Frederick Nicholas Charrington was born in London’s East End, on February 4, 1850. His father was a wealthy – make that very wealthy – brewing magnate.
It was at the age of 20, however, that a friend challenged Fred as to whether or not he was ‘saved’. We are told that the young brewery heir resented the question, but promised to read the third chapter of John’s Gospel.
“He read the chapter through and in the great mercy and love of God, when he reached the end he could say he was ‘saved’” (Twelve Marvellous Men, by E. Enoch, page 30). And he even started to attend a non-conformist chapel.
He commenced Christian service, working with slum children in a “ragged school”, a project set up by the Earl of Shaftesbury.
Charrington tells of the day, passing the “Rising Sun” Hotel, while on one his evangelistic walks through Whitechapel, when he saw a woman standing at the swinging doors of the hotel with two or three children dragging at her skirts, calling to her drunken husband inside, “O Tom, do give me some money, the children are crying for bread.”
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Frederick Charrington records what followed – “The man came through the doorway. He looked at her for a moment and then knocked her down into the gutter. Just then I looked up and saw my name, ‘Charrington’, in huge gilt letters on the top of the public house” (Biography, by G. Thorne, page 21). Fred Charrington went to help the woman and was also knocked to the ground.
That savage blow of the drunken fool not only knocked the wife into the gutter – “but”, wrote Charrington, “it knocked me out of the brewery business” (page 22).
He confronted his father … renounced his heirship of over a million pounds … and then threw himself into Christian work.
Charrington devoted his life to helping the down and outs in London’s East End. He opened a “ragged school” for underprivileged children, led a fight to clean up the Music Halls and became an ardent worker for the Temperance Movement (opposing alcohol) and a member of the London County Council for Mile End.
In 1883 the foundation stone of a permanent headquarters for Charrington’s charitable work was laid, by the Earl of Shaftesbury.
On Charrington’s 36th birthday he opened the Great Assembly Hall in Mile End, seating 5,000 people. From this huge structure, Charrington and his team of helpers engaged in “a continuous campaign against drunkenness and other vices … enforced by intensely earnest evangelical preaching.”
The hall was crowded each Sunday as the poor and destitute were given a meal, prior to the evening service. The first 700 people in line received the hot meal free: all they had to do was sign “the pledge”.
The Great Assembly Hall of 31 Mile End Road was also a hive of activity during the week with a Coffee Tavern, Bookshop, and multiple activities taking place.
Charrington also established The Tower Hamlets Mission, a Christian Charity, committed to working with those suffering from alcohol dependency, who are either homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.
During the 1888 strike by the Bryant and May Company ‘Match Girls’, who were little more than white slaves, Charrington used the Great Hall to provide for the needs of the striking women. Catharine and William Booth also assisted in this campaign to replace the dangerous yellow phosphorous with the relatively harmless red phosphorous, and to pay the women appropriate wages.
In 1912 Charrington provided the Great Hall for meetings of the Jewish Tailors during their strike against the sweating system. That same year Charrington provided food for families of the striking dock workers.
Shortly before his death in a London hospital on January 2, 1936, this remarkable man of God said, “I was born to a great inheritance worth nearly a million of money, but it was defiled. I was born again to a greater inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away….” (I Peter 1:4).
The Great Assembly Hall was destroyed by German incendiary bombs in 1941, but later restored. The work of The Tower Hamlets Mission continues to this day.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com