Eyemouth (1921)

About a fortnight before the fishermen returned from Great Yarmouth, the minister of the Primitive Methodists held a service in the Market Place. It was as if the people were and waiting for the opportunity, and the revival began.

A reporter of the 'Scotsman' described a meeting in December.

'On the stroke of seven two sturdy fishermen emerged from a low pend giving access to the marketplace, a small triangular space in the centre of the town. They carried a harmonium between them and were followed by several youths bearing shops’ lamps, which burn acetylene gas. A few minutes previously the place had echoed to the shrill voices of children playing merrily, but as soon as the ring was formed by the revivalists the children’s voices were hushed. The public street seemed to become consecrated to the cause of conversion. It was a bitterly cold night, when a rosy fireside must have had strong temptations; yet within a short time more than 100 of the converts were gathered round, lustily singing hymns.

Once or twice a chill wind has compelled the company to move from the marketplace to a ‘hieldy’ corner of the town, where the meeting proceeds in comparative comfort … by the light of a number of ship’s lamps they are enabled where necessary to follow the minute print of the revival hymns with which the service usually opens. So familiar have most of the singers become with some of the hymns, however, that they sing verse after verse without a glance at the little cloth-bound hymn books. And it is inspired singing; not perfunctory mumbling of the words. The emotions of the revivalists are obviously stirred, and a great volume of robust harmony rises into the starlit night.

The onlookers are drawn in, too, by this praise. Mr Barton, the Primitive Methodist minister, played the harmonium, but the notes could not be heard at a few yards, so heartily did the singers respond. The ring in the centre of the street received constant reinforcements. A husband and wife would come out of a side street and take their places, to be followed perhaps by an elderly fisherman with his daughter hanging on his arm. From the youngest to the oldest of the community were represented. The wind whistled through the streets and to remain stationary for a few minutes meant a fit of shivering, yet despite the discomfort they stood their ground here for the greater part of an hour. Most of the women wore shawls, which were wrapped around their heads and made a kind of frame in their faces, whipped by the cold wind.

The strains of ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’, ‘Crown Him’ or ‘Why Not Come to Him Now’ awaken many echoes in those curiously intricate alleys of the town, with their suggestion of mystery. Here were the haunts of smugglers of bygone days – the forefathers of the revivalists. … Those narrow passages disgorge men, women and children every night nowadays, who flock to the marketplace to take an active part in the services or linger on the pavement to hear what is passing.

A short evangelical address was delivered by the Rev. Mr Miller, in which he urged the youth of the town to take up the torch which had been lit. … There is no fire and brimstone, however. ‘I am not here to frighten you into repentance’ he told his hearers.

As he moves about the little wooden platform he tells the crowd fringing the inner circle of the joy that is waiting for them if they will but pledge themselves to Christian service. ‘Why does Laughy dance when he is on this board?’ he asked, and revivalists and onlookers alike joined the hearty laughter which followed this reference to one of Mr Barton’s lay lieutenants. Laughy is the local nickname for a well-known fisherman named Loch, who is prominently identified with the Congregational Church. Well up in years, he is in the forefront of the revival movement and his genial temperament makes him a general favourite. Another fisherman named Johnstone, who is a leading member of the Primitive Methodist Church, is also one of Mr Barton’s righthand men. ‘It is the joy Laughy is experiencing that makes him dance’, the preacher informs the crowd. ‘He can’t help dancing’.

The ‘dancing’ is a symptom of a nervous temperament which keeps Loch smiling and always on the move when he is speaking in public.

After the address and some hymn-singing comes the testimony of the converts. There is little sign of backwardness. They follow one another into the ring to give their ‘wee word’ as one of them expressed herself, and with a sincere, humble diction that in some cases approaches eloquence, they tell the story of their conversion, and appeal to others to follow in their footsteps.

A young woman came forward for the first time, and for more than ten minutes, with quiet, deliberate phrases, she gripped the crowd with her exposition of the new outlook she had formed on the doctrine of brotherly love. Incidentally, she alluded to the presence of public-houses in their midst as contrary to that doctrine, and hoped that when next the electors of Eyemouth had the opportunity they would go one better than ‘limitation’ and carry ‘no license’. A stalwart, ruddy-faced young fisherman followed her with his simple little testimony. In his ears were little golden rings. Each time he turned, the earrings flashed in the light, and it required little imagination to picture such a figure engaging in some bold smuggling venture of an earlier time. The briefest gap was filled in by the singing of a hymn. At the conclusion of one verse, which told of the peace to be found in Jesus, a bareheaded woman, with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders, sprang into the ring. ‘I ken what that peace means noo, friends,’ she cried, her face alight: ‘I ken a difference noo. I’ve been washing and baking aa’ day, but I’m able to get to the meeting, and there’s no’ a happier woman in Eyemouth.’ This said, she hurried back to her place in the circle of converts. The majority of those who gave their testimony were women. Of the few young fishermen who stepped forward last night, one lad, with sincere conviction written across his face, appealed with fervour to those outside the movement to take the pledge of Christian service. He appeared to be labouring under emotional strain. ‘It’s wonderful,’’ he cried: ‘It’s mair than ’, it’s …’, but further words failed him, and he returned to his place.

There are prophets of gloom, too, amongst them. Recalling the fact that a revival took place in Eyemouth114 some years before the great sea disaster of 1881, in which 129 Eyemouth fishermen lost their lives, one of the revivalists has sought to draw a parallel.115 ‘Before that great sorrow of forty years ago our men were prepared by the revival which took place in the town,’ was his message. ‘Perhaps He is preparing us for another visitation.’ In the testimonies there is a strain that runs through each – an expression of gratitude to Jesus as the Saviour. In different ways many of the converts tell how they have been freed from indifference and worldly passions. … Thereupon Mr Barton announced that they would go on parade. Forming into procession and with the lamp-bearers at the head of the column, they threaded their way through some curious old byways to a part of the town bearing the high sounding name of George Square, but which could only hold the meeting and little more. Some half-dozen quaint, old-fashioned houses made up the square. Here the short service was taken part in by a fisherman, who, in simple, unaffected language spoke for a few minutes. He was followed by Mr Barton, who observed, with some fire in his voice, that he had read a statement somewhere that the revival was on the wane. It was not on the wane in Eyemouth, he cried, amid ‘Amens’ from several of his hearers. Great joy had come into the hearts and homes of the Eyemouth people these last few days, and greater wonders would still be seen.

There was hymn-singing here also, and as the Revivalists traversed some more dark, narrow lanes on the next stage of their journeyings, their lamps casting strange shadows on the walls of the houses, they sang as they went. A halt was made, this time in the rear of a tenement near the harbour. The space available here was even more limited, but the crowd, numbering two or three hundred, were out of the cold blast. Clothes drying in the wind could be discerned on the third floor balcony, and occupants of one tenement leaned over the balcony railing, their heads pushed through between the garments. Hymns were sung, and before the procession left for the service in the church at 8.30, Mr Barton apologised to the tenement dwellers. Amid laughter he expressed the hope that they had not wakened up the bairns, but they had friends there, he added, who would like to know they were adjourning to the church for prayers and testimony. A large number followed in the train of the lamp-bearers to the Primitive Methodist Church, where the nightly service was held.

For more information see, ‘Glory in the Glen,’ by Tom Lennie published by Christian Focus Publications, p245-51.

Ten Years later Jock Troup came to preach in the Market Place. He stood on the seat of his car to address the people, with his head and shoulders through the roof. There was a large crowd to hear him speak.