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.

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3 thoughts on “Postcards from All Souls’

  1. “The earliest [Unitarian] organ I have a record of is that in the old Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds where an organ was installed in 1794. Cross Street, Manchester, and Ipswich 1799 and Great Meeting, Leicester in 1800. Thereafter organs appear thick and fast. The Leicester organ was a Snetzler instrument. The organ now at Hastings is also by John Snetzler. Its original Unitarian home was at Norton in Derbyshire where the Sheffield Banker Samuel Shore had his residence. This chapel was closed in 1843 and the organ went with the minister Henry Hunt Piper to Banbury. Ten years later 1853 it was moved again to Westgate Chapel, Lewes, and in 1930 moved again to Hastings where it remains. A third Snetzler organ, the subject of Joshua Toulmin’s letter to James Yates in Glasgow, already referred to, was installed in the Union Street Unitarian Chapel in Glasgow in 1813. It was originally set up in the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew’s in St. Andrew’s Square in 1775. This organ was later built into the existing organ at Saint Vincent Street Unitarian Chapel in Glasgow. It has square draw stops and the great and swell stops are on the opposite sides to what we normally are accustomed to. To have an organ in Scotland of course in 1813 was a brave act.” [from an unpublished piece I wrote in 1971]

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  2. Hi Andrew, that’s very interesting I’d like to see the full piece. The process was much slower in Ireland. The organ in Belfast’s Second Congregation was opened on the same day as one in Dundalk. They are usually claimed as the first in Ireland, although there does appear to have been an organ in Cork in 1801. Non-Subscribers were generally the first, even quite late in the century organs could cause immense controversy in Presbyterian churches.

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