Nantwich Unitarian Chapel

Willaston School Nantwich was created through the will of Philip Barker who lived at the Grove, a house originally built by his brother in 1837. It’s clear also that Philip Barker and his brothers were the main supporters of the Unitarian Chapel, their vision – and financial contribution – seems to have been what maintained what was otherwise quite a weak cause.

 

Nantwich 1950s

The chapel and associated buildings, probably dating from the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Andrew Lamberton

 

I found myself in Nantwich once, almost by accident, and carried out an ineffective and inevitably fruitless search for anything left of the Chapel. If I had checked The Unitarian Heritage book first I would have known that it was long demolished (in 1969), eventually meeting, it would appear, quite a sad end. However, the town of Nantwich is fortunate in having a very active History Group (which published Willaston School Nantwich – see the two previous posts) and through the kind help of Andrew Lamberton – who supplied me with a number of fascinating images and other information –  I’ve been able to piece together something of the history of the congregation that was once served by Joseph Priestley.

 

The congregation dated from the ejection and registered a former malt-kiln on Pepper Street as a meeting house in 1689. Between 1725 and 1726 they built the Chapel on Hospital Street.

 

The lively painting of the interior on this page was painted in 1942 by George Hooper as part of the ‘Recording Britain’ series of images, held in the V & A which describes the scheme in the following way:

The ‘Recording Britain’ collection of topographical watercolours and drawings [was] made in the early 1940s during the Second World War. In 1940 the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime, part of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, launched a scheme to employ artists to record the home front in Britain, funded by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. It ran until 1943 and some of the country’s finest watercolour painters, such as John Piper, Sir William Russell Flint and Rowland Hilder, were commissioned to make paintings and drawings of buildings, scenes, and places which captured a sense of national identity. Their subjects were typically English: market towns and villages, churches and country estates, rural landscapes and industries, rivers and wild places, monuments and ruins. 

 

It’s an interesting choice of subject and shows the pulpit with memorials to Joseph Priestley and Philip Barker on either side. You probably wouldn’t guess from the painting but the interior had been completely re-ordered. The chapel had been turned through 180 degrees and the pulpit placed on a false wall with a vestibule and ancillary rooms located behind it. Andrew Lamberton has supplied me with this plan of the interior of the remodelled chapel (from the Cheshire Record Office):

 

Nantwich plan

Plan of the interior c.1850 (Cheshire Record Office)

Strangely this plan does not show the pulpit which would have been in the centre of the wall on the right hand side of the drawing as we look at it. Opposite it is an area described as ‘orchestra’ on the plan. Is this meant to imply some instrumental accompaniment for hymns or would it be the place for the choir? Philip Barker’s pew can be seen in the top left hand corner.

 

The major repairs that resulted in the re-ordering of the interior took place in 1846-49 according to Christoper Stell’s Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in the North of England (1994). His plan of the interior can be compared with the one above. By 1850, however, it was not a large congregation as this subscription list, also supplied by Andrew Lamberton from the Cheshire Record Office, shows

 

Nantwich subscribers

Subscribers List 1850 (Cheshire Record Office)

The chapel was clearly very dependent on the Barker family and the Rev J Morley Mills, minister at the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth centuries, recorded that it was known in those days as “Mr Barker’s Chapel”. By the time of the Second World War it was clearly at a very low ebb. Surviving photographs show the building in a very sorry state.

In 1896 a schoolroom had been built right in front of the chapel. This obscured the distinctive outline of the frontage with the Dutch style gables. However, Christopher Stell suggests this design may not have been original and could have been added in a rebuilding of 1870. Either way the Victorian schoolroom obscured the look of the chapel:

Nantwich 1960s

The chapel probably in the 1960s. Photo from Andrew Lamberton

Curiously The Unitarian Heritage carries a photograph of Nantwich chapel taken, presumably, after the school house had been demolished and showing the frontage as it had been built:

Nantwich UH

From The Unitarian Heritage

It seems a reasonable assumption to make that this photograph was taken at the start of the demolition process, after the Victorian school house had been taken down. However, if you compare this photograph and the previous one which dates from the 1960s it is clear that the two long windows are both intact and fully glazed and the stone work and frames around the window are no longer painted. Could this photograph actually date from a different period?

 

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has any more information and any additional photographs of the chapel, especially of the interior.

 

Andrew Lamberton has also sent me this newspaper cutting taken form the Nantwich Chronicle in about 1966 and indicating the sad end the chapel faced:

Nantwich Chronicle

From the Nantwich Chronicle c.1966

It is a shame that such a an unusual and interesting building was lost to the locality, one that had been thought significant enough to record for posterity during the  darkest years of the Second World War.

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The Presbyterian Unitarian Chapel, Nantwich; Recording Britain; Chapel, Hospital Street, Nantwich. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Jeremiah Horrocks 1618 – 1641

In his excellent short article on Jeremiah Horrocks in the book Liverpool Unitarians Faith and Action Bernard Cliffe is very cautious about making too many definite assertions about his life. As Bernard puts it “an account of the life of the boy and the young man has to be a matter of conjecture, with the generous use of qualifying words.” The truth is we have very few hard facts about the life of this pioneer astronomer who died at the young age of 22. Inevitably though this hasn’t stopped others from drawing all sorts of conclusions about his life.

One of the things we do know for sure was the extent of his achievement as a youthful astronomer – indeed there are some parallels here with the life of Clyde Tombaugh who first identified Pluto in his 20s. Clyde Tombaugh now has a feature on Pluto’s surface named after him while Jeremiah Horrocks himself has been memorialized in a number of places since his initial observation of the transit of Venus across the Sun.

Horrocks’s discoveries were only published posthumously and, gradually, in the centuries after that, places – and churches – were keen to claim him as one of their own. But his scientific importance is pretty well established. Allan Chapman (in ‘Jeremiah Horrocks, the transit of Venus and the ‘New Astronomy’ in early seventeenth-century England’, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1990, 31) says that despite a scientific hagiography that has also built up around him “the plain fact [is] that his documented contributions to astronomy were formidable by any standard…he was one of the first men in England to grasp the significance of what was going on in contemporary European astronomy. Not only did he repeat many of the techniques of Kepler and Galileo, but he went on to develop the New Astronomy to produce conclusions which substantially advanced those of its continental founders” (pp.33-334).

A plaque in the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth records that Jeremiah Horrocks (or Horrox) “foretold, and was the first to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun’s disc on the 24. Nov. 1639”. But the plaque, which was put up in 1891, is, in fact, only one of four church memorials to him around the country.

A Victorian depiction of Jeremiah Horrocks observing the transit of Venus
A Victorian depiction of Jeremiah Horrocks observing the transit of Venus

Without doubt the best known of these is in Westminster Abbey erected opposite that of Isaac Newton (who had praised his work) in 1874 following a petition from the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society (actually inscribed on part of the marble monument to John Conduitt, who was married to the niece of Isaac Newton). Certainly the Abbey is a fitting place for a memorial to such a person. On it his scientific achievements are listed but it also states that he was “Curate of Hoole”. Now there is no doubt that Hoole is where Jeremiah Horrocks lived for a while and where he observed the transit of Venus. But there is no evidence that he was ever curate of Hoole, or indeed an ordained clergyman of any sort.

The Victorians were not slow to extend or embellish their assessment of his religious affiliations. The church at Hoole has its own memorials too including a Horrocks Chapel, memorial windows, a weather vane and a plaque, although the website of St Michael’s Church, Hoole now describes the text of this plaque as “largely fictional”.

Jeremiah Horrocks seems to have spent about a year in Hoole. Rather than being a curate or holding any position in the church he was probably a tutor to the children of a local family, in whose home he observed the transit of Venus. But there can be little doubt that he will have attended the church at Hoole while he was resident there. At the time there will have been little difference in the theological outlook of Hoole and the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth. Both were centres of Puritanism – comprising earnest, godly, and devout parishioners, in both places members being technically part of the Church of England (there was little leeway to be anything else at the time) but possessing a no-nonsense approach to faith and a fair degree of suspicion of ecclesiastical hierarchies. During his time there the church was still a just a chapel of ease and the curate (later rector) was eventually ejected for non-conformity.

The staied glass window at Hoole Church and the title page of Horrocks' posthumous work
The stained glass window at Hoole Church and the title page of Horrocks’ posthumous work

Although no records of Horrocks’ baptism or burial survive he seems both to have been born and died in Toxteth where his family names illustrate the Puritanism of his background. The names of Horrocks and Aspinwall (his mother’s maiden name) were amongst those puritan settlers who arrived in Toxteth in the late sixteenth century and began clearing the hunting park and built the chapel. They were part of the group who called Richard Mather to be first their schoolmaster and then their minister. The same Richard Mather was reluctant to accept Episcopal ordination. He eventually did so but was alarmed after being ordained (so the story goes) when the bishop approached him and asked to speak to him in confidence. Fearing that some admonishment was imminent he was surprised instead to hear the bishop say “I have an earnest request unto you, and you must not deny me; it is that you will pray for me; for I know that the prayers of men that fear God will avail much, and such an one I believe you to be.” Despite this unusual alleged exchange with the bishop he was eventually suspended for nonconformity and subsequently left with many of his followers for New England.

Richard Mather
Richard Mather

It was probably here that Horrocks was educated and his religious opinions formed. From Toxteth he went to Emmanuel College, Cambridge as a sizar, basically the lowest form of student life, working as a college servant alongside his studies. He left without taking a degree but developed a passion for astronomy while there and was soon manufacturing his own astronomical instruments. Members of the Horrocks family, quite probably including his father, were watchmakers which must have been an assistance in developing precision instruments.

But following his death on 3rd January 1641 two hundred and fifty years were to pass before the Ancient Chapel erected its own memorial in his memory.

But this is not the only church memorial to Jeremiah Horrocks in Liverpool. In 1826 Moses Holden, described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as a “popular astronomer,” used the proceeds of one of his lectures to pay for the erection of a memorial tablet in St Michael’s in the Hamlet church in Aigburth, not far from the Ancient Chapel. It may well have been awareness of this tablet that encouraged the Unitarians to put up their own. Holden seems himself to have been a Methodist lay preacher but was on good terms with the established church. Nevertheless Jeremiah Horrocks can never have had any connection with St Michael’s in the Hamlet, since it was not founded until 1815.

Horrocks is commemorated in other ways too – additional memorials in Hoole and Liverpool; an observatory; an institute of the University of Central Lancaster – but it is curious how a variety of religious traditions have all sought to harness him for their own adornment. All of them have some claim on him but – in my view at least – it is the memorial that is the least known and acknowledged, the one in the Unitarian Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, that is most appropriate. Not because he was a Unitarian – because he wasn’t, such an idea would have been absurd to him. Not because he was a dissenter, because he wasn’t that either. As I have suggested his own views were almost certainly very strongly puritan and he held them within the context (technically at least) of the Church of England. But the little chapel in Toxteth Park was the place where he grew up and was educated. He was therefore part of a particular religious community founded in the last years of the sixteenth century and continuing ever since. The memorial to Jeremiah Horrocks was unveiled on Sunday, 11th October 1891, the minister, the Rev Valentine D. Davis preaching a sermon based on Genesis ch.1 v.1,3:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

The Memorial to Jeremiah Horrocks in the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth
The Memorial to Jeremiah Horrocks in the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, Liverpool

History of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church Downpatrick

The meeting house of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church in Downpatrick was opened in 1711 at the start of the ministry of the Rev Thomas Nevin. Recognised as one of the most significant architectural examples of the T-shaped meeting-house in Ireland the building celebrated 300 years of continuous worship and witness in 2011.

Central high pulpit originally built for Thomas Nevin (Down Museum photograph)
Central high pulpit originally built for Thomas Nevin (Down Museum photograph)

To mark the tercentenary of the church building the congregation published the History of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church Downpatrick. Written and compiled by Mary Stewart, the church secretary, the book is a remarkable record of three centuries of church life in the historic building. The book details the history of the congregation in the context of Downpatrick and Irish Presbyterianism, the conflict between subscribers and non-subscribers in the 18th century, the history of the building, the congregation’s engagement with education and much more. The book includes biographies of all the ministers of the congregation going back to the 17th century, extracts from the records of the Synod of Ulster, accounts of services, special events and financial matters, and contains details of committee and session members over the centuries, lists of members going back to the 1860s, and a complete record of all the graveyard inscriptions. It will be valued by all those with an interest in Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church history, local history, and genealogy.

Celebrating the tercentenary
Celebrating the tercentenary

In the first of the two Forewords the Very Rev William McMillan says:

Miss Stewart is to be congratulated on a truly comprehensive publication. She not only presents us with a history of the Downpatrick congregation but has collated a remarkable number of newspaper accounts, together with other printed material which will be of considerable help to future historians.

 Her commitment to the congregation is evident from the immense research that she has done and I am delighted to recommend this valuable contribution to the Denomination’s Historical Record in which Downpatrick congregation has played such an important role.

and in the second Foreword the Rev Dr JohnNelson says:

The congregation of Downpatrick has a long and notable history, reflected in the lives of the ministers and lay people who have been part of that church. A congregation which has held a significant place both within Non-Subscribing Presbyterian circles and the wider Presbyterian community.

 Perhaps the most outstanding theme of that history is the fact that for the last 300 years the congregation have worshiped in the wonderful building that is Stream Street Meeting House. While that building has always been well maintained, the interior has never been substantially altered, leaving it to-day essentially as built and evoking a sense of history, of presence, and of worship in all who enter there. It is highly appropriate that this book is published as part of the celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of that meeting house.

Mary Stewart is to be congratulated in producing such a thorough and detailed history of the congregation. Not only does she give the story of the church, but her painstaking researches have produced a wealth of source material which will be a delight to historians, church members, and everyone interested in the heritage of Downpatrick town and community.

This book both opens a door on the past and links it with the living present.

At the tercentenary service
At the tercentenary service

The book contains 408 pages and over 150 illustrations. It is bound in a full colour hard-back cover the book and is excellent value at only £15.

The cover of the book
The cover of the book

A sense of what it contains can be seen from the list of contents:

Chapter 1        Background History of Downpatrick

Chapter 2        Arrival and Settlement of Presbyterians

Chapter 3        Subscribers and Non-Subscribers, the Faith of the Non-Subscribers

Chapter 4        Presbytery Records from 1691 including Thomas Nevin’s Trial and Consequences

Chapter 5        List of Ministers of Downpatrick, Details of Ministers

Chapter 6        The Church Building

Chapter 7        Church Site and Schools

Chapter 8        Life and Times of Samuel Craig Nelson   

Chapter 9        Special Services

Chapter 10      Special Events and Reports

Chapter 11      Church Excursions from 1881

Chapter 12      Social Evenings and Gatherings

Chapter 13      Harvest Services from 1908

Chapter 14      Financial Matters (Inc. Committee Record from 1886)

Appendix I       Rules and Regulations of the Downpatrick Congregation

Appendix II    Church Elders, Committee and Sunday School Teachers (From 1861-2007)

Appendix III   The Church Graveyard and Inscriptions

Appendix IV   Sermon by Alexander Colvill A.M. M.D. on the Death of Thomas Nevin 24th March 1744

Congregation at the tercentenary service
Congregation at the tercentenary service

The cost of the book is just £15. Postage within the UK is £5. If you are interested in having a copy posted abroad please enquire for postal rates. Details of how to purchase the book can be found on the Church’s website: http://www.downpatricknsp.org.uk/History.html

Liverpool Unitarians: Faith and Action. Essays exploring the lives and contributions to society of notable figures in Liverpool Unitarian history. Edited by Daphne Roberts and David Steers

In September of 2014 we launched – in fine style, it must be said, in the impressive surroundings of the Liverpool Athenaeum, thanks to Philip Waldron – the book Liverpool Unitarians: Faith and Action. Essays exploring the lives and contributions to society of notable figures in Liverpool Unitarian history. Published by the Merseyside District Missionary Association it should also be added that the District took to the role of publisher with great aplomb – not necessarily the most usual role for any church administrative body.  The book is available in many book shops and museums in Liverpool as well as online from the District and via Amazon.

Liverpool Unitarians was a long time in preparation but I think is a better book for the extra time spent on its production. All the contributors have some connection with Merseyside Unitarianism and all write about different aspects of the contribution made by members of this household of faith to wider society over the centuries.

The full list of contributors and subjects is as follows:

Introduction, David Steers; Memorials of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth Park, Bernard Cliffe; Jeremiah Horrocks 1618 – 1641, Bernard Cliffe; William Roscoe 1753 – 1831, David Steers; A Short History of the Rathbone Family, Annette Butler; The Unitarian Family of George Holt, Bernard Cliffe; Noah Jones 1801 – 1861, Philip Waldron; James Martineau 1805 – 1900, Len W. Mooney; Joseph Blanco White 1775 – 1841, David Steers; Kitty Wilkinson 1786 – 1860, Daphne Roberts; John Johns 1801 – 1847, David Steers; William Henry Channing 1810 – 1884, Richard Merritt; Charles Pierre Melly 1829 – 1888, John Keggen; Sir Henry Tate 1819 – 1899, Richard Merritt; Sir John Brunner 1842 – 1919, Len W. Mooney; Lawrence Redfern 1888 – 1967, Elizabeth Alley; Sir Adrian Boult 1889 – 1983, Richard Merritt; The Visitors’ Book of the Ancient Chapel, Bernard Cliffe

It was particularly pleasing to see Len Mooney’s contributions published in the book in light of Len’s sad death just a few months later. Someone who had been a devoted member of Ullet Road Church for many decades Len was a thoughtful and wise person whose gifts shine through in his chapters published here.

The cover of the book
The cover of the book

The book has a full colour cover designed by Alison Steers which incorporates ‘The Triumph of Truth’, the central detail from the library ceiling of Ullet Road Church, painted by Gerald Moira; the Good Samaritan Window at Gateacre Chapel, which was erected in memory of Sir Henry Tate; a bronze representation of the James, (the ship on which Richard Mather and the local puritans sailed to Massachusetts in 1635) made in 1934 for the hall door at the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth; the front elevation of Ullet Road Church built in 1899; and detail of the Liverpool Town Plan of 1725 by J. Chadwick.

 

The book also contains more than fifty illustrations, many of them never before published, and all of them helping to tell the story of Liverpool Unitarianism. Some of the stories told in the book are well known, others are not so familiar to the general reader, yet others break entirely new ground – Bernard Cliffe’s analysis of the memorials and graves in the Ancient Chapel is a first, as is his examination of the chapel’s visitors’ book.

In the Introduction I say:

This book is not intended to be hagiography but it does try to outline how one group of people – members of a particular faith community with deep historical roots but with an aversion to fixed creeds – were inspired to serve their fellows in different ways. Their legacy can be seen all over the city – in its parks, in its monuments, in the university, in hospitals, in education, in art galleries and museums – and it exists in the long and continuing struggle to create a society that gives equality and opportunity to all its citizens. It is not meant to be an exhaustive account of all the eminent members of the churches and chapels in the region. Readers will notice that the names mentioned are part of wider connections of family and business which includes many others who could be included. There are other figures who could be the subject of such biographical accounts. But this is a selection of some of those who have followed the call of faith to be of service to wider society.

 

It is pleasing also to report positive reviews in various publications.

In Faith and Freedom Peter Godfrey says: a splendid book… chapters that are full of interest and fill the reader with admiration and often wonder at the scope of the achievements of these Liverpool Unitarians

and in The Inquirer Alan Ruston says:

readers of this book will come to the conclusion that Unitarianism has not been just a faith of the mind but one of action as well.

The title and full publication and order details are as follows:

Liverpool Unitarians Faith and Action Essays exploring the lives and contributions to society of notable figures in Liverpool Unitarian history

Edited by Daphne Roberts and David Steers

Published by the Merseyside and District Missionary Association 2014 ISBN 978-0-9929031-0-7 Price £12.99 plus £2.50 post and packing 128 pages, 52 illustrations, full colour cover

Available from: Philip Waldron, Ullet Road Church, 57 Ullet Road, Sefton Park, Liverpool L17 2AA or liverpoolunitarians@gmail.com also available for purchase on Amazon

Joseph Blanco White (Ullet Road Church)
Joseph Blanco White (Ullet Road Church)

 

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

These words of the Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu seem appropriate for the beginning of any new enterprise, they also tie in, for me personally, with the picture of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, a place which was very much a starting point for me. But the purpose of this blog will be to flag up things that interest me particularly in relation to the journals Faith and Freedom and the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, both of which I edit. Not that I intend to confine myself to either of those publications – anything that catches my eye will go in here – the blog will have a special remit towards faith, religious history and associated matters but it will by no means confine itself to matters of religion.