Remembering Tom Banham

On Saturday, 30th November I was honoured to be asked to lead the service and give the address at the Memorial Service for the Rev Tom Banham at First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast. Tom was the minister of First Church from 1975 until his retirement in 1993 and was senior minister from then until his death in August 2019.

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With Rev Simon Henning and Rev Robert McKee (Photo: Mark Adair)

It was a very impressive service indeed with contributions from Rev Simon Henning, Dr Pamela Topping, the church secretary, who read So Many Different Lengths of Time by Brian Patten, and Mark Adair who spoke warmly of his memories of Tom and read Praise of a Man by Norman McCaig.

Memorial Service

The service was particularly notable for its musical contributions under the leadership of the church’s Director of Music, Richard Yarr. Tanya Houghton, the newly appointed Musician in Residence, played two pieces on the harp and the eight Banham Scholars gave their first ever public performance. The organist was Nigel McClintock.

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Tanya Houghton with the Banham Scholars and Richard Yarr (Photo: Mark Adair)

Before he died Tom endowed the church to enable them to establish a choral scholarship scheme for the church. As a result a group of choral scholars have been formed who, it is planned, will sing once a month at Rosemary Street, as well as on special occasions, and will undertake outreach projects on the church’s behalf. The congregation has named them the Banham Scholars in Tom’s memory.

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The Banham Scholars and Richard Yarr (Photo: Mark Adair)

The musical programme in the service comprised pieces which reflected Tom’s own musical interests and some of his favourite pieces:

Church Choir & Banham Scholars: Beethoven – Creation’s Hymn

Tanya Houghton (harp), Musician in Residence, First Church –

Puccini: O Mio Babbino Caro, from Gianni Schicchi (with soprano Mary McCabe)

Mascagni: Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana

Banham Scholars –

Rutter: The Lord Bless You And Keep You

Handel: Hallelujah Chorus, from Messiah

The Banham Scholars are eight professional singers: two Sopranos: Mary McCabe and Katie Lyons; two Altos: Dawn Burns and Sarah Richmond; two Tenors: Owen Lucas and Mark Tilley; and two Basses: James Cooper and Adam Reaney.

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The Church Choir and the Banham Scholars (Photo: Mark Adair)

The hymns were Love divine, all loves excelling, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended and Guide me, O thou great Jehovah.

The whole occasion was such a fitting tribute to someone who was a major figure in his denomination for so long and who made such a great contribution to society through his ministry and leadership.

Rev Tom Banham 1971

Rev Tom Banham 1929 – 2019

Lieutenant Commander, Royal Navy

Minister, Ballycarry and Raloo 1971 – 1975

Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Belfast 1975 – 1993, senior minister 1993 – 2019

(Picture taken in 1971)

 

Pictures of Harvest Festivals

Pictures of Harvest Festivals are amongst the most frequent early survivors of photographs of church or chapel interiors. The modern Harvest Festival, as it is known in churches today, was really invented by the Rev Robert Hawker, vicar of Morwenstow in Cornwall, in the 1840s. He was as colourful and eccentric as they come but devised the notion of a service in which the produce of the fields was brought into the church and used as decoration as an act of thanksgiving. The idea of the service quickly caught on and became a big part of the year for most churches, whether urban or rural. Harvest Festivals became and remain very popular with Unitarians, it would be interesting to study when and how they began to be incorporated into the cycle of services.

 

I don’t have any information to hand as to how harvest services spread and became popular but I see that in 1881, for instance, Alexander Gordon introduced the first Harvest Festival service to the First Presbyterian, Rosemary Street congregation in Belfast. This must be quite late, I would imagine. Was that something he had previously done over the preceding twenty years at Norwich, Hope Street, Liverpool, or Aberdeen? It would be an interesting avenue to pursue.

 

With the gradual development of photography as a medium, pictures were taken of churches and chapels. However, the difficulty – for all except the most skilled photographers – of taking good interior shots, and also, perhaps, a reluctance to take a picture of a scene that was so familiar as to be seen as hardly worth recording means that early shots of interiors of chapels and meetings houses are not that common. This seems to change when it comes to Harvest Festivals and a number of pictures that I have of now closed churches were taken to show off the harvest decoration that had been thoughtfully and faithfully put there by some parishioners.

 

In the recent posts about Nantwich Unitarian Chapel I asked if anyone had any photographs of the interior. Andrew Lamberton has again found a fascinating image. He has sent me this picture of the area around the organ decorated for harvest. There is no date on the picture and it is very difficult to be at all precise although I would guess it was taken probably in the first decade of the twentieth century.

 

I gather the organ was installed in the 1870s so the picture shows a decorated scene around the organ sometime after that date. As I have mentioned in previous posts the chapel of 1725-26 was rebuilt and ‘turned’ in 1846-49 and this picture would appear to show the area on the plan between the windows and marked as ‘former site of Pulpit’ in Christopher Stell’s Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in the North of England:

 

Inventory Nantwich
Plan from Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in the North of England

 

It’s hard to make out too much detail in the photograph but it confirms the description also found in Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in the North of England (page 28) that the pews which incorporated original features from the 1720s were laid out in tiers:

“Seating: against E and W walls, two tiers of pews, partly reconstructed, include much early 18th-century fielded panelling, fronts renewed. The centre pews also incorporate original material.”

It is not an easy thing to take a picture of what is a dark wood-panelled interior while including the main source of light from two large windows. The light floods in through the window and the dark areas remain dark. But for all its limitations we have in this print a rare and useful image of a long forgotten building.

Organ Harvest Festival
(Photo: Andrew Lamberton and Nantwich Museum Archives)