Link to the Clough NSP Church website
Source: Clough Children’s Day 2017
Link to the Clough NSP Church website
Source: Clough Children’s Day 2017
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
Hot off the presses today is the Spring and Summer 2017 (volume 70 Part 1, Number 184) issue of Faith and Freedom. It has a striking picture of an Eagle Owl taken from an engraving by Thomas Bewick’s 1797 book Land Birds on the cover.
In this new issue we are again delighted to have some really fascinating articles. These include Phillip Hewett outlining his research in pre- and post-Communist Poland for his book Racovia. He compares his experiences in Poland with those of Earl Morse Wilbur decades earlier. We are delighted to have too Johnston McMaster’s in-depth examination of Francis Hutcheson and the Social Vision of Eighteenth-Century Radical Presbyterians and Stephen Lingwood’s timely consideration of a Theology of Unitarian Ministry. Dan C. West discusses the way faith can cross boundaries and make connections and Howard Oliver discusses The Art and Theology of Thomas Bewick.
The original sixteenth-century parsonage in Raków (photo: Phillip Hewett)
Faith and Freedom is always particularly strong in its reviews section and we are delighted to once again welcome some important reviews by top writers.
With the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses in mind, Professor Ian Hazlett, leading Reformation scholar and former Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Glasgow, reviews Scott H. Hendrix’s Yale University Press book Martin Luther Visionary Reformer. Professor David Williams reviews Yuval Noah Harari’s newest book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow and Philippe Sands’ East West Street: on the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity. Lena Cockroft reviews Dan Hotchkiss’ Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, which is a major contribution to the theory of church administration. Marcus Braybrooke, Joint President of the World Congress of Faiths, looks at Main Religions of the Modern World and the Two Forms of any Religion by Antony Fernando, and Frank Walker reviews Emmanuel Carrere’s extraordinary and controversial novel The Kingdom.
You can subscribe to Faith and Freedom online via our website:
A few weeks ago I posted the above picture of a glass lantern slide featuring a driver and a clergyman on an unidentified early motor car bearing a very early Liverpool registration number. I have not been able to identify the driver or his passenger but thanks to Linda King and also Bozi Mohacek of the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society the car can definitely be identified.
Linda suggested Rootschat would be able to help and from there received a suggestion that the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society could help. They have over 2,750 enquiries on their website so I asked them and very quickly received word back that the car is a 1904 Oldsmobile Curved Dash 5HP Two-seater. The date is approximate but since Liverpool registrations only began in December 1903 some time in 1904 seems reasonable.
Oldsmobile Runabout (Source: Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)
It was a very popular car and images of it can be found all over the internet. The first mass-produced motor car it was manufactured in Detroit, Michigan and between 1901 and 1907 some 19,000 were made and sold around the world. In the UK it sold for £185 in 1902.
Advert from The Autocar, November 1st 1902 (Source: Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)
Advertisement from The Automobile Review, December 15th 1903 (Source: Wikipedia)
In 1904 Maurice Fournier, an engineer and the 1903 ‘World Motorcycling Champion’, travelled 4,600 kilometres around Europe in an Oldsmobile. It must have been an uncomfortable journey.
Maurice Fournier travelling through Europe in 1904 Source: Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)
It was a relatively cheap vehicle, although at £185 outside the pocket of most people, but still cheaper than a lot of other cars, if far more basic in its design. Despite the claims of the advert that “with only one lever to use….you hardly need to know how to operate an Oldsmobile” it must have been difficult to handle. Maurice Fournier certainly got all round Europe in one though, and it must have been good enough for our unnamed driver and his passenger to get round Liverpool in, during the first decade of the twentieth century.
On Wednesday, 24th May 2017 Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church was very pleased to welcome the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, Mr John Larkin, QC, to Clough to deliver his lecture concerning the legal case of 1836 which was such a crucial moment in the history of the congregation.
Mr John Larkin, QC, delivers his lecture in the pulpit at Clough
The meeting was very well attended indeed with many visitors from local churches and from farther afield – even as far as Edinburgh – as well as including many members of various societies and organisations including the Presbyterian Historical Society, the Lecale and Downe Historical Society, the Irish Legal History Society and Queen’s University. It was preceded by a short act of worship conducted by the Rev Dr John Nelson, clerk to the Presbytery of Antrim. The congregation joined the Presbytery of Antrim, the original Non-Subscribing Presbyterian body in 1829. The organist was Mr Alfie McClelland. The Rev Dr David Steers, introduced Mr Larkin who has a long-standing interest in presbyterian history, especially in cases such as this where theology intersects with the law.
Left to right: Rev Dr John Nelson; Mr John Larkin, QC; Rev Dr David Steers
The 1836 case rose out of a dispute between subscribers and non-subscribers (to the Westminster Confession of Faith) and resulted in the exclusion of the non-subscribers who went on to build the present church in 1837. Following the lecture a large number of those present were able to go to the church hall for refreshments. The lecture was both preceded and followed by good coverage in many papers including the Down Recorder, the Mourne Observer and the Belfast Telegraph.
Refreshments in the hall following the lecture
The basic issue discussed in the lecture was whether congregations could change their religious views over time. So although a majority of the congregation wanted to call the Rev David Watson as minister in 1829 the fact that they were non-subscribers (ie. they refused to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith) led the subscribing members and their friends to argue that they had no right to own a meeting house that was (they said) built solely for the use of subscribers. With this there was an argument over how the Christian faith should be defined. The matter went to law and eventually, after prolonged discussion, the courts granted the original meeting house to the subscribers. The non-subscribers left and had to build their own church, still in use today by what is a growing and active congregation.
Something very similar happened at about the same time with the Presbyterian church in Killinchy – which was also taken away from the non-subscribers – and legal proceedings were begun over some churches in Dublin. A parallel process was underway in England over the ownership of the Unitarian churches there and it seemed that Non-Subscribing Presbyterians in Ireland and Unitarians in England would lose all their ancient meeting houses. However, all this was stopped by the passing of what is called the Dissenters Chapels Act in 1844 which guaranteed the legal ownership of churches to those whose families had worshipped there over a period of at least 25 years and allowed for changes in their theological views over time.
The division in the 1830s was very painful at the time and at one point required the militia to be called to restore order. However, it is part of the joint history of both churches in Clough that we need to acknowledge as part of our continuing story.
A car is parked at the roadside on a sunny day. The driver is dressed for some serious motoring whilst his passenger is a clergyman without an overcoat. He looks slightly uncomfortable perched on the seat of the open car. Who is he? Could he be the owner, or a friend or relative of the driver? It’s hard to say but here we have a glimpse into a pioneering moment in motoring history.
I picked this glass lantern slide up on eBay for a couple of pounds. It interested me because it is an early example of an automobile, probably dating from about 1903. I haven’t been able to identify the make of the car (indeed I would be grateful for any suggestions) but what is clear is that it was registered in Liverpool and was probably photographed on Princes Avenue. I don’t know who the clergyman was or the driver but the letter K was used for cars in Liverpool from 1903 to 1914. The records for these early registrations no longer exist but presumably this car was the 218th car to be registered in Liverpool. Whether that means the photograph was taken in 1903 I don’t know (would at least 218 cars be registered in the first year of the registration system?), but judging from the style of the car, which doesn’t have a steering wheel, I would guess that it was manufactured closer to 1903 than 1914. I had thought it might have been a Liver Phaeton, manufactured in Birkenhead by William Lea, of which only one example survives in the Museum of Liverpool. However, the car in the Museum has a number of differences and this clearly isn’t a Liver Phaeton. Having said that William Lea was a highly successful entrepreneur who made his own cars using imported Benz engines including a larger version of the Phaeton. His showrooms in Birkenhead had an indoor track that could be used for test drives with room, apparently, for fifty cars. By 1909 he was also the agent for “Benz, Progress, Darracq and English Benz Cars”, all available from his depot on Berry Street in Liverpool. He also advertised a very large stock of vehicles for sale. But he was far from being the only car dealer in Liverpool at the time. The city had its own Self-propelled Traffic Association from 1896 (President, the Earl of Derby) and The Liverpool Show of 1903 at St George’s Hall claimed to possess the largest (and best) exhibition of motors outside of London. It is possible to search back issues of The Autocar online courtesy of Grace’s Guide (http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Main_Page) but that just confirms the massive variety of vehicles available to early enthusiasts of motoring. If this clergyman was one of them he must have caused quite a stir being able to shoot around his parish in his own motor car, but I rather suspect that he was induced to climb aboard by a car-owning parishioner and have his photograph taken for posterity.
Paused at the roadside for a photograph
Driver and Passenger
1930s seaside arcade and fun fair. Neon amusements. A longstanding attraction on the New Brighton sea front.
Inside the arcade
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.
St Helens Unitarian Church – now Lucem House
Paul Jones in the box office
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:
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:
Walking through the Garden at the rear of the St Patrick’s Centre in Downpatrick I noticed how attractive the Garden now is. The little details are worth examining, like St Patrick’s ship (not the original one I would think), the standing stone, and the fairy thorn brought there from another site but growing well set in a Celtic cross just to remind people of Patrick’s victory over superstition. The Cathedral and the Southwell School provide a marvellous backdrop.
Looking towards the Southwell School
The Fairy Thorn
St Patrick’s Ship and the Cathedral
Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church
Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church opened for worship in 1837
John F Larkin, QC
Attorney General for Northern Ireland
The case of the Clough meeting house (1836): law reporting and pamphleteering
The Lecture will take place in the meeting house on
Wednesday, 24th May 2017
at 7.30 pm
Followed by refreshments in the hall. Admission free. Everyone welcome.
The case of Dill v Watson (1836) determined which of two parties in Irish Presbyterianism was entitled to the ownership of the Meeting House in Clough, County Down. It was the first Irish battle in a campaign in which litigation was the adjunct of theological controversy, and in the Clough case there is almost a fusion of legal and theological debate. What is striking (and fascinating) about the Clough case is that both parties published reports of the decision. Law reporting was for the parties to the Clough litigation no abstract record of a judicial decision but a further way for historical, legal, political and theological debate to be carried on. The two reports of the Clough case opened a distinct front in a pamphlet campaign that lasted until the Dissenters Chapels Act 1844 – if not beyond. This lecture explores this litigation and its background through the prism of the two partisan reports of the Clough case and the later law report by Thomas Jones. It examines the significance of the Clough case as a turning point in wider legal and theological controversy.
For further information contact: Rev Dr David Steers, email@example.com
Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Castlewellan Road, Clough, BT30 8RD
The interior of the meeting house. The venue for the lecture