To accompany our service of worship conducted from Oxford we have a few views of various parts of the university and its environs.
The service features readings, hymns and prayers as well as poems relating to Oxford. As part of the service we are very pleased to have Graham Murphy read Duns Scotus’s Oxford, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Oxford, by C.S. Lewis.
Readings: Psalm 139 read by Rev Dr David Steers Duns Scotus’s Oxford by Gerard Manley Hopkins, read by Graham Murphy Oxford by C.S. Lewis, read by Graham Murphy Oxford (extract) by T. Lovatt Williams, read by Sue Steers
Hymns: ‘The King of Love my shepherd is’, Alfie McClelland (Clough) ‘From all that dwell below the skies’, Allen Yarr (Dunmurry) ‘Lord of all hopefulness’, John Strain (Ballee) ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord’, Laura Patterson (Downpatrick) ‘In Christ Alone’, John Strain (Ballee) ‘It is well with my soul’, Allen Yarr (Dunmurry)
In the service you will see: Radcliffe Camera, Brasenose College, River Thames (Isis), Harris Manchester College, Mansfield College, New College, Christ Church (Peckwater Quad, Tom Quad, Memorial Garden), Christ Church Meadow, Old English Longhorn Cattle, Divinity School, Bodleian Library, Sheldonian Theatre, Christ Church Cathedral, University Church, Martyrs Memorial.
Back in September 2017 I started to look at pew numbers (click here to see that post), particularly looking at Ballee and Downpatrick. Ballee is interesting because numbers like this
were impressively painted on each box pew but removed when the interior was refurbished before the First World War. Since they re-used the timber in the reconstruction of the new interior if you know where to look you can still find the old numbers in odd places like the one above, which is on the inside of a cupboard door. The Ballee numbers, where they still exist, are much larger and emphatic than most pew numbers.
Downpatrick only has pew numbers upstairs in the galleries, and Clough and Dunmurry for instance, don’t have any numbers at all. In modern times the idea of numbering pews is not something that anyone would take up, but for hundreds of years it was essential. Pews were occupied via pew rents, the families who rented them had an entirely proprietorial attitude to the pew or half pew which they paid for. This is the origin of the sense – which many people still have – of a certain pew being ‘their’ pew. In many cases, generations ago, this was quite literally true. In more recent times large urban congregations that had prominent preachers would tell those who rented pews to be in place fifteen minutes before the service began or else their pew would be given to some of the queue of potential hearers formed up outside.
But I have had a look out for pew numbers recently and here is a selection.
First of all a nice example of a ceramic pew number from Killinchy. The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Killinchy was built in 1846 and I have no reason to doubt that this sequence of numbers all date from that period:
Older examples, which I would suspect date from the opening of the church in 1783, are the engraved brass numbers affixed to the oak doors of the pews in First Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast:
In Dublin Unitarian Church the numbers are painted and again will date from the opening of the church, in this case in 1863.
You can see the care and precision that has gone into these numbers with their three dimensional gold shields.
All Souls’ Church, Belfast dates from 1896, a building designed by the architect Walter Planck. But the pews are much older and the numbers will be as old as the pews. Again these are brass with the numbers engraved on the surface and picked out in black paint. They still look sharp and clear. The pews in All Souls’ date from 1871. In that year the interior of the Second Congregation, also on Rosemary Street, Belfast, was entirely re-modelled and the box pews replaced with modern open pews, possibly re-using some of the timber from the old pews. This would have been a move as bold and radical in 1871 as a church hauling out its pews today and replacing them with chairs.
The numbers must date from Rosemary Street times because they never were an entirely complete sequence, a tendency which has become more noticeable as more pews have been removed in the last decade.
In all these churches a lot of effort has gone into supplying bespoke numbers for the pews. Times change and their importance has waned but each example speaks to us eloquently of a particular time and place.
On Saturday, 11th June members of Dunmurry along with members of First Belfast and All Souls’ Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches enjoyed a great visit to to Dublin. We were made very welcome by the Unitarian congregation on St Stephen’s Green and treated to an excellent tour of sites connected with the roots of Protestant Dissent in Dublin by Rory Delany.
Rory has a fund of knowledge about the history of Dublin and of the different strands of Dissent in the city, which largely date back to the period of Oliver Cromwell. We were taken on a fascinating walk around some of both the familiar and not so familiar parts of Dublin and all of us gained a deep insight into the way Dissent – Independency – Presbyterianism – Unitarianism – developed in the city and the contribution made by members of the Dissenting churches to the history of the city.
Rory gave us an outline of the plan before we set off. The Unitarian Church was built in 1863 by the congregation of Strand Street and four years later it was joined by the congregation of Eustace Street. These two congregations contained many of the leading merchants in the city, families which had played an important part in civic life for decades, and were groups which were rooted in at least four churches which had maintained a continuity of existence from Cromwellian and Puritan times onwards.
Perhaps the most direct stream of religious life which fed in to the modern church on St Stephen’s Green was that of Wood Street. The first minister connected with this congregation is usually said to be John Owen, a leading Puritan divine who came to Dublin as chaplain to Oliver Cromwell and later became dean of Christ Church, Oxford during the Commonwealth. The congregation may date back to Elizabethan times but the first minister in Wood Street itself is thought to be Stephen Charnock who came to Dublin as chaplain to Henry Cromwell in 1655. A fellow of Trinity College, Dublin he was a ‘lecturer’ at St Werburgh’s and returned to England following the Restoration in 1660.
Wood Street was the scene of the ministry of Daniel Williams for approximately 20 years. Welsh-born he moved to London in 1687 and became the leading figure in English Dissent, establishing the library that bears his name to this day. Other distinguished and sometimes controversial ministers to serve this congregation include Joseph Boyse, Thomas Emlyn, John Abernethy and James Duchal (click on the links where shown for more information on this blog) . The congregation moved to Strand Street in 1764.
Samuel Winter, a key figure in Cromwellian Ireland and Provost of Trinity College, was also preacher at St Nicholas’ Church from 1650 and had as colleague from 1656 Samuel Mather, the son of Richard Mather (for more on his family and their connection with Toxteth click here) a leading Puritan in England, New England and Ireland. Samuel Mather was a lecturer at Christ Church and a Fellow of Trinity College. He died in 1671 and was buried in St Nicholas’ Church. He was later succeeded in the ministry by his brother Nathaniel, by which time the congregation had built their own meeting house on New Row.
Eventually New Row moved to Eustace Street in 1728. Nearby was a Quaker meeting-house and Rory told us that one of the Quakers said of the Eustace Street meeting-house that ‘When there is so much vanity without, there won’t be much religion within’. But it is actually a very well-proportioned and elegant building, although eighteenth-century Quakers had their own view of such things. Having said that what survives of Eustace Street today is only the facade and that is not shown off to best effect by the banners hung outside by the Ark Theatre group that use the new building.
Eustace Street was also the location of the first ministry of James Martineau (click here to read more about James Martineau on this blog).
We had a brief look at the City Hall, built originally as the Royal Exchange in 1779 by the precursor of the Chamber of Commerce. The merchants who made up the membership of the Chamber of Commerce included a disproportionate number of Protestant Dissenters, and of these a large proportion were members of one of the three Presbyterian (Unitarian) congregations in Dublin. Indeed, Rory told us, a majority of the Presidents of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce between 1785 and 1870 were trustees or members of the congregations which went on to form the St Stephens Green congregation.
It was a wonderful day full of interest and we are all indebted to Rory for sharing his considerable knowledge with us.
On Wednesday, 4th May 2022 the long delayed final stage of the restoration of the Murland Mausoleum by the Follies Trust at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church took place. There was a good attendance of people gathered at the event, originally scheduled to take place in March 2020 but inevitably cancelled at the start of the lockdown. The meeting included a short service of thanksgiving for the work of the Follies Trust and the singing of the hymn Praise my soul the King of Heaven, accompanied by Melanie Campbell on the organ. Rev Dr David Steers welcomed everyone and spoke about the history of the Church, and introduced Dr Finbar McCormick who gave a fascinating talk on the restoration of the Murland Vault and the history and place of mausolea as places of burial in Ireland. Primrose Wilson, chair of the Follies Trust, thanked everyone involved, especially Noel Killen who had carried out the restoration of the monument, and invited everyone to Ballydugan Mill where the launch of the Trust’s new book Fifteen Years of the Follies Trust took place.
The First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick will publish this new book in October 2021. Written by Mary Stewart, the Church secretary, it is a 36 page, illustrated guide to the notable graves and memorials in the churchyard.
A Guide to the Notable Grave Inscriptions in The First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick
contains 39 black and white illustrations within a colour cover. It costs just £3 and will be available in the Church from October. They will also be available to order by post.
We have now reached the letters, K to M in our alphabetical survey of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism. So our next three videos look, in turn, at Kedron, the Lord’s Supper and Henry Montgomery.
When the Paschal evening fell Deep on Kedron’s hallowed dell, When around the festal board Sat the Apostles with their Lord, Then his parting word he said, Blessed the cup and brake the bread – “This whene’er ye do or see, Evermore remember me.” From a hymn by A.P. Stanley
James Martineau wrote another hymn which mentions Kedron, which is our subject for the letter K. To find out what links Jerusalem’s Kedron valley with the churchyard at Downpatrick watch this service. Filmed at the First Presbyterian Church (NS) Downpatrick, Mary Stewart gives the reading from John ch.18 v.1-9, and church organist, Laura Patterson, plays the hymns Christ, be our light and Great is thy faithfulness’.
The Lord’s Supper
L stands for the Lord’s Supper and in this short film we look at how we understand this important service. Filmed at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church the reading comes from 1 Corinthians ch.11 v.23-25. Church organist, John Strain, plays Lord of all hopefulness, May the mind of Christ my Saviour and My faith looks up to Thee.
The thirteenth instalment in the series is the letter M and features the Rev Dr Henry Montgomery. Filmed at Dunmurry, where Montgomery himself ministered from 1809 to his death in 1865, we look at his importance and his legacy. The reader is Bobby Graham who reads Matthew ch.23 v.1-12. Allen Yarr plays the hymns From all that dwell below the skies and Let saints on earth in concert sing.
I was back on Lime Street about ten or eleven days after the previous post (Digging up History on Lime Street). Lime Street is most notable for a number of things: the railway station that bears its name and, of course, St George’s Hall.
But as I went past the road works I noticed that all the setts/cobbles had been removed as well as the old tram lines. I also noticed that a very deep hole had been dug in the road.
Stopping to take a picture a voice from behind me asked ‘Are you in the habit of taking pictures of large holes in the road?’ It was one of the work men who seemed pleased that someone was photographing their handiwork. He and his colleague explained that all the setts had been taken away to be re-used by the Council and that the tramlines had been taken away for scrap. They were widening the pavement, adding a cycle lane and – inevitably – narrowing the road. The hole, apparently, was to allow the planting of trees which would form a barrier between the cycle lane and the road.
Further up the road, in front of Lime Street Station, they have already planted trees and I suppose these will be something similar:
There are a lot of road works going on and safer and well-landscaped roads can only be an improvement but I can’t help wondering what they expect to happen to the current volume of traffic. In the meantime the streets are busy with diggers, barriers and cordons:
Our service is filmed in Oxford and features some of the well-known as well as some lesser-known sights of Oxford. Sue Steers reads Psalm 96 and Jenny Narramore shares an important part of College life in Christ Church. We also have a short reading from ex-slave and abolitionist’s autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Our organists play five hymns: Thine be the glory, John Strain, Ballee; Be still for the presence of the Lord, Laura Patterson Downpatrick; Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, Alfie McClelland, Clough; How deep the Father’s love, Allen Yarr, Dunmurry; Blest are the pure in heart, John Strain, Ballee.
As a visual experience Oxford never disappoints. As the seasons change, as the weather or the light changes even in a single day, so the buildings repay careful scrutiny, with the colours of the stone reflecting the sun, the rain, a glowering sky or the bright blue backdrop of recent sunny days. There are less tourists now. Even the lure of Harry Potter and Inspector Morse are no longer sufficient to cram the streets with eager faces, although the city is busy enough despite the pandemic.
But here are a few images I took recently over a couple of days.
They are digging up the streets of Liverpool city centre all over the place at the moment. This is very much the case on Lime Street where they seem to be widening the pavement at one point and presumably planning to lay a new road surface.
Lime Street is a key thoroughfare in the city’s history. It has undergone some ‘development’ in recent years most notably with the controversial demolition of the old Futurist Cinema which I photographed when efforts were being made to save it. I never posted those pictures at the time although I might do in the future. The Futurist dated back to 1912 and deserved to be preserved. Over the road is the art deco frontage of the former ABC Cinema which is in some sort of limbo but also deserves preservation. I have some interesting historic photographs of Lime Street in times gone by which I might post up at some point. But walking along Lime Street now you are coralled behind a large fence, beyond which a digger is removing the old setts which can be seen in part of the road.
It is interesting to see what once constituted the road surface in Lime Street. The digger is scooping up the setts, noisily shaking them about to remove all the excess debris, and then piling them high at the side of the road.
But the other thing this work seems to be exposing is some of the old tramlines on Lime Street. Disused for seventy years and probably unseen for almost as long the tramlines have been uncovered by the digging.
What will happen to the old tramlines? Presumably the old setts are going to be sold off or possibly reused somewhere by the Council. I don’t know what you do with old tramlines, but it is interesting to see them, and interesting to reflect on what lies below the surface of our streets.