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

Postcards from All Souls’

 

Edwardian postcards of Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches are not unknown but they are not common. Obviously some churches feature more prominently in this format than others although generally some of the churches in towns outside of Belfast – such as Dromore and Banbridge – are the most frequently seen. In Belfast All Souls’ Church appears on four postcards that I am aware of although two of them are very curious in their own right.

The picture at the top of this page (not taken from a postcard as it happens) is a fairly obvious view which does appear as a postcard. Another postcard that does sometimes turn up is of an architect’s line drawing of the Rosemary Hall which was published before the Hall was opened.

The other two cards, of which I have copies, raise a number of questions. The first is this one:

Postcard St Marys All Souls

What the eagle-eyed will immediately notice is, that whatever the inscription says at the bottom of the picture, this is not a postcard of All Souls’ Church, Elmwood Avenue, Belfast. It is quite neatly printed and isn’t badly produced. On the reverse it says it is part of ‘The “National” series’ and was printed in Britain. So it may not have been locally produced which might account for the error. But I wonder how many copies they sold? Who would have bought them?

It is in fact a picture of St Mary’s Church of Ireland on the Crumlin Road. Does this mean that there is in existence a view of St Mary’s Church that has been carelessly titled ‘All Souls’ Church’ by the printers. I have not seen one if such a thing was ever printed.

The other card definitely is of the interior of All Souls’. It is quite a well-taken view showing the organ, the chancel and part of the nave and published by Baird’s of Belfast. Unfortunately my example is a bit dog-eared and creased but I am glad to have it because these postcards are fairly rare these days.

Postcard All Souls

The church does have an enlargement of this view which was held in some awe by some of the members. The reason for this can be seen if you look carefully at the organ console. This was the original organ that was moved to All Souls’ in 1896 when the congregation migrated from Rosemary Street. Originally opened in 1806 it was the first organ used by a Presbyterian congregation certainly in the north of Ireland. I have written before about the history of this interesting instrument which is still in regular use in Newry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church where it moved in the 1920s. But much mythology attached to the organ. One story was that it had been built for St George’s Chapel, Windsor by the famous organ builder John Snetzler. This was very widely repeated and continues to be repeated sometimes in the present day. Some years ago I discovered and published the true origin of the organ (which was constructed in Belfast as you might expect) but many people still prefer the legend! Attached to the legend was a belief that the old organ was haunted, and haunted by no less a ghost than that of George Frideric Handel. This is where the postcard comes in because it was believed by many that the picture shows his ghost sitting at the organ:

Postcard All Souls cropped

One person told me that this picture had been subjected to a battery of tests but no one could explain the blurred image in front of the organ keys. My scan is not wonderful but there is a blurred image that is printed on the photograph. If you look carefully though you can just about make out the figure of an Edwardian lady in a large hat. I don’t think it is G.F. Handel.

Rev Dr Arthur Long – An Appreciation

I was very pleased to attend the memorial event for the Rev Dr Arthur Long organised by the Unitarian Christian Association and held at Luther King House, Manchester on the afternoon of Saturday, 15 July 2017. Among the speakers were Rev Alex Bradley, Rev Alan Kennedy and Adrian Long, one of Arthur’s sons. Unbelievably it is nearly 11 years since Arthur died but it was good to be able to share in such an occasion and to meet Arthur’s family. I am not alone in having been strongly influenced by Arthur’s learning and erudition in my time as a ministerial student. After his death I wrote an appreciation of him for the January 2007 issue of The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine. The Rev Andrew Brown, then the editor of The Herald, then asked for permission to republish the appreciation and it subsequently appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of that journal. In a timely coincidence I came across a copy of this issue today and was spurred on to track down the original text on my computer. I managed to find the text but not, alas, the original black and white photograph which I took of Arthur in his office when he was principal and which appeared in both The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian and The Herald at the time. The appreciation has something of an Irish focus because of the original place of publication but I would like to re-publish it now as my own tribute to an exemplary minister, scholar and teacher.

With the death of the Rev Dr Arthur Long on Saturday, 9 December [2006] our household of faith has lost its leading theologian and educator of recent times. In a long, varied and distinguished career Arthur was most closely associated with Unitarian College, Manchester where he was Principal from 1974 to 1988, and prior to that was a tutor from 1959. His role in the training of ministers cannot be overestimated and when one considers that in the whole of the twentieth century almost exactly half of all the ministers in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland were trained at the Unitarian College (UCM) and that exactly half of the ministers listed in the current NSPCI Aide Memoire were trained there we can see that Arthur’s influence was as significant in Ireland as much as in Britain.

Arthur was a son of the manse, his father being minister at the Bell Street Mission in London for many years, and also President of the General Assembly in later years. Arthur grew up in Wembley and was steeped in the traditions of his denomination. Because of his background his knowledge of the denomination, of ministers and personalities was positively encyclopaedic.

Following education at Exeter College, Oxford Arthur stayed in Oxford to train for the ministry at Manchester College, his father’s old college. His scholarly ability was clear from an early age and in his theological studies he developed a particular interest in the Bible, he always said that he found Hebrew particularly congenial. Nevertheless he was denied the Oxford BD although it has long been recognised that this was solely on theological grounds, yet he never showed any bitterness about being on the receiving end of such odium theologicum. At the same time, however, he was successful in being awarded a prestigious Hibbert Scholarship to go and study at the University of Edinburgh. Normally this would have been taken at a University abroad but this was in 1944 and such travel was clearly out of the question. His time at New College, Edinburgh was another key stage in his own development and he was always proud of having been organist at St Mark’s Church near the Castle during his time in Edinburgh.

Arthur was a rare figure in the world of theological education and ministerial training in that he not only was supremely well equipped for the job in terms of his scholarly background and accomplishments but he had also held long and successful pastoral ministries prior to becoming a college principal. It is not always the case that those who are charged with training ministers have any real experience of doing the job themselves but Arthur had this in abundance. He began his ministry in London, in 1945, at Stamford Street Chapel where he remained until 1952 when he moved to Deane Road in Bolton, adding the congregation of Horwich to his responsibilities in the 1960s. Here he exercised a traditional, urban parish ministry with large congregations of a type that has now almost disappeared within British Unitarianism and he carried out his work with devotion and great success. One dominant feature of his ministry was his enthusiasm for ecumenical work. The town of Bolton had the longest established local Council of Churches in England (founded in 1918) and for thirteen years Arthur worked as secretary to the Bolton Council of Churches. Fully immersed in the practical work of the ministry it is typical of Arthur’s modesty that he never expected to end up as a college principal and yet was supremely fitted for the job.

In 1959 he was appointed to the staff of the College and in 1963 published Faith and Understanding: Critical Essays in Christian Doctrine. This consisted of a series of essays which appeared originally in the Inquirer and which attempted to explain for the general reader a number of traditional Christian doctrines. The book was later instrumental in his appointment as an honorary lecturer at the University of Manchester where he became a member of the Faculty of Theology and lectured for over twenty years on the Christian Doctrine of God.

AJLFaith

Following the death of the Rev Fred Kenworthy in 1974 Arthur was appointed Principal of the College where he remained until his retirement in 1988. As Principal he oversaw the removal of the College from its home since 1905 at Summerville to Luther King House as part of what was then called the Northern Federation for Training in Ministry. There can be little doubt that only Arthur could have handled this transition so smoothly in the face of opposition from conservative evangelicals in other denominations and narrow spirits within his own church. His ecumenical experience in Bolton undoubtedly helped as well as his longstanding co-operation with academics from the other colleges and the University of Manchester. But the result was the unprecedented creation of a new federated college which brought together the United Reformed Church, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans and Unitarians in one site, a co-operative institution that continues to develop to this day and which secured the future of the Unitarian College.

Arthur’s knowledge of contemporary theology was extensive and was put to particularly good use in his 1978 Essex Hall Lecture Fifty Years of Theology 1928-1978 The Vindication of Liberalism. He was an able and ardent exponent of the liberal tradition and was able to tie Unitarian theology into the concerns of the mainstream. He always maintained a keen interest in the Bible, few people know the Bible as thoroughly as he did, and he could provide an apposite text for any occasion. He was often amused to be asked by University lecturers in the field of Biblical Studies (who were also ministers) for the suggestion of a text for a particular sermon. Just last year I had to preach a sermon for a congregation with sporting interests and asked Arthur for advice. He suggested a passage in the Book of Acts where we read of the occasion when “Peter stood up with the Eleven and was bowled by Grace!” Arthur had a tremendous sense of humour, an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes and had an especial liking for the works of Richmal Crompton. It is not widely known too that he was an expert in the history of the pantomime and when the federated college was set up at Luther King House, a large and lively institution, he particularly came into his own at the staff and students’ Christmas concerts when his knowledge and appreciation of music hall and pantomime were always put to good use by him in some item on the stage.

AJL50

Arthur maintained close relations with the Unitarian churches in Romania and Hungary and while he was Principal Hungarian-speaking students began to return to the college again. These numbers increased following the collapse of the Soviet Union and a great many of the Hungarian-speaking students who have studied at UCM have also visited Northern Ireland. The high opinion in which Arthur was always held in Romania was made clear when the Protestant Theological Faculty at Koloszvar awarded him the degree of Honorary Doctor of Theology in 1995 which he was able to go to receive in person.

In 1983-4 Arthur was made President of the General Assembly and visited Belfast during that year. Arthur maintained a close relationship with the churches in Ireland throughout his career. Partly this was through his former students but was also based on his appreciation of the principle of non-subscription, something which he felt was being replicated in the Northern Federation for Training in Ministry. In his historical lectures he always included a course on the history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, which was regularly updated following input from the students at UCM who came from Northern Ireland. His connection with Ireland might even have been closer.  In the early 1960s, when the Dublin congregation was vacant, Arthur applied for the vacancy but bad weather kept the Dublin boat from sailing and he was never able to make the journey. In 1996 Arthur visited Ireland at the invitation of the Ulster Unitarian Christian Association. He preached at All Souls’ Church, visited a number of churches and ministers, and delivered a lecture entitled Current Trends in British Unitarianism at both Holywood and Dublin. This was very well received and was subsequently published in 1997. The booklet sold out and just at the time of his death consideration was being given for the publication of a second edition.

Arthur was also a key member of the group which produced Hymns of Faith and Freedom the new hymnbook which had its own official Non-Subscribing Presbyterian imprint in 1991 and which is in use in many of our churches. Arthur had a great love of hymns and church music and compiled the very useful Index of Authors including biographical notes which appears in the hymnbook.

His knowledge and learning were also recognised by the Unitarian Historical Society of which body he was President from 1993 to 1996 and vice-President up to the time of his death. His learning is clear also in the many important articles he contributed to the Society’s Transactions in the years following his retirement from UCM. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Unitarian Christian Association of which group he became the mainstay for a number of years not least as the first editor of the Unitarian Christian Herald, which journal he established as an interesting and useful publication. Arthur was able to address all sections of opinion within contemporary British Unitarianism and was rightly held in high regard by all, but there was never any doubt as to his own place in the theological spectrum and the Unitarian Christian Association was a strong expression of this identity.

Arthur was always in demand as a preacher, congregations were always pleased to have him come to them as a visitor. In Luther King House he broke new ground when the Federation was established and he was asked to officiate at one of the weekly eucharists there. He also preached a sermon in the Chapel soon after the Federation was established, at a time when there was still a lot if uncertainty and some tension between the colleges. His address on that occasion to a congregation of theological lecturers and students for the ministry was characterised by warmth, wit, erudition, scholarship and thoughtful reflection, and was typical of him. It was the sort of contribution that helped to cement relationships within the Federation. In later years he added another string to his bow when, through the good offices of the Rev Paul Travis, Arthur was able to participate in network television broadcasts with ITV from Liverpool Cathedral.

Arthur had great affection for the church but he was aware too of the wider needs of society and gave his time to the Samaritans for many years. He will be greatly missed. In his lectures on pastoralia and homiletics he always gave a sensitive and precise description of what the role of a minister was for every type of service. In funerals his advice, based on his years of ministry in London and Bolton, was especially detailed and helpful and he used to recommend that ministers complete the service of committal with the following words:

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.

Unto thy servant grant eternal peace, O Lord. May light perpetual shine upon him.

[David Steers – The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian January 2007, The Herald Spring 2007]

AJLHeraldCover

 

 

Edgar Innes Fripp and William Shakespeare

The current celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare prompt me to think about the Rev Edgar Innes Fripp. His is not a name widely remembered today but I was very aware of him when I was minister of All Souls’ Church in Belfast as a very distinguished predecessor in that pulpit, indeed the minister under whose leadership that church was built in 1896.

 

E.I. Fripp didn’t really get the attention he deserved in the congregation, although I wrote and spoke about him on a number of occasions. If the congregation looked to anyone as an historical exemplar it was A.L. Agnew whose own particular heroic story in the course of a 54 year ministry was partly based on an undoing of the achievements of his predecessor Fripp. He did away with the ‘Fripperies’ that remained from early in the century even to the extent – or so I was told – of having a bonfire of old service books along with assorted hassocks, communion table cloths and pulpit hangings. Fripp had introduced an edited version of the prayer book to the church, a robed choir and a much more devotional style of worship than had been the case before. More than that he had built the church, a little medieval English parish church in suburban Belfast. It was his vision in achieving this that had enabled the church to survive. Without this move it would have been unlikely to have lasted in Rosemary Street, and although there may have been a falling off in attendances between the wars it suited the narrative of the later arrival of Dr Agnew and the York Street congregation following the blitz of 1941, to write off everything that had gone before. In fact the destruction of the York Street building made an eventual union of the two congregations inevitable but without the intervention of the German Luftwaffe even that probably would not have taken place.

 

AllSoulsexterior

All Souls’ in 1900

 

By the time I was minister at All Souls’ a large majority of the congregation had belonged to York Street or were descendants of that congregation. The Second Congregation families, the original All Souls’ people, were a minority yet there were a few who remembered Edgar Innes Fripp. This wasn’t because they were extraordinarily old, because although he had built the church in 1896 and left in 1900 he had returned at the start of the 1920s for a few years. In the 1990s there were some people who had childhood memories of Fripp and what they remembered in particular was his interest in Shakespeare. He was much given to quoting him and increasingly found inspiration in his writings for his sermons.

 

ShakespearesStratford

The title page of Shakespeare’s Stratford

 

In Belfast he had been innovative, imaginative and creative. He was a genuine scholar, he had been a Hibbert Scholar in Germany before entering the ministry, and was a caring and effective pastor. All this can be seen in his Kalendar, the first monthly magazine to be distributed within a church of the Non-Subscribing tradition in Ireland. Before he had arrived the Second Congregation had left the presbyterian structures to pursue their own course although they were rooted in the Free Christian theological traditions exemplified by James Martineau.

 

Early in his ministry he had produced an account of the composition of the book of Genesis, by the end of his ministry he was completely absorbed in Shakespearean studies. He published a number of works on Shakespeare, and his life and times, and became a trustee of Shakespeare’s birthplace. Indeed it is interesting to see that today the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has a short video examining E.I. Fripp’s analysis of Iago:

http://findingshakespeare.co.uk/shakespeares-villains-iago

 

At the end of his life Fripp’s funeral took place in Shakespeare’s church and he was buried in Stratford on Avon. But he produced a large amount of work on Shakespeare and I have often been tempted to seek out a contemporary Shakespearean scholar to give an assessment of how these works are regarded today for Faith and Freedom. There is and has long been a vast industry around Shakespeare and each age finds a different set of interpretations that reflect its own circumstances. It would be nice to know from the point of view of an English literature specialist what endures from Fripp’s writings. But if nothing else he had an enduring impact on the topography of South Belfast, something that continues to this day.

 

AllSouls02

The view of All Souls’ today from the Belfast City Hospital

St Mark, St Thomas and St Michael – a trinity of Unitarian saints?

In my previous post about Rev Porter Orr I mentioned St Thomas’ Unitarian Chapel in Ringwood, Hampshire. This particular meeting house (which closed in the mid-1970s) had the rare designation for a Unitarian chapel of being dedicated to (or at least named after) a saint. This is not unique – by far the most famous Unitarian church named after a saint is St Mark’s in Edinburgh – but it is worth giving some consideration to.

St Thomas' Unitarian Chapel Ringwood (from 'The Unitarian Heritage')
St Thomas’ Unitarian Chapel Ringwood (from ‘The Unitarian Heritage’)

Victorian Unitarian church builders could often be quite keen on saints, of course. In the era of gothic rebuilding in the nineteenth century decorative windows featuring Burne Jones saints were often inserted, as the above view of the chancel of Ullet Road Church shows.

Most Unitarian churches get very dull names, they usually get called after the street they are situated on or the district they are in although sometimes more interesting terminology can be applied such as ‘Great Meeting’ or ‘New Meeting’ (or indeed ‘Old Chapel’). What they tend not to be is named after saints.

That is not to say that Unitarians couldn’t be creative – and also very orthodox – in their church names when they wanted to be. A quick trawl through the invaluable Vestiges of Protestant Dissent published by George Eyre Evans in 1897 (which contains a list of all the Unitarian congregations at that time) reveals no less than eight congregations called ‘Christ Church’ ( I think Bridgwater may be the only survivor of this group). Not mentioned in Vestiges are most of the three churches that I can think of called ‘All Souls’’. This designation probably comes from a slightly later period (All Souls’, Belfast had just been built in 1896) and although to outsiders this probably comes across as a very high Anglican name it is really a more typically Unitarian name in the twentieth century than Christ Church, although the use of this name in England, at least, has ceased I think.

Other popular nineteenth-century Unitarian names (none of them still in use so far as I know) were ‘Church of the Saviour’, which was used by three congregations, and the ‘Church of the Messiah’ and the ‘Church of our Father’ which each had a single use. More overtly Unitarian names were ‘Unity’, which had five takers in 1897 some of them still continuing today, and one ‘Church of the Divine Unity’.

What Unitarians have tended not to do is name churches after individuals –saints in the sense of the people of God – but there are three examples of this that I can think of – Matthew Henry, John Pounds and Edmund Kell, who all have their congregational memorials.

Methodist Unitarians were very keen on Biblical names for their churches – ‘Bethlehem’ and ‘Nazareth’ being the best-known examples of this. In Vestiges there is also one obscure ‘Salem’ founded as a break away from Calvinistic Baptists in King’s Lynn in 1811.

But naming a Unitarian church after a saint is something that does raise questions. How and why did the congregation select that saint? Which saint of that name did they actually mean? Was there ever any suggestion of the congregation being directly inspired by that saint?

It is often thought that St Mark’s Church is a unique example of the naming of a Unitarian church after a saint but clearly that is not so. What is curious about Ringwood is that the chapel (which is now an interpretative centre for local history) was built in 1727 but only started using the name of St Thomas some time in the first half of the nineteenth century. Why this was so is anybody’s guess. The name was certainly used for a long time, the Rev John Midgely has found instances of it being used in advertisements in the Inquirer in the 1930s, although it seems to have been dropped before it closed in 1975. What is different about St Mark’s in Edinburgh is that this was the name chosen at the time of its building in 1835 and in use ever since. The Rev Andrew Hill has suggested that no one knows why the name was chosen, but presumably the gospel writer was regarded with favour by the Edinburgh people.

The interior of St Thomas' Chapel (from 'The Unitarian Heritage')
The interior of St Thomas’ Chapel (from ‘The Unitarian Heritage’)

But, according to the Vestiges, there was another chapel that took the name of a saint. This was St Michael’s Chapel in Selby. This congregation dated from 1672 and built a new chapel in 1699 which G.E. Evans suggests was called St Michael’s from the start. This seems unlikely in 1699 but the name was definitely in use for a long time and was transferred to the modest new building that was finally opened in 1903 (following some years in a temporary building from 1886). The congregation closed in 1968 according to The Unitarian Heritage and the building passed into other uses, although it still seems to stand.

So there we have the three Unitarian churches named after saints. There were quite a number of churches built on streets with saints’ names – St Nicholas’ Street etc – and there are a few examples of Unitarian chapels later being consecrated by the Church of England and being given a saint’s name. But these are the only three that are definitely named after saints. Can anyone shed any further light on them? It would be interesting to hear any accounts of either St Thomas’ or St Michael’s or indeed of any other saintly churches. In the meantime we have a Unitarian trinity – St Mark, St Thomas and St Michael.

Addendum:

With regard to St Michael’s Chapel, Selby the Rev Andrew Hill has sent the following interesting information:

“The congregation at Selby traces its origin to the visit of a puritan preacher, Noah Ward, from York, in the year 1660. As an itinerant minister he continued to make frequent visits to Selby down to the time of his death, which occurred in 1699. It is said that in honour of the memory of this preacher St. Michael’s Chapel was built in that same year by a gentleman of the name of Barstow. It seems to have owed its name to the fact that one of the Christian names of the said gentleman was Michael, whose good deed it was thought would be perpetuated by calling the place after Michael the archangel. After the death of Mr. Barstow the Chapel was given in trust by his widow, Alice Barstow. contemporary with the Barstow family there were two other families of similar social standing who were associated with the Chapel; these were the Bacons and the Morritts. Beatrix Bacon, wife of Christopher Bacon, bequeathed the land near the town, from which a portion of the minister’s stipend is still paid. A silver Communion Cup is still preserved, on which is engraved: “The Gift of Beatrix Bacon to the Selby Chapel.” The first minister was John Troviss; who was followed by a John Hodgson, and on the removal of the latter to Lincoln, a Mr. Foljamb took his place. From this date until nearly the end of 1886, when worship in the old Chapel ceased on account of its dilapidated state, there were eight ministers of whom Thomas Smith was the first and J. M. Pilkington the last. The new chapel, which is of red brick and on the old site, has been erected to an approximate cost of £400, including the interior fittings, and has accommodation for 125 It was opened on September 24th, 1903, the Rev. Ceredig Jones, M.A., of Bradford, preaching on the occasion. the present minister is the Rev. John Dale.” From: The Unitarian Chapels of Yorkshire.

Does anyone remember the chapel built in 1903? Dare one ask is the silver communion cup still preserved today?