H is for Silvester Horne

This is my contribution to ABC Wednesday and for Round Ten I am focusing on people from the past, some famous, others less so.

Those of us who grew up in the UK in the 1950s and 60s will recall the fruity voice of Kenneth Horne, star of the radio comedies Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne.

But interesting though his life was, for this round of ABC Wednesday, I wanted to briefly look at the life of his father, the Congregational minister, MP, author and champion of the poor, Charles Silvester Horne.

In an age of great preachers, Silvester Horne had a reputation as one of the greatest. In conversation with a friend, his son, Kenneth, described Winston Churchill as a great orator and his friend replied, ‘Yes, but then you never heard your father speak, did you?’

Charles Silvester Horne was born in 1865 in Cuckfield, Sussex, the youngest son of Congregational minister, Charles Horne, and was given the middle name he would use later in life from his mother’s maiden name, Harriet Silvester.

His father resigned from the ministry ‘owing to the nervous strain of the pastorate’ and became editor of The Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser and so Charles Horne Jnr grew up in Shropshire.

He went to the local Haberdashers’ Grammar School where he excelled at sport but idled in class. However, he became involved with local Congregational church and preached his first sermon at the age of sixteen.

He gained a bursary at Glasgow University where he achieved an MA degree and then won a scholarship to read theology as one of the first six students at the newly founded Mansfield College, Oxford.

Horne’s reputation as a preacher was so great that in 1887 he was invited to become the minister at one of the wealthiest Free Churches in London, even though they would have to wait 18 months for him to complete his studies.

In his time in Kensington, he was invited to become the minister at several important churches around London which he turned down. But in 1903 he announced that he had accepted a ‘bold challenge’ by taking on a debt-ridden chapel in Tottenham Court Road called Whitefield’s Church.

Horne had ambitious plans for the church which he wanted to become a Congregational Central Mission with an adult school, library, classrooms, a canteen, cooking and sewing classes, choirs and a band.

The new Whitefield Central Mission opened in September 1903 and a banner hung outside depicted a knight ascending to shining towers, supporting a wounded comrade and beneath was the motto: ‘No quest, no conquest.’

People came from all parts of London to hear Horne speak and although the church could hold a thousand, they still had to put camp-stools in the aisles to accommodate everyone. The afternoon Sunday service featured guest speakers that included Cabinet ministers and writers, such as George Bernard Shaw and Jerome K Jerome.

But it was Horne’s oratory that people came to hear, and not just in London. In 1903, the British Monthly wrote:

‘In Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Leicester he conquered vast audiences by the magic of his oratory. He understands better than any speaker of his years, with the possible exception of Lloyd George, how to quicken slow blood, kindle light in dull eyes, and bring the flood-tide of enthusiasm sweeping into all creeks and inlets of the spirit.’

As well as speaking in the UK, Horne also undertook lecture tours in Europe and North America and his concern for the rights of the poor meant that his speeches became increasingly political in tone. It was inevitable that he would enter politics and in 1910 he was elected as the Liberal MP for Ipswich.

On his first day in Parliament, he wrote to his mother, telling her that he had taken the oath of loyalty to the King and the Constitution, adding: ‘I sincerely hope that means loyalty to the people and especially to the poor. There is no other reason why I should be here that I can see.’

Horne combined the roles of preacher and politician, but this became increasingly difficult. The workload affected his health and in 1914 he reluctantly resigned his pastorate.
Despite his failing health, he accepted an invitation from Yale University to deliver a series of lectures on ‘The History of Preaching’ which were a great success. Afterwards, he visited Niagara Falls and then boarded a ship for Toronto where he was due to speak.

As the ship entered Toronto harbour, Horne was walking on deck with his wife, Katharine, when he collapsed and died. He was just 49 years old.

His coffin was taken back to England and buried in Church Stretton, Shropshire, where a Memorial Hall was built in his memory in 1916. A copy of his In Memoriam can be seen online.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

11 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 7th March 2012

    I knew neither Horne. Thanks for the HISTORY lesson.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Vulgar Pudding 8th March 2012

    Most interesting but Lord knows where you dig such people up from. Did Horne by any chance inspire the term “feeling horny” or was that just something his wife said on Saturday nights?

  • Sheila 8th March 2012

    . Without bodyguards and stuntmen, neither one can leap out of a tree, beat down a 20 something year old or can handle anytime in the boxing ring with a much younger contender anymore.

  • Bomber Pudding 8th March 2012

    Urgh? Was Madam Sheila talking about me and Roger Green? I would happily take on a twenty something year old in the ring and down him courtesy of my nifty footwork and a swift uppercut to the exposed jawbone. Now that’s what I’d call “public relations”!

  • Elizabeth Owen nee Horne 10th June 2013

    Charles Silvester was my Great Uncle. My immediate family did not speak of him much as in my time, his son, Kenneth was so famous. It was good to see his name as the author of hymns in our books at church and, at least the family were staunch Congregationalists. Many thanks for putting this piece on your page.

    • Mr Parrot 11th June 2013

      Thank you for you kind comment. Charles was indeed a most interesting and accomplished man and it isn’t any wonder that his son made such a success of his own life.

    • Pauline 3rd May 2014

      Tomorrow, Sunday 4th May 2014, Trinity Church here in Newport, Shropshire (where C. Silvester Horne grew up) will be celebrating his life. Refreshments from 4.30 pm and service at 6.30 pm, and yes we will be singing some of his hymns. I believe Kensington URC will be holding a similar service in 2 weeks time.

  • Mark Beard 24th August 2014

    Charles Silvester Horne learned his bible at the Congregationalist Church in Newport Shropshire, where my Great Great Grandfather George Beard (1835-1911) was an active member. In 1875, George founded a Congregationalist Mission Room at a nearby hamlet called The Outwoods. It was here, in George Beard’s kitchen at Euxley Farm, that Charles Silvester Horne preached his first sermon at the age of sixteen (see Selbie, p6). A portrait of the preacher was presented to the Beard family by his mother, Harriet. This is still in the family today, as is a photograph of the farm kitchen showing the portrait hanging there.

    • Pauline 4th February 2015

      Have just revisited this page and seen the above comment on ‘The Outwoods’. The mission there doesn’t exist anymore, but the church in Newport still does and they have some of the crockery with The Outwoods written on it. If you are ever in the area please pay a visit.

    • Jeremy Beesley 16th November 2018

      Hi Mark,I have just come across this posting. I live at Euxley Farm and I think you may have contacted me some years ago regarding any information regarding George Beard. I would be fascinated to see the photograph of the farm kitchen all those years ago.

  • Rev Philip Cook 13th April 2020

    The former Outwoods Congregational Mission near Newport, Salop, was where my great great uncle Samuel Minshull 1873-1949 and his wife Marion Walley Minshull nee Ward 1876-1950, worshipped and led the Sunday School whilst farming at Wilbrighton Hall from 1902-1934. Samuel was a lay preacher.
    Rev Philip Cook, Baptist Minister, Sussex.


Your email will not be published on this site, but note that this and any other personal data you choose to share is stored here. Please see the Privacy Policy for more information.

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: