Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society April 2022

The issue for 2022 (vol 28 No.1) will be with subscribers shortly and once again this is a very full and very special issue because members will receive two journals for their subscription. Part One contains three important articles plus reviews and more, Part Two is produced in collaboration with the Reckoning International Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist Histories Project.

Part One

The cloisters, Ullet Road Church Liverpool

In Part One our main articles look at Unitarianism, slavery and philanthropy. A number of Unitarians were actively involved in the abolition of slavery. One very prominent example of this was William Roscoe whose memorial is located in the cloisters in Ullet Road Church, a set of buildings constructed at the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth centuries which perfectly illustrate the enormous philanthropic contributions of wealthy Unitarians at this time.

‘Jewel Case’ – The Man and his Money Derek McAuley

Very Rev George Case, MA, DD (used with permission of Clifton Diocesan Archives)

Derek McAuley traces the story of the Very Rev George Case whose journey from the Anglican to Catholic priesthood was followed by a very generous bequest to the Unitarian movement. His father was a contemporary of William Roscoe in Liverpool but unlike Roscoe he was deeply implicated in the slave trade. Using modern tools and databases Derek examines the source of Dr Case’s wealth.

Reflections on a Window Rory Delany

The Wilson Memorial Window, Dublin Unitarian Church (Photo: Rory Delany)

The most prominent and striking window within Dublin Unitarian Church, St Stephen’s Green is the Wilson Memorial Window which memorializes Thomas Wilson, long standing member of the congregation and generous benefactor. In this article Rory Delany looks at the source of Thomas Wilson’s wealth, again using the databases and records which have become available and which highlight those families involved in the slave trade. He contrasts Thomas Wilson’s attitudes and business interests with his contemporary and fellow church member James Haughton who was a noted anti-slavery campaigner.

Unitarians and Philanthropy 1860-1914 Alan Ruston

Looking towards the library at Harris Manchester College

Alan Ruston gives a substantial survey of Unitarian philanthropy between 1860 and 1914. Many wealthy Unitarians gave vast sums to build churches, establish charities and develop educational institutions such as Manchester College (see above) which was founded in 1786 in Manchester but moved to Oxford in 1893 following a number of very generous donations.

Books Reviewed

Reviewed by David Wykes, Alan Ruston and David Steers

Part Two

The ethnographic composition of Hungary in 1910 (Map: Lehel Molnár)

Part Two of this issue develops the successful initial event of the Reckoning International U/UU Histories Project which was entitled ‘Transylvanian Unitarians Resisting and Surviving in Authoritarian Times’ and which took place on Thursday, 4 November 2021. This can be viewed online at the Starr King School for the Ministry YouTube channel (https://youtu.be/ozH1fnDkSHk).

The dismemberment of Hungary by the Treaty of Trianon (Map: Lehel Molnár)

We are very pleased to be able to carry in this issue an introduction and summary of the whole Reckoning project compiled by its co-ordinators Claudia Elferdink and Lehel Molnár This is followed by two articles which are not transcripts of the original webinar but which give additional insight and information on the experience of Hungarian Unitarians over the last one hundred years, particularly following the Communist takeover in Romania after the Second World War. The first of these is ‘The Hungarian Unitarian Church in the Twentieth Century’ by Sándor Kovács and Lehel Molnár, an explanation of the struggles of the church from the Treaty of Trianon – when Hungary lost two thirds of its historic territory – to the present century. This is followed by ‘Resistance or/and Compromise. The Struggles and Service of Unitarian Bishop Elek Kiss (1888–1971) in Communist Romania’ by Sándor Kovács which gives a very detailed view of the problems and stresses experienced by the church in the Communist era.

The ethnographic compostion of Hungary in 1880

New subscribers are very welcome, annual membership costs only £10. If you haven’t yet taken out a subscription or would like to renew your subscription that can be done through the Society’s treasurer who can be contacted via the Unitarian Historical Society website here.

Silent yet eloquent memorials

Starting off on the tour

On Wednesday, 23rd March a group from the four Belfast Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches enjoyed an excellent visit to the Belfast City Cemetery. We were blessed by good weather, almost like a summer’s day, which showed off the whole site to its fullest advantage. Designed in the shape of a bell and opened in 1869 it has been the burial place of approximately 225,153 people ranging from the some of the poorest members of society, buried in paupers’ graves, to some of the wealthiest merchants, industrialists and businessmen of Victorian Belfast. Years of neglect and vandalism obscured the importance of the cemetery in the city’s history for a long time, but the remarkable work done by Tom Hartley on the graves and history of the cemetery, not least reflected in his book Belfast City Cemetery, has opened up the cemetery to a wider and appreciative public. It is good too to see the construction of a visitors’ centre and the restoration of some of the larger memorials. Tom Hartley has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history and significance of the site and was our informative guide as he showed us round a large proportion of the original Victorian graveyard, so attractively laid out with the Belfast hills providing a dramatic backdrop. Tom made special reference to some of the Presbyterian and Non-Subscribing Presbyterian graves in the cemetery and we encountered the last resting places of some familiar figures from our tradition. Among others we saw the grave of Margaret Byers, the founder of Victoria College, and Elisha Scott, legendary Liverpool goalkeeper. Cemeteries are such important repositories of history: funeral monuments, grave inscriptions, memorial artwork all tell us a great deal and in this case Belfast City Cemetery provides a fascinating window into the growth, development and history of Belfast as a city. After the tour we had lunch at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich. Below are some images of what we saw:

The grave of Rev John Scott Porter (Biblical scholar, theologian and Belfast Non-Subscribing minister) and his brother William Porter, attorney general at the Cape Colony who introduced a franchise into the colony that extended the vote, at the time, to all people irrespective of race.
View across the cemetery showing the memorial to John Kirker (1891) on the right in the form of an ornamental Celtic Cross carved from a single piece of limestone.
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Tom Hartley at the grave of Lord and Lady Pirrie. William Pirrie was a leading Belfast politician and shipbuilder, chairman of Harland and Wolff and responsible for the building of the ‘Titanic’. His wife Margaret Montgomery Pirrie was a significant figure in her own right, closely involved in the establishment of the Royal Victoria Hospital and a granddaughter of the Rev Henry Montgomery of Dunmurry.
Another nineteenth-century Celtic Cross containing ancient religious imagery including, in this case, the Ouroboros (at the bottom of the Cross), the snake consuming its own tail.
The infamous location in the cemetery where an underground wall, six feet tall, divided what were planned to be the Catholic and Protestant plots.
The grave of Elisha Scott, Belfast born Liverpool goalkeeper who played for the club for 22 years and made 468 appearances for Liverpool (which undoubtedly would have been more but for the First World War). He finished his career as a highly successful player-manager of Belfast Celtic until sectarian violence brought about the closure of that club.

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism – 26 videos telling the story of Irish Non-Subscription

The whole alphabet of Non-Subscription is now available to view on our YouTube channel. This tells the story of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism in twenty-six chapters looking at a different aspect of the history, ethos, identity, theology or practice of this denomination. Filming began in June and ended in December 2021 with a service going live every week. Filmed at Downpatrick, Ballee, Clough and Dunmurry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches, music has been provided by John Strain, Laura Patterson, Allen Yarr, Alfie McClelland, and Laura Neill. In addition a team of readers have taken part in these services each week including Elsie Nelson, Annabel Cleland, Noelle Wilson, Mary Stewart, Bobby Graham, Robert Neill, Emma McCrudden, and Gilbert Cameron.

The full list of topics covered is as follows:

Abernethy, John

Bible

Collecting Ladles

Doors

Education

Faith

Gifts of the Spirit

Hymns and Hymnbooks

Inquiring

Jesus

Kedron

Lord’s Supper

Montgomery, Henry

New Light

Organ

Pews

Quires and Places where they sing

Remonstrant

Stained Glass

Tokens

Ubi Spiritus Domini ibi Libertas

Verse

Women

eXile

Yahweh

Zechariah

They can all be accessed from this link:

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism

Oxford

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.

The Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Sir Christopher Wren
Tom Quad at Christ Church, with more work from Sir Christopher Wren in Tom Tower
Peckwater Quad, Christ Church
View of the Radcliffe Camera and All Souls College from the University Church
Statue of Cardinal Wolsey, Christ Church (Photo: Sue Steers)
Fireplace in Christ Church Hall. The elongated necks on the brass figures on either side of the fire are said to have inspired one of the scenes in ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Lewis Carroll was a Student (ie Fellow) of Christ Church
Cardinal’s hats on gates at Christ Church
Cloisters at Christ Church Cathedral, with organ playing in the Cathedral. A short video (49 seconds)

Digging up history on Lime Street

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.

The orignal road surface revealed

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.

Digging up the setts
Setts piled up

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.

Some of the tramlinse
Further tramlines opposite the ABC Cinema

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.

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism: Collecting Ladles

Collecting the Offering in a Scottish Kirk by John Phillip, 1855. (Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons. York Museums Trust)

At first sight it might seem strange to select Collecting Ladles as the subject for letter ‘C’ in our alphabetical exploration of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. But Collecting Ladles formed a fairly essential part of church life for Presbyterians in Ireland and Scotland for generations. In some places they are still in use today but often aren’t recognized by those outside the Scots-Irish Presbyterian community. The above picture perfectly illustrates their use in a church in Scotland. It is a delightful image, although the people in the pew being asked for their offering seem to display something of the modern concept of the ‘messy church’ more than anything else. But collecting ladles also lead us into questions of giving and the stewardship of resources.

To see the service click on the above video after 9.45 am on Sunday, 11th July

Our service today is filmed in Downpatrick. Church organist Laura Patterson plays the hymns God has spoken to his people’ (Mission Praise 182) and How can I keep from singing (Hymns for Living 133/Mission Praise 1210). The reading is 2 Corinthians ch.9 v.6-8.

Eighteenth-century collecting ladle Downpatrick (two ladles from Ballee at the top of the page)

Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society June 2021

The latest issue of the Transactions, including a special Supplement, is now ready. New subscribers are very welcome, annual membership costs only £10. If you haven’t yet taken out a subscription or would like to renew your subscription that can be done through the Society’s treasurer who can be contacted via the Unitarian Historical Society website here.

The new issue contains the following articles:

The History of the Kolozsvár English Conversation Club

Sándor Kovács

The Unitarian College Kolozsvár/Cluj Napoca shortly after its opening in 1901


Sándor Kovács relates the hitherto unresearched story of the Kolozsvár English Conversation Club. A major source for illuminating the relationship between Unitarians in Transylvania and Hungary and in the UK and USA. The Club was founded in 1876 by János Kovács and gave local people the opportunity to learn English. It became the main point of contact for visiting Unitarians throughout the rest of the century, over the period of the celebration of the Hungarian Millennium in 1896 and on into the twentieth century.

Received with Thanks. Unitarian Hymns sung by Mainstream Churches

Nigel Lemon

Nigel Lemon investigates hymns penned by Unitarian writers which have found favour in mainstream hymnbooks. He looks at around 50 Unitarian hymns which are found in a selection of mainstream books published in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and focusses on thirteen Unitarian authors.

Thomas Aikenhead: An Historiographical Introduction

Rob Whiteman

Old Tolbooth, Edinburgh (Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas Aikenhead was an Edinburgh student who stood trial for blasphemy in December 1696, and was put to death in the following January. Said to be the last person to be executed for blasphemy in Britain he is often also claimed as a Unitarian martyr. Rob Whiteman examines the way his trial and execution has been understood across the centuries.

Tercentenary of a Unique Donation: Glasgow University and Chowbent Chapel

David Steers

Chowbent Chapel, Atherton

Universities are not known for their generosity to outside bodies but in 1721 the University of Glasgow (see image at the top of this page which shows Glasgow College at the end of the seventeenth century) made a donation to Chowbent Chapel whilst it was being built. The congregation had just been dispossessed from their old chapel by a new landlord. This short article explains how and why Glasgow University supported the building of the new chapel (pictured above).

Books Reviewed

Protestant Dissent and Philanthropy 1660-1914,
edited by Clyde Binfield, G.M. Ditchfield and David L. Wykes,
The Boydell Press, 2020,
hardback, 264 pages, ISBN 978-1-78327-451-2. Studies in Modern British History Vol 39. Price £65.
Reviewed by Alan Ruston
Subscribers to the Transactions will be pleased to know that they are able to purchase this book with a  special 35% discount using the code given in the issue.

A Radical Religious Heritage, by John Maindonald,
second edition, 2020,
paperback, 68 pages ISBN 978-0-473-52784-6. Price $NZ 25.00
Reviewed by Graham Murphy

Supplement

Obituaries of Ministers of Unitarian Congregations
Index and synopsis of references
New entries, and Additions and Corrections
extended from 1 February 2014 to 31 January 2021
Compiled by ALAN RUSTON

This issue comes with Alan’s latest Supplement which brings over twenty years of research by Alan on Unitarian obituaries right up to date. It also makes use of the late Professor R.K. Webb’s index cards based on a wide variety of sources for biographical details of Unitarian ministers from circa 1780 to the early 1990s.

The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland – part two

In our service this morning, from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, we continue to look at the early history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian denomination and in this address ask questions about the meaning of ‘heresy and orthodoxy’ and look at the role of Thomas Emlyn in sparking the first subscription controversy when the Synod of Ulster introduced compulsory subscription to the Westminster Confession following his imprisonment in Dublin in 1703.

Click on the above video to see today’s service featuring the second part of the History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 28th February 2021)

The service comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reading is from Romans ch.14 v.1-9 and is read by Sue Steers. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Who is on the Lord’s side (Thanks and Praise 164) and Wisdom Divine, bright shining, never fading (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 55) on the church’s Carnegie organ.

Also this week we have uploaded to the Downpatrick, Ballee & Clough NSP Churches YouTube channel a service that was originally broadcast from All Souls’ Church, Belfast on BBC Radio Ulster in 1995:

Click on the above video to see the service

Converted from a cassette tape to mp3 format the service was recorded live from the radio in October 1995. The service is conducted by the minister at the time, Rev David Steers. The readers are Barbara Moneypenny (Psalm 46) and Jim Jackson (Luke ch.6 v.12-31). Muriel Singleton leads the prayers. The church organist is Albert McCartney who plays on the church’s Compton organ the hymns Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation; Just as I am, thine own to be; Dear Lord and Father of mankind; Immortal, invisible, God only wise and leads the Church Choir in the singing of Lead me Lord (music S.S. Wesley, words Psalm 5) and Grant us Thy Peace (music Timothy Troman, words D. Bruce-Payne).

The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland

A small but historically important liberal Christian denomination, the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church was born out of the interaction between faith and the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. This act of worship includes this first part of a video series telling the history of the Church. In this film detailing the origins of the denomination in the Presbytery of Antrim in 1725, the work of John Abernethy, the Belfast Society, the influence of Glasgow University, and the Church’s place in a Europe-wide movement are all discussed.

The University of Glasgow in the late seventeenth century

The service is filmed at Downpatrick, a distinctive building of 1711, and one of the best examples in Ulster of a traditional T-shaped meeting house. The organist is Laura Patterson, who plays ‘Christ be our light’ and ‘The power of the Cross’. The reading is Isaiah ch.51 v.1-6.

You can see the service and the address on the history of the denomination in the following video:

Service of Worship from Downpatrick, including part one of the History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 14th February)