Henry Lyon was born, according to census returns, in about 1831 in St Luke’s, Cripplegate, London. He was a travelling evangelist and “converted musician” who travelled the country in the 1860s and 70s preaching in mission halls from Sherborne in Dorset to Sunderland in County Durham, from Clerkenwell to Glasgow. He would give an account of his life as a London actor, his conversion, and then sing sacred music to the harp or violin. No records of his life have been found before 1866, when a newspaper report says that he is “of Southampton.” In May 1867 he opened the Victoria Gospel Hall in St Mary’s Road. Behind the Hall was a house for the preacher Peniel House, but the promise of Henry’s mission to “a class of persons not in the habit of attending places of worship” was short-lived, and by 1870 the Gospel Hall and Peniel House were advertised as for sale or rent. The directories do not record a change of ownership until 1874, when it is listed as in use by “Christian Brethren.” It was at this point that it was offered to the Bible Christians, a branch of Methodism, “on good terms,” and they occupied the building until 1932.
In 1871 Henry was on the move again: the Scottish Census shows Henry and his wife Mary at 27 Hope Street, Glasgow, as a travelling evangelist. He was still on tour in Norfolk in 1878, but by 1881 he was settled in Brighton, his occupation “Baptist Evangelist.” In 1891, he was just giving his occupation as “musician”, and in 1911, at the age of 80, he describes himself as a teacher of music. Mary had died in December 1891, and Henry married Martha Miller, 15 years his junior, in 1893. In 1901 and 1911, they were living in Hove, where Martha died in 1922, and Henry in 1926.
Henry Lyon is an example of the open air and mission hall preachers operating in the late Victorian period, combining an earnest Christian message with drama and entertainment. His story shows how fleeting their residence in a town might be, perhaps leaving a building, a congregation or just a memory, but forever moving on to pastures new.


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