Several of the letters published in the Ashton Reporter from the men of the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment have editorial references to the man being a member of the “P.S.A.” Additionally, the Reporter published short articles regarding the meetings and activities of the local P.S.A. brotherhood in Ashton and district and at one point published a P.S.A. “Roll of Honour”.
The Pleasant Sunday Afternoon (P.S.A.) movement was founded by John Blackham, a linen draper from West Bromwich, who was a prominent member of the local community. By the time he was 30 he was already a deacon at the West Bromwich Ebenezer Congregational Church, and was already active in the Adult School Movement which was originally intended to teach literacy to working class adults primarily through the study of the bible, especially the New Testament. No doubt his involvement in this endeavor caused him to think generally about how to increase attendances and especially how to regain the interest of those who had previously attended Church Sunday Schools but had since stopped.
In 1875, when he was 41, he traveled to Birmingham to hear the well-known American evangelists, Moody and Sankey who were speaking at the Town Hall one Sunday afternoon. Unable to get in, due to the large crowds, he ended up attending a small Sunday School bible study class at the Ebenezer Congregational Chapel in nearby Steelhouse Lane. Opened in 1816, this was a very large church with capacity for a thousand worshippers but on that day only a few dozen young men were in attendance. What a contrast. Thousands of people clamored to see the American evangelists preach the word of God but just a few minutes’ walk away, a capable and engaging speaker could barely summon up a handful of faithful men. Blackham had a breakthrough moment and perhaps for the first time clearly saw that in order to fill seats, the format, content and delivery mattered more than anything else. “I realized that if men were to be won, we must give them a service neither too long nor too learned. We must avoid dullness, prolixity, gloom and constraint”, he is later reported to have said.
On his return, he met with the West Bromwich Ebenezer Congregational Church Sunday School officials, and laid out his ideas of how to boost attendance, and reclaim lapsed members, by introducing a new kind of bible study class that would be short and bright and last no more than three-quarters of an hour. Importantly, as a member of a Congregationalist church the only people who needed to be persuaded to do something radical were his local church elders. Evidently, he was able to gain their consent and so he quickly set out to find as many local young men as he could who had previously attended Sunday School but who now no longer regularly attended church. The following Sunday afternoon, around 120 young men that he had recently canvased on the streets of West Bromwich duly arrived at the Ebenezer Chapel to attend the first meeting of what was shortly to become the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon (P.S.A.) movement.
The meetings were wildly successful and the popularity of the P.S.A. meetings slowly spread throughout the Black Country, across the Midlands and to the rest of the country. Within ten years, around 1885, they had reached Ashton-under-Lyne, gained traction and became an integral part of the religious establishment thus earning their place in the Ashton Reporter.
The P.S.A. and the Ashton Reporter
Saturday, September 11, 1915:
On Sunday, at the Ashton P.S.A. Society, at an open service for men and women, the veteran and distinguished elocutionist, Mr. Barnish Barnsdale is announced to recite “The Sermon That Wasn’t Preached”, “What Shall it Be”, and “Unconquered”. These are items that Mr. Barnsdale has made his own, and his elocutionary abilities ae acclaimed everywhere.
P.S.A. Roll of Honour
UNVEILING CEREMONY PERFORMED BY MRS. A. PARK
Saturday, October 30, 1915:
The gathering of the P.S.A. Society’s Bible Class on Sunday morning took the form of an open service, the first of its kind in the 30 years’ history of the class. There was a large attendance, which included a number of soldiers. The special feature of the gathering was the unveiling of the class Roll of Honour, which contains the names of all those who are doing military service in various parts of the world.
Mr. A. Park, J.P., president of the society, was in the chair, and he was accompanied on the platform by Mrs. Park. Several friends, by giving voice and recitations, added to the brightness of the service, and the members of the Singing Class rendered musical items in pleasing fashion.
The Chairman made sympathetic and appropriate reference to the members whose names appeared on the roll, and mentioned the loss they had sustained by the deaths in action of Gunner William Booth, R.F.A., and Staff-Sergeant Harry Owen of the Royal Garrison Artillery.
Ms. Park gave a short address of patriotic and religious character, and then proceeded to unveil the roll of honour, which contains the following names: –
Sergeant Thomas William Boon, 1st South Wales Borderers.
Company Quartermaster-Sergeant John Williamson, 1/9 Manchester Regiment.
Company Quartermaster-Sergeant Herbert Bradshaw, 2/9 Manchester Regiment.
Staff-Sergeant Harry Owen, 1st Siege Battery, R.G.A., killed in action.
Staff-Sergeant Wm. H. Martin, 1/9 Manchester Regiment.
Private Walter Eastwood, 3/9 Manchester Regiment.
Private Harry Hobson, 2/9 Manchester Regiment.
Private Wm. Bromley, 1/9 Manchester Regiment.
Private John Oldham, 3/9 Manchester Regiment.
Private Roland Bromley, 2/9 Manchester Regiment.
Private John Seedall, 6th Cheshire Regiment.
Private Frank Briggs, 8th South Lancashire Regiment.
Gunner Wm. Booth, R.F.A., killed in action.
Gunner Geo. H. Watkins, R.F.A., 181st Brigade.
Private James Beaumont, R.A.M.C.
Private Harry Kerrick, 3/9 Manchester Regiment.
Private Stanley Townley, 3/9 Manchester Regiment.
Private James Hague, 3/9 Manchester Regiment.