Buildings of South County Down

I was very pleased to be among those invited to the launch of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society’s  new book Buildings of South County Down at Ballydugan Mill on 1st May 2019. It is a splendid book written by Philip Smith and beautifully illustrated throughout in colour by Alan Turkington. It describes itself as not claiming ‘to be an exhaustive record of its particular area, but rather a selection giving a broad overview of the built heritage of the southern half of Down’ and it is a very comprehensive collection of significant buildings both large and small, public and private.

Ballydugan Mill on the day of the book launch

The churches section numbers 25 buildings and contains no less than three Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches which is a very significant representation and indicates the historical importance of what is, nevertheless, quite a small denomination. Both Downpatrick and Clough feature in the book, the Clough meeting house being photographed just before its recent repainting which means it doesn’t look its best but that can’t be helped. Leafing through the book it is interesting to see the number of other buildings that have a link with Downpatrick and Clough churches – the Murland Mausoleum has a photograph and a number of houses appear which were once the homes of prominent members including the homes of the Murlands themselves and the nearby houses of Nutgrove and Mount Panther, once the dwelling places of leading members of the church. Both Nutgrove and Mount Panther are painted on the First World War memorial in Clough.


Dr Edward McParland, Vice-President of Ulster Architectural Heritage introduces the book

The book contains much information that is new to me. I didn’t know that the now ruined but still impressive edifice of Mount Panther was named after the ‘local legend of the “Great Cat of Clough” a monstrous feline said to have once terrorized the area’. I also did not know anything about Marlborough House which seems to have originally been built by Rev Thomas Nevin sometime before 1728. The entry on the Downpatrick Church states that ‘the church is said to have been built in 1711 at the beginning of the ministry of the Rev Thomas Nevin’ but it seems clear from the presbytery minutes that the new building and the new ministry did coincide quite closely. However, one interesting thing about Marlborough House is that it was built quite near to the site of the original seventeenth-century meeting house, although Buildings of South County Down says that Nevin acquired the land from Brice Magee, a local apothecary, so it can’t have been the site of the original manse.

The other Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in the book is Rademon which has a number of very attractive photographs included with its account. The photograph of the interior of Downpatrick taken by Alan Turkington did not make the final cut but it is interesting to look at the interiors of Downpatrick and Rademon. Although the buildings are separated by over 75 years and it is not at all difficult to differentiate one from the other it is instructive to compare the two interiors which are very similar in layout and design and probably also dimensions:

Interior of Downpatrick (Photo: Alan Turkington)
Interior of Rademon (Photo: Alan Turkington) page 30

But the book contains much more than churches. As well as houses (grand, middling-sized and small) there are antiquities and fortification, public buildings, commercial buildings, follies, monuments and memorials. Anyone who enjoys looking at the built environment around them will enjoy this book and find plenty to enlighten them about buildings in the locality of south Down.

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’.

Unitarian Theology

In 2016 and 2018 Faith and Freedom published two well-received supplements based on the Unitarian Theology Conferences organised by Jim Corrigall, Jo James and Stephen Lingwood and held at Cross Street Chapel, Manchester in May 2016 and at Mill HIll Chapel, Leeds in October, 2017. Both are now available for free download from here. Click on the links below to download the booklets.

UTI Cover

Click on this link to download the booklet: Unitarian Theology I

UT2 Cover

Click on this link to download the booklet: Unitarian Theology II

 

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.

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

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

Rodney Street view front from right 02 cropped

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

Rodney Street vista

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

Rodney Street view front from left

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

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

Rodney Street front gates

Main entrance

Rodney Street base of pillar

The base of one of the columns

Rodney Street surviving cupola

The surviving original tower

Rodney Street Sunday School

Former Sunday School rooms

Rodney Street pyramid

The pyramid tomb of William Mackenzie in the graveyard

Rodney Street view front from right

 

The Tercentenary of the Salters’ Hall Debates

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Steers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mausolea & Memorials to the dead in Ireland

Clough Church Hall was full for the lecture by Dr Finbar McCormick on Wednesday, 13th March on the topic of ‘Mausolea & Memorials to the dead in Ireland’. It was an incredibly informative and also enjoyable and entertaining talk about a subject that might not appear that interesting at first glance.

DrFBtalk03

Dr McCormick delivering his lecture

Dr McCormick took his hearers through the traditions of dealing with death going back to antiquity and into the Christian era including the changes that came about due to the Reformation. It was astonishing to see the variety of mausolea produced in Ireland over the centuries, including one Victorian structure at Clonbern, county Galway constructed entirely from cast iron! Among many other tombs Dr McCormick referenced the Templeton Mausoleum designed by Robert Adam at Templepatrick in 1789 (illustrated at the top of this page). Dr McCormick showed how classical funereal art and architecture influenced later mausolea like the Murland tomb, which drew on the decorations for sarcophagi as well as ancient buildings. It is quite clear that such a rich construction as the Murland Mausoleum was designed by someone with a very thorough understanding of classical architecture and funeral design.

Clough Vault front diagonal detail 02

Inverted torch on the Murland Mausoleum

Dr McCormick also suggested that the Irish architect Thomas Turner could possibly be the architect of the Murland Mausoleum given that he designed the family house at Ardnabannon in the 1860s and some of his large scale buildings in Ireland include similar details to those found on the Mausoleum. But it was a fascinating evening that certainly showed why this particular tomb is worthy of conservation by the Follies Trust.

DrFinbarMcCormick02

Dr Finbar McCormick

DrFBtalkcrowd02

Refreshments after the meeting

Postcard from Downpatrick. Then and Now

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

Downpatrick Postcard

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

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

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

Downpatrick July 1909

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

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

Downpatrick ext 2008

The Church in 2008

Downpatrick26Nov2017 02

The Church in 2017

 

Downpatrick Postcard crop

Detail from the postcard c.1905

Downpatrick entrance gates September 1909

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

 

First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Newry

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

Newry JWN

Rev Dr John Nelson addresses the Society

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

Newry organ

Florence Berry plays the organ

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

Postcard All Souls cropped

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

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

Newry Postcard

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

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

 

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

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

Newry July 2017

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

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

Newry engine crop

The Old Meeting House, Mansfield

I was pleased to get the chance in February to visit, for the first time, the Old Meeting House, Mansfield and to be shown around by the minister, the Rev Mária Pap. It’s a very attractive meeting house, dating from 1702, with a warm and comfortable interior that is more Victorian than anything else, but is situated in the middle of some of the dreariest late twentieth-century development that one could imagine. The meeting house, with its ancillary buildings, is marooned in the midst of car parks, underpasses, shopping centres and other buildings of the sort that give town planners a bad name.

Mansfield Exterior

Exterior, including the porch

Mansfield Interior looking towards chancel 02

Interior looking towards the chancel

The chapel is not really recognisable as an eighteenth-century meeting house. This is not just because of the Gothicised interior but also because of the porch added in 1940. The stone of the porch doesn’t quite match the original building and as The Unitarian Heritage points out it spoils the symmetry of the original frontage although it must add a useful meeting space for the congregation before and after worship.

Mansfield Halls

The congregation’s schools and halls

Mansfield parsonage crop

The nearby old parsonage, now let out to a charity

One reason I was interested in the building is because of its connection with the Rev Edgar Innes Fripp who was one of my predecessors in the ministry in Belfast. I blogged about him in connection with the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, that can be read here – Edgar Innes Fripp and William Shakespeare. He came from Mansfield to Belfast in 1891 (where he built All Souls’ Church in 1896) and left in 1900 to go back to Mansfield. He had a lot of input to the liturgical development of both places, compiling a version of the Prayer Book, using a robed choir, generally moving to what would be regarded as a more Anglican liturgy. He built a new church in Belfast and I had always assumed that he was responsible for adding a chancel to the originally square shaped meeting house in Mansfield. But Mansfield was ‘turned’ in 1870 and the chancel added in 1881, before E.I. Fripp was called to be minister, although the chancel was further enlarged in 1908, just after he left for the second time but probably modelled on his plans.

Re-orientating and refitting the interiors of old meeting houses was a common practice for many congregations in the second half of the nineteenth century, those that did not demolish and build anew. J. Harrop White’s book The Story of the Old Meeting House, Mansfield (1959) contains plans of the building before and after the various refurbishments:

Mansfield plan

The church possesses a number of interesting stained glass windows including three Burne-Jones windows made by William Morris & Co. These depict ‘Truth and Sincerity’, ‘Justice and Humility’ and ‘Mary Magdalene and Jesus’.

The late nineteenth century woodwork in the church is very impressive.

Mansfield doorcase crop

Oak door case dating from 1890

I was pleased to see the chapel and see the evident good work that is being done there by the congregation under their new minister, the Rev Mária Pap, not only the first woman minister to the congregation but the first minister to come to Mansfield from the Hungarian Unitarian Church, bringing insight and a deep spirituality from that ancient church which dates from the Reformation.

Mansfield Pulpit

The Rev Mária Pap in the pulpit at Mansfield