His early years
His concern for the poor
His varied ministry
His final moments
The ongoing work of the Mission
The work today
Appendix - a personal reminiscence by Peggy Maskrey
In the biography of the life of Charles Thompson entitled "On his Master's Service," written by Mr B Essington Fay in 1904, shortly after Mr Thompson's death, he said that "his life had left his impress on the social life in Birkenhead, and his name will there be held in veneration for many a long day." How right he was, for the name of Charles Thompson, over 100 years after his death is still a well known one today and in a poll conducted by the Wirral News Group in 2003 of the thirty greatest Wirralians of all time he was voted the third most popular person by their readers. This was not far behind William Hesketh Lever and John Laird, and well ahead of such famous names as Wilfred Owen, Dixie Dean, Fred Perry, Harold Wilson, Patricia Routledge, Glenda Jackson and Ian Botham. The building that he purchased in 1892 in Hemingford Street is still there today, situated in the heart of Birkenhead, and although it may look a little drab on the outside, there is still a very active work going on there today, which meets the needs of many people in Birkenhead and the Wirral.
It is so inspiring to read in this materialistic and selfish age of one who the author described as being thoroughly imbibed with the spirit of self-sacrifice, who devoted his life to the widow and the orphan, the friendless and the outcast, and the criminal and the despised, to whom he was a true and genuine friend. Even in his own day, which surprisingly the author described as being "an age of commercialism in which worldliness and self-seeking were paramount" his sacrificial life to help others very much stood out as a beacon of light to all those around him.
The impact of the life of Charles Thompson and his Mission was far reaching, both in Birkenhead and the Wirral and beyond, and at the time of his death, representatives of every phase of religious and political thought spoke feelingly of the loss which Birkenhead had sustained by his passing. Even Queen Alexander, writing from Buckingham Palace on 8th March 1903 spoke of her "sadness at hearing of the death of a man like Mr Thompson who had done so much for the benefit of others." The turnout at his funeral, which will be mentioned later on, was a testimony to the great affection with which the people of the Wirral held Mr Thompson.
In this short biography I trust that the life of this great man will be an inspiration to all that read of it as much as it has been to myself.
The Early Years
Charles Thompson was born in London on 20th May 1841 to Christian parents who strove to observe the precept "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." His father worked for H M Customs & Excise, and at a very early age the family moved to Liverpool where they stayed for a while and then on to Knutsford and Stafford where he received a good education at Stafford Grammar School.
After leaving school he worked for two years at a grocery store in Hanley. However, because of concern over his health it was considered that a change of air would prove beneficial, and accordingly he chose Birkenhead as the place where he could "inhale the balmy ozone and health-giving breeze!" It was his intention to come to Birkenhead for one month only and then return to Hanley, but he decided to stay and make this his home and he entered employment with a certain Mr Cole, in whose employment he remained for the next 20 years. Initially he worshipped at the Presbyterian Church in Conway Street, Birkenhead where Rev. Lundie was the minister (biographer of that great Liverpool Philanthropist, Alexander Balfour, whose statue is in the gardens behind St George's Hall). From there he settled in Oxton Congregational Church, in Balls Road, Oxton, which is now the home of Wirral
It was at this church that his work for the children may be said to have practically commenced when he undertook to teach a number of lads, who very much appreciated his interest in them.
In 1867 at the age of 25 years he married Esther Shelley, a member of a well-known family in Staffordshire, and a direct descendent of the famous poet Percy Shelley. They had eight children, of which six of them survived. Over the following years of their married life she proved to be an excellent co-worker in the work to which he became involved and very much shaped his love for the poor and oppressed people of Birkenhead.
His varied ministry
The Birkenhead Workhouse and Hospital
This is one of the places that Mr Thompson frequently visited and his words of comfort and spiritual counsel were always accompanied by some little personal gift. He often received letters of grateful thanks from them. The following letter was one such letter sent from twenty of the inmates on Christmas Eve 1900:
Dear Sir: We are not rich in this world's goods - and we are afraid that most of us have only a vague idea of the goods pertaining to any other world - but with all our failings we are at least capable of the sentiments of gratitude. This is all we can offer you, together with our sincere thanks for your many kindnesses to us during the past year, and we can assure you that although we are poor we have feelings like other people, and we are egotistical enough to think that you would be pleased to know how much your cheery visits to us are valued, and we take this opportunity of the season of goodwill to all to give expression to the hope that you and all belonging to you will have a joyful Christmas, and we trust the material as well as the spiritual help will be forthcoming to assist you in your many good works, which may you long be spared to perform."
On the occasion of the annual treat to the inmates of the Tranmere Union in August 1902, one of them gifted in poetry, commemorated the event by writing a very touching poem for him under the heading "Honour to whom honour is due" and was dedicated to "General Thompson."
In the poem he referred to "the Good Samaritan, who does for all the best he can, without distinction, class or creed, and proves a friend in need and deed." He concluded the poem with the words "may General Thompson live for years, to dry many a poor sorrower's tears; when he and his with life are done, lay down the cross for the crown they've won."
Whenever Mr Thompson was visiting the hospital the news soon spread from ward to ward and from bed to bed, and requests and appeals were made by patients that he would come and speak a cheery word to them. He had always the same bright smile for all, and if he found a sick person low or melancholy, his presence and encouraging and consoling words would cause the sufferer to take a less desponding view of life.
Shortly after he died a letter was sent to the family from the hospital stating that "no words can express how greatly he will be missed by the patients of the Union Hospital, who whom he was always so kind and sympathetic, and the blank to them is irreparable."
Helping the sick and needy
The strong personality of Charles Thompson was greatly felt when visiting the sick in hospital or elsewhere. No matter how tired and weary he was himself he never permitted a trace of it to be seen in a sick room, but wherever he went his bright, cheery presence left sunshine behind him and a repetition of the visit was eagerly looked forward to.
For years he visited the sick, soothing their last moments and so friendless were some of those who passed away, that frequently he was the only mourner present at the funeral, and in all sorts of weather, even though far from well himself at times, he would be found at the cemetery, seeing the last of some poor, friendless stranger, whose death, as deeply affected Charles Thompson as if it had been that of a lifelong friend. In cases of recovery, when illness had lost the sick their employment, he was generally successful in securing fresh work for those who had been thus stranded.
In rain, sleet, or snow he tramped to the hospital, the workhouse, police courts, and into hovels located in the most unsavoury part of the town, always bent on some charitable errand.
Days out and annual holidays
The aged, blind, infirm, and afflicted of both sexes at the Workhouse, and also the poor widows and children of Birkenhead, were regularly considered, and every effort was made by Charles Thompson and his willing helpers to provide them with at least one holiday each year. On these occasions the "General" as he was often styled by some, was always at his best, and his organising and catering abilities, though often taxed to the utmost, were never found wanting.
One poor little crippled boy was carried to the Mission night after night almost to the last. His one desire was to be able to attend Mrs Ismay's treat on August Bank Holiday, but just before the day arrived he sadly died.
The Annual River Trip, which began in 1882, was something that was talked about and looked forward to with the greatest pleasure all year round, this being provided by the Ferries Committee.
The following are examples of other special treats that were provided:
- Visits to the premises of Sir Elliott and Lady Lees for the widows and children.
- A day out to the Liverpool Waxworks, for 500 children, with free passage being provided on the ferryboat.
- Visits to the 'Indefatigable.'
- Days out to the New Brighton Tower Company, who threw open the Tower to the poor children and who also gave a medal on which was a view of the Tower as a momento of the happy occasion.
- Outings for the poor inmates of the Tranmere Union Hospital for a circular trip provided by the Tramways Committee. This was followed by a gift such as a small packet of tea and sugar.
- Other outings to popular resorts and beauty spots such as Raby Mere, Thurstaston and New Brighton beach.
His visit to the Navvies
On a number of occasions he visited the large number of navvies who were engaged on the Mersey Railway working alongside their missionary a Mr Parry. On one occasion he assisted both Mr Parry and another gentleman from Oxford by the name of Newcombe in a midnight meeting which was held from shaft to shaft. While the men were having their midnight meal the three men took it in turn to sing and speak. After they had finished eating the men joined in with them in singing, with Mr Newcombe playing the violin, and they clearly enjoyed their ministry to them, thanking them for their visit and asking them to come again.
His music ministry
Charles Thompson was gifted with a wonderfully strong powerful voice. He always led the singing and could be heard in large gatherings, above either organ or piano. He had such a quick ear for music that in his earlier years, walking from Birkenhead to a Men's Bible Class at Neston on Sunday Mornings as he often did, he would remember new tunes which he had heard the previous Sunday, and would sing them aloud as he crossed the fields, so as not to forget them. By this means, since musical instruments were not so plentiful in those days, he conducted the singing very effectively at the Neston Mission Hall. Also in his earlier days he would often take part in local charity concerts, which he sadly stopped doing when his son Charles died, as this had been a great blow to him. He wrote many little hymns, poems and other compositions in his quiet hours. A Service of Song entitled "New Year's Eve" was most beautiful and touching for which he had a specially trained choir for rendering the musical portions whilst he told the story.
Through the ministry of Charles Thompson the lives of many people were positively and sometimes dramatically affected. Here are a few testimonials of people's lives, which were so affected and transformed as a result of his intervention in their lives.
The well known criminal with no hope
On one occasion a well-known criminal was brought before the magistrates on a charge of being drunk and disorderly and using threats. Everything was as black as could be against him. A redeeming feature, however, was that the man had not been before the court for several months past. The magistrates were disposed to leniency, and ordered his release if he could find surety for his future good behaviour, or in default be sent to jail. It was a risky thing to stand surety for such a bad character. "Can you find surety?" asked the presiding magistrate. "No," replied the prisoner, "I don't know anyone who would say a good word for me." As he was going down to the cells a thought suddenly flashed to his mind, and, looking back, he exclaimed: "Your worship, can I say a word?" The magistrate consented. "I've been out of trouble for some months now, and I don't want to go back. Can't you give me a chance? No one will say a good word for a fellow like me, unless perhaps Mr Thompson - him that looks after the kids! Can I see him?" "If Mr Thompson is willing to take the responsibility that you will be of good behaviour, we will let you off, but if he refuses to do so, to prison you must go. Men like you are a danger to society and to themselves. Mr Thompson will be sent for, and we shall hear what he has to say." Such was the decision; and the prisoner anxiously awaited Mr Thompson's arrival. The interview was a brief one, but it was quite long enough for a heart-to-heart talk between the man and the "ne'er-do-well." The latter was a stranger to Mr Thompson, but he had heard of his name and good work through his children, who attended the Mission. Ultimately Mr Thompson got him to promise to lead a new life for the sake of his wife and little ones, and he was released from custody.
Several months after the above incident Mr Thompson met the man again. What a transformation had been accomplished meanwhile! The man was thoroughly reformed: he was well dressed, in employment, and had got a comfortable home and a little money saved. The children had now no need to seek charity from the Mission, and, as the man himself declared, all this was brought about by Mr Thompson's influence. "You were the first one to say a kind word for me. I was shunned and despised, and hounded down, all through my own fault; and if you had not given surety for me and said a word of sympathy on the day when I first saw you, God knows where I would have landed, for I was thoroughly reckless and sick and tired of life." Such was the poor fellow's confession, and this little incident is only one of many where, by timely intervention and friendly help, Mr Thompson carried light, and hope, and happiness into the hearts of the wayward and erring. He often pleaded with the magistrates not to send transgressors to prison, and to give the children another chance, and on his promise to keep a watchful eye upon them they were liberated.
The lady in dire circumstances
A similar incident that took place was when a poor, wretched, starving woman with her two children were found in the cellar of a dirty lodging-house. All they had to cover them were two sacks, and the poor mother had almost given up in despair her struggle for existence. Through the instrumentality of the good Samaritan, the woman obtained help from a Mrs Birt from the Liverpool Sheltering Homes who was ever ready to lend a helping hand to the poor and needy. * She took the brother and sister to Canada, where they both prospered, and ultimately got married. The daughter subsequently sent the passage money for her mother to join her, there to end her days in happiness.
The destitute family
It was not unusual for the peacemaker, after a tiring day, to be called away by some little troubled child to try and pacify some drunken father or mother. In this painful and difficult task he generally succeeded. To one home of this sort in particular he was called on one occasion. It was entirely devoid of furniture, no fire, little food, and the children neglected. He was the means here of restoring happiness and comfort again. He had the children clothed and washed, and a clean curtain instead of an old newspaper put on the wretched window. The father on returning from his day's work hardly recognised his home and children. The repeated kindness shown to the woman, who had allowed herself to become practically a slave to drink, made her so ashamed that she determined to try and lead a different life, which, though not without many failures she succeeded in doing.
The little girl who longed to be adopted
It is hard to imagine the plight of some of the children who came into the Mission. In the 1904/5 Report it mentions one such little girl, who was a favourite with all that she came into contact with. She was always the first at the Mission and the last to go away, many a time coming back and sitting on the step as late as ten o'clock at night. She cried to them at the Mission that she wanted to be adopted just as a little boy at the Mission had been, and just when they were in great perplexity as to what was to be done with her, a lady called, anxious to hear if they knew of a little girl she could adopt to love and bring up as her own, as she was very lonely and wished for a little one for company. Needless to say in a very short time everything was arranged for the little girl to go to her new home early the next morning. When the little girl subsequently came back to visit them at the Mission they could scarcely recognise her as the little forlorn child who used to sit on the door step - hail, rain or snow, waiting for admission.
The man saved from suicide
Walking from Seacombe to Birkenhead, across the Dock Bridges, on one occasion he stopped a man who was in the act of throwing himself into the dock. He took him to a lodging-house, paid for his bed, and afterwards got him employment. The suicidal man subsequently quite recovered his position as a respectable member of society, thanks to Charles Thompson.
* The Liverpool Sheltering Homes came into being as a result of Liverpool shipowners Alexander Balfour and Stephen Williamson being concerned at the numbers of destitute and orphaned children in Liverpool. This led to the opening of a home in Byrom Street, adjacent to Byrom Hall Baptist Chapel in 1873, its purpose being to rescue destitute and neglected children, train them in the home and accompany groups to a new life in Canada. The work was managed by Mrs Louisa Birt, sister of Annie Macpherson, a prominent evangelical, who began a similar work in London. That same year Mrs Birt took the first group of children to Nova Scotia in Canada.
His final moments
It was at Christmas in 1902 that Charles Thompson's health began to fail him. With great reluctance he took to his bed but even then his whole heart and soul was centred on his poor people.
Thoughtful to the last, the day before he died, knowing that the end was drawing near, but not knowing how best to break it to his dear wife, he called her to him and said: "You know, the Lord may be going to take me, and maybe not, but whatever is in store He knows what is best."
Shortly before midnight an old friend by the name of Mr Southward called to see him and prayed for him, commending him to the "Throne of Grace". Mr Thompson then called his wife and children around him and wished each one a final "Good bye" telling his sons to take care of their mother. He then asked that a hymn might be sung and he joined in with great difficulty. Then after a while he asked that another hymn be sung "Jesu, lover of my soul". As he lay there he uttered his last words "Jesus, Lover! Let me to thy Bosom fly!" and with those words he peacefully passed away in the morning of 13th February 1903.
When the tidings spread that Charles Thompson had died there was intense grief. The whole town rang with the news, and people flocked from far and near to take the last look at their dear departed friend. More that one strong man wept as he gazed on the familiar features, now so cold and still. Several little boys from the Albert Industrial School, who happened to be passing the Mission Hall, begged to be allowed to see the body and they left the house of mourning, with tears streaming down their faces. Over his grave in Flaybrick Hill Cemetery a beautiful monument was erected by public subscription. The funeral was attended by thousands of people and the town was in general mourning and probably never in its history was there so much grief manifested. Among the many tributes received, one came from Buckingham Palace from Queen Alexandra with the following sympathetic acknowledgement through her secretary:
I am commanded by the Queen to acknowledge receipt of your letter with enclosure, and to say that Her Majesty is very sorry to hear of the death of a man like Mr Thompson, who has done so much for the benefit of others.
I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant
The following is an extract from an article that was printed in the Birkenhead Advertiser on 21st February 1903:
"On Tuesday amid such a manifestation of general sorrow as had rarely been witnessed in the town, the mortal remains of the late Charles Thompson were laid to rest at Flaybrick Hill Cemetery. Many thousands densely lined both sides of Conway Street as the procession slowly wound its way along, headed by the band of 'Indefatigable' which with the Borough Brass Band furnished a mournful and solemn accompaniment, the Dead March from 'Saul.' A number of the boys from the training ship followed their band and then about 400 of the children attending the Mission. Succeeding these were the adult mourners immediately in front of the Borough Brass Band, after which came the family mourning coaches and private carriages. At the cemetery there would be fully 6,000 people assembled. After the committal everyone joined heartily in the singing 'Jesu, lover of my soul' which concluded the service.
As would be expected the hall was crowded to excess during the service in the Mission Hall. The service was taken by the minister of Oxton Congregation Church."
After his death, many tributes to his life followed to the life of Charles Thompson, some of which I have given below:
- At the time of the funeral, Mr H Lee Jones said that "he felt sure that Birkenhead was burying that day one of the noblest citizens it had every had, or would have."
- "He was more than a philanthropist - he was a Christian who found inspiration for his service not merely in the natural feelings of compassion, but in the constraining love of Christ. I am convinced that nothing but Divine love could have sustained him amidst the burdens and disappointments of his work. He once visited a home of a wretched woman who had died from fever and lay there avoided by all. He with two policemen, one of whom afterwards died through contracting the disease, assisted the undertaker in this dismal duty. No fear of consequences could hinder him from acts of Christ-like service." (Rev. T Colligan, a Presbyterian Minister).
- "He always had a pleasant smile when you met him, and was always diligent in the work to which he had consecrated his life. One great aim of his life seemed to be to comfort and help the poor in the midst of their sorrows - to make the widow's heart to leap for joy and to brighten the lot of the poor children of the streets. To this end he visited them in their homes and gathered them together in meetings, where he ministered to their necessities. And while ministering in this way to their temporal welfare he was at the same time, most of all deeply concerned about their spiritual condition. His was no shallow superficial philanthropy concerned merely with temporal things. In every way in his power he sought to bring all among whom he laboured to the Saviour, and to fill their hearts, and homes and lives with the joy of the blessed Gospel. Anyone who heard him speak of the Gospel of Salvation to the people could not but feel what a comfort it was to think that, as of old, the poor had the Gospel preached unto them and only the Great Day will reveal how many, through his instrumentality were brought from darkness to light. (Rev. William Hutton, Grange Road Presbyterian Church)."
- "His Christianity was of an exceedingly cheerful type and his faith in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was childlike in its simplicity and firm in its grasp. At a Christmas Dinner in 1883 we arranged the first of the Christmas Day Dinners, when 530 children were regaled with hot pot and plum pudding together with an orange given to each child. The annual supply never failed after that. Space will not permit me to give details of the work in which my dear friend engaged, or instances of the blessing accruing from his unselfish devotion to the interests and well being of others. Suffice to say that no pen can adequately describe the joy and gladness introduced into the young life of the hundreds under his influence. He visited homes of wretchedness and squalor, sought to reclaim the drunkard, to cheer the lives of the downcast, to soothe the pillow of the dying, to introduce the light and hope of the Gospel to the despairing." (J G B Mawson, Baptist Lay Preacher).
- "His office was unpretentious - a chair, with a small box on it, was his stool. All around him were parcels of stores, toys and books. His office told at once the tale that he stood on no ceremony, that there was no ice to break, that he was certainly the most approachable man to the tiniest child or most lapsed of men and women. He was one of those 'never mind-me' sort of men. He thought of himself last of all or, at times, never at all." (Rev. George Rapkin, Church of Christ, Alvaney Place).
- "At his weekly meeting of eighty widows many came on the Thursday with sad hearts but they left with a stronger faith in God and a brighter hope of Heaven, a faith and hope enkindled by his friendly word, his glad song and his sunny smile. To them he was "a shelter from the storm and a covert from the wind." Nor can we forget him in the tiny garden among the swings and toys where he collected the maimed, the halt, and the blind from the Tranmere Workhouse. In the Workhouse Hospital and Wards he was a frequent visitor and his words of comfort and spiritual counsel were always enforced by some little personal gift." (Rev. F Church, Brunswick Chapel).
- "His form will ever be associated with the May Day Festival, the glorious Steamboat River Trips, and the feast of good things on New Brighton Sands. At the daily meals for the children we could not look down the four rows of radiant faces and merry eyes without hearing the voice of the world's Redeemer, saying - 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me.'" (Rev. F Church, Wesleyan Minister).
- "You would find him at the Borough Hospital on Sabbath afternoons, by song and handshake and prayer cheering the suffering; at the sick-bed of the pauper, too, or in the lowly dwelling of the widow and the orphan, in the prison cell, trying to fan back into a flame the flickering spark of grace in the breast of some erring one; feeding the hungry in the peaceful hours of the early Sabbath morning in the Mission, and revelling in the outburst of sacred song and worship at the night services with which his works of mercy and of love were crowned." (J R Kaighin).
- "At the Workhouse in Tranmere he was always a great favourite. His regular visits to that sombre-looking institution were as a welcome ray of sunshine after a long period of gloom to many poor creatures who find a home there, and who experience all too little of life's pleasures and joys." (H McWhinnie)
The ongoing work of the Mission
After the death of Charles Thompson the mantle fell upon his daughter Annie Nicol Thompson, and she proved to be a worthy successor, supervising the work until her death in 1965. For a while she was assisted by her brother Bateman Thompson until his death in 1942. In the 1904/5 Report she made the following comment, "It is now two years since my dear father's death, and the words, 'His works follow him', which are inscribed on a tablet to his memory in the large Hall, are very true, for our work has indeed been greatly blessed. This has been a fearfully hard winter for the poor. Owing to so many fathers being out of employment, the little ones have had a most trying time. I do not know whatever would have become of them, had it not been for their Mission, and kind friends. It is indeed a Haven of Refuge for many a weary little ones."
Moving forward 40 years the Birkenhead News did a feature on her life on 1st December 1945. In the article she said that since her father first took the town's poor children under his wing, no child had ever been turned away from the Mission disappointed. The days of the far famed "treacle butties" however had well gone, without which no Mission meeting was once considered complete. Fashions change, she said, even in food and the "butties" had given way to "buns." Also well gone, happily were the days when 70% who came to the Mission were bare-footed and hungry, but she said that each decade brought fresh responsibilities. During the 2nd World War she literally wrote hundreds of letters to "old" boys and girls in the Services. She also entertained a number of soldiers during the war, one of whom painted a picture of her to hang up in her Office. One of the highlights of the mission work during Annie's time was the annual river cruise, when hundreds of poor children enjoyed a trip on the River Mersey.
In 1953 she was awarded the MBE in recognition of her services to the people of Birkenhead. Her elder brother Albert also became a person of distinction. A prominent barrister he was at one time the assistant legal adviser to the King of Siam (Thailand) and at the time of his death was the legal adviser to the Sultan of Jahor (Malaysia).
After Annie died in 1965 the work continued for the next 20 years under the supervision of her two assistants Alice Beatrice Jones and Anne Lowry, until Rob Jeffs took over as Superintendent in 1985.
A special feature on Rob's work at the Mission was given in the Wirral Globe on 8th December 2010. In the article it said that during his time there, some 25,000 meals a year had been served to the homeless, children, elderly, lonely and anyone less fortunate. Rob had previously worked for Stork in Bromborough before coming to the Mission. The Mission, he said, is the last safety net for a lot of people, because for a lot of their folk, there's nothing after 'Thommo's'. He said that the work started off as a poor children's mission and has become the Charles Thompson's drop-in centre now, really. We still have children in need, he said, but it's largely a drop-in-centre for anybody and everybody.
Although Rob is still involved in the work of the Mission he passed over the "reins" to his successor Bernie Frost in 2010.
This year the Mission is in it's 120th year of ministry. Though the work is very different from what it was in the early days, it still meets a great need today.
After Rob Jeff's retirement in 2010 the Mission ceased to act as a "church," as Bernie Frost, his successor didn't feel called to pastor the work. Nevertheless a number of services are held each week, such as the Gospel Services on Sunday afternoon at 3.00pm and Wednesday at 11.45am. On Tuesday there is also a Nurture Group for new converts and people on the fringe, which is taken by Rob Jeffs and Peter McGrath from St Paul's Road Mission.
The work of the Mission continues to operate on a daily basis from Monday to Friday 9am - 1pm. They get approximately 80 people attending for a hot meal. The food comes mainly from donations from churches and schools, mostly tinned and packet food, but also from ladies groups and individuals. Marks and Spencers and Roberts Bakers also provide such things as bread and cakes. The Mission also helps a number of other people needing help with a wide variety of problems, such as the provision of medical care throughout the week. The demand for clothes is as high as ever, and the Mission sometimes helps out with furniture as well as giving out such things as pots, pans, crockery, cutlery, bedding, towels, toiletries, curtains etc. and even has a kitchen sink in stock for anybody that needs it. In the summer a free holiday is provided for those children who regularly attend the Mission.
The Mission has been blessed with a great team of volunteers who give of their time for the work of the Mission, ministering to those less fortunate than themselves, all with different gifts and abilities whether practical or spiritual, which are all a necessary part of what God is doing there. Among the team of workers are John Pemberton, pastor of Egan Road Church, Birkenhead, Peter McGrath from St Paul's Road Mission Rock Ferry, and Debbie Withers the daughter of Rob & Joyce Jeffs.
Although the work of Charles Thompson Mission has been part of the work of the Liverpool City Mission since 1965 it has maintained its financial independence. Liverpool City Mission is a registered charity and company, and as such acts as a trustee for the work of the Mission. The current Mission Director is Rob Watson.
Bernie Frost, who took over as Superintendent in 2010 is married to Lisa who takes an active part in the work of the Mission, and they have seven children.
A personal reminiscence by Peggy Maskrey
In 2011 I had the privilege of interviewing Peggy Maskrey who has been volunteering at the Mission for over 80 years and attending the Mission for the last 90 years! The following is a summary of the interview that I had with her when she shared with me some of her reminiscences of her time with the Mission.
Peggy first started attending the Mission in 1928 with her mother, when she was only 8 years of age. In those days there used to be a gallery in use, before the ceiling was lowered, which Peggy thought held about 75 children. In all there used to be about 200 or more children attending the children's meetings. To get the best seats you had to be early, and as Peggy was never early she had to be content with a seat in the Gallery!
Peggy said that there was still a lot of poverty in those days, with many of the children coming barefoot. They were very different days to what they are today; by comparison the children are not poor today like there were then, although of course there are a still lot of neglected children around. Annie Thompson was the Superintendent then and she said that she was a lovely, lovely lady and very gentle. She used to stand on the platform with a bell and sometimes if there was some commotion amongst the children she would bang the chair with the bell and say something like "we have a lot of strangers here today, they are not our children, because our children behave themselves". In those days, she said, there seemed to something on every day. Monday night was the Band of Hope meeting; Tuesday, it was the boys club; Wednesday they had the mother's meeting and Thursday they had the Magic Lantern which was particularly enjoyed by both children and the widows alike. A Mr Lee from the Tapestry Works used to do the Magic Lantern for them. On Sundays they had the service in the morning and then at night there was the Gospel service at 6.30pm which was always packed. There used to be a different speaker each Sunday night from around the town. This was followed by another meeting for older children and adults at 8.15pm.
In the summer the children used to go to places like Thurstaston on a Saturday on the back of a wagon. Different people in the town that had businesses used to lend the Mission their wagons with their drivers and they would go for the whole day there. Another place they used to go to was Barnston Dale.
At Christmas time every available room was packed with children and the children used to queue up for these occasions.
Annie Thompson used to live in the Mission together with her brother Bateman who used to help her. Also another brother, who lived nearby with his family, would also help out.
In the Spring they used to have the May Queen parade and one of the girls used to be picked out of all the children that used to attend. They used to do a concert in the YMCA when it was in Grange Road on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and on one of those nights the Mayoress would usually crown the Queen. When I asked Peggy if she was ever chosen as the May Queen she said "Oh no! I never wanted to be in the forefront, as I was always happiest when I was in the background, and I'm still the same today." There also used to be princes, she said, all dressed up, and one prince used to carry the crown. Robbs in Grange Road where Peggy worked for 22 years, used to provide the royal bouquet, which was presented to the May Queen.
Also in the summer the children used to be taken for an annual holiday at Dyserth Holiday Camp. She said that around 200 children used to attend this. They lived in Chalets and slept in bunks on straw mattresses. They had to queue up for straw for the palliasse. When she was about 16/17 years old she went to work at the camp. She was one of six girls that worked there, plus the cook, for which she was paid 10 shillings (50p) a week, and for this they had to work really hard, having to rise early each morning. There was no electricity in the camp in those days, only candles and a flashlight. Though they were so poor they really did enjoy themselves. They used to go for walks and on Sunday night they would climb up one of the mountains and sit there singing choruses. It was really lovely, she said. They were happy times.
Annie Thompson worked until the end of her life in 1965 and she was succeeded by Mrs Jones and Mrs Lowry, who was Annie's secretary. Like Annie they worked at the Mission until they died. After that Mrs Jones' husband, together with Bill Mellon and herself ran the Mission for a while until Rob Jeffs took over.
In 2017 Peggy was awarded an MBE for services to the community in Birkenhead, which was presented to her by Prince Charles in 2018.
Peggy will be 98 years of age this year and still takes an active part in the work of the Mission, working two days a week and also attends the Gospel service, which is held on a Sunday afternoon.
There have been a number of tributes to Peggy both locally and nationally including the following, which can be found on Google:
1. Wirral Globe 17/7/12 - Peggy on a mission to help the poor and underprivileged.
2. 2013 - Peggy received a ‘Lifetime of Achievements Award’ at the Cheshire Woman of the Year Awards.
3. You Tube 26/5/16 - Memories of Charles Thompson’s Mission with Peggy Maskrey
4. Daily Express - 25/11/16 - Is this Britain’s GREATEST volunteer?
5. Flame Christian Radio 2/12/16 - CHAT ROOM - Peggy Maskrey
6. ITV News 2/12/16 - 80 years of volunteering for amazing Peggy.
7. Liverpool Echo 21/2/17 - Peggy has been brewing cups of tea for homeless people for 80 years.
8. Metro 22/2/17 - Peggy 96 has been volunteering at the homeless shelter for 80 years.
9. Global Times 23/2/17 - Peggy, 96, has been volunteering during a homeless preserve for 80 years.
On His Master's Service - B Essington Fay.
1904/5 Report of Charles Thompson Mission.
Voice in the City - May 2012.
Liverpool Sheltering Homes - University of Liverpool Special Archives.
Talk of the week - Birkenhead Times 1887.
Personal reminiscence by Peggy Maskrey.
Liverpool City Mission Website www.livercm.org.uk
Birkenhead Advertiser 21/2/1903.
Birkenhead News 1/12/1945.
Wirral News 8/1/2003.
Wirral Globe 8/12/2010.
Wirral Champion - May 2012.
Miscellaneous items and photos provided by Charles Thompson's Mission.
I would like to give special thanks to the following:
- Bernie Frost from Thompson's Mission for all the information and photos provided by him.
- Rev. P A Epton for permission to use the photo of Wirral Christian Centre.
- Peggy Maskrey for sharing with me her personal reminiscences of Charles Thompson's Mission.