All Souls’ Church, Belfast exterior is modelled on Croyland Abbey in Lincolnshire. Built by the architect Walter Planck and opened for worship in 1896 it is the only church designed by that architect in Ireland. But it is interesting to note how closely the interior resembles the interiors of a number of fifteenth-century English parish churches. The arches, pillars, chancel, east window, clerestory windows all are reminiscent of a number of such places. I realised this when I saw a picture of the interior of the Church of St Mary in North Petherton. An Edwardian postcard of this interior  looks almost identical to All Souls’. Even the pews in All Souls’ underline this effect, the pews were brought in from the old meeting house on Rosemary Street when that church was vacated. These originally dated from the 1870s and a lot of Victorian parish churches would have installed new, modern pews at that time. The choice of this kind of architecture was quite deliberate by the minister, the Rev Edgar Innes Fripp in 1896. He was reaching back to medieval England to establish the kind of devotion he thought was most truly authentic. But architecturally it is a marvel. John McLachlan (in The Unitarian Heritage) says it is “unique in Irish Non-Subscribing church architecture”. But there is nothing like it in English Unitarian church architecture either which has a lot of remarkable gothic buildings.

All Souls ext construction 02

Simon Walker (Historic Ulster Churches) says “it would be as fitting in a rural English setting as in Belfast’s busy University area”. Richard Oram (Expressions of Faith Ulster’s Church Heritage) notes that “It is a unique and beautiful, little building”. Paul Larmour (Belfast: an illustrated architectural guide) calls it “a gem of Victorian architecture”.

All Souls int construction 01

The pictures on this page show the church under construction and soon after it was built, plus a view of the chancel taken before the NSPCI Sunday School service held there on 7th June 2019.

All Souls ext completed 01

All Souls June 2019

3 thoughts on “All Souls’ Church, Belfast built 1896

  1. I think Croyland Abbey is of a style removed from All Souls which is early English, 14th century and is only in the window stonework arches follows the aspects of the Abbey.

    The abbey church comprised a nave of nine bays with aisles, 183 feet long by 87 wide, an apsidal choir of five bays 90 feet long, a central tower and detached bell-tower at the east end. The existing remains consist of the north aisle, still used (as it was from the earliest times) as the parish church; the splendid west front, the lower (twelfth century) and the upper part (fourteenth century) elaborately decorated with arcading and statues, it is thought in imitation of Wells cathedral; and a few piers and arches of the nave. Much careful restoration and repair has been carried out since 1860, under Sir Gilbert Scott, Mr. J.L. Pearson, and other eminent architects.


      1. Yes, and Rev. Fripp wanted the steeple to be lowered as he thought typically Unitarian, that less is more. Rev Chris oft mentions Mies van Der Rohe (not bowing that aside.) Not to be thrusting skyward at the heavens.
        Thanks for you great blog on lots of aspects of the Churches and formation within societies of these fabulous buildings. The All Souls Church followed the Belfast style of being classical, Ulster Museum, Noe-Gothic Queens ‘College’ when they were built, were in eras well forward of the adopted style. The Great Hall is very well built though as the buttresses are minimal, the ‘piers’ between the windows narrow compared to the large openings alongside.
        Then inside is 14th century hammerhead beams, metal ties, copied from Westminster Chapel. So many centuries combine as with Croyland Abbey.
        The walls even contain vertically ‘chimneys for ventilation, heating.

        I wonder now had the University a district heating system, boiler house to the whole footprint! Following the Romans then!
        I long held the view for a long time All Souls was a serendipitously East West axis following the gravitas in the East as the past was viewed, and as the day progressed the light was to the West Window where the future over the horizon lay. The University Road being there first, provided the Avenue with that axis. However it’s some way off and out by a few degrees but it is a small unnoticeable thing as the Unitarian uncoloured glass allows the light to speak itself. Fabulous place and still strong.


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