St Andrew’s Church of Scotland, Rodney Street, Liverpool

One of the most impressive church buildings surviving from the first half of the nineteenth century in Liverpool is undoubtedly St Andrew’s Church of Scotland on Rodney Street. These days it is really little more than a façade but it is remarkable that so much has survived given its turbulent history since the congregation left in 1975 and the fact that it was virtually in ruins for many years.

Rodney Street view front from right 02 cropped

There were plans, at one point, for the building to become a library for one of the universities which would have been a very good usage for such an imposing and well sited building. But that didn’t happen and one of the towers was demolished as the whole building faced complete destruction at one point. The tower had to be re-instated, which is just as well, and the shell of the church now houses flats. Fortunately, this means that St Andrew’s is maintained in the streetscape of Rodney Street, you can still enjoy the dramatic vista looking along this Georgian street, now with the Anglican Cathedral standing at the conclusion of the view.

Rodney Street vista

It is one of the few surviving buildings designed by local architect John Foster junior and never fails to impress with its massive ionic columns. There were a great number of churches in Liverpool which were built by Scottish immigrants to the city but St Andrew’s was by far the most prominent and long-lasting of those affiliated with the Church of Scotland.

Rodney Street view front from left

It was opened for worship in December 1824 and the first minister was the Rev David Thom who was called as minister to a breakaway group from the original Church of Scotland on Oldham Street in 1823. The congregation met initially in the former Music Hall on Bold Street but even before they had moved to their grand new church doctrinal divisions had become apparent and, unable to remove Mr Thom, the congregation had called another minister as colleague. By June 1825 Thom was being charged with deviating from the Westminster Confession and was subsequently removed from his charge by the Presbytery of Glasgow. Rev David Thom DD, PhD was a Universalist and he went back to the old Music Hall on Bold Street with his followers and founded what he termed the Berean-Universalist Church, eventually building his own chapel on Crown Street in 1851. ‘Universalist’ was a reference to the belief that all people would eventually be saved, and Berean an allusion to the people of Beroea (Acts ch.17 v.11) who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (RSV).

Everyone with an interest in the religious history of Liverpool owes a debt to David Thom for his book Liverpool Churches and Chapels which began life as a series of lectures – Liverpool Churches and Chapels; their destruction, removal or alteration; with notices of clergymen, ministers and others – delivered to the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, of which society he was a Vice-President. He died in 1862 but the original Liverpool congregation of which he had briefly been minister continued in Rodney Street and then subsequently met in Liverpool Cathedral until closure a few years ago. A recent tablet attached to the front of the old church records their existence.

Rodney Street front gates

Main entrance

Rodney Street base of pillar

The base of one of the columns

Rodney Street surviving cupola

The surviving original tower

Rodney Street Sunday School

Former Sunday School rooms

Rodney Street pyramid

The pyramid tomb of William Mackenzie in the graveyard

Rodney Street view front from right

 

The Tercentenary of the Salters’ Hall Debates

February 2019 marked the 300th anniversary of the Salters’ Hall debates between leading London Dissenters. This anniversary has been observed by a number of articles in journals and online across the denominational divides[i] and rightly so because this event, although now rather distant and not obviously of great interest in the twenty-first century, was a key moment in the development of Dissent that helped to crystallise the different forms of church organisation and led ultimately, in England, to what became Unitarianism.[ii]

The famous slogan associated with these keenly contested discussions between ‘divines’ at Salters’ Hall in London[iii] was that ‘the Bible carried it by four’. A vote was taken on whether to enforce subscription to the doctrine of the Trinity as it was formulated in the Westminster Shorter Catechism and a majority of 57 to 53 opposed this suggestion. All groups of Dissenters were divided on this question although generally Presbyterians and General Baptists opposed subscription while Independents and Particular Baptists supported it, although this is something of an over simplification. But ‘subscription’ was a key question amongst Dissenters and remained so for centuries. Today the notion more readily calls to mind the situation in Ireland where The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland preserves the whole question in its very name. But this controversy had ramifications all over Britain and Ireland and indeed all over Europe, and helped to mark out the way Dissenting churches would develop.

The whole question developed from disagreements that took place in the West Country where Arianism was perceived to be on the rise. The ordination of Hubert Stogdon as minister to the Presbyterian congregation at Shepton Mallet led to further suspicions alighting on some of the local ministers who had promoted his case, including Joseph Hallett and James Peirce. A heated and convoluted debate within the Exeter Assembly and between local ministers and the ‘Committee of Thirteen’, who had authority over the Dissenting interest in Exeter, led to appeals to the London Dissenting ministers to adjudicate, ultimately to ‘the Body of Protestant Dissenting Ministers in, and about, London’ who gathered on 19th February 1719 at Salters’ Hall. The topic for their discussion was a paper entitled ‘Advices for promoting Peace’[iv] which had been presented to them by the Committee of Three Denominations, in other words the body that had responsibility for oversight of the Presbyterians, Independents (or Congregationalists) and Baptists in London. This body was greatly involved in protecting the political interests of Dissenters and these debates occurred at a crucial time when they were agitating for the repeal of the Occasional Conformity Act and the Schism Act. The Schism Act had been passed in 1714 but never came into force because of the death of Queen Anne, had it done so it would have destroyed all Dissenting educational institutions in the country.

To try to minimise the damage caused by the dispute in Exeter the Committee of Three Denominations asked prominent Dissenting MP, John Shute Barrington, to provide the ‘Advices for promoting peace’. Barrington’s ‘Advices’ suggested that all accusations should be backed up by properly formulated witness statements and not just rumour and that any test of orthodoxy should be based on scripture as the sole rule of faith. These ‘Advices’ were approved by the Committee and then laid before the full body of London ministers.

This debate was asking a fundamental question about how Christianity should be defined which was heavily coloured by the spirit of the age. It was part of a European wide trend within the Reformed churches – in 1706 no less a place than Geneva, the very birth place of Calvinism, dropped the requirement of subscription for entrants to the ministry to the Formula Consensus Ecclesiarum Helveticarum (Helvetic Consensus), the Reformed statement agreed by the Swiss reformed cantons in 1675. The same debate was playing out in Ireland at the same time and representatives of both sides of the divide in Ireland were present in London and reporting back to their respective camps. The Church of Scotland struggled with some divisions over the same issue, although these generally remained underground, the Act of Union of 1707 gave the Westminster Confession of Faith such an unassailable legal place in Scottish life. In a further irony the Church of England was not free of such tensions following the example of Benjamin Hoadley who, as Bishop of Bangor, preached before the King in 1717 a latitudinarian sermon which placed stress on the right of individual judgement, implied the complete separation of religious matters from those of the state and argued for toleration of religious differences.[v]

For Dissenters, whose whole existence was based upon a rejection of Anglican authority, there was a reluctance to set up a new form of either institutional or theological authority based beyond the Bible and the person of Jesus. This was the key issue at the time, not the doctrine of the Trinity. For non-subscribers the dangers of suppressing the rights of individual conscience were deemed greater than the possibilities of heterodox beliefs developing. Arianism was a constant bogeyman but having rejected making subscription to the Trinity compulsory and having passed the ‘Advices for Peace’ the London ministers nevertheless also asserted their belief in the Trinity in a separate document. But a refusal to subscribe to what were termed humanly inspired formulations remained uppermost and can be seen throughout the eighteenth century, particularly in the writings of English Presbyterians. There is no doubt that non-subscription was a prime impulse within those churches that ultimately became Unitarian and within the institutions which they set up, including such academies as Manchester College. The development of a much more vigorously doctrinal Unitarianism early in the nineteenth century created a new set of tensions but the non-subscribing tendency can arguably be traced on through the thought of such figures as James Martineau and what came to be termed Free Christianity. But this lay someway ahead of 1719. At this point a major part of the Dissenting community in England, which had largely been created in the ejection of 1662, gave assent to non-subscription, they rejected creeds and emphasised the right of private judgment. The traditional criticisms that they had directed at the Anglican establishment were now being directed at the imposition of authority from within their own institutions. It was an important step that was not intended to promote heterodox beliefs such as Arianism but its effect, for those who followed this path, was to open up the possibilities of different interpretations of such doctrines co-existing alongside each other.

David Steers

[i] See for instance Robert Pope, ‘When Jesus Divided the Church’, Reform, February 2019. Stephen Copson, ‘The Salters’ Hall debates’, The Baptist Times, https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/542042/The_Salters_Hall.aspx. Martyn C. Cowan, The 300th anniversary of the Salters’ Hall debates, Union Theological College, https://www.union.ac.uk/discover/news-events/blog/58/the-300th-anniversary-of-the.

[ii] The most detailed account of the course of the controversy is probably still R. Thomas, ‘The non-subscription controversy amongst dissenters in 1719: the Salters’ Hall debate’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 4 (1953), pp.  162–86. See also David L. Wykes, ‘Subscribers and non-subscribers at the Salters’ Hall debate’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published online 2009.

[iii] Salters’ Hall was the hall of the Salters’ Company of the City of London and contemporary publications name the venue simply as Salters’ Hall but it seems most likely that the debate will have taken place in the adjacent Salters’ Hall meeting house.

[iv] An Authentick Account of Several Things Done and agreed upon by the Dissenting Ministers lately assembled at Salters-Hall, (London 1719), includes the ‘Advices for Peace &c’.

[v] Benjamin Hoadly, The Nature of the Kingdom, or Church, of Christ. A Sermon Preach’d before the King, at the Royal Chapel at St James’s. On Sunday March 31, 1717, (London 1717).

This article appears in Volume 27, Number 1, April 2019 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society which is available now. Annual membership of the UHS costs only £10, each member receiving a copy of the Transactions. Membership can be obtained from the treasurer: Rev Dr Rob Whiteman, 10 Greenside Court, St Andrews, KY16 9UG, to whom cheques (made payable to the Unitarian Historical Society) should be sent.

What do those stones mean to you? The 400th anniversary of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

“But before he had spent so much time in Oxford as he could have wished that he might have done; the People in Toxteth, whose Children had been taught by him, sent to him, desiring that he would return unto them to instruct not so much their Children as themselves, and that not in meer Humane Literature, but in the things of God. This Call, after due Consideration, for weighty Reasons he accepted of. Being then returned to Toxteth, he Preached his first Sermon November 30. 1618. There was a very great Concourse of people to hear him, and his Labours were highly accepted of by the judicious.”

…part of the reading given by Beryl Black at the 400th anniversary service of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth on Sunday, 25th November. This section of the reading (from: The Life and Death of That Reverend Man of GOD, Mr. Richard Mather Teacher of the Church in Dorchester in New-England by Increase Mather, Cambridge Mass. 1670) was also reproduced on the back page of the printed order of service.

 

Ancient Chapel 25 November 04

At the opening of worship (Photo: Sue Steers)

It was a tremendous occasion; well attended and enthusiastically received by all who were present. Readings were also given by Graham Murphy, Annette Butler and Leslie Gabriel while Cliff Barton played the organ.

Ancient Chapel 25 November 03

Graham Murphy gives a reading (Photo: Sue Steers)

In addition to the above reading there were readings from T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding, from Robert Griffith’s The History of the Royal and Ancient Park of Toxteth, Liverpool (1907) and from Joshua ch.4 v.1-9 and John ch.4 v.31-38.

A message was also read from the First Parish Dorchester, Massachusetts, to which place Richard Mather, emigrated in 1635.

Ancient Chapel 25 November 16

Reading the message from Dorchester (Photo: Sue Steers)

The message from Dorchester:

Dear Members of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth:

First Parish Dorchester sends you our heartfelt greetings and best wishes upon the occasion of your 400th anniversary of your founding. It is rare for us to know a Unitarian congregation older than ours, as we will not mark our 400th anniversary until 2030!  Rev Richard Mather, your first minister and our third minister (1636-1669),  certainly sowed good seeds in our two long-standing faith communities.

It may interest you to know that First Parish Dorchester established the oldest elementary public school in the United States, which is situated right next to the church- and it is called the Mather School!

In our weekly service, we have a time when we light candles of celebration or concern. This Sunday, November 25th, I will light a candle for the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, in celebration of your four centuries as a gathered community. We rejoice with you in spirit.

Faithfully,

Rev Patricia Brennan

Interim Minister

First Parish Dorchester

Massachusetts

Yo can read more about the Ancient Chapel via these links:

Then and now pictures

Richard Mather and the Ancient Chapel

Jeremiah Horrocks and the Ancient Chapel

Jeremiah Horrocks and the transit of Venus

Two views of a junction in Toxteth

This post has been made on the day of the 400th anniversary of Richard Mather’s first sermon in Toxteth.

With special thanks to Jim Kenny who devised the logo used for the 400th anniversary.

ACoT landscape logo

 

Chapels of England, Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity

Chapels of England, Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity, Christopher Wakeling, Historic England, 2017, hardback, 312 pages, ISBN 978-1-84802-032-0, £50

Review

Nonconformist chapels, churches and meeting-houses have attracted an increasing amount of interest in recent years. They are an important part of religious and cultural history and remain a notable part of the topography of cities, towns and rural areas. The foundation of the Chapels Society has been a major contributor to this growth in interest as well as a great variety of publications that tell the story from denominational, local history and architectural points of view. Christopher Stell’s substantial four-volume Inventory of Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-Houses in England provided an essential guide to chapels all over England, many of which had disappeared. Unitarians are fortunate to have Graham and Judy Hague’s The Unitarian Heritage An Architectural Survey of Chapels and Churches in the Unitarian Tradition in the British Isles, published in 1986 and still an indispensable source. Across denominations there has been an increasing awareness of the need to preserve this aspect of our history and where congregations have been unable to sustain some buildings the Historic Chapels Trust has taken over their maintenance. With the publication of this new book, Chapels of England, Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity, by Christopher Wakeling, we now have a beautifully illustrated scholarly account of the patterns of chapel buildings amongst all branches of nonconformity from separatist, pre-ejection times up to the twenty-first century.

Chapels of England

The author brings a thorough architectural appreciation of these kinds of buildings and relates their historical development to the different denominations, the streams of theological thinking and liturgical practice within each of them, local architectural traditions and influences, and the interplay between dissent and the patterns of church building and the use of different styles by the established church. As such it is a tremendously impressive guide to what is a complicated and diffuse subject. Christopher Wakeling is well versed in the varieties of attitudes found within the different churches and sects that built chapels outside of the Church of England. Apparently the total number of surviving examples of Nonconformist chapels is still around 20,000 today, which is a significant number of buildings of one particular type. Dr Wakeling shows how chapel building accelerated at different times, such as the second decade of the nineteenth century when an average of five new meeting-houses were built a week, so that “nonconformist chapels became as characteristic a part of the Regency scene as cinemas were of the 1930s  or supermarkets have become today” (page 73).

Not all dissenters deliberately chose that path. In the first chapter Dr Wakeling makes good use of the sermon preached by John Fairfax at the opening of the Ipswich meeting-house in 1700 when he stated: “Had we the liberty of those places [ie. the parish churches], we should seek no other” (page 2).

And the Ipswich meeting-house with its spiral turned balusters and carved doves and cherubs worthy of Grinling Gibbons is clear evidence that early dissenters (particularly Presbyterians) were not averse to decoration.

But the whole book is an impressively thorough examination of the development of different styles of buildings as theologies changed, as denominations developed, as political circumstances evolved and as economic opportunity came and went. For Unitarians the Dissenters’ Chapels Act gave an added impetus to the frequent nonconformist impulse to build on the grand scale. Dr Wakeling quotes the preacher at the opening of Hyde Gee Cross in 1848 (not named in the text but presumably Charles Wicksteed) as saying the new church was:

Asserting the right of a Dissenting Chapel to look like a parish church, and to be used as a parish church without the least danger of our worship being interrupted (page 128).

But not all nonconformity took this form. Some was uncompromisingly evangelical and required a vast preaching station or a massive complex of buildings surrounding a central hall. In villages and towns small, unobtrusive chapels continued to be built throughout the nineteenth century. The period after the First World War and on into this century has brought a whole new set of challenges. Dr Wakeling shows how different circumstances, both local and national, produced these changes in architecture and the different types of building. The book is also peppered with ‘boxed essays’ which explain some of the terms used or the role practices such as communion had in chapel building over time or features such as seating and graveyards. This helps make for a very complete treatment of the whole subject since what might otherwise be a dry account of architectural history is, rather, rooted in the cultural, theological and liturgical experiences of the people who built the chapels. Consequently the book is also a history of nonconformity told through its buildings.

The book is richly illustrated in colour throughout, with page after page of striking photographs of interior and exterior shots, this is a particularly appealing feature of the book. If I was going to be hyper-critical I would say that the full-page picture of the chancel of Ullet Road Church (page 204) is astonishingly dark and gloomy, it is a much better lit area than this photo suggests. But this is to nit-pick, it’s the only disappointing picture in the book, generally the photographs are sharp and detailed throughout and are a really strong accompaniment to the text.

The author provides a glossary of the various nonconformist groups referred to in the book and is clearly familiar with the ethos and history of each of them, moving assuredly from one tradition to another. Historic England should be commended for producing such an impressive book, it is destined to become an essential publication for anyone with an interest in this aspect of religious history.

This review appears in Volume 26, Number 4, April 2018 of the ‘Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society’.

See

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2018/03/28/transactions-of-the-unitarian-historical-society-2018/

for details of how to subscribe.

 

Hugh Stowell Brown’s carte de visite

Following on the previous post on Hugh Stowell Brown we can add this image featuring his carte de visite. These were enormously popular aspects of life for the middle classes in the 1860s and represented an extension of portrait photography used more for collecting as keepsakes rather than as part of the niceties of Victorian social encounters as the name might indicate. They were seldom named and were probably kept more by families and, in the case of celebrities, by fans who liked to amass collections. This was probably as true for clergy as for other minor celebrities and one suspects that many members of Myrtle Street Chapel will have been quite proud of the cdv of their minister that they were able to stick into their album or lean on the mantelpiece.

 

hsbrowncdv01

 

This is quite a characterful study of the Rev Hugh Stowell Brown. It shows what a good job was done by the creator of the statue that was set outside his chapel some years later. He could almost be wearing the same coat. The card was produced by E. Swift & Son of 126 Bold Street, Liverpool and is quite a minimalist picture. Almost certainly this will have reflected Mr Brown’s own taste. Most of E. Swift & Son’s cartes feature other objects dragged in to add variety to the picture. Sometimes the curtain was removed to reveal a trompe l’oeil painting of a window and some plants. It’s probably better covered up to honest. He also eschewed the selection of decorated urns and Corinthian pillars that many liked to lean on for their photo shoots in Swifts and also didn’t need the Abbotsford chairs that were wheeled out from time to time. Perhaps wisest of all he didn’t use the cut-out ballustrade that sometimes appears behind the subject. Only the distinctive and perhaps slightly gaudy carpet detracts from the sober no-nonsense image.

So Hugh Stowell Brown created a carte de visite that managed to express quite a lot about who he was. He looks every inch the respectable and respected Baptist pastor, without adornment, and with integrity and a seriousness of purpose that could not be doubted.

Hugh Stowell Brown and Myrtle Street Chapel

It is nice to see the statue of the Rev Hugh Stowell Brown beautifully restored and re-erected on Hope Street, just around the corner from the location of his old church where he stood for many years. It is a slightly less edifying view for him now, gazing as he does at the main entrance of the Philharmonic pub, he formerly looked across the road towards the Philharmonic Hall itself. But for many years he stood at the end of Princes Avenue, caught in mid-sermon, notes in hand, looking into the entrance of Princes Park.

hsbstatue

 

It is remarkable that the statue should be rescued and so well restored, having been taken down in 1982 and left to decay in a council yard for decades. But all credit to those who repaired it. You can read a bit more about the restoration of the statue, including before and after pictures of the sculpture, on the site of the restorer:

http://www.robersonstonecarving.co.uk/restoration-hugh.html

 

Hugh Stowell Brown was one of the giants of the pulpit in nineteenth-century Liverpool, minister of Myrtle Street Baptist Chapel from 1847 up to his death in 1886. Politically engaged (with a radical streak – he was president of the Liverpool Peace Society, established a savings bank for the poor and attempted to break down class barriers in his preaching) he was recognised on a national stage by his denomination and by wider society. He was a great success in Myrtle Street, causing the chapel to be enlarged and on his death what must be the only statue of a nonconformist minister in the city was erected in front of his church and paid for by public subscription.

hsbmyrtlestreet

 

The place of Myrtle Street in the life of Liverpool is illustrated by some remarks by B. Guinness Orchard in his 1893 collection of civic biographies Liverpool’s Legion of Honour. While discussing ‘Our Local Society’ he inevitably gets round to the place of religion and has some remarkably candid assessments of the role of the great dissenting chapels in the city as sources of capital and, indeed, a spouse:

 

It is impossible to view social life without reference to Churches and Chapels especially those Nonconformist ones where there is deliberate effort to occupy the attendants so as to make them intimately acquainted. For a vast number of respectable, intelligent, fairly prosperous families the chapel is the only social centre; its meetings the only approach to amusement, its friendships the chief road to desirable marriage, and often the chief source of prosperity in business. A steady young man commencing life in Liverpool, without capital or good friends, cannot do better for his own business future than by joining and becoming active, useful and respected in a large dissenting congregation. Whoever knows intimately the ways by which such have again and again secured public positions, or obtained capital when a good opening presented itself, or found a generous supporter in a sudden emergency – whoever has enquired what brought excellent maidens and excellent youths into happy wedlock, while thousands of others loudly complain that no choice of acquaintance is open to them, will confirm this. Scores of instances will at once occur to attendants at Great George Street Independent, or Myrtle Street Baptist, or Sefton Park Presbyterian, or Grove Street Wesleyan Chapel; though the matter is much too private for names to be mentioned here.

 

This paragraph is actually a prelude to a longer discourse on “the most influential sectional meeting place in Liverpool” which he declared to be Renshaw Street Unitarian Chapel. But the whole chapter is indicative of the importance of nonconformist chapels in the life of the city in the late nineteenth century. It is hard to imagine today Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian or Unitarian churches being either so large or so influential. But some of them, often under the leadership of charismatic and very high profile ministers, were places of some significance in a city which was then at the high point of its own economic success.

 

Nothing today really remains of Myrtle Street Baptist Chapel, except the statue. The congregation clearly had an eye for tasteful commemorative china as can be seen by examples of what they produced to celebrate the opening of the chapel in 1844:

hsb-msb-crockery

 

The church had been formed by members of Byrom Street Chapel in 1800 and opened their own meeting house on Lime Street in 1803. This was taken down in 1844 by which time they were prosperous enough to move to Myrtle Street. Hugh Stowell Brown was called as a young and inexperienced minister after a preaching a sermon which he considered both poor and embarrassing. Although the chapel was fairly new he did not appreciate the interior, finding the chandeliers somewhat threatening:

 

Those who never saw them have reason to be thankful that they have been spared the sight of one form of ugliness which it would be hard to equal. Those chandeliers were like nothing else in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth. I do not know to whose singular genius the chapel was indebted for them. How shall I describe them? Nay, they are indescribable. Had one of them been hung outside the chapel I don’t believe that any horse in Liverpool could have been persuaded to approach within a hundred yards of it. I will only say that one of them, the central one, weighed, I believe, a couple of tons. It was made fast to a windlass in the garret, and people who were rather nervous, and had a regard for their safety, very properly declined to sit beneath it, for had the chain snapped, it would have crushed through people, pews and floor, not stopping until it had buried its victims in earth. Another of these monsters not quite so heavy was hung right over the pulpit, and although I am not a particularly nervous man, I preached for years with the unpleasant thought that my life hung by a rapidly-rusting chain, and that one day I might be jammed into a mince-pie in the pulpit, in the very sight of a terrified and mourning congregation.

 

But despite this he received a call and under his ministry the chapel was extended and renewed on several occasions. Not only that it was involved in establishing nine new causes around Merseyside including Princes Gate Baptist Chapel in 1881 which no doubt was the reason for the relocation of his statue near that building in 1954, some years after the closure of Myrtle Street.

 

Princes Gate was far less ornate than Myrtle Street but it too is now long gone, having been demolished in the late 1970s. But, for the sake of completeness, here are the exterior and interior views of Princes Gate Chapel:

hsbprincesgateext

Princes Gate exterior. The statue stood just opposite in the centre of the boulevard.

hsbprincesgateint

Princes Gate interior

Presbyterian Church, Grosvenor Square

Like the photograph of Platt Chapel in the previous post this picture did not come cheap but it is a very rare, relatively early picture of a long vanished church. I can’t find any other picture of this church as good as this online.

The Scotch Presbyterian Church was situated on Grosvenor Square, near the top of Oxford Road in Manchester, an area that has long been colonised by academic buildings although the square still exists as a small green space. In the centre of the square stood All Saints’ Church and the Presbyterian Church was on the far side of the square, on Lower Ormond Street, the road parallel with Oxford Road. Both churches are long gone the Presbyterian Church ending its days in the 1950s as a wallpaper shop and later as a paint shop before demolition in the early 1970s. All Saints’ was damaged in the blitz.

In the foreground of the picture the graves seen there form part of the church yard of All Saints’ Church. It is an untidy looking area in the picture – there are two lifeless looking trees, denuded of leaves and branches, and the gravestones stand in the middle of a scruffy no-man’s land which is covered in either sand or bare earth amidst clumps of grass. Was it taken in the middle of some building work or renovation or did it always look a mess? Either way it is nothing to do with the Presbyterian Church other than it crops up in the foreground of the picture.

There is a very full set of records for the congregation deposited in Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives. Amongst these the Communicants’ roll books begin in 1832 which suggests a foundation of that date. The pew rents/seat lettings books begin in 1850 when the church was opened for worship, the foundation stone of the new building having been laid on 17th September 1849.

Grosvenor Presbyterian MLIA

An architectural drawing of the church at the time of its opening (Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives)

 

The church closed in 1940 and merged with Withington Presbyterian Church to form Withington Grosvenor Presbyterian Church further out of Manchester. This congregation closed in 1971 to form Grosvenor St Aidan’s Presbyterian (later URC) Church in Didsbury (now called simply Didsbury United Reformed Church).

The photograph is quite small, it only measures about 8 cm by 6 cm, but it is very sharp and very old. The sister photograph that shows Platt Chapel dates from before 1874 so there is no reason to date this one to any other period. But here it is, the oldest photograph of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, Grosvenor Square, Chorlton-on-Medlock. Long vanished but preserved in this little study, a very precise architectural photograph taken on a sunny day sometime in the middle of the reign of Queen Victoria.

Grosvenor Square 04

The original photograph attached to its card

 

Google Street View, from a position along Oxford Road just past Manchester Metropolitan University, shows this view looking towards where the church once stood. It would have been visible beyond the trees on the other side of the square (now called ‘All Saints Park’).

Grosvenor Square Google Maps Streetview

Google Street View – Oxford Road

 

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

 

Thy return posterity shall witness, years must roll away, but then at length the splendid sight again shall greet our distant children’s eyes

Back in August I wrote about the short but significant life of Jeremiah Horrocks (1618-1641) and his connection with the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth. You can read the post here:

 

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/jeremiah-horrocks-1618-1641/

 

Jeremiah Horrocks is interesting for a variety of reasons but it is a curious fact that as a scientist he has collected memorials in at least four churches around the country, including the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth in Liverpool and Westminster Abbey.

 

As I also mentioned in my last posting on this topic there are a number of other memorials and commemorations of him in different places, all of them dating from long after he lived. One of the most recent and impressive is near the Pier Head in Liverpool. This is an exciting installation, well-sited in front of the Liver Buildings amongst the ever-growing collection of statuary and memorials that is accumulating there.

 

Horrocks 04

 

Entitled Heaven and Earth and created by Andy Plant the work was installed in 2011. The base is inscribed with the words:

 

Thy return posterity shall witness, years must roll away, but then at length the splendid sight again shall greet our distant children’s eyes

a quotation from Jeremiah Horrocks’ posthumously published book on the transit of Venus.

 

Horrocks 02

 

The work is both a sculpture and an orrery. Andy Plant (http://www.andyplant.co.uk/recent-work/) himself describes Heaven and Earth in these terms:

The sculpture has a working hand powered mechanical orrery, the position of Venus has been replaced by a copper angel version of Jeremiah and as his wings flap he orbits the other planets. Inside the large telescope there is a video animation of the life of Jeremiah by Tim Hunkin.

 

Horrocks 05

 

Unfortunately when I visited the sculpture on a crisp January afternoon this year none of these features were working. They may not have been intended to function beyond the time of the original exhibition of which the sculpture formed a part, I don’t know. But Tim Hunkin is something of a genius and it is great to think that some of his work is part of the installation. In fact you can read about how Tim Hunkin created A Short Life of Jeremiah Horrocks and see the animation on his own website here:

 

http://www.timhunkin.com/a151_sawmill%20animation.htm

 

Heaven and Earth is another exciting addition to the Liverpool waterfront, and another fitting memorial to a remarkable person.

Horrocks 01

Chowbent Chapel

The building of Chowbent Chapel in 1722 speaks volumes for the determination of Lancastrian dissent in the early eighteenth century. Having retained possession of the chapel of ease after the ejections of 1662 it wasn’t until the 1720s that the local landlord managed to expel dissenters from the essentially Anglican chapel, allegedly because of the part played by the minister ‘General’ James Wood and his congregation in suppressing the Jacobite rebellion of 1715.

The eighteenth-century three decker pulpit
The eighteenth-century three decker pulpit

 

The new chapel was built on land owned by the Mort family who appear to have been generous supporters and benefactors and who had a great importance in Lancashire non-conformity in general. But the chapel, to me at least, always has something of the sense of a fortress about it – the solid, square walls, the ancient oak pillars, the studded door into the church, the large memorial to ‘General’ Wood above the pulpit.

But it is also full of interesting details that would be easy to miss. There is a large amount of stained glass but I had forgotten about the appearance of an image of the chapel itself in the window depicting Jesus and the children. The three decker pulpit is incredibly impressive and with the traditional pulpit cushions very much looks the part still. You can’t miss the pulpits and reading desk but you might miss the small section of panel cut out from behind the top pulpit. Here it was said they had to make space for the door to open wider in order to admit the well-fed frame of the Rev Thomas Belsham when he visited in the nineteenth century!

 

The Victorian stained glass window featuring the picture of the chapel
The Victorian stained glass window featuring the picture of the chapel

 

It has been some years since I was last at the chapel and I had a recollection of seeing the grave of the Rev John Taylor laid flat in the grounds of the chapel. John Taylor being the first Tutor in Divinity at the Warrington Academy. But this is not the case – John Taylor is certainly buried there but his gravestone was removed when the front of the church was extended to make way for the organ and vestibule in 1901. There is however, a touching memorial to him and his wife.

 

Memorial to John and Elizabeth Taylor
Memorial to John and Elizabeth Taylor

 

The reason for my visit in January was to be part of the congregation to celebrate 25 years of ministry by the Rev Brenda Catherall and I was delighted to play a small part in that special service. Brenda has been minister there since 2007 following ministries in Bank Street, Bolton and Monton and has given 25 years of devoted service to the Unitarian ministry and touched the lives of a great many people through her outstanding work. There is something so appropriate about her ministry in the congregation in which she grew up and which has always had a special place in her affections.

 

Rev Brenda Catherall in the pulpit
Rev Brenda Catherall in the pulpit

 

The chapel encapsulates the proud tradition of dissent and non-conformity in the town and it is so encouraging to see the congregation in such good heart and in such good hands.

 

The studded door from the vestry to the chapel
The studded door from the vestry to the chapel

Ordination and Induction at Ullet Road

It was a tremendous privilege and pleasure to take part in the induction and ordination of the Rev Philip Waldron as minister of Ullet Road Church, Southport and Wirral Unitarians as part of the Merseyside Partnership at Ullet Road on Saturday, 9th January.

 

Rev Phil Waldron in the chancel
Rev Phil Waldron in the chancel

 

It was an impressive service that drew on the traditions and ethos of Unitarianism on Merseyside and which resonated effectively with the august building that is Ullet Road Church. It is testimony to the high regard in which Phil is held by his colleagues that so many ministers took part and that so many people were present. The music supplied by the organ and the singing by the choir Liverpool Voices were also of a very high standard and added greatly to the service.

 

Refreshments after the service in the hall
Refreshments after the service in the hall

 

Ullet Road is certainly one of the most remarkable sets of buildings within the Unitarian tradition in England and ranks highly amongst all branches of dissent. The hall, designed by Percy Worthington and built slightly later than the Church at the start of the twentieth century, is a delight in itself. On occasions such as this (with appropriate winter decorations left over from a wedding) it really comes into its own with the feel of something like a medieval hall, not least because of the open fire that provides such a focus.

 

The fireplace in the hall which stands beneath the Arms of Sir John Brunner and Sir Henry Tate
The fireplace in the hall which stands beneath the Arms of Sir John Brunner and Sir Henry Tate

 

In the course of his own statement Phil quoted the Rev Stanley Mellor, the highly successful minister of Hope Street Church in the first half of the twentieth century, which encapsulates some of his own aspirations for ministry:

 

“[the purpose] of the Christian religion, is the awakening of the soul to the discovery of its own eternal character, the conversation of the heart to knowledge of its other-worldly destiny and duty.

 

The congregation are much blessed to possess such a building that reflects this quest so effectively and Merseyside District can look with satisfaction upon such an auspicious start to a new ministry.