All Souls’ Church, Belfast built 1896

All Souls’ Church, Belfast exterior is modelled on Croyland Abbey in Lincolnshire. Built by the architect Walter Planck and opened for worship in 1896 it is the only church designed by that architect in Ireland. But it is interesting to note how closely the interior resembles the interiors of a number of fifteenth-century English parish churches. The arches, pillars, chancel, east window, clerestory windows all are reminiscent of a number of such places. I realised this when I saw a picture of the interior of the Church of St Mary in North Petherton. An Edwardian postcard of this interior  looks almost identical to All Souls’. Even the pews in All Souls’ underline this effect, the pews were brought in from the old meeting house on Rosemary Street when that church was vacated. These originally dated from the 1870s and a lot of Victorian parish churches would have installed new, modern pews at that time. The choice of this kind of architecture was quite deliberate by the minister, the Rev Edgar Innes Fripp in 1896. He was reaching back to medieval England to establish the kind of devotion he thought was most truly authentic. But architecturally it is a marvel. John McLachlan (in The Unitarian Heritage) says it is “unique in Irish Non-Subscribing church architecture”. But there is nothing like it in English Unitarian church architecture either which has a lot of remarkable gothic buildings.

All Souls ext construction 02

Simon Walker (Historic Ulster Churches) says “it would be as fitting in a rural English setting as in Belfast’s busy University area”. Richard Oram (Expressions of Faith Ulster’s Church Heritage) notes that “It is a unique and beautiful, little building”. Paul Larmour (Belfast: an illustrated architectural guide) calls it “a gem of Victorian architecture”.

All Souls int construction 01

The pictures on this page show the church under construction and soon after it was built, plus a view of the chancel taken before the NSPCI Sunday School service held there on 7th June 2019.

All Souls ext completed 01

All Souls June 2019

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