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 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

Some corner of a foreign field

The Faith and Freedom Great War project continues to expand and now contains around 75 separate items. One recent addition is the video made in 2014 by John Featherstone with input from Peter and Kath Faulkner, the then minister, the Rev Patrick Timperley, and members of the Old Meeting, Mansfield as a tribute to the memory of the war dead of their congregation in the First World War.

 

Some twenty-two chapel members are listed on the war memorial as having given their lives in the First World War. As other churches have done in this time of the centenary of the Great War the current congregation have researched the lives and circumstances of the men who were killed and tracked down the last resting place of each one of them. The Mansfield folk have also gone one step further and visited the grave of each soldier wherever that was possible. In 2014 a group of Mansfield members travelled to each grave or memorial of a chapel member and placed a poppy there while speaking the words:

 

We place this cross in thanks and in memory of….a brave son of Mansfield, whose name lives on, and is recorded on the wall of the chapel he attended.

 

The whole project was also recorded and can be seen on a beautifully put together video. As is so often the case with such research it is deeply poignant. Many of the soldiers were very young, their ages are given on the video along with their address and pre-war occupation – miners, colliery men, a pork butcher’s assistant, a hosiery hand, a farm labourer, and so on. Where there was no known grave the group from Mansfield visited the memorial – such as those at Thiepval and the Menin Gate – which bears the name of those killed in those battles and they placed their poppy there. They visited all the soldiers’ graves and memorials in France and Belgium. One soldier was killed in Iraq and his grave lies in the Baghdad North Gate War Cemetery, he was remembered by a poppy being placed on the Iraq Roll of Honour in the head office of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Maidenhead.

 

In carrying out this act of remembrance they followed in the footsteps of others from the chapel who had gone before. One mother whose young son was killed at Ypres visited the battle site with a party of bereaved mothers in 1920. She returned with a stone from the ruins of Ypres which was incorporated into the wall of the chapel as a memorial.

 

The circumstances of all the soldiers who were killed were traced, with the exception of one who proved elusive yet is still remembered, as the video says. The grave that is closest to home is in Nottingham Road Cemetery, Mansfield. Here was buried Ernest Davenport a private in the Notts and Derby regiment. Aged just 20 when he died, before the war he had worked in an iron foundry. He had been wounded in the Easter Rising in Dublin and had died of his wounds on 28th May 1916. It was at his grave, near the anniversary of the outbreak of the war one hundred years before, that the chapel members as a whole gathered for an act of remembrance of all those killed.

 

The video can be viewed here:

 

The Faith and Freedom Great War Project can be visited here:

http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm

 

The detail at the top of this page is from the Cenotaph, Liverpool, designed by Lionel Budden and Herbert Tyson Smith.