What do those stones mean to you? The 400th anniversary of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

“But before he had spent so much time in Oxford as he could have wished that he might have done; the People in Toxteth, whose Children had been taught by him, sent to him, desiring that he would return unto them to instruct not so much their Children as themselves, and that not in meer Humane Literature, but in the things of God. This Call, after due Consideration, for weighty Reasons he accepted of. Being then returned to Toxteth, he Preached his first Sermon November 30. 1618. There was a very great Concourse of people to hear him, and his Labours were highly accepted of by the judicious.”

…part of the reading given by Beryl Black at the 400th anniversary service of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth on Sunday, 25th November. This section of the reading (from: The Life and Death of That Reverend Man of GOD, Mr. Richard Mather Teacher of the Church in Dorchester in New-England by Increase Mather, Cambridge Mass. 1670) was also reproduced on the back page of the printed order of service.

 

Ancient Chapel 25 November 04

At the opening of worship (Photo: Sue Steers)

It was a tremendous occasion; well attended and enthusiastically received by all who were present. Readings were also given by Graham Murphy, Annette Butler and Leslie Gabriel while Cliff Barton played the organ.

Ancient Chapel 25 November 03

Graham Murphy gives a reading (Photo: Sue Steers)

In addition to the above reading there were readings from T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding, from Robert Griffith’s The History of the Royal and Ancient Park of Toxteth, Liverpool (1907) and from Joshua ch.4 v.1-9 and John ch.4 v.31-38.

A message was also read from the First Parish Dorchester, Massachusetts, to which place Richard Mather, emigrated in 1635.

Ancient Chapel 25 November 16

Reading the message from Dorchester (Photo: Sue Steers)

The message from Dorchester:

Dear Members of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth:

First Parish Dorchester sends you our heartfelt greetings and best wishes upon the occasion of your 400th anniversary of your founding. It is rare for us to know a Unitarian congregation older than ours, as we will not mark our 400th anniversary until 2030!  Rev Richard Mather, your first minister and our third minister (1636-1669),  certainly sowed good seeds in our two long-standing faith communities.

It may interest you to know that First Parish Dorchester established the oldest elementary public school in the United States, which is situated right next to the church- and it is called the Mather School!

In our weekly service, we have a time when we light candles of celebration or concern. This Sunday, November 25th, I will light a candle for the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, in celebration of your four centuries as a gathered community. We rejoice with you in spirit.

Faithfully,

Rev Patricia Brennan

Interim Minister

First Parish Dorchester

Massachusetts

Yo can read more about the Ancient Chapel via these links:

Then and now pictures

Richard Mather and the Ancient Chapel

Jeremiah Horrocks and the Ancient Chapel

Jeremiah Horrocks and the transit of Venus

Two views of a junction in Toxteth

This post has been made on the day of the 400th anniversary of Richard Mather’s first sermon in Toxteth.

With special thanks to Jim Kenny who devised the logo used for the 400th anniversary.

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Ancient Chapel of Toxteth 400th Anniversary

Ancient Chapel of Toxteth celebrates 400 years of worship and witness

Two images of the Chapel separated by about 120 years:

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Service to Commemorate the

400th Anniversary

of the

Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

Sunday, 25th November 2018

2.30 pm

Please note the service to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth will be held on Sunday, 25th November as advertised. However, the time of the start of the service has been changed it will now commence at 2.30 pm and not at the previously stated time.

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Preparing for worship

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400th Anniversary of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

 

The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth was built in 1618 during the ministry of the Rev Richard Mather in the former royal deer park of Toxteth by Puritans who desired to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience. Originally situated in a remote rural community the Chapel is now in the midst of a heavily built-up suburb of Liverpool. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Chapel which has been in continuous use since 1618. A special service to celebrate this 400th anniversary of this historic Chapel will be held on Sunday, 25th November at 2.30 pm.

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Please note – if you are thinking of attending this service – that the time has been changed from 3.00 pm to 2.30 pm – as shown above.

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.

 

The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

ACT March 2017 exterior Sue photo

The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth (photo: Sue Steers)

I never like to pass up an opportunity to visit the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth. Anyone with an interest in Unitarian and Dissenting history, church architecture, or the history of Liverpool will not fail to be enthralled by such an evocative building. On Mothering Sunday I was very pleased to be able to join in Sunday worship there, a service conducted by lay preacher Graham Greenall who led an appropriate act of worship which weaved together themes for Mothers’ Day, peace and a reflection on the recent shocking events in Westminster.

The late Sir Christopher Stell, who produced the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments inventory of chapels and meeting-houses in England, was a big fan of this chapel. Dating back to 1618 the building is really redolent of the late eighteenth century when it was restored. It is part of Toxteth but speaks of a continuity of worship that stretches from the puritan farmers who cleared the forest and built the chapel for their minister Richard Mather to the present day.

An examination of the interior always throws up new things. One thing that I learnt from Sir Christopher Stell was that the chapel builders, although puritans, were also heirs to the Anglican tradition and almost certainly built a small chapel with a chancel on the lines of a parish church. Little remains to display this today but above the organ you can still see the chancel arch. At some point in the eighteenth century the chancel was turned into a schoolhouse, later still it was used to house the organ loft and the present porch.

In 2018 the congregation will celebrate 400 years of worship in their building and will mark that milestone with suitable events.

ACT March 2017 gallery view across

The view from the gallery

Richard Mather

Richard Mather

RM 1650

Mather family pew dating from 1650

ACT March 2017 pulpit preacher

Graham Greenall in the pulpit

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The chancel arch in front of the organ

ACT March 2017 Sunday School corner

Sunday School corner, recently restored

ACT March 2017 Fifi 01 Sue

Fifi, who was also present, waiting patiently for some cake following the service (photo: Sue Steers)

L8 Unseen, Museum of Liverpool

L8 Unseen

 

L8 Unseen runs at the Museum of Liverpool from 3 April to 6 September. It is a collection of striking images taken by photographer Othello de’Souza-Hartley. The pictures are all blown up to a large scale and rich in detail. Each one features someone or some group of people who live in Liverpool 8 pictured inside a building that reflects the history of Liverpool. The poster used to advertise the exhibition, and reproduced above for instance, shows Cherise Smith of the Tiber Young People’s Steering Group in the boardroom of the Liver Building.

There are also interactive elements in the exhibition in which you can listen to personal stories and send in your own photographs to add to the story. This has been incredibly successful and over 2,500 people have sent in their own photographs in the first weeks of the exhibition.

The blurb for the exhibition declares that “Liverpool 8 is a state of mind, an idea, a culture, rather than just a geographical location”. This identity is based upon diversity, something that is rooted in Liverpool’s development from the eighteenth century onwards as a major seaport that brought so many peoples and cultures to its streets. But in this also lies the downside – Liverpool’s prosperity was based, from the opening of its first dock in the early eighteenth century until 1807, on the slave trade and so the exhibition notes that many of the places used “were founded on the proceeds of the city’s international trading links and the slave trade.” This is undoubtedly true – even for buildings like the Liver Building, built as late as the twentieth century – for without that era of massive expansion when Liverpool became the pre-eminent slave ship port the continued advancement of the Victorian era and later would not have happened. This reprehensible trade carried on by so many people in Liverpool for a hundred years brought tremendous riches and provided the backbone of the city’s prosperity. So the buildings used include the Town Hall, The Black-E arts centre (which was once Great George Street Congregational Church), the Liver Building, a house in Abercomby Square, dock buildings, the Athenaeum Club and other places. There is no getting away from the fact that virtually the whole city was effectively complicit in a vicious trade but I can’t help feeling that somewhere like the Athenaeum perhaps indicates a slightly different attitude, after all it included amongst its founding members William Roscoe and his circle, people who opposed the slave trade from the start and were eventually successful in getting it stopped. We shouldn’t overlook the courage of people like Roscoe who stood out against the prevailing orthodoxy at the time.

My favourite photograph shows four religious leaders from places of worship in Liverpool 8, generally from near the top of Princes Avenue. Seated around a table in the Town Hall are representatives of the Al Taiseer Mosque, Princes Road Synagogue. St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and St Margaret’s Church of England, all resplendent in liturgical garb. One hopes that this gathering represents some sort of on-going dialogue between the different faiths rather than just a gathering for a photo opportunity. At least two of the religious buildings that they represent are amongst the grandest and most impressive buildings in the city and Liverpool, of course, had the first mosque ever built in England. What a shame the nearby Welsh Presbyterian Church, itself something of a mini-cathedral, is now gone, then they could have had a sober Presbyterian in preaching bands and black cassock join the group too. But the building has been derelict for years and the original congregation left in the 1970s. That illustrates one aspect of diversity which has almost entirely disappeared in Liverpool. When I was young the city was dotted with Welsh speaking churches, now I think just one small chapel remains. Sad to note the disappearance of this group, although even in Wales the types of churches that they comprised are nowhere near as prevalent as they once were.

But it is an illuminating exhibition that reflects the resilience and the vitality of Toxteth/Liverpool 8. As Laurence Westgraph says in his notes accompanying the exhibition “what is the culture of L8? Maybe it is the culture of accepting, tolerating and welcoming people from other cultures.”