I was very pleased to be amongst those present for the Civic reception for the new High Cross erected at Down Cathedral on 24th September. Based on fragments of an ancient cross kept in the Cathedral it is carved from Mourne granite, weighs five tonnes and towers over its immediate surroundings. It is an impressive structure, a work that eloquently reflects the legacy of St Patrick so close to his grave. The fragments that are inside the Cathedral were originally found on the site that is now marked as St Patrick’s grave and are thought to date from the eighth century. The pieces were digitally scanned and the decoration carved onto the new Cross to create a pristine replica of what may once have stood at the entrance to the Benedictine monastery which originally stood on the hill.
Southport is always an interesting place. It has all the usual seaside details you would expect plus some features that mark it out as a little more dignified than the usual destination. Most notably these include the intricate nineteenth-century cast iron verandahs which adorn Lord Street.
But for me, for as long as I can remember, the one place that really stands out is the Shell Shop. You could easily miss it if you didn’t know it was there but it is a place I never walk past without going in.
Youthful visits to Southport with church and youth groups always included a trip to the Shell Shop. It was arranged as a museum around some rickety staircases and took the visitor on an eccentric journey to the South Sea Islands. A large and grubby looking plug from borstal hung near the end of the experience along with, I was recently reminded by Tony the current owner, a large model of a witch doctor placed there to discourage young visitors from shop lifting! Nowadays I don’t go so much for the shells as for the three floors of second hand books. I didn’t realise until a recent visit that the original Shell Shop and book shop were two separate businesses and indeed both were different to the current business, Parkinsons Books, but such was the demand from visitors for shells and other unusual items that the large stock of shells, fossils and curios from around the world remain very much a part of the display.
There is always a good selection of theology upstairs and it is always worth the hike to see what is there. But the shadowy passageway containing the 50p bargains never fails to yield some great finds. Not so long ago I purchased six random volumes of the original Dictionary of National Biography for 50p each. You might wonder why I wanted them since they are quite bulky and are, of course, available online these days, but you couldn’t leave them there for £3. Besides I only have to find 16 more and I will have the full set.
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.
As part of the commemoration last year of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses, our churches in county Down put together an illustrated exhibition on the history of the Reformation from 1517. One part of this was a collection of stamps from around the world all related to Luther. It is surprising how many countries have seen Martin Luther as a suitable subject for a postage stamp. I don’t imagine this is an exhaustive collection of Martin Luther related stamps but it is interesting to compare the variety of images and styles utilised. Some are very artistic, others less so.
Top row, left to right:
USA 1983 20c, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; French Polynesia 1983 90F, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; Bulgaria 1996 300 lev, 450th anniversary of Luther’s death; Germany 2017 .70 euro, 500th anniversary of reformation.
Second row, left to right:
Lithuania 2017 .39 euros, 500th anniversary of reformation; West Germany 1971 30c, 450th anniversary of the diet of Worms; Estonia 2017 .65 Euro, 500th anniversary of reformation; France 1983 3.30F, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth.
Left to right:
South Africa 1967 12.5 c, 450th anniversary of reformation; South Africa 1967 2.5 c, 450th anniversary of reformation; West Germany 1979 50 pf, 450th anniversary of Luther’s Catechism; Germany 1995 100 pf, 450th anniversary of the Worms Reichstag.
Left to right:
Germany 2002 56 pf, 500th anniversary Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg; West Germany 1983 80 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; West Germany 1961 15 pf, 415th anniversary of Luther’s death; Germany 1996 100pf, 450th anniversary of Luther’s death.
Left to right:
East Germany 1983 85 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 20 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 10 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 35 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth.
Like the photograph of Platt Chapel in the previous post this picture did not come cheap but it is a very rare, relatively early picture of a long vanished church. I can’t find any other picture of this church as good as this online.
The Scotch Presbyterian Church was situated on Grosvenor Square, near the top of Oxford Road in Manchester, an area that has long been colonised by academic buildings although the square still exists as a small green space. In the centre of the square stood All Saints’ Church and the Presbyterian Church was on the far side of the square, on Lower Ormond Street, the road parallel with Oxford Road. Both churches are long gone the Presbyterian Church ending its days in the 1950s as a wallpaper shop and later as a paint shop before demolition in the early 1970s. All Saints’ was damaged in the blitz.
In the foreground of the picture the graves seen there form part of the church yard of All Saints’ Church. It is an untidy looking area in the picture – there are two lifeless looking trees, denuded of leaves and branches, and the gravestones stand in the middle of a scruffy no-man’s land which is covered in either sand or bare earth amidst clumps of grass. Was it taken in the middle of some building work or renovation or did it always look a mess? Either way it is nothing to do with the Presbyterian Church other than it crops up in the foreground of the picture.
There is a very full set of records for the congregation deposited in Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives. Amongst these the Communicants’ roll books begin in 1832 which suggests a foundation of that date. The pew rents/seat lettings books begin in 1850 when the church was opened for worship, the foundation stone of the new building having been laid on 17th September 1849.
An architectural drawing of the church at the time of its opening (Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives)
The church closed in 1940 and merged with Withington Presbyterian Church to form Withington Grosvenor Presbyterian Church further out of Manchester. This congregation closed in 1971 to form Grosvenor St Aidan’s Presbyterian (later URC) Church in Didsbury (now called simply Didsbury United Reformed Church).
The photograph is quite small, it only measures about 8 cm by 6 cm, but it is very sharp and very old. The sister photograph that shows Platt Chapel dates from before 1874 so there is no reason to date this one to any other period. But here it is, the oldest photograph of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, Grosvenor Square, Chorlton-on-Medlock. Long vanished but preserved in this little study, a very precise architectural photograph taken on a sunny day sometime in the middle of the reign of Queen Victoria.
The original photograph attached to its card
Google Street View, from a position along Oxford Road just past Manchester Metropolitan University, shows this view looking towards where the church once stood. It would have been visible beyond the trees on the other side of the square (now called ‘All Saints Park’).
Google Street View – Oxford Road
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The current celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare prompt me to think about the Rev Edgar Innes Fripp. His is not a name widely remembered today but I was very aware of him when I was minister of All Souls’ Church in Belfast as a very distinguished predecessor in that pulpit, indeed the minister under whose leadership that church was built in 1896.
E.I. Fripp didn’t really get the attention he deserved in the congregation, although I wrote and spoke about him on a number of occasions. If the congregation looked to anyone as an historical exemplar it was A.L. Agnew whose own particular heroic story in the course of a 54 year ministry was partly based on an undoing of the achievements of his predecessor Fripp. He did away with the ‘Fripperies’ that remained from early in the century even to the extent – or so I was told – of having a bonfire of old service books along with assorted hassocks, communion table cloths and pulpit hangings. Fripp had introduced an edited version of the prayer book to the church, a robed choir and a much more devotional style of worship than had been the case before. More than that he had built the church, a little medieval English parish church in suburban Belfast. It was his vision in achieving this that had enabled the church to survive. Without this move it would have been unlikely to have lasted in Rosemary Street, and although there may have been a falling off in attendances between the wars it suited the narrative of the later arrival of Dr Agnew and the York Street congregation following the blitz of 1941, to write off everything that had gone before. In fact the destruction of the York Street building made an eventual union of the two congregations inevitable but without the intervention of the German Luftwaffe even that probably would not have taken place.
All Souls’ in 1900
By the time I was minister at All Souls’ a large majority of the congregation had belonged to York Street or were descendants of that congregation. The Second Congregation families, the original All Souls’ people, were a minority yet there were a few who remembered Edgar Innes Fripp. This wasn’t because they were extraordinarily old, because although he had built the church in 1896 and left in 1900 he had returned at the start of the 1920s for a few years. In the 1990s there were some people who had childhood memories of Fripp and what they remembered in particular was his interest in Shakespeare. He was much given to quoting him and increasingly found inspiration in his writings for his sermons.
The title page of Shakespeare’s Stratford
In Belfast he had been innovative, imaginative and creative. He was a genuine scholar, he had been a Hibbert Scholar in Germany before entering the ministry, and was a caring and effective pastor. All this can be seen in his Kalendar, the first monthly magazine to be distributed within a church of the Non-Subscribing tradition in Ireland. Before he had arrived the Second Congregation had left the presbyterian structures to pursue their own course although they were rooted in the Free Christian theological traditions exemplified by James Martineau.
Early in his ministry he had produced an account of the composition of the book of Genesis, by the end of his ministry he was completely absorbed in Shakespearean studies. He published a number of works on Shakespeare, and his life and times, and became a trustee of Shakespeare’s birthplace. Indeed it is interesting to see that today the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has a short video examining E.I. Fripp’s analysis of Iago:
At the end of his life Fripp’s funeral took place in Shakespeare’s church and he was buried in Stratford on Avon. But he produced a large amount of work on Shakespeare and I have often been tempted to seek out a contemporary Shakespearean scholar to give an assessment of how these works are regarded today for Faith and Freedom. There is and has long been a vast industry around Shakespeare and each age finds a different set of interpretations that reflect its own circumstances. It would be nice to know from the point of view of an English literature specialist what endures from Fripp’s writings. But if nothing else he had an enduring impact on the topography of South Belfast, something that continues to this day.
The view of All Souls’ today from the Belfast City Hospital
“Astronomical sales of a tiny figurine of the Protestant Reformation figure Martin Luther, have confounded its maker, Playmobil, by becoming the fastest-selling Playmobil figure of all time.”
It was widely reported in the press that the first edition of 34,000 of these figures sold out in less than 72 hours when they were launched in February. The company urgently requested its factory to produce more of them such was the demand.
The journal Newsweek observed:
“The plastic toy, complete with a quill, German-language bible and cheery grin, was produced for the German and Nuremberg tourist boards and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, as Germany gears up to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017”.
It’s a curious phenomenon that a toy of an historical figure taken from religious history should prove so popular. The 500th anniversary of the reformation (in this case being dated from Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of the Cathedral in Wittenberg on 31st October 1517) is an important event and it looks like it is catching people’ imagination, especially in Germany. A lot of the sites particularly associated with Luther are in Eastern Germany and consequently have not been over-visited. Writing in the Times in August Mark Greaves said “As a result of the lack of modernisation and development during the communist years, folksy towns with their beautiful old architecture have been left untouched.”
Quite probably this anniversary is the biggest event of all that could be connected with a reformation person or event. A few years ago (in 2009) the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin was celebrated. There were no John Calvin toys so far as I know although one Presbyterian Church did have a free download of a John Calvin mask which was just about the scariest looking mask you could imagine.
I was sufficiently impressed by the story of the sales of the Luther figure to track one down via eBay. Martin Luther seems to be only on general sale in Germany although one imagines he would sell very well in the USA. It’s hard to imagine a similar figure being produced over here and one wonders what would be the equivalent? John Wycliffe? John Wesley?
But the Luther figure is an attractive little model. It comes with its own Bible referencing his part in translating it into German and a quill pen. In addition you get a leaflet featuring his portrait and a map of places in Germany associated with Luther.
I wouldn’t think there would be too much of a market for Martin Luther figures in the UK today. However, from the 1930s to the 1950s British toy companies such as Britains and Johillco both marketed lead models of clergymen. These weren’t named but were part of the wide range of civilian figures that were available in those days. To my knowledge there were at least four clergy figures on sale, black clad and generally hatted they must have sold in their thousands. The hardest to track down today is the Britain’s ‘thin vicar’ who ceased production just before the war. But it is good to see Martin Luther enjoying such vogue.
The Faith and Freedom Great War project continues to expand and we hope to see added to the site in the near future a number of new articles, including Alan Ruston’s piece for the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society (1993), ‘Killed Fighting in the First World War’; and a moving sermon by Andrew Hill who recounts his father’s experiences during the First World War as a ministerial student who was assigned to “Non Combatant service only on conscientious grounds”.
We have also received a good number of images of war memorials from many different places. Brendan Burke has sent a whole sequence of pictures of the memorial in the South Mall in Cork. Of course it is not related directly to the Unitarian (or any church) in Cork but unveiled in 1925 it is a rare example of such a public memorial in the Irish Republic. It shows a soldier of the Royal Munster Fusiliers with the names of the war dead (which almost certainly includes some members of the Princes Street congregation) on a plinth underneath.
We’ve a good number of images of war memorials too from churches in Northern Ireland, many of them designed by Rosamund Praeger, the famous sculptor who was also a member of the Holywood NSP congregation.
Lynne Readett has sent some fascinating material from Park Lane Chapel, Ashton in Makerfield. Here the memorial takes two forms – the first a stained glass window listing the names of those who were killed in the war. This was beautifully restored and rededicated at a service to mark the outbreak of the First World War in August 2014. The congregation also built an extension to their school house as a further memorial in 1925.
The window contains a list of the Chapel’s fallen as well as the legend ‘Freedom and Justice’ and the quotation ‘Ye that live on mid English pastures green, remember us and think what might have been’. This was a commonly used verse on memorials all over England at the time but I don’t know the source, does anyone know where it comes from?
Lynne has supplied the site with photographs and accounts of special services held both there and at Cairo Street, Warrington, together with details of those who were killed in the war who belonged to Cairo Street. Susan Naylor has also supplied details of the members of Park Lane who died in the First World War.
Jennifer Young has sent a picture of the war memorial at Lincoln Unitarian Chapel. I have only visited this Chapel once, some years ago when it was refurbished under the ministry of the Rev Paul Travis but I have to confess that I don’t remember seeing this memorial. It seems rather verbose, it carries the names of no individuals and is quite unlike any other memorial that I am aware of. It is interesting to compare it with the Park Lane memorial window. If like so many church war memorials it dates from the early 1920s then I would guess it is the work of the minister at the time the Rev J. Lionel Tayler.
But it is very pleasing to record that a wide variety of material is being sent in for the Project and more is very much welcomed, including anything that forms part of the church experience of the Great War.
The First World War cast an enormous shadow over the past century. It had a cataclysmic effect on all aspects of society, no one was left untouched by it – homes, families, schools, factories, businesses, and, of course, churches. There are many ways in which the centenary of the Great War is being marked and most churches are spending some time over the current period reflecting on the conflict, its impact and its legacy. Faith and Freedom is establishing a special section of its website to reflect upon the conflict from the point of view of the churches and other faith groups. The website will be developed in a number of different ways. It will contain scholarly and thoughtful articles on the Great War, particularly in relation to churches and their participation in the War. The first three articles to go online are Unitarian Attitudes to the First World War, by Alan Ruston, The Centenary of the First World War and the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, by David Steers; and ‘Their sister in both senses’. The memoirs of Emma Duffin V.A.D. nurse in the First World War by Trevor Parkhill. Trevor is editor of The First World War Diaries of Emma Duffin, Belfast Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2014) and his article gives an intensely moving account of the First World War experiences in hospitals at the front of Belfast-born Unitarian Emma Duffin (a direct descendant of William Drennan, the founder of the United Irishmen and a cousin of Thomas Andrews designer of the Titanic) who volunteered to serve as a nurse and spent three harrowing years tending the wounded.
The second section will contain accounts of commemorations and acts of remembrance made during the current centenary period and readers are very much encouraged to send in reports of their events. The first example is a thoughtful and intensely moving service held at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the War. We are also seeking to record the names and details of church members who served in the First World War and we begin with a very full account of the contribution and service, with pictures, of members of the Great Meeting, Hinckley.
We also aim to build up a database of images of First World War memorials. Does your church have a memorial to its members who served in the First World War? If it does then please send a digital picture to go on the website. We are also actively seeking images and details of memorials that were placed in churches that are now closed, which may now be lost or which may have been put in a different location.
We also hope to include material – including photographs, sermons, writings, printed ephemera etc that date from the time of the War which can then be studied on our site.
We might also eventually include complete Rolls of Honour – for individual congregations and denominations. The whereabouts of the Roll of Honour relating to the churches that are now part of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches has been a matter of some discussion recently. If we had the full list of names we could add it to the site. The Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland also seems to have been begun but not completed. It would be good to see that completed and available online. With the co-operation of readers the site will be built up over time. If you would like to participate please contact the editor at email@example.com To view the website go to: http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm
The meeting house of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church in Downpatrick was opened in 1711 at the start of the ministry of the Rev Thomas Nevin. Recognised as one of the most significant architectural examples of the T-shaped meeting-house in Ireland the building celebrated 300 years of continuous worship and witness in 2011.
To mark the tercentenary of the church building the congregation published the History of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church Downpatrick. Written and compiled by Mary Stewart, the church secretary, the book is a remarkable record of three centuries of church life in the historic building. The book details the history of the congregation in the context of Downpatrick and Irish Presbyterianism, the conflict between subscribers and non-subscribers in the 18th century, the history of the building, the congregation’s engagement with education and much more. The book includes biographies of all the ministers of the congregation going back to the 17th century, extracts from the records of the Synod of Ulster, accounts of services, special events and financial matters, and contains details of committee and session members over the centuries, lists of members going back to the 1860s, and a complete record of all the graveyard inscriptions. It will be valued by all those with an interest in Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church history, local history, and genealogy.
In the first of the two Forewords the Very Rev William McMillan says:
Miss Stewart is to be congratulated on a truly comprehensive publication. She not only presents us with a history of the Downpatrick congregation but has collated a remarkable number of newspaper accounts, together with other printed material which will be of considerable help to future historians.
Her commitment to the congregation is evident from the immense research that she has done and I am delighted to recommend this valuable contribution to the Denomination’s Historical Record in which Downpatrick congregation has played such an important role.
and in the second Foreword the Rev Dr JohnNelson says:
The congregation of Downpatrick has a long and notable history, reflected in the lives of the ministers and lay people who have been part of that church. A congregation which has held a significant place both within Non-Subscribing Presbyterian circles and the wider Presbyterian community.
Perhaps the most outstanding theme of that history is the fact that for the last 300 years the congregation have worshiped in the wonderful building that is Stream Street Meeting House. While that building has always been well maintained, the interior has never been substantially altered, leaving it to-day essentially as built and evoking a sense of history, of presence, and of worship in all who enter there. It is highly appropriate that this book is published as part of the celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of that meeting house.
Mary Stewart is to be congratulated in producing such a thorough and detailed history of the congregation. Not only does she give the story of the church, but her painstaking researches have produced a wealth of source material which will be a delight to historians, church members, and everyone interested in the heritage of Downpatrick town and community.
This book both opens a door on the past and links it with the living present.
The book contains 408 pages and over 150 illustrations. It is bound in a full colour hard-back cover the book and is excellent value at only £15.
A sense of what it contains can be seen from the list of contents:
Chapter 1 Background History of Downpatrick
Chapter 2 Arrival and Settlement of Presbyterians
Chapter 3 Subscribers and Non-Subscribers, the Faith of the Non-Subscribers
Chapter 4 Presbytery Records from 1691 including Thomas Nevin’s Trial and Consequences
Chapter 5 List of Ministers of Downpatrick, Details of Ministers
Chapter 6 The Church Building
Chapter 7 Church Site and Schools
Chapter 8 Life and Times of Samuel Craig Nelson
Chapter 9 Special Services
Chapter 10 Special Events and Reports
Chapter 11 Church Excursions from 1881
Chapter 12 Social Evenings and Gatherings
Chapter 13 Harvest Services from 1908
Chapter 14 Financial Matters (Inc. Committee Record from 1886)
Appendix I Rules and Regulations of the Downpatrick Congregation
Appendix II Church Elders, Committee and Sunday School Teachers (From 1861-2007)
Appendix III The Church Graveyard and Inscriptions
Appendix IV Sermon by Alexander Colvill A.M. M.D. on the Death of Thomas Nevin 24th March 1744
The cost of the book is just £15. Postage within the UK is £5. If you are interested in having a copy posted abroad please enquire for postal rates. Details of how to purchase the book can be found on the Church’s website: http://www.downpatricknsp.org.uk/History.html