William Lockhart was born in Kirkcaldy in 1835, the hometown of Edward Irvine and Adam Smith. In 1847 when he was eleven years of age his father, also William Lockhart, decided to leave Kirkcaldy with his wife and two children i.e. William and his older sister Catherine. Coming by coach to Carlisle, beyond which the railroad did not then extend, they reached Liverpool the next day, this being on Christmas Eve,. Next spring they went on to London and after a temporary sojourn there and a visit of a few weeks to Paris, the family returned to Liverpool from where the ships in which his father was part owner, sailed. After going backward and forward from Liverpool to Birkenhead a number of times they finally settled down in Birkenhead, their home being at 11 Charlesville, Oxton.¹
He was educated partly in Liverpool and partly in Birkenhead. He was a very bright pupil and was the head of one of his schools. When his regular attendance at school finished he continued his studies in subjects that were of interest to him, including geology and chemistry. Geology was for a long time a favourite science of his and at 15 years of age he read a paper on conchology before the Birkenhead Geologist Association. This was followed a few months later by one on chemistry. He had already been some time at business when the merchant in whose office he was apprenticed released him for six months that he might perfect his knowledge of French. He stayed in Paris and studied French literature and acquired a fluency in speaking the French language. Whilst staying in Paris with a clergyman’s family with several other people there was an outbreak of Typhus which took the lives of a number of people in the house including a Christian who had spoken to him about his soul. He was puzzled as to why God should take a useful man like that, and leave a wretch like him. He was unconverted at that time, but as time went on he began to see God’s purpose in it, at least in some degree.
Although Lockhart knew the truth intellectually and could have detected and refuted any error in its statement, it was not until he was 20 years of age that he was converted. He had long thought of these things, he knew his need and his danger, but it was when travelling in Wales with a cousin in 1855 that the great change took place. One day when he was walking alone by the Menai Straits the words "It is finished" were flashed into his mind with as much force and distinctness as though he heard them spoken from heaven. From that moment the great fact of Christ’s death for sinners became the central thought of his life.
His church – Myrtle Street Baptist
Myrtle Street Baptist Church
It took Lockhart two years before he took the step of getting baptised in water and this happened on 2nd February 1859 at the close of a weeknight’s service at the famous Myrtle Street Chapel in Liverpool by Hugh Stowell Brown. He was received as a member at that church the following Sunday. This was a life changing experience for him and he immediately felt that this would be the commencement of a new era in his life. He determined that he would not sleep in the church but that he would work for Christ and also desired that he would be enabled to throw his whole soul into the cause, forsake the world and devote himself to the Lord.
The very same week that he was baptised in water he undertook a men’s Bible class in the Baptist Chapel in Birkenhead (now Grange Baptist Church) where his family attended. He became a regular attendee at Myrtle Street Chapel, a church that was at times crowded in every part, with hundreds of people having to stand throughout the service. The evangelist within him, however, was beginning to emerge. As much as he loved the preaching of H S Brown he wrote in his diary on 5th June 1859 "I derive very much benefit and instruction from Mr Brown’s preaching and ought to be very thankful that I am privileged to sit under such a minister. The only improvement I could wish to see is a little more preaching mixed up with the teaching. Every sermon ought to have in it a full and plain statement of the gospel; when there is not, how awful to think that there may be present even one sinner perhaps anxious to hear the way of eternal life; and he is not told. How heavy the responsibility of the minister, and how great the blame attachable to those who neglect to continually direct their hearers to the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world."
A keen sportsman
From an early age Lockhart showed a very keen interest in sport, especially in cricket and as a young man he became particularly good in this sport, even at national level, as mentioned in the introduction. He was only 18 years of age when he joined the Birkenhead Park Cricket Club in connection with which his name became famous throughout the country and even in the colonies where Bell’s Life Weekly reported his doings. The "All England" sought his services on more than one occasion, even though he was only an amateur. His fame as a cricketer, of course, gave him a ready introduction among the young men of the day, which we shall see later on.
His diffidence in witnessing for Christ
In his diary in April 1859 Lockhart reprimands himself for being wanting in his effort spiritually and felt that his consecration to God was in words only. He longed to be more zealous and that God would stir him up. He had many a young man in his eye to witness to but he said that he was afraid to speak and wondered at this constant fear of man and if he wasn’t in fact ashamed of Christ. He very much felt that he had a great work to do amongst the young men in Birkenhead and it was his desire to be strengthened and fitted for this ministry. He was convicted of certain things in his life at this time such as levity, which he felt was hindering him from speaking seriously to any of his friends and also the drinking of intoxicating liquor which he resolved with his friend to give up, at least for the remainder of that year.
Shortly afterwards he provided himself with a book in which he recorded from time to time the names of those whom he approached on the subject of salvation, making a brief note of conversations held and letters written. He drew a sort of calendar forming a column of the dates of the month with space for the initials of those that he had dealt with. As time went on there was hardly a day that was left blank.
Formation of the YMCA in Birkenhead
Whilst Lockhart was considering by what means he might reach the young men of his acquaintance, somebody came up to him one day on the Ferry Boat from Birkenhead to Liverpool with a suggestion that would make a big impact on the young people of Birkenhead. The young man proposed the formation of a YMCA, so shortly afterwards a preliminary meeting was held in October 1859 to consider this. Eventually a new branch was formed which was based on the one that had been formed in London and Lockhart became the Honorary Secretary. In those days the YMCA was a very strong evangelistic organisation. At this meeting he met a Mr Charles Webb from Claughton, Birkenhead, and this was to be a turning point in this life.
¹ After the death of his father, his mother and sister later moved to 19 Lorne Road, Oxton, Birkenhead,which house is still standing today.