Brethren Archive

My Father [A Short Biography by His Son, Cecil.

by Henry Pickering

HY. PICKERING, 1858-1941
Perhaps I should start by quoting a tribute by "Churchman" in the Glasgow "Evening Citizen" of January 25th, 1941: "In the death of Mr. Henry Pickering, there passed away one who was a notable figure in the publishing world, and whose name had become a household word in evangelical circles throughout the world.  The story of his career is that of a rise from insignificant beginnings to great and widespread influence.  His aims in life, as he himself said, were threefold—to preach, to publish, and to edit, and for all three, he had a natural talent.  lf he achieved success as a publisher, he also exercised a wide and lasting influence as preacher, writer and author."
His readiness as a preacher and his adaptability to circumstances were shown on one occasion when he was invited to address an annual gathering of Christian Railwaymen in Glasgow.  In the bustle of life, he had not been able to find a suitable theme for the occasion, so he set out for the meeting with no prepared address.  Travelling in the tram, the thought came to him that he might use the initials of the five Railway companies then operating in Scotland.  By the time he was to start his address, he had worked out matter for four of them —N.B. (North British) New Birth; C.R. (Caledonian Railway) Christ's Return; H.R. (Highland Railway)  Heavenly Railroad; G.N.S. (Great North of Scotland) Great Need of Salvation.  The last one, G. & S.W. (Glasgow & South-Western), however had him stumped, and it was not until he was nearing the end of his message that the solution came to him in a flash—Go and Seek to Win Railwaymen.  lt was said that few who were present, ever forgot that unexpected address, so entirely was it inspiration on the spur of the moment.
Of Mr. Pickering it could be said that by voice and pen, and by his business and religious activities, his life was largely spent in publishing the name of the Lord. (Deut. 32: 3).
Born at Kenton, a village near Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1858, nothing unusual happened in his life until he was 16, when J. Cecil Hoyle, a missionary from Spain, hired a nearby farmer's barn in which to conduct Gospel services.  Among a lively group of village lads, sitting on bare wooden planks placed on tubs or boxes was Henry Pickering.  To retell his account of what happened:
"On the second night, his message was that while all have sinned, he that believeth on the Son hath life.   Realising that I had religion without a redeemer, I saw I was a helpless sinner needing to be saved.  The preacher then spoke of John 5: 24 with its five golden links; He that Heareth, Believeth, Hath, Shall Not, but is Passed from death into life.  In sheer earnestness, I closed my eyes, clenched my fists, and said, "Sink or swim, I'll trust Jesus." (The story is told in his tract, "How I Tried the Five C's.”  These C's were Christening, joining the Choir, Confirmation, taking Communion, and lastly receiving Christ.)
Wanting to be a teacher, he became a pupil in a Church of England school, but, when under the influence of Cecil Hoyle, he associated with the nearest local assembly.  Ecclesiastical difficulties arose which caused him to give up his scholastic career and look for some other means of livelihood.  A relative, interested in printing, suggested that he should set up as a printer, making use of his father's house as his premises.  So, about 1880, The Crown Press was set up in Kenton with one small machine, a foot treadle platen.  He had other ideas however, than mere printing, and before very long, the selling of Bibles and scriptural literature came to be added, to be followed by the printing of gospel tracts with an enticing series called, Pickering's Penny Packets of assorted Gospel tracts.
In his spare time, he joined with other young men in village work.  They took a stall in Consett Marketplace on Saturdays and sold gospel tracts, books and text-cards.  In his later years, he would recount how he used to circumvent the local byelaw prohibiting preaching in the marketplace.  He would hold up one tract after another, and in a voice loud enough for every bystander to hear, tell the story each contained, not omitting the gospel appeal to which the story led.  This was not preaching, but merely describing his wares.
ln 1886, he was invited by J. R. Caldwell to take charge of a Bible Book Depot at 180 Buchanan St., Glasgow, near the Underground Railway Station, known as the Publishing Office. (It had been founded by Donald Ross in Aberdeen in 1870, a year of many portents for the new venture.  In that year, Moody met Sankey.  Morgan and Scott formed their partnership, and three years later, published the first edition of Sankey's Sacred Songs and Solos which contained all the suitable hymns Mr. Sankey possessed, namely 23.  Donald Ross had started his business in his home in Aberdeen in 1870, John Ritchie in Kilmarnock in 1879 and Henry Pickering in Newcastle in 1880. In 1870, Fleming Revell, who married Moody's sister, founded his publishing business in New York and later formed a working arrangement with my father to sell each other's publications.
Seven years after my father came to Glasgow, he took into partnership, Wm. Inglis, a capable printing manager.  In another year, they had removed to 73 Bothwell St., where they opened a shop, started a printing factory and brought the familiar name of Pickering and Inglis into being.  The output of the factory, comprised 12 monthly magazines, of which he edited five, something like ten million gospel tracts and booklets each year, a circulation of 30,000 for "The Witness" every month and a new book or imprint each week.  He himself would be the author or compiler of a dozen or more books or pamphlets, including, "Chief Men among the Brethren,"   "Through Eye-gate to Ear-gate,"   "A Thousand Wonderful Things about the Bible," etc.  He was editor of “Every Christian's Library” with its 100 titles and its price of one shilling. Besides publishing all these, he brought in and sold other firms' publications and in his catalogue, as far back as 1890, ten tracts or books by John Ritchie are mentioned with what would be one of his best, "From Egypt to Canaan" which priced at 6 pence.
When my father first came to Glasgow, he associated himself with believers who met in the Marble Hall, probably the first assembly in the city and the one from which the Half Yearly Meetings had emanated in 1865.  According to my mother, the first two homes to which she was taken when she came from Newcastle, were those of Mr. and Mrs. Alex Marshall and Mr. and Mrs. Jas. Davidson.  To my sister Ruth (Mrs. Chas. Stokes of N. Rhodesia) and me, Mr. Marshall was Uncle Sandy.  In 1897, my father united with Elim Hall, Crosshill in which he played a prominent part until he removed to London in 1922.
He was indefatigable in his work as a preacher among the Scottish assemblies. He was in much demand for large gatherings of children, Sunday School anniversaries, Sunday School Conferences, etc.  He had a flair for the composing and presentation of object lessons and did much to popularise this method of presenting Gospel truth.
With the outbreak of the London bombing, he came to Largs with his wife and daughters.  There he had spent many a happy time preaching in the open air at the pier head, and in Largs, he died.  His body was laid to rest in the hillside cemetery overlooking the Firth of Clyde while the mourners sang Trevor Francis' well-known hymn, "I am Waiting for the Dawning," the favourite line of which to my father was, "I shall swell the song of worship through the everlasting years."
“The Believer’s Magazine” 1977


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