Ballymoney Remonstrant Meeting-House

 

It is not often that I find myself in Ballymoney but being there I always like to have a look at what once was the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. The building is still in use although it is now almost unrecognisable as a meeting-house. In 1949 it was sold off to be the offices of the local council and continues in this use to the present day, although the office buildings have regularly been added to and enlarged ever since. I managed to get to Ballymoney twice in one day, but this was both before the offices opened and after they had closed so I was not able to do what I once did years ago, namely get inside to take a picture of probably the only surviving evidence of the original purpose of the building. Nevertheless I was still able to get a picture of this – even if only taken through the window.

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Riada House, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council

The history of the congregation is quite interesting. A fairly isolated Non-Subscribing church there must have been a New Light element within the original Presbyterian church in the town because they left and formed their own Remonstrant congregation in about 1829. They must have been a reasonably strong group as well because they built a large and handsome church. But this was not without difficulty. According to a story published in the Bible Christian at the time, the local landlord, a “Mr Cromie of Portstewart,” refused to allow his tenants to obtain stones from his quarry in order to build the church. The congregation, which initially met for worship in a grain store, sent a delegation to him to request the right to collect stone for the building. The result was an absolute refusal because “he could not conscientiously allow stone to Arians”. Mr Cromie was a member of the Church of Ireland but apparently did not place such a restriction on the local Roman Catholics or the Reformed Presbyterians who were both building new churches at this point. But he thoroughly disapproved of the Non-Subscribers. The Bible Christian observed that this was not just inconvenient for them but also a direct challenge to their existence by their landlord. By denying them stone Mr Cromie was giving:

a hint to those of his tenants who might be inclined to join the Remonstrants, that they cannot do without incurring his displeasure; and to those who have done so already, that they can only regain his forfeited displeasure by relinquishing their recently adopted connexion.

Nevertheless, the congregation was made of stern stuff. Denied access to the only source of stone in the locality they determined to build the meeting-house in brick instead, more expensive to use but not something that could be kept from them by the landlord.

There is a helpful sign outside the council office which includes a neat representation of the original façade:

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Detail from the Council information plaque

It must have been an impressive and pleasing building in its day but almost all the character has been drained away by the alterations and additions that have been made in the decades since its sale, not least by the porch/lean-to/conservatory that has been added across what once was the entrance. This little edifice now houses a small committee room but still visible in the wall is the original date stone which I managed to photograph through the smoked glass.

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Inside the porch

It contains two proof texts beloved of Non-Subscribers at the time:

“Search the Scriptures” (John 5: 39) and “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).

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The 1832 date stone

The congregation has continued to meet outside its original home ever since the sale of this building, but it is nice to know that there is a reminder of the building’s original purpose still to be found by those who look.

 

St Helens – Lucem House Cinema

I wasn’t looking for the former Unitarian Church in St Helens but stumbled across it by accident. I was glad I did because whilst it is always a shame when any church closes (and this congregation came to an end in 1998) old church buildings can sometimes be utilised in ways that are imaginative, in keeping with the original purpose and bring some social advantage to the community. All this is certainly the case with St Helens, a solid and utilitarian building that is now a cinema.

 

As I walked past my eye caught the inscription above the door proclaiming it to be the Unitarian and Free Christian Church, although it is many years since this was actually the case. In fact there are more reminders of the original function of the building despite it being well converted to other purposes. On the front wall the foundation stone is very prominent, recording the role of Anne Holt my distinguished predecessor as editor of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society – a highly regarded historian and member of the famous Liverpool ship owning family – who had inaugurated the building in 1949. Inside there is another tablet which commemorates the opening of the church in 1950 under the presidency of Elizabeth Ann Fryer.

 

The sanctuary was not large but the group of buildings were varied and clearly adapted to a number of uses. Nowadays the building is a cinema, named Lucem House, a volunteer-led social enterprise. It takes its name from the motto of the borough of St Helens, Ex Terra Lucem – ‘Out of Earth – Light’ (so I was told by Paul Jones the operations manager of the cinema) and the church itself has been nicely turned into a small cinema auditorium. In the foyer they have created an attractive box office and the whole place has a pleasant ambience.

 

Paul told me that the cinema has been in operation for over three years, the building also being let out for functions and used by a local photography club. They have a screening every week and the day I was there were looking forward to A Night to Remember starring Kenneth More. Paul Jones is an expert on the Titanic (another item of history with notable Unitarian connections) and this film certainly reflects his interests. The film was to be followed by a poetry reading by Len Saunders, the head steward and a poet and actor who has been known – so I was told – to dress up on suitable Titanic related occasions as Captain Smith or Lord Pirrie. He wasn’t in character that day but shared with me some of his poems.

 

The Unitarian Heritage (published in 1986) says the congregation was founded in 1901 and the original chapel built in 1904. I can’t locate any images of the original building but it was destroyed during the blitz of 1941 and apparently rebuilt on the same site after the war. Now, after a period of neglect, the buildings have been well restored and well adapted to another imaginative use.

Front elevation angle

St Helens Unitarian Church – now Lucem House

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Foundation Stone

Front Entrance

Front entrance

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Paul Jones in the box office

Tablet location

Commemorative plaque

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Auditorium

Ron Saunders 01

Len Saunders

 

 

Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society 2017

The April 2017 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society is now available. Annual membership costs £10 for individuals and can be arranged through the treasurer via the Unitarian Historical Society website:

http://www.unitarianhistory.org.uk/hsmembership4.html

In this issue you will find:

Francis Dávid (Dávid Ferenc, c.1520-1579) by the late Donald A. Bailey. This is an important article discussing the theological and historical significance of Francis Dávid which was sent for publication by Don just a couple of days before he died so suddenly in 2015.

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The Diet of Torda (picture: Unitarian Historical Society)

Socinians Out – Dr Williams’s Trust in the 1840s by Alan Ruston. An examination of the will and legacy of Dr Williams and the arguments over its ownership.

Daniel Williams portrait

Daniel Williams (portrait in Dr Williams’s Library)

The Centenary of the Unitarian Historical Society by David Steers. A survey of the foundation and early history of the Society adapted from one of the talks at last year’s annual meeting.

John Crosby Warren

John Crosby Warren of Nottingham and Aberdeen. First President of the Unitarian Historical Society

Note – James Martineau – a neglected source. Alan Ruston. Newspaper articles on the centenary of his birth.

Record Section – an unpublished letter of James Martineau. David Steers. A letter to the Rev James Orr of Clonmel.

New PhD Thesis at the University of Kent. Valerie Smith. Rational Dissent in England c.1770-c.1800.

Reviews:.

David Clark, Victor Grayson The Man and the Mystery, Quartet, 2016, 324 pp, ISBN 978 0 7043 7408 9. £20. (Reviewed by David Steers).

Alan Ruston, On the Side of Liberty: A Unitarian Historical Miscellany, The Lindsey Press, London, 2016, 212 pp. ISBN 978-0-85319-087-5. £9.50 plus £1.50 p&p. (Reviewed by Phillip Hewett).

Alan Seaburg, The Unitarian Pope: Brooke Herford’s Ministry in Chicago and Boston 1876-1892, Alan Seaburg, Alan Miniver Press, 162 pp, 2014, available on Amazon Kindle, price £3.83. (Reviewed by Alan Ruston).

Building the Church, The Chapels Society Journal, Volume 2, 2016., 91 pp, ISBN 978-0-9545061-5-5. (Reviewed by Andrew Hill).

Matthew Kadane, The Watchful Clothier, The Life of an Eighteenth-Century Protestant Clothier, Yale University Press, 312 pp, hardback, January 2013. ISBN 9780300169614. Price £65. (Reviewed by Alan Ruston).

David Sekers, A Lady of Cotton Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill, The History Press in association with the National Trust, 280 pp, 2013, ISBN 9780752490083. Price £9.99. (Reviewed by Alan Ruston).

 

TUHS 2017 Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘A fiery Socialist without any principles and given to mere phrases’ – V.I. Lenin

Few people can have received public notices during their lifetimes from figures as disparate as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and the Rev Alexander Gordon. But Victor Grayson did.

David Clark’s new book Victor Grayson The Man and the Mystery (essentially an expansion of his earlier work Victor Grayson Labour’s Lost Leader first published in 1985) uses this observation made by Lenin, which – with the benefit of hindsight – may be an accurate summary of Victor Grayson’s early political career.

The April 2017 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society will include a review article of David Clark’s book. It is a fascinating and unique story – a student for the Unitarian ministry with his roots in the North End Domestic Mission in Liverpool becomes converted to Socialism and finds a gift for oratory. At the age of just 26 he is selected to fight the Liberal held constituency of Colne Valley during the 1907 by-election and carries all before him.

But Grayson is also famous as the first MP to disappear in mysterious circumstances and his career followed so many strange twists and turns that he remains an object of some fascination. In the review article I have tried to do justice to David Clark’s book, the result on his part of many years of research, interviews and reflection. The subtitle of the new book – The Man and the Mystery – is an interesting contrast to its predecessor – Labour’s Lost Leader, both terms illustrating the two main areas in which Grayson’s story still remains important.

But it is also worth asking, what was Grayson’s relationship to the Unitarian movement? It seems unlikely he would ever have developed his oratorical skills without his prior training at the Unitarian Home Missionary College. It also seems unlikely he would ever have become involved in politics if he hadn’t first joined the North End Domestic Mission in Liverpool. Like all the Unitarian Missions of this type it was an institution that was concerned about and involved with the problems of the urban poor. It is significant that Grayson left the evangelical mission to which his family belonged and which according to David Clark’s book seems to have been normative for the rest of his family – in later years his mother also appears to have attended the Methodist Central Mission. The late Ian Sellers wrote an excellent article in the Transactions (vol. 20 No.1, April 1991) on J.L. Haigh, Grayson’s minister and sponsor for the ministry and the author of Sir Galahad of the Slums. But it is clear from this new book that J.L. Haigh had a high opinion of Victor Grayson and encouraged him to enter the ministry.

Similarly Alexander Gordon, as the Principal of the College, was impressed by Grayson and required him to go through the Preliminary Arts Course at Liverpool University before he could be admitted as a probationer to study for the ministry. It is curious that the minutes of the College for the three years Grayson was a student there have disappeared – believed by the late Len Smith to have been removed by the secret service in the course of an investigation in the 1920s or 1930s!  – but his references still survive and are quoted by David Clark. “A safe man” said J.L. Haigh, A “deep knowledge of the condition of the working class” said another unnamed referee. Another reference spoke of his “desire to improve the condition of his less fortunate brethren.”

Despite not passing all his exams at Liverpool Alexander Gordon was impressed by his application in the multitude of subjects he had to cope with, including Greek and Latin. David Clark quotes a long entry from Alexander Gordon’s 1904 report which begins and ends with: “[He] impresses me very favourably…[I] have no hesitation in recommending him for this”.

Although a student for three years at the Unitarian College events were to take him in a different direction. As a very radical Socialist who was excluded from the House of Commons on occasion by the Speaker, what was the reaction to his success amongst the Unitarian community? An examination of the Inquirer or Christian Life for this period might prove instructive, although one suspects that he probably moved out of the orbit of most Unitarian interest at this point.

What is certain is that he seems to have held his old College in high regard. In Unitarian to the Core. Unitarian Home Missionary College 1854-2004 Len Smith says:

“…if the College authorities were quick to forget him, his departure may not in fact have been quite so acrimonious as has been assumed. On his part, he certainly thought enough of his alma mater to contribute £10 for the Jubilee appeal in 1911, rather more than most alumni”.

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Staff and students at the Unitarian Home Missionary College c.1904. Victor Grayson stands on the back row, second from right. Principal Alexander Gordon is seated in the centre of the front row.

 

By 1911, it should be noted, he was already out of Parliament and living in some poverty. During the First World War a spell as a war reporter was followed by a career as an orator trying to drum up support for the war both in Britain and in Australia and New Zealand. After the war his activities become very murky until September 1920 when he disappears altogether.

But the Unitarian side of his life, although an interesting side line, is a little removed from the main purpose of David Clark’s book. The review article (David Clark, Victor Grayson The Man and the Mystery. Quartet Books Limited. London 2016) will appear in the April 2017 Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society.

 

 

Second Banbridge NSP Congregation

The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Banbridge has a very fine and impressive building. The congregation recently celebrated its tercentenary and this striking Victorian photograph of the exterior was republished in conjunction with the special service.

banbridge

First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Banbridge

But it is probably not widely known that nearby is the building that once housed the second Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Banbridge. Standing in Church Square as you enter the town it stands opposite the memorial to the polar explorer Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier who died in 1845. This is probably the only memorial anywhere which incorporates polar bears in its design.

croziermonument

Crozier Monument

Despite its prominent location the Second Congregation is often overlooked. The Unitarian Heritage: An Architectural Survey published in 1986 is a usually a very reliable guide to church buildings in the Unitarian and Non-Subscribing Presbyterian tradition but the section on Ireland carries no mention of Second Banbridge at all. Indeed it seems to have been very largely forgotten although the size and location of the building suggests it was quite an important congregation in its day.

second-banbridge-02

The former meeting house of the Second Congregation

Dryasdust gives an account of the congregation’s history in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian (April 1995) and tells how it grew out of a dispute over the appointment of the Rev John Montgomery, a nephew of the Rev Henry Montgomery. A minority left and formed a new congregation and called the Rev David Gordon as their minister who was installed on 15th March 1848. The new building was opened sometime after that.

rev-david-gordon

Rev David Gordon

David Gordon remained until 1866, later becoming minister of Downpatrick, but he was succeeded by the Rev Richard Acland Armstrong. R.A. Armstrong ended up as a very distinguished minister of Hope Street Church in Liverpool but he arrived in Banbridge straight from College in 1866.

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Rev R.A. Armstrong in later life

Fortunately for posterity R.A. Armstrong’s son published a Memoir of his father in 1906 which included a number of family reminiscences of his time in Banbridge and this gives us a rare glimpse into the operation of the Second Congregation.

His father, the Rev George Armstrong, had been the Church of Ireland incumbent of Bangor Abbey before becoming a Unitarian and minister of Lewin’s Mead, Bristol. It was perhaps not surprising then that after education at London University and Manchester New College in 1866 Richard received a unanimous call to a congregation in Ireland. His stipend was £125 (including the regium donum) and he lodged with a Mrs Morrow, his kindly landlady who secretly supplemented his paltry allowance of tea. But he did not settle easily in Banbridge. Following the death of the Rev John Montgomery in 1867 he attempted to amalgamate the two congregations, even offering to resign if this would help. But a “Mr Walker”, possibly a leading member of the First Congregation, told him that “there was not the least good [in resigning], and that there was no chance of an amalgamation, as there was a difference of principle between the two congregations”.

He also became deeply embroiled in Ulster politics, being identified as “Papish Armstrong” by hard-line opponents. As sectarian tensions accelerated the windows of the manse were smashed by a mob following the publication of a letter by Armstrong in the Northern Whig in defence of the rights of Roman Catholics. A large mob also intended to attack the meeting house but this was protected by a detachment of police. He also courted theological controversy when answering lectures on the inspiration of the Bible by orthodox clergy with public lectures of his own. These were held in the Town Hall and proved rumbustious affairs. The first one was broken up by a mob with more threats being made against him. The second one took place but was a difficult night. His only supporter on the platform was the Rev John Orr of Comber and the chair was taken by a member of his congregation, Gilbert Mulligan. The opposing side was represented by nine clergy who insisted on having their own second chairman (a Mr Simms) on the platform. The meeting lasted for hours and R.A. Armstrong did not get home until 3.30 in the morning, exhausted and with a sore throat and a fever.

By this time he was also married, to Clara Wicksteed, the sister of Philip Henry Wicksteed, and their son had been born. In a letter to her mother Clara described the attack on the manse:

Baby and I were in bed when they passed our house, between ten and eleven, and they threw great stones at the bedroom window, smashing six panes. I did not feel frightened some way; my great fear was that we should catch cold with the broken window but we did not. I never thought before what a punishment it was to have one’s windows broken. First there is the danger of being hit by the stones (some people were), then of taking cold, then of being cut by the broken glass, then the expense of mending! Tuesday being a fair-day, a great riot was apprehended, so a regiment of soldiers was brought here, as well as still more police. There were attempts at fights between the Catholics and the Orangemen, but the soldiers dispersed them with bayonets.

Clara Armstrong also recorded:

Our Banbridge people were always kind and loyal. They admired your father, and were proud of him. As he says in one of his letters: “They are doing their best to spoil me there.” They did not always see why he wanted to fight and they would rather have peace, but if their parson wanted to fight, they would back him! ….He always thought of his Banbridge people with affection and gratitude, from the woman who washed for him and brought him presents of eggs, and whose brother once brought a sack of potatoes on his own back for a present, up to Mr Gilbert Mulligan, the chief supporter of the Meeting, and always a most kind friend. He was chairman of your father’s lecture on the Bible. Your father did not know what he was going in for, but Mr Mulligan did – and faced it.

Nowhere in the Memoir does it actually detail what Armstrong said or the issues at stake in Banbridge and in that context the last line quoted from Clara Armstrong’s letter above is quite telling. With this background it is perhaps not surprising that in February 1869 he accepted a Hibbert Trust reading fellowship and with his family left Banbridge. In their farewell address the congregation said:

Whilst we deeply regret the severance of the tie which for upwards of two years has bound you to our congregation and to our hearts, we cannot say that your voluntary resignation of the congregation has taken us by surprise, as you had not been long settled among us before we felt convinced that your talents, acquirements and refinement as a Christian minister would lead to your being invited to some higher and wider field of usefulness.

R.A. Armstrong was succeeded by the Rev John Miskimmin who arrived directly from the Unitarian Home Missionary Board and stayed until 1876 when he moved to Greyabbey.

rev-john-miskimmon

 

Rev John Miskimmon

He proved to be the last minister of Second Banbridge, the congregation subsequently closing and selling the meeting house to the Masons in 1893. The building has continued to be used as a Masonic Hall ever since and presumably it was the new owners who put a lion on top of the edifice. So the church closed quite a long time ago but when I was minister of All Souls’ Church in Belfast there was one member whose family had originally come from Banbridge in about 1920, and she certainly regarded her family as identifying themselves with the Second Congregation. But the actual closure of this church took place a very long time ago, although the building is still there to be seen, with a recumbent lion looking down on four polar bears.

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Rooftop lion

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Monument polar bear

The Warrington Academy

 

On a recent visit to Warrington I realised that I had been in the town many times but had never knowingly seen the famous Academy, or what remains of it. Famously the Academy was physically moved on rollers to preserve it after road widening in the early 1980s. I hadn’t realised, however, that this careful and no doubt expensive feat of engineering had not prevented it being demolished and rebuilt with hardly any original features in the 1990s.

 

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Two plaques still stand on either side of the entrance of what is left of the Academy. One commemorates the Academy, and another which is difficult, if not impossible, to read, was deciphered for me by Luke who tells me it recalls Arthur Bennett. The wording of the plaque is recorded on the Open Plaques site (http://openplaques.org/)  as being:

A poet who had dreams and to his dreams gave life. Arthur Bennett 1862-1931 Honorary Freeman and Alderman of the Borough of Warrington Mayor 1925-1927 A founder and president of the Warrington Society, the members of which erected this tablet in recognition of his services to the town he loved.

Clearly very proud of his Warrington heritage Arthur Bennett’s poem on eighteenth-century prison reformer, humanitarian and Warrington citizen ‘John Howard’ concludes with a stanza on his friendship with Dr John Aikin, son of one the founding tutors of the Academy and brother of Anna Laetitia Barbauld:

Then to “the Doctor’s, whom he loved so well,
Past the still halls with Memory’s laurels wreathed,
The sacred “seats where Science loved to dwell
Where liberty her ardent spirit breathed”.
The day’s work tested, he would journey home
To take his simple cup of tea and creep
Up the quaint old stairs in the familiar gloom,
Content to catch four fleeting hours of sleep.

I am sure Anna Laetitia’s poems relating to the Academy are better known today, one of her earliest poems discussed its educational role:

 

The Muses here have fixed their sacred seats.

Mark where its simple front yon mansion rears,

The nursery of men for future years!

Here callow chiefs and embryo statesmen lie,

And unfledged poets short excursions try….

Here Nature opens all her secret springs,

And heaven-born Science plumes her eagle-wings.

 

The Open Plaques site also tells me there is a plaque for Joseph Priestley in Warrington which I didn’t realise. He was perhaps the most eminent of all the staff of the Warrington Academy and another subject that inspired Anna Laetitia to poetry, writing to tease Priestley after she found a mouse caught in a trap which was destined to be a part of his experiments on air. She wrote:

 

O hear a pensive prisoner’s prayer,

For liberty that sighs;

And never let thine heart be shut

Against the wretch’s cries!

 

For here forlorn and sad I sit,

Within the wiry grate;

And tremble at the approaching morn,

Which brings impending fate.

 

If e’er thy breast with freedom glowed,

And spurned a tyrant’s chain,

Let not thy strong oppressive force

A free-born mouse detain!

 

The cheerful light, the vital air,

Are blessings widely given;

Let Nature’s commoners enjoy

The common gifts of Heaven.

 

One of the things you notice when you visit Warrington is that even if the original building of the Academy has not been preserved its story is still valued in the town. An advertising hoarding promoting the town outside the Golden Square shopping centre makes use of the image of the first Academy:

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I am not sure what the date 1775 is meant to commemorate. It may be an error for the date of foundation in 1757.

The most notable feature of the modern Academy building is a large statue of Oliver Cromwell. This was put up in 1899 although I am not sure if this was the original site.

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What One Woman Did

In my first post on Croft Chapel I mentioned Ellen Yates whose determination to open a new chapel after Risley Chapel was taken from the congregation eventually resulted in the opening of Croft Unitarian Chapel in September 1839.

CroftVestiges

From G.E.Evans’s Vestiges of Protestant Dissent

One of the sources Ian Sellers used in his 1978 article was What One Woman Did: The Origin and Early History of Croft Unitarian Chapel. This was published in 1938 and consisted of a short article by Rev George Eyre Evans, originally published in the Inquirer on 21st July 1938, together with a few short paragraphs added by the Rev A. Cobden Smith who had been minister of Leigh.

Thanks to the kindness of Rev Andrew and Margaret Hill I have been sent a scan of this short work which highlights the work done by Ellen Yates née Urmston. She was born in Warrington in 1778 and went into domestic service at the age of nine in the home of the Rev John Aspinal, minister at Risley from 1779 and former minister at Walmsley. She remained in his service until her marriage to “farmer Yates” with whom she had ten children, six of whom outlived her.

According to G.E. Evans “Farmer Yates and Ellen his wife opened their house for divine worship on Sundays, and for nigh twelve months” the Rev E.R. Dimmock of Warrington conducted worship along with supply preachers.

This account includes a quotation from something written by the Rev Henry Fogg, sometime minister of Ormskirk and a supply preacher at Croft. (Strangely enough I have a picture of the Rev Henry Fogg but I have never seen an image of the now long vanished chapel at Ormskirk.) He gives a vivid picture of the services in her farmhouse when “in the singing of the last hymn she put the kettle on to boil for tea. We made a collection in one of her best saucers.”

As was mentioned previously she managed to collect the not insignificant sum of £500 towards the new chapel by walking to churches all over the north west on fund raising expeditions. Frequently she didn’t get home until very late at night and “On one occasion, after spending a busy and successful Saturday in Manchester, she missed her last conveyance home, but rather than not be in her accustomed place in the Sunday meeting in her own house, she resolutely determined to walk the whole distance – about eighteen miles – and reached home about two o’clock in the morning.”

Ellen Yates died in September 1850 and was buried in the chapel grave yard. Her grave and that of her husband is quite prominent. A. Cobden Smith also mentions that there was a marble tablet to her memory in the Chapel, presumably this is now long gone, but her grave can still be seen:

Ellen Yates

The grave of Ellen and Samuel Yates (Photo: Jack Steers)

 

Some more thoughts on Croft

Both The Unitarian Heritage and Ian Sellers’ article The Risley Case suggest that Croft Unitarian Chapel closed in 1959. This seems clear. However, the story does not end there. Neville Kenyon has been in touch and has sent this interesting cutting from the Manchester Evening News dated 23rd October 1964. It shows that the very active local branch of the Unitarian Young People’s League had gone into the Chapel to try and restore it and clean it up following vandalism. They organised working parties and went to the trouble of staying locally as they tried to fix the place up. It’s clear from the cutting that they hoped to see the Chapel open once again, especially since the area was earmarked for development as part of the new town. Although they must have done a lot of work and the cutting seems quite optimistic Neville doesn’t think the Chapel was ever able to open again. We know that the next step was demolition unfortunately.

Croft Chapel M.E.N. 23.10.1964

Manchester Evening News 23rd October 1964

The original Chapel from which the Unitarians were expelled in the 1830s was demolished because of the construction of the M62 motorway, although, Ian Sellers says, this “was, not, strictly speaking, necessary.” Dr Sellers suggests this was done “with an eye to the future, but a lack of interest in the past”. However, in this sense it eventually proved a successful move – the new Presbyterian/URC Chapel built in the mid-1970s was right in the middle of new housing and able to grow because of that. The old graveyard still survives and was still used by the Unitarian congregation even after their new Chapel was built. Ian Sellers mentions a number of burials recorded in the Risley register of people described as “was a Unitarian” or “was a Socinian”.

RisleyChapel01

But thinking again of the grave of the Rev Peter Holt at Croft it should really be a place of Unitarian pilgrimage. His son, the Rev Raymond V. Holt, was enormously influential, I have known many ministers who had him as a tutor and count him as an important figure in their development. Among other things he was the author of The Unitarian Contribution to Social Progress. His other son, the Rev Felix Holt, the minister at Ballymoney for over 40 years, was also a scholar but rather less well-known. As a side line to his ministry he taught classical languages to local boys in county Antrim. The late Rev Alick Cromie, a very senior and gracious minister in the Presbyterian Church, who died just a few years ago at an advanced age, told me that he had taught him Latin when he was a boy. As a joke one day he and the other scholars decided to lead a donkey up the steps into the vestibule of the Non-Subscribing manse. Apparently a donkey can be lead upstairs relatively easily but they do not like going down. The boys ran away and left their tutor to deal with the surprising presence of a large donkey in his house as best he could. Mr Holt’s response to this problem was not recorded.

Croft Unitarian Chapel

It’s many years since I last visited the graveyard of the Unitarian Chapel at Croft. The Chapel was demolished long ago and the graveyard is not easy to find but I was encouraged to re-visit it by the purchase of a rare post card of the Chapel on eBay.

That invaluable book, The Unitarian Heritage, doesn’t have a picture of the Chapel but it does carry all the main points of its history:

Croft, Lady Lane. Lancashire. 1839. Originated at Risley in 1707 from which Unitarians were expelled (Chapel there demolished 1971 – in path of M62 motorway). Closed 1959 and demolished, though graveyard survives, neatly maintained by Warrington Corporation.

But there is a rather more poignant tale to its story, well-told by the late Rev Dr Ian Sellers in the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society of 1978. He outlines the history of the Risley Chapel, seized through the courts by the Presbyterian Church in England who expelled the Unitarian congregation (or most of them), and who kept it until the M62 brought about its destruction in the early 1970s.

In 1839 the dispossessed Unitarians had built a new chapel at Croft, a remote rural area near Warrington. Much of the energy for the creation of the congregation came from the labours of one woman – Ellen Yates – a woman who organised a public demonstration against the loss of the Chapel in the village square at Risley. In the autumn of 1838 she opened her house for worship and in the company of her husband travelled the north-west on foot raising money for the new Chapel. She raised £500 in the end which was used to secure the plot, establish an endowment for the preachers, and build the Chapel, with most of the labour provided by the members. All was ready by September 1839 and on 27th of that month opening services were held with the special preachers being Rev James Martineau and Rev John Hamilton Thom.

It’s hard to date the old post card, although sometime at the start of the twentieth century would be a very reasonable guess. Most of the graves date from the nineteenth century and many of them can be seen and compared on both photographs.

Unitarian Chapel Croft

The Chapel c.1910

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The site in 2016

The Chapel was demolished in 1959 and Ian Sellers states that the site of the Chapel was sold for building. A major difference with the old photograph is that the site is now surrounded with modern housing but it may be that the Chapel site itself was either not sold or only part of it was disposed of. There is quite a large secluded area at the back of the graveyard which must have been part of the Chapel and the old photograph appears to show the Chapel very near to the graves.

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The back of the site

The graves themselves are worth looking at. They include two with inscriptions for soldiers killed in the First World War. One is for Rifleman Harold Houghton, who died from wounds received at the battle of Neuve Chappelle, 24th March 1915 aged 24. The other commemorates Corporal William Whittle of the 1st Battalion the Royal Fusiliers who died on 14th June 1918 in Aubergue Hospital aged 29.

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Whittle family grave

I remembered from my first visit the grave of the Rev Peter Holt. Most of the graves are in very good condition although this one seems to be starting to split which is a shame. Peter Holt was the first full-time minister at Croft, from 1880 to 1889, also serving as minister at Leigh (1889-1894) and Astley (1889-1927). He was the father to two other ministers – the Rev Raymond V. Holt, distinguished scholar, tutor at Manchester College, Oxford and principal of the Unitarian College, Manchester, and the Rev Felix Holt minister of Ballymoney in county Antrim.

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Grave of the Rev Peter Holt

At the time of closure the graveyard was transferred to the care of the local council. Originally in Lancashire it is now located in Cheshire. As Ian Sellers says of it (and the graveyard of Risley itself which also still survives) it is somewhere that “only the most insensitive would find unworthy of remembrance”.

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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.

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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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