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.
Exterior, including the porch
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.
The congregation’s schools and halls
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:
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.
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 from the Hungarian Unitarian Church, bringing insight and a deep spirituality from that ancient church which dates from the Reformation.
The Rev Mária Pap in the pulpit at Mansfield