‘Come away, make no delay’

The 2016 Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society are now out. If you are not already on the mailing list you can join the Unitarian Historical Society via the treasurer. Details of how to join (along with a great deal more) can be found on the UHS website: http://www.unitarianhistory.org.uk/hsmembership4.html

 

This year’s Transactions include:

 

Bells and Bell-Ringing in Unitarian Chapels

Leonard Smith                                                                                                                       

 

An Inventory of Unitarian Bell Locations

Leonard Smith

 

Selling Manchester College: 1949 and the aftermath

Alan Ruston

 

Harriet Martineau and ‘safety’ in the after-life

John Warren

 

As well as reviews of

 

Free Trade’s First Missionary Sir John Bowring in Europe and Asia, Philip Bowring, Hong Kong University Press, 2014, pp. 262, with portraits in colour plus 18 pages of index. Hardback. ISBN 978-988-8208-72-2. Price £33.

 

Children of the Same God: The Historical Relationship Between Unitarianism, Judaism, and Islam, Susan J. Ritchie, Skinner House Books, Boston, 2014, pp. I-xx, 106. ISBN 978-1-55896-725-0. Price $14 US.

 

In these Times, Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars 1793-1815, Jenny Uglow, 2014, London Faber & Faber, pp. 641 plus 98 pages of notes and index. ISBN 978-0571-26952-5. Price £25.

 

The Dissenters Volume 3, The Crisis and Conscience of Nonconformist, Michael R. Watts, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 493. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-19-822969-8. Price £85.

 

The Spirit of Dissent: A Commemoration of the Great Ejectment of 1662, Janet Wootton, (ed.), Institute of Theological Partnerships Publishing [ITPP], 2015, pp. 210. ISBN: 978-1-908532-04-6. Price £10.

 

Willaston School Nantwich. Later St Joseph’s and Elim Bible College, Andrew Lamberton (ed.), Willaston and District History Group, Chester, 2015, pp. 144. ISBN 978-0-949001-56-6. Price £11.95. Copies of the book can be ordered from the Willaston and District History Group.

 

From Somerset to the Pyrenees in the steps of William Arthur Jones, Geologist and Antiquary, David Rabson. Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (SANHS). pp. 108. Paperback. ISBN 978 0 902152 28 1. Price £14.95 plus £3.99 post and packing from SANHS.

 

TUHS Cover 2016

 

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Pictures of Harvest Festivals

Pictures of Harvest Festivals are amongst the most frequent early survivors of photographs of church or chapel interiors. The modern Harvest Festival, as it is known in churches today, was really invented by the Rev Robert Hawker, vicar of Morwenstow in Cornwall, in the 1840s. He was as colourful and eccentric as they come but devised the notion of a service in which the produce of the fields was brought into the church and used as decoration as an act of thanksgiving. The idea of the service quickly caught on and became a big part of the year for most churches, whether urban or rural. Harvest Festivals became and remain very popular with Unitarians, it would be interesting to study when and how they began to be incorporated into the cycle of services.

 

I don’t have any information to hand as to how harvest services spread and became popular but I see that in 1881, for instance, Alexander Gordon introduced the first Harvest Festival service to the First Presbyterian, Rosemary Street congregation in Belfast. This must be quite late, I would imagine. Was that something he had previously done over the preceding twenty years at Norwich, Hope Street, Liverpool, or Aberdeen? It would be an interesting avenue to pursue.

 

With the gradual development of photography as a medium, pictures were taken of churches and chapels. However, the difficulty – for all except the most skilled photographers – of taking good interior shots, and also, perhaps, a reluctance to take a picture of a scene that was so familiar as to be seen as hardly worth recording means that early shots of interiors of chapels and meetings houses are not that common. This seems to change when it comes to Harvest Festivals and a number of pictures that I have of now closed churches were taken to show off the harvest decoration that had been thoughtfully and faithfully put there by some parishioners.

 

In the recent posts about Nantwich Unitarian Chapel I asked if anyone had any photographs of the interior. Andrew Lamberton has again found a fascinating image. He has sent me this picture of the area around the organ decorated for harvest. There is no date on the picture and it is very difficult to be at all precise although I would guess it was taken probably in the first decade of the twentieth century.

 

I gather the organ was installed in the 1870s so the picture shows a decorated scene around the organ sometime after that date. As I have mentioned in previous posts the chapel of 1725-26 was rebuilt and ‘turned’ in 1846-49 and this picture would appear to show the area on the plan between the windows and marked as ‘former site of Pulpit’ in Christopher Stell’s Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in the North of England:

 

Inventory Nantwich
Plan from Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in the North of England

 

It’s hard to make out too much detail in the photograph but it confirms the description also found in Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in the North of England (page 28) that the pews which incorporated original features from the 1720s were laid out in tiers:

“Seating: against E and W walls, two tiers of pews, partly reconstructed, include much early 18th-century fielded panelling, fronts renewed. The centre pews also incorporate original material.”

It is not an easy thing to take a picture of what is a dark wood-panelled interior while including the main source of light from two large windows. The light floods in through the window and the dark areas remain dark. But for all its limitations we have in this print a rare and useful image of a long forgotten building.

Organ Harvest Festival
(Photo: Andrew Lamberton and Nantwich Museum Archives)

Nantwich Unitarian Chapel

Willaston School Nantwich was created through the will of Philip Barker who lived at the Grove, a house originally built by his brother in 1837. It’s clear also that Philip Barker and his brothers were the main supporters of the Unitarian Chapel, their vision – and financial contribution – seems to have been what maintained what was otherwise quite a weak cause.

 

Nantwich 1950s

The chapel and associated buildings, probably dating from the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Andrew Lamberton

 

I found myself in Nantwich once, almost by accident, and carried out an ineffective and inevitably fruitless search for anything left of the Chapel. If I had checked The Unitarian Heritage book first I would have known that it was long demolished (in 1969), eventually meeting, it would appear, quite a sad end. However, the town of Nantwich is fortunate in having a very active History Group (which published Willaston School Nantwich – see the two previous posts) and through the kind help of Andrew Lamberton – who supplied me with a number of fascinating images and other information –  I’ve been able to piece together something of the history of the congregation that was once served by Joseph Priestley.

 

The congregation dated from the ejection and registered a former malt-kiln on Pepper Street as a meeting house in 1689. Between 1725 and 1726 they built the Chapel on Hospital Street.

 

The lively painting of the interior on this page was painted in 1942 by George Hooper as part of the ‘Recording Britain’ series of images, held in the V & A which describes the scheme in the following way:

The ‘Recording Britain’ collection of topographical watercolours and drawings [was] made in the early 1940s during the Second World War. In 1940 the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime, part of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, launched a scheme to employ artists to record the home front in Britain, funded by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. It ran until 1943 and some of the country’s finest watercolour painters, such as John Piper, Sir William Russell Flint and Rowland Hilder, were commissioned to make paintings and drawings of buildings, scenes, and places which captured a sense of national identity. Their subjects were typically English: market towns and villages, churches and country estates, rural landscapes and industries, rivers and wild places, monuments and ruins. 

 

It’s an interesting choice of subject and shows the pulpit with memorials to Joseph Priestley and Philip Barker on either side. You probably wouldn’t guess from the painting but the interior had been completely re-ordered. The chapel had been turned through 180 degrees and the pulpit placed on a false wall with a vestibule and ancillary rooms located behind it. Andrew Lamberton has supplied me with this plan of the interior of the remodelled chapel (from the Cheshire Record Office):

 

Nantwich plan

Plan of the interior c.1850 (Cheshire Record Office)

Strangely this plan does not show the pulpit which would have been in the centre of the wall on the right hand side of the drawing as we look at it. Opposite it is an area described as ‘orchestra’ on the plan. Is this meant to imply some instrumental accompaniment for hymns or would it be the place for the choir? Philip Barker’s pew can be seen in the top left hand corner.

 

The major repairs that resulted in the re-ordering of the interior took place in 1846-49 according to Christoper Stell’s Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in the North of England (1994). His plan of the interior can be compared with the one above. By 1850, however, it was not a large congregation as this subscription list, also supplied by Andrew Lamberton from the Cheshire Record Office, shows

 

Nantwich subscribers

Subscribers List 1850 (Cheshire Record Office)

The chapel was clearly very dependent on the Barker family and the Rev J Morley Mills, minister at the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth centuries, recorded that it was known in those days as “Mr Barker’s Chapel”. By the time of the Second World War it was clearly at a very low ebb. Surviving photographs show the building in a very sorry state.

In 1896 a schoolroom had been built right in front of the chapel. This obscured the distinctive outline of the frontage with the Dutch style gables. However, Christopher Stell suggests this design may not have been original and could have been added in a rebuilding of 1870. Either way the Victorian schoolroom obscured the look of the chapel:

Nantwich 1960s

The chapel probably in the 1960s. Photo from Andrew Lamberton

Curiously The Unitarian Heritage carries a photograph of Nantwich chapel taken, presumably, after the school house had been demolished and showing the frontage as it had been built:

Nantwich UH

From The Unitarian Heritage

It seems a reasonable assumption to make that this photograph was taken at the start of the demolition process, after the Victorian school house had been taken down. However, if you compare this photograph and the previous one which dates from the 1960s it is clear that the two long windows are both intact and fully glazed and the stone work and frames around the window are no longer painted. Could this photograph actually date from a different period?

 

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has any more information and any additional photographs of the chapel, especially of the interior.

 

Andrew Lamberton has also sent me this newspaper cutting taken form the Nantwich Chronicle in about 1966 and indicating the sad end the chapel faced:

Nantwich Chronicle

From the Nantwich Chronicle c.1966

It is a shame that such a an unusual and interesting building was lost to the locality, one that had been thought significant enough to record for posterity during the  darkest years of the Second World War.

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The Presbyterian Unitarian Chapel, Nantwich; Recording Britain; Chapel, Hospital Street, Nantwich. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London