The following article is offered by Rev David White, Minister of the Gospel at North Preston Evangelical Church, Lancashire, UK. Brother White succeeded Mr. Alexander as Pastor of Norris Green Mission Church, Liverpool in 1978.
1. HIS BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD
Charles David Alexander was born on the 1st January 1904. He was one of six children, and his mother (who always said one of her sons would be a preacher) evidently predicted at his birth, “this one would be the preacher”, and of course her prediction was proved correct. The family were of Scottish descent and seem to have moved to Liverpool when his mother was a young woman, her father evidently having moved for employment reasons. As she was already keeping company with Mr Alexander's father at the time, he was unwilling to be parted from her, and very quickly followed in order not to lose contact with her. They subsequently married. and it is known that he worked for Lewis's Department Store in Ranelagh Street, Liverpool, for many years. At the time of Mr Alexander's birth the family were living in July Road, Anfield, but moved to a house in West Derby sometime during his childhood. The children then attended West Derby Parish Church School in Meadow Lane, where he became a choir boy in st. Mary's Parish Church.
As his testimony bears out, he was always a serious child regarding spiritual things, having vivid thoughts about heaven, and could recite long passages of scripture from memory at an early age. He was obviously connected with Church from childhood being a member of the Boy Scouts, and it would appear he also was attending West Derby Chapel, for it is here we find him on the night of his conversion, on the 7th March 1921. It was here that he was spoken to by his spiritual father- Mr A.P. Jones who questioned him about the state of his soul that night, and caused him to have no rest until he had made his peace with God during the early hours of the following morning.
2. HIS TEENAGE YEARS AND MARRIAGE
After his conversion it is unclear how long he attended West Derby Chapel. It is known that he did some itinerant work around various churches, and also preached quite frequently in the open air, especially in London Road to the cinema goers on a Saturday evening, very often drawing quite a crowd as he and his friends stood on various street corners and began
Mr Alexander had a great love of the Chinese people as a race, and during the coming years applied to go out to China as a missionary with the China Inland Mission. All was going well with his application until the time came for him to undergo a medical examination. He had never had any health problems either before or since his medical, however on the day he was examined his heart was found to be below standard, and he evidently suffered some kind of fainting attack which caused him to fail the medical, and of course not be accepted for missionary service.
Looking back on this event now it seems to have been very providential, although at the time it was a very great disappointment to him. At that time there was in Liverpool a work among the Chinese in the South end of Liverpool and it seems Mr Alexander was very involved in this work. Whether he was involved with this work before or after his application for missionary service is unclear, and likewise whether he met Mrs Alexander there, (it seems very probable that he did), for she too, as Miss Marjorie Muir was also involved with the work among these people. However, it is known that they were married there in 1928 and that Alice Sparks was bridesmaid. Alice was to become their lifelong friend, and at a much later date was to become Mrs Webb's lifelong friend also.
Prior to her marriage, Miss Muir lived with her father Dr Muir in Radstock Road, off Sheil Road, in the Fairfield area of Liverpool. They were originally from London, and her mother having died when she was quite young Miss Muir and her father moved to Liverpool. The house in Radstock Road was very large, and in order for Mr Alexander to pursue his studies it was very convenient for him to have a room there to himself in which to do so. This meant he could come and go as he pleased, as his own home in West Derby was quite crowded, his brothers and sisters still being there meant a room to himself was not possible. Although 12 years his senior, Miss Muir was to become his wife as previously mentioned, and she was married from Radstock Road. and they seem to have begun their married life there.
At the time of his marriage, Mr Alexander seems to have been a reporter for the Birkenhead News, it is not clear if the family ever lived in Birkenhead (Mrs Webb has an idea they may have done although she can't be sure), or whether he travelled each day from Liverpool. Very soon his family began to increase and in the space of 2 years they had four children, two of which were twins. Life was very hectic for Mrs Alexander at that time and she told of her father having the bottom of the pram reinforced so that all the children could be pushed along together, and of three out of the four all needing to be bottle fed at the same time. Mr Alexander then began to work for the Bootle Times where he was Editor, and the family moved to live in Balliol Road, Bootle, to what can only be described as a very large house indeed.
3. THE FABIUS YEARS
Mr Alexander probably became Pastor of Fabius Baptist Chapel, Everton Road, in 1938. He seems to have taken over this work after a long period of absence from the previous Pastor, and it was during that time that Mr Chillington conducted his weekly Bible Class there. It would seem that he had already moved on to become Pastor of Calvary Church, when Mr Alexander began his work at Fabius, although the two men were well acquainted with one another in the preaching of the Gospel around Liverpool before then. If ever Mr Alexander's zeal for the Lord's work was to be tested, then Fabius was the place to test it to the full, with the dark days of the war not far away.
Fabius Chapel was a very old church and was known as 'The Mother Baptist Church' in Liverpool, indeed it could be said of Fabius that time had almost stood still for 200 years. It once had a day school attached to it and the former school rooms which stretched behind and above the church were in use for Sunday School and Ladies Meetings up to the time it closed. When the Education Act of 1893 was introduced, Fabius ceased to function as a day school, but of course continued as a Church.
The whole of the building was antiquated but the heating system excelled in antiquity, and nobody understood that system more than Harry Higgins. At that time in Liverpool there was a meeting held in Central Hall, Renshaw Street on a Saturday evening which Harry liked to attend. His strategy with the heating of Fabius was this. On the way to Central Hall he would call into Fabius at about 6 o'clock and light the furnace, he would then go to the meeting, and on the way home he would again call into the Church and stoke the furnace up for the night. At 6'o'clock the following morning he would go and stoke up again so that the Church would be warm enough for the service at 11am. Such commitment to the work of the Lord is immeasurable, Harry lived only about 10 minutes walk from the church which meant he was able to walk, nevertheless, on a cold icy morning it was quite a daunting task to go down two flights of ice covered steps into the Boiler house with only the light of a torch for guidance. It was in 1940 that Nellie and Ken Wilson were married at Fabius by Mr Alexander and they too were faithful supporters of the work, Ken became a Deacon and he was able to help with the general running of things and was also a help to Harry. Without the help and support of these two men it is doubtful if Mr Alexander could have continued for as long as he did.
It was prior to the war breaking out in 1939 that Mrs Webb began to attend Fabius. She was unmarried then and her sister Miss Vera Bennett had already been attending for some time as had their friend Nellie, she likewise was unmarried at that time, but all three were school friends and also worked together. Mr Alexander was holding a Campaign for a week and asked each member if they could bring one other person; both Nellie and her sister Vera persuaded her to go on the Monday evening. More to please them than anything else she agreed, and this literally changed the whole course of her life.
She vividly remembers Mr Alexander sitting at the piano playing and singing choruses and was very impressed with his enthusiasm. When he began to preach she listened intently to his message and left the meeting that evening under conviction of sin. She then attended the meetings for the remainder of the week without any persuasion, having been converted during the course of that week.
During the war years Mr Alexander was a tower of strength to the people of Fabius. When the air raids were very heavy he would hold the meetings down in the boiler house underneath the Church. This was approached by going down two flights of steps, one flight of steps led down to a small courtyard where there was a cottage which once was the home of a caretaker, the second flight of steps led down from this courtyard into the boiler house, and it was here that the congregation of Fabius would descend to in order to hold their service. Mr Alexander would use either his ukulele or accordion to accompany the singing, and after each bomb that dropped he would get them to sing the little chorus -
The end is not yet praise the Lord, The end is not yet praise the Lord: Blessings new He's still bestowing, And my heart is overflowing: For the end is not yet praise the Lord.
Some people felt it rather foolish of him to go down underneath the church like this, for if ever the building had received a direct hit by a bomb then they would have been entombed underneath the rubble. During a lull in the bombing he would venture out and encourage those who lived locally to get home as quickly as they could, instructing them to avoid open spaces and try to keep to passage ways should things start up again before they were home. He himself would then have to get home to Bootle, and his old bicycle proved as faithful as he was in getting him home in safety, not forgetting of course the overruling and protecting hand of the Lord upon him. How He ever watches over the lives of his saints, preserving and guarding them at all times against dangers seen and unseen. Bootle suffered particularly badly during the war, being in close proximity to the docks it was a prime target for heavy air raids, and it wasn’t long before Mr Alexander’s house was damaged to such an extent that they had to move out. It was then that they moved to another large house in Halewood Road, Gatacre. This house had been unoccupied for a considerable time and was in quite a rough state, and Mrs Alexander told how she had to decorate three bedrooms within a week in order to make it habitable. Again Mr Alexander would be attending to the needs of the people of Fabius, checking after each air raid to see if there was any loss of life or limb, riding around Everton on his bicycle and then returning home to his wife and family tired and weary, as was she after attending to the domestic needs of the family and coping with the considerable amount of entertaining which they undertook. It was common for two people each week from Fabius to be invited to their home for an evening meal, even though food rationing was in force Mrs Alexander still managed to provide a good meal and it was during these times that friendships were formed which would last a lifetime. It was here that Nellie, Vera, Alice Sparks, Muriel (senior), Harry Higgins, Ken Wilson, and many other people from Fabius were spurred on in the work of the Lord in those dark days of the war.
When the war finished in 1945 both Nellie and Mrs Webb were married and had small children of their own. Muriel (junior) can well remember one of her first Sunday School lessons when aged about 5 years when Mr Alexander conducted an open Sunday School. She can remember his great emphasis on discipline and how to behave in God's house. The great importance he laid on being word perfect when reciting Scripture, and the detail he gave in getting his lesson across so that children of any age could understand him. He carried this same discipline into the morning service on a Sunday when he would conduct a short service for the children before he began his sermon.
Travelling from Gatacre to Fabius proved to be quite difficult for the Alexander family. As the children got older they accompanied their father on bicycles, riding through Newsham Park and then on through to Wavertree and then on to Gatacre. However, Mrs Alexander would travel by tram and would then have to walk through to Fabius from Wavertree Road which was about a 20 minute walk, then back again after the service. She found this increasingly difficult especially in bad weather and therefore decided to start up a Sunday School of her own at her home in Gateacre. At first she just began with her own four children but word got around and very soon she had quite a number of children from the area attending. Each week two children were invited to stay for tea as a means of encouragement to them, and again Muriel (junior) can remember being taken back with Mrs Alexander from the morning service to attend this Sunday School on numerous occasions, and then returning for the evening service at Fabius, this generally was when there was no school the next day, she would probably be around 6 years old as she was considerably younger than the Alexander children. During his time at Fabius, Mr Alexander conducted several Baptismal Services. One that is worth particular mention is when he baptised his own daughter aged about 14 years. There were only two candidates for baptism, the other being Mrs Grace Higgins (Harry and Grace may not have been married at this point; but if not they would have been shortly afterwards) Mr Alexander was to remark afterwards that if any of his, sons wished to be baptised he would have to ask somebody else to undertake to do it for him such was the emotional strain he experienced. By this time his children were in their mid teens and showing signs of becoming restless at Fabius. His daughter began to attend Calvary Church YPF, and began to show much promise spiritually. However his sons began to follow their own pursuits, and showed no inclination for spiritual things and sadly his daughter likewise fell back after a few years. This was to cause much anguish to their parents, and one of Mr Alexander's regrets when reflecting on the situation in later life was that he kept them at Fabius too long.
As the years passed Mr Alexander became more and more convinced that he was being called into full time service for the Lord. The war was now over and he was then around 45 years old. As was the case throughout his ministry, there were those who appreciated his preaching and those who didn’t, never was this so apparent than at Fabius. Seemingly there were those people who wished to see more done for the youth of the area, and their approach to the problem was to cause such a split in the church that things never really recovered. Without Mr Alexander's knowledge, a billiard table was installed in one of the upstairs schoolrooms in order to bring in the young men of the area on a Saturday afternoon. When eventually it was brought to Mr Alexander’s notice, the word he used to describe how he felt was "petrified".
A members meeting was called and things became very acrimonious indeed. Harry Higgins supported Mr Alexander in what he was standing for and said ‘the billiard table should be slung down the stairs’, that together with cards and darts these games were ‘evidence of a mis-spent youth’. Mr Alexander invited the people to choose between the billiard table and their pastor, and took a vote on the matter. The vote went in his favour but at a cost, around 20 people out of a membership of 50 left the church and joined with Richmond Baptist Church in Breck Road. Such was the atmosphere after the meeting that the refreshments which had been prepared were dispensed with.
The situation at Fabius was now a cause for concern. On the one hand Mr Alexander still felt called to full time service; and yet on the other hand he didn’t want to leave the people who had supported him without a pastor. Things carried on for a while as best they could, Harry Higgins was now married and had moved away, and it was with great regret on both sides that the news was broken of Mr Alexander's resignation from Fabius to take up full time work with the Tent Mission in Dundee. Unusually, Mr Alexander's farewell service, and Mr G B Wood’s induction service to the pastorate of Fabius took the form of a combined service, with the outgoing pastor praying for God's blessing on the man who was to succeed him.
4. THE CLOSING OF FABIUS.
Fabius has now entered the last decade of its 200 year old history. Whilst no longer on the scene, Mr Alexander still took a keen interest in the work there and received a ready supply of news from Mrs Webb. It may be helpful therefore, if we digress a little here in order to bring the final years of Fabius to a close, and it will also help to explain what Mr Alexander is referring to in his correspondence with Mrs Webb.
Mr Wood couldn’t have been more of a contrast to his predecessor. A Banker by profession, he looked every bit the part with a very serious and gentle manner, his whole emphasis was on evangelistic work among the people of the area. A good, Godly, and earnest man, he lived in the Aigburth area of Liverpool, sharing a large house with his wife's parents a Mr & Mrs Williams, who also supported him in the work at Fabius, and he had one son aged about 16 years.
Describing Fabius as looking like a mortuary, he embarked upon some very ambitious restoration. With the help of his father-in-law Mr Williams, they decorated the entire church in a light coloured paint, stripped all the pews of the dark varnish, restoring them to a lovely natural pine, and took out a considerable loan in order to have the roof renovated.
In addition to this he set about evangelising the whole district, even changing time of the evening service to 7 pm saying that perhaps people hadn’t finished tea by 6:30. He also invited in the youths from the street corners, which sometimes had a disruptive effect on the service; and likewise the Sunday School where it very often became difficult for him to get order. Perhaps Mr Wood could be described as being too nice for the task in hand, and this led to a lack of discernment at times. In his eagerness to welcome people into the church he took them at face value too quickly, giving keys of the premises out to comparative newcomers, which resulted in things going missing from the building, and the church steps being scrubbed on a Sunday Morning. However, his greatest disadvantage in all this was the temperament of his wife. She remained aloof from the people, and whilst it may have been difficult work, she remained out of touch with the congregation, making no attempt whatever to get to know people.
To be as brief as possible, things came to a climax when a couple of ladies tackled her about her aloofness, she counter claimed that all the old Fabius members were in a clique, and so Fabius was once more divided. After less than 3 years as Pastor, and with all the hard work he had devoted to the witness in the area, Mr Wood resigned. At this point Nellie and Ken left also. Nellie had recently given birth to twins, and together with two other young children it became impossible for them to travel from Aigburth where they lived too, across to Fabius on public transport. Alice Sparks also left at this time. She had recently married, late in life and had gone to live in Bootle with her new husband and started to attend Bankhall Mission.
Fabius was now reduced to a membership of about 12, with others having gone as well and, with quite a substantial debt still outstanding, it is no wonder Mr Wood had to approach Mr & Mrs Gillott three times before they agreed to take over the Pastorate of Fabius. If they had not done so, then Fabius would have closed at this point, and it was only in the knowledge of this that they agreed, feeling that with the persistence of the requests, the Lord was calling them there - as indeed he was, for there were a few more souls to be converted yet, one of which was Muriel Webb (jnr).
Mr and Mrs Gillott took over the Pastorate of Fabius in January 1951. They had been missionaries with the North African Missionary Society in Algeria many years previously, and it would take all their training from that time to cope with the situation at Fabius. They too lived in Aigburth with their three children who were in their early teens. To overcome the problem of travelling, they decided to stay at the church for the day on a Sunday, bringing some food with them, they would use the back school room for their meals. This meant that when they left home at about 10 am on a Sunday morning, it was almost that time again in the evening before they arrived home again. Mrs Gillott did the same on a Wednesday, arriving at 3 pm for the Ladies Meeting, she would then take the Children’s Meeting at 6 pm and then Mr Gillott would arrive and join her when he would conduct the Mid-week meeting at 8 pm. Such dedication was a great inspiration to all who came. They were a very talented family musically and would render some very beautiful pieces of music when they sang together as a family. Happily they did have some tokens of encouragement, but on the whole things were very disheartening. Mrs Webb and a few others gave them all the support they could, especially with the cleaning of the church which was quite a problem. Mrs Webb would also light the two fires in the back schoolroom on a Wednesday morning so that the room would be warm for the afternoon meeting, and she and Mrs Gillott became good friends. The main church was seldom used now for any of the services, the numbers being so few it was much more convenient and warmer to have them in the back.
Mrs Webb's family were now entering their teenage years and Mrs Gillott was such a help to them. It was after the Sunday School, when aged about 14 years that Muriel was led to the Lord by Mrs Gillott. Words cannot express the high esteem she had then-and still has for her now, regarding her as her mentor.
Mr & Mrs Gillott laboured at Fabius for seven years, working tirelessly and faithfully for the Lord at all times. However, in January 1958 they found it not possible to continue any longer and so Fabius closed its doors for the last time, and was demolished a few years later in the redevelopment of Everton. Mr Alexander remarking on the situation at Fabius at a later date made this comment that, “he was perplexed as to why the Lord permitted good faithful men to come up against the brick wall of Fabius?”
Perhaps a fitting tribute to these three pastors, who laboured so faithfully at Fabius during the last two decades of its history, would be this, with a slight alteration of place -
“O, if one soul from Fabius, Meet them at God's right hand,
Their heaven will be two heavens, IN IMMANUEL'S LAND.
5. THE LEAVING OF LIVERPOOL FOR DUNDEE
The move to Dundee was to be a very costly one for Mr & Mrs Alexander looking at it in human terms. It was to affect every aspect of their life, and only the fact that Mr Alexander felt such a definite call from the Lord to full time service could have caused them to make such a sacrifice. In addition to his resignation from Fabius, he also had to resign from his position as Editor for the Bootle Times, despite an offer of a considerable increase in salary to stay. His family were just at the stage when they were off to university, his daughter gaining a place at St. Andrew's meant she would be quite near her parents in Dundee. Two of his sons, Paul and David, were also following their studies at other universities (possibly Paul was at Oxford) which just left John who was then 18 years old. He was in employment at that time and was keeping company with Joyce (who was to be his wife two years later), and in order not to be parted from her he took rented accommodation in Liverpool, which caused his parents quite a bit of anxiety. A further problem was the amount of furniture they had. Always living in a large house meant they had quite a substantial amount, most of it having belonged to Mrs Alexander’s father, and some of the items were very large and heavy. The financial cost of the move meant they had to restrict the load to one van, which meant disposing of several items to friends, which also created problems as some of the items were too large to fit into small houses. Mrs Alexander had also undergone major surgery a few years earlier and was now in her upper fifties found the whole thing quite daunting.
On the evening prior to their departure the next day, Mrs Webb and some of the friends from Fabius went to their home in order to say good-bye, and as could be expected it was a very emotional parting. They were to be in Dundee for about 5 years. During that time Mr Alexander corresponded regularly with Mrs Webb, and also visited Liverpool fairly frequently. He also began writing some of his booklets for circulation at that time, although not in any way on the scale of later years. As his correspondence to Mrs Webb suggests, he never seemed to fit into the scene up there and felt very thwarted in what he wanted to achieve. To sum it all up, things didn’t work out as expected, and he was subjected to quite a few trials before he moved again, but to where? The house he was in belonged to the Tent Mission which meant he had to vacate it within a given period of time, and with nothing in view he experienced a very anxious time not knowing what the future held for him. He had thought he might have received a call from Belvidere Road, Liverpool, but nothing came of that and things became very trying for them indeed. At that time Harry Higgins was attending Norris Green. Mr Hudson had been called home the previous year, and knowing of Mr Alexander's situation, he recommended him to Mr Costello who was Church Secretary, and so Mr & Mrs Alexander returned to Liverpool. When asked by Mrs Webb if it had been a mistake to go to Dundee? his reply was, "No, I learnt lessons there that I could have learnt in no other way".
6. THE NORRIS GREEN YEARS.
Mr Alexander was at Norris Green for 23 years. During that time he experienced many changes and many trials, and also bore the sad loss of Mrs Alexander in 1966. When Fabius closed in 1958 it meant Mrs Webb and her family were able to attend Norris Green and so sit under his ministry once more. Although living a considerable distance which entailed two bus rides each way, she worshiped there week by week.
It was during his time at Norris Green that his writings really grew in a much bigger way and began to circulate, not only throughout the country, but also in America and around the world. It would be impossible to calculate the help and benefit they have been to people over the years, at times quite controversial, but in many respects very perceptive and with great foresight.
In addition to this he went on 6 or 7 extensive preaching tours of the USA and Canada, his one aim all the time being sound preaching of the Word of God without fear or favour. In 1977 Mr Alexander retired from Norris Green aged 73 years, and was called home to glory in 1991, aged 87 years.
He had walked the Christian road for 70 years from the very week of his conversion in 1921. During that time he suffered many trials, made many mistakes, had many regrets, met with much disillusionment, but through it all he persevered to the end, counting all things that this world could offer, as loss. He is now in the presence of the Lord for ever, and it can be said with confldence, quoting from that beautiful hymn which he could rarely sing without becoming emotional -
“He's blessed the hand that guided, He's blessed the heart that planned, Now throned where glory dwelleth, In Immanuel’s Land”.