Unitarian Historical Society 2019

The cover of our latest issue of the Transactions which is on its way to all subscribers and which is available to order by new subscribers now:

Cover 2019

You can read more about the contents HERE

The Tercentenary of the Salters’ Hall Debates can be read HERE

The Annual General Meeting of the Society for 2019 will take place at 14.55 on Wednesday 17 April at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole Hotel during the meetings of the General Assembly. This will be followed by a lecture by Dr Rachel Eckersley on ‘Benefactions in the form of books: the development of the Northern Dissenting Academies and their libraries during the 18th and 19th centuries’.

Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society Vol. 27 No. 1 April 2019

The new issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society is out now and will be arriving with subscribers shortly. If you aren’t already a subscriber details of how to sign up can be found below.

St Saviourgate Door

Entrance to St Saviourgate Chapel, York. Catharine Cappe’s congregation

In this issue Andrew M. Hill looks at A Pattern of York Feminism: Catharine Cappe as spinster, wife and widow. His article gives a tremendous amount of insight to this woman, born in 1744 who died in 1821, and who Andrew discusses broadly in terms of three categories:

  • as a woman making efforts to escape conventional female roles;
  • as the companion and colleague of her husband and
  • as a social reformer with a burning zeal.

 

The Christian Examiner and Theological Review

A review (from ‘The Christian Examiner’ of 1825) of Richard Wright’s most famous book. The Northiam Library borrowing book at the time records 122 pamphlets being borrowed, mostly written by Richard Wright, Unitarian Missionary 

Valerie Smith examines Late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Unitarian Readership particularly through the surviving library records of a number of chapels, including Newcastle, Northiam, Bridport and Lewes and looks at the reading habits of lay men and women from ‘lower levels of society’ within Rational Dissent.

Captain Philip Hirsch VC
Captain Philip Hirsch VC

Alan Ruston continues his work on Unitarian engagement with the First World War with 1919 – a re-evaluation of the part played by Unitarians in the First World War, looking at casualties, the Belgian Hospital Fund and the work of Rose Allen and some of the publications from the First World War which are only now being rediscovered.

Sue Killoran’s paper given to the annual general meeting of the society on The Library and Archives at Harris Manchester College, Oxford completes the main articles. This is an edited version of her lecture given in 2017 which can also be viewed online here:

 

In the Record Section Alan Ruston introduces some further research into Unitarians and the First World War with Ann McMellan’s and Lesley Dean’s initial findings from The Pearson Papers in Dr Williams’s Library, some First World War examples. They are working on some 25,000 papers connected with Rev J. Arthur Pearson (1870-1947), London District Minister from 1908 to 1944 and popularly known as ‘the Bishop’.

 

Salters' Hall scan crop

Salters’ Hall in the early nineteenth century

In addition we have two notes: The Tercentenary of the Salters’ Hall Debates by David Steers marks the anniversary of this important early eighteenth-century controversy (the text of which can be read online by clicking here) and Rob Whiteman discusses the career of the Rev Helen Phillips, a much overlooked pioneer within the Unitarian ministry who became the second woman to become a minister (following Gertrude von Petzold) in 1916 and who lived until 1961 but has attracted very little notice from historians until now.

St Saviourgate Interior 03

The interior of St Saviourgate Chapel, York which houses the memorial to Catharine Cappe which reads:

Her whole life

was a beautiful, instructive & encouraging example

of Piety and Benevolence:

Piety – ardent, rational and unostentatious,

manifested in uniform obedience

to the law of God,

and in cheerful submission

to all dispensations of his providence:

Benevolence – pure, active and persevering,

directed by a sound judgement

and unlimited by its exercise by any regard

to personal ease or party distinctions.

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.

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.

Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society 2018

The 2018 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society is now available (volume 26, number 4, April 2018).

Cover 2018

 

This issue includes:

The Case of the Clough meeting-House (1836): law reporting and pamphleteering

John F. Larkin QC

 

Supporting Belgium: A Unitarian Heroine of the First World War

Alan Ruston

 

‘To ours, among the rest’: Unitarian support for combatants in both World Wars

Alan Ruston

 

Thomas Drummond (1764-1852), a Hoxton graduate in East Anglia

Melanie Winterbotham

 

Record Section – papers relating to Rev Dr John Lionel Tayler

Derek McAuley

 

Reviews

Books Reviewed

Challenge and Change: English Baptist Life in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Stephen Copson and Peter J. Morden, Baptist Historical Society, 2017. Paperback, 304 pages ISBN 978-0-903166-45-4. Price £25 plus p &p, from the BHS 129 Broadway, Didcot, Oxon, OX11 8RT.www.baptisthistory.org.uk

A Documentary History of Unitarian Universalism, Volume 1 From the Beginning to 1899, Volume 2 From 1900 to the Present, Edited by Dan McKanan, Skinner House Books, Boston USA, 2017. Volume 1, 501 pages, ISBN 978-1-55896-789-2; Volume 2, 566 pages, ISBN  978-1-55896-791-5. Both paperback, Unitarian Universalist Association 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston MA, 02240-1409, USA. Books also obtainable on amazon. Price $20 each volume.

A VISION SPLENDID The Influential Life of William Jellie A British Unitarian in New Zealand, Wayne Facer, Blackstone Editions (Canada), 2017. ISBN 9780981640266, paperback, 278 pages. Price £17.50 (Amazon)

Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors, a guide for family and local historians, Stuart A Raymond, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2017, paperback, 240 pages. ISBN 9781473883451. Price £14.99.

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

 

Note – Historic Unitarian Chapels

David Steers

 

Obituary – Rev Dr Phillip Hewett

Alan Ruston

 

Annual membership of the Unitarian Historical Society 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 9UGR, to whom cheques (made payable to the Unitarian Historical Society) should be sent.

 

A Vision Splendid

Congratulations to Wayne Facer on the publication of his new book A Vision Splendid. The influential life of William Jellie. A British Unitarian in New Zealand (Blackstone Editions, Toronto, Canada, 2017  – http://www.BlackstoneEditions.com). It’s an excellent study that looks at Unitarian origins in New Zealand through the work of William Jellie, an Ulster born Non-Subscribing Presbyterian who was one of the many pioneers from there who went out to establish congregations in what were then dominions of the United Kingdom.

WayneFacer

Wayne Facer 

The book has a striking cover, taken from a work by an unknown New Zealand artist, and is a very important addition to the study of the way Unitarianism spread around the globe and adapted to new situations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It will be reviewed in future issues of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society and Faith and Freedom.

AVisionSplendid

 

About the book I have written:

Wayne Facer has written an absorbing biography of a hitherto little known but nevertheless fascinating and important person. Through meticulous research in both New Zealand and the UK the author illustrates the pioneering life of this minister and educator.

Born in county Down, Ireland, in 1865 and described by his family as “Irish through and through” William followed an uncle into the Unitarian ministry. A relatively small but theologically radical denomination Unitarians placed great store on the value of an educated ministry and Jellie received an excellent education at Manchester College which moved its location from London to Oxford while he was a student there. The author draws out the influence of this education upon Jellie especially through the person of Philip Henry Wicksteed (1844-1927). Through him he developed a love of Dante and literature in general as well as a belief in politically progressive causes and the need for direct intervention in society in favour of the poor. Serving in ministries in both England and New Zealand, where a contemporary journal described him as preaching “sermons and addresses so far superior to the ordinary”, he became a key figure in the establishment of Unitarian churches and institutions in New Zealand. After retirement from the ministry he embarked upon a new career as a lecturer for the Workers’ Education Association.

We owe a great debt to the author who has traced the varied course of Jellie’s long career, bringing him vividly to life in the context of his times, his ideas and principles, his family and friendships and the institutions and organisations which he supported.

AVisionSplendiddetail

New Zealand Ministers – William Jellie, James Chapple, and Richard Hall at the Unitarian Hall, Timaru (from the back cover of the book)

A Vision Splendid. The influential life of William Jellie. A British Unitarian in New Zealand (Blackstone Editions, Toronto, Canada, 2017, ISBN 978-0-9816402-6-6, Pages: xxv + 278)

Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society 2017

The April 2017 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society is now available. Annual membership costs £10 for individuals and can be arranged through the treasurer via the Unitarian Historical Society website:

http://www.unitarianhistory.org.uk/hsmembership4.html

In this issue you will find:

Francis Dávid (Dávid Ferenc, c.1520-1579) by the late Donald A. Bailey. This is an important article discussing the theological and historical significance of Francis Dávid which was sent for publication by Don just a couple of days before he died so suddenly in 2015.

diet20of20torda

The Diet of Torda (picture: Unitarian Historical Society)

Socinians Out – Dr Williams’s Trust in the 1840s by Alan Ruston. An examination of the will and legacy of Dr Williams and the arguments over its ownership.

Daniel Williams portrait

Daniel Williams (portrait in Dr Williams’s Library)

The Centenary of the Unitarian Historical Society by David Steers. A survey of the foundation and early history of the Society adapted from one of the talks at last year’s annual meeting.

John Crosby Warren

John Crosby Warren of Nottingham and Aberdeen. First President of the Unitarian Historical Society

Note – James Martineau – a neglected source. Alan Ruston. Newspaper articles on the centenary of his birth.

Record Section – an unpublished letter of James Martineau. David Steers. A letter to the Rev James Orr of Clonmel.

New PhD Thesis at the University of Kent. Valerie Smith. Rational Dissent in England c.1770-c.1800.

Reviews:.

David Clark, Victor Grayson The Man and the Mystery, Quartet, 2016, 324 pp, ISBN 978 0 7043 7408 9. £20. (Reviewed by David Steers).

Alan Ruston, On the Side of Liberty: A Unitarian Historical Miscellany, The Lindsey Press, London, 2016, 212 pp. ISBN 978-0-85319-087-5. £9.50 plus £1.50 p&p. (Reviewed by Phillip Hewett).

Alan Seaburg, The Unitarian Pope: Brooke Herford’s Ministry in Chicago and Boston 1876-1892, Alan Seaburg, Alan Miniver Press, 162 pp, 2014, available on Amazon Kindle, price £3.83. (Reviewed by Alan Ruston).

Building the Church, The Chapels Society Journal, Volume 2, 2016., 91 pp, ISBN 978-0-9545061-5-5. (Reviewed by Andrew Hill).

Matthew Kadane, The Watchful Clothier, The Life of an Eighteenth-Century Protestant Clothier, Yale University Press, 312 pp, hardback, January 2013. ISBN 9780300169614. Price £65. (Reviewed by Alan Ruston).

David Sekers, A Lady of Cotton Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill, The History Press in association with the National Trust, 280 pp, 2013, ISBN 9780752490083. Price £9.99. (Reviewed by Alan Ruston).

 

TUHS 2017 Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘A fiery Socialist without any principles and given to mere phrases’ – V.I. Lenin

Few people can have received public notices during their lifetimes from figures as disparate as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and the Rev Alexander Gordon. But Victor Grayson did.

David Clark’s new book Victor Grayson The Man and the Mystery (essentially an expansion of his earlier work Victor Grayson Labour’s Lost Leader first published in 1985) uses this observation made by Lenin, which – with the benefit of hindsight – may be an accurate summary of Victor Grayson’s early political career.

The April 2017 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society will include a review article of David Clark’s book. It is a fascinating and unique story – a student for the Unitarian ministry with his roots in the North End Domestic Mission in Liverpool becomes converted to Socialism and finds a gift for oratory. At the age of just 26 he is selected to fight the Liberal held constituency of Colne Valley during the 1907 by-election and carries all before him.

But Grayson is also famous as the first MP to disappear in mysterious circumstances and his career followed so many strange twists and turns that he remains an object of some fascination. In the review article I have tried to do justice to David Clark’s book, the result on his part of many years of research, interviews and reflection. The subtitle of the new book – The Man and the Mystery – is an interesting contrast to its predecessor – Labour’s Lost Leader, both terms illustrating the two main areas in which Grayson’s story still remains important.

But it is also worth asking, what was Grayson’s relationship to the Unitarian movement? It seems unlikely he would ever have developed his oratorical skills without his prior training at the Unitarian Home Missionary College. It also seems unlikely he would ever have become involved in politics if he hadn’t first joined the North End Domestic Mission in Liverpool. Like all the Unitarian Missions of this type it was an institution that was concerned about and involved with the problems of the urban poor. It is significant that Grayson left the evangelical mission to which his family belonged and which according to David Clark’s book seems to have been normative for the rest of his family – in later years his mother also appears to have attended the Methodist Central Mission. The late Ian Sellers wrote an excellent article in the Transactions (vol. 20 No.1, April 1991) on J.L. Haigh, Grayson’s minister and sponsor for the ministry and the author of Sir Galahad of the Slums. But it is clear from this new book that J.L. Haigh had a high opinion of Victor Grayson and encouraged him to enter the ministry.

Similarly Alexander Gordon, as the Principal of the College, was impressed by Grayson and required him to go through the Preliminary Arts Course at Liverpool University before he could be admitted as a probationer to study for the ministry. It is curious that the minutes of the College for the three years Grayson was a student there have disappeared – believed by the late Len Smith to have been removed by the secret service in the course of an investigation in the 1920s or 1930s!  – but his references still survive and are quoted by David Clark. “A safe man” said J.L. Haigh, A “deep knowledge of the condition of the working class” said another unnamed referee. Another reference spoke of his “desire to improve the condition of his less fortunate brethren.”

Despite not passing all his exams at Liverpool Alexander Gordon was impressed by his application in the multitude of subjects he had to cope with, including Greek and Latin. David Clark quotes a long entry from Alexander Gordon’s 1904 report which begins and ends with: “[He] impresses me very favourably…[I] have no hesitation in recommending him for this”.

Although a student for three years at the Unitarian College events were to take him in a different direction. As a very radical Socialist who was excluded from the House of Commons on occasion by the Speaker, what was the reaction to his success amongst the Unitarian community? An examination of the Inquirer or Christian Life for this period might prove instructive, although one suspects that he probably moved out of the orbit of most Unitarian interest at this point.

What is certain is that he seems to have held his old College in high regard. In Unitarian to the Core. Unitarian Home Missionary College 1854-2004 Len Smith says:

“…if the College authorities were quick to forget him, his departure may not in fact have been quite so acrimonious as has been assumed. On his part, he certainly thought enough of his alma mater to contribute £10 for the Jubilee appeal in 1911, rather more than most alumni”.

uhmcwithvgandstaff

Staff and students at the Unitarian Home Missionary College c.1904. Victor Grayson stands on the back row, second from right. Principal Alexander Gordon is seated in the centre of the front row.

 

By 1911, it should be noted, he was already out of Parliament and living in some poverty. During the First World War a spell as a war reporter was followed by a career as an orator trying to drum up support for the war both in Britain and in Australia and New Zealand. After the war his activities become very murky until September 1920 when he disappears altogether.

But the Unitarian side of his life, although an interesting side line, is a little removed from the main purpose of David Clark’s book. The review article (David Clark, Victor Grayson The Man and the Mystery. Quartet Books Limited. London 2016) will appear in the April 2017 Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society.

 

 

‘Come away, make no delay’

The 2016 Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society are now out. If you are not already on the mailing list you can join the Unitarian Historical Society via the treasurer. Details of how to join (along with a great deal more) can be found on the UHS website: http://www.unitarianhistory.org.uk/hsmembership4.html

 

This year’s Transactions include:

 

Bells and Bell-Ringing in Unitarian Chapels

Leonard Smith                                                                                                                       

 

An Inventory of Unitarian Bell Locations

Leonard Smith

 

Selling Manchester College: 1949 and the aftermath

Alan Ruston

 

Harriet Martineau and ‘safety’ in the after-life

John Warren

 

As well as reviews of

 

Free Trade’s First Missionary Sir John Bowring in Europe and Asia, Philip Bowring, Hong Kong University Press, 2014, pp. 262, with portraits in colour plus 18 pages of index. Hardback. ISBN 978-988-8208-72-2. Price £33.

 

Children of the Same God: The Historical Relationship Between Unitarianism, Judaism, and Islam, Susan J. Ritchie, Skinner House Books, Boston, 2014, pp. I-xx, 106. ISBN 978-1-55896-725-0. Price $14 US.

 

In these Times, Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars 1793-1815, Jenny Uglow, 2014, London Faber & Faber, pp. 641 plus 98 pages of notes and index. ISBN 978-0571-26952-5. Price £25.

 

The Dissenters Volume 3, The Crisis and Conscience of Nonconformist, Michael R. Watts, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 493. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-19-822969-8. Price £85.

 

The Spirit of Dissent: A Commemoration of the Great Ejectment of 1662, Janet Wootton, (ed.), Institute of Theological Partnerships Publishing [ITPP], 2015, pp. 210. ISBN: 978-1-908532-04-6. Price £10.

 

Willaston School Nantwich. Later St Joseph’s and Elim Bible College, Andrew Lamberton (ed.), Willaston and District History Group, Chester, 2015, pp. 144. ISBN 978-0-949001-56-6. Price £11.95. Copies of the book can be ordered from the Willaston and District History Group.

 

From Somerset to the Pyrenees in the steps of William Arthur Jones, Geologist and Antiquary, David Rabson. Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (SANHS). pp. 108. Paperback. ISBN 978 0 902152 28 1. Price £14.95 plus £3.99 post and packing from SANHS.

 

TUHS Cover 2016

 

2015 Transactions Launched

Transactions 2015

The end of March saw the launch of this year’s Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society at the General Assembly held in the Birmingham Hilton Metropole Hotel. There was a good attendance at the meeting to see the first appearance of the issue hot off the press – a Festschrift published in honour of Alan Ruston who edited the journal for 25 years and has contributed a massive amount to the study of Unitarian History over the past fifty years. Alan has been the first port of call for a great many people across the decades – amateur historians, genealogists, writers of congregational histories and professional researchers and it was so fitting to present this special enlarged edition to him. At almost 190 pages it is probably the largest edition of the Transactions ever published; a bargain at £10 for all who join the Society.

The articles cover a wide variety of themes, places and personalities. This is a fitting tribute to Alan Ruston who has researched in so many historical areas over the years. Indeed the book contains a full list of all of Alan’s publications in a vast number of journals and magazines dating back to 1967 right up to the present day. Leonard Smith writes about five Unitarians who served in senior positions in the Navy around the time of the Battle of Trafalgar. Technically members of dissenting churches were not allowed to take commissions in the Royal Navy before 1828. Yet ways around this were found and Dr Smith outlines the careers of five distinguished Unitarians who served in ‘Nelson’s Navy’. To give just two examples these included Captain Edward Rotheram, who led a squadron at the Battle of Trafalgar and paced up and down the deck of his ship Royal Sovereign wearing a large cocked hat which he refused to remove even though it made him a target for French snipers. Following the death of Admiral Nelson he headed the procession of captains at the front of the funeral carriage to St Paul’s in London. In his career he not only faced dangers at sea but also a troubled relationship with some other officers – at one stage being accused of threatening his Anglican chaplain! Yet throughout all of this he would appear to have been a thoughtful and devout Unitarian, keeping a Commonplace Book that displays very clearly his theological sentiments. Another Unitarian naval officer was Captain Thomas Thrush, whose ship Pickle carried the news of Nelson’s victory to Falmouth. Unlike Captain Rotheram, however, Captain Thrush converted to Unitarianism after his naval service and then engaged in vigorous pamphleteering against prominent Anglicans. He also became a pacifist and resigned his commission, literally at great cost to himself.

Other articles include Professor G.M. Ditchfield writing on William Tayleur of Shrewsbury. Born into a wealthy Anglican family he converted himself to Unitarianism through his own reading and became a friend of Theophilus Lindsey and Joseph Priestley and a major supporter of all Unitarian endeavours towards the end of the eighteenth century. Professor Timothy Whelan discusses the ‘rational’ faith of Crabb Robinson, the famous diarist and writer, and the effect on his thinking of his friend Wilhelm Benecke a German manufacturer who came to live in London in 1813. Some of the articles are about institutions – David Wykes investigates the challenges at the start of the nineteenth century in maintaining suitable institutions to train students for the ministry after the closure of Hackney Academy and Horsey’s Academy in Northampton, particularly with regard to the position of poor students. Daniel Costley, recounts the fascinating and somewhat tragic life of the Rev Edward Hammond, the General Baptist minister of Bessels Green in Kent. Ann Peart examines the life of William Gaskell, minister of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester and a figure often overlooked and frequently in the shadow of his much more famous wife Elizabeth, the famous novelist. Andrew Hill tells the story of a controversial legal case that engulfed St Saviourgate Chapel in York in the 1890s which had important implications for the development of Unitarian thought and worship. I contribute an article on the Rev John Orr, the highly effective minister of the Comber NSP Church from 1850 to 1879, a member of a dynasty of ministers, a scholar of some repute who published at least two well regarded books in the 1850s and 1860s but who frequently found himself caught up in theological controversy. His career in county Down came to a sudden end in 1879 when he upped sticks and moved across the Atlantic for a new life in Massachusetts.

The meeting itself heard short papers by Daniel Costley, David Wykes and Ann Peart based on their articles in the Transactions as well as a paper by Ralph Waller on the early career of James Martineau. All four papers were very well received. Anyway it is good to see the issue published – a tribute to Alan Ruston.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

These words of the Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu seem appropriate for the beginning of any new enterprise, they also tie in, for me personally, with the picture of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, a place which was very much a starting point for me. But the purpose of this blog will be to flag up things that interest me particularly in relation to the journals Faith and Freedom and the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, both of which I edit. Not that I intend to confine myself to either of those publications – anything that catches my eye will go in here – the blog will have a special remit towards faith, religious history and associated matters but it will by no means confine itself to matters of religion.