|BIRTH AND BOYHOOD
Bradford centre at the turn of the 20th century
From Stanley Frodsham's 'Smith Wigglesworth
- Apostle of Faith,' chapter 1.
It was in this revival year of 1859, in a
humble shack in Menston, in Yorkshire, England, that Smith
Wigglesworth was born. One day when he was holding a meeting
in Riverside, California, we said to him: “Tell us your
story.” He related to us the following:
“My father was very poor and worked
long hours for little pay in order to support mother and us
three boys and one girl. I can remember one cold frosty day
when my father had been given the job of digging a ditch seven
yards long and a yard deep, and filling it up again, for the
sum of three shillings and sixpence. My mother said that if
he would only wait a bit, it might thaw and his task would
be easier. But he needed that money for food, for there was
none in the house. So he set to work with a pickaxe. The frost
was deep, but underneath the hard ground was some soft wet
clay. As he threw up some of this, a robin suddenly appeared,
picked up a worm, ate it, flew to a branch of a nearby tree,
and from there sent out a song of joyous praise. Up to now,
father had been very despondent, but he was so entranced by
the robin’s lovely song of thanksgiving that he took
fresh courage and began to dig with renewed vigour—saying
to himself, “If that robin can sing like that for a
worm, surely I can work like a father for my good wife and
my four fine children!”
When I was six years of age, I got work in
the field, pulling and cleaning turnips, and I can remember
how sore my tiny hands became pulling turnips from morning
At seven years of age, my older brother and I went to work
in a woollen mill. My father obtained employment in the same
mill as a weaver. Things were easier in our house from that
time on, and food became more plentiful.
My father was a great lover of birds and
at one time he had sixteen song birds in our home. Like my
father I had a great love for birds and at every opportunity
I would be out looking for their nests. I always knew where
there were some eighty or ninety of them. One time I found
a nest full of fledglings, and thinking they were abandoned,
I adopted them, taking them home and making a place for them
in my bedroom. Somehow the parent birds discovered them and
would fly in through the open window and feed their young
ones. One time I had both a thrush and a lark feeding their
young ones in my room. My brothers and I would catch some
songbirds by means of birdlime, bring them home, and later
sell them in the market.
My mother was very industrious with her needle
and made all our clothes, chiefly from old garments that had
been given to her. I usually wore an overcoat with sleeves
three or four inches too long, which was very comfortable
in cold weather. I cannot forget those long winter nights
and mornings, having to get out of bed at five o’clock
to snatch a quick meal and then walk two miles to be at work
by six. We had to work twelve hours each day, and I often
said to my father, “It’s a long time from six
until six in the mill.” I can remember the tears in
his eyes as he said: “ Well, six o’clock will
always come.” Sometimes it seemed like a month coming.
I can never recollect a time when I did not long for God.
Even though neither father nor mother knew God, I was always
seeking Him. I would often kneel down in the field, and ask
Him to help me. I would ask Him especially to enable me to
find where the birds’ nests were, and after I had prayed
I seemed to have an instinct to know exactly where to look.
One time I walked to work in a great thunderstorm.
It seemed that for half an hour I was enveloped with fire
as the thunders rolled and the lightnings flashed. Young as
I was, my heart was crying to God for His preservation, and
He wrapped me in His gracious presence. Though all the way
I was surrounded with lightning and I was drenched to the
skin, I knew no fear—I only sensed that I was being
shielded by the power of God.
My grandmother was an old-time Wesleyan Methodist
and would take me to the meetings she attended. When I was
eight years of age there was a revival meeting held in her
church. I can remember one Sunday morning at seven o’clock
when all those simple folks were dancing around a big stove
in the centre of the church, clapping their hands and singing:
Oh, the Lamb, the bleeding Lamb,
The Lamb of Calvary,
The Lamb that was slain,
That liveth again
To intercede for me.
As I clapped my hands and sang with them,
a clear knowledge of the New Birth came into my soul. I looked
to the Lamb of Calvary. I believed that He loved me and had
died for me. Life came in-eternal life—and I knew that
I had received a new life which had come from God. I was born
again. I saw that God wants us so badly that He has made the
condition as simple as He possibly could— “Only
believe.” That experience was real and I have never
doubted my salvation since that day.
But I had no words. The longer I lived the
more I thought, but the less language I had to express my
thoughts. In this respect I resembled my mother. She would
begin to tell a story, but what she said was so unintelligible
that father would have to interrupt, saying, “Nay, Mother,
you’ll have to begin again!” She just could not
express herself. I was the same.
But I delighted in going to meetings, especially
those in which everyone was giving a testimony. I would arise
to give mine, but would have no language to convey what I
felt in the depths of my soul. Invariably I would burst out
crying. One memorable day three old men, whom I knew very
intimately, came across to where I was weeping, unable to
speak. They laid their hands on me. The Spirit of the Lord
came upon me and I was instantly set free from my bondage.
I not only believed, but I could also speak.
From the time of my conversion I became a
soul-winner, and the first person I won for Christ was my
own dear mother. When I was nine years of age I was tall,
and so I got full-time work in the mill. Schooling was not
compulsory in those days, and so I was robbed of an education.
Bradford, Kirkgate at the turn of the 20th century
Father wanted all of us to go to the Episcopal
church. He had no desire to go himself, but he liked the parson,
because they met at the same “pub” and drank beer
together. My brother and I were in the choir in this church,
and although I could not read I soon learned the tunes of
the hymns and chants. When most of the boys in the choir were
twelve years of age they had to be confirmed by the bishop.
I was not twelve, but between nine and ten, when the bishop
laid his hands on me, I can remember that as he imposed his
hands I had a similar experience to the one I had forty years
later when I was baptised in the Holy Spirit. My whole body
was filled with the consciousness of God’s presence,
a consciousness that remained with me for days. After the
confirmation service all the other boys were swearing and
quarrelling, and I wondered what had made the difference between
them and me.
When I was thirteen, we moved to Bradford.
There I went to the Wesleyan Methodist church and began to
enter into a deeper spiritual life. I was very keen for God.
This church was having some special missionary meetings and
they chose seven boys to speak. I was one of the seven chosen,
and I had three weeks in which to get ready for a fifteen-minute
talk. For three weeks I lived in prayer. I remember that as
I began there were such loud “Amens” and shoutings.
I do not recollect what I said, but I know I was possessed
with a mighty zeal, a burning desire to get people to know
my Saviour. At that time I was always getting in touch with
boys and talking to them about salvation. I had many rebuffs
and rebukes. I wanted to share the great joy I had, but so
many did not seem too eager to listen to me, and that was
a great mystery to me. I suppose I was not very tactful. I
always carried a Testament with me even though I was not able
to read much.
When I was sixteen years of age the Salvation
Army opened up a work in Bradford. I delighted to be with
these earnest Salvation Army people. It was laid very deeply
upon me to fast and pray for the salvation of souls in those
days, and every week we saw scores of sinners yielding their
hearts to Christ.
In the mill where I worked there was a godly
man belonging to the Plymouth Brethren. He was a steam-fitter.
I was given to him as a helper and he taught me how to do
plumbing work. He talked to me about water baptism and its
meaning. I can remember that he said to me: “If you
will obey the Lord in this, you do not know what He may have
for you.” I gladly obeyed the Word of the Lord to be
buried with Him in baptism unto death and come forth from
that symbolic watery grave to a newness of life in God. I
was about seventeen at that time.
It was this good man who taught me about
the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. Again and again when
I had a sense that I had failed God, I would be troubled with
the thought that the Lord would come and I would not be ready
to meet Him. From time to time it was a relief to me to go
to work and find this godly man there. Then I knew the Lord
had not come in the night and left me behind.
I continued with the Salvation Army because
it seemed to me they had more power in their ministry than
anybody else at that time. We used to have all nights of prayer.
Many would be laid out under the power of the Spirit, sometimes
for as long as twenty-four hours at a time. We called that
the Baptism in the Spirit in those days. Those early Salvationists
had great power and it was manifested in their testimony and
in their lives. We would join together and claim in faith
fifty or a hundred souls every week and know that we would
get them. Alas, today many are not laying themselves out for
soul-winning but for fleshly manifestations.
I looked to the Lord, and He surely helped
me in everything. When I was eighteen years of age, I went
to a plumber to ask for employment. I cleaned up my shoes
with an extra shine, put on a clean collar, and applied at
the home of this man. He said, “No, I don’t need
anyone.” I said, “Thank you, Sir. I am sorry.”
The man let me walk down to his gate and then called me back,
“There’s something about you
that is different. I just can’t let you go.” He
sent me to do a job fitting a row of homes with water piping,
which I finished in a week. The master was so amazed that
he said, “It cannot possibly be done!” but he
went and found the work perfect. He said he could not keep
me employed at that speed.
When I was twenty years of age, I moved to
Liverpool, and the power of God was mightily upon me. I had
a great desire to help the young people. Every week I used
to gather around me scores of boys and girls, barefooted,
ragged, and hungry. I earned good money, but I spent all of
it on food for those children. They would congregate in the
sheds in the docks, and what meetings we had!
Hundreds of them were saved. A friend of
mine and I devoted ourselves to visiting the hospitals and
also the ships. God gave me a great heart for the poor. I
used to work hard and spend all I had on the poor and have
nothing for myself. I fasted all day every Sunday and prayed,
and I never remember seeing less than fifty souls saved by
the power of God in the meetings with the children, in the
hospitals, on the ships, and in the Salvation Army. These
were the days of great soul awakening.
At the Salvation Army meetings the officer
in charge would constantly ask me to speak. I cannot tell
why he should ask me, for my speech was always broken, weeping
before the people. I could not hold back the tears. I would
have given a world to be able to speak in a more eloquent
way; but like Jeremiah I was a man with a fountain of tears.
But as I wept before the people, this often would lead to
an altar call. I thank God for those days because the Lord
kept me in a broken, contrite spirit. The memory of those
Liverpool days is very precious to me.
When I was about twenty-three years of age,
I was led to go back to Bradford, and I was strongly led to
open up a business for myself as a plumber and give my spare
time to helping the Salvation Army. It was there I met the
best girl in the world!