Edinburgh in November

Princes Street in Edinburgh must have one of the most dramatic backdrops of any shopping street in Europe. At this time of year the dour presbyterian cityscape seems to glower at the frivolity of the market below.

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‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’. Poppy dedicated at Downpatrick

 

An important part of the remembrance service at Downpatrick NSP Church on Remembrance Day, Sunday, 12th November 2017 was the dedication of a new memorial to Rifleman John Hayes of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles who was a member of the congregation who was killed in the First World War at the Battle of the Somme on 31st October 1916 at the age of just 24. The memorial contains a ceramic poppy from the Tower of London. The Tower was the location for ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ an impressive special installation produced at the start of 2014 which contained 888,246 hand-made ceramic poppies, one for every man or woman from Britain and the Commonwealth who died in military service in the Great War.

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Poppies at the Tower of London, 7th November 2014 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The poppies were designed by Paul Cummins and each one was individually hand made by a large team of volunteers so that no two flowers are the same. The poppies gradually encircled the Tower, creating a spectacular visual display and a moving location for personal reflection. The scale of the installation, containing so many individual poppies, was intended to bring home the magnitude of the event commemorated and over five million people travelled from all over the world to see the display. It was an impressive creation which continues to have a profound effect. All the poppies were sold to members of the public in memory of those who died, raising millions of pounds for service charities and extending the practical effect of the memorial all over the country which is how the poppy came to Downpatrick. Thelma Lowry, church member and a niece of John Hayes, bought one of the poppies and presented it to the church on behalf of her family in memory of her uncle.

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Memorial, First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick

The church has a war memorial from the First World War containing the names of the 32 members of the congregation who served in the First World War as well as the three members who made the supreme sacrifice – Craig Nelson, Francis McMurray and John Hayes.

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Cover of the church’s leaflet about the three members who lost their lives in the First World War. For more details see:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/three-lives-remembered/

At the service Jack Steers played the Last Post on the trumpet and Laura Neill played ‘Abide with Me’ on the bagpipes following the dedication. This new memorial is a family memorial but of a church member who was killed during the Battle of the Somme over one hundred years ago. As such it ties the church into a remarkable act of remembrance that began at the Tower of London but which has travelled around the world taking poppies from the installation back to the cities, towns and villages which were once the homes of those who were killed in the Great War.

A special site now records the locations to which the poppies have travelled:

https://www.wherearethepoppiesnow.org.uk/the-poppy-map/

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Memorial plaque

Todmorden Unitarian Church

I last visited Todmorden Church decades ago and it was in a pretty sorry state then, heavily vandalised and with no electricity, it had an air of dilapidation about it. So it was good to return in the company of some colleagues to see the church now.

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Ministers: Jo James, Bob Janis-Dillon, Jim Corrigall, David Steers, Phil Waldron in front of the chancel

One of the things you can’t miss about the church is its dominance on the landscape, it is a big church, an impressive feature of the local topography. But what I had forgotten and what in some ways it is easy to miss is the attention to detail within the building – the marble inlays, the subtle little carvings, the attractive stained glass windows, even the colours of the massive marble pillars. Partly this is because it is actually quite dark inside. The Unitarian Heritage An Architectural Heritage says it has an “under-lit interior” and blames this on the stained glass by “M. Capronnier of Brussels”. An excellent new book Chapels of England Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity by Christopher Wakeling (Historic England, 2017) describes it as the “one unmissable place of worship in Todmorden” and says “despite the clerestory windows – externally unseen – and tiny openings higher in the roof, the light levels foster a sense of religious mystery, augmented by the stained and coloured glass.” I tend to agree with the Unitarian Heritage assessment, I do find the interior a bit too dark but that is a minor quibble. It is a fine building designed by John Gibson of Westminster who also built the local town hall and the Fielden family residence.

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The church tower

Since 1994 the church has been in the care of the Historic Chapels Trust and they seem to be doing a good job, with the church being looked after by local volunteers. They have a varied programme of activities in the church including regular services plus weddings and even some recent christenings. When we visited, Joanna and Richard kindly took time out to show us round.

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Richard Butterworth (verger) and Joanna Drake (volunteer)

The church now has kitchens and toilets sensitively added to the interior which perhaps underlies what a valued resource for local people this church building is. Its history is fascinating, coming, as it did, out of the Methodist Unitarian movement founded by Joseph Cooke and building a new chapel, which still survives, in 1824. The congregation was taken under the wing of enlightened mill owner John Fielden who extinguished their debt and whose three sons built the new church as a memorial to their father, built, it was said at the time, “for the public worship of the one God the Father, and for the instruction in the simple teachings of Jesus Christ, as opposed to such traditional doctrines as those of original sin and eternal punishment”. It opened for worship in 1869 and cost around £35,000. It is the only Unitarian church that I know that has a porte cochère where the wealthy benefactors could dismount and enter the church by a side door protected from the elements. Two of the sons are buried close to the church and matching memorials to all three of them are found on the walls of the interior.

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Porte cochère

The church has what must be one of the earliest and most elaborate church fonts of any Unitarian church, it is probably in need of restoration but it still in better condition than when I last saw it.

Detail on the font

One feature of Todmorden is the repeated motif of the pelican, I am not sure why this is such a popular image here but there is a pelican in the chancel window, and two carved in the choir stalls. There is possibly also another one carved in the end of a pew (almost all the pew ends feature flowers except for this one which houses an angel and what may be another pelican).

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Choir stall pelican (see note below)

It is heartening to see the clock working and to know that the peal of eight bells are still rung by local bell ringers. Todmorden was a really flourishing congregation for most of its existence and it is interesting that this large building and its congregation left such an imprint in the locality that even now worship continues within it and it provides the home for much activity. It’s good to see the gradual recovery of Todmorden Unitarian Church.

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The view up the carriage drive

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Pulpit eagle

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Rose Window

A 360 degree view of the interior can be seen on the church’s website:

http://360.tuc-congregation.org.uk/

Note:

A couple of people have pointed out to me that the carving in the choir stalls which I originally named as a phoenix is in fact what is known as a ‘pelican in her piety’. It is the mother pelican who – in the ancient story – feeds its own chicks (or revives them after they die) with its own blood. I had confused this story with that of the phoenix which, of course, is famous for its ability to resurrect itself. Both the phoenix and the pelican became popular within Christian iconography from early times to represent Christ, for obvious reasons. But I am happy to make that correction and rename the image in the choir stalls. The carving on the pew end looks a good deal more phoenix like, although, to be honest, the photograph I took is not as clear as it might be and I am not able to make a certain identification. It is quite plausible that there are both phoenixes and pelicans in the church, but nevertheless I have removed the references to the phoenix and given credit to the pelican. Both are actually slightly surprising images to be found in a Unitarian church of 1869. The presence of a ‘pelican in her piety’ in Todmorden is probably a unique occurrence in a Unitarian church – unless anyone else knows differently!

 

Faith and Freedom: Autumn and Winter 2017

 

Faith and Freedom

Autumn and Winter issue 2017

Volume 70 Part 2. Number 185.

In the latest issue of Faith and Freedom Professor Emily Klenin breaks new ground with an exploration of the writings of David Delta Evans, the Flintshire-born son of a miner who went on to become a Unitarian minister, printer, editor of the Christian Life, novelist and poet in English and Welsh. Emily looks in detail at his 1913 novel Daniel Evelyn, Heretic, which is both a fictionalized account of his childhood and youth and a confession of faith. She draws out the importance of this long-forgotten novel in the religious and social landscape of England and Wales at the time. It’s a fascinating account of a remarkable man who has been long neglected.

Stephen Lingwood develops ‘A Unitarian Theology of Tradition’. He asks “in what sense do we claim religious continuity in a non-creedal tradition that allows the freedom of religious evolution? In what sense is the Unitarianism of the past the same thing as the Unitarianism of the present?” These are important questions for Unitarians to grapple with and drawing on sources such as James Luther Adams, Susan B. Anthony, George Lindbeck and Alasdair MacIntyre and taking scientific method as an analogy he gives a compelling explanation of the way Unitarians can understand their own tradition.

In ‘Manchester College Oxford Old Students Association – The Early Years’ Alan Ruston uncovers the early history of the OSA and describes its birth pangs and early development, concluding with its creation of Faith and Freedom and the encouraging observation: “F&F has proved to be a successful long-lasting journal of mainly intellectual content representing the Unitarian position, which is now in its seventieth year. Its creation can be considered the single most important initiative to have been undertaken by MOSA.”

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Our review section is extensive and wide-ranging. Graham Murphy reviews Diarmaid MacCulloch’s All Things Made, New Writings on the Reformation (Allen Lane/Penguin). It’s an excellent review of a timely and important book, Graham writes: “MacCulloch guides us around rooms of the past, noting progress, noting dystopia, and here and there a glimmer of light: ‘a Declaration in the parish church of a town called Torda, a place which should be more of a centre of pilgrimage than it is’ – Toleration.”

Stephen Lingwood’s incisive review of Frederic Muir’s edited collection Turning Point: essays on a new Unitarian Universalism (Skinner House) draws out the ‘trinity of errors’ identified there, including exceptionalism, an aversion to authority and, especially, individualism. This latter tendency is the root of the philosophy of Samuel Smiles and in his fascinating review of John Hunter’s The Spirit of Self-Help. A Life of Samuel Smiles (Shepheard-Walwyn) Bob Janis-Dillon shows how the sometime attender at Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds adapted Emersonian individualism to his ‘Self-Help’ idea, “a mode of thinking we need to challenge if we are to advance as a species”.

Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke, joint president of the World Congress of Faiths, looks at three books that inform on the place of Islam in modern Britain (James Ferguson, Al-Britainnia, My Country: A Journey Through Muslim Britain, Bantam Press; Richard Sudworth, Encountering Islam: Christian Muslim Relations in the Public Square, SCM Press; Rahim Snow, Remember Who You Are, 28 Spiritual Verses from the Holy Quran, Remembrance Studio), an essential starting point for those who wish to open up dialogue and debate in this area. Marcus also provides two reviews of works that deal with Jewish–Christian relations and pluralism – Tony Bayfield (ed.), Deep Calls to Deep: Transforming Conversations between Jews and Christians (SCM Press) and Hans Ucko (ed.), Thanking Together: On Pluralism, Violence, and the Other (Journal of Ecumenical Studies).

In his review of what may be Don Cupitt’s “last and most important book” (Ethics in the Last Days of Humanity, Polebridge Press) Frank Walker lifts about fifteen random insights from the book. These all bear careful reflection. One takes up the theme of Muslim relations (“Western scholars should publish fully critical studies of the origins and the developing theology of the Qur’an and of the hadith”). In another Don Cupitt asserts: “Ordinary people will need a religious discipline like that of the Buddhist sangha to help people to calm their violent passions and to think rationally about how best to live.” It’s difficult not reflect on the plight of Muslims in Myanmar on reading this. But it is an important book concerned, as Frank says, “in the most down-to-earth way” with the end-times.

Faith, hope and healing are the themes of three reviews. Pat Frankish reviews The Enduring Melody (Darton, Longman Todd) by Michael Mayne about one man’s struggle with cancer, “a powerful and painful book, with a thread of reality and hope”. Christian Wiman’s book My bright abyss: meditations of a modern believer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is similarly a tale of a struggle with cancer, in this case that of a poet who tries to make sense of religion and God through his suffering. It is reviewed by Barrie Needham who draws out many profound insights from it. Barrie writes: “Faith which is self-centred does not, according to Wiman, recognise God impinging on this world through love. ‘The only way to ascertain the truth of religious experience: it propels you back towards the world and other people, and not simply more deeply within yourself’.” Andrew Hill also reviews a new book of hymns: Hymns of Hope and Healing: words and music to refresh the church’s ministry of healing (Stainer & Bell), a modern, progressive collection of hymns which covers a subject index of more than 250 topics. Andrew mentions some of them but those listed alphabetically from A to D give an idea of the books radical emphases: “ageing, balance, birth, carers, dementia, DNA, drugs…”

So many of the reviews are about finding and connecting with the divine in one way or another and Jim Corrigall reviews Lorraine Cavanagh’s new book Waiting on the Word: Preaching Sermons that connect people with God (Darton, Longman and Todd). Jim quotes the author “Sermon preparation is a matter of waiting in the pain of others, rather than worrying what we are going to say.” Finally Peter Godfrey reviews Crocodiles do not swim here (Avian House) by John Smith Wilkinson who looks at doctrine, Biblical interpretation and religious understanding from fresh angles.

If you would like to take out an annual subscription to Faith and Freedom you can do so online at http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/subs.htm or by sending a cheque for £15 to the Business Manager, Nigel Clarke., 16 Fairfields, Kirton in Lindsey, Gainsborough, Lincs, DN21 4GA.

A Vision Splendid

Congratulations to Wayne Facer on the publication of his new book A Vision Splendid. The influential life of William Jellie. A British Unitarian in New Zealand (Blackstone Editions, Toronto, Canada, 2017  – http://www.BlackstoneEditions.com). It’s an excellent study that looks at Unitarian origins in New Zealand through the work of William Jellie, an Ulster born Non-Subscribing Presbyterian who was one of the many pioneers from there who went out to establish congregations in what were then dominions of the United Kingdom.

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Wayne Facer 

The book has a striking cover, taken from a work by an unknown New Zealand artist, and is a very important addition to the study of the way Unitarianism spread around the globe and adapted to new situations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It will be reviewed in future issues of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society and Faith and Freedom.

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About the book I have written:

Wayne Facer has written an absorbing biography of a hitherto little known but nevertheless fascinating and important person. Through meticulous research in both New Zealand and the UK the author illustrates the pioneering life of this minister and educator.

Born in county Down, Ireland, in 1865 and described by his family as “Irish through and through” William followed an uncle into the Unitarian ministry. A relatively small but theologically radical denomination Unitarians placed great store on the value of an educated ministry and Jellie received an excellent education at Manchester College which moved its location from London to Oxford while he was a student there. The author draws out the influence of this education upon Jellie especially through the person of Philip Henry Wicksteed (1844-1927). Through him he developed a love of Dante and literature in general as well as a belief in politically progressive causes and the need for direct intervention in society in favour of the poor. Serving in ministries in both England and New Zealand, where a contemporary journal described him as preaching “sermons and addresses so far superior to the ordinary”, he became a key figure in the establishment of Unitarian churches and institutions in New Zealand. After retirement from the ministry he embarked upon a new career as a lecturer for the Workers’ Education Association.

We owe a great debt to the author who has traced the varied course of Jellie’s long career, bringing him vividly to life in the context of his times, his ideas and principles, his family and friendships and the institutions and organisations which he supported.

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New Zealand Ministers – William Jellie, James Chapple, and Richard Hall at the Unitarian Hall, Timaru (from the back cover of the book)

A Vision Splendid. The influential life of William Jellie. A British Unitarian in New Zealand (Blackstone Editions, Toronto, Canada, 2017, ISBN 978-0-9816402-6-6, Pages: xxv + 278)

Harvest Services 2017

 

The Services of Harvest Thanksgiving in October 2017 were all successful and enjoyable events in Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough churches. The first took place at Downpatrick where the guest preacher was the Rev Ernie Boggs, Minister Emeritus of Downpatrick Presbyterian Church, and special music was provided by the Lindsay Chorale with their conductor John Dallas. The congregational hymns were accompanied by church organist Laura Patterson. Over the year the Sunday School and young people of the church raised £400 for the work of Daisy Lodge and during the service Laura Neill presented a cheque to Aisling Gibson, the South Down regional fundraiser for Daisy Lodge, a purpose-built therapeutic centre located in Newcastle for families affected by cancer.

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Downpatrick Harvest Daisy Lodge

Presentation to Aisling Gibson of Daisy Lodge.

 

At Ballee the service was held on Sunday, 8th October at 3.00 pm when the guest preacher was the Rev Adrian Dorrian, minister of Ballee Parish, Church of Ireland and special music was provided by the Quoile Area WI Choir conducted by Isabel Keenan and accompanied by Kathleen Gill. Congregational hymns were accompanied by John Strain, the church organist.

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Quoile Area WI Choir including also Rev Adrian Dorrian

 

Clough held their annual service of harvest thanksgiving on Sunday, 15th October at 3.00 pm. There was a large congregation present to hear the visiting preacher, the Rev Paul Reid, of the Old Presbyterian Church, Larne and special music provided by local choir Harmonic Progression, the Seaforde based Community Choir for Women under the direction of Carolyn Ross. It was also pleasing to see that the painting of the exterior of the church had been completed in time for the harvest.

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Harmonic Progression including Rev Paul Reid (Old Presbyterian Church, Larne)

On 30th September Ballee also acted as a key staging post for Christian Aid’s Strangford Sportive, a cycle event covering up 120 km around this part of county Down which raised over £6,500 for the charity.

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The regal heads of Mountpottinger

On my History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland blog I have been gradually posting two images of every church in the denomination together with a short description of the building. My aim is to include every active church plus as many of the former churches for which images survive. You can view them here:

https://nonsubscribingpresbyterian.wordpress.com/blog/

I have amassed a large database of images in various formats over the years but passing near the Mountpottinger church in Belfast recently I decided to stop to take an up to date view.

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Looking at the church close up I noticed something that I had never seen before, namely that there are four corbel heads at the base of the main entrance arches which depict crowned heads. I know I am not alone in having previously missed this intriguing detail but close up you can see four regal faces, two of them male and two female:

 

 

Who are they meant to represent? Biblical figures? Historical? Shakespearean perhaps? Or are they purely decorative? It seems clear that they were added when the church was extended in 1899. The foundation stone for the original church was laid in 1874 but the young congregation was very successful and in 1899 they extended the building.

Adrian Moir, the congregational treasurer and representative elder, has sent me the follwing interesting photograph of the original building as it looked before 1899. Standing in front, he thinks, is the Rev William Jenkin Davies minister from 1896 – 1903 who was married to the niece of Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence who donated the new schoolroom as a memorial to her following her death:

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Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence was a major Unitarian benefactor, an MP who declared the Unitarian College, Manchester open when it moved to Summerville in 1905, a friend of the Rev Alexander Gordon and the leading proponent of the theory that Shakespeare’s plays were actually the work of Francis Bacon!

A comparison of the new buildings of 1899 with the old one shows how they added a schoolroom and ancillary rooms on both sides of the original church with a common frontage uniting all the structures. In very recent times a disabled ramp was added to the church.

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A view of the church published in 1907, showing the new additions to the building

But it would be interesting to know the identity of the four regal heads who adorn the outside wall of Mountpottinger church.

Illustrations of Unitarian Churches in ‘The Christian Freeman’

Robert Spears was a tireless propagandist for Unitarianism in the second half of the nineteenth century. One of his projects was the establishment in 1856 of The Christian Freeman, “a monthly journal devoted to religious, moral and social progress”. One of the novel features of this was that, from 1866, it was illustrated, at least to the extent that every issue carried an engraving of a Unitarian church or building. In January 1866 the editor promised that “during the present year our readers may expect in our pages every month one engraving at least of our largest churches.”

I have a bound collection of volumes 10 to 12 and in them most of these illustrations seem to have been produced by the same artist, although one is provided by the architect of a church (Southampton) and one other is signed ‘Macintosh’ which may be by a different engraver.

Most of the illustrations are exterior views and although Robert Spears promised “our largest churches” he didn’t stick to this and gives pictures of smaller congregations such as Pudsey, Styal or Dewsbury. Some of the churches illustrated are long gone, fallen by the way as congregations have closed or moved to newer premises or were destroyed in the blitz or by 1960s developers. But these illustrations are often very valuable because of a paucity of photographic or drawn records of the building concerned. So Matthew Henry’s Chapel in Chester lasted until the early 1960s but little survives that tells us as much about the building as Robert Spears’ engraving:

Chester Matthew Henry's Chapel Christian Freeman 1866

Glasgow’s magnificent St Vincent Street Church was demolished as recently as the 1980s but The Christian Freeman shows us how it was intended to appear:

Glasgow St Vnicent St Christian Freeman 1866

Other chapels might have survived but are still under threat, such as Newington Green Unitarian Chapel which in October 2016 was added to Historic England’s latest register of English historical buildings and sites considered to be at risk. See: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/oct/21/feminism-birthplace-old-brighton-london-zoo-aviary-historic-sites-risk-endangered-english-heritage.

Interestingly then, as now, the media made a connection between the chapel and a woman writer. In 1866 it was Anna Laetitia Barbauld in 2016 Mary Wollstonecraft:

Newington Green Christian Freeman 1866

Knutsford also was identified with a particular writer in the form of Elizabeth Gaskell:

Knutsford Christian Freeman 1866

Probably the best known of the illustrations from The Christian Freeman of 1867 is that of Madras which has been reproduced many times:

Madras Christian Freeman 1866

But many of the illustrations were later reprinted in Emily Sharpe’s Pictures of Unitarian Churches published in 1901. This included pictures “nearly all of them printed from the wood-blocks lent by Mrs Spears, having been brought out by her late husband, at intervals, through several years, in the pages of the “CHRISTIAN LIFE” [also edited by Robert Spears] and “CHRISTIAN FREEMAN”.

In fact the illustration of Matthew Henry’s Chapel in Emily Sharpe’s book is inferior to that published in The Christian Freeman (although see Jim Nugent’s comment below) and some quite striking pictures such as the Norwich Octagon do not appear in the 1901 book:

Norwich Christian Freeman 1866

Perhaps the wooden block had gone astray by 1901?

Many of the illustrations feature figures wandering nonchalantly into view. Not always quite to scale, Quality Street couples amble amiably by, and carriages and carts heave into view. The occasional street urchin appears on the scene and dogs, never on a lead, often show up as does one man on horseback:

Memorial Hall detail Christian Freeman 1866

Detail from the Memorial Hall, Manchester

Trowbridge detail Chrsitian Freeman 1866

Detail from Conigre Chapel. Trowbridge

They may not all be architecturally accurate and liberties are certainly taken with some of the views but taken together they are all a charming and valuable record of Unitarian buildings.

 

Pew Numbers

 

It is hard not to imagine that every feature of dissenting meeting-houses has been subject to some serious scrutiny at one time or another. The regular publication of surveys of non-conformist churches and the work of the Chapels Society are testimony to the ongoing interest that there is in these types of buildings. But I was led to reflect on one aspect of the history of old meeting-houses that may not have had too much attention over the years by the ‘discovery’ recently of a long discarded pew number in my church at Ballee.

It wasn’t really a discovery since I and many people knew it was there all along but, for the first time, I took a close look at it and realised that it is a work of art in its own right. When the Ballee meeting-house was refurbished in 1912 they replaced the old box pews with ‘modern’ open ones. They may have re-used the timber from the old pews to make the new ones, they certainly used the old pews to make partitions and features in the rooms they created in both ends of the long arm of the ‘T’ of the church.

This number 12 is in the inside of a cupboard in the vestry. When you look at it, a lot of the wood which was used there and in the library and in the store room at the other end of the church, must clearly have once formed the original box pews, probably dating back as far as the early eighteenth century. Much of it has been stained a very dark colour but in some places the original colouring can be seen and there are two places where the pew numbers are visible. One is a slightly faded number 22 but the other is this one inside the vestry cupboard.

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Inside the cupboard

It has been protected from the sun for over a hundred years and it is clear that at some point after it was painted on the door of the pew when in situ someone had carefully left it untouched when re-varnishing the rest of the door. An expert could probably date this number more or less exactly. I would guess it dates from the end of the eighteenth or the start of the nineteenth century. It is certainly very carefully done. It must have been an important project for the congregation at that time to see that their pews were so clearly labelled, and done in such an attractive manner.

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A panel high in the corner of a store room – number 22

For most types of dissenting congregations pew numbers and pew rents were a central feature of the finance and management of a church or chapel. Who owned which pew and who sat where were important questions so their clear numbering was an important thing. For the historian financial records of pew rents are an important source but I can’t remember much discussion of the way numbers were added to pews.

In the nineteenth century, and probably before, it was possible to buy ceramic or brass numbers to fix on pew ends or doors. But very often the numbers were painted on. The pews in Ballee today are all unnumbered, as they are in Clough. In Downpatrick, which still has its original box pews, the numbers have all been removed downstairs but they survive in the galleries. These are very neatly done and to me look like eighteenth-century adornments.

Some of the Downpatrick numbers

But the now almost completely vanished pew numbers from Ballee must have looked very impressive. I will look out for more examples of historical pew numbering from now on.

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Number 12

Postcards from All Souls’

 

Edwardian postcards of Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches are not unknown but they are not common. Obviously some churches feature more prominently in this format than others although generally some of the churches in towns outside of Belfast – such as Dromore and Banbridge – are the most frequently seen. In Belfast All Souls’ Church appears on four postcards that I am aware of although two of them are very curious in their own right.

The picture at the top of this page (not taken from a postcard as it happens) is a fairly obvious view which does appear as a postcard. Another postcard that does sometimes turn up is of an architect’s line drawing of the Rosemary Hall which was published before the Hall was opened.

The other two cards, of which I have copies, raise a number of questions. The first is this one:

Postcard St Marys All Souls

What the eagle-eyed will immediately notice is, that whatever the inscription says at the bottom of the picture, this is not a postcard of All Souls’ Church, Elmwood Avenue, Belfast. It is quite neatly printed and isn’t badly produced. On the reverse it says it is part of ‘The “National” series’ and was printed in Britain. So it may not have been locally produced which might account for the error. But I wonder how many copies they sold? Who would have bought them?

It is in fact a picture of St Mary’s Church of Ireland on the Crumlin Road. Does this mean that there is in existence a view of St Mary’s Church that has been carelessly titled ‘All Souls’ Church’ by the printers. I have not seen one if such a thing was ever printed.

The other card definitely is of the interior of All Souls’. It is quite a well-taken view showing the organ, the chancel and part of the nave and published by Baird’s of Belfast. Unfortunately my example is a bit dog-eared and creased but I am glad to have it because these postcards are fairly rare these days.

Postcard All Souls

The church does have an enlargement of this view which was held in some awe by some of the members. The reason for this can be seen if you look carefully at the organ console. This was the original organ that was moved to All Souls’ in 1896 when the congregation migrated from Rosemary Street. Originally opened in 1806 it was the first organ used by a Presbyterian congregation certainly in the north of Ireland. I have written before about the history of this interesting instrument which is still in regular use in Newry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church where it moved in the 1920s. But much mythology attached to the organ. One story was that it had been built for St George’s Chapel, Windsor by the famous organ builder John Snetzler. This was very widely repeated and continues to be repeated sometimes in the present day. Some years ago I discovered and published the true origin of the organ (which was constructed in Belfast as you might expect) but many people still prefer the legend! Attached to the legend was a belief that the old organ was haunted, and haunted by no less a ghost than that of George Frideric Handel. This is where the postcard comes in because it was believed by many that the picture shows his ghost sitting at the organ:

Postcard All Souls cropped

One person told me that this picture had been subjected to a battery of tests but no one could explain the blurred image in front of the organ keys. My scan is not wonderful but there is a blurred image that is printed on the photograph. If you look carefully though you can just about make out the figure of an Edwardian lady in a large hat. I don’t think it is G.F. Handel.