An incredibly useful and interesting resource for the study of congregational histories is the Edwardian ‘Souvenir of Bazaar’. These are often overlooked and are certainly under-appreciated. Their ephemeral nature means that their survival rate is not good and they are seldom found in library catalogues yet they invariably contain a great deal of information that gives us insight into the social and recreational life of a congregation at a time that was something of a high watermark for nonconformity and frequently also contain historical information that simply might otherwise be unavailable.

So few people know, I suspect, that the souvenir issued by the Templepatrick congregation a few years before the First World War contained a history of the congregation written by the great historian Alexander Gordon. One of my own congregations at Downpatrick issued a brochure at a similar date that contained history, pictures, biographies, poems by the minister and much more, it is a treasure trove of historical material, and very rare.

I picked up this ‘Souvenir of Bazaar’ on eBay for the princely sum of £4.99 which is more than I like to pay but really can’t complain about the price. It is the Souvenir for the Grand Floral Bazaar held by Mossley Christian Church (Unitarian) from 16th to 18th November 1911.

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The cover does not inspire confidence, parts of it are very faded and there is evidence of a rusty staple peeping through. But despite that the forty page booklet is in excellent condition, it is beautifully illustrated and is replete with valuable information and images.

The colour images (nine in all) are still bright and attractive although one soon realises that they are stock images provided by the printers. The start of the ‘Retrospect’ is illustrated by what appears to be a watercolour of Windsor Castle but this detailed and well written twenty-page history of the congregation provided by the minister, the Rev H. Fisher Short, also contains a photograph of “th’owd garrett” where the congregation first met, the chapel interior and exterior, and all eight of the ministers from 1859 including the Rev Fisher Short:

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It is a fascinating and unusual history rooted as it is in the ministry of Joseph Barker who founded the ‘Christian Brethren’ after being expelled from the Methodist New Connection. He and his followers would have no other name than ‘Christian Church’ for their Chapel at Mossley and this has remained their official name ever since.

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Fisher Short was a member of a significant dynasty of Unitarian ministers in the 20th century who held a number of effective ministries himself in the north of England. This short history is testimony to his own scholarship and ability. I don’t think that any other history of the Mossley congregation has ever been published but this account of the first seventy years is very valuable indeed carrying much detail and analysis of the congregation’s development and the work done by its ministers in the local community.

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The Floral Bazaar ran over three days and aimed to raise £1,000 for the renovation of the buildings. An impressive list of patrons was assembled including many Unitarian worthies and local leaders headed by Lord Ashton of Hyde. A congregational committee of thirty-six carried out the local arrangements.

Each day had an opening ceremony with two dignitaries taking part, one acting as the chairman of the proceedings and the other as the opener. The ‘Openers’ were Charles Hawksley, Esq., C.E. (President of the B&FUA), Sir W.B. Bowring, Bart., and Francis Neilson, Esq. M.P. The ‘Chairmen’ were Lt. Col. J.W. Pollitt, V.D., J.P., J. Hall Brooks, Esq., and Rev H. Enfield Dowson, B.A. (President of the National Conference). A photograph of each gentleman is also included in the book.

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There were six stalls, namely Congregational, Sewing Society, Flower, Young Ladies’, Young Men’s and Children’s. In addition there was a Refreshment Stall, a Tea Room and a ‘Café Chantant’. One wonders quite why such a selection of opportunities for tea was thought necessary but there must have been plenty of demand. The Mossley String Band had a full programme of music on each day. Entertainments included competitions, bran tub, a weighing machine, ‘houp la’ and a shooting range, although it would be hard to keep away from DeMeglio’s nightly performances in the primary department. A member of the Magic Circle and a ‘Humorous Speciality Entertainer’ Mr DeMeglio mixed Monologues, Banjo Solos, Conjuring and Ventriloquism with ‘Papergraphy, Chapeaugraphy and Smoke Pictures’. Chapeaugraphy is probably not as exciting as it sounds and is defined as “the art of taking a ring-shaped piece of felt to manipulate it to look like various types of hats”. But still it must have been a good show.

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But for anyone with an interest in history a little book like this pays dividends and offers many avenues for further research.

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