Slaves of Fashion New Works by the Singh Twins

I first met the Singh Twins many years ago when I was studying at the University of Manchester and took a course entitled ‘Religion and the Arts’. Amongst the participants were the Singh Twins and it was clear then that they were destined for higher things. It was an excellent inter-disciplinary course that engaged very directly with art in religious contexts and covered such areas as Christian and Islamic architecture, Greek Art, Buddhist Gandhara sculpture, Russian Orthodox icons and much more. It was wide ranging and took the students out of the lecture room and into religious buildings and other places. It had a great influence on me and I suspect it must have had an influence on the Singh Twins who are now such established artists.

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Ancient Roots: The Wonder that was India

 

Details from Ancient Roots

 

I was glad, by chance, to get the chance to see this exhibition which is both beautiful and challenging at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. It is a very impressive exhibition. The painterly skills of the twins are well displayed in these new works and the display of eleven of the major pieces on digital lightboxes enhances the effect tremendously. Even these photographs snapped on my camera phone help to show something of the power of their art. Each of these works depicts an historical figure (ten of them women) who wear a different textile. Around the central figure are depicted aspects of the process of production and trade of that fabric.

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Chintz: The Price of Luxury. Depicting Queen Catherine of Braganza who married Charles II in 1662 bringing Bombay (Mumbai) as part of her dowry

 

The exhibition explores the history of Indian textiles in the context of empire, enslavement and exploitation and the way high fashion has always been intimately bound up with unequal terms of trade between western society and the lands where most of these textiles are produced.

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Indiennes: The Extended Triangle. Depicting the slave trade

 

They have such an eye for detail and incorporate in each of the eleven major works vignettes from the history of the interaction between luxury consumption, trade, and imperialism. It asks so many questions about ethical trade and the history of consumerism and Liverpool is such an appropriate place for this appear. The image at the top of this page is a detail taken from their work ‘Cotton: Threads of Change’, a raw material produced originally in India and central to the economic development of Liverpool as a port as part of the ‘Atlantic Trade’.

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Cotton: Threads of Change

 

The bottom of ‘Cotton’ shows an imagined historical skyline of Liverpool which begins symbolically in China and Egypt and ends in New York. Some of the buildings of Liverpool fly the Confederate flag, a pointed but accurate assertion for a city that was so tied to slavery for so long and which in many cases supported the South in the American Civil War. A grand ball was held by the citizenry in St George’s Hall to support the Confederacy.

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Calico: Merchant Thieves (detail)

 

Some of the new paintings feature Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump and in one room is a large collection of objects from around the world from the Museum’s collection which shed further light on the history and issues bound up in this interaction between fashion, empire and trade. There are also preparatory works in the show and time-lapse films of the works being created.

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Silks and Quilts: Exploration and Exploitation. Queen Isabella of Castile

 

It is an incredibly impressive and thought provoking exhibition which I am glad I got to see. It is in Liverpool until 20th May 2018 after which it will move to Wolverhampton Art Gallery from 21st July to 16th September.

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ST Silks and Quilts detail addition

Details from Silks and Quilts

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Chapels of England, Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity

Chapels of England, Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity, Christopher Wakeling, Historic England, 2017, hardback, 312 pages, ISBN 978-1-84802-032-0, £50

Review

Nonconformist chapels, churches and meeting-houses have attracted an increasing amount of interest in recent years. They are an important part of religious and cultural history and remain a notable part of the topography of cities, towns and rural areas. The foundation of the Chapels Society has been a major contributor to this growth in interest as well as a great variety of publications that tell the story from denominational, local history and architectural points of view. Christopher Stell’s substantial four-volume Inventory of Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-Houses in England provided an essential guide to chapels all over England, many of which had disappeared. Unitarians are fortunate to have Graham and Judy Hague’s The Unitarian Heritage An Architectural Survey of Chapels and Churches in the Unitarian Tradition in the British Isles, published in 1986 and still an indispensable source. Across denominations there has been an increasing awareness of the need to preserve this aspect of our history and where congregations have been unable to sustain some buildings the Historic Chapels Trust has taken over their maintenance. With the publication of this new book, Chapels of England, Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity, by Christopher Wakeling, we now have a beautifully illustrated scholarly account of the patterns of chapel buildings amongst all branches of nonconformity from separatist, pre-ejection times up to the twenty-first century.

Chapels of England

The author brings a thorough architectural appreciation of these kinds of buildings and relates their historical development to the different denominations, the streams of theological thinking and liturgical practice within each of them, local architectural traditions and influences, and the interplay between dissent and the patterns of church building and the use of different styles by the established church. As such it is a tremendously impressive guide to what is a complicated and diffuse subject. Christopher Wakeling is well versed in the varieties of attitudes found within the different churches and sects that built chapels outside of the Church of England. Apparently the total number of surviving examples of Nonconformist chapels is still around 20,000 today, which is a significant number of buildings of one particular type. Dr Wakeling shows how chapel building accelerated at different times, such as the second decade of the nineteenth century when an average of five new meeting-houses were built a week, so that “nonconformist chapels became as characteristic a part of the Regency scene as cinemas were of the 1930s  or supermarkets have become today” (page 73).

Not all dissenters deliberately chose that path. In the first chapter Dr Wakeling makes good use of the sermon preached by John Fairfax at the opening of the Ipswich meeting-house in 1700 when he stated: “Had we the liberty of those places [ie. the parish churches], we should seek no other” (page 2).

And the Ipswich meeting-house with its spiral turned balusters and carved doves and cherubs worthy of Grinling Gibbons is clear evidence that early dissenters (particularly Presbyterians) were not averse to decoration.

But the whole book is an impressively thorough examination of the development of different styles of buildings as theologies changed, as denominations developed, as political circumstances evolved and as economic opportunity came and went. For Unitarians the Dissenters’ Chapels Act gave an added impetus to the frequent nonconformist impulse to build on the grand scale. Dr Wakeling quotes the preacher at the opening of Hyde Gee Cross in 1848 (not named in the text but presumably Charles Wicksteed) as saying the new church was:

Asserting the right of a Dissenting Chapel to look like a parish church, and to be used as a parish church without the least danger of our worship being interrupted (page 128).

But not all nonconformity took this form. Some was uncompromisingly evangelical and required a vast preaching station or a massive complex of buildings surrounding a central hall. In villages and towns small, unobtrusive chapels continued to be built throughout the nineteenth century. The period after the First World War and on into this century has brought a whole new set of challenges. Dr Wakeling shows how different circumstances, both local and national, produced these changes in architecture and the different types of building. The book is also peppered with ‘boxed essays’ which explain some of the terms used or the role practices such as communion had in chapel building over time or features such as seating and graveyards. This helps make for a very complete treatment of the whole subject since what might otherwise be a dry account of architectural history is, rather, rooted in the cultural, theological and liturgical experiences of the people who built the chapels. Consequently the book is also a history of nonconformity told through its buildings.

The book is richly illustrated in colour throughout, with page after page of striking photographs of interior and exterior shots, this is a particularly appealing feature of the book. If I was going to be hyper-critical I would say that the full-page picture of the chancel of Ullet Road Church (page 204) is astonishingly dark and gloomy, it is a much better lit area than this photo suggests. But this is to nit-pick, it’s the only disappointing picture in the book, generally the photographs are sharp and detailed throughout and are a really strong accompaniment to the text.

The author provides a glossary of the various nonconformist groups referred to in the book and is clearly familiar with the ethos and history of each of them, moving assuredly from one tradition to another. Historic England should be commended for producing such an impressive book, it is destined to become an essential publication for anyone with an interest in this aspect of religious history.

This review appears in Volume 26, Number 4, April 2018 of the ‘Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society’.

See

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2018/03/28/transactions-of-the-unitarian-historical-society-2018/

for details of how to subscribe.

 

Unitarian College Cluj/Kolozsvár

College LS 05

Kolozsvar Unitarian HQ 01

Recently I have published a couple of ‘then and now’ shots featuring Edwardian postcards and contemporary photographs on this blog. One featured a view of a street in Toxteth and one some of the churches in Banbridge. This is another ‘then and now’ view but, in this case, it is taken from a glass lantern slide of the Unitarian College building in Cluj/Kolozsvár.

I have an interesting set of magic lantern slides depicting notable sites in Hungary and Transylvania, some of them showing groups of people at what must be some sort of gathering, possibly international. The purpose of the collection, which is in a poor state and which is probably not complete, is to illustrate something about the Unitarian history and life of that region. They are not easy to date exactly but this slide helps enormously.

The Unitarian College was built in 1901, then a very modern, state of the art building which is still impressive and giving excellent service as headquarters, College as well as senior and junior schools.

It is right next door to the First Unitarian Church which can just be seen on the left of the photograph. This helps us date the slides since the College was built in 1901 and the church had the top of its tower replaced in 1908. In that year Lajos Pákey, the city architect who was educated at the Unitarian College and was also responsible for many of the prominent buildings and monuments in the town, redesigned the tower in its present baroque form. I had always assumed that this feature dated to the 1790s when the church was built and had never seen a picture of the original tower before finding this slide.

By chance I took a picture in January 2018 from the same place as the photographer of 1901-1908, not surprising since there are not so many vantage points for such a large building. But here we have the same view, separated by about 110 years.

As time and circumstance permit I will try and digitise the glass lantern slides and post them on here.

 

Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society 2018

The 2018 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society is now available (volume 26, number 4, April 2018).

Cover 2018

 

This issue includes:

The Case of the Clough meeting-House (1836): law reporting and pamphleteering

John F. Larkin QC

 

Supporting Belgium: A Unitarian Heroine of the First World War

Alan Ruston

 

‘To ours, among the rest’: Unitarian support for combatants in both World Wars

Alan Ruston

 

Thomas Drummond (1764-1852), a Hoxton graduate in East Anglia

Melanie Winterbotham

 

Record Section – papers relating to Rev Dr John Lionel Tayler

Derek McAuley

 

Reviews

Books Reviewed

Challenge and Change: English Baptist Life in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Stephen Copson and Peter J. Morden, Baptist Historical Society, 2017. Paperback, 304 pages ISBN 978-0-903166-45-4. Price £25 plus p &p, from the BHS 129 Broadway, Didcot, Oxon, OX11 8RT.www.baptisthistory.org.uk

A Documentary History of Unitarian Universalism, Volume 1 From the Beginning to 1899, Volume 2 From 1900 to the Present, Edited by Dan McKanan, Skinner House Books, Boston USA, 2017. Volume 1, 501 pages, ISBN 978-1-55896-789-2; Volume 2, 566 pages, ISBN  978-1-55896-791-5. Both paperback, Unitarian Universalist Association 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston MA, 02240-1409, USA. Books also obtainable on amazon. Price $20 each volume.

A VISION SPLENDID The Influential Life of William Jellie A British Unitarian in New Zealand, Wayne Facer, Blackstone Editions (Canada), 2017. ISBN 9780981640266, paperback, 278 pages. Price £17.50 (Amazon)

Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors, a guide for family and local historians, Stuart A Raymond, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2017, paperback, 240 pages. ISBN 9781473883451. Price £14.99.

Chapels of England, Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity, Christopher Wakeling, Historic England, 2017, hardback, 312 pages, ISBN 978-1-84802-032-0, £50

 

Note – Historic Unitarian Chapels

David Steers

 

Obituary – Rev Dr Phillip Hewett

Alan Ruston

 

Annual membership of the Unitarian Historical Society costs only £10, each member receiving a copy of the Transactions. Membership can be obtained from the treasurer: Rev Dr Rob Whiteman, 10 Greenside Court, St Andrews, KY16 9UGR, to whom cheques (made payable to the Unitarian Historical Society) should be sent.

 

Postcard from Banbridge

Banbridge Post Card

Banbridge July 2017 ext 01

This postcard view of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Banbridge along with the Methodist Church and what was then the library in Banbridge must date from before the First World War. It is not particularly rare but I was pleased to pick one up quite cheaply recently. I must have had the view in mind when I took the picture of the same group of buildings in 2017 and, apart from the inevitable cars parked in the way, the view has essentially not changed in a hundred years. The First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Banbridge is a remarkably imposing edifice both inside and out, the four fluted ionic columns tell the visitor that this meeting-house is a significant place. Built between 1844 and 1846 it speaks of the confidence of the congregation building anew immediately after the Dissenters’ Chapels Act of 1844 and choosing a style of architecture that eloquently expressed their identity.

banbridge

A Victorian photograph of the exterior

St Patrick’s Day, Downpatrick 2018

Preparations underway

Preparations getting underway in the town

 

Going up to the Cathedral

Going up to the Cathedral for the service

 

Congregation photographed

The congregation gather for a photograph inside the Cathedral

 

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Processing up to the grave after the service

 

Laying wreath

Visiting Bishop Alf Cooper from Chile lays a wreath

 

St Patrick's grave

St Patrick’s grave outside Down Cathedral

 

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The giant statue of the saint

Two views of a junction in Toxteth

Park Road postcard

Park Road

Two views of the same place taken in Liverpool about 113 years apart. The postcard at the top is dated 1905 and was sent from Birkenhead to Miss D. Caulson at Grange over Sands. The view is of the Turner Memorial Home, a large hospital and nursing home built in 1884 on land originally owned by the Yates family. The Yates family were Unitarians and had links with the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, the corner of which outside wall can be seen in both pictures on the left hand side. They were ministers, radicals, campaigners and major benefactors to the city, Richard Vaughan Yates donating Princes Park to the city in 1842.

It’s a curving corner junction in both images although once, long ago, before Toxteth was developed, it was a country track. In 1905 tramlines curl around the corner. In 2018 traffic lights and traffic islands keep pedestrians and traffic apart.

The road has been widened since 1905 and the post box taken away. Thirty-two years after the first picture was taken the Gaumont Cinema was opened on the right. A striking art deco cinema it is a sorry sight today having been abandoned for twenty years. Seating 1,500 people it once was a key venue for the people of the Dingle. Sold at auction in the early part of 2018 it was listed on the market at £75,000. It looks like a private house occupies that site in 1905. Just seven years after the card was posted the first cinema was built on that corner, the Dingle Picturedrome, the predecessor of the Gaumont.

The postcard and the photograph tell the viewer very little about the Turner Memorial Home, an endowed gift from Anne Turner in memory of her husband and son to provide residential care for the sick, an institution which has remained in continuous operation ever since.

It is really a postcard view of a road junction, and a junction in time.

 

Chester Cathedral Refectory

Chester Cathedral refectory ph

British Cathedrals are often good places to eat. Mindful of providing the full experience for the tourist market most large cathedrals are well-attuned to the culinary needs of visitors. Sometimes the restaurants are squeezed into the holy places in a slightly insensitive way but cathedrals do often have the ideal space for a café in the form of the refectory. The best cathedral that I have eaten in is undoubtedly St David’s in Wales, where the refectory is a very pleasant place to go. But the most interesting refectory in use as a restaurant, even if the food isn’t great, is probably that of Chester Cathedral.

Chester Cathedral refectory counter

The Early English Gothic refectory, originally part of the medieval Benedictine abbey, dates from the thirteenth century and is constructed in the red local sandstone used throughout the Cathedral and in many places in the region. It’s an impressive monastic space although the roof is entirely modern dating from 1939. For most of its recent history (from 1613 to 1876) the refectory was part of the King’s School, presumably used as the school dining room. But it has a very interesting ancient pulpit approached through a long arcaded staircase.

Chester Cathedral refectory pulpit stairs crop

Here a monk will have sat reading the scriptures while his colleagues enjoyed their repast. The walls contain the carved graffiti of seventeenth-century scholars and the early twentieth-century east window contains a whole selection of saints at the centre of which presides St Werburgh, to whom the original abbey was dedicated. At the other end a colourful stained glass window commemorates the millennium under which hangs a rather tired looking Mortlake tapestry which is not well displayed. But the full effect of the refectory is a good one, although the over-priced sausage rolls are probably best left un-sampled.

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Stairs to the pulpit

Chester Cathedral refectory pulpit

Pulpit

Chester Cathedral refectory roof crop

Refectory roof

Chester Cathedral refectory tapestry

Mortlake tapestry depicting Paul and Elymas

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Seventeenth-century graffiti

Kolozsvár/Cluj monuments, inscriptions and doors

Unitarian Church door detail

Unitarian Church door

Unitarian Church inscription

Unitarian inscription

Franciscan Church

Franciscan Church plaque

Lutheran Church inscription

Lutheran Church inscription

Door to St Michael's Church

St Michael’s Church door

Catholic building door

Roman Catholic parochial house door

Obelisk

Obelisk commemorating the visit of the emperor. Built in 1831.

Obelisk detail

Obelisk detail by Austrian sculptor Josef Klieber. The emperor and his wife visit the city hospital. Note the gas lamp.

Original city arms

The  original arms of the city

Plaque commemorating visit of emperor

Plaque commemorating the visit of Emperor Francis I and Princess Caroline Augusta to ‘Claudiopolis’ in 1817

Downpatrick First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church

Downpatrick 1 Oct 2016

Downpatrick is one of the finest 18th-century T-shaped meeting-houses in Ireland. Built in 1711 at the start of the ministry of the Rev Thomas Nevin, a pioneer Non-Subscribing Presbyterian minister who became a founder member of the Presbytery of Antrim, the church is one of the most notable buildings in this part of county Down.

It is not a new thing but it is worth flagging up the 360 degree virtual tour of the interior which was put online courtesy of VirtualVisitTours. The panoramic view can be explored here:

http://www.virtualvisittours.com/downpatrick-first-presbyterian-non-subscribing-church/