The 1859 Revival

Jeremiah Lanphier

The 1859 Revival was one that affected virtually the whole of the UK, and in terms of the actual numbers converted¹ was probably the greatest revival we have ever had in this country, and Liverpool was one of the centres of this revival. The amazing thing is that whilst most people will be fully aware of the Methodist Revival, the 1904 Welsh Revival, and the 1949 Hebrides Revival, very few people will be even aware that there was such a revival in this country at that time. I think that it is sometimes referred to as "the forgotten revival." It is also sometimes referred to as "the layman’s revival."

For the origins of this revival, we need to go back to 1857 in the USA. Although there had been a moving of the Holy Spirit in Canada before this time, the event that appears to have been the catalyst for the spread of this revival was a prayer meeting commenced by a Jeremiah Lanphier, a layman with the Dutch Reformed Church in New York. Noticing that the businessmen in that city were looking downcast at the economic state of the country at that time, he decided to hold a midday prayer meeting on the 3rd floor of the church in Fulton Street for one hour, each Wednesday. At first he was the only person present, but after ½ hour a further five men joined him. The second week twenty businessmen turned up and then forty the following week. They then agreed to meet every day, and on the first day, 100 men turned up, many of whom were not Christians. After 3 months every room of that church was filled with men praying, with others on the outside kneeling together praying because they couldn’t get in the church. A further church nearby was opened for prayer, but that also became filled. A theatre was then hired for this purpose, and on the first day, half an hour before the announced time, it was packed to capacity, again with men on the outside praying because they couldn’t get in. Within six months there were 150 prayer meetings like this going on somewhere in New York City, with 50,000 gathered for prayer. This also became a means of outreach and appeals were made for people to receive Christ, and no less that 25,000 businessmen were converted. It was not uncommon to see a hundred people come down the aisle of a church at invitation time confessing their sins openly, and receiving Christ into their life. Soon a common mid-day sign on business premises read "We will re-open at the close of the prayer meeting." As time went on the movement spread to the whole of the USA and Canada, and there were actually places were not a single person was left unconverted. Along the East Coast of America there was a zone of heavenly influence that affected even ships coming in from abroad, who knew nothing of the revival, but when they came within a few miles of land God got hold of people on board the ships and in some cases the whole of the crew got converted. Thirty captains of vessels like this were converted. During the period 1857/8 no less than one million people were converted in the USA. If such a revival were to hit America today the equivalent number of conversions would be somewhere in the region of eight to nine million people.

The Revival hits the UK

News of the revival soon hit these shores, and the first place to be affected was Ulster, and a mighty revival hit that place in 1859 with somewhere around 100,000 people converted which as a percentage of the people in that country was quite staggering. About the same time and quite independently Wales also was affected and a revival brought again around 100,000 people to Christ. The revival arrived in Scotland in the north of the country and as time went on it spread down south, until it arrived in England. Around 300,000 people were converted in Scotland. The revival in Ulster, Wales and Scotland, however, was somewhat different in character to that of most of England. In the former the revival was more spontaneous, and most of the conversions occurred during the year of 1859. In England, however, the initial move was not quite as dramatic as in the former two parts of the country, but within two years something different happened which resulted in large numbers of people coming to Christ. God raised up a large number of evangelists who travelled the length and breadth of the land preaching the gospel, and many thousands of people were brought into the kingdom by this means. By 1864 no less than 600,000 people were converted in England, bringing the total in the UK to over one million people. Even parts of Southern Ireland were affected by the revival, including Dublin, Cork, and Kerry. The latter place was most blessed and the move there was known as "The Kerry Revival." Even ships travelling from Dublin to Holyhead were influenced by the move, with revival services being held on board, and many people being converted.

The Revival arrives in Liverpool

Rev. J White a minister in Ulster was greatly used in the revival in Carrickfergus, and his brother Rev.Dr. Verner M. White, the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Islington, Liverpool, came back from visiting him to describe his experiences over there. In the summer of 1859 he held a gathering in the Common Hall, Hackins Hey, at the request of the Liverpool YMCA, to give an account of the revival. This became the origin of a great awakening in Liverpool.² Many people were stirred up to earnest prayer at this time. By September 1859 special revival services were being held with inter-denominational co-operation. Meetings multiplied, both prayer gatherings and meetings for spreading information, and towards the end of the year a weekly revival prayer meeting was decided upon by a united gathering of ministers. Richard Weaver, with inter-denominational backing began to hold evangelistic services at which numbers of people were converted. In 1860 great congregational prayer meetings began in all denominations, as well as united gatherings. The Adelphi Theatre, for example, was opened for united evangelistic services. James Caughey, who was greatly used in Liverpool in 1842, came back to Liverpool at this time and was particularly used to bring many people to Christ in the Methodist churches. In this year alone some 1,800 people were added to the roll of the Wesleyans in Liverpool. In 1861 numbers of evangelists were raised up to preach the gospel in our city. E Payson Hammond, the American evangelist visited Liverpool addressing large gatherings with hundreds of people responding to the appeal. Similarly the American J W Bonham also held successful meetings in Bootle and Liverpool. Another American Phoebe Palmer who was being greatly used to light revival fires around USA and had come to England with her husband Dr Walter Palmer for a rest, were immediately caught up in "an extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit," and saw hundreds of conversions. Reginald Radcliffe the Liverpool Solicitor, who had been mightily used in a revival in Scotland, in particular in Aberdeen, began services in the Concert Hall in Lord Nelson Street on Sunday evenings, and these were again overflowing. The work continued with many other notable and powerful evangelists preaching in our city, sometimes with two or three meetings being held at the same time. Numerous halls were used for this purpose, including the Concert Hall, Teutonic Hall, Park Theatre, Richmond Hall, Hope Hall, Brunswick Hall, Clare Hall, as well as church buildings, such as Byrom Street Chapel. In addition to the evangelists mentioned above, Shuldham Henry, W Hill, Captain Taylor, Harrison Ord, Captain Hawes, John Hambleton, Edward Usher, Brownlow North, Denham Smith and John Finney preached in our city with such success that a shortage of personal workers became a major problem. Thus the pattern of the awakening in Liverpool was similar to London and other parts of England, with the initial activity of the prayer meetings in 1859 to 1860, followed by the evangelistic phase commencing in 1861 with a series of evangelistic crusades. Here are some testimonies of how Merseyside was affected during this early phase of the revival. I have included one testimony from Chester. Although it is not in Merseyside, it is at least served by the Merseyrail network, so it has been included.

The Liverpool Penitentiary

A clergyman by the name of Rev. John Baillie visited the Liverpool Penitentiary and addressed the women inmates for about 45 minutes on the revival. He then asked them if they meant to turn their backs that night coldly on Jesus and said that he would give them two minutes to consider their answer. Before the two minutes had expired one of them cried out, "Oh Jesus, I’m lost for ever," and fell prostrate on the floor. Others immediately cried out and in a few minutes the whole number were sobbing in intense anguish. He felt that he could say and do nothing, as the Lord had taken the whole thing into his own hand. He had to go away, and in about two hours he called at the Penitentiary, and found that they had continued in that state for nearly that time, till they went to bed. One who had before been seeking Jesus, found Him in the interval and had been speaking to others about Him.

Claughton Village

William Lockhart on 28th April 1860 wrote "a great awakening has taken place in Claughton and God has been manifesting Himself in an extraordinary way. On Sunday week Mr Daw preached an impressive sermon, and at the prayer meeting afterwards many of the people were in tears. Mr Webb announced without premeditation that on the following evening there would be a meeting at 8.00 o’clock for those who were anxious. When the time came, to his astonishment the schoolroom was nearly full. All of them seemed deeply affected, and after ministry, many were sobbing in a most piteous manner on account of their sins. The meeting continued in this way, singing, prayer, and conversation at intervals, almost everyone in the room being in tears. One after another found peace by trusting in the blood of Christ and their mourning was at once turned into joy. I was there a short time before the close, and certainly such a scene it never was my privilege to witness, such heartrending agony of soul on account of sin, and then such triumphant peaceful joy in the knowledge of pardon through a Crucified Redeemer. Oh it was a glorious scene, and one which I shall never forget!"


Following a week of special services held in the city in September 1860, after the visiting speakers had returned, a meeting was held on a Friday evening. At around 9.00 o’clock the pastor of the Presbyterian Church announced that the meeting would close, but that if there were any anxious souls present, that they should go into the vestries or in the church. They were not prepared for what happened, because the vestries were so filled that the passage through them was blocked up, and many in distress were scattered over the church. All five or six ministers who were present in the meeting plus friends went into the vestries and spoke to the anxious, but still they were very short of help, as many could not be spoken with. Two other gentlemen came to assist them. It was a glorious harvest time, with several finding peace on the spot. At about 10.30pm they assembled all those present, about 100 people, counselled and then dismissed them.

Bromborough Pool

It seems that virtually every town and village was affected by the revival, even in the tiny village of Bromborough Pool (where I used to attend the cubs). A letter to "The Revival" from somebody who simply referred to himself as "a believer in the power of united prayer" spoke of how God, in answer to earnest prayer, had visited this tiny village, bringing numbers of people to Christ.


  • A correspondent to "The Revival" spoke of a meeting held in July 1861 (not stating the church) which was full holding well over 1200 people, at which two to three hundred people remained behind in the inquiry meeting. This is how he described the event – "oh, I wish you could have seen the deeply anxious souls. Strong men trembling and weeping most bitterly, in some cases so loud as to disturb the meeting. One most remarkable case was of a woman in agony of soul crying out so as to be heard all through the church, "I am lost. I am lost. Tell them not to yield to Satan, and sit down at the Lord’s table as I have done, and wound the Saviour in the house of his friends." A crowd gathered around her, but she continued speaking, the tears at the same time flowing down her cheeks; at times saying, "Will Jesus take me now – such a false communicant as I have been? Oh, will He?" The correspondent was able to lead her to the Lord, and he then continued, "It would have rejoiced your heart to have heard her pour forth her heart to God in prayer. It was a treat to see the sunshine beaming through her countenance."
  • Attached to a chapel where revival services were being held was a school of two to three hundred children from the surrounding neighbourhood. During the first week, while the revival services were being held in the chapel a few children of the day school were seen earnestly seeking mercy. The next morning, the teacher of the school, rose at the early hour, and, while pleading for the rapid spread of the revival, and particularly that the work that had commenced among the children might go on, she had the assurance that God was going to work mightily. That morning, before the usual school duties were commenced, she taught the children the text "Now is the accepted time, behold today is the day of salvation." She then requested the children to remain silent for a few moments, and reflect upon the word "now." She broke the solemn silence by praying audibly; when she heard stifled sobs all around her, and on rising from prayer she found herself surrounded by a large number of deeply convicted children. Some cried out, "Oh, teacher, pray for us," whilst others, leaning upon her shoulder, sobbed out, "Oh, teacher, we will give our hearts to Jesus." She then asked all that had fully resolved to come to Jesus to follow her from the schoolroom to the chapel vestry. The vestry was immediately filled, and some, unable to get in, were kneeling outside the vestry door.
  • At one meeting where there were many people saved the secretary taking the names of those converted asked one man if he had any relatives there, to which he replied that he was unaware of any being present there. The secretary then said that only a few minutes previously she had taken the name of a female with the same name. When she gave him the name and address, he replied, "that is my wife." It was soon found that both man and wife had been converted; she having unknown to him, come seeking mercy. It was a great joy when they met, both now new creatures in Christ.
  • A Liverpool paper gave a report of one of the meetings in the Concert Hall, in Great George Street. At this meeting Mr Radcliffe asked a number of men to leave the hall, and go into the streets adjacent, preach to the people, and invite all to come back with them to the hall. About a dozen men obeyed the call and Mr Radcliffe then proceeded with his address. While the congregation was singing a hymn, the sound of many voices was heard in the street; gradually coming nearer; and Mr Radcliffe announced that his friends were returning. They came into the hall followed by crowds of the lowest outcasts of both sexes, with whom the neighbourhood teemed, and the congregation in the hall took up the hymn that they were singing. The reporter said that the scene was very impressive, and said that much good was being done in Liverpool owing to these services, and that the gentlemen who conducted these ‘labours of love’ had their best wishes and most cordial support. Prior to this meeting commencing Mr Radcliffe impressed strongly upon his hearers the necessity of opening more halls or rooms if no halls were available. More rooms were required in both the North and South of Liverpool, as well as in Birkenhead, but that there was also a great need for more labourers.

These are some of the indications of what God was doing in the early stages of the revival, but as previously mentioned in the introduction the revival in Liverpool was more of a revival of preaching than the spontaneous and rapid ones experienced in other parts of the UK. As time went on though the period 1861 – 1865 the effects of the revival were being more and more felt. Writing in "The Revival" William Lockhart, who had experienced the revival in Scotland, wrote in August 1861 that he was not altogether encouraged by the progress of the revival in Liverpool, compared to what was happening in other parts of the UK, but writing to the same paper eight months later in April 1862 his tone was quite different and spoke of the work deepening and widening in Liverpool. Two years later he took the bold step of hiring the Hengler’s Circus in Newington, Liverpool for the purpose of taking services there, and a great work of God was accomplished in that place, which will be covered in the next chapter.

1. With regard to the Methodist Revival it should be noted that there were actually only 76,000 members connected with the Methodist Church at the time of Wesley’s death. The population was of course much smaller then.

2. Quoted from "The Great Ulster Awakening (’59 Revival)" by Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley