Hugh Stowell Brown was born on the Isle of Man in 1823. His father was an Anglican minister there. In 1839 Hugh came to the mainland and found employment with a land surveyor and in 1840, like many other men of his time, he found his way to the new railway works at Wolverton. There was nothing especially remarkable in this except that he recorded his experiences later in his life when he wrote his autobiography, Notes of my Life. He was by this time a famous man.
Here is one assessment of his life:
In the second half of the 19th Century Hugh Stowell Brown was a household name in Liverpool, but today he is virtually unknown. His brother Thomas Edward Brown is better known as a poet, at least his name appears in my encyclopaedia. He was born in the Isle of Man, his father being the minister of St Matthew’s Chapel in Douglas. He came to Liverpool when he was 16 years of age, and was engaged in secular employment for a number of years until he felt that God was calling him to preach. The death of his father, however, took him back to the Isle of Man for some time, and during this time he did some preaching in Douglas. One day he received an invitation to preach at Myrtle Street Baptist Church in Liverpool (opposite the Philharmonic Hall) which he accepted. After a few weeks he was invited to become the pastor on a 3-month trial. At the age of 23 years, with no experience in pastoral work and little in preaching, he took on the role of permanent minister there. It then had 239 members but by the time he retired this had risen to 849 members. He was an immensely popular speaker both in his church where people crowded to listen to his robust and energetic teaching, as well as in public lectures that he used to give in the Concert Hall in Lord Nelson Street, where crowds of up to 4,000 people used to regularly go and hear him speak. He was especially popular with the many Americans who used to stream through Liverpool every year and the deacons of the church would sometimes struggle to accommodate up to 200-300 strangers turning up in an already crowded chapel. He was very active in the Baptist Church, being a member of the Baptist Missionary Society, as well as being appointed president of the Baptist Union in 1878. He also took a very keen interest in the sailors of the port of Liverpool and was chairman of the Liverpool Seaman’s Friend Society. He was also involved in a number of good causes, and there was no movement for the benefit of the people of Liverpool in which he was not actively involved. His death in 1886 fell with a heavy blow on Liverpool and he was much lamented, so much so that no less than 10,000 people attended his funeral. Spurgeon, who was a long time friend of Brown, was also devastated. In a sermon after his death, he said, “The grief is to us who are left behind. What a gap is left where stood Hugh Stowell Brown! Who is to fill it? A statue was raised to him in 1889 in the churchyard of Myrtle Street Baptist Church, and this was later moved to Princes Road/Avenue in 1954. The now empty pedestal stands close to the Princes Park Gates, the statue having been moved because of its frail condition. Stowell Street, opposite the Philharmonic Hall was named after him.
The author is not quite correct in saying that he came to Liverpool at 16 – in fact he only left Wolverton in 1843 when he was 20. I reproduce below some extracts from Notes of my Life, published in 1888, where he describes his Wolverton experience. From the Wolverton historian’s point of view the writing is invaluable because he gives a first hand account of what life was like on the shop floor and how this new enterprise made its uncertain beginnings.