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.

Socinus Grave Front right view 01

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.

Socinus Grave pilgrims 01

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.

Socinus Grave Estate 01

“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.

Socinus Grave Estate 04

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.

Cieszkowy ext 02

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.

Cieszkowy inscription 02

Inscription from the gospel of Matthew

Cieszkowy inscription 01

Classical quotation from Virgil

Cieszkowy int meeting 01

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.

Kolosy ext 01

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

Kolosy int 01

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.

Moskorzew ext 01

The church at Moskorzew today

Moskorzew door

The original ancient door of the Moskorzew church

Moskorzew schoolhouse

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.

Moskorzew memorial 01

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.

Secemin ext 03

Secemin church today

Secemin int 03

The interior of the church

Secemin memorial 02

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

Ludynia chapel 02

The chapel at Ludynia

Ludynia chapel int 02

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.

20190711_135410

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.

20190711_140614

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.

PB Woodgrange view 01

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.

PB Kilmore

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.

PB Woodgrange long view 01

Woodgrange

Roscoe Gardens, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool

RSC 08

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.

Renshaw Street130

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.

W Roscoe House Nov 2013

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.

Blanco White128

Joseph Blanco White

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

RSC plaque 02

Plaques for Joseph Blanco White on the memorial in Roscoe Gardens

 

Blanco White Sue 57
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.

William Roscoe 01

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:

RSC 01

RSC 03

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:

RSC 05

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.

20131023150738-06

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.

20131023150738-04

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.

No pictures or text may be reproduced from this site without the express permission of the author.

Faith and Freedom

HMCO quad

Faith and Freedom gave its annual report to the meeting of the Ministerial Old Students Association and the Annual Meeting of Friends and Honorary Governors held at Harris Manchester College, Oxford on 24th  -26th June, 2019. It was an excellent meeting, one of the highlights being the Principal, Professor Jane Shaw’s illustrated lecture on  The Arts and Empathy. Nigel Clarke, the business manager for the journal gave an impressive powerpoint presentation outlining the last year’s activity. A number of new subscribers signed up to receive the journal.

HMCO Nigel speaks

Nigel delivering the annual report

HMCO Principal lecture

Art and Empathy lecture by the Principal

HMCO worship in the chapel

Worship in the college chapel

HMCO kindle 02

‘Kindle’, a steel and glass artwork by Steve James and Vital Peeters in the college herb garden

F&F Cover 188

The latest issue 

 

All Souls’ Church, Belfast built 1896

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

The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth and an early electric tram

I was very pleased to pick up this picture on an ever-popular internet auction site. It was sold as a Victorian photograph, but I thought it possibly wasn’t quite that old and might, in any case, be a print that was made much later. However, I think it is a genuine old photograph, probably dating from the earliest years of the twentieth century. It is only a very small print, about two and a half inches by three and a half inches, but it is curiously interesting too.

It wasn’t very costly and I half expected it to command a much higher price appealing, as it does, to a number of different constituencies – those with an interest in old chapels, enthusiasts for Liverpool history, and aficionados of trams and transport.

Clearly it is a view looking towards the end of Park Road. There on the left is the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, complete with ivy and a corporation road name plate. There are a few pedestrians wandering past: a lady in a long dress and another lady pushing a pram outside the chapel. On the right is tram car number 10A climbing the slight incline of Park Road, on its way to the Pier Head.

Ancient Chapel Tram 03

The size of the print would suggest a photograph taken after 1901 on a Box Brownie No.2, so probably not quite Victorian. The clothes worn by the ladies in the photograph would suggest a point at around that date. The driver of the tram is wearing a double-breasted overcoat with an oval badge on his chest and on his hat. The badge on his chest would be his licence and this particular style of wear apparently indicates the way the uniform of the driver (or motorman as he would have been called) was worn prior to 1904, or so I read on Ashley Birch’s very informative British Tramway Company Badges and Buttons site.

Ancient Chapel Tram crop 02

So we have a well composed photograph, probably dating to between 1901 and 1904, which I am sure is meant to contrast the old – in this case a place of worship dating back to 1618 – with the new, an electric tram, the most up to date and exciting form of public transport available.

Electric trams were introduced to Liverpool in 1898, so they would still be a relatively new phenomenon by 1904. A large dent on the front right-hand side of the tramcar points to this not being a brand new tram when this photo was taken but still it is a picture taken fairly close to the inauguration of the tram system in Liverpool. Another site (Ron’s Liverpool Tram Site) tells me that according to the number this was a Brill ‘Philadephia’ Car, built in America, and the picture does correspond with this type of vehicle.

Ancient Chapel Tram crop 01

The original tram depot was just around the corner from the chapel so this vehicle had only just begun its journey. The depot was built in 1898 and was a building that survived long after the tram system closed, I knew it well, or at least was aware of it but never gave its original purpose a second’s thought. The same would be true of the Smithdown Road depot opened in 1899 but still there until relatively recently. It’s curious how these buildings survived for such a long time before seeming to just melt away.

Another curious thing is how this corner of Toxteth became such a hub for transport. Once the most remote part of an ancient royal hunting park it became the site of an early seventeenth-century chapel for the convenience of the local farmers and was far away from the prying eyes of government or ecclesiastical hierarchy. The Chapel was situated really on the road to nowhere when it was built. Centuries later the Chapel found itself in between the first electric tram depot built on one side of it and the last station of the Liverpool Overhead Railway situated immediately opposite it on Park Road. The Dingle station of the Overhead Railway would have been just to the right of the tram in this picture. Impressively the Dingle Overhead Railway Station was built underground and is one of the few surviving features of that railway which closed the year before the trams were stopped in 1957. It is a significant junction which I have blogged about before:

Two views of a junction in Toxteth

ACT Ext 05

The view across the Chapel graveyard. The garage visible on the left was the site of the Dingle station of the Overhead Railway. The Dingle tram terminus was to the right of the picture.

It is curious too how trams were marked out as old-fashioned and unsustainable in the 1950s but came back into fashion in the twenty-first century. Today cities like Manchester, Edinburgh, Dublin and many more appreciate their value. Of course, most major European cities never took them away and have always had the benefit of these types of transit systems.

But it is easy to have a romanticised or sentimental view of this informative and attractive little photograph. It seems a long time ago as well. But when I was assistant minister of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester in the 1980s one of the oldest members was in his 90s. He had worked as a tram driver in Manchester before the First World War. He told me there was no covering above his head when he was driving and the rain would pour down his back in bad weather. In the end he was forced to give up due to ill-health and had a lifetime of difficulty with his back as a result. But maybe things were better in Liverpool, this driver certainly looks well enough protected at the front of his car.

No pictures or text may be reproduced from this site without the express permission of the author.

Buildings of South County Down

I was very pleased to be among those invited to the launch of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society’s  new book Buildings of South County Down at Ballydugan Mill on 1st May 2019. It is a splendid book written by Philip Smith and beautifully illustrated throughout in colour by Alan Turkington. It describes itself as not claiming ‘to be an exhaustive record of its particular area, but rather a selection giving a broad overview of the built heritage of the southern half of Down’ and it is a very comprehensive collection of significant buildings both large and small, public and private.

Ballydugan Mill on the day of the book launch

The churches section numbers 25 buildings and contains no less than three Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches which is a very significant representation and indicates the historical importance of what is, nevertheless, quite a small denomination. Both Downpatrick and Clough feature in the book, the Clough meeting house being photographed just before its recent repainting which means it doesn’t look its best but that can’t be helped. Leafing through the book it is interesting to see the number of other buildings that have a link with Downpatrick and Clough churches – the Murland Mausoleum has a photograph and a number of houses appear which were once the homes of prominent members including the homes of the Murlands themselves and the nearby houses of Nutgrove and Mount Panther, once the dwelling places of leading members of the church. Both Nutgrove and Mount Panther are painted on the First World War memorial in Clough.


Dr Edward McParland, Vice-President of Ulster Architectural Heritage introduces the book

The book contains much information that is new to me. I didn’t know that the now ruined but still impressive edifice of Mount Panther was named after the ‘local legend of the “Great Cat of Clough” a monstrous feline said to have once terrorized the area’. I also did not know anything about Marlborough House which seems to have originally been built by Rev Thomas Nevin sometime before 1728. The entry on the Downpatrick Church states that ‘the church is said to have been built in 1711 at the beginning of the ministry of the Rev Thomas Nevin’ but it seems clear from the presbytery minutes that the new building and the new ministry did coincide quite closely. However, one interesting thing about Marlborough House is that it was built quite near to the site of the original seventeenth-century meeting house, although Buildings of South County Down says that Nevin acquired the land from Brice Magee, a local apothecary, so it can’t have been the site of the original manse.

The other Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in the book is Rademon which has a number of very attractive photographs included with its account. The photograph of the interior of Downpatrick taken by Alan Turkington did not make the final cut but it is interesting to look at the interiors of Downpatrick and Rademon. Although the buildings are separated by over 75 years and it is not at all difficult to differentiate one from the other it is instructive to compare the two interiors which are very similar in layout and design and probably also dimensions:

Interior of Downpatrick (Photo: Alan Turkington)
Interior of Rademon (Photo: Alan Turkington) page 30

But the book contains much more than churches. As well as houses (grand, middling-sized and small) there are antiquities and fortification, public buildings, commercial buildings, follies, monuments and memorials. Anyone who enjoys looking at the built environment around them will enjoy this book and find plenty to enlighten them about buildings in the locality of south Down.