Revival on the Wirral

St Paul’s Mission Church, Rock Ferry today

People who live in the Wirral may be surprised to see such a chapter in this booklet, since most of the great events that have occurred in Merseyside have been in Liverpool. There have, however, been times when God has moved in a special way, as we have already seen, and the early part of 1905 was one such memorable occasion. About 10 years ago or more, my good friend Arthur Davies, from the Wirral Christian Centre, put together a series of articles from the Birkenhead News between January 1905 and April 1905 reporting a number of amazing incidents that happened in the Wirral. He entitled this "Birkenhead Awakening" (although I think that this should more correctly have been entitled "Wirral Awakening") and distributed a number of copies of this at that time. I have, therefore, to a large extent based this chapter on Arthur’s booklet.

I believe that there are a number of factors that contributed to this special time of grace. First there was the magnificent work of the YMCA in Birkenhead, started in 1860 as mentioned in chapter 4, and of which William Lockhart, the great evangelist, was one of the founders, and the first secretary. The YMCA was still a fervent evangelistic organisation in those days, and it played a big part in this move of God. Secondly there was the visit of Torrey/Alexander to Birkenhead in September 1903 and then to Port Sunlight in January 1905. Thirdly there was the influence of the revival going on in Wales, and lastly the visit of Evan Roberts to the Wirral on three separate occasions, as mentioned in the last chapter.

Torrey/Alexander visit to Birkenhead

The first visit of Torrey/Alexander in September 1903 was a four day visit prior to the month long crusade taking place in the Philharmonic Hall. Birkenhead had sadly at that time achieved some notoriety both in this country and abroad, through the well-publicised murder of John Kensit, the leader of the Protestant Truth Society, after speaking in the Claughton Music Hall in September 1902. The Christian Herald thus commented, "it is strange that the very town which witnessed the murder of Mr Kensit should be the first to be honoured by a visit from our American friends." The evangelists arrived in the country from America on Monday 31 August 1903 and commenced the mission in Birkenhead the very next day. One of the great problems that has frustrated large scale evangelistic events taking place on the Wirral has been the absence of any decent sized buildings, and this was certainly a problem during the visit of Torrey/Alexander. Nevertheless the crusade was an unqualified success. The venue chosen for the crusade was the buildings of the YMCA then in Grange Road, Birkenhead. It was, unfortunately, far too small for the large crowds that turned up and it was, therefore necessary to hold up to three meetings nightly – in the large hall, the gymnasium, and in the school room of Grange Baptist Church (then also in Grange Road). In the afternoons Torrey gave addresses on the subject of "prayer" and in the first address said that the greatest cause of failure in the Christian life at that time was neglect of prayer. If a Sunday school teacher wished for power to bring his Sunday school children to Christ he must pray for it and a minister or public worker of any kind who wished for power to convince of sin must pray for it. He then gave several incidents of answers to prayer and said that it would do more for the salvation of the perishing than any other instrumentality. At the evening meetings the large hall quickly filled up, necessitating the use of the overflow meetings. In his first address Dr Torrey spoke on the subject of "what it cost not to be a Christian" contrasting this with the cost of being a Christian. On the Thursday evening the large hall was filled in about seven minutes after the doors opened, and it was not many minutes before all available space in the gymnasium was occupied, after which people were directed to Grange Baptist Church. It was estimated that some 2,000 people turned up that night. Summing up on the effect of the crusade the Birkenhead News was full of praise for the mission, saying that it was impossible to over estimate the lasting benefit that this brief effort had conferred on the general public of Birkenhead.

The effect of the Welsh Revival on the Wirral

News of what God was doing in Wales soon began to be reported on in the local press, and numbers of different meetings were being held in the Wirral giving an account of the revival. On January 8th 1905 Rev S Gamble Walker preached in Christ Church, Port Sunlight reporting on the extraordinary scenes which were being daily witnessed in Wales, and said that no lasting benefit could result from that or any other revival unless the minds of the people concerned were prepared. A similar meeting was held later on by Canon Robson in Christ Church, Claughton. He referred to the fact that everyone was talking about the revival, and that it was being reported all over the world. Whilst warning about some of the excesses of the revival he said that many seemed to agree that it was high time to awake out of sleep and that many earnest hearted devout Christian people were in great numbers praying about the revival. In Price Street, Birkenhead, there used to be a church known as The Gospel News Mission, which ministered amongst the poorer people of Birkenhead. Its minister Rev H L Jones, a Welshman, was greatly interested in the revival and had times of special prayer for the extension of the revival to Birkenhead, and many adults and children were brought to Christ at that time.

Also in January a call to prayer was made by the Birkenhead Christian Fellowship Union for a series of special meetings for united prayer and these were held throughout the month in the YMCA Hall on Sunday evenings and in The Tabernacle in Clifton Road on other evenings. This call asked all Christian people to join in united prayer for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the community, it being pointed out that mere wishing for a revival will not in itself bring it. There was a great response to this call for prayer and huge crowds attended these meetings. Similar times of prayer for revival were held elsewhere including Ellesmere Port, which was initiated by the Wesleyans there. At the same time a week’s mission was held in the Presbyterian Church in Hoylake by Rev Seth Joshua, who was an important figure in the Welsh Revival. On 6th February a party of over forty from the YMCA paid a visit to Rhosllanerchrugog in Wales where the revival was very powerful. It was a wonderful experience and they came away deeply impressed with the most marvellous manifestation of the power of God, and with an earnest desire that the same spirit of revival would be felt most fully in Birkenhead. Further visits were made to this village by large numbers of people from Birkenhead including several ministers.

Visit of Torrey/Alexander to Port Sunlight

Whilst all this was going on the crusade in Liverpool, of course, was continuing in the Tournament Hall under Dr Torrey. In the Birkenhead News of 7th January it stated that "revivalism in religion, at present, is largely in evidence, and for that reason a meeting held at the Christian Institute in Hoylake was a very interesting one, when Robert Harkness the pianist with the crusade spoke on the Torrey/Alexander Mission in Liverpool. Shortly afterwards Dr Torrey and Mr Alexander were invited to speak to the employees of Lever Brothers factory in Port Sunlight. This meeting was held in Hulme Hall during the lunch hour, which was extended to two hours. The invitation came from Mr Lever himself. Prior to this meeting the evangelists were taken for a tour around the village, and visited Church Drive School where Mr Alexander sang to the children. The hall was full to overflowing with an estimated 2,000 people present and Dr Torrey spoke for about half an hour. When the appeal for salvation was made, however, only one person responded to this. What may seem to have been a failure, however, was not at all the case. The seed had been sown, and gradually and quietly a change came over Port Sunlight and the surrounding area. The churches began to receive larger congregations and there was a lessening of the grip of alcohol on the residents.

Revival in Rock Ferry

In the Birkenhead News of 11th March 1905 it carried the following report – "The visit of the Torrey/Alexander mission to the South End will probably mark the beginning of a new epoch in the religious history of the district. The great meeting conducted by the evangelists at Port Sunlight recently was successful in arousing a deep religious enthusiasm throughout the South End and this appears to have gradually developed into a general wave of religious revival. In New Ferry there is every sign of deeper spiritual thought, this best manifested in the organisation of special services, a notable decrease in inebriety and larger congregations at places of worship. At Rock Ferry also the fire of revival has broken out into flame and a striking evidence of this was seen on Saturday night when the United Free Churches and missions held a remarkable demonstration in this district, one that will without doubt be the first of many of a similar nature." The meeting they referred to was held in St Paul’s Mission and comprised of people from virtually every church in Rock Ferry. The meeting continued to 11.00pm and then filing out of the church they marched around Rock Ferry singing from the Torrey Mission Hymnbook, and in the process stood outside public houses lifting up their voices in prayer. They returned to the hall at midnight and continued until the early hours in fervent prayer. Interviewed by the Birkenhead News, Pastor Newman expressed the hope that the outburst of religious enthusiasm that had broken out in Rock Ferry would not be of a temporary, but of a permanent character. There was a similar procession the following Saturday through the streets of Rock Ferry and Tranmere. Prior to this another revival meeting was held the same evening in the Bedford Road Mission Hall until 11.00pm and they too marched through the principal thoroughfares of the locality singing and praying as they passed along. The following week the Birkenhead News reported that "the wave of religious revival continues to sweep over the South End and the indication of its spread is being plainly demonstrated this week in its extension to other denominations in the district. Hundreds of people nightly during the last week have attended the revival services being conducted in the Wesleyan Church by the Rev J Grange Bennet and dozens of remarkable conversions have been chronicled as a result of the enthusiasm for religion." It reported that all the services were characterised by an ecstatic fervour, and prayer meetings continued past midnight. Again at the Rock Ferry Mission Hall a band of revivalists marched through the streets praying and raising their voices in song with most expressive effect. On the Tuesday evening over 50 children on their own accord organised a prayer meeting which continued for over an hour. Again the following week the News reported that the religious awakening in Rock Ferry was continuing to make rapid progress and that the revival was affecting every evangelical denomination in the district. At a 10-day mission held in the Trinity Wesleyan Church there were nearly 300 converts. Other indications of the spread of the revival were to be seen in the organisation of special missions, midnight services, street parades, and larger congregations in the various places of worship in the neighbourhood. A meeting taken by Pastor Newman at the Salvation Army Hall in New Chester Road was continued until past midnight at the St Paul’s Road Mission House. On one Sunday at the Rock Ferry Mission no less than seven services were held, and on the following Tuesday some 50 children again organised a prayer meeting which continued with increasing fervour until long past 9.00pm. This meeting was opened with a spontaneous outburst of prayer by a little boy of about seven years of age.

Revival amongst Birkenhead school children

Coming back to Birkenhead it was reported in the Birkenhead News on 11th February that a revival had taken place among the schoolboys of Birkenhead. The movement started in Woodlands Council School, and had spread to Claughton Higher Grade and St Johns. The movement started with two of the scholars of the Woodlands School who came under the influence of the YMCA, being members of the junior branch, and were seized with a desire to bring about a revival among their fellows. After thinking over the matter for a week they approached the headmaster at their school, with the object of obtaining the use of a room. However when he said that this would have to be approved by the Education Committee they did not pursue this but it was subsequently arranged for it to take place in a room at Gordon Hall, the headquarters of the YMCA Junior Branch. This resulted in a series of unique prayer meetings. Beginning on a Wednesday afternoon a dozen boys made their way to the meeting. By the end of the week the number had increased to forty-six. On the Monday it had increased to sixty-one. One boy prayed for four of his comrades by name, and in a few days all of these boys were in attendance at the meetings. One of the many evidences of the revival was that many of the boys to whom the mere mention of a prayer meeting would have been offensive a few weeks previously were now eager to attend. At these same meetings a Mr H Clinch preached a short gospel message to the boys. These meetings continued for eleven weeks, having been held three times a week, and spread to several other schools. The existence of these meetings had also been made known to Evan Roberts who had been praying for them. Before he left Birkenhead he sent the following message to them:-

"Life is to do the will of God. Boys are not always boys; boyhood is the road to manhood. The best men are the most valued; the best boys are those who play their part well in every sphere of life. My all, my best, my life for the truth."

Visit of Evan Roberts

Salem Presbyterian Church of Wales

The visit of Evan Roberts and his team has been well reported in the last chapter. Both meetings in Birkenhead yielded good results, whereas the meeting in Seacombe was, sadly, not the success it had been hoped for, with only one convert. Unfortunately the management of this meeting in several respects was, in the words of the Birkenhead News, an unqualified failure. It sadly resulted in many people with tickets being unable to gain admission to the church, which resulted in a considerable amount of upset, which most likely had an effect on the meeting. For the first Birkenhead meeting three churches were chosen, as possible venues for the visit, but only a selected few knew which building would be used. Consequently all three were packed prior to the visit, i.e. Grange Baptist Church, Claughton Road Welsh Church, and the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Grange Road. It was the latter one that was chosen. A band of YMCA workers kept a considerable crowd collected in Catherine Street, adjoining the church, and several forcible addresses were given, interspersed with the singing of hymns. The second meeting was held in the Brunswick Wesleyan Church in Price Street. Although the meeting had not been advertised, since the mission was supposed to have concluded the day before, nevertheless people got to know of the meeting and it soon became crowded, with hundreds having to be turned away. This was a very fine building seating 1400 people, and had an illustrious history. Evan Roberts was told prior to his visit that some in the church had been especially praying that showers of blessing might attend this meeting, just as God had done many times in the past in that church, which caused him to come, heartened and expectant. One new church came into being as a result of the Evan Roberts mission, i.e. Salem Presbyterian Church of Wales, Laird Street, Birkenhead, which is shown above.