Herbert Silverwood & The Dale That Died

Back in June, Roger Carswell lent me a DVD of Barry Cockcroft’s The Dale that Died, a rather melancholic documentary on the decaying society of Grisedale in Yorkshire. It follows the life of miner-turned-farmer Joe Gibson and his battle to prevent the dale from becoming an uninhabited wilderness. Surprisingly, there is also a substantial look at the dales’ spiritual life. Joe was a Methodist local preacher, and the falling congregations and lack of young people are seen being discussed by rather elderly church leaders. This is contrasted with the services held by celebrity evangelist, Herbert Silverwood. I’d heard of him before; my unconverted uncle and grandfather went out to hear him back in the sixties. I discreetly hope they recalled just enough of what was said before they passed into eternity, in 2018 and 1969 respectively. Silverwood is someone I’d like to further research; his preaching switched from humorous and entertaining to serious and grave at the drop of a hat. My uncle recalled he nearly leapt out of his pulpit, such was the fervour with which he spoke. When I emailed my older Christian friends soliciting information about him, one of them, KW, said he was actually converted at one his meetings at Arkholme in North Lancashire. I further rejoiced when our secretary and treasurer found that Silverwood had occupied our own pulpit at Salem, the chapel records stating:

Sat 12th June 1976, 7.30pm

Special Meeting: Speaker: Herbert Silverwood

Chairman & Soloist: Mr Fred Fisher of Shap

Sunday 13th June 1976, 2pm & 7pm Services

Mr Herbert Silverwood

Duetists: Mr & Mrs Alf Anderson of Rochdale.

Following Week Offertory recorded £48.63.

The Dale that Died, around 25 minutes in, shows a street outreach, in which I think I can identity Jim Wilkinson of Hollybush preaching on Hawes High Street, and the famous Kit Calvert of the Wensleydale Creamery singing along in the background. Later, we are treated to one of Silverwood’s services, at Hawes Junction Chapel. Complete with homespun anecdotes, there are testimonies from godly old men and girls in bright yellow tops. He gives an appeal- repeatedly- but no-one responds, and certainly not the trendy young men standing at the back, with their long 1970’s hair and leather jackets. Perhaps the absence of converts was caused by the intrusiveness of the TV cameras. Nevertheless, I think the director saw this lack of response to Silverwood’s appeals as further evidence of the dales’ growing godlessness and surrender to modernity.

As I sought more information on this great yet fairly local man of God, I rummaged around the internet to find two biographies of him. The first to arrive, Firebrand: Herbert Silverwood and the Years of Revival (David Lazell, 1971) yielded and unexpected treasure, even before I’ve had chance to read it. The inside front cover is signed by the great man himself, ‘In His Royal Service’:

Surprisingly, this fascinating documentary can be viewed online, legally: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-dale-that-died-1975-online

There are many older people about today who received salvation through this man’s ministry. Perhaps others, through them, received Christ in due turn. I pray God would raise up another Silverwood in these parts: it’s not the dale that’s dying, but the whole land.