Thomas Steers and the Blue Coat School

Blue Coat front 02

Front view of the original school building of 1717

I was interested to discover through the tercentenary history exhibition in the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool that Thomas Steers is now credited as one of those responsible for the construction of this very fine building. There can be little of importance in the city in the early eighteenth century that Thomas Steers didn’t have a hand in. The school (correctly termed the Blue Coat School) was founded in 1708 but the building not completed on School Lane until 1717. For nearly two hundred years the building was the home of the school until it moved to new premises in Wavertree. In the decades after 1906 the Bluecoat became the location for an innovative arts centre in the oldest building in the city. Thomas Steers’s involvement in the building appears to have only recently come to light. The exhibition in the Bluecoat states that:

Recent research confirms that Liverpool’s dock engineer Thomas Steers, together with mason Thomas Litherland, were responsible for the construction of the building. Both received considerable payments, recorded in the school’s meticulous accounts books by Bryan Blundell, the master mariner who founded the Blue Coat School and was its first treasurer.

[A page of the accounts] from 1719, records fees to Steers and Litherland, who had previously worked together on Old Dock nearby (completed 1715), the world’s first commercial wet dock which was instrumental in Liverpool’s rapid growth as a global trading port.

Blue Coat front pediment

Liver Bird above main entrance

The Old Dock has now been excavated and is open to visitors. It’s fascinating to see the brickwork exposed to view after years lying hidden beneath the surface, but here was laid the maritime prosperity of Liverpool, thanks to the engineering skills and technical vision of Thomas Steers.

Old Dock Liverpool 2016 02

Inside the Old Dock, picture taken in 2016

Thomas Steers was a notable public servant of the city, serving as water bailiff, town councillor and mayor, and designed other docks as well as private and public buildings and local canals. His reputation also brought him to Ireland where he worked as a consultant on the Newry Canal, spending a number of years working on the project. It wasn’t his first visit to Ireland since he is said to have been commissioned in the 4th regiment of foot and served at the battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The Bluecoat building was badly damaged during the blitz of 1941 but was saved and has been restored a number of times over the last century. The Latin inscription across the front of the façade has been removed and restored at different times. It reads:

CHRISTIANAE CHARITATI PROMOVENDAE INOPIQUE PUERITIAE ECCLESIAE ANGLICANAE PRINCIPIIS IMBUENDAE SACRUM. ANNO SALUTIS MDCCXVII

which is translated on the Bluecoat website as: ‘Dedicated to the promotion of Christian charity and the training of poor boys in the principles of the Anglican church. Founded in the year of salvation 1717.’

Blue Coat front centre 02

Part of the inscription can be seen below the clock

This is an interesting text because based on little more than this assertion, almost three hundred years after the school was founded, the Church of England attempted to gain control of the school. Since it was always open to anyone and was completely free of any sectarian basis most people thought the twenty-first century C of E was going a bit far and the Bishops seem quietly to have withdrawn from the fray. At the time this controversy was underway I wrote to the Liverpool Echo pointing out that a local dissenting minister, the Rev John Brekell, preached a charity sermon in 1769 and told his hearers that no less a person than Bryan Blundell himself had told him that this inscription had been had been forced on him against his will by “some zealous Churchmen”. There is no doubt that the school enjoyed financial support from the wealthy Presbyterian community and in turn did not restrict its benefits to members of the established church. Neither as a charity school in its first centuries nor as a state school in the twentieth century had it displayed the characteristics of a ‘church school’. William Roscoe, poet, historian, abolitionist and dissenter refers to the school in his poem ‘Mount Pleasant’, first published in 1777. ‘The Blue-Coat Hospital’ is:

Yon calm retreat, where screen’d from every ill,

The helpless orphan’s throbbing heart lies still;

And finds delighted, in the peaceful dome,

A better parent, and a happier home.

The exhibition in the Bluecoat includes a lithograph of the picture Recollections of the Blue-Coat Hospital, Liverpool, St George’s Day, 1843 by Henry Travis. The original used to hang in the school boardroom when I was there, and most probably still does. Most pupils would rarely have seen it but when I was at the school I had regularly to attend in the boardroom for clarinet lessons. Not being much of a musician I frequently found the painting with its crowds and banners and marching pupils rather more absorbing.

Travis, Henry; Recollections of Liverpool Blue Coat Hospital, St George's Day

‘Recollections of the Blue-Coat Hospital, Liverpool, St George’s Day, 1843’ by Henry Travis (Picture: Liverpool Blue Coat School)

Murland Vault Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

The Murland family vault at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church will be the focus of a public lecture by Dr Finbar McCormick on the topic of ‘Mausolea & Memorials to the dead in Ireland’ at Clough NSP Church on Wednesday, 13th March 2019 at 7.30 pm. Everyone is welcome and the talk will be followed by refreshments. The tomb is in need of conservation which will be undertaken by the Follies Trust in the forthcoming months.

Clough Vault cropped 01

Clough Vault front detail 02

Clough Vault diagonal front

Clough Vault front diagonal detail 02

Clough Vault diagonal side

Clough Vault urn

More information can be found on a previous post here – Mausolea in Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough

The Follies Trust leaflet contains illustrations of the tomb and information on how to make a donation to the project if you wish. It can be downloaded here:

Follies Mausoleum Flyer

Mausolea in Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough

The three Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough each possess interesting graveyards housing the last resting places of centuries of church members, including many notable figures. The graveyards are remarkable too for the wide variety of tombs, stones and other memorials. Of especial note are the mausolea mostly dating from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries.

Downpatrick has a large number of what Professor James Stevens Curl describes (in Mausolea in Ulster, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1978) as being of ‘the barrel-vaulted variety, rather like a Nissen-hut’. These type of tombs appear to be local to the Downpatrick area, there are other examples in the locality but the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on Stream Street has the largest number of examples of them, tombs built by local merchants including the Potter, Morrison, Quail, Rowan and Gordon families. The Quail tomb is dated 1800. The Morrison family tomb is located in the graveyard exactly opposite the house on Stream Street where the family then lived, so every day they gazed out of the window at a rather stark reminder of their own mortality.

Dpk M 03

Downpatrick tomb, possibly that of the Potter family

Dpk M 05

Quail family tomb

Dpk M 06

Gordon family tomb

Dpk M 07

Morrison family tomb opposite their residence

Dpk M 10

Downpatrick tomb, inscription not legible

There is another example of such a tomb at Ballee.

Ballee across graveyard 2004 04

Side view of the tomb at Ballee

Of particular interest to architectural historians are the two tombs at Downpatrick described by Professor Curl as consisting:

of square bases, with panelled sides, surmounted by pyramids having concave sides derived from early mausolea in the Kedron Valley, Jerusalem.

The link with the Kedron Valley is particularly intriguing.

Dpk M 08

Dpk M 09

The two concave tombs at Downpatrick ‘derived from early mausolea in the Kedron Valley, Jerusalem’

But by far the grandest tomb is to be found at Clough. Professor Curl describes it as:

A work of Victorial funerary architecture in full bloom…The grand ‘Order’ of consoles instead of pilasters or columns; the massive vermiculated rustication of the entrance; the shrouded urns; and the remnants of neoclassical form give an indication of the ‘fat atmosphere’ of funerals so typical of opulent burial in the nineteenth century…The funeral pomp of the Murland mausoleum at Clough is something one might expect to find in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise or in one of the great American cemeteries, rather than in a small rural churchyard in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne.

The Murland family were local mill owners and members of the church at Clough. The Memorial at Clough is now in need of conservation and the Follies Trust is hoping to tackle this in forthcoming months. On Wednesday, 13th March 2019 there will be a public lecture at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church at 7.30 pm by Dr Finbar McCormick on the topic of ‘Mausolea & Memorials to the dead in Ireland’. Everyone is welcome and the talk will be followed by refreshments.

Dr McCormick is a senior lecturer in the School of the Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University, Belfast and former Chair of the Discovery Programme. The Follies Trust writes:

The talk will look at the history and development of memorials to the dead in Ireland and beyond. It will show how the Reformation changed people’s attitude to commemorating the dead and will demonstrate how Presbyterianism in Scotland played such an important role in the development of the modern mausoleum. Dr McCormick will also show how classical ideas had such an influence on mausoleum design as can be seen in the magnificent Murland mausoleum at Clough. The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society list describes the mausoleum as ‘the phenomenal Murland vault of about 1860, furnished with all the pompe funebre of the classical manner, with trimmings.’ It was designed by Thomas Turner and is a fine example of the genre.

The Follies Trust leaflet contains illustrations of the tomb and information on how to make a donation to the project if you wish. It can be downloaded from this link:

Follies Mausoleum Flyer

 

Edict of Torda anniversary

prior to service torda

Inside the Catholic Church in Torda immediately prior to the service to mark the 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda, much of which was simultaneously translated into English for visitors

Last year I was very pleased and honoured to be present in Torda, Transylvania, to attend the celebrations to mark the 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda. I blogged about my experiences there and in Transylvania at the time and the blog can be read here:

Edict of Torda 450

In April 2018 I addressed the annual meeting of the Unitarian Historical Society at their meeting at Staverton near Daventry, Northamptonshire. The talk and illustrations were filmed by the Society and subsequently uploaded to YouTube in slightly edited form. But as this week just passed marks the 451st anniversary of the Edict of Torda on 13th January 2019 I thought I would add a link to it for anyone who has not seen it:

 

Another location for theological controversies in Transylvania in the sixteenth century was the cathedral of Gyulafehérvár, for a long time the centre of royal power in Transylvania and the resting place of the only Unitarian king in history. It is a very impressive late Romanesque building as these images which I took last year show:

gyulafehervar cathedral pews

gyulafehervar cathedral pillars

gyulafehervar cathedral pulpit

We were given a fascinating introduction to the cathedral and its history by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Gyulafehérvár who very graciously took us on an extensive guided tour. I was also pleased to get my photograph taken with both the Roman Catholic Archbishop and the Unitarian Bishop. Since I was also the Moderator of the Presbytery of Antrim at the time I thought that this made for an interesting trinity.

gyulafehervar 02

David Steers; György Jakubinyi, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Gyulafehérvár; Ferenc Bálint Benczédi, Bishop of the Hungarian Unitarian Church, at the cathedral, Gyulafehérvár

unveiling the monument at torda

Unveiling the new monument to religious freedom at Torda – ‘Ad Astra’, the work of Liviu Mocan, a Romanian artist 

 

Please note that this blog now has its own domain name:

velvethummingbee.com

and I am pleased to say that it is also now ad-free.

Faith and Freedom Calendar 2019 available to download

The Faith and Freedom Calendar is available and has been sent out to all individual subscribers to the journal. You can order additional hard copies from Nigel Clarke, the business manager (faithandfreedom@btinternet.com), in return for a donation which will go to the Send a Child to Hucklow Fund.

The whole Calendar is also available to view and to download via the following link:

faith and freedom calendar 2019 web

 

This year’s Calendar features:

Winter in the Vale of Edale, Peak District National Park. Photo:  Andrew Clarke

Church House, Abbey Street, Armagh.Photo: Paul Eliasberg

Gerbera (African Daisy). Photo: Graham Bonham

Juvenile blackbird. Photo: Graham Bonham

A celebration of famous Unitarians on Dunas Day, Torockó, Romania. Photo: Sára Bíró

St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta. Photo: Anne Wild

Lake Ohrid viewed from the church of the Archangel Michael, Radožda, Macedonia. Photo: Tony Lemon

Unitarian service at Bölön, Transylvania, Romania. Photo: Sára Bíró

Dandelion seed head. Photo: Graham Bonham

Methodist chapel, Barber Booth, Edale, Derbyshire. Photo: Andrew Clarke

Commemorating the centenary of the end of WW1, Downpatrick. Photo: David Steers

Cygnets on Ballydugan Lake, county Down. Photo: David Steers

Cover scan back 2019

Faith and Freedom 2019 Calendar

The Faith and Freedom Calendar for 2019 is now winging its way to all individual subscribers around the world. Additional copies can be had for a suggested donation of £5 (all of which goes to the Send a Child to Hucklow Fund). Email Nigel Clarke at faithandfreedom@btinternet.com if you would like to order one.

The Calendar is full of fantastic images celebrating the world of faith and the natural world, each month carrying a large illustration from around the world including Derbyshire Peak District, Northern Ireland (Armagh and Down), Malta (St John’s Co-Cathedral Valletta), Transylvania (Torockó and Bölön), and Macedonia (Lake Ohrid) as well as Graham Bonham’s brilliantly detailed pictures of plants and birds.

There is a scan of the cover at the top of this page, and of the back cover at the bottom and here are some of Graham’s images:

Flower Graham Bonham

March
Gerbera is a member of the daisy family and was named after Dr Trugott Gerber, an eighteenth-century German botanist and friend of Carl Linnaeus. The plant is native to the tropics and is commonly known as the African daisy. A perennial, it is attractive to insects and birds but resistant to deer. The picture was constructed by combining multiple images focused at different points into a single composite image.

 

blackbird

April
The common blackbird is a species of true thrush. RS Thomas’ poem ‘A Blackbird Singing’ cites “a suggestion of dark Places about it.” However it is not normally seen as a symbol of bad luck. In medieval times the trick of placing live birds under a pie crust just before serving may have been the origin of the nursery rhyme. A blackbird also featured on the UK 4d stamp in 1966.

 

Seeds Graham Bonham

September
The image of the dandelion seed head can be interpreted in many ways, explains Graham Bonham who created the focus-stacked composite image. “It could symbolize transience – the temporariness of existence: there one moment and blown away the next. Alternatively, it could represent fecundity – one bloom produces hundreds of potential new lives – or be about underappreciated beauty: even pesky ‘weeds’, which many people use ‘chemical weapons’ against (to the detriment of the environment), have beautiful aspects.”

 

Cover scan back 2019

Ballyclare Male Choir Concert at Dunmurry

Dunmurry window crop

Dunmurry Tiffany window viewed from the outside on the way into church

On Friday, 30th November First Dunmurry NS Presbyterian Church hosted a wonderful concert by Ballyclare Male Choir. The choir provided a varied and exciting programme under the direction of Paul Briggs (who wore a different waistcoat for each segment of the show!) with accompaniment by Sheelagh Greer on the church’s new piano.

Dunmurry choir 02

Dunmurry choir 03

Dunmurry window ledge

Ballyclare Male Choir

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.

ACoT landscape logo

 

Seven Churches in Liverpool in 1859 viewed from the air

Glen Huntley has posted another fascinating and informative piece on his blog, this time about three houses which once stood close to the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth. These are Elm House, Chapelville and Cooper’s Folly. All three houses long disappeared to make way for the Victorian Tram Sheds and the later twentieth-century extension. The Tram Sheds themselves were demolished in 1993. But you can read Glen Huntley’s excellent post here:

https://theprioryandthecastironshore.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/robert-griffiths-toxteth-park-elm-house-chapelville-and-coopers-folly/

William Roscoe, the famous Unitarian and abolitionist is believed to have lived at Elm House, although his connection with this particular house doesn’t seem to have been proved conclusively. The ‘Dingle’ was the inspiration for one of his poems and he certainly did live locally at one point. He was definitely a member of the Ancient Chapel as well, I have the original ‘call’ issued to the Rev John Porter in 1827 and it includes William Roscoe’s signature.

But another thing Glen incorporates into this post is some detail from an aerial view of Liverpool by John R. Isaac in 1859 and published in New York. This is a view from a hot air balloon and can be viewed on the Library of Congress site at https://www.loc.gov/resource/g5754l.ct007678/?r=0.035,0.095,1.051,0.668,0

The image is fully zoomable and gives some remarkable detail of the city in the middle of the nineteenth century. The city without the cathedrals, the Liver Buildings and some other landmarks has a different look to it and it is not always easy to find your way about. However, Glen has found the Ancient Chapel and Elm House, Chapelville and Cooper’s Folly and includes an annotated close up of that part of the picture similar to this one:

Ancient Chapel from air

The tall church on the right is St Paul’s Church which is another place I intend to return to on this blog at some point. (The Ancient Chapel can be seen in the bottom left hand corner behind the stage coach).

But looking at the map I discovered another group of churches in Liverpool which must be a unique image of some long-lost buildings.

If you zoom in to the centre of the picture (and it is amazing how much detail can be uncovered there) you get this view:

Hope Street from air

It’s interesting because it shows a collection of now almost all vanished churches still clean and complete: unstained by the smoke and pollution that would gradually turn their stone work black and still with their towers and steeples.

At the centre of this scene is Hope Street Unitarian Church. Once the church of James Martineau and demolished in the 1960s. I blogged about Hope Street on a number of occasions but primarily here:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/the-church-on-hope-street/

and according to the statistics one of the most frequently read pages on this blog.

Behind Hope Street you can see Myrtle Street Baptist Church, the church of Hugh Stowell Brown (soon to be the subject of a new biography). I have written about that church here:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/hugh-stowell-brown-and-myrtle-street-chapel/

and again it is interesting to see a church looking clean and bright when every photograph of it shows it as black and grimy. The same is true of Canning Street Presbyterian Church in the bottom right hand corner of the image, also demolished in the 1960s and now the site of a modern German Church. To the left of this church is the Catholic Apostolic Church, still with its tower in place, a remarkable building, burnt down in the 1980s.

The long building without a tower in the bottom left corner is St Bride’s Church of England, still there today. St Bride’s can be seen in a rare film of 1901 on the BFI Player. Although the church is not identified it clearly is St Bride’s:

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-liverpool-church-parade-and-inspection-1901-1901-online

In the top left hand corner you can see Rodney Street Church of Scotland, a building saved from destruction but now flats, and just in front is St Philip’s Church Hardman Street, a ‘cast iron’ church like St Michael’s in the Hamlet which disappeared inside another building in 1882 only to be partly uncovered again when that building was knocked down in 2017! You can read about that remarkable discovery on this very interesting blog:

https://liverpool1207blog.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/st-philips-church-hardman-st-liverpool-1816-2017/

But seven accurate looking representations of different churches, only two of which still exist, taken from a hot air balloon in 1859.

 

Old Meeting House Antrim

Earlier this week I was pleased to get a look inside the Old Meeting-House at Antrim in the company of Rev Dr John Nelson and architect Dara O’Malley. This is the original Presbyterian meeting-house in the town which became Non-Subscribing under the leadership of Rev John Abernethy, the ‘father of Non-Subscription’ in Ireland.

Antrim June 1913

The meeting-house in 1913

Not a very large building but the home of an active and important congregation for a long time. In the 1970s the congregation was faced with a struggle to maintain the building and it was transferred to the local Council which was then Antrim Borough Council. From 1980 it was let out as a boxing club which closed some years ago and this year the meeting-house was returned to the church. As the photos show the building has faced some years of neglect but this point marks the beginning of the restoration of the meeting-house and the renewal of the congregation’s witness in the town.

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The interior in 2018

It is quite a prominent building as you come into the town and nearby a large three-storey building is the original manse. I wrote about the story of the manse a couple of years ago, the post can be read here:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2015/05/07/a-vestige-of-protestant-dissent-in-antrim-town/

Antrim Exterior front including manse

View of the meeting-house, the old manse is on the extreme right of the picture

Most of the graveyard is now managed by the Council and this includes some interesting grave stones including the tombstone of the family of Rev William Bryson, minister at Antrim from 1764 to 1810. He was married to a granddaughter of John Abernethy and whilst holding a very radical theology was less radical in the political upheavals of the 1790s.

Antrim Bryson family tombstone

Bryson family tombstone

Inside there is little obvious reminder of the building’s life as a church although a memorial to John Carley, a barrister at law and the son of the Rev John Carley (minister 1811-1861) , can be found, as well as the outline of the decorative moulding around the long vanished pulpit and the place where the sounding board was once attached.

Antrim John Carley memorial

Memorial to John Carley

Antrim pulpit moulding

Moulding above the site of the pulpit of 1891

The interior was ‘turned’ in 1891, that is the location of the pulpit was moved from the centre of the long wall to the short wall at one end and the pews re-arranged accordingly. All those fittings are long gone but there is now tremendous potential for this survival from 1700.

Antrim Datestone

Datestone

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