Illustrations of Unitarian Churches in ‘The Christian Freeman’

Robert Spears was a tireless propagandist for Unitarianism in the second half of the nineteenth century. One of his projects was the establishment in 1856 of The Christian Freeman, “a monthly journal devoted to religious, moral and social progress”. One of the novel features of this was that, from 1866, it was illustrated, at least to the extent that every issue carried an engraving of a Unitarian church or building. In January 1866 the editor promised that “during the present year our readers may expect in our pages every month one engraving at least of our largest churches.”

I have a bound collection of volumes 10 to 12 and in them most of these illustrations seem to have been produced by the same artist, although one is provided by the architect of a church (Southampton) and one other is signed ‘Macintosh’ which may be by a different engraver.

Most of the illustrations are exterior views and although Robert Spears promised “our largest churches” he didn’t stick to this and gives pictures of smaller congregations such as Pudsey, Styal or Dewsbury. Some of the churches illustrated are long gone, fallen by the way as congregations have closed or moved to newer premises or were destroyed in the blitz or by 1960s developers. But these illustrations are often very valuable because of a paucity of photographic or drawn records of the building concerned. So Matthew Henry’s Chapel in Chester lasted until the early 1960s but little survives that tells us as much about the building as Robert Spears’ engraving:

Chester Matthew Henry's Chapel Christian Freeman 1866

Glasgow’s magnificent St Vincent Street Church was demolished as recently as the 1980s but The Christian Freeman shows us how it was intended to appear:

Glasgow St Vnicent St Christian Freeman 1866

Other chapels might have survived but are still under threat, such as Newington Green Unitarian Chapel which in October 2016 was added to Historic England’s latest register of English historical buildings and sites considered to be at risk. See: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/oct/21/feminism-birthplace-old-brighton-london-zoo-aviary-historic-sites-risk-endangered-english-heritage.

Interestingly then, as now, the media made a connection between the chapel and a woman writer. In 1866 it was Anna Laetitia Barbauld in 2016 Mary Wollstonecraft:

Newington Green Christian Freeman 1866

Knutsford also was identified with a particular writer in the form of Elizabeth Gaskell:

Knutsford Christian Freeman 1866

Probably the best known of the illustrations from The Christian Freeman of 1867 is that of Madras which has been reproduced many times:

Madras Christian Freeman 1866

But many of the illustrations were later reprinted in Emily Sharpe’s Pictures of Unitarian Churches published in 1901. This included pictures “nearly all of them printed from the wood-blocks lent by Mrs Spears, having been brought out by her late husband, at intervals, through several years, in the pages of the “CHRISTIAN LIFE” [also edited by Robert Spears] and “CHRISTIAN FREEMAN”.

In fact the illustration of Matthew Henry’s Chapel in Emily Sharpe’s book is inferior to that published in The Christian Freeman and some quite striking pictures such as the Norwich Octagon do not appear in the 1901 book:

Norwich Christian Freeman 1866

Perhaps the wooden block had gone astray by 1901?

Many of the illustrations feature figures wandering nonchalantly into view. Not always quite to scale, Quality Street couples amble amiably by, and carriages and carts heave into view. The occasional street urchin appears on the scene and dogs, never on a lead, often show up as does one man on horseback:

Memorial Hall detail Christian Freeman 1866

Detail from the Memorial Hall, Manchester

Trowbridge detail Chrsitian Freeman 1866

Detail from Conigre Chapel. Trowbridge

They may not all be architecturally accurate and liberties are certainly taken with some of the views but taken together they are all a charming and valuable record of Unitarian buildings.

 

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Faith and Freedom Number 184

Hot off the presses today is the Spring and Summer 2017 (volume 70 Part 1, Number 184) issue of Faith and Freedom. It has a striking picture of an Eagle Owl taken from an engraving by Thomas Bewick’s 1797 book Land Birds on the cover.

In this new issue we are again delighted to have some really fascinating articles. These include Phillip Hewett outlining his research in pre- and post-Communist Poland for his book Racovia. He compares his experiences in Poland with those of Earl Morse Wilbur decades earlier. We are delighted to have too Johnston McMaster’s in-depth examination of  Francis Hutcheson and the Social Vision of Eighteenth-Century Radical Presbyterians and Stephen Lingwood’s timely consideration of a Theology of Unitarian Ministry. Dan C. West discusses the way faith can cross boundaries and make connections and Howard Oliver discusses The Art and Theology of Thomas Bewick.

03a Sixteenth-century parsonage

The original sixteenth-century parsonage in Raków (photo: Phillip Hewett)

Faith and Freedom is always particularly strong in its reviews section and we are delighted to once again welcome some important reviews by top writers.

With the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses in mind, Professor Ian Hazlett, leading Reformation scholar and former Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Glasgow, reviews Scott H. Hendrix’s Yale University Press book Martin Luther Visionary Reformer.  Professor David Williams reviews Yuval Noah Harari’s newest book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow and Philippe Sands’ East West Street: on the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity. Lena Cockroft reviews Dan Hotchkiss’ Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, which is a major contribution to the theory of church administration. Marcus Braybrooke, Joint President of the World Congress of Faiths, looks at Main Religions of the Modern World and the Two Forms of any Religion by Antony Fernando, and Frank Walker reviews Emmanuel Carrere’s extraordinary and controversial novel The Kingdom.

You can subscribe to Faith and Freedom online via our website:

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

 

 

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral under construction

Writing in the mid-1960s in his examination of the place of art in Liverpool (Art in a City) John Willett observes:

 

“In 1967 the new Roman Catholic cathedral will be consecrated. With its novel circular plan, like a vast upturned funnel, its windows by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens and its sculptures by William Mitchell, Frederick Gibberd’s great building quite possibly will take the breath away, and seems likely to provide for some years a religious-artistic sensation to rival Coventry.”

 

It was a striking addition to the cityscape and was described by Liverpool architect Quentin Hughes as “undoubtedly the major modern architectural attraction of the city”. At the time it was being built this maybe wasn’t so clear. In the 1960s Liverpool was undergoing a period of renewal that promised and threatened much in terms of architecture. City councillors had long been obsessed with constructing a ‘worthy’ civic centre and had identified the back of St George’s Hall for the location of this. By the 1960s this vision had taken on a grandiose form and encompassed an enormous series of buildings that would have snaked around the centre of the city. With a huge cross-shaped building impinging on St John’s Gardens behind St George’s Hall, Colin St John Wilson, the architect responsible, promised:

 

“…this is not an abstract building in space it is part of a whole texture – buildings, roads, Mersey Tunnel, Lime Street Station, with energy passing through a web of paths and creating points of focus. That’s the essence of it, to see this thing not isolated but as part of a whole traverse across the city.”

 

In the end most of this did not get built except for a ridiculous walkway at the back of the museums. But in the context of all this potential upheaval the new, defiantly modern Catholic Cathedral began to take shape. These two pictures by amateur photographers capture the process of building in the early 1960s:

 

liverpoolmcathedralconstruction02

 

As the “vast upturned funnel” began to take shape it must have been a challenging sight for passers-by. Certainly quite unlike anything else in Liverpool and a considerable contrast to every other church building in the city:

 

liverpoolmcathedralconstruction01

 

The building was completed and consecrated on 14th May 1967. In the Architectural Review of June 1967 Nicholas Taylor spoke of the new building’s “challenging relationship with Sir Giles Scott’s Catalan Gothic splendour for the Protestant ship-owners further along the ridge”. He also went on to draw a parallel with the other great post-war English cathedral of Coventry:

 

“The loosely defined image of the ‘big top’ or ‘wigwam’ will probably prove as big a success with the people in general as Spence’s Coventry, and there are already signs that it may acquire the same identity with Liverpool’s own civic image that Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City towers have with Chicago’s.

The reason is that it expresses with uncommon force one particular historical emotion: at Coventry it was the War Memorial with its symbolism of Sacrifice in the ruins and of Resurrection in the new church; at Liverpool it is the ecclesia triumphans of the Foleys and O’Reillys, a symbol of Catholic kingship riding high above the former Protestant ascendancy of merchants in the quaysides below.”

 

In some ways this analysis seems both patronising and sectarian although it is entirely understandable in the context of the times. But, in my view at least, the building expresses something more positive and is a hugely impressive spiritual space, a place worthy of pilgrimage. A rather more worthwhile legacy of the 1960s than what the city planners envisaged elsewhere.

 

At the time of its opening the council arranged for this floral decoration to adorn the roundabout in front of the Adelphi Hotel at the end of Lime Street. In the distance you can see St George’s Hall and plenty of evidence of ongoing construction work. And at the now demolished Futurist cinema they were showing Dr Zhivago:

liverpoolmcathedralfloral

I’ve written before about the Metropolitan Cathedral:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2015/06/21/liverpools-metropolitan-cathedral/

and also about Hope Street Unitarian Church which stood midway between where the two cathedrals have been built:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/the-church-on-hope-street/

The three images above were all acquired on eBay for 99p. The photograph at the top of the page is one I took from the top of the Anglican Cathedral. Hope Street Church stood where the square-shaped white building stands at the bottom of the picture on the right hand side of the main road.

Images of Rev John Watson

 

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.

jwogdengc

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’:

jwstarseries

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:

jwrotary

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:

spcdetail

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.

Grand Floral Bazaar Mossley 1911

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.

MossleyCover01

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:

MossleyFisherShort

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.

MossleyARetrospect

 

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.

MossleyChurch

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.

MossleyOpeningCeremony

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.

MossleyEntertainments

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

MossleyBackPage

Pre-Raphaelites Beauty and Rebellion

This exhibition runs at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery from 12 February to 5 June and I was glad to get the opportunity to see it. Anyone who has ever visited any of the galleries in Merseyside will have had the chance to see many of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite pictures and this exhibition brings many of them together, and more, and develops their story in the context of the wealthy patrons of the artists, many of which were Liverpool merchants.

 

It is interesting to see the paintings placed alongside the wealthy benefactors who bought or commissioned them. Frederick Leyland is described in the catalogue by Christopher Newall as exemplifying a:

 

new breed of Liverpool oligarch. Born into dire poverty (his mother hawked pies in the streets of Liverpool and was deserted by Leyland’s father, who was a shipping clerk), at a young age he was taken on as an apprentice at the Bibby Line. There, by sheer ruthless determination and with astonishing rapidity, he first became manager and designer of the steamships that formed the fleet and then in 1873 took control of the company.

 

In recent years the Speke Hall interlude of Frederick Leyland has come to the fore much more and I was pleased to see (for the first time although it is owned by the Walker Art Gallery) James McNeill Whistler’s sketch Speke Hall No 1 (1870) which shows Mrs Frances Leyland on the drive in front of Speke Hall. Also included is a painting by a lesser known artist, James Campbell (1828-93), The Courtyard at Speke Hall (1854) which was painted before the Leylands moved in but shows how it must have looked at the time, warmer and more colourful than the stark black and white over-restoration so beloved of the National Trust.

 

James Campbell also painted Waiting for Legal Advice (1857) which shows an older man accompanied by a young boy waiting to see a solicitor. The catalogue suggests the man is a “stubborn client” who sits in the ante room whilst two clerks gossip behind him. It is not the only interpretation that could be put on the look that runs across his face.

 

For me the paintings of William Holman Hunt always stand out. So we have The Scapegoat (1854-4), sent out to the wilderness to carry the sins of the congregation and standing on the salt encrusted shore of the Dead Sea, looking forlorn and fearful. Another painting from his period in the Holy Land is The Sphinx, Gizeh, looking towards the Pyramids of Sakhara (1854). It towers up like a sand blown natural feature in the desert, rich in layered colours.

 

Another fascinating painting by the same artist is The finding of the Saviour in the Temple (1862) which was owned by George Holt.

Finding the Saviour in the Temple

The finding of the Saviour in the Temple

 

Unimaginably rich in colour and detail it shows the holy family finally catching up with Jesus in the temple after realising they had left Jerusalem without him. Opposite Jesus in the picture sits a crowd of figures including a number of rabbis, representing the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Some of these are symbolically depicted in shadow while Jesus and his family stand in the light. The whole picture is replete with imagery and symbol. It is a smaller version of a painting which in 1866 claimed the most expensive fee ever paid to a living artist at that time. Such religious scenes were favourites of some of the Pre-Raphaelites although they ranged across mythology, history and other themes.

 

B. Guiness Orchard in Liverpool’s Legion of Honour (1893) describes George Holt as a member of a family that had “occupied and still occupy so great a place in Liverpool” and listed his commercial and philanthropic achievements:

 

The present George Holt, has emulated and equalled the father, University College having no more generous friend. To the Dock Estate he rendered great services. He acted as a magistrate for the borough and the county. From 1835-56 he sat in the Town Council, acting on the Library and Museum Committee, and as chairman of the Water Committee. His time and money were freely at the services of the Liberal cause in politics, while in business schemes outside his own office his enterprise and breadth of view were conspicuous, as when he joined Isaac Cooke and Adam Hodgson in establishing the Bank of Liverpool, or as when his fellow Unitarian, Swinton Boult, being anxious to form a great insurance company, turned for support to Mr Holt…[his] father arranged a partnership with young William James Lamport, son of a nonconformist minister…and the two established the firm of Lamport & Holt, shipowners and merchants, chiefly in the South American trade, which soon came to the front, and during many years has enjoyed the highest reputation alike for the extent of its operations and the unsullied honour and singular wisdom with which they are conducted.

 

Another painting owned by George Holt is Love’s Palace (1893) by John Milhuish Strudwick (1849-1937). Holt was a major collector of Strudwick’s work and this is an intriguing picture. The catalogue describes it like this:

 

The painting is an allegory of love based on a poem by the architect GF Bodley. Love is enthroned in the centre of the composition, while the three fates sit on the steps. Around them, as if on a stage, woman, knights and Amorini – the winged boys – enact love’s ups and downs.

 

The three fates are draped in dark, shroud like garments, they languidly spin or cast lots while the Amorini gambol around them. It’s a strange picture but what particularly fascinates me is that it was commissioned by George Holt. He was a genuine connoisseur and a very generous benefactor to the city but is this what really was inside his head? As he examined ship’s manifests, did his calculations for insurance, prepared his ships to sail for Buenos Aires, assembled his finances for the bank and planned the strategies for the Liberal party, was he actually lost in reverie for this imaginative picture of love and the random possibilities of fate?

 

Pre-Raphaelites 01

 

Thy return posterity shall witness, years must roll away, but then at length the splendid sight again shall greet our distant children’s eyes

Back in August I wrote about the short but significant life of Jeremiah Horrocks (1618-1641) and his connection with the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth. You can read the post here:

 

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/jeremiah-horrocks-1618-1641/

 

Jeremiah Horrocks is interesting for a variety of reasons but it is a curious fact that as a scientist he has collected memorials in at least four churches around the country, including the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth in Liverpool and Westminster Abbey.

 

As I also mentioned in my last posting on this topic there are a number of other memorials and commemorations of him in different places, all of them dating from long after he lived. One of the most recent and impressive is near the Pier Head in Liverpool. This is an exciting installation, well-sited in front of the Liver Buildings amongst the ever-growing collection of statuary and memorials that is accumulating there.

 

Horrocks 04

 

Entitled Heaven and Earth and created by Andy Plant the work was installed in 2011. The base is inscribed with the words:

 

Thy return posterity shall witness, years must roll away, but then at length the splendid sight again shall greet our distant children’s eyes

a quotation from Jeremiah Horrocks’ posthumously published book on the transit of Venus.

 

Horrocks 02

 

The work is both a sculpture and an orrery. Andy Plant (http://www.andyplant.co.uk/recent-work/) himself describes Heaven and Earth in these terms:

The sculpture has a working hand powered mechanical orrery, the position of Venus has been replaced by a copper angel version of Jeremiah and as his wings flap he orbits the other planets. Inside the large telescope there is a video animation of the life of Jeremiah by Tim Hunkin.

 

Horrocks 05

 

Unfortunately when I visited the sculpture on a crisp January afternoon this year none of these features were working. They may not have been intended to function beyond the time of the original exhibition of which the sculpture formed a part, I don’t know. But Tim Hunkin is something of a genius and it is great to think that some of his work is part of the installation. In fact you can read about how Tim Hunkin created A Short Life of Jeremiah Horrocks and see the animation on his own website here:

 

http://www.timhunkin.com/a151_sawmill%20animation.htm

 

Heaven and Earth is another exciting addition to the Liverpool waterfront, and another fitting memorial to a remarkable person.

Horrocks 01

Raising the Cross in Down

On Tuesday, 15th September the new Downpatrick High Cross Extension was opened at Down County Museum. I was pleased to be amongst the large crowd who were present to see the new premises.

The High Cross
The High Cross

 

 

The main attraction of the extension is, of course, the High Cross itself which holds centre stage in the main room. It’s quite dominant in the room and is exceptionally well lit so you can appreciate the detail in a way that just wasn’t possible when it was in its original position outside the Cathedral. Out of doors you had to take on trust the various illustrations that were said to be carved on its surface, now you can make them out and have some idea of the stories it intended to convey. In addition these are well explained in the exhibition.

 

The Cross in its new location
The Cross in its new location

 

Raising the Cross in Down “tells the story of the Downpatrick High Cross and its place in the early Christian tradition of County Down” using artefacts, reconstructions and interpretative panels. It’s a good exhibition which takes the visitor through Christian history in the locality right up to a nicely inclusive panel covering the various traditions in Downpatrick today.

 

Downpatrick's Christian Heritage
Downpatrick’s Christian Heritage

 

Elsewhere in the extension the new café will be run by the local charity Mainstay DRP. The tearoom has tremendous views across the rolling countryside. Downstairs Harvests from Land and Sea is an exhibition telling the story of farming and fishing in County Down which contains machines, tools and artefacts which will be familiar to many local people.

 

Wrought iron gate made by Hugh Magilton of Ballybranagh
Wrought iron gate made by Hugh Magilton of Ballybranagh

Another room includes the At Present Confined: Life in the Old Gaol exhibition which tells the story of many of those who were imprisoned in the gaol between 1796 and 1830. On show in here is a display of hand-made bonnets made by many schools and local groups as part of the ‘Roses from the Heart’ project, run by Tasmanian artist Christina Henri in 2013. A number of local groups took part in this project which was international in its scope and which commemorated the thousands of women and children who were transported to Australia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

 

Display of bonnets
Display of bonnets

While some of the people who were transported to Australia were hardened criminals many of them, and many of the woman, had done things which we would regard as quite trivial today. So in 1820 Jane Armstrong at the age of 16 was transported for seven years for stealing two spoons. In 1832 Mary Burns, who was born in Downpatrick, was transported for seven years on a charge of vagrancy, which today we would probably call homelessness. Quite a few women were sent away simply for vagrancy. Altogether something like 25,266 women were transported from Britain and Ireland to Australia and the artist Christina Henri has been trying to commemorate them both here and in Australia by getting people to make bonnets. Children in local schools were encouraged to make bonnets with the name of each woman on as well as the name of the ship she was transported on. Along with Canon Rogan I was very pleased to be asked to take part in a ‘blessing of the bonnets’ in the Museum at the time.

Down Museum has long been an excellent Museum but the new extension is a very impressive addition to its display that fits in well with the Museum’s care and appreciation of local history and its engagement with schools and the wider community.

 

Replica in sandstone of a medieval carving of St Patrick's hand by Claire Sampson
Replica in sandstone of a medieval carving of St Patrick’s hand by Claire Sampson

From Rational Piety to Music Hall

I wonder how many Unitarian churches have their images engraved on the reverse of a coin? I only know of one example, it is not a particularly beautiful example of the medallist’s art but it is very interesting and tells an unusual tale.

The reverse of the token
The reverse of the token

The church in question is Paradise Street Chapel in Liverpool, now long demolished, indeed the whole street has disappeared under the shopping development known today as Liverpool One. But Paradise Street was built in 1791 and was a dissenting church of some importance in Liverpool at the time. In the nineteenth century no less a person than James Martineau became the minister – a fitting appointment to a congregation that was cultured, wealthy and influential. They had built their meeting house on the grand scale, with a central cupola it was octagonal with a classical frontage and adorned with elegant stone urns along the balustrade. Martineau arrived in 1832 and established a name for himself as a preacher, teacher and philosopher linking up with other prominent figures in Liverpool and the north west including John Hamilton Thom, Charles Wicksteed, and John James Tayler.

Coinreverse01 detail
Close up of the Chapel

But partly through the changing environment around the old chapel, which had become more commercially orientated and less like an area the well-to-do might want to visit, and partly also because of the more devotional worship that Martineau introduced, the congregation felt a need to abandon their old church and build something new. Accordingly a grand gothic church was built on Hope Street and Martineau and his congregation departed to their new home, selling the old place off. (For Hope Street Church see my earlier post – the Church on Hope Street).
James Martineau and his congregation, perhaps out of financial necessity from building anew on an extravagant scale, showed little sentimentality in disposing of their old place of worship. Yet one can’t help suspecting that a man of such high-brow intellectual tastes as Martineau can hardly have approved of the new use to which the old chapel was now put. It was purchased by a man called Joseph Heath who intended to turn it into a music hall.
After the Unitarians left it in 1849 the spacious chapel, with its well-constructed gallery all built of the finest materials and to the highest standards, was converted into the Royal Colosseum Theatre and Music Hall. The pews were re-used for seating and one can see how a large chapel could easily be adapted for use as a theatre. However, Joseph Heath must have been an ingenious individual because he managed to turn Paradise Street into the first multiplex: there were twin auditoria for both a theatre and a music hall. According to The Liverpool Stage by Harold Ackroyd the theatre “presented what were described as full blooded dramatic plays for a patronage of mariners”, while the front part of the old chapel was converted into a music hall where variety performances were put on “well suited to the taste of those for whom Mr. Heath catered.”

Coinreverse01 detail tower
Detail of the tower

One can’t imagine Martineau really approving of such an undignified end to his old church but there was greater indignity to come. The Colly, as it became known, was reputedly haunted, an association encouraged by the continuing presence of the chapel’s graveyard around the building. This also presented a practical advantage to the thespians. According to Harold Ackroyd again:
…there was never any shortage of a skull during a performance of Hamlet. These were easily obtained, the artists’ dressing room, below the stage, formerly having been a grave vault, the artist had only to put his hand through an opening in the thin dividing wall, to seize hold of the grisly relic, as did Hamlet.
So it was the music hall owners who had the coin engraved with the unmistakable likeness of the Paradise Street Chapel. The Heath family owned the former chapel until about 1895 although it went through a number of refurbishments and changes of name in that time. But it remained known as the Royal Colosseum Theatre until 1875 at which time it was being run by Thomas Theodore Heath, Joseph’s son. Presumably this is the ‘T. Heath’ whose name is inscribed on the coin as the owner of the theatre. This would date the coin to the early 1870s when it functioned as an admission token for those eager for Victorian melodrama or the bawdy delights of an evening at the music hall. On the other side of the coin is a Liver bird, a belt and the name of the theatre. Some examples of the coins have a large letter ‘H’ stamped on them. I don’t know precisely what this indicated, at first I thought it was a reference to a seat or a row or an entrance but ‘H’ seems to be the only letter used in this way and it rather spoils the look of the engraving. Whatever meaning it had to the person at the theatre door this is now long forgotten.

An example of the coin with the letter 'H' stamped on it
An example of the coin with the letter ‘H’ stamped on it

By the late 1870s the theatre was said to be able hold 3,000 people, and must have been returned to a single auditorium, but at this stage in its history it was struck by a terrible tragedy. On the night of 11th October 1878, during a performance before a full house, a portion of the ceiling fell onto the pit and caused panic amongst the audience. Thirty-seven people were killed in the crush to escape and many more injured. Pictures in the Illustrated London News at the time show a building that was already extensively remodelled from the one that appears on the back of the token but it had fallen victim to the sort of tragedy that was not unknown in Victorian Britain. Following this the theatre was rebuilt, frequently renamed and continued in use up to the First World War. By then known as Kelly’s Theatre, it finally closed its doors in October 1916 and was sold to Cooper’s Ltd who used it as a warehouse for their greengrocery and restaurant business.

Coinobverse02

The whole story of Paradise Street Chapel and the Royal Colosseum Theatre was brought to a close by a German bomb during the blitz of 1941. Precisely how much of the building of 1791 had survived within the much enlarged edifice is hard to know but by then the building’s origins as a place of worship were hardly remembered. The link is maintained though by these little tokens which record a small element of theatre history and, almost by accident, help to preserve the image of a building that had a quite different history and purpose.

(This is an amended version of an article that first appeared in the ‘Inquirer’ 4 July 2015)

First editor of ‘Faith and Freedom’ honoured at Harris Manchester College

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.

Portarit of Rev Eric Price
Portarit of Rev Eric Price

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.

The Principal unveils the portrait in its new location in the library
The Principal unveils the portrait in its new location in the library

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!

Richard Price addresses those present in the library. Emeritus Editor Rev Peter and Sheila Godfrey can be seen in the corner of the shot
Richard Price addresses those present in the library. Emeritus Editor Rev Peter and Sheila Godfrey can be seen in the corner of the shot

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.

 

Richard Price with Nigel Clarke and David Steers
Richard Price with Nigel Clarke and David Steers