Christian Herald: Origins and endings
The Christian Herald newspaper was the brainchild of the Rev Michael Paget Baxter, born in Doncaster on 7 December 1834. He was the tenth child born to Robert Baxter, head of a firm of solicitors based in Westminster. Baxter became a Christian at the age of 20 under the ministry of the Rev Samuel Martin of Westminster Chapel.
After spending a number of years in Canada and America during his twenties, Baxter returned to England in 1863. Four years later, in May 1867, he launched the small monthly prophetic magazine Signs of our Times in which he published articles by various ministers on the exposition of prophecy.
In 1873-4, having attended the meetings of the famed contemporary preachers Moody and Sankey, he decided “immense good could be done by publishing in my magazine full reports of the services thus enabling multitudes to read the evangelist’s sermons”. This idea resulted in the weekly launch of Christian Herald and Signs of our Times, the first surviving issue of which was published on 7 July 1876. The purpose of the publication as outlined in this paper’s obituary for Rev Baxter on 20 January 1910 was “to make known to the masses of the people the saving truths of the Gospel of Christ”.
Initially the paper was printed and published in Glasgow but it quickly became necessary to have an office in London. Premises were sought and found in Tudor Street, under the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral. For a number of years there were simultaneous issues of the Christian Herald from the two centres. At the time of Baxter’s death the paper was “a welcome visitor in considerably more than 300,000 homes”. Up until his death Baxter also published the Prophetic News a paper circulated for many years, even after his death, and also the separate Christian Herald Penny Stories, a single “complete, interesting and high-toned story” published once a week.
Later in his life Baxter travelled regularly to France, Belgium, Italy and Spain to distribute Bibles. He allegedly delivered by hand between two and three thousand Bibles each trip. At the time of his death Baxter reckoned that he had distributed around two million Bibles, gospels and tracts himself. Baxter was close to many of the most prominent preachers of the time and was himself quietly baptised in the Metropolitan Tabernacle by C H Spurgeon.
An enthusiastic foreteller of Armageddon he unsuccessfully predicted the end of the world for no less than seven different times between 1867 and 1908. However, commentators at the time remarked that his prophetic writings were more of a hobby alongside the more serious business of social action and spreading the Gospel.
In 1878 Baxter sent two “agents” to inaugurate an edition of the Christian Herald in New York. In 1890 Dr Louis Klopsch purchased the American rights and invited a Dr Talmage to edit. The American edition of the Christian Herald ran successfully until 1992.
Mr Baxter, “founder and proprietor of the Christian Herald passed peacefully on the morning of 7 January 1910” so announced the national press of the day. His funeral was held on 11 January at Christ Church Highbury Grove. He was survived by his wife, Elizabeth Baxter, who lived until 1926.
Their son, Paget Baxter, took over the Christian Herald from his father and led the paper into further successes with a boasted readership of a million weekly by the end of the 1920s. In the early 1930s, the traditional hand-drawn illustrations that characterised the paper’s front page stories were replaced by black and white photography. Due to the difficulty and expense of appropriating photographs directly related to current affairs, the front page stories moved away from the large national news stories of the first 30 years to more regional, Christian-based magazine style images.
In June 1954 the Christian Herald welcomed the young evangelist preacher Billy Graham to write a question and answer column each week. This column ran for many years and in it Billy fielded questions ranging from “Are films good or evil?” and “Are family devotions practical?” to “Should a Christian read cheap books?” Throughout the next 20 years the magazine style of the paper was emphasised with features such as “It’s time to choose a hobby” and “Fish are so fashionable!”
One of the most remarkable characters in the history of The Christian Herald was Dr Thomas Wilkinson Riddle, who edited it from the Second World War until 1982. He had been the Baptist minister in Plymouth, and thanks to the high society company he kept, was referred to by some as a “Baptist Pope”. When in 1979, Colin Reeves acquired the business, Dr Riddle was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the World’s Oldest Working Editor he was 94.
At that time an elderly lady who lived in the Lake District, a descendant of Baxter, owned the paper. The women’s editor was 88 and the general manager was 77. Colin Reeves recalls his first visit to their print works beside Shoreham Harbour as “like walking into a Dickensian film set”. Some of the machinery was in fact given to an industrial museum.
In June 1996 current editor Russ Bravo launched the New Christian Herald, a redesigned and revamped paper closer to the ‘current affairs from a Christian perspective’ look and feel of 100 years before. In February 1999 another redesign saw the “New” dropped from the paper’s title.
Billion of readers have been informed, entertained and encouraged by the Christian Herald over five or six generations and hundreds of thousands of God’s children have been featured throughout the 6,753 editions in our archive. At the end of an extraordinary life and ministry we thank God for the faithfulness of all who have worked on the paper for his glory.
On 20 September 1952, the week the Christian Herald offices moved out of Tudor Street, London, a writer known only by his initials, C. L. J, wrote of the future of the paper: “We must expect great changes in a world growing smaller day by day as giant planes encircle the earth’s surface in a space of a few hours. Our columns will be filled with these records of men’s progress in science but our sincerest hopes and prayers will be for the renewal of the faith of all who have been privilege to hear God’s word. We go forward in a spirit of humility and pray that he who has so greatly enabled us, will lay before us a wider opportunity still.”