1921 Fisherman’s Revival

A FORGOTTEN REVIVAL

In 1921 the war had been over less than three years, and times were hard in Lowestoft, Suffolk. There was little work for those who had fought for their country, except for building sea defences. Their spiritual condition was also hard. Revival had come to Norfolk and Suffolk through the work of William Haslam in the mid 1860’s, but the area was hardly touched by the Welsh Revival of 1904. There were a few signs of spiritual activity, mainly amongst the young at the Fisherman’s Bethel and London Road Baptist Church.

Hugh Ferguson took over London Baptist Church in 1917, two years later starting a prayer meeting, hoping to see a great manifestation of God’s power. Up to ninety people attended this weekly meeting. Ferguson was passionate to see revival, but he wanted someone to come and set the spark. He had heard that a Douglas Brown of Ramsden Road Baptist Church, Balham, London was an anointed preacher, so he went to hear him. After hearing him preach Ferguson asked Brown if he would conduct a series of evangelical services in Lowestoft, together with Bible readings for Christians. He agreed and it was decided that he would go for a week on March 7th 1921.

Brown’s father was a pastor and was an inspiration to his son. He was happy in Balham. His church was full, he had not known a Sunday in fifteen years without a salvation and he loved his congregation; yet one day in November he returned to the vestry after preaching, and broke down. God had started to deal with him, and for four months he wrestled with the Lord. One Saturday night he wrote out his resignation to the church he loved, because he felt that he could no longer preach while he was in contention with God. That night something happened. ‘I found myself in the loving embrace of Christ for ever and ever; and all power and joy and all blessedness rolled in like a deluge.’ God had been calling him into mission work, something Brown did not want to do, but he finally gave in. Four days later he was in Lowestoft.

Brown had been suffering with flu for eleven days and was feeling very unwell, so he brought with him John Edwards, a pastor from Brixton, in case he was too sick to preach. The meetings were well advertised and the church, which held 750, was well filled for the first service on Monday evening. The following day there was a prayer meeting in the morning, a Bible reading in the afternoon and another full evangelistic service in the evening. Holy Spirit was felt in the meeting, but Brown did not make an altar call. Ferguson described the prayer meeting on Wednesday morning as ‘wonderful’.

On Wednesday evening Brown preached on the man at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5. Ferguson recounts, ‘We had the church packed in the evening. When our brother had delivered his message, he told the people he was going into the vestry and would be glad to see any who wanted help or desired to surrender themselves to Jesus Christ. I shall never forget that night as long as I live’. One by one they came to the vestry until there were queues going down the aisles. Because of the numbers they opened the schoolroom and the people poured in. Those who had made a definite commitment to Christ were taken to one side, and those who were experiencing difficulties were taken to classrooms where experienced Christians helped them. Sixty to seventy young people came to Christ that night.

The Thursday evening service was down the road at the Fisherman’s Bethel. The inquiry room was packed with people crying out to God within a few minutes of the end of the sermon. People came to Jesus all over the building that night. By the end of the week it was obvious that God was doing something special, so Ferguson met with two other leaders, a meeting that resulted in an invitation to Brown to return to Lowestoft on Monday, after he had conducted Sunday services at his home church.

The following week the Bible readings were held to full houses at Christ Church. Someone described the messages as ‘bombshells’. The two most memorable were on The Judgement Seat of Christ. These messages were aimed at the new Christians and those who, up until now, had only heard a social gospel. In the evening meetings the ‘Word’ predominated over everything else, and the Cross was central to every meeting. One old man, remembering those days, said, ‘He (Brown) was different from anybody else I heard, it was as though he was speaking to me personally.’ Another said ‘I remember Douglas Brown preaching on the Cross and describing the nails with tears.’

One evening there were so many in Christ Church that the pastor had to ask all those who loved Jesus to go into the Parish Hall to pray, so that they could fit in everyone. There were so many answers to prayers as people prayed for their families and friends to come to know Jesus. On one night a husband and wife were in different inquiry rooms, both wondering how they were going to explain to one another their new love for Jesus. Douglas Brown saw a man on his knees outside the Fisherman’s Bethel. On asking him what was going on, he was told that the man had been praying for years for his three sons and they were all in the inquiry room. A woman, whose family had recently died, was on the way to the harbour to commit suicide, when she heard singing coming from the Baptist church. She went in and the following day she gave her life to Christ. One pastor said, ‘There have been times when Mr Ferguson and I have gone alone and sobbed out our hearts together in joy at the great things God has done for us.’

During the last week in March the meetings moved to the 1,100 seater St John’s Church. The meetings were full, with people coming in from the surrounding districts. The final meeting took place on April 1st in St John’s. There was great unity there amongst the churches of Lowestoft; Sankey’s hymns were sung as they were in most of the meetings, and a wonderful celebration was held. Douglas Brown was given a tremendous send off on April 4th as he went back to his church. There were a minimum of 500 converts recorded in the four weeks of meetings held in Lowestoft.

Brown returned to Lowestoft at Whitsun (May) 1921 to do a week of meetings in the villages surrounding the town. A newspaper reported that this week of meetings was even more powerful than those in March, particularly that in St Michael’s Oulton. Brown had been staying at the Oulton rectory for this week of meetings, and the night before the meeting he was awakened by a voice saying, ‘Thou shalt see greater things than these.’ He went down to the study to pray, but he was soon joined by the rector who had been awakened by the same words.

From May 30th to June 3rd Brown was in Ipswich for a week of meetings. For more than a year the free church ministers had been meeting to pray for revival. Again the power of God was present and people gave their lives to the Lord. Like all of Brown’s meetings, these were very calm affairs, with little emotion being shown. The Word was preached, people were led to the Cross and several chose salvation. Another feature of this time was the resolve of ministers to shepherd the converts and train them for service. At Ipswich a family of nine all came to be converted.

The following week Brown was in Great Yarmouth where the revival continued. St George’s held 1,100, but over 1,500 squeezed into the meetings, with hundreds committing their lives to Christ. Then came Norwich two weeks later. St Mary’s Baptist Chapel had to have extra seats put down the aisles for the first meeting to cater for the demand. As usual there had been little publication of the meetings, and there were no organising committees, but the word had got around. As in other places Hugh Ferguson was involved in the meetings with Brown and the meetings would be held in various churches. Again many non-Christians and nominal Christians found salvation. The week of July 11th found Brown in Cambridge at the Zion Chapel. Amongst the ministers who joined with him was the evangelist Gypsy Smith.

Early in September Douglas Brown reported, ‘A momentous revival is within the reach of the churches. In East Anglia it has commenced. Whether it becomes national depends upon the message and methods adopted by various churches during the coming winter.’

During the week of September 19th there was a conference in Lowestoft which Brown led, and the revival continued.

As the conference was ending thousands of men and women were coming to Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft from Scotland. These were the herring fishermen and the women who gutted and packed the herring for curing. From January they would track the shoals of herring as they headed south down the UK. Unlike the local fishermen the Scottish fleet would not sail on a Sunday, instead many of the men and women went to local churches to worship.

Amongst those travelling down from Scotland was the evangelist Jock Troup, a barrel maker from Wick. Troup was born in 1896 and although brought up in a Christian family he was a wayward young man. It was while in the Royal Navy Patrol Service in the First World War that God started His work on Troup. He recounts what happened, ‘Something laid hold on my life and I became utterly miserable. I tried to throw it off but the conviction deepened. We left for patrol the next day, Monday, and I could never explain the awful misery of that week. Day and night I was like a hunted man; my sin was before me every moment. I tried to get rid of it by resolving to turn over a new leaf, but it seemed the more I tried, the more my conscience smote me. I stopped swearing and gambling and tried to give up smoking….The burden had grown till it kept me from sleeping lest I should die and wake up in hell…. (One day) on arriving at the ship however, I opened the wheel house door and got on my knees and cried to God to save me for Jesus’ sake. My burden simply rolled away and the deliverance was so sweet that I rushed into the cabin to tell the crew what had happened.’

In 1920 God took hold of him again to prepare him for the work Troup was to do. In ‘Our Beloved Jock,’ James Alexander Stewart says: ‘Mrs Troup has reminded me that the secret of all her husband’s ministry was the mighty experience that took place in 1920 in the Fisherman’s Mission at Aberdeen. Something glorious happened there that made him the man he became. He entered into a definite experience with the blessed Holy Spirit. This experience was so sacred to him that he did not mention it often, and then only to a few intimate friends.’ (This is what I believe is the Second Baptism or Baptism of Fire which so many revivalists went experienced).

Against this background Jock Troup arrived in Great Yarmouth in the autumn of 1921. On the third Saturday in October Troup stood in the Market Place and preached on Isaiah 63:1. Suddenly the power of God came down and strong fishermen were thrown to the ground and cried to God for mercy. The presence of God was there for many days to come, and many were brought under a deep conviction of sin. On one occasion three girls from Scotland failed to turn up for work. Their employer found them in their rooms, deeply troubled in their soul. Troup was called for; he led them to Christ and they went back to work. Men were saved on their boats out at sea. One man telegrammed home to Scotland, ‘Saved ten miles from Knoll Lightship. Last to ring in on this ship.’ 1921 was one of the worst herring harvests on record, mainly because of the terrible weather, but it was a great year for the harvest of souls.

Douglas Brown returned to Great Yarmouth for the first two weeks of November, joining Troup for a few days until Troup was called away to Scotland. Troup had had a vision of a man in Fraserburgh who was praying for the Lord to send them the evangelist. Powerful meetings continued to be held in four churches. The Congregational Church was filled for the morning prayer meetings. Two hundred prayer requests a day were made for loved ones. Prayers were not more than a minute long, and as the week went on, answers to previous prayers were noted with great joy. Each afternoon around seven hundred filled the Deneside Wesleyan Church to hear the Word of God. In the evening Deneside and St Georges were jammed with 1,500 people. The presence of God was very strong. Brown said of the November 5th evening meeting, ‘I tell you frankly, if a man could pass through a meeting like that without breaking his heart with joy , he must be made of granite.’

Open air meetings went on each day, despite the dreadful weather. One night between eleven o’clock and midnight, in a howling gale and torrential rain, twenty-two men went down on their knees in the wet and committed themselves to Christ. There were several amazing conversions and whole (10 men) boatloads gave their lives to Christ. At the end of the terrible fishing season the men and women of Scotland returned home to their various towns and villages, and the Word spread.

Jock Troup was the forerunner back to Scotland. As soon as he arrived in Fraserburgh he spoke in the Market Place. A crowd gathered and it was suggested that he continue the meeting in the Baptist Church. On arriving at the church they found the pastor and deacons leaving. They had just finished a meeting where they had decided to invite Troup to come to Fraserburgh. Among the deacons was the very man Troup had seen in his vision. The service had only just begun in the church when people began weeping over their lost condition. The revival had come to Scotland. There were open air meetings in Saltoun Square, and by December the only venue big enough was the 1,200 seater Parish Church.

While the revival was going on in Great Yarmouth, revival meetings were taking place in Wick, so when the new converts arrived back in Wick there was already a revival atmosphere. Remarkable scenes took place at the end of November with crowded meetings indoors and out, with tears of repentance and scores of converts. Early in January Troup arrived from meetings in Dundee, prolonging the revival.

The revival atmosphere came to Eyemouth as well as the fishermen returned. The Spirit of Revival was still evident in 1931 when Troup visited the town. He spoke in the Market Place to about three thousand people, even though the population of the town was only two thousand, with many giving their lives to the Lord. The Word spread to many other ports along the shores of the Firth of Forth, such as Missleburgh, Fisherow and Pittenweem.

One of the fishermen who returned to Peterhead was David Cordiner. Whilst in Great Yarmouth the Lord told Cordiner that he was to preach. His friends tried to persuade him out of the idea as Cordiner was a very quiet man, but he stepped out and led the revival in Peterhead. There were meetings every night for six weeks and hundreds professed faith in Christ. Revival meetings were also held at Gardenstown, where Castle Grant Hall was packed every night, with souls being saved. Several towns along the north coast of Banffshire were impacted. In Inverallochy and Cairnbulg, within two weeks, there were 600 conversions out of a population of 1,500.

Many places in Scotland were touched by the flame from Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. There were many converts in Dundee, Aberdeen and Glasgow, but the revival seemed to stall sometime in 1922.

Jock Troup went to Bible School at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow from 1922-24. However, he would always be drawn to evangelising; so much so that the Institute could not award him a certificate because he did not complete enough of the classes. He was an itinerant revivalist until 1932 when he became Superintendent of the Tent Hall in Glasgow. The Tent Hall did a huge amount of work evangelising and serving the poor. The war years took a toll on his health and he resigned in 1945. He travelled again to many parts including Canada and America. In October 1946 he joined The Evangelization Society of London as an evangelist, but he spent a lot of time travelling around, especially to America and Canada, which did not exactly please the Society. He was in the pulpit of Knox Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Washington, when he collapsed and died. A doctor had warned him that he would die if he did not ease up, but Jock often said that he wanted to die in harness.

If you want to know more about Jock Troup then read ‘Revival Man, the Jock Troup Story’ by George Mitchell, published by Christian Focus.

Much of the above is taken from ‘A Forgotten Revival’ by Stanley C Griffin, published by Day One Publications.

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