H is for Silvester Horne

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 23 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

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.

For more information see Horne’s Wikipedia page and the Silvester Horne Institute, Church Stretton.

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.

4 comments… Add yours
  • Margy 29th August 2018

    On Friday I will be taking an oath to the Queen in order to become a Canadian citizen. I’m so excited. – Margy

  • ABC Wednesday 29th August 2018

    As I did not grow up on the other side of the see… 😉 I had not heard of him ofcourse

    Have a splendid, ♥-warming ABC-Wednes-day / -week
    ♫ M e l d y ♪ (ABC-W-team)

  • Roger O Green 29th August 2018

    There’s a real complication in combining church and state theologically

  • Su-sieee! Mac 30th August 2018

    Such a young man. Good for him for lobbying for the poor.


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