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.
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