In the mid-nineteenth century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was something of a celebrity as a Christian preacher and author. Based in London, he engaged in regular preaching tours throughout England and beyond, drawing huge crowds and appealing to people throughout the ranks of Victorian society.
At the age of only 23, on Wednesday 7th April 1858, Spurgeon visited Halifax, to preach twice in the Piece Hall, with the aim of raising funds for the recently opened Trinity Road Chapel.
Within The Piece Hall , a large wooden building of huge capacity was erected for the event and seats were offered at various prices, along with up to 2000 made available free of charge, since one of Spurgeon's conditions was that the poor should be able to attend without paying.
The weather proved atrocious, a violent snowstorm having started on the Tuesday night, which continued unabated throughout Wednesday. It seems all the more remarkable that between 4,000 and 5,000 attended the afternoon service and more in the evening.
Following prayers, a reading and hymns (one to the tune 'Halifax'), Spurgeon spoke in the afternoon to 'those who are sad at heart, sorrowful of spirit and in need of comfort'. In the evening, his theme was the need for a revival of religion to parallel that occurring in the United States. If 'even in America' where the evil of slavery persisted, such a 'great work of God' could take place, why should England not experience the same? He argued, however, that for such revival to take place, class divisions, particularly prevalent in 'the cotton, the wool and the iron counties' had to be put aside.
It was as the evening congregation was dispersing, reflecting on the content of the hour-long sermon, that a shriek was heard, followed by the sound of falling timbers, and thirty or forty people fell several feet, as an access platform gave way. Fortunately, most were only slightly injured, although 19 year old Thomas Watson and Martha Hirst, about 24 and the daughter of a Baptist minister, both suffered a broken leg.
During the night, the entire wooden structure collapsed, under the weight of an estimated 150 tons of snow, so the entire receipts from the event were taken up in paying for the expenses incurred and the damage caused, leaving nothing for Trinity Road Chapel.
The Chapel's sense of the mercy of God that the outcome was no worse, however, was no doubt shared by the eminent Halifax builder who erected the wooden structure and the borough engineer who certified its safety!