle of his friends and admirers. On Sunday, the 28th August, he attended a camp meeting held at North Ormesby, on which occasion, to use the expressive phrase of one who knew him well, he was "wild" with devout enthusiasm and unbounded earnestness. A friend, who was present on that occasion, and who had known him since he was little over thirty years of age, says he never remembered him on any occasion work so hard or throw his whole soul so thoroughly into what he did. This doubtless had something to do with hastening his end. On Monday (the day following) he attended at the Middlesbrough cemetery to perform the burial service over one of our townsmen. True to his nature, he was on the ground at three o'clock, the time named, but he was kept shivering in the place until nearly four o'clock. In the evening he preached at Linthorpe — felt unwell, as he had done during the day.
He took tea with Councillor Sharp and his wife — told them some amusing and interesting incidents of his struggles and labours in the cause of Primitive Methodism, which occurred in his early days. On one occasion he said he visited a district where they were tolerably earnest in the "cause" — indeed, so absorbed were they about spiritual care, they forgot that Joseph Spoor had a stomach and a physical frame; and he had to go to a field, close by, pluck a turnip to satisfy the cravings of hunger — then repair, in patriarchal style, to a brook to quench his thirst. Doubtless he felt thankful he got off so well, for it is the custom amongst all people and in all ages to "Kill the Prophets, and stone them which are sent unto them;" and he had himself been roughly used in other places. At this said place, however, a few years afterwards, they were boasting how much they valued Mr Spoor and what a good deal they thought of him; a friend, who knew of the above, got up and said in his bluff John Bull style — "Yes, you did think a world about him, and you showed your great love for him and his mission, by allowing him to go on a certain occasion (naming the time) to a turnip field to fill his belly, and instead of giving him a cup of tea he had to take — which he did thankfully — what his Father in Heaven sent him long before you were born, a drink of cold water from the stream !" However, he was glad they had now got more Christian generosity. Mr Spoor, during tea time, told this and other stories; contrasting joyfully the present with past times.
At the close of his sermon at Linthorpe, he said, "If the lads will set me to the boat I will go home, for I am not well." Early the following morning he had a fit — congestion of the brain set in — medical skill was unavailling; was at times quite conscious; rejoiced with exceeding great joy that he had found the "pearl of great price"; that he had served God when in health, and had not to seek Him for the first time on a bed of sickness. Like old father William, who astonished the young man by saying that he was "cheerful and loved to converse upon death." He, too, could have answered the youth's question thus:-
"I am cheerful young man, father William replied
Let the cause thy attention engage,
In the days of my youth I remembered my God
And he hath not forgotten my age.''
"What a mercy ! what a blessing !" said he, "Brother Knaggs, that I was ready when the stroke came. Had I died at that moment, you would have had to look up to heaven for me." He felt from the first he would not recover. Said he, "My feet are already in the river and I shall soon be across the stream." When applying a wet bandage to his temples, he said, "Don't place it over my eyes please. I should like to go straight to heaven, with my eyes open." His last words were, "If any enquiries be made about me, tell the people all is well; tell them I was once a sinner, but I have been washed in the blood of Jesus."
Mr Spoor was born at Sunderland, [incorrect: family lived in Whickham. Ed.] in the year 1813, and had laboured in the ministry over 32 years. Said one of his earnest admirers and co-workers in this circuit, "Ah, we have lost for Middlesbrough and district a good and a useful man. Our men from Middlesbrough voted for him coming here to a man. We knew he was right in everything — just the man to put us all right, and everything under his charge was going on well." Nothing much better could be said of a man than this. He was a distinguished and earnest teetotaler for 33 years. He held strong views on this subject. When in one of the circuits, a publican offered him his horse to travel his journeys. "I thank you," said he "But I would rather walk the shoes off my feet, than ride upon a publican's horse." He laboured hard and earnestly to promote Temperance principles.
True, he has not died ripe in years, (only in his 56th year), but how do we compute length of years? A man like this with a life full of good thoughts, good deeds, and noble aspirations, may virtually live as long as the most aged curiosity who has lived a less useful life. A life like this is -
"Clearly worth a thousand lives
Like many men's. And yet men love to live
As if mere life were worth their living for.
What but perdition will it be to most ?
Life's more than breath and the quick round of blood
It is a great spirit and a busy heart.
The coward and the small in soul scarce do live.
One generous feeling, one great thought, one deed
Of good e're night, would make life longer seem
Than if each year might number a thousand days
Spent as is this, by nations of mankind !
We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best."
When we learn to regulate our thoughts and feelings thus, then shall we profit by all the great and small events of life.
September, 1869. C.B.
Thanks: Kathleen Hodgson