William Haslam's Church - Hassingham (1863-1871)

Haslam’s wife was tired and unhappy being in Bath and so they decided to ask the Lord to move them and two days later he received a letter from Sir Thomas Beauchamp offering him a Rectory in Norfolk, which must have been written as they were praying. The living of Buckenham was worth £300pa with a good house and a population of twenty people and there was the Rectory of Hassingham connected to it containing eighteen or twenty cottages. He was depressed about this because he wanted another sphere of work and not a tiny living even if it did have a big salary, however they had that morning read in the Word, ‘Arise, and go unto Gaza which is desert,’ so he knew he had to take the offer.

He had three months to prepare his district for the new pastor and when he left the open-air services, Temperance meetings, Bible readings, Mothers’ meetings and schools were all in good order and well looked after by those who were responsible for them.

Haslam wondered had shelved them in a pleasant country place for asking to be moved from Bath. However, there were larger congregations than expected at both churches on the first Sunday. An old gamekeeper had been praying for God to send them a man that could do them some good and he came to the service to see the result of his prayers; he was pleased with the Almighty’s choice. Haslam had gone round the cottages earlier and discovered that not a single person knew about conversion and he found it difficult ‘to preach to people so entirely dark and ignorant.’ After the service he noticed five or six in the churchyard who looked as if something had touched them so he invited them to come to the Rectory at 6.00pm. As they did not say they would come to the Rectory Haslam accepted to give a talk three miles away, so he left his wife to look after anyone who might come to the evening gathering. To his surprise sixty showed up in the Rectory and his wife gave a talk and six found peace. The first Sunday on the job and revival had already begun.

The next evening the drawing room was too small for the numbers so he got an outhouse ready for meetings but that too became too small and so they moved to a barn that could hold two hundred, but very shortly that was not big enough and some people repaired and extended the barn at their own expense. Meetings were to take place there every night for eight months and the revival went on for at least the eight years that Haslam was there.

While they were getting their house in order a local vicar came to visit and perching on a box they talked about the work. The clergyman said that he had never experienced such things although he preached the Gospel. He said that he had been warned against revivals and dissenters. Haslam said to him ‘Oh, that will easily account for want of blessing. A revival is the work of God Himself – it is no revival if it is not: and dissenters are not infrequently God’s only witnesses in the parish.’ He offered to pray for the clergyman but he was getting restless and declined. He got up to go, but on the way out he said he would like to pray after all. He then asked if Haslam would preach in his small church and of course he was delighted to. The barn used for the occasion was stuffed full, where the people came from was a mystery as there were few houses in the area. The glory of God came and it was a wonderful meeting and the vicar, rejoicing, went round and shook hands with all the dissenters in the congregation.

Haslam held alternate meetings in his and the vicar’s parishes and there were many salvations. One pub owner was very angry because his customers were turning away when they gave their lives to Jesus and then his own daughter was converted. His anger subsided and he took his daughter to church one day and was himself converted. He then told all his customers to go to the meetings, but then he determined that being a publican was no fit job for a Christian so he decided to change his business, but he wanted Haslam to come and preach in the pub before he gave it up. On the appointed evening Haslam found people outside the pub and he encouraged them to go in but there was no room. Every room in the house was filled with over two hundred people and even though many would not be able to see him, they would be able to hear. As he spoke he heard someone cry out in one of the rooms and then another and another and then someone near him cried out for mercy and that seemed to be the cue for people all over to cry out in distress.

The work spread on all sides and although churches were closed to him he was able to use barns that had more capacity. One man said ‘I never knew before what my grandfather built those large barns for, but the Lord has found good use for them.’ Haslam was so busy he really needed a rest so as he did not take one voluntarily the Lord forced him to take one; he had an accident and was laid out for three weeks. He suffered no pain but the doctors insisted he rested. During this time he had many visitors asking after his health which surprised him because he thought that most people in the neighbourhood were against him. When he was well enough to go out he found that other workers had stepped into the gap and the revival was getting on fine without him and he realised that he was not indispensable; it was the Lord’s work and not his. Three or four farmers became preachers and many others helped in different ways.

There was of course frequent opposition; fellow clergyman called him fanatical, disorderly and irregular. They were happy criticising him and complaining about him to the Bishop and then going off to shoot, fish or farm, anything rather than lead their flock from death to life. The Rector’s wives were even harder on him. Soon Haslam’s wife began to preach and the opposition became much worse. A Rector’s wife wrote to him saying that she and her husband had been praying for revival in Norfolk for years but ‘if this is a revival, it has come in such a way that I cannot thank God for it.’

Additional Information

The church roof used to be thatched, but a fire in the 1960's destroyed it.