The grave of Fausto Sozzini

Whenever I visit a place with Unitarian historical connections I find it is always instructive to see what Alexander Gordon made of things first. Gordon was a meticulous historian with remarkable skills which included an extraordinary ability to learn and read a vast number of languages. Consequently even though much of his writing dates back 140 years his work retains valuable insights and is often the base line for much of the research that came after. This is especially true for his work on continental Unitarianism where his research and reading across many sources and in many obscure archives and library has been repeated by very few English-speaking scholars ever since.

I am very grateful to Sue Killoran, the librarian of Harris Manchester College, Oxford, for providing me with copies of two letters he wrote to the Christian Life while travelling around Poland in 1879. The first letter concerns the grave of Fausto Sozzini/Faustus Socinus. Alexander Gordon was, quite probably, the first person from Britain to visit this site, this was in August 1879. His journey to get there was rather more convoluted than ours, we travelled in an air conditioned coach from Kraków in about two hours, on what might now almost be called a well trodden pilgrim route. Gordon first of all had to identify the spot. He made ‘fruitless enquiries’ in Kraków and Breslau (now Wrocław) but eventually found Lusławice on a military map. The nearest railway station was at Bogumilowice some twelve miles away, but he got off the train at Turnow, sixteen miles away, and visited the grave by walking a circuit out to Lusławice and back to Bogumilowice.  A round trip, according to his own reckoning, of 28 miles. But, he said, “It was a fine walk, through a charming country, and the fatigues of the road were abated by a friendly lift for some five miles given me by a hospitable Jew.” Gordon was able to meet up with the Catholic priest in the nearest town of Zacliczyn who cheerfully offered to be his guide to the tombstone of Sozzini.

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Sozzini’s memorial today

Of course, this is the tombstone rather than the site of the actual grave of Sozzini. Gordon was of the opinion that the site which he visited was the original site of the Lusławice Arian church, what he calls the Oratorium, but what survived of his grave was brought there some years after his burial.

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Pilgrims at the memorial (This photo and the top photo by Sue Steers)

Philip Hewett recounts how the site of Sozzini’s grave was in 1604 “as secure a setting for an arch-heretic as could be found anywhere”. But it wasn’t to be, most of the memorial and possibly also his bones were thrown into the river Dunajec a few years later. All that remained was the cube-shaped stone – “one huge block of limestone some 4ft. square” – which Gordon says once carried an inscription on each side. These were each in a different language but the only one that is visible today is in Italian. Although barely legible it says:

Chi semina virtu, racoglie fama

E vera fama supera la morte

Which means ‘The one who virtue sows doth reap renown, and true renown doth triumph over death’.

Socinus Grave Main stone

The original grave stone

By tradition the inscription on his grave is also supposed to have said (in Latin):

Babylon is completely overthrown, Luther demolished the roof, Calvin the walls, but Socinus the foundations

But as Gordon observed in 1879 “there is no trace of the famous couplet which is said to have formed part of the epitaph”. Gordon also noted another stone with the initials SW inscribed on it. This he took to belong to the Wiszowati family who were related to Sozzini by marriage and continued to lead the Polish Brethren after his death. I take it that this is the flat stone in front of the memorial.

Socinus Grave Front stone

Sozzini was forced to leave Kraków in 1598 and found sanctuary in Lusławice where he died in 1604. When Gordon visited the site of his memorial it consisted of no more than the two stones. In the twentieth century, largely at the direction of Earl Morse Wilbur the memorial was created. Designed by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, a prominent Polish architect, it was built in 1933. In fact the memorial was moved again at this time to the inside of the grounds of the local estate.

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“The adjacent Schloss”

Gordon had noted this estate when he came in 1879 – “The adjacent Schloss is modern, but with traces of antiquity about it” – and today it is owned by the eminent Polish conductor and composer Krzysztof Penderecki. It seems a more fitting setting for the memorial to be inside the impressive grounds of this estate with its plentiful trees and shrubs said to include no less than 700 varieties of plants.

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Socinus Grave Estate 03

The surroundings are still as appealing as when Gordon saw them:

“The spacious garden adjoining Sozzini’s last resting place, lies in the midst of a secluded but rich and fertile vale, sprinkled with noble trees, and embosomed by a glorious amphitheatre of swelling hills.”

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Nearby, Krzysztof Penderecki has built a most impressive music college. We were privileged to get to visit it and hear renditions of Polish Brethren songs adapted for a solo voice accompanied by a lute.

Rev Tom Banham – An Appreciation

The Rev Tom Banham died suddenly, but peacefully, on Wednesday, 14 August. His funeral took place at Roselawn Crematorium on Monday, 20 August. I gave the address and reproduce it here as my tribute to someone who achieved so much in his ministry and who was also a great friend.

‘He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus,

When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose;
for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord.’

Some verses from the book of Acts which sum up something of Tom Banham, the faithful minister. Tom passed away on Wednesday, quite suddenly but also very peacefully in the Somme Nursing Home where he had settled quite comfortably. Tom was in his 91st year but as interested and intellectually involved in his church, his denomination and the world of theology as he always had been. Indeed two of the topics for debate brought to the Synod last June had originated with issues directly raised by Tom.

Tom served this denomination, his presbytery and his churches with tremendous loyalty and devotion over the best part of 50 years. In fact so much of the shape and form of our Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church life was formed by Tom’s vision and endeavour. Tom was a minister, a theologian, an educator, a pastor, a liturgist. Innovative, dynamic and creative he achieved so much. For many of us here today Tom was also a friend, a colleague, a guide, a mentor. For everyone in our churches he was someone who played a key role on so many levels for decades. Typical of Tom he wanted his funeral to be conducted with a minimum of fuss. To be honest, given his achievements, no one deserves more fuss than Tom, but that isn’t the way he would have wanted it.

Tom was one of those people who had tremendous depth. He wasn’t just a leading minister in Northern Ireland throughout the period of the Troubles and beyond, although that would be enough to deservedly win the admiration of everyone. Tom had two consecutive high achieving careers – the first, of course, as an officer in the Royal Navy.

Tom was born in Devon and I think felt the call of the sea from an early age. He went to the Royal Naval College and was trained as an Engineer as he embarked upon his service in the Navy. Tom joined the Navy at a time when you really did see the world and he visited so many places in the course of his naval service. Tom kept pictures on his wall of all the ships he had served on but was unsentimental about the past. His medals and ceremonial sword were donated to the Royal Naval Association some years ago to be auctioned for service charities. He often lamented though that he seemed to have outlived so many of his comrades from the service. As an engineering officer Tom reached the senior rank of Lieutenant Commander bringing a highly specialised technical knowledge to the management of ships.

Tom was someone who was always keen to contribute to society, to make a difference to those in need. He had a long-time association with Scouting and it was this that brought him towards the ministry. As his time in the Navy was drawing to a close Tom was running the Sea Scouts in Bristol which was based at Lewin’s Mead Chapel, a famous and then very large dissenting congregation in the city. Through this association he felt called to the ministry and after around 20 years in the Navy went to the Unitarian College in Manchester to train for the ministry, studying theology at Manchester University leading to the award of the degree of Bachelor of Divinity by the University of London. In those days most of the students were young men, Tom was older and much more experienced, yet everyone who was a student in Manchester in those days remembers him with tremendous affection as a friend.

Had circumstances been only slightly different Tom might well have returned to Bristol to minister but instead Tom was called to Northern Ireland, to be minister of Ballycarry and Raloo churches. So commenced a connection that was to dominate the rest of his life, as a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church minister.

Tom was ordained by the Presbytery of Antrim in September 1971 and valued his membership of that ancient body. He was clerk for eight years and moderator on a number of occasions. And we can see here what an impact Tom had on the structure of the denomination. He found the method of visitation of congregations to be cumbersome and in need of reform. He straight away set about reconstituting the method of visitation by the presbytery, now basing it on four separate commissions. And so it was that the Presbytery of Antrim, and then the other presbyteries in the denomination, had a new more efficient system of visitation. It was based, Tom always liked to say, on the system used by the Navy for inspecting battleships.

Tom was well respected and very happy in county Antrim but after four years he received a call for a new sphere of work, to First Church, Belfast, the congregation with which he was to be associated for the rest of his life. In 1975 this was a very challenging settlement indeed. The previous minister had been killed in a tragic road accident, the Troubles were at their height, the city centre was under considerable pressure, and the church itself had been badly damaged in a bomb attack; the windows were smashed and the eighteenth-century ceiling lay on the floor. The late Tom Moore, who was such a stalwart member of First Church and a good friend of Tom’s, once said to me that without Tom he didn’t think there would be a First Church today. Tom was the right man in the right place at the right time and under his leadership the Church was resurrected and able to flourish once more.

Both when he was minister and later, when he had retired, Tom could be found every Wednesday morning in Rosemary Street, along with his band of co-workers. Tom was a scholar and a fine preacher and a thinker but he was also an immensely practical person and if there were jobs to be done about the premises Tom would take them on himself. And when the work on the premises was completed there were always books to catalogue in the church library and the index to compile for the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine. Tom was a voracious reader, the arrival of the Postscript catalogue meant more books needed to be bought, many of which he later donated to Rosemary Street. Even in recent times when his health began to decline Tom was, thankfully, still able to read and in the Nursing Home he got to work grappling with the finer points of the theology of Paul Tillich.

So Tom was a minister and a theologian. He was also an educator. He was involved in education both outside the church and inside. He was a governor and ultimately the chairman of the board of governors of Malvern School in Belfast for many years. One major educational contribution he made to the denomination was the creation of the Academic Training Board. With Tom’s vision and energy this body was established for the denomination and for years it provided training and educational courses first of all for ministers but then later for lay people, preachers, church officers and so on. It became an invaluable and essential part of denominational life. Tom devised many of the early courses himself and others followed in his footsteps developing this body for a great many years.

Tom was a liturgist too. The version of the communion service which he devised has been used by many of us in the ministry since and elements of it were later published in Andrew Hill’s Celebrating Life and it was published in full in European Perspectives on Communion in 2001. A couple of years later Tom edited for publication European Perspectives on Baptism in the same series.

Tom was also strongly ecumenical in all his work, most notably serving as the secretary of the Department of Theological Questions of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting, the body which brought the Catholic and Protestant churches together. Here Tom held his own with the leading theologians in Ireland and was soon on first-name terms with Cardinals, Bishops and Moderators of all denominations. Indeed he had many friends across the denominations. Tom effectively wrote the DTQ’s paper on the church in modern society and was disappointed when narrow spirits prevented its publication. For a long time Ireland had some of the most sophisticated top-level ecumenical bodies in the British Isles, but what it lacked, particularly during the Troubles was much grass-roots ecumenical contact. Not so for Tom. As a parish minister Tom was keen to work on a cross-community basis. He was a member of the Eclectic Fraternal, which brought all sides together, and in his church he maintained the close connection between Rosemary Street, St Mary’s and St George’s which bore fruit particularly in the joint Christmas Carol services held between the three churches in Rosemary Street every year when Tom was minister. The importance of such events, particularly during the years of the Troubles, cannot be overestimated.

But Tom also loved music and he found in that a way to bring people together, particularly to celebrate God’s love in a broad and joyful way. For the denomination this meant the Choirs’ Festival which Tom set up and which alternated between All Souls’ and Rosemary Street, great gatherings of choirs large and small from all over the denomination singing praises together as well as their own favourite pieces. Tom greatly enjoyed and valued the musical tradition in First Church and right up to this year was helping to see this flourish.

Tom was throughout his life always kind and generous. Sue and myself and our children all have reason to know this, as do many here. It was part of Tom’s nature to be generous. And it extended far and wide. As a pastoral visiting minister Tom would call on those who were elderly or infirm or lonely. But he didn’t just bring prayers and support to those he visited. If he saw situations that needed practical resolution he would return armed with his tool box, and shelves would be fixed, pictures hung up and other items knocked into shape.

In Belfast Tom ran for a great many years what was then called the handicapped Scouts. Tom put in many hours – organising events, transporting young people to different occasions, working with young people with disabilities and doing so much good across the communities all against a background of civil upheaval. But such work was typical of Tom, done quietly without fanfare but so important and appreciated by those he worked with.

Tom believed in the importance of inter-faith dialogue and understanding and was one of the founders of the Northern Ireland Inter-Faith Forum. I know his presence and counsel was much valued in that body.

Based on his understanding of the history of this denomination and his knowledge of the development of its witness Tom had a vision of how to make his church most effective and most true to its calling as a liberal Christian community. Tom always had an eye for the practical solution or identified a need to devise a new structure when necessary. So something as simple and useful as the Aide Memoire for the denomination was created by Tom – and physically put together by him and his co-workers for many years. The Sunday School Games was his brainchild too and for many years he participated and led in that. Tom helped at every level of this event and once was sitting acting as scribe for a team in the under 5 section of the quiz. In one round the children were asked ‘Who was swallowed by a whale’. Four small faces all looked blank until one turned to Tom and answered brightly ‘Pinocchio’. Tom felt he had no choice but to nod and dutifully write down the answer, for Pinocchio certainly was swallowed by a whale.

On top of all this Tom found time to do even more. He was secretary or chair or convenor or treasurer of many different committees and bodies. And though he was primarily minister first of all of Ballycarry and Raloo and later of First Church he was minister in charge of a great many other churches over the years, that is the minister during a vacancy, bringing pastoral care and help to many other congregations. I don’t think I could prepare an adequate list of the many churches he helped over the last fifty years. But many people will have memories of Tom coming to their church all over the country at different times.

It was a big upheaval for Tom to give up his home on the Cliftonville Road but it was a necessary move and he felt very comfortable in the Somme Nursing Home. At the time of his move I arranged for his papers to be sent to Harris Manchester College, Oxford to be stored there. It took three enormous boxes to carry them and the College had to buy additional archive boxes to store them in but it means so much of Tom’s working life – in the church, in the presbytery, in the denomination, in the DTQ, in ecumenical and inter-faith bodies is preserved for the future.

A few years ago Tom gave me his old Book of Occasional Services which is a minister’s book for the conduct of baptisms, weddings and funerals and so on. In one of the annotations which Tom has added he has written:

To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die

I am sure that is true and we will all long remember Tom, as the valued colleague or minister or friend he was to us.

We commend him to God now in glad thanksgiving for having known him and shared in life with him in all its fullness. And I would close with some words from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress:

Then said he, ’I am going to my Father’s, and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder.’ When the day that he must go hence, was come, many accompanied him to the river side, into which, as he went, he said, ‘Death where is thy sting?’ and as he went down deeper, he said, ‘Grave where is thy victory?’ So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”

The Polish Brethren

At the end of July I was pleased to be part of an organised tour visiting sites connected with the Polish Brethren/Minor Reformed Church organised by the Rev Dr Jay Atkinson of Starr King School for the Ministry in California. When I was at college Arthur Long always used to quote Raymond Holt who said that the story of this little-known Polish church of the radical reformation was an illustration that it is not always the case that something good could not be destroyed by determined persecution. The Polish Brethren were totally wiped out in the counter-reformation: imprisoned, persecuted, exiled, forced to convert. But, of course, it is also true that through their publications and through the witness of those who went into exile something of them did survive and for a church that only existed from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century a surprisingly large amount of physical links with them remain.

They have attracted the attention of a number of highly able Unitarian scholars over the years, most notably, in recent times the late Rev Dr Phillip Hewett who wrote a wonderful article for me for Faith and Freedom in 2017 which can be read online here:

In search of Racovia

One of the points Dr Hewett was always keen to make was that the Transylvanian edict of Torda of 1568 (which marked its 450th anniversary in 2018) was not the first public expression of toleration. This came in Poland in the reign of King Sigismund Augustus, who reigned from 1548 to 1572 and who declared himself ‘King of the people, not of their consciences’.

A combination of weak royal power and reform minded nobles with authority within their own areas meant a variety of religious views developed in Poland including the Polish Brethren who may have numbered as many as 40,000 at their highest, their 200 or so churches extending across all the vast Polish territories which then included Lithuania and parts of Ukraine.

It was fascinating to visit some surviving sites connected with the Polish Brethren and remarkable that some of them had survived, given their effective destruction by royal decree in 1658. The disused buildings that we saw are now recognised by the state and have been re-roofed although they are still in need of considerable restoration.

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The church at Cieszkowy

The first chapel we visited was at Cieszkowy, in the countryside to the north of Kraków, the general location of all the churches we visited. This was similar in design to many of the chapels we were to see with two rooms downstairs, one the chapel and one a schoolroom, with rooms upstairs (which we were not able to visit) which presumably was the house of the minister. I believe this chapel also had a period of use as a Calvinist church, it was generally the case that the landowners decided the religious direction of the locals, and so such buildings could change hands before the full impact of the counter-reformation was felt.

One of the intriguing features of this building was that a number of inscriptions have survived in the interior: including a line from the gospel of Matthew in Polish inside the meeting-house, and a quotation, in Latin, from Virgil above the entrance to the schoolroom. The mixture of classical and scriptural texts suggest the temper and nature of the religious culture of the Polish Brethren.

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Inscription from the gospel of Matthew

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Classical quotation from Virgil

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The interior of the meeting house at Cieszkowy, showing the sixteenth-century doors

Not that far away from Cieszkowy is the chapel at Kolosy. It also has been re-roofed and has a similar layout. Here we shared in an act of worship and, as one of three ministers present, I was privileged to take part in leading the service together with the Rev Dr Sandor Kovacs of Koloszvár, Transylvania  and the Rev Dr Roger Jones of Sacramento, California. It was an unexpected privilege and delight to take part in worship in this building of 1654, built by the Polish Brethren just four years before the expulsion of the Arians (as they were frequently termed, named after Arius, the 3rd/4th century theologian). There can’t have been many services held in here since then.

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Kolosy. The date stone of this church can be seen at the top of this page

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The interior of the meeting house at Kolosy following the service

The next day we went to Moskorzew, originally an estate named after the local family. Here the chapel eventually reverted to Roman Catholicism, following in the direction taken by the family. The crumbling structure of the family home can still be seen as well as post-war Soviet-style social housing. There is also a largely derelict but still essentially intact schoolhouse which dates from the sixteenth century. We were told that when the chapel was reclaimed by the Catholic church the Brethren used the schoolhouse for worship until they were finally outlawed. This building is in state care but would clearly benefit from restoration.

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The church at Moskorzew today

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The original ancient door of the Moskorzew church

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The schoolhouse at Moskorzew

Inside the much altered church there are still two memorials in the chancel to female members of the Moskorzew family dating from the time of the Polish Brethren in the late sixteenth century.

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Memorial at Moskorzew dating from the 1590s commemorating a member of the Moskorzew family during the Polish Brethren era

Secemin is another Catholic church today but was used as a Calvinist church and here at a synod Unitarian views were first publicly expressed. As with most Catholic churches in Poland the interior is richly decorated but again there is a survival from the reformation period with a memorial in the chancel to Calvinist minister Gregory Broch who died in 1601.

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Secemin church today

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The interior of the church

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Memorial in the chancel to Gregorius Broch

On the estate at Ludynia, in its delightful setting, Mr Gieżyński, the owner, has restored not only the manor house but also the nearby chapel. Here he has also built up an impressive collection of books and prints connected with Raców, the Polish Brethren and Fausto Sozzini which  he shared with us in the chapel.

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Ludynia manor house

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The chapel at Ludynia

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Inspecting some of the documents in the chapel

In future posts I will look at other aspects of the tour and the history of Fausto Sozzini and the Polish Brethren.

Downpatrick Treasure Hunt 2019

The Downpatrick Treasure Hunt was held on Friday, 19th July and despite some inclement weather at some points during the evening this did not dampen anyone’s spirits and everyone had a great night. Around 120 people took part travelling round a new and exciting route devised by Anna and Marion with 36 fiendish questions as we traversed the countryside around Ballydugan lake. The weather was good when most of the cars were out and when it did rain everyone was protected by the marquee where Renie entertained everyone with her playing while the participants enjoyed their hog roast. It was a great night at the Lakeside Inn hosted by Margaret and Geoffrey and a big thank you goes to them and to the many people who worked hard to make the night the success it was. So far the evening has raised about £725 for church funds.

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Cars preparing to set off

TH Margaret

Margaret preparing to time the start

TH start indoors

Thelma and Robyn received and timed in all the participants

TH hog roast

Hog roast

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Inside the marquee

The red telephone boxes of south county Down

One valued feature of our streetscapes is the red telephone box. Designed by the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott they are usually described as ‘iconic’ but apart from anything else they are simply a good design which fits so comfortably in our minds of how the world should look. By far the most popular and widespread version is the K6. The original prototype was made in 1924, the K6 is a slightly smaller design dating from 1935. The first versions of this carried a Tudor crown, after 1953 they featured the crown of St Edward used in the coronation.

But while a red telephone phone box undoubtedly has a place in many people’s affections it is unlikely that many people really have any use for them. I would think you have to be aged at least 40 to remember what it was like to need to find a phone box or be distraught at finding one and then discovering it didn’t work or having to stand outside waiting for one to be vacated. These days you are as likely to see one as a feature in someone’s garden as you are on the road but you do still see some of them in their original surroundings.

In fact their numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years. The total number of public pay phones in Northern Ireland is now 1,660 of which just 184 are red telephone boxes. Or at least that was the figure given in 2018, and even that is a reduction of 17 from just two years before that. BT have an ‘adopt a phone box’ scheme and this is quite big in some places where the boxes can be used as bars, coffee shops even libraries. I am not sure how much take up of this there is in Northern Ireland but a particularly useful adaptation is to use them to house defibrillators of which there is an example in county Down, although not in a K6 box.

Some red telephone boxes are now listed buildings and 27 are listed in Northern Ireland. There are places where they are seen as essential features of the landscape, their disappearance would be missed and they remain popular with tourists from overseas. But it is hard to avoid the suspicion that they are very largely redundant in terms of their original purpose. They were once essential and must have been particularly important in rural areas. I remember once – before the advent of the mobile phone – breaking down in the car near Rademon. I had to knock on someone’s door to call the AA. Even then it would have been a long walk to the nearest payphone in Crossgar but in county Down there are still some examples of the K6 red phone boxes in their original positions.

But yesterday, as I travelled around county Down, I kept an eye out for telephone boxes and determined to record some of them while they are still there. So we start in Ardglass where a K6 box sits in front of Jordan’s Castle.

PB Ardglass 01

This is actually a listed building, but whether it complements Jordan’s Castle I leave to others to decide. A close inspection of it reveals a high degree of dilapidation, there is no glass at all in one wall, and the interior, even if the phone still works, does not look at all inviting.

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With a view of the harbour at Ardglass

The phone box in Ardglass is one of only two K6 boxes listed in this part of county Down. The other is in Strangford. Apart from the fact that the box in Ardglass has a moulded Tudor crown and so must date from between 1936 and 1953 I am not sure what criteria was used to ensure that those two were listed and not the other two that I pass quite frequently. Near Ballee is the only red phone box which I saw which is clean, well-maintained and looks entirely usable. It sits at its rural cross roads and looks entirely fitting. It would seem to me to have a higher claim to being listed.

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The phone box at Ballee

At Woodgrange, in a very rural area, there is a splendid view across the fields to the mountains of Mourne.

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The view at Woodgrange

There is also a K6 phone box which like a medieval ruin is gradually being reclaimed by nature and which fits into the landscape itself in quite a charming way.

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Ivy creeps in and out of the box and I didn’t attempt to open the door. Partly this was because it looked like it hadn’t been opened in years but also I didn’t want to interfere with the delicate ecosystem which seemed to be developing inside. There was a modern card phone unit but the place was filled with cobwebs. To misquote C.H. Spurgeon slightly, it looked like a good place for spiders.

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A few miles away at Kilmore there is a more modern box, what is known technically as a KX100. Presumably, given its location with more housing around it, it gets more use but it does not look particularly well maintained.

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Kilmore

And in Crossgar there are two KX100s, although one is converted, usefully, to a place to house a defibrillator.

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Crossgar

The KX100 is not a very attractive piece of street furniture but they are cheaper to erect and maintain than the old K6 boxes. But they can never give the kind of visual appeal that comes from Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s design. Only about 20% of the original K6 boxes survive over the whole of the UK so it is nice to know that at least some remain in rural county Down.

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Woodgrange

Roscoe Gardens, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool

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Memorial, Roscoe Gardens

Roscoe Gardens, as it is now named by the Council, situated at the foot of Mount Pleasant is an easily overlooked green space in Liverpool city centre. It often has a slightly forlorn look which is not surprising as it is surrounded by some very high buildings and is probably difficult to maintain. But this was the site of the graveyard of Renshaw Street Chapel, a chapel which stood on the other side of the space facing into Renshaw Street where Grand Central now stands, a massive red-brick structure that was originally built as the Methodist Central Hall.

It is only right that someone as important in the history of Liverpool should have the space named after him. The author, campaigner against the slave trade, MP (who voted for the end of the trade despite the opposition of so many people in Liverpool), botanist, art collector and much more was hailed as Liverpool’s greatest citizen and was ultimately buried in this graveyard.

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Renshaw Street Chapel, 1811-1899

William Roscoe was born not far away, at the top of Mount Pleasant, in the Bowling Green Inn where his father was the publican. Not long after his birth his family moved a short distance to a newly built tavern which had attached to it an extensive market garden.

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William Roscoe’s childhood home

The history of the chapel that stood nearby is commemorated on the memorial built there after the chapel was sold and the congregation relocated on Ullet Road. Two of the chapel members buried there are commemorated: Joseph Blanco White and William Roscoe.

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Joseph Blanco White

Joseph Blanco White was another hugely significant figure who is increasingly remembered in both Liverpool and his home country of Spain.

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Plaques for Joseph Blanco White on the memorial in Roscoe Gardens

 

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Joseph Blanco White (Ullet Road Church)

William Roscoe was a member of this congregation all his life but although he lived near to the site of this graveyard he would have attended the previous chapel on Benn’s Gardens. Indeed he was baptised there on 28th March 1753 and was a regular attender throughout his life until the new chapel was built on Renshaw Street. No doubt Roscoe was present at the official opening in 1811 when the Rev Robert Lewin preached (making no reference to the new building in his address!). But his membership of this congregation was one of the constant threads that ran throughout his life and in Renshaw Street a large memorial was built to him, later moved to Ullet Road.

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Memorial to William Roscoe originally in Renshaw Street, now in Ullet Road

Two of the panels on the Roscoe Gardens memorial commemorate the congregation that once met nearby and one names three of the ministers:

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The only contemporary memorial in Roscoe Gardens is one to the Mount Pleasant school which was run by the congregation and stood on an adjacent site:

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The memorial is fixed to a neighbouring wall. The inscription reads:

On this site stood the Mount Pleasant British Schools erected 1821 closed 1901 after eighty years of useful work. The stone here preserved was above the doorway. 

Above that, on the original stone, is written Hear instruction and be wise and refuse it not from Proverbs 8:33.

Images of Oxford

Oxon Brasenose Lane

Brasenose Lane

Whenever I am in Oxford I always tend to take pictures as I walk about. This is easily done with modern mobile phones and if the pictures are unlikely to win any prizes they at least can give pleasure to the photographer. I took a lot of pictures when I was an undergraduate at Oxford, in those far-off days using a Russian Zenith EM camera, which was then the cheapest SLR camera that was available. I was reminded of this as I walked around Oxford recently because of certain items in the news. One of the inevitable consequences of being at Oxford is that you rub shoulders with all sorts and conditions of persons, including many would-be politicians. There were not a few from those days who went on to be government ministers both Labour and Conservative, at least one was party leader and another one looks like becoming Prime Minister. But when I was a student at Christ Church I shared rooms with a person who was an activist in the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA). This had the side effect of frequent visits to our rooms of his associates from the (to me) rather dull and pointless world of Oxford student politics. For now I will draw a veil over the various political figures who were around in those days. For the most part they didn’t really impact that closely on my life but one of them came to mind when I was back in Oxford recently. One frequent visitor to my roommate was another OUCA activist who would come to discuss issues with his colleague, on one occasion pacing around the living room in a very heated way complaining about a story that Cherwell, the student newspaper, was threatening to run about him. Most of the time his presence didn’t impinge on me nor I on him but he couldn’t always ignore me and so on one occasion, when his friend disappeared for a while, asked to have a look at a fresh roll of film I had just had printed. “These really are marvellous photographs” he said. “Really quite excellent photographs” he enthused. He went through the prints one by one and then through them again, all the time praising each of them to the skies. Such use of light! What a composition! How ingenious! On and on he droned. A friend of mine who was visiting found this very amusing. This was standard ‘hack’ behaviour, to butter people up and ingratiate yourself so completely in the hope that one day you might vote for them in some election or other. The years go by and I had thought that this particular individual had never made it into politics. But at some point he does appear to have been elected to Parliament and recently achieved significantly high office and so is involved in the manoeuvres that will see the appointment of a new Prime Minister. Of course, maybe he really did think my photographs were superlative. Who knows? But being a successful politician is rather like being a great actor. You have got to have sincerity. If you can’t fake sincerity you will never be a great actor.

Radcliffe Camera

Radcliffe Camera

Oxon Oriel gate

Oriel College gate

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White Rabbit in the covered market

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Tom Quad, Christ Church

Oxon Merton lane

Grove Walk

 

Catholic Apostolic Church, Liverpool

The Catholic Apostolic Church was a remarkable church which combined revivalist enthusiasm with liturgical worship and married a millenarian theology with prophetic ministry. Because of their belief in the imminent second coming they set up a system that ultimately proved to guarantee their own obsolescence. Believing that the second coming of Christ was very near they tried to re-establish the offices of the primitive church starting with Apostles in 1832 which had reached the full number by 1835. Since only they could ordain the prophets, evangelists, pastors, ‘angels’ (bishops), deacons and other orders down to doorkeepers, the death of the last apostle in 1901, before the return of the Lord, meant that there was no longer any possibility of continuing in the long term.

I am not sure how many Catholic Apostolic churches there ever were but their churches were very grand and required sophisticated architectural designs. Because they tended to include in their number many wealthy people they were often able to design and build some quite magnificent buildings. The church in Gordon Square in London, now leased to various Anglican groups, would be the best surviving example of their architecture, but the Roman Catholic Church in Bristol was originally Catholic Apostolic and is another impressive building, in this case having a classical design. I did see the less grand Catholic Apostolic church in Belfast before it was suddenly demolished but wasn’t able to take a photograph of it. Indeed an online search does not produce any images of this building, although it would be nice to think some images are preserved somewhere. It seems to have given up its licence to conduct marriages in 1954.

This excursion into the world of the now vanished Catholic Apostolic Church was prompted by the discovery of an old USB on which I had transferred at some point a couple of slides featuring the Catholic Apostolic Church on Catharine Street, Liverpool. It closed at some point in the 1970s and later was used by the New Testament Church of God. Later still it passed into secular use, then became badly dilapidated before being burnt down in the mid-1980s.

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The church in the mid-1980s

I found these images on the USB, originally taken as 35 mm slides the first of which I must have taken in about 1985 and the second in 1986. The first shows the church when it was unused and beginning to show signs of neglect. The second shows the view from the side towards the high altar after it was destroyed by fire. A great shame that such an unusual building was lost. Pevsner recorded that the plan of the building had been revealed to the first minister in a dream. He also said there were Flemish roundels incorporated in the stained glass windows. Whatever was there the little that survived was subsequently demolished and a block of flats built on the site.

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The ruined interior after the fire

The image at the top of the page is a detail from an aerial view of Liverpool by John R. Isaac in 1859 and published in New York. This is a view from a hot air balloon and can be viewed on the Library of Congress site here.

Amongst the churches found in that image is the Catholic Apostolic Church on the corner of Catharine Street and Canning Street, it can be seen slightly to the right of centre still with its spire which was removed in the early 1970s. An account of all the churches in that picture can be read in an earlier post: Seven Churches in Liverpool in 1859 viewed from the air.

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

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

Faith and Freedom

HMCO quad

Faith and Freedom gave its annual report to the meeting of the Ministerial Old Students Association and the Annual Meeting of Friends and Honorary Governors held at Harris Manchester College, Oxford on 24th  -26th June, 2019. It was an excellent meeting, one of the highlights being the Principal, Professor Jane Shaw’s illustrated lecture on  The Arts and Empathy. Nigel Clarke, the business manager for the journal gave an impressive powerpoint presentation outlining the last year’s activity. A number of new subscribers signed up to receive the journal.

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Nigel delivering the annual report

HMCO Principal lecture

Art and Empathy lecture by the Principal

HMCO worship in the chapel

Worship in the college chapel

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‘Kindle’, a steel and glass artwork by Steve James and Vital Peeters in the college herb garden

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