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.