Todmorden Unitarian Church

I last visited Todmorden Church decades ago and it was in a pretty sorry state then, heavily vandalised and with no electricity, it had an air of dilapidation about it. So it was good to return in the company of some colleagues to see the church now.

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Ministers: Jo James, Bob Janis-Dillon, Jim Corrigall, David Steers, Phil Waldron in front of the chancel

One of the things you can’t miss about the church is its dominance on the landscape, it is a big church, an impressive feature of the local topography. But what I had forgotten and what in some ways it is easy to miss is the attention to detail within the building – the marble inlays, the subtle little carvings, the attractive stained glass windows, even the colours of the massive marble pillars. Partly this is because it is actually quite dark inside. The Unitarian Heritage An Architectural Heritage says it has an “under-lit interior” and blames this on the stained glass by “M. Capronnier of Brussels”. An excellent new book Chapels of England Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity by Christopher Wakeling (Historic England, 2017) describes it as the “one unmissable place of worship in Todmorden” and says “despite the clerestory windows – externally unseen – and tiny openings higher in the roof, the light levels foster a sense of religious mystery, augmented by the stained and coloured glass.” I tend to agree with the Unitarian Heritage assessment, I do find the interior a bit too dark but that is a minor quibble. It is a fine building designed by John Gibson of Westminster who also built the local town hall and the Fielden family residence.

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The church tower

Since 1994 the church has been in the care of the Historic Chapels Trust and they seem to be doing a good job, with the church being looked after by local volunteers. They have a varied programme of activities in the church including regular services plus weddings and even some recent christenings. When we visited, Joanna and Richard kindly took time out to show us round.

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Richard Butterworth (verger) and Joanna Drake (volunteer)

The church now has kitchens and toilets sensitively added to the interior which perhaps underlies what a valued resource for local people this church building is. Its history is fascinating, coming, as it did, out of the Methodist Unitarian movement founded by Joseph Cooke and building a new chapel, which still survives, in 1824. The congregation was taken under the wing of enlightened mill owner John Fielden who extinguished their debt and whose three sons built the new church as a memorial to their father, built, it was said at the time, “for the public worship of the one God the Father, and for the instruction in the simple teachings of Jesus Christ, as opposed to such traditional doctrines as those of original sin and eternal punishment”. It opened for worship in 1869 and cost around £35,000. It is the only Unitarian church that I know that has a porte cochère where the wealthy benefactors could dismount and enter the church by a side door protected from the elements. Two of the sons are buried close to the church and matching memorials to all three of them are found on the walls of the interior.

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Porte cochère

The church has what must be one of the earliest and most elaborate church fonts of any Unitarian church, it is probably in need of restoration but it still in better condition than when I last saw it.

Detail on the font

One feature of Todmorden is the repeated motif of the pelican, I am not sure why this is such a popular image here but there is a pelican in the chancel window, and two carved in the choir stalls. There is possibly also another one carved in the end of a pew (almost all the pew ends feature flowers except for this one which houses an angel and what may be another pelican).

Phoenix carving

Choir stall pelican (see note below)

It is heartening to see the clock working and to know that the peal of eight bells are still rung by local bell ringers. Todmorden was a really flourishing congregation for most of its existence and it is interesting that this large building and its congregation left such an imprint in the locality that even now worship continues within it and it provides the home for much activity. It’s good to see the gradual recovery of Todmorden Unitarian Church.

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The view up the carriage drive

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Pulpit eagle

window round

Rose Window

A 360 degree view of the interior can be seen on the church’s website:

http://360.tuc-congregation.org.uk/

Note:

A couple of people have pointed out to me that the carving in the choir stalls which I originally named as a phoenix is in fact what is known as a ‘pelican in her piety’. It is the mother pelican who – in the ancient story – feeds its own chicks (or revives them after they die) with its own blood. I had confused this story with that of the phoenix which, of course, is famous for its ability to resurrect itself. Both the phoenix and the pelican became popular within Christian iconography from early times to represent Christ, for obvious reasons. But I am happy to make that correction and rename the image in the choir stalls. The carving on the pew end looks a good deal more phoenix like, although, to be honest, the photograph I took is not as clear as it might be and I am not able to make a certain identification. It is quite plausible that there are both phoenixes and pelicans in the church, but nevertheless I have removed the references to the phoenix and given credit to the pelican. Both are actually slightly surprising images to be found in a Unitarian church of 1869. The presence of a ‘pelican in her piety’ in Todmorden is probably a unique occurrence in a Unitarian church – unless anyone else knows differently!

 

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A Vision Splendid

Congratulations to Wayne Facer on the publication of his new book A Vision Splendid. The influential life of William Jellie. A British Unitarian in New Zealand (Blackstone Editions, Toronto, Canada, 2017  – http://www.BlackstoneEditions.com). It’s an excellent study that looks at Unitarian origins in New Zealand through the work of William Jellie, an Ulster born Non-Subscribing Presbyterian who was one of the many pioneers from there who went out to establish congregations in what were then dominions of the United Kingdom.

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Wayne Facer 

The book has a striking cover, taken from a work by an unknown New Zealand artist, and is a very important addition to the study of the way Unitarianism spread around the globe and adapted to new situations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It will be reviewed in future issues of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society and Faith and Freedom.

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About the book I have written:

Wayne Facer has written an absorbing biography of a hitherto little known but nevertheless fascinating and important person. Through meticulous research in both New Zealand and the UK the author illustrates the pioneering life of this minister and educator.

Born in county Down, Ireland, in 1865 and described by his family as “Irish through and through” William followed an uncle into the Unitarian ministry. A relatively small but theologically radical denomination Unitarians placed great store on the value of an educated ministry and Jellie received an excellent education at Manchester College which moved its location from London to Oxford while he was a student there. The author draws out the influence of this education upon Jellie especially through the person of Philip Henry Wicksteed (1844-1927). Through him he developed a love of Dante and literature in general as well as a belief in politically progressive causes and the need for direct intervention in society in favour of the poor. Serving in ministries in both England and New Zealand, where a contemporary journal described him as preaching “sermons and addresses so far superior to the ordinary”, he became a key figure in the establishment of Unitarian churches and institutions in New Zealand. After retirement from the ministry he embarked upon a new career as a lecturer for the Workers’ Education Association.

We owe a great debt to the author who has traced the varied course of Jellie’s long career, bringing him vividly to life in the context of his times, his ideas and principles, his family and friendships and the institutions and organisations which he supported.

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New Zealand Ministers – William Jellie, James Chapple, and Richard Hall at the Unitarian Hall, Timaru (from the back cover of the book)

A Vision Splendid. The influential life of William Jellie. A British Unitarian in New Zealand (Blackstone Editions, Toronto, Canada, 2017, ISBN 978-0-9816402-6-6, Pages: xxv + 278)

Illustrations of Unitarian Churches in ‘The Christian Freeman’

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

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

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

Chester Matthew Henry's Chapel Christian Freeman 1866

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

Glasgow St Vnicent St Christian Freeman 1866

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

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

Newington Green Christian Freeman 1866

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

Knutsford Christian Freeman 1866

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

Madras Christian Freeman 1866

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

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

Norwich Christian Freeman 1866

Perhaps the wooden block had gone astray by 1901?

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

Memorial Hall detail Christian Freeman 1866

Detail from the Memorial Hall, Manchester

Trowbridge detail Chrsitian Freeman 1866

Detail from Conigre Chapel. Trowbridge

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

 

The Wellington Rooms Liverpool

A building that always catches your eye on Mount Pleasant is the Wellington Rooms. For years it was the Irish Centre but it was originally built by public subscription in 1815-1816 as a ballroom and a centre for the fashionable of Liverpool society to gather in. It kept this function until 1923 when it was converted into a private club called the Embassy Rooms. One can’t help imagining (or at least I can’t and I admit there is no evidence to support this notion) that this must have been a rather louche period in the building’s history. Later years saw it used as a youth club and in 1965 it became the Irish Centre which it remained until 1997. Since then the building has been abandoned and the impressive neo-classical structure designed by Edmund Aikin has become a derelict home for buddleia. I stopped as I walked by because the open letterbox gave me the chance to take a picture of the interior. There you can still see a faded and torn notice directing members to what I guess were the J.F. Kennedy Bar, the Ballroom and the Claddagh Room. Others also took the opportunity to scrutinise the view through the letterbox and it seems such a shame that a building of such style should be so neglected. According to the Liverpool Echo (9 July 2017) the Duchy of Lancaster now has a lease on the building and many online sources suggest there are plans to bring the building back into use as a Science and Technology Hub.

Edmund Aikin was a Unitarian and a member of the famous Aikin family of Warrington. His grandfather, John Aikin, was tutor and principal of the Warrington Academy. His father, also John, was a doctor and an important literary figure, as was his aunt Anna Laetitia Barbauld. I wrote about the Aikins and Warrington in an earlier post:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/the-warrington-academy/

Edmund’s life was not a long one (1780-1820) although he was influential in popularising neo-classical architecture. He did other work in Liverpool, where he eventually made his home, including the design for the building of the Royal Liverpool Institution in 1814, a centre for ‘the promotion of literature, science and the arts’ founded by William Roscoe and others. He designed a number of dissenting chapels in London, including the Gravel Pit Chapel in Hackney. This building was substantially rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1857 and eventually demolished in 1967. There is no doubt that the Wellington Rooms is his most important surviving building, it’s good to know that there currently seems to be a will to rescue the building and turn it to some positive use.

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Looking down Mount Pleasant

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Main facade

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Interior view taken through the letterbox

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Front door

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Winged angels bearing garlands

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Believed to be a device for spinning thread of some sort. One of two positioned above the side entrance.

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Built 1815-1816. Wellington Rooms. Designed by Edmund Aikin. Former Assembly Rooms.

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Capitals and roof decoration

Rev Dr Arthur Long – An Appreciation

I was very pleased to attend the memorial event for the Rev Dr Arthur Long organised by the Unitarian Christian Association and held at Luther King House, Manchester on the afternoon of Saturday, 15 July 2017. Among the speakers were Rev Alex Bradley, Rev Alan Kennedy and Adrian Long, one of Arthur’s sons. Unbelievably it is nearly 11 years since Arthur died but it was good to be able to share in such an occasion and to meet Arthur’s family. I am not alone in having been strongly influenced by Arthur’s learning and erudition in my time as a ministerial student. After his death I wrote an appreciation of him for the January 2007 issue of The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine. The Rev Andrew Brown, then the editor of The Herald, then asked for permission to republish the appreciation and it subsequently appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of that journal. In a timely coincidence I came across a copy of this issue today and was spurred on to track down the original text on my computer. I managed to find the text but not, alas, the original black and white photograph which I took of Arthur in his office when he was principal and which appeared in both The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian and The Herald at the time. The appreciation has something of an Irish focus because of the original place of publication but I would like to re-publish it now as my own tribute to an exemplary minister, scholar and teacher.

With the death of the Rev Dr Arthur Long on Saturday, 9 December [2006] our household of faith has lost its leading theologian and educator of recent times. In a long, varied and distinguished career Arthur was most closely associated with Unitarian College, Manchester where he was Principal from 1974 to 1988, and prior to that was a tutor from 1959. His role in the training of ministers cannot be overestimated and when one considers that in the whole of the twentieth century almost exactly half of all the ministers in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland were trained at the Unitarian College (UCM) and that exactly half of the ministers listed in the current NSPCI Aide Memoire were trained there we can see that Arthur’s influence was as significant in Ireland as much as in Britain.

Arthur was a son of the manse, his father being minister at the Bell Street Mission in London for many years, and also President of the General Assembly in later years. Arthur grew up in Wembley and was steeped in the traditions of his denomination. Because of his background his knowledge of the denomination, of ministers and personalities was positively encyclopaedic.

Following education at Exeter College, Oxford Arthur stayed in Oxford to train for the ministry at Manchester College, his father’s old college. His scholarly ability was clear from an early age and in his theological studies he developed a particular interest in the Bible, he always said that he found Hebrew particularly congenial. Nevertheless he was denied the Oxford BD although it has long been recognised that this was solely on theological grounds, yet he never showed any bitterness about being on the receiving end of such odium theologicum. At the same time, however, he was successful in being awarded a prestigious Hibbert Scholarship to go and study at the University of Edinburgh. Normally this would have been taken at a University abroad but this was in 1944 and such travel was clearly out of the question. His time at New College, Edinburgh was another key stage in his own development and he was always proud of having been organist at St Mark’s Church near the Castle during his time in Edinburgh.

Arthur was a rare figure in the world of theological education and ministerial training in that he not only was supremely well equipped for the job in terms of his scholarly background and accomplishments but he had also held long and successful pastoral ministries prior to becoming a college principal. It is not always the case that those who are charged with training ministers have any real experience of doing the job themselves but Arthur had this in abundance. He began his ministry in London, in 1945, at Stamford Street Chapel where he remained until 1952 when he moved to Deane Road in Bolton, adding the congregation of Horwich to his responsibilities in the 1960s. Here he exercised a traditional, urban parish ministry with large congregations of a type that has now almost disappeared within British Unitarianism and he carried out his work with devotion and great success. One dominant feature of his ministry was his enthusiasm for ecumenical work. The town of Bolton had the longest established local Council of Churches in England (founded in 1918) and for thirteen years Arthur worked as secretary to the Bolton Council of Churches. Fully immersed in the practical work of the ministry it is typical of Arthur’s modesty that he never expected to end up as a college principal and yet was supremely fitted for the job.

In 1959 he was appointed to the staff of the College and in 1963 published Faith and Understanding: Critical Essays in Christian Doctrine. This consisted of a series of essays which appeared originally in the Inquirer and which attempted to explain for the general reader a number of traditional Christian doctrines. The book was later instrumental in his appointment as an honorary lecturer at the University of Manchester where he became a member of the Faculty of Theology and lectured for over twenty years on the Christian Doctrine of God.

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Following the death of the Rev Fred Kenworthy in 1974 Arthur was appointed Principal of the College where he remained until his retirement in 1988. As Principal he oversaw the removal of the College from its home since 1905 at Summerville to Luther King House as part of what was then called the Northern Federation for Training in Ministry. There can be little doubt that only Arthur could have handled this transition so smoothly in the face of opposition from conservative evangelicals in other denominations and narrow spirits within his own church. His ecumenical experience in Bolton undoubtedly helped as well as his longstanding co-operation with academics from the other colleges and the University of Manchester. But the result was the unprecedented creation of a new federated college which brought together the United Reformed Church, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans and Unitarians in one site, a co-operative institution that continues to develop to this day and which secured the future of the Unitarian College.

Arthur’s knowledge of contemporary theology was extensive and was put to particularly good use in his 1978 Essex Hall Lecture Fifty Years of Theology 1928-1978 The Vindication of Liberalism. He was an able and ardent exponent of the liberal tradition and was able to tie Unitarian theology into the concerns of the mainstream. He always maintained a keen interest in the Bible, few people know the Bible as thoroughly as he did, and he could provide an apposite text for any occasion. He was often amused to be asked by University lecturers in the field of Biblical Studies (who were also ministers) for the suggestion of a text for a particular sermon. Just last year I had to preach a sermon for a congregation with sporting interests and asked Arthur for advice. He suggested a passage in the Book of Acts where we read of the occasion when “Peter stood up with the Eleven and was bowled by Grace!” Arthur had a tremendous sense of humour, an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes and had an especial liking for the works of Richmal Crompton. It is not widely known too that he was an expert in the history of the pantomime and when the federated college was set up at Luther King House, a large and lively institution, he particularly came into his own at the staff and students’ Christmas concerts when his knowledge and appreciation of music hall and pantomime were always put to good use by him in some item on the stage.

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Arthur maintained close relations with the Unitarian churches in Romania and Hungary and while he was Principal Hungarian-speaking students began to return to the college again. These numbers increased following the collapse of the Soviet Union and a great many of the Hungarian-speaking students who have studied at UCM have also visited Northern Ireland. The high opinion in which Arthur was always held in Romania was made clear when the Protestant Theological Faculty at Koloszvar awarded him the degree of Honorary Doctor of Theology in 1995 which he was able to go to receive in person.

In 1983-4 Arthur was made President of the General Assembly and visited Belfast during that year. Arthur maintained a close relationship with the churches in Ireland throughout his career. Partly this was through his former students but was also based on his appreciation of the principle of non-subscription, something which he felt was being replicated in the Northern Federation for Training in Ministry. In his historical lectures he always included a course on the history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, which was regularly updated following input from the students at UCM who came from Northern Ireland. His connection with Ireland might even have been closer.  In the early 1960s, when the Dublin congregation was vacant, Arthur applied for the vacancy but bad weather kept the Dublin boat from sailing and he was never able to make the journey. In 1996 Arthur visited Ireland at the invitation of the Ulster Unitarian Christian Association. He preached at All Souls’ Church, visited a number of churches and ministers, and delivered a lecture entitled Current Trends in British Unitarianism at both Holywood and Dublin. This was very well received and was subsequently published in 1997. The booklet sold out and just at the time of his death consideration was being given for the publication of a second edition.

Arthur was also a key member of the group which produced Hymns of Faith and Freedom the new hymnbook which had its own official Non-Subscribing Presbyterian imprint in 1991 and which is in use in many of our churches. Arthur had a great love of hymns and church music and compiled the very useful Index of Authors including biographical notes which appears in the hymnbook.

His knowledge and learning were also recognised by the Unitarian Historical Society of which body he was President from 1993 to 1996 and vice-President up to the time of his death. His learning is clear also in the many important articles he contributed to the Society’s Transactions in the years following his retirement from UCM. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Unitarian Christian Association of which group he became the mainstay for a number of years not least as the first editor of the Unitarian Christian Herald, which journal he established as an interesting and useful publication. Arthur was able to address all sections of opinion within contemporary British Unitarianism and was rightly held in high regard by all, but there was never any doubt as to his own place in the theological spectrum and the Unitarian Christian Association was a strong expression of this identity.

Arthur was always in demand as a preacher, congregations were always pleased to have him come to them as a visitor. In Luther King House he broke new ground when the Federation was established and he was asked to officiate at one of the weekly eucharists there. He also preached a sermon in the Chapel soon after the Federation was established, at a time when there was still a lot if uncertainty and some tension between the colleges. His address on that occasion to a congregation of theological lecturers and students for the ministry was characterised by warmth, wit, erudition, scholarship and thoughtful reflection, and was typical of him. It was the sort of contribution that helped to cement relationships within the Federation. In later years he added another string to his bow when, through the good offices of the Rev Paul Travis, Arthur was able to participate in network television broadcasts with ITV from Liverpool Cathedral.

Arthur had great affection for the church but he was aware too of the wider needs of society and gave his time to the Samaritans for many years. He will be greatly missed. In his lectures on pastoralia and homiletics he always gave a sensitive and precise description of what the role of a minister was for every type of service. In funerals his advice, based on his years of ministry in London and Bolton, was especially detailed and helpful and he used to recommend that ministers complete the service of committal with the following words:

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.

Unto thy servant grant eternal peace, O Lord. May light perpetual shine upon him.

[David Steers – The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian January 2007, The Herald Spring 2007]

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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.

Ballymoney am 03

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:

Ballymoney Plaque 05

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.

Ballymoney stone door 01

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).

Ballymoney stone door 01 detail

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

Foundation Stone 01

Foundation Stone

Front Entrance

Front entrance

Box Office 03

Paul Jones in the box office

Tablet location

Commemorative plaque

Auditorium 01

Auditorium

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Len Saunders

Update 1st August 2017.

I was very shocked and saddened to read that Len Saunders was the victim of a violent unprovoked assault in July which tragically resulted in his death at the end of the month. There are details and tributes to him in the local paper:

http://www.sthelensstar.co.uk/news/15445606.Family_of_Len_Saunders_pays_tribute_to__a_beautiful_soul_/

http://www.sthelensstar.co.uk/news/15444860._An_unsung_hero_of_St_Helens___Touching_tribute_paid_to_Len_Saunders/?ref=mrb&lp=3

http://www.sthelensstar.co.uk/news/15444390.Tributes_paid_to_friendly_performer_and_poet___39_Len_Banana__39_/?ref=mrb&lp=6

http://www.sthelensstar.co.uk/news/15443460.UPDATED__Two_youths_arrested_on_suspicion_of_murdering_St_Helens_poet_Len_Saunders/?ref=mrb&lp=2

 

There is a crowdfunding page set up to raise money to provide step free access to Lucem House Cinema in Len Saunders’ memory. The page can be accessed here:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/len-saunders?utm_id=107&utm_term=gARZbR5qD

 

 

 

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.

diet20of20torda

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”.

uhmcwithvgandstaff

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.

raarmstrong

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