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.

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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Record Section – an unpublished letter of James Martineau.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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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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Siegfried Wedgwood Herford (1891-1916)

In my previous post on Platt Chapel (https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/platt-chapel-rusholme/)  I asked what happened to the ancient silver communion plate that belonged to the chapel and included a silver porringer dated to 1641. Both Len Smith and Ann Peart tell me that they think this was deposited in the Treasury at York Minster, which is very encouraging to know.

 

Len also tells me that his record of the clapper falling from the bell cote as the bell was rung for worship one night happened in his presence. In those days the chapel was used as a placement for students and it was during his time as a student at the Unitarian College that the old bell finally lost its clapper, narrowly missing the heads of those arriving for worship.

 

The bell, without its clapper, still hangs above the chapel, so far as I know. It is not clear what happened to the many memorials that were situated in the chapel, including Worsley family hatchments. Part of the chapel was separated to form what was known as the Worsley Chapel and here some of that family had been buried. This was later screened off and must still be there, possibly still with memorials but certainly complete with tombs.

 

Another piece of information which I received from Len is entirely new to me. Edwin Swindells’ history of 1959 mentions the unveiling of a memorial to a chapel member who was killed in the First World War in 1919. The memorial took the form of a stained glass window and he records it as follows:

 

In 1919, the memorial window to the late Lieut. Siegfried Herford, only son of Professor and Mrs. C. H. Herford, who was killed in the war, was placed in the chapel by some of his friends.

 

Len Smith has sent me a picture of this very fine window, taken when it was still in the chapel but which, he tells me, is now at the Eskdale Outward Bound Centre:

Memorial window in Platt Chapel (Photo: Len Smith)
Memorial window in Platt Chapel (Photo: Len Smith)

 

The window includes the inscription:‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help’, Psalm 121:1

 

The Herford family were very prominent Unitarians in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A number of them were ministers and many of them were educationalists or academics of very great achievement.

 

“Professor and Mrs. C. H. Herford” were Charles Harold Herford (who has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography) and his wife Marie (née Betge). C.H. Herford was a highly respected literary scholar and in the course of his distinguished academic career was professor of English Literature at Manchester University from 1901 to 1921. In this time he might have been expected to attend Cross Street Chapel where his family had many connections and his maternal grandfather (John Gooch Robberds) had been minister. However, they seem to have had a connection with Platt Chapel and following the death of their only son in France in January 1916 a memorial window was erected in Platt Chapel in his memory.

 

Edwin Swindells describes Siegfried Herford as Lieutenant but this seems to be a mistake. Although he was a member of the Manchester University Officer Training Corps from 1909 to 1913 and  applied for a commission at the outbreak of war eventually he enlisted in  the 24th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Sportsmen’s Battalion) in February 1915 and was sent to France soon after where he was killed at Bethune on 28th January 1916.

 

Much of this detail comes from the Manchester University Roll of Honour (http://www.ww1.manchester.ac.uk/roll-of-honour/) where he features and which also notes that he graduated from Manchester in 1912 with a first class BSc before going on to complete a thesis for his MSc which was never awarded following the onset of the war. This is a very useful site, although not free of error, it mentions the memorial window as being “believed to have been rescued from a chapel in Didsbury that was demolished,” but it does have some good detail about his German background (which is claimed on some websites as being the reason for him not being commissioned) – he had a German mother and spent part of his education in Germany. It may have been here that he developed his love of mountains and climbing which was an area in which he came to excel in his short life.

 

He was a very notable person in climbing circles and despite being killed at the age of just 24 has a degree of fame in those circles that has lasted to this day. The short biography of him on the site of the Mountain Heritage Trust describes him as being “widely credited with being the first rock-climber in the ‘modern’ twentieth century idiom (he is celebrated for the ascent of the first ever ‘Hard Very Severe’ rock climb: Scafell’s Central Buttress)” and any internet search throws up dramatic photographs of him perched on the top of ledges or ridges or in the company of such luminaries as George Mallory. He has been the subject of films and a full length biography by Keith Treacher (Siegfried Herford: An Edwardian Rock-Climber) was published in 2000.

 

He was buried in the Brown’s Road Military Cemetery, Festubert, Pas de Calais, France (http://www.everymanremembered.org/profiles/soldier/188954/) but was included on the University of Manchester War Memorial in the main quadrangle, the bronze Fell and Rock Climbing Club memorial to those of its members killed in the First World War and situated on the summit of Great Gable in the Lake District, and some of his friends paid for the stained glass window depicting him climbing which was unveiled in Platt Chapel in 1919 and later moved to the Eskdale Outward Bound Centre.

 

How it came to be moved from Platt Chapel is detailed in a short article by Muriel Files in the 1974 (No 64 Volume XXII No II) issue of ‘The Fell and Rock Journal’:

 

The existence of the window came to the notice of the committee after Siegfried Herford’s sister, Mrs. Braunholtz, wrote to the Secretary about her anxiety as to its future because she had heard that Platt (Unitarian) Chapel in Manchester, where the window is situated, was threatened with demolition…In fact, there proved to be no immediate threat to the window although the chapel is indeed no longer needed by the Unitarian Church and the Trustees are seeking a suitable purchaser.

 

At the time the intention seemed to be to move the window to UCM, although this clearly never happened. Muriel Files goes on to say something more about the window:

 

The window was given in memory of Siegfried Herford by C. E. Montague of the Guardian, known to some mountaineers for his essay ‘In Hanging Garden Gully’, surely one of the most entertaining climbing tales ever written. Of the figure representing her brother Mrs. Braunholtz writes: ‘It was based on a photograph taken by a fellow climber and is a very good likeness of my brother, even to the shock of fair hair described by Geoffrey Winthrop Young. The window makes his face look a little more bony than it actually did—after all he was only 24 and still had a boyish look’.

 

We will add the photograph of the memorial window in Platt Chapel depicting Siegfried Herford to the Faith and Freedom Great War Project (http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm).

(Top photograph on this page, Scafell Pike, Wikimedia Commons)

Platt Chapel, Rusholme

I bought this photograph on eBay a few years ago. I paid more for it than I like to do but it is quite a rare photograph of the old Platt Chapel in Rusholme, south Manchester. I bought it along with a picture of the ‘Scotch Presbyterian Church, Grosvenor Square’ also in Manchester to which I will return in the next post.

The photograph of Platt Chapel is interesting because it appears to have been taken by a professional. In a similar way to the Grosvenor Square photograph it is mounted on a card with its title printed below along with a reference number. It is probably some kind of photographer’s sample, perhaps one of a set of images available for use by purchasers for use on a cabinet card or carte de visite. Often these types of cards carried portraits of individuals or family groups, but other views, including views of churches, were also popular.

What is particularly interesting about this picture is that it shows the chapel of 1791 which was substantially rebuilt in 1874-76. This dates the photograph to before 1876, probably to before 1874 in fact. A big help towards an accurate dating might be the poster pasted up on the chapel wall. Victorians could be no respecters of property when it came to fly-posting and this one has been stuck up on a corner of the wall where the remnants of other posters can be detected. If it were an advertisement for a show or some other event then it might be very useful to us for dating the picture but, alas, it doesn’t give that much information. It appears to be a notice from a grocer or some other supplier. The largest word that can be made out is ‘sugar’, a bit above that is the word ‘reduction’ but nothing else is really visible.

Platt Chapel 03

The poster on the wall of the chapel

 

The congregation had its roots in a nearby chapel of ease which they managed to hold on to after 1662 under the patronage of the Birch family until 1697. Two years later they acquired the site at Platt and built a chapel in the same year. A second chapel was built in 1790-1 which is the building as shown in the photograph. The modern building is substantially the same but was extensively re-modelled over two years between 1874 and 1876. It was given a red brick exterior, the doors and windows were changed, an apse was added and a much steeper slate roof replaced the old one. Edwin Swindells in The History of Platt Chapel (1949) describes this period of rebuilding like this:

At the commencement of his long and faithful service, Mr. Poynting was faced with a trying difficulty. The Chapel building, although not very old, had got into a very bad state of repair, and it was found that considerable reconstruction would have to be carried out. This meant that for about two years the chapel was not available for services, and these had to be held in the newly erected school at Portland Grove, Fallowfield. The alterations which were completed in 1876, included the removal of the vestry from the north end to its present position, and the building of the small apse in its place. The chapel was re-roofed and the old oak straight backed pews replaced by the present pews, while a new pulpit was also provided. The original doors faced Wilmslow Road, and these were built up and the present South entrance substituted, with the provision of the vestibule screen as it is now. The heating arrangements were also brought up to date about this time. In spite of such an inconvenient disturbance, Mr. Poynting quickly settled down to a life devoted to the service of his congregation and the wider church, ably supported by his young wife whom he married in 1872, and who proved an ideal helpmeet in all respects. In those days Rusholme and Fallowfield still included large areas which were decidedly rural, and the work entailed in the mixed community presented its own peculiar problems. The project so dear to his heart of establishing a flourishing Sunday School, did not prove easy of attainment at first, and the first attempt was not a great success. However, Mr. Poynting was not the man to be easily discouraged, and a little later a fresh beginning was made and carried through to fruition. His interest in the young people was not confined to his own chapel, and he took a great interest always in the district Sunday school federation. Mr. Poynting was never a preacher of extreme views in theology, his knowledge of, and love for the New Testament was deep and sincere. On its teaching he founded the message he felt given to preach. It followed that his Unitarianism was neither negative nor aggressive, and the present writer well remembers how his name was respected among members of other denominations in Rusholme in the closing years of the nineteenth century.

A brick bell cote was constructed to house the bell which dated back to 1718. In the 2016 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society Len Smith traces the history of the Platt Chapel bell cast by Abraham Rudhall I of Gloucester and inscribed with ‘Come away make no delay’, the same phrase found on the bell in Gateacre Chapel which was made by his son Abraham Rudhall II. Len also records:

The clapper fell to the ground c.1959/60 while the bell was being rung for an evening service, narrowly missing worshippers approaching the chapel door.

The congregation was fortunate to be supported by the Worsley family in nearby Platt Hall who gave the land on which the chapel was built. Of puritan and Parliamentarian stock from the era of Cromwell they continued to support the chapel until 1830 when Thomas Carrill Worsley joined the Church of England and later built Holy Trinity, Platt.

All this can be read in Edwin Swindells’ excellent, although probably long-forgotten, little history of the chapel. He also details the contributions of a succession of ministers in the nineteenth century – Rev William Whitelegge, Rev Samuel Alfred Steinthal and Rev Charles Thomas Poynting – who created a very effective and flourishing ‘institutional church’ with day schools, Sunday schools, Dorcas society, Temperance Guild, social evenings, lantern lectures, debates etc., as well as a “Goose Club” which had a turnover of £100 per year in the late nineteenth century. Was this to enable members to buy a goose for Christmas I wonder?  S.A. Stenthal and the chapel also played a part in the extension of the franchise to women. In The History of Platt Chapel it says:

Anti-slavery found in him a warm advocate, and he was also one of the very early pioneers of Women’s Suffrage. It was during his years as minister at Platt Chapel that this truly remarkable man carried out some of his most valuable work, in these and other directions. In conjunction with John Stuart Mill, Cobden, Jacob Bright and others, what was probably the earliest society with the object of securing votes for women, was formed at a meeting held at Mr. Steinthal’s house. A story is told of the way in which he and Miss Becker were indirectly responsible for an amendment in the House of Commons, which secured the municipal franchise for women. In 1869, during the passage of a private bill through the House, Mr. Steinthal scribbled an amendment on the back of an envelope, and sent it in to Mr. Jacob Bright. The object was simply to raise a discussion on the disabilities of women ratepayers in corporate boroughs, but to the surprise of everybody the amendment was carried with very little opposition, in the small hours of the morning. A National Association for the Promotion of Social Science was launched in 1857, and for many years Mr. Steinthal sat on its Council. The cause of Temperance was yet another sphere which enlisted his very active sympathy, and he was for many years a member of the executive of the United Kingdom Alliance, and during his time at Platt Chapel he joined the board of management of the Manchester Children’s Hospital and served until 1898.

The twentieth century eventually brought social and demographic change which the chapel couldn’t keep up with and it closed in 1973. For many years it was the home of a photography club which was the case on the one occasion I was inside the building. By then there was nothing to identify the interior as that of a religious place of worship and no sign of the monuments listed in Christopher Stell’s Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in the North of England. I also can’t help but wonder what happened to the silver communion plate which included a two-handled chalice dating from as long ago as 1641. These were sold in 1874 but restored to the trustees in 1895:

on the one condition [wrote G.E. Evans]  that they are to remain the property of the Trustees, who receive them on the understanding that they are never to be again alienated by sale or otherwise.

George Eyre Evans was very impressed by this chalice and included an illustration in Vestiges of Protestant Dissent:

Platt Chapel chalice

Chalice, silver, porringer shape 2 3/8 inches tall, 4 1/2 inches diameter, bold ornamentation, G.E. Evans

More recently the chapel has been on the market as a potential dwelling house with an asking price of £350,000. Google Street View provides a sorry picture of how it looks today:

Platt Chapel Google Maps Streetview

Google Street View

 

Platt Chapel 02

The original photograph on its card

 

 

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