I am not sure how many Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches had postcards produced featuring the meeting-house in Edwardian days. Not all of them I would guess but I have a good few examples and have blogged about a few of them including Downpatrick, Newry, Banbridge, All Souls’ Belfast (including one that quite clearly is not All Souls’), and Crumlin. There are others such as Clough and Dromore which I have seen but not acquired, but recently I was pleased to pick up a picture of Dunmurry.
Labelled First Presbyterian (R[emonstrant] S[ynod]) Church, Dunmurry, (Dr Montgomery’s Old Church) I have seen this card offered for sale before but I am pleased to at last track one down. Published by F.W. Harding of Lisburn this card was posted on 12th November 1906 to Miss Browne in Aghalee, ‘M.B.’ writes to ‘Maggie’ telling they her they are still waiting for a letter from her but hope to see her soon.
We can compare it with a modern view, taken from more or less the same position last week and see that, of course, although some of the graves, the trees and planting around the church have changed the view is essentially unchanged.
Dunmurry January 2023
In January we filmed some short reflections in the church featuring Allen Yarr on the piano. The video can be seen here:
Reflections for the month of January with the Rev Dr David Steers, minister, and Allen Yarr, church organist. Music: ‘When I survey’, ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’
I purchased this postcard on eBay recently. It is not in great condition but it is a fairly rare example of a Baird of Belfast postcard of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church at Crumlin. It came with added interest because it was sent by Mrs Ashworth to her friend Mrs Arbuckle of 16 Danube Street, Belfast in June 1908. The message gives us a little glimpse into Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church life in 1908.
Mrs Ashworth, the author, writes in friendly, yet also fairly formal tones to Mrs Arbuckle. Mrs Ashworth (as she describes herself) was the wife of the Rev Alexander Osborne Ashworth minister of York Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church at the time. She refers to her husband only as Mr Ashworth in her short note although also mentions a person called Blanche who appears to be their daughter. They are also staying in the manse at Crumlin. ‘Mr Ashworth, Blanche and I’ came to the manse on 1st June, ‘Mr & Mrs Bowen & Jack’ left the same evening for Wales where they would remain for most of the month before returning for a six week stay at Carnlough. Prior to sending the card the Ashworths had made some unsuccessful attempts to meet up with Mrs Arbuckle and her family.
It’s not possible to identify the Mrs Arbuckle, but there is a good chance that she was a member of York Street Church, indeed there was a Mary Arbuckle living on York Street itself in the 1901 census and Danube Street is certainly within the catchment area of York Street Church.
Most of the contents reveal mundane domestic arrangements involving three Belfast families over 110 years ago. But knowing that two of those families were the families of NSP ministers and the fact that it was all written on a postcard depicting Crumlin Church enables us to put some flesh on the bones of this brief correspondence.
Mr and Mrs Bowen were the Rev Samuel Evans Bowen and his wife. S. E. Bowen was called to be minister of Crumlin in 1908, he was ordained later in the year on 3rd September by the Presbytery of Templepatrick. It may be that Alexander Ashworth and his wife were preparing the manse for their arrival, although he was clerk of the Presbytery of Antrim at that time and was still minister of York Street until 1909 when he retired, although he continued as a very active senior minister until 1913 and remained active in his denomination for many years afterwards until his death in 1935. Ashworth was born in the Rossendale valley in Lancashire in 1846 and trained at the Unitarian Home Missionary College. He came to York Street in 1893 after previous ministries in Chatham, Stalybridge, Doncaster and South Shields. For many years he was also the Sunday School Convenor for the Non-Subscribers. This job was no sinecure, in 1909, for instance, he organised the Annual Sunday School Conference at Downpatrick, an event which attracted 450 participants.
The Rev Alexander Ashworth is probably hardly remembered today, for one thing the church where he had his longest and most significant ministry was destroyed in the blitz of 1941, but he gave devoted service in many different ways for decades.
The same was true of S.E. Bowen. Another former student of the Unitarian College in Manchester he was minister in Crumlin for over twenty years (to 1929) before returning to his native Wales to minister at Allt-y-placa, Capel-y-bryn and Cwm Sychbant for 27 years. But with this postcard we get a view of the Crumlin meeting-house. Judging by the trees it is of a similar, although not identical, vintage to the photograph that appeared in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine in October 1908 to accompany the account of his ordination. In both pictures the ivy seems to be contained in identical positions but the postcard shows a small tree or bush to the right of the church which is not there in the magazine image. The postcard could be quite a few years older than the other photograph.
The Crumlin meeting-house is fairly secluded and can’t be seen from the main road. Built in 1835 it replaced an earlier church of 1715. It is a miniature replica of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church designed by Roger Mulholland. It is interesting that the congregation of Crumlin took that building as a template for their new church over 60 years later.
Whenever I try to take an architectural photograph I always aim to get a shot of the building without the distractions of either people or vehicles. I wasn’t able to do this with this picture of Crumlin taken in the autumn of 2019. The foreground is crowded with cars. But in the long term a photograph of something like a church which includes other details that date it actually makes it more interesting to the viewer. But if I was going to compose the cars for a photograph I wouldn’t park them like that!
The interior of Crumlin has an elegant charm.
The account of S.E. Bowen’s ordination published in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine is quite full and interesting. In the service the Rev S.E. Bowen said that ‘Unitarians were a people who believed not so much in attempting a definition of religion as in working for truth and liberty, being bound together by a profound belief in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.’ Later, over the welcome dinner there were a number of speeches given. Representing the Presbytery of Antrim the Rev W.S. Smith told the whole congregation to pick a day in October and arrive at the manse with a spade ready for three hours of work, leading the author of the report to note that the manse garden must ‘to say the least, be inferior in condition to the Garden of Eden when it was given to the father of all living to dress it and keep it’. The Rev Alexander Gordon was also there speaking highly of S.E. Bowen as a former student of his. He also related how he had recently been in the south of France and attended worship in a Protestant congregation there where the service was conducted by a young man in a congregation that only numbered sixteen, ‘yet he had been favourably impressed with the manifest consciousness of the congregation that they had come to worship, and with the energy and the earnestness of the preacher.’ It made me wonder what else Alexander Gordon did in the south of France in the summer of 1908, I can’t imagine that he just went there to sunbathe.
I bought this black and white print of a view of Paradise Street dated 17 April 1973 for a small amount on eBay recently. I was interested in seeing it because Paradise Street as it was before the building of the Liverpool 1 shopping development has been so completely obliterated. It is today forgotten and it takes some effort to recall it to mind. Not that Paradise Street in the 1970s deserves to loom large in anyone’s memory, even at the time it had the feeling of something like a backlot to the city centre, a place where there was nothing much to see, a place that existed as an adjunct to the streets and places that mattered.
A lot of it was car parks and this picture clearly shows the new multi-story car park which was then just being completed in 1973. A brutal and functional building, it wasn’t very pleasant although it was handy enough. Its contemporary neighbour the Holiday Inn, seen on the left of the photograph, was little better to look at. But the multi-story wasn’t the only car park on Paradise Street. On the opposite side of the road, not visible in the picture, was a street-level car park complete with parking meters. I can’t be the only person straining to remember this entirely forgettable piece of streetscape because another photograph of Paradise Street featuring the corner of the street-level car park sold just after this one on eBay for about £5. But that car park must have been somewhere near the site of the Paradise Street chapel of 1791.
Paradise Street, Chapel
I have written before about this chapel which had an unusual history and ended up as a music hall. To some extent it enshrined the fortunes of this city centre street – from a well to do residential neighbourhood with its fashionable chapel and the home of the first US consul, to a seedy street with a licentious and dangerous reputation. Later still it became a commercial area (and the old chapel a warehouse) and later still Nazi bombs in 1941 finished off what was left and prepared the ground for the 1970s car parks and cheap hotels.
Click on the above image to read about the history of Paradise Street Chapel/Royal Colosseum
So let’s compare then and now views of Paradise Street.
Paradise Street April 1973
Paradise Street February 2020
The only buildings which remain are at opposite ends of the road. On the right in the 1973 picture is a red-brick building and the Eagle pub. The red-brick building is still there and is today a tapas bar, but you can’t take a picture from the same spot because there is so much furniture outside. Just visible next door is what was the Eagle pub, originally the US Consul’s house and which still carries an American eagle above the front door. Everything else has been redeveloped except for the post-war building at the far end of the street behind which the tower of the Municipal Buildings on Dale Street can still be seen. This was for many years Horne Brothers, the gentleman’s outfitters. In my youth I had to be a customer there because they had a monopoly on the provision of uniforms for my school. An at least annual visit there was inevitable. But I had another connection with Horne Brothers in that I was sent to the barbers shop in the basement to get my hair cut. This was done by Mr Cannon, one of the team of barbers who worked in the gloom of the basement. You had to make an appointment and my appointment was always with him. Unknown to me then it was Mr Cannon who first cut the hair of the Beatles. In volume one of Mark Lewisohn’s excellent book All These Years he tells how when Brian Epstein took over their management he sent them to Mr Cannon to get their first Beatles hair cut. Had I known anything of this back in the 1970s I would have asked him about it, but such things were of little general interest in the 70s. But although the building is still there Horne Bros has long gone, it was turned into a McDonalds years ago.
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James Robinson lent me this Calendar from Clough dating to 1956. As the caption says it shows the Sunday School before the Flower Service in July 1954. I think the Rev George Buckley made a Calendar for each year he was minister of Ballee and Clough and I will search out any more of them that we can post online. But this one is particularly interesting because it shows the members of the Sunday School. The Flower Service was an important annual service in Clough in those days and many members remember it. Mr Buckley took the picture one year and used it in the Calendar eighteen months later. I am sure everyone in the photo can be identified and a great many of them are regular attenders in the church to this day. It would be nice to put a name to each of the children so that we can post those online too.
Downpatrick: Then and Now
I am grateful to Mary Stewart and Thelma Lowry for the next image which is of the interior of Downpatrick in 1967 immediately following its previous renovation and redecoration in the 1960s. This picture was taken on the day of Thelma’s wedding in the church:
As can be seen the colour scheme is quite different to what we are used to today as this picture taken by Down County Museum in 2014 shows:
In the five years since this picture was taken a number of features have changed, including the addition of furniture and wall plaques. The ‘Squire’s Gallery’ is tidier too! But there is a different feel entirely to the interior, which is believed to be one much closer to the original interior of 1711.
‘Then and now’ pictures can be interesting and informative. Standing outside the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth on 4 August 2019 I thought I would try and get a shot of the building from approximately the same position as the print that I have of the same view dating from about one hundred and fifteen years previously.
You can read about this photograph from between 1901 and 1904 and see some details from it here.
Whenever I take pictures of buildings I spend a lot of time trying to keep cars, buses, people, street furniture etc. out of shot. But, of course, for the historian it is the other details that often make the photograph useful and interesting. I picked this spot for the picture without referring to the old print and was half inclined to try and get a nice big Arriva bus coming up Park Road at the same time but there was a limit to how long I wanted to stand in the road! It’s a busy place and I suspect modern buses travel faster than old trams. So no buses in the picture but still a view that enables us to compare ‘then’ with ‘now’.
The picture at the top of the page is the wildflower meadow at St Agnes Field on the edge of Sefton Park.