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1912: The compelling Mr Crick

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

An AI computer-generated impression of Mr Crick in action. Bing Image Creator.

Willam Crick was a well known evangelist who travelled widely in Mid Sussex. Cuckfield was his home for several years, and also where he married and was buried - but he was mainly associated with Burgess Hill. Here is an article from Morning Leader recalling this great orator:

A Giant Evangelist of Sussex

Man who has preached all over the county

If you happened to visit the little Sussex town of Burgess Hill you would be pretty sure to notice a giant of an old man, whose white hair goes oddly with his springy walk, and who looks like a compromise between General Booth and Mr Sandow.

Anyone could tell you his name and all about him. He is better known in Burgess Hill and the whole of Sussex than the British Museum is known in London. Everyone knows William Crick.

This is not surprising when you learn 'that he has been, as an evangelist of the Sussex Home Missionary Society, into every town, village, and hamlet in the county, and has preached at least 6,000 sermons in Sussex alone.

He started working for the society 45 years ago, and thought nothing at one time of walking 20 miles on Sunday and preaching three sermons.

Walked everywhere

He lived in Cuckfield then; there were no bicycles, and he could not afford a horse and he walked everywhere. Often he would cover 100 miles in a week; indeed, he was always on his legs.

He would set out from Cuckfield in the morning, preach as he went along, and return in the evening another way.

In those days he sometimes spoke in odd places - once in a copper. He had promised to preach in a kitchen, but when he arrived he found the room so full that he could not get in, so he climbed in through the window, took the lid off the copper so that he could sland up, and stepped inside.

Often he would stay at farmhouses three or four days and preach in a barn - an objection to this being that the roosters would sometimes insist on joining in.

Mr Crick was surprised by the ignorance of farmers. Many who were worth thousands were quite unable to read or write and knew nothing of even the rudiments of arithmetic.

Bean counters

Instead of entering the number of sacks of flour in a book they would keep their accounts with beans - every sack being represented by one bean. If the beans went astray, of course there was confusion.

'People in towns,' said Mr Crick yesterday, 'don't know what a difference compulsory education has made in the country, it has changed the whole face of things.'

'All round, too, there have been many changes for the better in the last 45 years. The working man had a very bad time in my young days. I've known men bring up a family of seven or eight on about 7s. 6d. a week, and I've seen men with only bread to eat, put two pieces together, as if they were bread and cheese - just because they didn’t want anyone to see they were so poor.'

'Things are much better now for most working men but the agricultural labourer still has a very hard fight.'

Mr Crick succeeded in stopping one specially bad custom. The men at the brickworks used to be paid at a publichouse invariably the result being that in many cases a good part of the wages went no further.

After a good deal of difficulty Mr Crick arranged that the men should be paid at the works.

The Chapel in Leylands Road, as seen today

Useful strength

Mr Crick’s strength and impressive height have often stood him in good stead.

Once when a man put down 10s (shillings). on a bar counter and ordered drinks all round the huge evangelist quietly put the money in his pocket and said, 'No, you will come with me and give your wages to your wife.'

The man looked at Mr Crick, and peacefully followed him out of the inn.

Once he scored off an interrupter in an unusual way. He was carrying an overcoat, and a man in the crowd shouted, 'Practise what yer preach, guv'nor. He that hath two coats give to him that hath none.'

Mr Crick promptly handed over the coat.

Morning Leader, 1 February 1912

Further information about William Crick

William Crick (1845-1911) was a well known evangelist speaker in Mid Sussex. He was born in Poplar, London (near the Docklands). He lived for a time in Cuckfield not far from the Warninglid (A23) Five Crossways at White House Farm. He was also married in the town in 1868 when he was 26 to Emily Barrow from Stepney.

He preached for 38 years around Mid Sussex and was the first paster at St John's Congregational Chapel in Leylands Road, Burgess Hill - later sold to the. Pentecostal movement. The chapel is located in Leylands Road (not far from the London Road mini roundabout en route to Lidl).

William and Emily had five children and for the remainder of his life lived in Gordon Terrace, Mill Road, Burgess Hill. William died at the age of 66 and was buried with his daughter Florence in Cuckfield.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

Visit Cuckfield Museum, follow the link for details


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