George Williams at Bridgwater, except that he was efficient in his work and well liked by the staff. In those days, shop assistants 'lived in' and in this shop they numbered twentyseven. The proprietor of the business, Mr. Holmes, was a regular worshipper and deacon of the local Congregational Church. It was a condition of service in his establishment that all apprentices attended Sunday morning service at Zion Chapel. This obligation was enforced by a clause in their indentures.
George Williams was brought up in the Anglican Church. It appears that he was somewhat irregular in attendance, but he was faithful to his pledge to attend those Sunday morning services and he did more - he was frequently present at the evening service.
One Sunday night, in the winter of 1837, seated alone in the back pew of the chapel, he had an emotional experience which, like the experience of the apostles at Pentecost, transformed his life. He felt that the preacher, the minister of the church, a Welshman, had a direct message for him. On his return from Zion Chapel that night, it is recorded that he went on his knees at the back of the shop and yielded himself wholly to the service of God and his fellow men. He gave thanks to God for the peace and joy he felt in his soul.
From that night, his life was dedicated to inspiring similar experiences in the lives of other young men. On 14th February, 1838, he was admitted into full membership of Zion Congregational Chapel, and he associated himself with all its activities. He later testified, when opening the new memorial building of the Bridgwater Association, that it was at Bridgwater he first learned to love God and realised the importance of the spiritual life.
George Williams also established a warm friendship with a fellow apprentice, William Harman. They frequently had discussions on the religious life at Bridgwater. These two young men, joined by some other members of the staff in their business establishment, met for prayers in a room adjacent to the main business centre and here, later, they held Bible class meetings. The desire to lead other young men to share the experience he had on that Sunday night when he sat alone in the back pew of Zion Chapel was already revealing itself.
The apprenticeship at Bridgwater came to an end when George Williams was nineteen. After some uncertainty about his future, he worked for about six months in his brother's business not far from Bridgwater. This brother was previously an assistant on the staff of the London drapery establishment of Hitchcock and Rogers and later bought much of his stock of haberdashery from the firm. It was this brother who persuaded George Williams to accompany him on one of his London visits and introduced him to Mr. Hitchcock. The young man offered his services at the stores. After some hesitation he was accepted as an apprentice. The year was 1841 and he was
At first he was engaged as a counter salesman.
In a few years he was
promoted to Buyer, and proved successful in this work. The firm of Hitchcock and Rogers maintained one of the largest. and most fashionable establishments in London. A staff of about 140 assistants was employed, all of whom 'lived in'.
A young man of George Williams' temperament quickly formed friendships with other assistants who shared his own Christian beliefs. One of his closest friends occupied an adjacent room. They met frequently for discussions and