On A Sunday Afternoon
by John Richards (from The Blackcountryman Volume 2, Issue 4

The father of the late comedian Kenneth Horne was a well known Congregational Minister, the Rev. Silvester Horne, who once said of a West Bromwich man that:-

"he discovered the Sunday afternoon! There were many people who never discovered it; they had always slept through it! But on Sunday afternoons the whole manhood of the country was at liberty, and therefore it was the time to do a good work for humanity."

The West Bromwich man to whom he referred was Mr John Blackham of Hill Top, who in the 19th century was a leading light in the religious life of the town.

John Blackham was born in West Bromwich in 1834 and during the next 89 years his name was destined to become well known and beloved throughout this country as well as on the continent of Europe and in the Dominion of Canada. When he died in 1923 there was a great sense of loss in the town of West Bromwich and his funeral was attended by men and women from all over the country. The funeral cortege started from his daughter's house in Four Oaks and the service was held at Ebeneezer Congregational Church in Old Meeting Street. Such was his fame that amongst the letters his family received was one from an MP and from virtually every notable preacher in the country.

When he started work, John Blackham was apprenticed to Mr Eld, a linen draper of Hill Top, West Bromwich. The approximate site of this building is now occupied by a car sales showroom, almost opposite the Hill Top Park gates. Such was his progress in the business that during his early 20's John entered into partnership with his former employer and John Eld and John Blackham, who traded as Eld and Blackham were household names in the town from the 1850s till around the 1930s.

During the period between 1879 and the mid-1890s business was so good that a branch shop was opened at 393 High Street. This site is now occupied by a modern fishmonger's shop and is situated almost on the corner of High Street and John Street, between John Street and Shaftsbury Street.

As well as being a good businessman John Blackham was also a member of the Ebeneezer Congregational Church, which he joined when quite young. He set a precedent by being made a deacon when only 29 years of age. Later on he was made senior deacon, a post he held till his death in 1923.

In 1870 he founded the first Adult School in the area outside Birmingham, and he was also responsible for the forming of an organisation known as the Home Mission. Commendable as these achievements were, his main claim to fame came about when, in 1875, he found himself locked out of a Moody and Sankey Sunday afternoon meeting in the Town Hall, Birmingham. After enquiring as to the whereabouts of another Young Men's meeting, he was directed to the Steelhouse Lane Congregational Church, where he joined with 30 other young men in a church that was capable of holding a thousand. When he thought of the crowd in the Town Hall and the handful in the church, John Blackham determined to return to West Bromwich and emulate the success of the Town Hall meeting. In order to do this he and a few friends went into the streets of West Bromwich and such was their persuasiveness that on the following Sunday afternoon 120 young men gathered at Ebeneezer. Shortly after this meeting had started it grew to such proportions that they had to move from the schoolroom into the church itself.

This then was the start of the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Movement. The name, however, came about through a train journey made by John Blackham. In the carriage he was travelling in were a number of men who by their conversation made him think they were ex-jailbirds who were planning to have some fun at his expense. To forestall what could have been a little embarrassing for him, John Blackham asked them the following question: "What sort of bible class would you rather have than go to a horse race or a cock fight?" They answered that they had nothing against the bible, but did the services in church need to be so blessed dull? This answer caused John Blackham to use the word 'pleasant' when describing his meetings and so the name 'Pleasant Sunday Afternoon' was applied to the movement. So successful were these meetings that in the next 10 years they had spread throughout the Black Country.

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