The 2023 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society includes Ian Wood’s article on his great great grandfather William Sunderland Smith, minister at Antrim from 1872 to 1912 and a figure of some note in the town at the time because of his writings on history, including the 1798 Rebellion, natural history, geology and theology.
W.S. Smith’s son William Ivan Smith was an enthusiastic amateur photographer and he took a number of pictures in Antrim in 1902 which are a main feature of this video which introduces the 2023 Transactions:
Prior to coming to Antrim in 1872 and after leaving the Unitarian Home Missionary Board in 1859 W.S.Smith had ministered successively at Aberdeen, Rawtenstall, Doncaster, Tavistock and Crediton. So he had a series of short ministries all over the country before crossing the Irish Sea and finding, one assumes, a deep sense of fulfilment in his last charge at Antrim. W.I. Smith’s visit to Antrim in 1902 produced a number of photographs which give us a splendid picture of his ministry and I am grateful to Ian Wood and his family for digitising them and for making them available.
So here is W.I. Smith’s portrait of his father:
W.S. Smith’s first wife died in 1868 but the following year, having moved from Doncaster to Tavistock , he met and married Clara Ann Clark. Ian Wood has found this cutting from the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard which gives an engaging account of the wedding between the Cirencester Sunday School teacher and the Tavistock Unitarian minister on 9th November 1869:
In 1902 when William Ivan Smith visited Antrim he took this picture of his step-mother:
William Sunderland Smith arrived in Antrim, after a short ministry in Crediton, Devon, in 1872. He must have established a prominent name for himself in the town with publications such as Historical Gleanings in Antrim and Neighbourhood and Memories of ’98 as well as regular contributions to the Ulster Journal of Archaeology and the provision of ‘Nature Notes’ to the Northern Whig, including this account of toads in 1906:
W.I. Smith’s photograph of his father astride his preferred method of transport in Antrim suggests that he must have been a very familiar figure on the local roads at the time:
The Antrim meeting-house had been built in 1700 but under his ministry the interior was completetly refurbished in 1891. Ian Wood has found the following cutting from the Northern Whig seeking tenders to undertake this work:
This was a major undertaking which seems to have been successfully completed but images of the interior, either in its original form or in the remodelled layout created by W.S. Smith, are hard to come by. If you would like to see the interior as it looks today – denuded of its ecclesiastical furniture – click here. One postcard which I have acquired features the interior of the Antrim meeting-house as it originally looked. It is a strange picture that has been very amateurishly doctored with Rev John Abernethy’s portrait cut out from somewhere and stuck over the pulpit:
But when he came to Antrim in 1902 William Ivan Smith also took a picture of the interior of the church as it looked by this time. This is it:
Now, at first glance, this may not look like such an interesting image, but as the only surviving picture of the inside of Antrim complete with its pews it is not without importance. However, on top of that W.I. Smith was quite a skilled photographer and there is more detail in this high resolution image of a 1902 print than you might initially notice. If you click on the video above you can discover some more of what this picture contains.
Thank you to Ian Wood for researching his ancestor and for discovering these fascinating pictures and making them available.
You can find out more about the Unitarian Historical Society and the Transactions by visiting its website here.
You can see a bit more about the manse in Antrim on this website via this link.
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