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Famous Baptist preacher visits Halifax

He was something of a celebrity as a Christian preacher and author.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was something of a celebrity as a Christian preacher and author. Based in London, he engaged in regular preaching tours throughout England and beyond, drawing huge crowds and appealing to people throughout the ranks of Victorian society.

At the age of only 23, on Wednesday 7th April 1858, Spurgeon visited Halifax. He preached twice in the Piece Hall, with the aim of raising funds for the recently opened Trinity Road Chapel.

The Piece Hall

Within The Piece Hall, a large wooden building of huge capacity was erected for the event. Seats were offered at various prices, along with up to 2,000 that were free of charge. This was because Spurgeon had said that the poor must be able to attend without paying.

The weather proved atrocious, a violent snowstorm having started on the Tuesday night, which continued unabated throughout Wednesday. It seems all the more remarkable that between 4,000 and 5,000 attended the afternoon service and more in the evening.

After prayers, there was a reading and hymns (one to the tune 'Halifax'). Spurgeon spoke in the afternoon to 'those who are sad at heart, sorrowful of spirit and in need of comfort'. In the evening, his theme was the need for a revival of religion to parallel that occurring in the United States. If 'even in America' where the evil of slavery persisted, such a 'great work of God' could take place, why should England not experience the same? He argued, however, that for such revival to take place, class divisions, mostly prevalent in 'the cotton, the wool and the iron counties' had to be put aside.

As the evening congregation were leaving, a shriek was heard, followed by the sound of falling timbers. Thirty or forty people fell several feet, as an access platform gave way. Fortunately, most were only slightly injured, although 19 year old Thomas Watson and Martha Hirst, about 24 and the daughter of a Baptist minister, both suffered a broken leg.

In the night, the wooden structure collapsed, under the weight of around 150 tons of snow. All the event's takings used up to pay for expenses incurred and the damage caused. This left nothing for Trinity Road Chapel.

The Chapel's sense of the mercy of God that the outcome was no worse. This was no doubt shared by builder who put the structure up and the borough engineer who certified its safety!

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