Ballee’s Carnegie Organ

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In 2012 Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church celebrated the centenary of their two manual pipe organ with a twelve hour ‘Hymnathon’ from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm, finishing the day with a special service at 7.00 pm. The organ was officially opened on Sunday, 23rd June 1912 and its centenary was marked by a very effective and widely supported cross-community celebration with clergy, choirs, musicians and visitors from all local churches taking part.

 

But back in 1912 the organ was installed as part of an extensive renovation of the church that significantly modernised what previously must have been a largely untouched early eighteenth-century meeting house and which gives the church its essential appearance to this day. The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine for August 1912 reported that:

 

On Sunday, 23rd June, successful services were conducted by Rev. H. McLachlan, MA, BD, of the Unitarian Home Missionary college, and sermons appropriate to the re-opening of the renovated church were preached to large and appreciative congregations…An outstanding feature of the day was the fact that two neighbouring rectors of the Episcopal Church held no services, thus leaving their people free to attend…a gracious compliment to minister and people

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Rev Dr Herbert McLachlan c. 1912

The report went on that the new manse, which was nearing completion, was much admired by the numerous visitors and nearly one hundred pounds was raised on the day. In addition considerable work had been done to the church:

 

The building has been thoroughly overhauled, new high-pressure heating apparatus set up…The old graveyard has been mapped and numbered and gravelled paths laid out. The tinted glass windows set in Castlewellan granite jambs are especially noticeable for their reposeful simplicity and strength. The grand old timbered roof, which was raised at the first renovation of the church in 1773, is unique, and showed out beautifully in the favourable light of the summer day. The old rough hewn flagged floor has been replaced by a patterned maple wood block floor, which still adds to the quiet neatness aimed at by the promoters of the scheme…The work which, which gives universal satisfaction, was wholly carried out by members of families belonging to Ballee Non-Subscribing Church.

 

All this was done under the direction of the Rev J.H. Bibby, himself a considerable benefactor to the Ballee congregation. However, a centrepiece of the day was the opening of the new organ, itself the result of a charitable donation of a very different sort:

 

…a fine organ, built in solid oak by Dalladay of Hastings, has been erected…The musical part of the service was rendered  in a devotional spirit by the Choir, augmented by voluntary helpers. The beautiful instrument was ably handled by Mr R. McCullen, CE, who is honorary organist of the church.

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Rev J.H. Bibby

 

The report doesn’t mention it but the new organ was paid for by a donation from the Carnegie Fund.

 

The organ came to Ballee just over 100 years after protestant dissenting churches in Ireland, mainly those of a liberal or non-subscribing outlook, first began to use organs in their worship. The first organ seems to have been opened in Cork in about 1801. In 1806 Belfast’s Second Congregation and the Presbyterian church in Dundalk both installed organs. In some places this remained an incredibly controversial topic throughout the nineteenth century. Almost certainly Ballee will have used a harmonium without any controversy for some time before but in 1912 it moved into a different league with the installation of their Dalladay organ.

 

The choice of organ builder was an interesting one. It is not known whether Dalladay built any other organs in Ireland, it certainly was a long way for the firm to travel to fulfil the contract. In Organs of Hastings and St. Leonards Julian Rhodes writes of him:

 

Samuel Frederick Dalladay (1865-1955) built or rebuilt some ten organs in the town [Hastings]. A Londoner, Dalladay was a skilled performer who gave recitals at the Royal Albert Hall and the Crystal Palace in his youth. In 1886 he moved to Folkestone and opened an Academy of Music; he became organist at St. John’s Church, Folkestone. His organ-building activities are known to date from as early as 1903, though it was not until just before World War I that he moved to Hastings and opened the Sussex Organ Works, which remained in business until about 1939. From time to time he built instruments for churches throughout England, though most of his work was in the southern counties. His two largest jobs appear to have been a 4-manual 26-stop instrument for St. Bartholomew, Reading in 1910, and a 3-manual 36-stop rebuild at Holy Trinity, Aldershot in 1925.

 

The organ underwent extensive repairs in 1954 and was rededicated at a service on 12th September 1954 by the Rt Rev John Radcliffe, the then moderator. In 1972 an electric blower was installed. Prior to this date it had to be pumped by hand and it was not unknown for the man employed to do the pumping to nod off during the sermon and need a gentle reminder to return to his labours for the final hymn! However, its genesis as an organ paid for by the Carnegie Fund gives it a unique provenance, at least in relation to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.

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Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland on 25th November 1835. The son of a poor domestic hand-loom weaver his early life was not easy and at the age of 12, along with his parents and younger brother, he emigrated to Pittsburg. Here begins a story that encapsulates the American Dream. His first job was as a ‘bobbin boy’ in a cotton mill at $1.25 per week but was soon ‘promoted’ to work as an operative for $2 per week, doing work that was physically hard and dangerous and which daily induced nausea in the 13 year old. But through hard work, ingenuity, resourcefulness, drive and some luck, by the age of 30 he was earning $50,000 per year. Most of his income came from investments he had made during the Civil War and by the time he came to retire at the age of 65 his personal fortune was estimated to be the largest in America. He sold his family holdings in his steel and other companies for $480 million in 1901 and turned his attention, full-time, to philanthropy.

 

Carnegie draw up a set of priorities as to where he would help. They were in order:

 

  1. Universities
  2. Free libraries
  3. Hospitals
  4. Parks
  5. Halls suitable for meetings and concerts
  6. Swimming baths
  7. Churches, but only the buildings and accoutrements and not to support religious activities other than music making.

 

Churches were right at the bottom of his list. Although Carnegie was a Scots Presbyterian by birth and was a member of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York his religious views were not conventional and he had little time for church preachers. But he did like church music and thought that churches had an important cultural role in this area. As a result he offered grants for church organs, buying a total of 7,689, including, for instance, 219 in Ireland and 1,005 in Scotland, 4,092 in the United States and one each in India and British Guinea, all to a total cost of over $6,000,000.

 

Early on funds were provided for half the cost of an organ on the basis that the congregation would find the rest, although later on the Carnegie Fund appears to have supplied the full cost. However, stringent rules existed for the supply of an organ from the fund. Applications for organs alone ran as high as about 3,000 in one year. In the first 20 years there were approximately 40,000 applications, showing that the successful award of a grant was far from a foregone conclusion. All applicants had to provide a detailed financial statement and explain how a new instrument would contribute to their congregational life.

 

A report commissioned by Andrew Carnegie into the effectiveness of these grants found that the introduction of a new organ had a wholly beneficial effect in business terms as well as every other way:

 

The pastors of the churches visited were questioned closely as to the effect produced upon the contributions of the members by a gift as large as that made by the Corporation. The unanimous declaration was made that it had been a stimulus to individual giving and in many instances illustrative figures were presented to show that the benefactions of the church had been doubled since the installation of the organ. A part of such increase was usually ascribed to the larger congregations attracted by the better music.

 

So this is the background to the grant of the Carnegie organ to Ballee Church, one of the 219 in Ireland. None of the correspondence relating to the acquisition of the organ has survived but the organ has remained an integral part of regular worship ever since.

 

Andrew Carnegie’s report into the effectiveness of his organ bequests concluded three things:

 

  1. Churches are contributing instrumentalities in the social and cultural advancement of a community – the aggregate of communities make the Nation.
  2. The efficiency of the services of a church is augmented by the use of a pipe organ, hence, through the church, the organ indirectly contributes to the social and cultural advancement of the community, and
  3. Directly, the organ when used in recitals and by students of music, renders an important cultural service.

 

Although written in a slightly strange jargon no one could argue against these observations as being true in Ballee. The pipe organ has contributed much to congregational life and consequently to the life of the wider community. The congregation are glad to have it and value it as part of both their witness and their heritage from over one hundred years.

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Images of Rev John Watson

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In 1893 B. Guinness Orchard in Liverpool’s Legion of Honour declared the Rev John Watson to be “the successful pastor of the most important and active among our local congregations.” In (by his standards) fairly restrained prose Orchard outlined the minister’s achievements: every sitting in the church was let, the number of communicants had risen from 133 to 949, three new causes had been founded, £70,000 raised for congregational activities. The list of achievements was a long one and, Orchard added rather cryptically, “To his congregation his doctrinal teaching is quite acceptable”.

John Watson had already achieved a position of some eminence in his adopted city. In his twenty five years in the ministry at Sefton Park Presbyterian Church he also became centrally involved and prominent in civic life. But Orchard was writing just on the cusp of a new departure for John Watson; his first novel – Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush – was published in the following year. As Ian Maclaren he became a top selling novelist whose fame stretched around the English-speaking world.

As a clergyman/novelist he reached an extraordinary level of fame. He published theology under his own name which sold exceptionally well resulting in highly popular lecturing tours of the USA and honorary DDs from St Andrews and Yale.

As I have mentioned in a previous post

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/rev-john-watson-ogdens-guinea-gold-cigarettes/

his fame was such that his image was reproduced on a cigarette card. It is a very small card but it is very cleanly printed.

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I recently discovered that a separate series of cigarette cards was also issued in Australia by Ogden’s in about 1905 which also included an image of John Watson. I don’t possess an example of this card although it was less well printed than the British one. It re-used a photograph taken by top London photographers Elliot & Fry. The same image was published as a postcard in the ‘Star Series’:

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There was a great demand for images of John Watson. Popular prints of him were sold but with the sudden impact of the postcard at the turn of the century his image became rather more widely diffused. Market leaders Rotary sold this postcard of John Watson:

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Taken probably for a magazine in what is almost certainly the front room of the manse in Sefton Drive he leans against the fireplace in front of a picture of the Last Supper. It is interesting how the different aspects of his character blended into one. He was an effective and highly successful minister with extensive involvement in many aspects of local life and national church life. But he was also a much sought after author of popular novels. Yet although his novels are still in print and although something of a niche area are still read, his theology, which also sold in tens of thousands, is now forgotten.

His fame was tied up with his church. I have many examples of postcards of his church in Sefton Park, it was a popular subject. The one at the top of this post shows the church in the background but suggests the importance of its site on a main arterial route through the suburbs. Tram conductors would call out the name of the nearby stop as Dr Watson’s church and the detail on this postcard shows a tram stopped near the junction, its driver and conductor hanging around to be in the photograph:

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Another feature of all photographs of the exterior of the church is that someone (or sometimes two people) always stood in the middle of the road slightly to the right of the main gate. Was this something demanded by the photographers to give some idea of scale? It is strange how that space is always occupied. Sometimes by a young person staring at the camera other times by someone with their back to the camera and sometimes by a couple in animated conversation. But the title always takes the same form, it is ‘Dr Watsons’s Church’ or ‘Ian Maclaren’s Chapel’. The terms are used interchangeably even by local publishers Wrench.

The Walker Art Gallery has two contemporary portraits of John Watson but these are not on show and I suspect have never been on show. They are both striking examples of late nineteenth-century portraiture and can be found online. But his likeness still circulates on postcards and cigarette cards, a continuing reflection of his late Victorian and Edwardian fame.

Hugh Stowell Brown’s carte de visite

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Following on the previous post on Hugh Stowell Brown we can add this image featuring his carte de visite. These were enormously popular aspects of life for the middle classes in the 1860s and represented an extension of portrait photography used more for collecting as keepsakes rather than as part of the niceties of Victorian social encounters as the name might indicate. They were seldom named and were probably kept more by families and, in the case of celebrities, by fans who liked to amass collections. This was probably as true for clergy as for other minor celebrities and one suspects that many members of Myrtle Street Chapel will have been quite proud of the cdv of their minister that they were able to stick into their album or lean on the mantelpiece.

 

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This is quite a characterful study of the Rev Hugh Stowell Brown. It shows what a good job was done by the creator of the statue that was set outside his chapel some years later. He could almost be wearing the same coat. The card was produced by E. Swift & Son of 126 Bold Street, Liverpool and is quite a minimalist picture. Almost certainly this will have reflected Mr Brown’s own taste. Most of E. Swift & Son’s cartes feature other objects dragged in to add variety to the picture. Sometimes the curtain was removed to reveal a trompe l’oeil painting of a window and some plants. It’s probably better covered up to honest. He also eschewed the selection of decorated urns and Corinthian pillars that many liked to lean on for their photo shoots in Swifts and also didn’t need the Abbotsford chairs that were wheeled out from time to time. Perhaps wisest of all he didn’t use the cut-out ballustrade that sometimes appears behind the subject. Only the distinctive and perhaps slightly gaudy carpet detracts from the sober no-nonsense image.

So Hugh Stowell Brown created a carte de visite that managed to express quite a lot about who he was. He looks every inch the respectable and respected Baptist pastor, without adornment, and with integrity and a seriousness of purpose that could not be doubted.

Hugh Stowell Brown and Myrtle Street Chapel

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It is nice to see the statue of the Rev Hugh Stowell Brown beautifully restored and re-erected on Hope Street, just around the corner from the location of his old church where he stood for many years. It is a slightly less edifying view for him now, gazing as he does at the main entrance of the Philharmonic pub, he formerly looked across the road towards the Philharmonic Hall itself. But for many years he stood at the end of Princes Avenue, caught in mid-sermon, notes in hand, looking into the entrance of Princes Park.

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It is remarkable that the statue should be rescued and so well restored, having been taken down in 1982 and left to decay in a council yard for decades. But all credit to those who repaired it. You can read a bit more about the restoration of the statue, including before and after pictures of the sculpture, on the site of the restorer:

http://www.robersonstonecarving.co.uk/restoration-hugh.html

 

Hugh Stowell Brown was one of the giants of the pulpit in nineteenth-century Liverpool, minister of Myrtle Street Baptist Chapel from 1847 up to his death in 1886. Politically engaged (with a radical streak – he was president of the Liverpool Peace Society, established a savings bank for the poor and attempted to break down class barriers in his preaching) he was recognised on a national stage by his denomination and by wider society. He was a great success in Myrtle Street, causing the chapel to be enlarged and on his death what must be the only statue of a nonconformist minister in the city was erected in front of his church and paid for by public subscription.

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The place of Myrtle Street in the life of Liverpool is illustrated by some remarks by B. Guinness Orchard in his 1893 collection of civic biographies Liverpool’s Legion of Honour. While discussing ‘Our Local Society’ he inevitably gets round to the place of religion and has some remarkably candid assessments of the role of the great dissenting chapels in the city as sources of capital and, indeed, a spouse:

 

It is impossible to view social life without reference to Churches and Chapels especially those Nonconformist ones where there is deliberate effort to occupy the attendants so as to make them intimately acquainted. For a vast number of respectable, intelligent, fairly prosperous families the chapel is the only social centre; its meetings the only approach to amusement, its friendships the chief road to desirable marriage, and often the chief source of prosperity in business. A steady young man commencing life in Liverpool, without capital or good friends, cannot do better for his own business future than by joining and becoming active, useful and respected in a large dissenting congregation. Whoever knows intimately the ways by which such have again and again secured public positions, or obtained capital when a good opening presented itself, or found a generous supporter in a sudden emergency – whoever has enquired what brought excellent maidens and excellent youths into happy wedlock, while thousands of others loudly complain that no choice of acquaintance is open to them, will confirm this. Scores of instances will at once occur to attendants at Great George Street Independent, or Myrtle Street Baptist, or Sefton Park Presbyterian, or Grove Street Wesleyan Chapel; though the matter is much too private for names to be mentioned here.

 

This paragraph is actually a prelude to a longer discourse on “the most influential sectional meeting place in Liverpool” which he declared to be Renshaw Street Unitarian Chapel. But the whole chapter is indicative of the importance of nonconformist chapels in the life of the city in the late nineteenth century. It is hard to imagine today Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian or Unitarian churches being either so large or so influential. But some of them, often under the leadership of charismatic and very high profile ministers, were places of some significance in a city which was then at the high point of its own economic success.

 

Nothing today really remains of Myrtle Street Baptist Chapel, except the statue. The congregation clearly had an eye for tasteful commemorative china as can be seen by examples of what they produced to celebrate the opening of the chapel in 1844:

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The church had been formed by members of Byrom Street Chapel in 1800 and opened their own meeting house on Lime Street in 1803. This was taken down in 1844 by which time they were prosperous enough to move to Myrtle Street. Hugh Stowell Brown was called as a young and inexperienced minister after a preaching a sermon which he considered both poor and embarrassing. Although the chapel was fairly new he did not appreciate the interior, finding the chandeliers somewhat threatening:

 

Those who never saw them have reason to be thankful that they have been spared the sight of one form of ugliness which it would be hard to equal. Those chandeliers were like nothing else in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth. I do not know to whose singular genius the chapel was indebted for them. How shall I describe them? Nay, they are indescribable. Had one of them been hung outside the chapel I don’t believe that any horse in Liverpool could have been persuaded to approach within a hundred yards of it. I will only say that one of them, the central one, weighed, I believe, a couple of tons. It was made fast to a windlass in the garret, and people who were rather nervous, and had a regard for their safety, very properly declined to sit beneath it, for had the chain snapped, it would have crushed through people, pews and floor, not stopping until it had buried its victims in earth. Another of these monsters not quite so heavy was hung right over the pulpit, and although I am not a particularly nervous man, I preached for years with the unpleasant thought that my life hung by a rapidly-rusting chain, and that one day I might be jammed into a mince-pie in the pulpit, in the very sight of a terrified and mourning congregation.

 

But despite this he received a call and under his ministry the chapel was extended and renewed on several occasions. Not only that it was involved in establishing nine new causes around Merseyside including Princes Gate Baptist Chapel in 1881 which no doubt was the reason for the relocation of his statue near that building in 1954, some years after the closure of Myrtle Street.

 

Princes Gate was far less ornate than Myrtle Street but it too is now long gone, having been demolished in the late 1970s. But, for the sake of completeness, here are the exterior and interior views of Princes Gate Chapel:

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Princes Gate exterior. The statue stood just opposite in the centre of the boulevard.

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Princes Gate interior

Harvest Thanksgiving

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The services of Harvest Thanksgiving at the congregations of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches were all joyous and uplifting occasions.

At Downpatrick we welcomed the Rev Dr John Nelson as guest preacher and the Harlandic Male Voice Choir conducted by Elaine Hawthorne to lead our worship. Laura Patterson played the organ and the church was very thoughtfully decorated to represent the changing seasons of the year as well as the sacrifice of those who served in the First World War.

At Ballee the walls were decorated by the Sunday School with the first verse of W.G. Tarrant’s hymn “Go work in my vineyard, my garden and field, and bring me the fruits and the flowers they yield. The voice of the Master the labourers heard, and into his harvest they went at his word” and each window was superbly decorated with a different line from this. Our visiting preacher was the Very Rev William McMillan and we welcomed back the Bailliesmills Accordion Band who played at the service. The organ was played by John Strain.

At Clough I was the preacher and we welcomed the Clare Chorale under the direction of Sheelagh Greer to lead our worship. A large and accomplished choir their singing filled the church which was beautifully decorated for the occasion. Alfie McClelland played the organ.

Downpatrick

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Ballee

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Clough

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In a forgotten corner

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As the congregation was preparing for the Harvest Thanksgiving service at Downpatrick on 2nd October some members turned over an old grave stone that had lain face down for as long as anybody could remember. Indeed it had fallen such a long time ago that there was no record of the inscription. Having lain flat to the ground for so long it was not a surprise to see how crisp and sharp the lettering appeared when it was turned over. However, what was surprising was to see that the stone’s inscription included a long quotation in Greek.

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Made by Hastings the local stonemasons who had crafted many of the gravestones in the locality it was a good example of their art. They can’t have been called upon very often to execute inscriptions in the Greek alphabet but they certainly weren’t daunted by the challenge. The Greek letters were as sharp and precise as the rest.

 

It is the grave of Mary Ann McNea (1820-1884) who was clearly a devoted and much loved servant of the Nelson family. The Nelsons were a highly scholarly ministerial family. James Nelson had been minister at Downpatrick from 1792 to l838 and kept a classical school in the town. His father, Moses Ne(i)lson, had founded the famous Rademon Academy and many of his descendants had entered the ministry. James’s son Samuel Craig Nelson joined his father as minister in Downpatick in 1835 and remained for the rest of his life until he died in 1891

 

Mary herself could have spent 50 years in the service of the family. In the nineteenth century domestic service accounted for a very large proportion of the working population. She could have been with them from a very young age and when she died they added a verse from Philemon to her memorial:

 

FAITHFUL, KIND AND TRUE,

THE NELSON FAMILY

GRATEFULLY REMEMBER HER

ουκετι ώς δουλην

αλλ’ αδελφην αγαπητην.

φιλ. 16.

(PHILEMON. 16 v.)

 

I would take the Greek to mean something like “more than a servant, a beloved brother [sister]”.

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Clearly remembered fondly and honoured by a scholarly family, the wording of their tribute in the language of the New Testament was hidden for many decades but was brought to light again on the day after the feast day of St Jerome, Eusebius Hieronymus, the person responsible for translating the Bible into Latin, and the patron saint of translators.

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Faith and Freedom 183

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‘God as mask-wearer’ and the ‘stylish Tillich’

The Autumn and Winter 2016 issue of Faith and Freedom (Volume 69 part 2, Number 183) is now available, featuring a picture of a fourteenth-century carved figure of a pilgrim in Chester Cathedral on its cover. In it leading expert on Welsh poet-priest R.S. Thomas, Professor John McEllhenney, discusses the poet’s annotations of Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology and Theology of Culture. Interpretation of Tillich also features in Plínio de Góes’ examination of the theology of ‘fashionable rebel pastor’ Jay Bakker and his Revolution Church. Jay Bakker is the son of the notorious TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker but rejected their kind of style and developed a different type of church identified as ‘hipster Christianity’. We also carry the full text of Tehmina Kazi’s keynote address to the 2016 Unitarian GA, she is the former Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy and now works for the Cork Equal and Sustainable Communities Alliance. Yvonne Craig, a retired social worker and former JP, gives some careful thought to the question to false accusations of sexual abuse in ‘Blaming, Naming, Shaming and Biblical Justice’. Katharine Parsons discusses ‘God and the Problem of Language’ and Barrie Needham unpacks the novels of Marilynne Robinson. There are also accounts from Alan Ruston and David Wykes of the events marking the 300th anniversary of the death of Dr Daniel Williams

Faith and Freedom is always very strong in its reviews and this issue has Bob Janis-Dillon on refugees and asylum, Maud Robinson on Quaker views of assisted dying, Ernest Baker on Benjamin Franklin in London, Andrew Hill on Bryan Tully’s humanist anthology, and Rosemary Arthur on Bishop John Shelby Spong as well as reviews of Marsilio Ficino, Sue Woolley’s new book, Jennifer Kavanagh’s Simplicity Made Easy and Alan Ruston’s new collection of historical biographies.

Subscribers to this issue in the UK and Ireland also receive a free copy of the published papers given at the Unitarian Theology Conference held at Cross Street Chapel, Manchester in May of this year.

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An annual subscription to Faith and Freedom costs only £15 per annum (for two issues) and is available online at  http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/subs.htm

 

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Second Banbridge NSP Congregation

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The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Banbridge has a very fine and impressive building. The congregation recently celebrated its tercentenary and this striking Victorian photograph of the exterior was republished in conjunction with the special service.

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First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Banbridge

But it is probably not widely known that nearby is the building that once housed the second Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Banbridge. Standing in Church Square as you enter the town it stands opposite the memorial to the polar explorer Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier who died in 1845. This is probably the only memorial anywhere which incorporates polar bears in its design.

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Crozier Monument

Despite its prominent location the Second Congregation is often overlooked. The Unitarian Heritage: An Architectural Survey published in 1986 is a usually a very reliable guide to church buildings in the Unitarian and Non-Subscribing Presbyterian tradition but the section on Ireland carries no mention of Second Banbridge at all. Indeed it seems to have been very largely forgotten although the size and location of the building suggests it was quite an important congregation in its day.

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The former meeting house of the Second Congregation

Dryasdust gives an account of the congregation’s history in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian (April 1995) and tells how it grew out of a dispute over the appointment of the Rev John Montgomery, a nephew of the Rev Henry Montgomery. A minority left and formed a new congregation and called the Rev David Gordon as their minister who was installed on 15th March 1848. The new building was opened sometime after that.

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Rev David Gordon

David Gordon remained until 1866, later becoming minister of Downpatrick, but he was succeeded by the Rev Richard Acland Armstrong. R.A. Armstrong ended up as a very distinguished minister of Hope Street Church in Liverpool but he arrived in Banbridge straight from College in 1866.

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Rev R.A. Armstrong in later life

Fortunately for posterity R.A. Armstrong’s son published a Memoir of his father in 1906 which included a number of family reminiscences of his time in Banbridge and this gives us a rare glimpse into the operation of the Second Congregation.

His father, the Rev George Armstrong, had been the Church of Ireland incumbent of Bangor Abbey before becoming a Unitarian and minister of Lewin’s Mead, Bristol. It was perhaps not surprising then that after education at London University and Manchester New College in 1866 Richard received a unanimous call to a congregation in Ireland. His stipend was £125 (including the regium donum) and he lodged with a Mrs Morrow, his kindly landlady who secretly supplemented his paltry allowance of tea. But he did not settle easily in Banbridge. Following the death of the Rev John Montgomery in 1867 he attempted to amalgamate the two congregations, even offering to resign if this would help. But a “Mr Walker”, possibly a leading member of the First Congregation, told him that “there was not the least good [in resigning], and that there was no chance of an amalgamation, as there was a difference of principle between the two congregations”.

He also became deeply embroiled in Ulster politics, being identified as “Papish Armstrong” by hard-line opponents. As sectarian tensions accelerated the windows of the manse were smashed by a mob following the publication of a letter by Armstrong in the Northern Whig in defence of the rights of Roman Catholics. A large mob also intended to attack the meeting house but this was protected by a detachment of police. He also courted theological controversy when answering lectures on the inspiration of the Bible by orthodox clergy with public lectures of his own. These were held in the Town Hall and proved rumbustious affairs. The first one was broken up by a mob with more threats being made against him. The second one took place but was a difficult night. His only supporter on the platform was the Rev John Orr of Comber and the chair was taken by a member of his congregation, Gilbert Mulligan. The opposing side was represented by nine clergy who insisted on having their own second chairman (a Mr Simms) on the platform. The meeting lasted for hours and R.A. Armstrong did not get home until 3.30 in the morning, exhausted and with a sore throat and a fever.

By this time he was also married, to Clara Wicksteed, the sister of Philip Henry Wicksteed, and their son had been born. In a letter to her mother Clara described the attack on the manse:

Baby and I were in bed when they passed our house, between ten and eleven, and they threw great stones at the bedroom window, smashing six panes. I did not feel frightened some way; my great fear was that we should catch cold with the broken window but we did not. I never thought before what a punishment it was to have one’s windows broken. First there is the danger of being hit by the stones (some people were), then of taking cold, then of being cut by the broken glass, then the expense of mending! Tuesday being a fair-day, a great riot was apprehended, so a regiment of soldiers was brought here, as well as still more police. There were attempts at fights between the Catholics and the Orangemen, but the soldiers dispersed them with bayonets.

Clara Armstrong also recorded:

Our Banbridge people were always kind and loyal. They admired your father, and were proud of him. As he says in one of his letters: “They are doing their best to spoil me there.” They did not always see why he wanted to fight and they would rather have peace, but if their parson wanted to fight, they would back him! ….He always thought of his Banbridge people with affection and gratitude, from the woman who washed for him and brought him presents of eggs, and whose brother once brought a sack of potatoes on his own back for a present, up to Mr Gilbert Mulligan, the chief supporter of the Meeting, and always a most kind friend. He was chairman of your father’s lecture on the Bible. Your father did not know what he was going in for, but Mr Mulligan did – and faced it.

Nowhere in the Memoir does it actually detail what Armstrong said or the issues at stake in Banbridge and in that context the last line quoted from Clara Armstrong’s letter above is quite telling. With this background it is perhaps not surprising that in February 1869 he accepted a Hibbert Trust reading fellowship and with his family left Banbridge. In their farewell address the congregation said:

Whilst we deeply regret the severance of the tie which for upwards of two years has bound you to our congregation and to our hearts, we cannot say that your voluntary resignation of the congregation has taken us by surprise, as you had not been long settled among us before we felt convinced that your talents, acquirements and refinement as a Christian minister would lead to your being invited to some higher and wider field of usefulness.

R.A. Armstrong was succeeded by the Rev John Miskimmin who arrived directly from the Unitarian Home Missionary Board and stayed until 1876 when he moved to Greyabbey.

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Rev John Miskimmon

He proved to be the last minister of Second Banbridge, the congregation subsequently closing and selling the meeting house to the Masons in 1893. The building has continued to be used as a Masonic Hall ever since and presumably it was the new owners who put a lion on top of the edifice. So the church closed quite a long time ago but when I was minister of All Souls’ Church in Belfast there was one member whose family had originally come from Banbridge in about 1920, and she certainly regarded her family as identifying themselves with the Second Congregation. But the actual closure of this church took place a very long time ago, although the building is still there to be seen, with a recumbent lion looking down on four polar bears.

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Rooftop lion

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Monument polar bear

Three Lives Remembered

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At the annual service of harvest thanksgiving at Downpatrick on Sunday, 2nd October we also launched a colour leaflet that commemorates the sacrifice of the three members of the congregation who were killed in the First World War. This has been carefully put together by Mary Stewart, the church secretary, and includes pictures of two of the men as well photographs of the various graveyards and memorials in which they are commemorated.

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Of the three who were killed one – Captain Craig Nelson – was a professional soldier from long before the war. Craig Nelson was the grandson of the minister of the church, the Rev S.C. Nelson, and had joined the Royal Irish Rifles and served in the Boer War before transferring to the Indian Army. He was an officer of the 3rd Brahman regiment and attached to the 69th Punjabis when he was killed on the western front on 25th September 1915.

Rifleman John Hayes had joined the 1st battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles at the start of the war and was killed at the battle of the Somme on 31st October 1916. Sergeant Francis McMurray served with the 7th battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was killed in France on 9th March 1916.

All three men are recorded on the church war memorial, however, the name only of Captain Nelson is inscribed on the town memorial and it seems very strange that the names of the other two were never added since they were both born and lived in Downpatrick before their war service.

At the harvest service two windows were decorated to commemorate those who served in the First World War with memorabilia being provided by members of the congregation and also including the commemorative certificates issued by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the three members who were killed. Most of the men who joined up in the locality would have served in the 36th (Ulster) Division, but in this case of those who died in the congregation one soldier (John Hayes) was with the Ulster Division, one (Craig Nelson) with the 7th (Meerut) Division of the Indian Expeditionary Force and one (Francis McMurray) was with the 16th (Irish) Division.

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John Hayes’s niece Thelma Lowry is a member of the church and she kindly provided the photograph of her uncle for the leaflet and loaned a ceramic poppy which had been part of the notable art installation at the Tower of London in 2014 – Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

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After the service with the leaflets: Rev Dr David Steers (minister), Mrs Thelma Lowry and Mrs Lorna Thompson (nieces of Private John Hayes), Miss Mary Stewart (church secretary) and Rev Dr John Nelson visiting preacher at the church harvest.

We don’t have a picture of Sergeant McMurray and would be very pleased to hear from anyone who is related to him or who has a picture of him.

The Downpatrick leaflet will also be uploaded to the Faith and Freedom Great War Project which can be seen here:

http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm

Copies of the leaflet are available in the church.

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The Warrington Academy

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On a recent visit to Warrington I realised that I had been in the town many times but had never knowingly seen the famous Academy, or what remains of it. Famously the Academy was physically moved on rollers to preserve it after road widening in the early 1980s. I hadn’t realised, however, that this careful and no doubt expensive feat of engineering had not prevented it being demolished and rebuilt with hardly any original features in the 1990s.

 

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Two plaques still stand on either side of the entrance of what is left of the Academy. One commemorates the Academy, and another which is difficult, if not impossible, to read, was deciphered for me by Luke who tells me it recalls Arthur Bennett. The wording of the plaque is recorded on the Open Plaques site (http://openplaques.org/)  as being:

A poet who had dreams and to his dreams gave life. Arthur Bennett 1862-1931 Honorary Freeman and Alderman of the Borough of Warrington Mayor 1925-1927 A founder and president of the Warrington Society, the members of which erected this tablet in recognition of his services to the town he loved.

Clearly very proud of his Warrington heritage Arthur Bennett’s poem on eighteenth-century prison reformer, humanitarian and Warrington citizen ‘John Howard’ concludes with a stanza on his friendship with Dr John Aikin, son of one the founding tutors of the Academy and brother of Anna Laetitia Barbauld:

Then to “the Doctor’s, whom he loved so well,
Past the still halls with Memory’s laurels wreathed,
The sacred “seats where Science loved to dwell
Where liberty her ardent spirit breathed”.
The day’s work tested, he would journey home
To take his simple cup of tea and creep
Up the quaint old stairs in the familiar gloom,
Content to catch four fleeting hours of sleep.

I am sure Anna Laetitia’s poems relating to the Academy are better known today, one of her earliest poems discussed its educational role:

 

The Muses here have fixed their sacred seats.

Mark where its simple front yon mansion rears,

The nursery of men for future years!

Here callow chiefs and embryo statesmen lie,

And unfledged poets short excursions try….

Here Nature opens all her secret springs,

And heaven-born Science plumes her eagle-wings.

 

The Open Plaques site also tells me there is a plaque for Joseph Priestley in Warrington which I didn’t realise. He was perhaps the most eminent of all the staff of the Warrington Academy and another subject that inspired Anna Laetitia to poetry, writing to tease Priestley after she found a mouse caught in a trap which was destined to be a part of his experiments on air. She wrote:

 

O hear a pensive prisoner’s prayer,

For liberty that sighs;

And never let thine heart be shut

Against the wretch’s cries!

 

For here forlorn and sad I sit,

Within the wiry grate;

And tremble at the approaching morn,

Which brings impending fate.

 

If e’er thy breast with freedom glowed,

And spurned a tyrant’s chain,

Let not thy strong oppressive force

A free-born mouse detain!

 

The cheerful light, the vital air,

Are blessings widely given;

Let Nature’s commoners enjoy

The common gifts of Heaven.

 

One of the things you notice when you visit Warrington is that even if the original building of the Academy has not been preserved its story is still valued in the town. An advertising hoarding promoting the town outside the Golden Square shopping centre makes use of the image of the first Academy:

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I am not sure what the date 1775 is meant to commemorate. It may be an error for the date of foundation in 1757.

The most notable feature of the modern Academy building is a large statue of Oliver Cromwell. This was put up in 1899 although I am not sure if this was the original site.

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