The Rev Eric Price, the founding editor of Faith and Freedom, was recalled and honoured at Harris Manchester College on Tuesday, 23rd June during the annual meeting of Friends and Governors.
Eric had significant ministries in Bolton and Liverpool, among other places, and was lay secretary of Manchester College for a great many years. In addition he founded and edited Faith and Freedom from its inception in 1947 to the year 1983.
At the meeting Richard Price, Eric’s son presented a portrait to the College. This had originally been presented to his father by Bank Street Chapel, Bolton and was unveiled in its new location by the Principal, Rev Dr Ralph Waller.
While making the presentation, in the course of an amusing speech, Richard Price recalled that he had been involved with Faith and Freedom from the very start, having been drafted in to stick erratum sheets in all 600 copies of the first issue printed! Later, he recalled his mother, when pregnant with his brother, threatening to give birth to twins and call them ‘Faith’ and ‘Freedom’, so all-consuming had the journal become for his father at the time!
Happily both myself and Nigel Clarke were able to be there for the occasion and Nigel took the opportunity to present to Richard a bound copy of the very first issue which his father had signed.
On a recent visit to Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral I was struck by the beauty of the place – not quite for the first time – but on a profounder level than I had experienced before. It is a building of the 1960s in every way, with a lot of the problems that would be associated with such a building, especially one that was, in the end, built quickly and on a limited budget.
The original plan had been very extravagant indeed, a massive structure that would have dwarfed the large Anglican Cathedral nearby. Sir Edwin Lutyens was brought in to provide a plan for the second biggest cathedral in the world, the model for which can still be seen in the Museum of Liverpool. I have a promotional postcard from the 1930s that shows just how big they expected it to be:
Hold it up to electric light and all is revealed:
But although the crypt was completed and remains part of the continuing cathedral the great romanesque building of Lutyens’ design could never be constructed after the war. Somewhere in the crypt there is a brick with my great grandmother’s name on, one of the thousands of faithful who made a contribution to build the northern cathedral in the 1920s and 1930s. But although I wasn’t an Anglican, in my youth it was the Church of England cathedral that played a bigger role in my life. We went there for school Founders’ Day, often a bit of a trial, especially when I was dragooned into the junior choir. I was also there for the Boys’ Brigade Liverpool battalion church parades. These I found much more enjoyable especially when I was a member of the colour party and got to process through the cathedral and sit in the choir stalls, learning along the way quite a bit about liturgy and the conduct of worship. But no visitor to the Anglican cathedral can fail to be impressed by its sheer grandeur, it is a breathtaking building.
So I didn’t go to the Metropolitan Cathedral often and when I did it was reminiscent to me of the ‘space race’, of something very modern and a bit utilitarian. The bare concrete walls didn’t help in this regard. Coming straight after Vatican II its central altar and circular design is another typically sixties design which is fine if you like that sort of thing but I have never felt that worship in the round was necessarily the best way for any group of faithful people to gather.
But if you go in the cathedral today, as I did recently, you are struck by a quiet, luminous beauty. The blue of the stained glass windows seems to fill the space with a peaceful, reflective sense. The bare walls are frequently covered by tapestries and different hangings which create interest and warmth and although, when I visited, there were a number of school parties being shown round, the atmosphere of peace and worship was never interrupted. This I think is testimony to the skill of the guides and the attentiveness of the school pupils. The circular space has one great advantage in that if you walk around you discover a truly meditative experience. Indeed I felt so enthralled that I walked round twice and would happily have continued in my perambulations if other matters had not called upon my attention.
The light seemed to flood in from the lantern on this particular sunny day and infused the building with a sense of the numinous. It made me glad that I had gone in. There is a great deal of art to view. Again much of it very redolent of the 1960s but there’s nothing wrong with that. Not all of it can appeal to everyone but some of it struck me on that day as impressive, Robert Brumby’s terracotta statue of the Virgin and Child seems to fill the corner of the Lady Chapel very appropriately, for instance.
But leaving the cathedral on this sunny day I had to go and look again at the site of Hope Street Church. This building is now long gone, just one of a number of sometimes quite grand churches that once featured on these surrounding streets, it has to be said. You can read about Hope Street Church in a previous post. But the building on the right of the picture now called the Liverpool Media Academy, right next to the Philharmonic Hall, was once the site of James Martineau’s Church. The view from outside now looks along Hope Street to the modern cathedral opened in 1967.
The Great War Project begun by Faith and Freedom is attracting a lot of positive interest and more material is being added, almost on a daily basis. Within the memorial section there soon will be added some pictures of the Cenotaph at Bury Unitarian Church which have been sent in by Neville Kenyon, many of which are reproduced here.
Neville suggests that this is the only Unitarian Cenotaph and I suspect that he must be right. Of course, Cenotaph means, literally, ‘empty tomb’ and in amongst the many old and quite extensive graveyards that exist around the country there must be a few tombs that fall into that category for one reason or another. But by Cenotaph we generally mean a freestanding public monument inspired by the Cenotaph in Whitehall, and repeated in many cities, towns and villages.
The idea for Cenotaphs came from the experience of the First World War when so many soldiers had no known grave. In such a situation there was a need for a focus of remembrance, something that could symbolise the sacrifice and loss that was felt by so many people. To this end the Whitehall Cenotaph and all those that came after it fulfilled a very special role in national consciousness. And how different such monuments are when we compare them with other memorials that were erected following wars such as the Arc de Triomphe or the Brandenburg Gate, to name just two. Unlike them there is no overt military symbolism in the Cenotaph. It is much more restrained, much more dignified.
In 1924 the author H.V. Morton described his feelings as he stood near the Cenotaph on an ordinary morning:
I look up at the Cenotaph. A parcels delivery boy riding a tricycle van takes off his worn cap. An omnibus goes by. The men lift their hats. Men passing with papers and documents under their arms, attache and despatch cases in their hands – all the business of life – bare their heads as they hurry by. Six years have made no difference here. The Cenotaph – that mass of national emotion frozen in stone – is holy to this generation. Although I have seen it so many times on that day once a year when it comes alive to an accompaniment of pomp as simple and as beautiful as church ritual, I think that I like it best just standing here in a grey morning, with its feet in flowers and ordinary folk going by, remembering.
The Bury Cenotaph is very public and very similar to the memorials that are more often municipal, regimental or governmental in origin. It commemorates the members of three congregations who served in the First World War, with the names of those who served in the Second World War being added later. These were three long-established local congregations, who amalgamated into one with a bold new meeting house in 1974.
The Cenotaph is situated in front of the church in the centre of what was the graveyard but which is now a public space. This space was originally called Library Gardens but has recently been renamed by the council with what seems a much more satisfying designation of Church Gardens. Neville tells me that on Remembrance Sunday the congregation meets at 11.00 am at the Cenotaph for the one minute silence, the Last Post is played, before the congregation goes into the church for a service of remembrance, the names of those inscribed on the memorial being read.
There is a plaque to commemorate each of the three congregations represented by the modern congregation – Chesham, Heywood and Bank Street, Bury. The Bank Street plaque – beneath the title ‘Bank Street Presbyterian Chapel Unitarian’ – has the longest list of names (I counted 40 names from the First World War) but it is by far the most weathered.
There are 23 names from the First World War on the Heywood memorial and five on the Chesham memorial.
In my possession I have a medal struck to commemorate the centenary of the Bank Street Sunday School in 1905. The medal is inscribed ‘In Remembrance from Cuthbert C. Grundy’ and it must have been given to all the Sunday School scholars at the time. It is sad to think that so many of the children who received this medal in 1905 will be amongst the long list of volunteers whose names were inscribed on the Cenotaph just a few years later.
Is it the only Unitarian Cenotaph? If you know of any other please let me know and, best of all, send a picture. The only place that I know that comes near is Ullet Road Church in Liverpool which has a memorial set in its own large and well-kept grounds. But although it is a First World War Memorial that performs the same role as a Cenotaph the design is different to that of Bury, although not dissimilar to ones found in many places around the UK.
But it would be nice to hear if anywhere else possesses a memorial in any way similar to that of Bury. Or maybe Bury is unique?
The First World War cast an enormous shadow over the past century. It had a cataclysmic effect on all aspects of society, no one was left untouched by it – homes, families, schools, factories, businesses, and, of course, churches. There are many ways in which the centenary of the Great War is being marked and most churches are spending some time over the current period reflecting on the conflict, its impact and its legacy. Faith and Freedom is establishing a special section of its website to reflect upon the conflict from the point of view of the churches and other faith groups. The website will be developed in a number of different ways. It will contain scholarly and thoughtful articles on the Great War, particularly in relation to churches and their participation in the War. The first three articles to go online are Unitarian Attitudes to the First World War, by Alan Ruston, The Centenary of the First World War and the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, by David Steers; and ‘Their sister in both senses’. The memoirs of Emma Duffin V.A.D. nurse in the First World War by Trevor Parkhill. Trevor is editor of The First World War Diaries of Emma Duffin, Belfast Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2014) and his article gives an intensely moving account of the First World War experiences in hospitals at the front of Belfast-born Unitarian Emma Duffin (a direct descendant of William Drennan, the founder of the United Irishmen and a cousin of Thomas Andrews designer of the Titanic) who volunteered to serve as a nurse and spent three harrowing years tending the wounded.
The second section will contain accounts of commemorations and acts of remembrance made during the current centenary period and readers are very much encouraged to send in reports of their events. The first example is a thoughtful and intensely moving service held at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the War. We are also seeking to record the names and details of church members who served in the First World War and we begin with a very full account of the contribution and service, with pictures, of members of the Great Meeting, Hinckley.
We also aim to build up a database of images of First World War memorials. Does your church have a memorial to its members who served in the First World War? If it does then please send a digital picture to go on the website. We are also actively seeking images and details of memorials that were placed in churches that are now closed, which may now be lost or which may have been put in a different location.
We also hope to include material – including photographs, sermons, writings, printed ephemera etc that date from the time of the War which can then be studied on our site.
We might also eventually include complete Rolls of Honour – for individual congregations and denominations. The whereabouts of the Roll of Honour relating to the churches that are now part of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches has been a matter of some discussion recently. If we had the full list of names we could add it to the site. The Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland also seems to have been begun but not completed. It would be good to see that completed and available online. With the co-operation of readers the site will be built up over time. If you would like to participate please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org To view the website go to: http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm