John Strain’s 40th anniversary as organist at Ballee

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In front of the organ after the service (Photo: Mary Stewart)

On Sunday, 30th June 2019  we celebrated John Strain’s 40 years as organist at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. John discovered his talent as a musician at a young age and assumed the mantle of organist back in 1979. In all those years John has only missed a Sunday service on three occasions and is well-known for his wide knowledge of tunes and his willingness to find just the right hymn even at a moment’s notice. In that time John has played at many baptisms, weddings and funerals as well as at many other local churches including the local Church of Ireland for the last thirty years. Some years ago John released a record of his playing on the church’s organ made by Samuel Dalladay of Hastings in 1912 and in 2012 played for the congregation’s organ centenary twelve-hour hymnathon.

Ballee Presentation 30 June 2019

With Doreen Chambers and Sophia Cleland who both read lessons during the service (Photo: Mary Stewart)

This special service was built around six hymns chosen by John who also gave his reasons for choosing them. During the service readings were given by church members and John’s tremendous commitment, loyalty and achievement in the church was celebrated as a special presentation was made to him to mark this significant anniversary. The hymns John chose were ‘Morning has broken’, ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God’, ‘Go work in my vineyard’, ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’, ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’, and ‘Great is Thy faithfulness’, all from Hymns of Faith and Freedom.

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With Jayne Caven, church secretary (Photo: Doreen Chambers)

An audio recording of the service is available.

You can read about Ballee’s Carnegie organ here

Clough Children’s Day 16th June 2019

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Children of the Sunday School who led the service at Clough

The annual Children’s Day service at Clough was held at the morning service on Sunday, 16th June. With songs, readings and prayers the children led the service on the theme of the Feeding of the Five Thousand and prizes were awarded for attendance and participation in the recent denominational exhibition held in All Souls’ Church, Belfast when Clough Sunday School were awarded a magnificent total of 17 prizes. At the service the Rev Dr David Steers thanked retiring Sunday School Superintendent, Elsie Nelson, for the tremendous service she has given to the children and the church over recent years.

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All the children’s work was displayed in the church

 

Rev Felix Holt

Back in 2016 I wrote about the grave of the Rev Peter Holt in the grave yard of the former Croft Unitarian Chapel (pictured above). The first full-time minister at Croft, he later served at Leigh and Astley in Lancashire. (Click here to read that post.) I remember preaching at Astley when a student in the 1980s and the Holt family was still remembered there then. Peter Holt was the father of two ministers, the most well-known was the Rev Raymond V. Holt, the other being the Rev Felix Holt whose longest ministry was at Ballymoney in county Antrim. Since posting about the Holt family I have heard from Andrew Holt, the grandson of the Rev Peter Holt and son of another brother, and also recovered some material about Felix Holt which came to light a few years ago.

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Rev Felix Holt

Felix’s nephew tells me that his cousin, Felix’s son, served with the RAF during the Second World War and was shot down and killed over France. According to the Commonwealth War Grave Commission his son was Flight Sergeant (Navigator) Alwyn Evelyn Stuart Holt who died on 19th July 1944 aged 21. He served with 207 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He is recorded by the CWGC as “Son of the Revd. Felix Holt and Margaret Isabel Holt, of Charles Street Manse, Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland.” He is buried at Margny Communal Cemetery, Marne, France.

Among other things Rev Felix Holt was the clerk of the presbytery of Templepatrick for seven years and moderator of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster from 1916 to 1917 and from 1935 to 1936. He must have been a considerable scholar. He taught ancient languages at Dalriada School in Ballymoney as well as working as a private tutor. I have a copy of a flyer he used listing his qualifications.

Felix Holt tutor

He was also the editor of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine for a few years. The picture from this front cover is the only picture I know of him.

Felix Holt Cover

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

 

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.

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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”.

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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.

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All Souls June 2019

Postcard from Downpatrick. Then and Now

In the last post I included a scan of a newly acquired postcard of Newry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. It is one of only a handful of Edwardian postcards featuring Non-Subscribing Presbyterian (NSP) churches. In this post I include a scan of a postcard which I purchased a few years ago but which is one of the rarest to feature NSP churches:

Downpatrick Postcard

I have never seen another example of this postcard of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick. It has not been posted but was published by Lawrence Publisher of Dublin, probably c.1905. It is a colourised image, although it is not badly done, but that does suggest that there may also be ‘Real Photographic’ copies of the same postcard. The same publisher also produced postcards of the Cathedral and St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Downpatrick. Not surprisingly the various views of the Cathedral are very common, it being a popular tourist destination because it houses St Patrick’s grave. The postcard featuring St Patrick’s Catholic Church is far less common but not as rare as the picture of the nearby Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.

The archive of the publisher of this postcard is held in the National Library of Ireland (NLI) in Dublin. There they hold 40,000 glass plate negatives made by the Lawrence studio between 1870 and 1914 of places all over Ireland. Over 19,000 images in the Lawrence Collection have been digitised and can be viewed online. The Collection includes six images that are labelled as depicting Unitarian churches. This is how most of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches would have been known at the time but although this list includes Downpatrick, Newry (a different, wider view than the one in the previous post by an unknown publisher), Comber and Dromore, it also includes pictures of what the catalogue claims to be the Unitarian churches of Kilkeel and Portadown, indeed Unitarian is written on the photographic plate of the Kilkeel image. However, since there has never been a Unitarian/Non-Subscribing church in either place this is clearly an error. In fact the Kilkeel church has a visible date stone of 1832 which also names it as The Church of the United Brethren. However, in addition to the four correctly identified churches there is also a fifth example of an NSP church in what the catalogue calls the Presbyterian Hall, Larne but which is labelled on the plate as the ‘Old Presbyterian House, Larne’.

The image of Downpatrick which is now held in the National Library of Ireland was reproduced in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine of July 1909 where it was attributed to Baird of Belfast:

Downpatrick July 1909

Inevitably, because it is taken from a magazine, this image is a lot less clearer than the image held in Dublin but it is an identical picture, even including the same title and identification code of ‘1697 W.L.’ which is cropped from the printed postcard. It also has an addition in the bottom right hand corner where the words ‘Baird, Belfast’ have been added.

The online digital image which can be seen on the NLI site is mostly very sharp (there is some blurring of the foliage) but you can clearly see the eighteenth-century foot scraper on the main steps into the church. However, in the colourised postcard and the magazine image this kind of detail is lost. But still the original is not a bad image. It is strange though the degree to which the ivy was allowed to run riot on such an ancient building. All of this was removed a long time ago. It is amazing how much cleaner the meeting-house looks without ivy creeping around it and these following photos, taken in 2008 (above) and 2017 (below), give a good contrast to the Edwardian postcard and show details such as the foot scraper and some of the other changes that have taken place around the building in recent years.

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The Church in 2008

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The Church in 2017

 

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Detail from the postcard c.1905

Downpatrick entrance gates September 1909

The view from the gates to the church. From the ‘Non-Subscribing Presbyterian’ magazine, September 1909

 

First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Newry

At the end of February a meeting of the Presbyterian Historical Society took place at the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Newry when the speaker was the Rev Dr John Nelson who spoke about the life and ministry of Rev Andrew George Malcom, minister at Newry from 1809 to 1823.

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Rev Dr John Nelson addresses the Society

It is always an interesting church to visit, said to be one of the first Presbyterian churches in Ireland to adopt the Gothic style, designed by W.J. Barre in 1853, the first commission of the Newry-born architect then aged just 22. It was my task to introduce the speaker and I also made mention of the magnificent organ built in Belfast in 1806 for the Second Congregation, first played by Edward Bunting and sold to the Newry congregation in the 1920s. It was one of the first organs to be introduced to any dissenting congregation in Ireland and undoubtedly is the organ in longest continuous use in any Presbyterian church in Ireland. The Very Rev John Dunlop asked if there was any chance of hearing the instrument being played and church member Florence Berry kindly stepped up to give everyone the chance to hear it.

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Florence Berry plays the organ

I have an example of a postcard of the interior of All Souls’ Church, Belfast which includes a partial view of the instrument in what was its second location:

Postcard All Souls cropped

I have blogged about this postcard and the ‘ghost’ in the picture in a previous post – Postcards from All Souls’.

By chance I recently became the proud possessor of an Edwardian postcard featuring the Newry church.

Newry Postcard

The card was posted in Newry on 12th August 1905 by ‘May’ to ‘Mr A.N. Jackson, 17 Scholar Street, Liverpool’. She said simply ‘This is a picture of our Church.’

I only know of eight or nine Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches which appear on postcards, although there are other oddities such as a postcard featuring the Newry manse from this era, although I don’t have a copy of it. The Newry card of the church is not particularly rare and this is not a wonderful example, bearing, as it does, a fair amount of foxing. But it is interesting nevertheless, complete with a knot of school age children standing at the corner of the road.

 

Closer inspection reveals that this little crowd might contain some of the Sunday School as the solitary figure a bit further to the right appears to be a clergyman. Since we can date this exactly to 1905 this would be the Rev George Vance Crook. After serving as a Wesleyan Methodist minister he changed denomination and ministered successively at the Unitarian Church, Taunton, then at Newry and Warrenpoint, then Cork and finally at Antrim where he had a long ministry from 1913 until his death in 1949. He had a kindly disposition and although in many ways a figure from the distant past in my first ministry in Belfast one member of the congregation could recall him very well from his Antrim days.

I took a picture of the exterior, complete with scaffolding, a couple of years ago:

Newry July 2017

An engraving of the church appears in an 1866 edition of The Christian Freeman, later also reproduced in Emily Sharpe’s 1901 Pictures of Unitarian Churches, one of only three Irish churches to appear there. It is reproduced at the top of this page.

One of the things that always catches the eye at Newry is the large model of a steam engine and its coach mounted high on the wall of the church hall. It was made by Mr Henning a church member who worked as a wheelwright in Newry railway station and who died in 1930. He bequeathed his model to the Newry Sunday School and it has been in the church hall ever since.

Newry engine crop

Murland Vault Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

The Murland family vault at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church will be the focus of a public lecture by Dr Finbar McCormick on the topic of ‘Mausolea & Memorials to the dead in Ireland’ at Clough NSP Church on Wednesday, 13th March 2019 at 7.30 pm. Everyone is welcome and the talk will be followed by refreshments. The tomb is in need of conservation which will be undertaken by the Follies Trust in the forthcoming months.

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Clough Vault front detail 02

Clough Vault diagonal front

Clough Vault front diagonal detail 02

Clough Vault diagonal side

Clough Vault urn

More information can be found on a previous post here – Mausolea in Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough

The Follies Trust leaflet contains illustrations of the tomb and information on how to make a donation to the project if you wish. It can be downloaded here:

Follies Mausoleum Flyer

Mausolea in Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough

The three Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough each possess interesting graveyards housing the last resting places of centuries of church members, including many notable figures. The graveyards are remarkable too for the wide variety of tombs, stones and other memorials. Of especial note are the mausolea mostly dating from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries.

Downpatrick has a large number of what Professor James Stevens Curl describes (in Mausolea in Ulster, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1978) as being of ‘the barrel-vaulted variety, rather like a Nissen-hut’. These type of tombs appear to be local to the Downpatrick area, there are other examples in the locality but the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on Stream Street has the largest number of examples of them, tombs built by local merchants including the Potter, Morrison, Quail, Rowan and Gordon families. The Quail tomb is dated 1800. The Morrison family tomb is located in the graveyard exactly opposite the house on Stream Street where the family then lived, so every day they gazed out of the window at a rather stark reminder of their own mortality.

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Downpatrick tomb, possibly that of the Potter family

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Quail family tomb

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Gordon family tomb

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Morrison family tomb opposite their residence

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Downpatrick tomb, inscription not legible

There is another example of such a tomb at Ballee.

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Side view of the tomb at Ballee

Of particular interest to architectural historians are the two tombs at Downpatrick described by Professor Curl as consisting:

of square bases, with panelled sides, surmounted by pyramids having concave sides derived from early mausolea in the Kedron Valley, Jerusalem.

The link with the Kedron Valley is particularly intriguing.

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The two concave tombs at Downpatrick ‘derived from early mausolea in the Kedron Valley, Jerusalem’

But by far the grandest tomb is to be found at Clough. Professor Curl describes it as:

A work of Victorial funerary architecture in full bloom…The grand ‘Order’ of consoles instead of pilasters or columns; the massive vermiculated rustication of the entrance; the shrouded urns; and the remnants of neoclassical form give an indication of the ‘fat atmosphere’ of funerals so typical of opulent burial in the nineteenth century…The funeral pomp of the Murland mausoleum at Clough is something one might expect to find in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise or in one of the great American cemeteries, rather than in a small rural churchyard in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne.

The Murland family were local mill owners and members of the church at Clough. The Memorial at Clough is now in need of conservation and the Follies Trust is hoping to tackle this in forthcoming months. On Wednesday, 13th March 2019 there will be a public lecture at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church at 7.30 pm by Dr Finbar McCormick on the topic of ‘Mausolea & Memorials to the dead in Ireland’. Everyone is welcome and the talk will be followed by refreshments.

Dr McCormick is a senior lecturer in the School of the Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University, Belfast and former Chair of the Discovery Programme. The Follies Trust writes:

The talk will look at the history and development of memorials to the dead in Ireland and beyond. It will show how the Reformation changed people’s attitude to commemorating the dead and will demonstrate how Presbyterianism in Scotland played such an important role in the development of the modern mausoleum. Dr McCormick will also show how classical ideas had such an influence on mausoleum design as can be seen in the magnificent Murland mausoleum at Clough. The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society list describes the mausoleum as ‘the phenomenal Murland vault of about 1860, furnished with all the pompe funebre of the classical manner, with trimmings.’ It was designed by Thomas Turner and is a fine example of the genre.

The Follies Trust leaflet contains illustrations of the tomb and information on how to make a donation to the project if you wish. It can be downloaded from this link:

Follies Mausoleum Flyer

 

Christmas in Lecale 2018

Some images from the Christmas services and special events at Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches.

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Participants in the Clough Carol Service

(click here for more pictures from Clough Carol Service)

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Ballee Christmas 2018 03

Santa visits Ballee following the Carol Service

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Choir singing in the Downpatrick Carol Service

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Downpatrick Christmas party

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Clough Christmas party

(click here for more pictures from Clough Christmas party)

Candlelight Carol Service at Clough

This year’s joint Candlelight Carol Service between Clough, Ballee and Downpatrick congregations was held on Wednesday, 12th December at Clough. We were again delighted to welcome the Laganvale Ensemble and their conductor Gareth Downey to lead our worship. The Christmas story was re-told through a succession of readings which were given by readers from each of the churches – Thomas Rooney, Elsie Nelson, Sarah Rooney, Sophia Cleland, Marion Moffett, Jayne Caven, Tierna Kelly, Annabel Cleland, and Mary Stewart. Alfie McClelland played the organ. It was a wonderful evening, the sound of the band filled the church most effectively.

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The band playing during the service

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All the readers on the evening plus the band with conductor Gareth on the right and organist Alfie on the left

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The band rehearsing before the service