Thomas Matheson was born in Edinburgh in 1823, the son of Duncan Matheson an advocate of the Scottish Bar and nephew of Sir James Matheson, who was part of the great East India & China Firm Lloyd Matheson & Co. (Tea Merchants) of London and Liverpool. He was educated at Edinburgh High School and the Merchiston Academy and commenced his business career in London in 1839. Whilst there, following a near death experience he came to a personal faith in Christ. About this time his uncle offered to send him out to one of the firm's branches in either India or China, but he refused in view of the fact that the firm benefited from the opium trade out there, which contributed greatly to the profits of the firm. However a year later, his uncle, having forgiven him for his refusal offered him the position of a partner in his firm in London, which he accepted. After that in 1848 he left London to take charge of the Liverpool branch, based at Commerce Court, 11 Lord Street, together with Robert Lloyd, the son of a former Mayor of Liverpool. In 1850 he got married to Ann Cropper, daughter of John Cropper of Dingle Mount, from a distinguished family in Liverpool at that time, who was also President of the Town Mission, the forerunner of the Liverpool City Mission. Shortly afterwards he became Hon. Secretary of the Mission and on the death of John Cropper he became its President, a post he occupied for many years. In 1852 he was ordained as an elder of Canning Street Presbyterian Church. When the great revival of 1859 arrived he became actively involved in that and worked alongside such people as Reginald Radcliffe, William Lockhart (the founder of Toxteth Tabernacle) and John Patterson, who were notable evangelists in those days.
Poulton Hall, Spital, Bebington
In 1860 he took on a lease of Poulton Hall in Spital (see above) and seeing the great need of the village population he appointed first one and then a second Scripture reader to visit on undenominational lines, with Bible in hand, a large area of the local population, at a time when absolutely nothing was being done for them and few entered any place of worship. In those days there were no facilities for any form of recreation in the evenings, no cinemas, public halls, or libraries. In the booklet "Bromborough in Times Past" (Page 29) it states that there was a good deal of hard drinking in the village in those days and some of the workers apparently didn't turn into work until Wednesday, as it took them until then to recover from the indulgence of the weekend, so the need was great. Matheson also began a Cottage Meeting on Sunday evenings at Poulton Hall which was continued along with a Sunday School in the afternoon for 20 years, and together with his wife they saw much fruit from their labours. He was also led to build in Bromborough and in Eastham lecture and reading rooms, in which simple Gospel services were held. The reading rooms, managed by the committees of working men, were of great benefit to the villagers, and the free lending library had the effect of stimulating a desire for reading.
The reading rooms in Bromborough (subsequently a paper bag factory)
The first missionary-in-charge was a Mr William Gibson who had previously been a next door neighbour of the famous Andrew Carnegie who emigrated to America and became rich and famous and a noted philanthropist. Mr Carnegie built many libraries in Britain, including one in Birkenhead. Mr & Mrs Gibson were much loved in Bromborough and they are both buried in the old Churchyard at the Bromborough Parish Church.
In 1864 Matheson took up the cause of abstinence from strong drink which was actively promoted by him. He co-operated with his minister Rev. Dr. Lundie in lessening the evils of drunkenness by diminishing the number of licences being issued.
In 1875 when Moody and Sankey paid their first visit to Liverpool he was elected the Chairman of the Committee which erected the great building in Victoria Street (located where the present car park is) for the crusade held by them. The building was intended to seat 8,000 people but often crowds in excess of 10,000 people attended in what was a powerful move of God with many thousands of converts during the 3-week mission. It was certainly one of the great events in the Christian history of Merseyside, and it attracted widespread publicity even in the secular press. People from all over Liverpool and the Wirral attended and great crowds were seen making their way to the Ferry Boats along the Wirral Coast in order to get to the Crusade.
At the formation of the Evangelisation Society for Liverpool and neighbourhood he was elected its Chairman. Among other works managed by this was a daily prayer meeting in the Common Hall in Hackins Hey in the City Centre. At the formation of the British Workmen Public House Co. in 1875, which was set up to provide refreshments in key places without strong drink, such as cocoa and other non-intoxicating beverages, he was elected to its Board of Directors. This came out of the Moody/Sankey Crusade and was run by Rev. Charles Garrett, and sponsored by Alexander Balfour. Another notable ministry partly presided over by him was the Convention held for many years in Hope Hall, Hope Street (now the Everyman Theatre).
In 1877 his first wife died, aged 51 years, and five years later in 1882 he married Katherine Hamilton, daughter of Dr. Hamilton of Rock Ferry, but again became a widower in the following year. In 1889, when aged 66 years he married for the third time, her name being Elizabeth Matheson, daughter of Hugh Matheson, of Weston-Super-Mare (formerly of Liverpool), aged 39 years. She outlived him some 15 years.
In 1885 he was appointed a JP for the City of Liverpool and in 1888 whilst sitting in court as a magistrate his attention was directed to the social ills of the day, and the complicity of the Police in allowing protected areas for this and also the City Council for being landlords of such places. He drew attention to the fact that places like Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow had actively sought to suppress such practices but in Liverpool it had increased under the fostering care of the Police. After campaigning on the issue, in conjunction with others for three years, a complete change in the situation was brought about in 1891.
After living for 20 years at Poulton Hall he then moved to a place called "Rockfield" in Bromborough, situated off New Chester Road, which was described as a "modern residence in pleasant grounds with open and extensive views" (later renamed "Mendell"). Part of the ground, occupying several acres, is now occupied by Sheltered Bungalows in Mendell Close, and Mendell Primary School at the far end, with the sandstone wall and pillars being all that remains of this. He moved to Wavertree in 1899.
Mendell Close today
Thomas Matheson died in 1901 whilst in Cairo. His widow requested that the two halls in Bromborough and Eastham be affiliated to the Liverpool City Mission and after her death to be fully integrated with it. After his death Mrs Matheson went to live in Paris to resume Christian work there in which she had previously been engaged. Whilst there she sought to keep in sympathetic touch with the varied interests of the Liverpool City Mission and besides providing a generous fund for the maintenance of the work at Bromborough and Eastham, she was ever ready to respond to special appeals for help. She died in London in November 1915.
Matheson Evangelical Church today
The present day Matheson Evangelical Church situated in Croft Lane, Bromborough, which was funded by the well-known Brethren builder A H Boulton, and built by him in 1936 (see above) and the old hall is today the Wirral Tandoori Restaurant. The words "To Him that loved us" which was the watchword in the life of the Mathesons, is set in a stone shield that can still be clearly seen today." The building in Eastham, situated in Eastham Village Road, is now owned by the Jehovah Witnesses.
My special thanks to the following:
Miss Susan Nicholson and Mrs Judith Beastall from The Bromborough Society for the help that they have given and information provided.
Mr Scirard Lancelyn-Green for permission to use the photo of Poulton Hall.
Mr Henry Adams for permission to use the photo of Matheson Evangelical Church.
Liverpool City Mission for information provided.