The Dominican Church of the Holy Trinity and the Unitarian history of Kraków

On arriving in Kraków early in August 1879 the second place Alexander Gordon visited, after Ulica Bracka, was the Dominican Church of the Holy Trinity:

Dominican ext 01

Then I went to the Trójcy Kósciól where Gregory Pauli, on Trinity Sunday, 1562, preached that famous sermon during which the golden ball fell from the top of the spire, and the Unitarians said it was a good – and the Catholics a bad – omen.

Gregory Pauli (1526-1591) was one of the leaders of the Reformed church in Poland who had been appointed pastor of the congregation of Kraków in 1558. Educated at Kraków, Königsberg and Wittenberg he was regarded as a very able preacher. By this time the former Dominican church was in the hands of the Protestants and through the patronage of Stanlislas Cikowski , arch-chamberlain of Kraków and a general in the army, Pauli was appointed minister of Holy Trinity Church. As well as being an open advocate of Unitarianism he was also a pacifist and espoused millennialism, adult baptism and communism. He was involved in the subsequent division of Polish Protestantism into the Minor and Major Reformed churches.

According to Robert Wallace, in the second volume of his Antitrinitarian Biography (1850), “the citizens crowded to hear his sermons”. Wallace also recounts this incident on Trinity Sunday: “Some said, that the blow was meant to strike terror to the heart of the Preacher; but others said, that it was intended to impart new courage to him. The wiser and more reflecting portion of the community were silent.” Older images of the church seem to show a tower at the front of the building which is presumably where this golden ball was positioned.

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Chancel ceiling

The church, dating from 1222 and currently undergoing extensive renovation, is every bit as impressive today as when Gordon saw it. In 1879 he wrote:

A fire, in 1850, did very serious damage to this church, but it has been handsomely restored, with a good deal of the old work entire. From a noble marble gallery, adjoining the choir, I could view the whole interior and the spectacle was striking in every way. Certainly the Jesuits did their work well. A more devoutly Catholic assemblage I never saw. People in all sorts of picturesque costumes were kneeling prostrate like Turks, and kissing the floor. The white-robed Dominicans sang lustily in their stalls, and the organ was a splendid one. The vergers in this church were women, all in pure white linen, with no caps, but elaborately-braided hair.

I don’t think there are women vergers any more but I saw plenty of white-robed monks and large, devout congregations. I sought out some of the other things Gordon had found but was not entirely successful, because of the restoration it is not possible to see everything.

Dominican cloisters

Part of the extensive cloisters

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Another view of the cloisters

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A side chapel

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Staircase to the ‘noble marble gallery’ currently undergoing restoration

Gordon was impressed by what he saw in Kraków:

The richness of the churches here, of the cathedral especially, in splendid monuments, is beyond description. It was not without a thrill of emotion that I stood before the red marble figure of Archbishop Peter Gamrat, who burnt Katherine Weygel in the market-place. This prelate’s likeness has a huge underhung jowl, but a massive, intellectual forehead, exactly correspondent with the career of power and sensuality which he ran.

Peter Gamrat (whose memorial is actually in Wawel cathedral) was simultaneously Bishop of Kraków (1538-1545) and Archbishop of Gniezno, Primate of Poland (1441-1545), and was responsible for the brutal treatment of Katherine Weygel (c.1460-1539).

Katherine Weygel/Katarzyna Weiglowa (or Catherine Vogel as he calls her) is one of very few women listed in Wallace’s Antitrinitarian Biography. She was married to Melchior, a Jewish goldsmith and alderman of Krakow. She seems to have imbibed something of his religious views and after his death was charged with apostasy telling her inquisitors “I believe in the existence of one God, who has created all the visible and invisible world, and who cannot be conceived by the human intellect.” For this she was imprisoned for ten years before being burned at the stake at the age of about 80 in the market place. This took place at a time in Polish history when such brutal oppression was rare but Katherine Weygel certainly suffered at the hands of the religious authorities.

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The market square in which Katherine Weygel was burned at the stake

In his letter to the Christian Life of 1879 Gordon also recorded that to his surprise his guide book noted there were 14 Unitarians listed in Kraków. The local Protestant pastor, who was very helpful to him, could not account for this in any way. But in a later publication Gordon suggested that this was probably a reference to “Uniat Greeks, that is members of that section of the Greek Church which is un union with Rome”. So there wasn’t a little hidden group of Unitarians that had laid undiscovered for centuries, but there was plenty of Unitarian history, hidden in plain sight.

 

Fausto Sozzini, the Polish Brethren and Kraków

When Alexander Gordon visited Kraków in 1879 the first place he went to see was Ulica Bracka, which translates roughly as ‘Brother Street’. It was here that Fausto Sozzini lived from 1580 to 1598. The exact location of his home is known and there have been suggestions that a plaque be put up in his memory on the house, but this has yet to happen. In 1598 a gang of students dragged Sozzini from his home, burnt his books and threatened to throw him in the Vistula. He was only saved from this by the intervention of some of the professors in the nearby university, including Martin Vadovita, the professor of theology. From this date he left the city and went to live at Lusławice.

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Ulica Bracka looking towards the Franciscan friary which gave the street its name

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Ulica Bracka looking towards Sozzini’s house

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Sozzini’s house

There was also an ‘Arian’ church in Kraków. Built of wood I am not sure when it was originally constructed but Protestantism emerged in Krakow very soon after Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517 and the Polish Brethren church must have developed in the city in the 1560s. It was destroyed, however, in riots of May 1591. On 24th September 1621 the present Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas the Apostle was consecrated by Bishop Tomasz Oborski on the site of the Polish Brethren church. It seems that St Thomas the Apostle (‘Doubting Thomas’) was a popular saint during the counter-reformation for new churches that had replaced Socinian places of worship.

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Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Ulica Szpitalna

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Interior of the church

When Alexander Gordon arrived in Kraków he travelled via Breslau finding hitherto unknown letters of Sozzini’s uncles in an archive there. Once amongst what he described as the “ivy-hung towers” of the city of Kraków the second place he visited was the Dominican church, the Church of the Holy Trinity which I will look at in a future post.

Great George Street Chapel, Liverpool

Great George Street Chapel is one of the most impressive buildings in Liverpool although it may not be as appreciated as it ought to be. Of course, it is not called ‘Great George Street Chapel’ today and has not been so designated for more than half a century. After closure as a chapel it became an arts centre known originally as the Blackie (the building was then stained black by decades of industrial and domestic pollution) subsequently renamed in more recent times the Black-E. This has proved to be a long-lasting and effective institution which has ensured the survival of this building. It’s much altered on the inside but the exterior is much as it always has been.

GGC front side view wide

It’s remarkably imposing and is now set off against the architectural additions that have been made to Liverpool’s Chinatown including the arch and the lions that line the street.

GGC front view with Chinese Arch

GGC front side view portrait

The congregation that built the chapel liked to claim descent from the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth. In the 1770s a new Independent Chapel was founded nearer the town centre, on Newington, including members who had left the Ancient Chapel because of the direction of the theology of its minister and leading members. Without being spectacular this church appears to have flourished for some decades until they called the Rev Thomas Spencer in February 1811. Then aged just 20 years old he had a resounding impact gathering a massive congregation of up to 2,000 hearers. His successor Thomas Raffles described his impact as in this way:

“The chapel soon became thronged to excess, and not alone the thoughtless and the gay, whom the charms of a persuasive eloquence and an engaging manner might attract, but pious and experienced Christians sat at his feet with deep attention and delight. There seemed to be, indeed, a shaking amongst the dry bones. A divine unction evidently attended his ministry, and such were the effects produced that every beholder with astonishment and admiration cried What hath God wrought?

They needed a bigger church and so built anew on Great George Street in 1811.

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A contemporary engraving of the church of 1840

But just four months after laying the foundation stone tragedy struck when Thomas Spencer drowned while swimming in the Mersey near the Herculaneum Potteries. But this did not deter the new church which soon called the formidable figure of Rev Thomas Raffles. In the best traditions of non-conformity not all the members of Newington left for the new church, a congregation stayed behind for decades to come but Thomas Raffles ministered at Great George Street for 49 years and when the new building burnt down in 1840 they built the striking edifice that remains to this day.

GGC corner detail

GGC dome detail

GGC door

It cost £13,922 in 1840 and could seat 1,800 hearers. The architect was Joseph Franklin, the Corporation Surveyor, and the massive columns around the circular entrance are said to have come from a quarry in Park Road, Toxteth. Remembered also as a pioneering architect of railway buildings Joseph Franklin succeeded John Foster junior, the architect of Rodney Street Church of Scotland, as the Corporation Surveyor. As with that building this is a significant and impressive structure.

GGC front view

GGC pillar heads

GGC pillar heads circular

 

 

Raków

It was a great experience to visit Raków, once the intellectual centre of the Polish Brethren and home to a famous academy which attracted students from all across Europe. Today Raków is a little more than a village but in the sixteenth and seventeenth century it was a significant town that also housed a printing press whose output had a far-reaching significance, most notably with the publication in 1605 of the Racovian Catechism. Philip Hewett called it ‘the Unitarian capital of Europe’ in the early seventeenth century. Established almost as a Unitarian Utopia in 1569 the early years of the town’s existence were characterised by constant debate in what was known as the ‘perpetual synod’ but it was really in the seventeenth century that the town began to flourish under the leadership of Jakob Sienieński. But the tolerance that had marked Polish society in the previous century began to break down and in 1638 the authorities finally dealt with Raków; the church was torn down, the academy was closed, the press and all its books destroyed and all the Unitarians sent into exile.

As a result there is not a lot still to see in Raków that dates from the early seventeenth century. The site of the printing press is known, but nothing remains of it. The site of the graveyard is known but there is nothing visible. Some sort of archaeological investigation may have taken place on the site in the 1960s.

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The Roman Catholic Church in Raków

On the site of the Arian church a Roman Catholic church was built which still proclaims in Latin that it was consecrated in 1655 to the glory of God the One in Three after the eternal banishment of the impious Arians (Arriana Impietae) and calling upon people to pray for Bishop Zadzik who had brought this about.

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Plaque above the entrance to the church

Alongside the church is what was once the house of the Arian minister. Perhaps the most substantial reminder of the days of the Racovian Catechism, until relatively recently it housed a museum although this has now been removed.

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A sixteenth-century house in the village is now the home of Racovian Society who work hard at maintaining the story of Raków. When we visited we were made very welcome by the members and were able to see the large exhibition as well as young members of the community dressed in seventeenth-century costume practising crafts, cooking and playing musical instruments from that time.

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Rakow interior meeting cropped

Raków became the home of a large Jewish community and the Racovian Society also seeks to remember them, a people who were destroyed in the Holocaust.

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One of the exhibitions commemorating the Jewish community of Raków

One of the many pictures on the wall is a copy of the painting made for the ceiling of Bishop Zadzik’s palace in Kielce which shows the Arians gathered before the king and the hierarchy prior to their expulsion:

Rakow Kielce picture cropped

Rakow view to graveyard

Looking towards the site of the seventeenth-century graveyard

The grave of Fausto Sozzini

Whenever I visit a place with Unitarian historical connections I find it is always instructive to see what Alexander Gordon made of things first. Gordon was a meticulous historian with remarkable skills which included an extraordinary ability to learn and read a vast number of languages. Consequently even though much of his writing dates back 140 years his work retains valuable insights and is often the base line for much of the research that came after. This is especially true for his work on continental Unitarianism where his research and reading across many sources and in many obscure archives and library has been repeated by very few English-speaking scholars ever since.

I am very grateful to Sue Killoran, the librarian of Harris Manchester College, Oxford, for providing me with copies of two letters he wrote to the Christian Life while travelling around Poland in 1879. The first letter concerns the grave of Fausto Sozzini/Faustus Socinus. Alexander Gordon was, quite probably, the first person from Britain to visit this site, this was in August 1879. His journey to get there was rather more convoluted than ours, we travelled in an air conditioned coach from Kraków in about two hours, on what might now almost be called a well trodden pilgrim route. Gordon first of all had to identify the spot. He made ‘fruitless enquiries’ in Kraków and Breslau (now Wrocław) but eventually found Lusławice on a military map. The nearest railway station was at Bogumilowice some twelve miles away, but he got off the train at Turnow, sixteen miles away, and visited the grave by walking a circuit out to Lusławice and back to Bogumilowice.  A round trip, according to his own reckoning, of 28 miles. But, he said, “It was a fine walk, through a charming country, and the fatigues of the road were abated by a friendly lift for some five miles given me by a hospitable Jew.” Gordon was able to meet up with the Catholic priest in the nearest town of Zacliczyn who cheerfully offered to be his guide to the tombstone of Sozzini.

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Sozzini’s memorial today

Of course, this is the tombstone rather than the site of the actual grave of Sozzini. Gordon was of the opinion that the site which he visited was the original site of the Lusławice Arian church, what he calls the Oratorium, but what survived of his grave was brought there some years after his burial.

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Pilgrims at the memorial (This photo and the top photo by Sue Steers)

Philip Hewett recounts how the site of Sozzini’s grave was in 1604 “as secure a setting for an arch-heretic as could be found anywhere”. But it wasn’t to be, most of the memorial and possibly also his bones were thrown into the river Dunajec a few years later. All that remained was the cube-shaped stone – “one huge block of limestone some 4ft. square” – which Gordon says once carried an inscription on each side. These were each in a different language but the only one that is visible today is in Italian. Although barely legible it says:

Chi semina virtu, racoglie fama

E vera fama supera la morte

Which means ‘The one who virtue sows doth reap renown, and true renown doth triumph over death’.

Socinus Grave Main stone

The original grave stone

By tradition the inscription on his grave is also supposed to have said (in Latin):

Babylon is completely overthrown, Luther demolished the roof, Calvin the walls, but Socinus the foundations

But as Gordon observed in 1879 “there is no trace of the famous couplet which is said to have formed part of the epitaph”. Gordon also noted another stone with the initials SW inscribed on it. This he took to belong to the Wiszowati family who were related to Sozzini by marriage and continued to lead the Polish Brethren after his death. I take it that this is the flat stone in front of the memorial.

Socinus Grave Front stone

Sozzini was forced to leave Kraków in 1598 and found sanctuary in Lusławice where he died in 1604. When Gordon visited the site of his memorial it consisted of no more than the two stones. In the twentieth century, largely at the direction of Earl Morse Wilbur the memorial was created. Designed by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, a prominent Polish architect, it was built in 1933. In fact the memorial was moved again at this time to the inside of the grounds of the local estate.

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“The adjacent Schloss”

Gordon had noted this estate when he came in 1879 – “The adjacent Schloss is modern, but with traces of antiquity about it” – and today it is owned by the eminent Polish conductor and composer Krzysztof Penderecki. It seems a more fitting setting for the memorial to be inside the impressive grounds of this estate with its plentiful trees and shrubs said to include no less than 700 varieties of plants.

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Socinus Grave Estate 03

The surroundings are still as appealing as when Gordon saw them:

“The spacious garden adjoining Sozzini’s last resting place, lies in the midst of a secluded but rich and fertile vale, sprinkled with noble trees, and embosomed by a glorious amphitheatre of swelling hills.”

Socinus Grave Estate 02

Nearby, Krzysztof Penderecki has built a most impressive music college. We were privileged to get to visit it and hear renditions of Polish Brethren songs adapted for a solo voice accompanied by a lute.

The Polish Brethren

At the end of July I was pleased to be part of an organised tour visiting sites connected with the Polish Brethren/Minor Reformed Church organised by the Rev Dr Jay Atkinson of Starr King School for the Ministry in California. When I was at college Arthur Long always used to quote Raymond Holt who said that the story of this little-known Polish church of the radical reformation was an illustration that it is not always the case that something good could not be destroyed by determined persecution. The Polish Brethren were totally wiped out in the counter-reformation: imprisoned, persecuted, exiled, forced to convert. But, of course, it is also true that through their publications and through the witness of those who went into exile something of them did survive and for a church that only existed from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century a surprisingly large amount of physical links with them remain.

They have attracted the attention of a number of highly able Unitarian scholars over the years, most notably, in recent times the late Rev Dr Phillip Hewett who wrote a wonderful article for me for Faith and Freedom in 2017 which can be read online here:

In search of Racovia

One of the points Dr Hewett was always keen to make was that the Transylvanian edict of Torda of 1568 (which marked its 450th anniversary in 2018) was not the first public expression of toleration. This came in Poland in the reign of King Sigismund Augustus, who reigned from 1548 to 1572 and who declared himself ‘King of the people, not of their consciences’.

A combination of weak royal power and reform minded nobles with authority within their own areas meant a variety of religious views developed in Poland including the Polish Brethren who may have numbered as many as 40,000 at their highest, their 200 or so churches extending across all the vast Polish territories which then included Lithuania and parts of Ukraine.

It was fascinating to visit some surviving sites connected with the Polish Brethren and remarkable that some of them had survived, given their effective destruction by royal decree in 1658. The disused buildings that we saw are now recognised by the state and have been re-roofed although they are still in need of considerable restoration.

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The church at Cieszkowy

The first chapel we visited was at Cieszkowy, in the countryside to the north of Kraków, the general location of all the churches we visited. This was similar in design to many of the chapels we were to see with two rooms downstairs, one the chapel and one a schoolroom, with rooms upstairs (which we were not able to visit) which presumably was the house of the minister. I believe this chapel also had a period of use as a Calvinist church, it was generally the case that the landowners decided the religious direction of the locals, and so such buildings could change hands before the full impact of the counter-reformation was felt.

One of the intriguing features of this building was that a number of inscriptions have survived in the interior: including a line from the gospel of Matthew in Polish inside the meeting-house, and a quotation, in Latin, from Virgil above the entrance to the schoolroom. The mixture of classical and scriptural texts suggest the temper and nature of the religious culture of the Polish Brethren.

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Inscription from the gospel of Matthew

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Classical quotation from Virgil

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The interior of the meeting house at Cieszkowy, showing the sixteenth-century doors

Not that far away from Cieszkowy is the chapel at Kolosy. It also has been re-roofed and has a similar layout. Here we shared in an act of worship and, as one of three ministers present, I was privileged to take part in leading the service together with the Rev Dr Sandor Kovacs of Koloszvár, Transylvania  and the Rev Dr Roger Jones of Sacramento, California. It was an unexpected privilege and delight to take part in worship in this building of 1654, built by the Polish Brethren just four years before the expulsion of the Arians (as they were frequently termed, named after Arius, the 3rd/4th century theologian). There can’t have been many services held in here since then.

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Kolosy. The date stone of this church can be seen at the top of this page

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The interior of the meeting house at Kolosy following the service

The next day we went to Moskorzew, originally an estate named after the local family. Here the chapel eventually reverted to Roman Catholicism, following in the direction taken by the family. The crumbling structure of the family home can still be seen as well as post-war Soviet-style social housing. There is also a largely derelict but still essentially intact schoolhouse which dates from the sixteenth century. We were told that when the chapel was reclaimed by the Catholic church the Brethren used the schoolhouse for worship until they were finally outlawed. This building is in state care but would clearly benefit from restoration.

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The church at Moskorzew today

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The original ancient door of the Moskorzew church

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The schoolhouse at Moskorzew

Inside the much altered church there are still two memorials in the chancel to female members of the Moskorzew family dating from the time of the Polish Brethren in the late sixteenth century.

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Memorial at Moskorzew dating from the 1590s commemorating a member of the Moskorzew family during the Polish Brethren era

Secemin is another Catholic church today but was used as a Calvinist church and here at a synod Unitarian views were first publicly expressed. As with most Catholic churches in Poland the interior is richly decorated but again there is a survival from the reformation period with a memorial in the chancel to Calvinist minister Gregory Broch who died in 1601.

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Secemin church today

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The interior of the church

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Memorial in the chancel to Gregorius Broch

On the estate at Ludynia, in its delightful setting, Mr Gieżyński, the owner, has restored not only the manor house but also the nearby chapel. Here he has also built up an impressive collection of books and prints connected with Raców, the Polish Brethren and Fausto Sozzini which  he shared with us in the chapel.

Ludynia manor house

Ludynia manor house

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The chapel at Ludynia

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Inspecting some of the documents in the chapel

In future posts I will look at other aspects of the tour and the history of Fausto Sozzini and the Polish Brethren.

The red telephone boxes of south county Down

One valued feature of our streetscapes is the red telephone box. Designed by the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott they are usually described as ‘iconic’ but apart from anything else they are simply a good design which fits so comfortably in our minds of how the world should look. By far the most popular and widespread version is the K6. The original prototype was made in 1924, the K6 is a slightly smaller design dating from 1935. The first versions of this carried a Tudor crown, after 1953 they featured the crown of St Edward used in the coronation.

But while a red telephone phone box undoubtedly has a place in many people’s affections it is unlikely that many people really have any use for them. I would think you have to be aged at least 40 to remember what it was like to need to find a phone box or be distraught at finding one and then discovering it didn’t work or having to stand outside waiting for one to be vacated. These days you are as likely to see one as a feature in someone’s garden as you are on the road but you do still see some of them in their original surroundings.

In fact their numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years. The total number of public pay phones in Northern Ireland is now 1,660 of which just 184 are red telephone boxes. Or at least that was the figure given in 2018, and even that is a reduction of 17 from just two years before that. BT have an ‘adopt a phone box’ scheme and this is quite big in some places where the boxes can be used as bars, coffee shops even libraries. I am not sure how much take up of this there is in Northern Ireland but a particularly useful adaptation is to use them to house defibrillators of which there is an example in county Down, although not in a K6 box.

Some red telephone boxes are now listed buildings and 27 are listed in Northern Ireland. There are places where they are seen as essential features of the landscape, their disappearance would be missed and they remain popular with tourists from overseas. But it is hard to avoid the suspicion that they are very largely redundant in terms of their original purpose. They were once essential and must have been particularly important in rural areas. I remember once – before the advent of the mobile phone – breaking down in the car near Rademon. I had to knock on someone’s door to call the AA. Even then it would have been a long walk to the nearest payphone in Crossgar but in county Down there are still some examples of the K6 red phone boxes in their original positions.

But yesterday, as I travelled around county Down, I kept an eye out for telephone boxes and determined to record some of them while they are still there. So we start in Ardglass where a K6 box sits in front of Jordan’s Castle.

PB Ardglass 01

This is actually a listed building, but whether it complements Jordan’s Castle I leave to others to decide. A close inspection of it reveals a high degree of dilapidation, there is no glass at all in one wall, and the interior, even if the phone still works, does not look at all inviting.

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PB Ardglass 03

With a view of the harbour at Ardglass

The phone box in Ardglass is one of only two K6 boxes listed in this part of county Down. The other is in Strangford. Apart from the fact that the box in Ardglass has a moulded Tudor crown and so must date from between 1936 and 1953 I am not sure what criteria was used to ensure that those two were listed and not the other two that I pass quite frequently. Near Ballee is the only red phone box which I saw which is clean, well-maintained and looks entirely usable. It sits at its rural cross roads and looks entirely fitting. It would seem to me to have a higher claim to being listed.

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The phone box at Ballee

At Woodgrange, in a very rural area, there is a splendid view across the fields to the mountains of Mourne.

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The view at Woodgrange

There is also a K6 phone box which like a medieval ruin is gradually being reclaimed by nature and which fits into the landscape itself in quite a charming way.

PB Woodgrange long view 02

Ivy creeps in and out of the box and I didn’t attempt to open the door. Partly this was because it looked like it hadn’t been opened in years but also I didn’t want to interfere with the delicate ecosystem which seemed to be developing inside. There was a modern card phone unit but the place was filled with cobwebs. To misquote C.H. Spurgeon slightly, it looked like a good place for spiders.

PB Woodgrange ivy view 02

PB Woodgrange right view 02

A few miles away at Kilmore there is a more modern box, what is known technically as a KX100. Presumably, given its location with more housing around it, it gets more use but it does not look particularly well maintained.

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Kilmore

And in Crossgar there are two KX100s, although one is converted, usefully, to a place to house a defibrillator.

PB Crossgar

Crossgar

The KX100 is not a very attractive piece of street furniture but they are cheaper to erect and maintain than the old K6 boxes. But they can never give the kind of visual appeal that comes from Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s design. Only about 20% of the original K6 boxes survive over the whole of the UK so it is nice to know that at least some remain in rural county Down.

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Woodgrange

Roscoe Gardens, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool

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Memorial, Roscoe Gardens

Roscoe Gardens, as it is now named by the Council, situated at the foot of Mount Pleasant is an easily overlooked green space in Liverpool city centre. It often has a slightly forlorn look which is not surprising as it is surrounded by some very high buildings and is probably difficult to maintain. But this was the site of the graveyard of Renshaw Street Chapel, a chapel which stood on the other side of the space facing into Renshaw Street where Grand Central now stands, a massive red-brick structure that was originally built as the Methodist Central Hall.

It is only right that someone as important in the history of Liverpool should have the space named after him. The author, campaigner against the slave trade, MP (who voted for the end of the trade despite the opposition of so many people in Liverpool), botanist, art collector and much more was hailed as Liverpool’s greatest citizen and was ultimately buried in this graveyard.

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Renshaw Street Chapel, 1811-1899

William Roscoe was born not far away, at the top of Mount Pleasant, in the Bowling Green Inn where his father was the publican. Not long after his birth his family moved a short distance to a newly built tavern which had attached to it an extensive market garden.

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William Roscoe’s childhood home

The history of the chapel that stood nearby is commemorated on the memorial built there after the chapel was sold and the congregation relocated on Ullet Road. Two of the chapel members buried there are commemorated: Joseph Blanco White and William Roscoe.

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Joseph Blanco White

Joseph Blanco White was another hugely significant figure who is increasingly remembered in both Liverpool and his home country of Spain.

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Plaques for Joseph Blanco White on the memorial in Roscoe Gardens

 

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Joseph Blanco White (Ullet Road Church)

William Roscoe was a member of this congregation all his life but although he lived near to the site of this graveyard he would have attended the previous chapel on Benn’s Gardens. Indeed he was baptised there on 28th March 1753 and was a regular attender throughout his life until the new chapel was built on Renshaw Street. No doubt Roscoe was present at the official opening in 1811 when the Rev Robert Lewin preached (making no reference to the new building in his address!). But his membership of this congregation was one of the constant threads that ran throughout his life and in Renshaw Street a large memorial was built to him, later moved to Ullet Road.

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Memorial to William Roscoe originally in Renshaw Street, now in Ullet Road

Two of the panels on the Roscoe Gardens memorial commemorate the congregation that once met nearby and one names three of the ministers:

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The only contemporary memorial in Roscoe Gardens is one to the Mount Pleasant school which was run by the congregation and stood on an adjacent site:

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The memorial is fixed to a neighbouring wall. The inscription reads:

On this site stood the Mount Pleasant British Schools erected 1821 closed 1901 after eighty years of useful work. The stone here preserved was above the doorway. 

Above that, on the original stone, is written Hear instruction and be wise and refuse it not from Proverbs 8:33.

Images of Oxford

Oxon Brasenose Lane

Brasenose Lane

Whenever I am in Oxford I always tend to take pictures as I walk about. This is easily done with modern mobile phones and if the pictures are unlikely to win any prizes they at least can give pleasure to the photographer. I took a lot of pictures when I was an undergraduate at Oxford, in those far-off days using a Russian Zenith EM camera, which was then the cheapest SLR camera that was available. I was reminded of this as I walked around Oxford recently because of certain items in the news. One of the inevitable consequences of being at Oxford is that you rub shoulders with all sorts and conditions of persons, including many would-be politicians. There were not a few from those days who went on to be government ministers both Labour and Conservative, at least one was party leader and another one looks like becoming Prime Minister. But when I was a student at Christ Church I shared rooms with a person who was an activist in the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA). This had the side effect of frequent visits to our rooms of his associates from the (to me) rather dull and pointless world of Oxford student politics. For now I will draw a veil over the various political figures who were around in those days. For the most part they didn’t really impact that closely on my life but one of them came to mind when I was back in Oxford recently. One frequent visitor to my roommate was another OUCA activist who would come to discuss issues with his colleague, on one occasion pacing around the living room in a very heated way complaining about a story that Cherwell, the student newspaper, was threatening to run about him. Most of the time his presence didn’t impinge on me nor I on him but he couldn’t always ignore me and so on one occasion, when his friend disappeared for a while, asked to have a look at a fresh roll of film I had just had printed. “These really are marvellous photographs” he said. “Really quite excellent photographs” he enthused. He went through the prints one by one and then through them again, all the time praising each of them to the skies. Such use of light! What a composition! How ingenious! On and on he droned. A friend of mine who was visiting found this very amusing. This was standard ‘hack’ behaviour, to butter people up and ingratiate yourself so completely in the hope that one day you might vote for them in some election or other. The years go by and I had thought that this particular individual had never made it into politics. But at some point he does appear to have been elected to Parliament and recently achieved significantly high office and so is involved in the manoeuvres that will see the appointment of a new Prime Minister. Of course, maybe he really did think my photographs were superlative. Who knows? But being a successful politician is rather like being a great actor. You have got to have sincerity. If you can’t fake sincerity you will never be a great actor.

Radcliffe Camera

Radcliffe Camera

Oxon Oriel gate

Oriel College gate

Oxon White Rabbit 02

White Rabbit in the covered market

Ch Ch Tom Quad

Tom Quad, Christ Church

Oxon Merton lane

Grove Walk

 

Catholic Apostolic Church, Liverpool

The Catholic Apostolic Church was a remarkable church which combined revivalist enthusiasm with liturgical worship and married a millenarian theology with prophetic ministry. Because of their belief in the imminent second coming they set up a system that ultimately proved to guarantee their own obsolescence. Believing that the second coming of Christ was very near they tried to re-establish the offices of the primitive church starting with Apostles in 1832 which had reached the full number by 1835. Since only they could ordain the prophets, evangelists, pastors, ‘angels’ (bishops), deacons and other orders down to doorkeepers, the death of the last apostle in 1901, before the return of the Lord, meant that there was no longer any possibility of continuing in the long term.

I am not sure how many Catholic Apostolic churches there ever were but their churches were very grand and required sophisticated architectural designs. Because they tended to include in their number many wealthy people they were often able to design and build some quite magnificent buildings. The church in Gordon Square in London, now leased to various Anglican groups, would be the best surviving example of their architecture, but the Roman Catholic Church in Bristol was originally Catholic Apostolic and is another impressive building, in this case having a classical design. I did see the less grand Catholic Apostolic church in Belfast before it was suddenly demolished but wasn’t able to take a photograph of it. Indeed an online search does not produce any images of this building, although it would be nice to think some images are preserved somewhere. It seems to have given up its licence to conduct marriages in 1954.

This excursion into the world of the now vanished Catholic Apostolic Church was prompted by the discovery of an old USB on which I had transferred at some point a couple of slides featuring the Catholic Apostolic Church on Catharine Street, Liverpool. It closed at some point in the 1970s and later was used by the New Testament Church of God. Later still it passed into secular use, then became badly dilapidated before being burnt down in the mid-1980s.

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The church in the mid-1980s

I found these images on the USB, originally taken as 35 mm slides the first of which I must have taken in about 1985 and the second in 1986. The first shows the church when it was unused and beginning to show signs of neglect. The second shows the view from the side towards the high altar after it was destroyed by fire. A great shame that such an unusual building was lost. Pevsner recorded that the plan of the building had been revealed to the first minister in a dream. He also said there were Flemish roundels incorporated in the stained glass windows. Whatever was there the little that survived was subsequently demolished and a block of flats built on the site.

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The ruined interior after the fire

The image at the top of the page is a 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 here.

Amongst the churches found in that image is the Catholic Apostolic Church on the corner of Catharine Street and Canning Street, it can be seen slightly to the right of centre still with its spire which was removed in the early 1970s. An account of all the churches in that picture can be read in an earlier post: Seven Churches in Liverpool in 1859 viewed from the air.

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