Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society December 2020

An additional special issue of the Transactions is now on its way to subscribers (new subscribers are also very welcome, if you would like to join go to the Unitarian Historical Society website here).

This issue features:

WILLIAM HAZLITT, JOSEPH PRIESTLEY AND THE ORIGINS OF UNITARIANISM
IN AMERICA
by STEPHEN BURLEY

The “dark, cracked, dusty and unframed” portrait of the Rev William Hazlitt (1737-1820) painted by his son in 1805. (Image and quote from ‘The Day-Star of Liberty William Hazlitt’s Radical Style’ by Tom Paulin)
Rev Joseph Priestley (1733-1804). Portrait by Ellen Sharples (Source: Wikipedia)

Dr Stephen Burley’s paper is a radical reassessment of the role of William Hazlitt in the development of Unitarianism in the United States. A difficult man, Hazlitt was a fervent propagandist for Unitarianism whose contribution has frequently been overlooked or downplayed. This article adds a great deal to our understanding of him.

Rev William Hazlitt, from a miniature portrait by his son John (Source: Wikipedia)

‘STEADFAST THROUGH TROUBLES’: MOUNTPOTTINGER AND THE LAWRENCES
by SANDRA GILPIN

Ellen Mary Lawrence, from a portrait in Mountpottinger Church. (Photo: Adrian Moir)
Plaque in the schoolroom in Mountpottinger Church in memory of Ellen Mary Lawrence (Photo: Adrian Moir)

Sandra Gilpin tells a story that weaves together Unitarian life in London, Wales and Belfast in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through the lens of the Lawrence family. Its main focus is Ellen Mary Lawrence who was born in London and who married the Rev William Jenkin Davies. She died at a tragically young age and her memorial forms part of Mountpottinger NSP Church in east Belfast.

Mountpottinger Church before the extension was added in memory of Ellen Mary Lawrence and probably featuring Rev William Jenkin Davies standing in the centre. To read more about the building of Mountpottinger click on the above image.

HELEN K. WATTS – A UNITARIAN SUFFRAGETTE
by ALAN RUSTON

The daughter of an Anglican vicar, Helen K. Watts became a Unitarian in Nottingham (Picture: Alan Ruston. From a booklet by Rowena Edlin-White, Nottingham Women’s History Group, Piecemeal Pamphlets, £2)
Plaque unveiled in Nottingham on 14 December 2018 in memory of Helen K. Watts (Picture: Alan Ruston. From a booklet by Rowena Edlin-White, Nottingham Women’s History Group, Piecemeal Pamphlets)

Alan Ruston brings together two sides of the life of Helen K. Watts. A ‘stalwart’ Unitarian, well-known in London and Sussex up until her death in 1972. She was also an active suffragette between 1907 to 1911 who was arrested for her campaigning and threatened with force feeding. This remarkable aspect of her life seems to have been forgotten in Unitarian circles and Alan paints a full picture of her life and achievements.

(Picture: Alan Ruston. From a booklet by Rowena Edlin-White, Nottingham Women’s History Group, Piecemeal Pamphlets)

In our Record Section Derek McAuley has used the Freedom of Information Act to uncover hitherto unknown aspects of the life of the Rev Gábor Kereki (1914-1995) who fled Hungary for Britain at the start of the Cold War in 1947. Throughout the rest of his life he made a great contribution to the Unitarian ministry in Britain and this will continue thanks to a substantial legacy left by his wife in 2016. She has established the ‘Gábor Kereki Trust’ to benefit ministers and students of the Hungarian Unitarian Church and enable them to study in the UK.

In our Reviews Derek McAuley begins what must be a long-overdue examination of the role Unitarians played in slavery prior to its abolition in 1833 with his review of Kate Donnington’s brand new book on the Hibbert family. Alan Ruston reviews the important Lindsey Press book Unitarian Women A Legacy of Dissent, edited by Ann Peart, and Andrew Hill reviews a new publication of the diaries of James Losh, a Newcastle Unitarian who observed and recorded detailed changes in nature, the environment and weather in his local area between 1803 and 1833.

Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society

Volume 27 Number 3 December 2020
Edited by David Steers

is now available. An annual subscription costs £10. Contact the treasurer via our website to join: https://www.unitarianhistory.org.uk/hsmembership4.html

The regal heads of Mountpottinger

On my History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland blog I have been gradually posting two images of every church in the denomination together with a short description of the building. My aim is to include every active church plus as many of the former churches for which images survive. You can view them here:

https://nonsubscribingpresbyterian.wordpress.com/blog/

I have amassed a large database of images in various formats over the years but passing near the Mountpottinger church in Belfast recently I decided to stop to take an up to date view.

Mountpottinger front 03 2017

Looking at the church close up I noticed something that I had never seen before, namely that there are four corbel heads at the base of the main entrance arches which depict crowned heads. I know I am not alone in having previously missed this intriguing detail but close up you can see four regal faces, two of them male and two female:

 

 

Who are they meant to represent? Biblical figures? Historical? Shakespearean perhaps? Or are they purely decorative? It seems clear that they were added when the church was extended in 1899. The foundation stone for the original church was laid in 1874 but the young congregation was very successful and in 1899 they extended the building.

Adrian Moir, the congregational treasurer and representative elder, has sent me the follwing interesting photograph of the original building as it looked before 1899. Standing in front, he thinks, is the Rev William Jenkin Davies minister from 1896 – 1903 who was married to the niece of Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence who donated the new schoolroom as a memorial to her following her death:

MountpottingerChurchpre1899 01AMcropped

Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence was a major Unitarian benefactor, an MP who declared the Unitarian College, Manchester open when it moved to Summerville in 1905, a friend of the Rev Alexander Gordon and the leading proponent of the theory that Shakespeare’s plays were actually the work of Francis Bacon!

A comparison of the new buildings of 1899 with the old one shows how they added a schoolroom and ancillary rooms on both sides of the original church with a common frontage uniting all the structures. In very recent times a disabled ramp was added to the church.

Belfast Mountpottinger 1907

A view of the church published in 1907, showing the new additions to the building

But it would be interesting to know the identity of the four regal heads who adorn the outside wall of Mountpottinger church.