Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society April 2020

The next issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society (Volume 27, Number 2, April 2020) will soon be on its way to all subscribers. This is the first of two issues that will appear in 2020.

Volume 27, Number 2 has a special focus on three prominent twentieth-century Unitarians who have each been overlooked in recent years:

James Chuter Ede

James Ramsay MacDonald

Nathaniel Bishop Harman

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James Chuter Ede (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Despite being the longest-serving Home Secretary of the twentieth century James Chuter Ede is the only senior member of Clement Attlee’s Cabinet of 1945 to have so far attracted no complete biography. Dr Stephen Hart has been researching the life of James Chuter Ede and will see his new biography published later this year. In the Transactions he provides a detailed and information account of Ede’s life including his dedicated service to the Unitarian movement which culminated in his election as President of the General Assembly.

JRM Picture

James Ramsay MacDonald in 1895 (Photo: Tom McCready. Also photo at the top of the page showing sermons in the J.R. MacDonald Archive: Tom McCready)

James Ramsay MacDonald’s commitment to Unitarianism for a considerable portion of his life has often been overlooked, yet he preached in Unitarian churches many times and served as ‘temporary minister’ in Ramsgate and Margate for a short period. Rev Tom McCready has unearthed a hitherto neglected Unitarian archive detailing the future Prime Minister’s religious commitment and shows how his anti-militarism and pacifism were rooted in his youthful Unitarianism.

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Bessels Green Old Meeting House, Sevenoaks (Photo: Unitarian Historical Society)

Nathaniel Bishop Harman was another leading twentieth-century Unitarian layperson who became President of the General Assembly. Alan Ruston shows how he became a Unitarian following his marriage and despite achieving considerable eminence as an ophthalmologist also devoted a great deal of his life to Unitarian affairs as writer, organiser and lay preacher, being particularly active in the congregation of Bessels Green in Kent.

To make space for these three ground-breaking articles all pieces for our Reviews, Notes and Record Section have been held over until the autumn when we will publish an extra issue. Volume 27 Number 3 will have as its lead article Dr Stephen Burley’s paper ‘William Hazlitt (1737-1820), Joseph Priestley and the Origins of Unitarianism in America’. There is no extra cost for Volume 27, Number 3 and this will be sent out to all members who renew their subscription in April.

Details of membership and how to subscribe can be found on the website of the Unitarian Historical Society

 

Chapels of England, Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity

Chapels of England, Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity, Christopher Wakeling, Historic England, 2017, hardback, 312 pages, ISBN 978-1-84802-032-0, £50

Review

Nonconformist chapels, churches and meeting-houses have attracted an increasing amount of interest in recent years. They are an important part of religious and cultural history and remain a notable part of the topography of cities, towns and rural areas. The foundation of the Chapels Society has been a major contributor to this growth in interest as well as a great variety of publications that tell the story from denominational, local history and architectural points of view. Christopher Stell’s substantial four-volume Inventory of Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-Houses in England provided an essential guide to chapels all over England, many of which had disappeared. Unitarians are fortunate to have Graham and Judy Hague’s The Unitarian Heritage An Architectural Survey of Chapels and Churches in the Unitarian Tradition in the British Isles, published in 1986 and still an indispensable source. Across denominations there has been an increasing awareness of the need to preserve this aspect of our history and where congregations have been unable to sustain some buildings the Historic Chapels Trust has taken over their maintenance. With the publication of this new book, Chapels of England, Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity, by Christopher Wakeling, we now have a beautifully illustrated scholarly account of the patterns of chapel buildings amongst all branches of nonconformity from separatist, pre-ejection times up to the twenty-first century.

Chapels of England

The author brings a thorough architectural appreciation of these kinds of buildings and relates their historical development to the different denominations, the streams of theological thinking and liturgical practice within each of them, local architectural traditions and influences, and the interplay between dissent and the patterns of church building and the use of different styles by the established church. As such it is a tremendously impressive guide to what is a complicated and diffuse subject. Christopher Wakeling is well versed in the varieties of attitudes found within the different churches and sects that built chapels outside of the Church of England. Apparently the total number of surviving examples of Nonconformist chapels is still around 20,000 today, which is a significant number of buildings of one particular type. Dr Wakeling shows how chapel building accelerated at different times, such as the second decade of the nineteenth century when an average of five new meeting-houses were built a week, so that “nonconformist chapels became as characteristic a part of the Regency scene as cinemas were of the 1930s  or supermarkets have become today” (page 73).

Not all dissenters deliberately chose that path. In the first chapter Dr Wakeling makes good use of the sermon preached by John Fairfax at the opening of the Ipswich meeting-house in 1700 when he stated: “Had we the liberty of those places [ie. the parish churches], we should seek no other” (page 2).

And the Ipswich meeting-house with its spiral turned balusters and carved doves and cherubs worthy of Grinling Gibbons is clear evidence that early dissenters (particularly Presbyterians) were not averse to decoration.

But the whole book is an impressively thorough examination of the development of different styles of buildings as theologies changed, as denominations developed, as political circumstances evolved and as economic opportunity came and went. For Unitarians the Dissenters’ Chapels Act gave an added impetus to the frequent nonconformist impulse to build on the grand scale. Dr Wakeling quotes the preacher at the opening of Hyde Gee Cross in 1848 (not named in the text but presumably Charles Wicksteed) as saying the new church was:

Asserting the right of a Dissenting Chapel to look like a parish church, and to be used as a parish church without the least danger of our worship being interrupted (page 128).

But not all nonconformity took this form. Some was uncompromisingly evangelical and required a vast preaching station or a massive complex of buildings surrounding a central hall. In villages and towns small, unobtrusive chapels continued to be built throughout the nineteenth century. The period after the First World War and on into this century has brought a whole new set of challenges. Dr Wakeling shows how different circumstances, both local and national, produced these changes in architecture and the different types of building. The book is also peppered with ‘boxed essays’ which explain some of the terms used or the role practices such as communion had in chapel building over time or features such as seating and graveyards. This helps make for a very complete treatment of the whole subject since what might otherwise be a dry account of architectural history is, rather, rooted in the cultural, theological and liturgical experiences of the people who built the chapels. Consequently the book is also a history of nonconformity told through its buildings.

The book is richly illustrated in colour throughout, with page after page of striking photographs of interior and exterior shots, this is a particularly appealing feature of the book. If I was going to be hyper-critical I would say that the full-page picture of the chancel of Ullet Road Church (page 204) is astonishingly dark and gloomy, it is a much better lit area than this photo suggests. But this is to nit-pick, it’s the only disappointing picture in the book, generally the photographs are sharp and detailed throughout and are a really strong accompaniment to the text.

The author provides a glossary of the various nonconformist groups referred to in the book and is clearly familiar with the ethos and history of each of them, moving assuredly from one tradition to another. Historic England should be commended for producing such an impressive book, it is destined to become an essential publication for anyone with an interest in this aspect of religious history.

This review appears in Volume 26, Number 4, April 2018 of the ‘Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society’.

See

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2018/03/28/transactions-of-the-unitarian-historical-society-2018/

for details of how to subscribe.

 

Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society 2018

The 2018 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society is now available (volume 26, number 4, April 2018).

Cover 2018

 

This issue includes:

The Case of the Clough meeting-House (1836): law reporting and pamphleteering

John F. Larkin QC

 

Supporting Belgium: A Unitarian Heroine of the First World War

Alan Ruston

 

‘To ours, among the rest’: Unitarian support for combatants in both World Wars

Alan Ruston

 

Thomas Drummond (1764-1852), a Hoxton graduate in East Anglia

Melanie Winterbotham

 

Record Section – papers relating to Rev Dr John Lionel Tayler

Derek McAuley

 

Reviews

Books Reviewed

Challenge and Change: English Baptist Life in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Stephen Copson and Peter J. Morden, Baptist Historical Society, 2017. Paperback, 304 pages ISBN 978-0-903166-45-4. Price £25 plus p &p, from the BHS 129 Broadway, Didcot, Oxon, OX11 8RT.www.baptisthistory.org.uk

A Documentary History of Unitarian Universalism, Volume 1 From the Beginning to 1899, Volume 2 From 1900 to the Present, Edited by Dan McKanan, Skinner House Books, Boston USA, 2017. Volume 1, 501 pages, ISBN 978-1-55896-789-2; Volume 2, 566 pages, ISBN  978-1-55896-791-5. Both paperback, Unitarian Universalist Association 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston MA, 02240-1409, USA. Books also obtainable on amazon. Price $20 each volume.

A VISION SPLENDID The Influential Life of William Jellie A British Unitarian in New Zealand, Wayne Facer, Blackstone Editions (Canada), 2017. ISBN 9780981640266, paperback, 278 pages. Price £17.50 (Amazon)

Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors, a guide for family and local historians, Stuart A Raymond, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2017, paperback, 240 pages. ISBN 9781473883451. Price £14.99.

Chapels of England, Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity, Christopher Wakeling, Historic England, 2017, hardback, 312 pages, ISBN 978-1-84802-032-0, £50

 

Note – Historic Unitarian Chapels

David Steers

 

Obituary – Rev Dr Phillip Hewett

Alan Ruston

 

Annual membership of the Unitarian Historical Society costs only £10, each member receiving a copy of the Transactions. Membership can be obtained from the treasurer: Rev Dr Rob Whiteman, 10 Greenside Court, St Andrews, KY16 9UGR, to whom cheques (made payable to the Unitarian Historical Society) should be sent.

 

‘A fiery Socialist without any principles and given to mere phrases’ – V.I. Lenin

Few people can have received public notices during their lifetimes from figures as disparate as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and the Rev Alexander Gordon. But Victor Grayson did.

David Clark’s new book Victor Grayson The Man and the Mystery (essentially an expansion of his earlier work Victor Grayson Labour’s Lost Leader first published in 1985) uses this observation made by Lenin, which – with the benefit of hindsight – may be an accurate summary of Victor Grayson’s early political career.

The April 2017 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society will include a review article of David Clark’s book. It is a fascinating and unique story – a student for the Unitarian ministry with his roots in the North End Domestic Mission in Liverpool becomes converted to Socialism and finds a gift for oratory. At the age of just 26 he is selected to fight the Liberal held constituency of Colne Valley during the 1907 by-election and carries all before him.

But Grayson is also famous as the first MP to disappear in mysterious circumstances and his career followed so many strange twists and turns that he remains an object of some fascination. In the review article I have tried to do justice to David Clark’s book, the result on his part of many years of research, interviews and reflection. The subtitle of the new book – The Man and the Mystery – is an interesting contrast to its predecessor – Labour’s Lost Leader, both terms illustrating the two main areas in which Grayson’s story still remains important.

But it is also worth asking, what was Grayson’s relationship to the Unitarian movement? It seems unlikely he would ever have developed his oratorical skills without his prior training at the Unitarian Home Missionary College. It also seems unlikely he would ever have become involved in politics if he hadn’t first joined the North End Domestic Mission in Liverpool. Like all the Unitarian Missions of this type it was an institution that was concerned about and involved with the problems of the urban poor. It is significant that Grayson left the evangelical mission to which his family belonged and which according to David Clark’s book seems to have been normative for the rest of his family – in later years his mother also appears to have attended the Methodist Central Mission. The late Ian Sellers wrote an excellent article in the Transactions (vol. 20 No.1, April 1991) on J.L. Haigh, Grayson’s minister and sponsor for the ministry and the author of Sir Galahad of the Slums. But it is clear from this new book that J.L. Haigh had a high opinion of Victor Grayson and encouraged him to enter the ministry.

Similarly Alexander Gordon, as the Principal of the College, was impressed by Grayson and required him to go through the Preliminary Arts Course at Liverpool University before he could be admitted as a probationer to study for the ministry. It is curious that the minutes of the College for the three years Grayson was a student there have disappeared – believed by the late Len Smith to have been removed by the secret service in the course of an investigation in the 1920s or 1930s!  – but his references still survive and are quoted by David Clark. “A safe man” said J.L. Haigh, A “deep knowledge of the condition of the working class” said another unnamed referee. Another reference spoke of his “desire to improve the condition of his less fortunate brethren.”

Despite not passing all his exams at Liverpool Alexander Gordon was impressed by his application in the multitude of subjects he had to cope with, including Greek and Latin. David Clark quotes a long entry from Alexander Gordon’s 1904 report which begins and ends with: “[He] impresses me very favourably…[I] have no hesitation in recommending him for this”.

Although a student for three years at the Unitarian College events were to take him in a different direction. As a very radical Socialist who was excluded from the House of Commons on occasion by the Speaker, what was the reaction to his success amongst the Unitarian community? An examination of the Inquirer or Christian Life for this period might prove instructive, although one suspects that he probably moved out of the orbit of most Unitarian interest at this point.

What is certain is that he seems to have held his old College in high regard. In Unitarian to the Core. Unitarian Home Missionary College 1854-2004 Len Smith says:

“…if the College authorities were quick to forget him, his departure may not in fact have been quite so acrimonious as has been assumed. On his part, he certainly thought enough of his alma mater to contribute £10 for the Jubilee appeal in 1911, rather more than most alumni”.

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Staff and students at the Unitarian Home Missionary College c.1904. Victor Grayson stands on the back row, second from right. Principal Alexander Gordon is seated in the centre of the front row.

 

By 1911, it should be noted, he was already out of Parliament and living in some poverty. During the First World War a spell as a war reporter was followed by a career as an orator trying to drum up support for the war both in Britain and in Australia and New Zealand. After the war his activities become very murky until September 1920 when he disappears altogether.

But the Unitarian side of his life, although an interesting side line, is a little removed from the main purpose of David Clark’s book. The review article (David Clark, Victor Grayson The Man and the Mystery. Quartet Books Limited. London 2016) will appear in the April 2017 Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society.

 

 

‘Come away, make no delay’

The 2016 Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society are now out. If you are not already on the mailing list you can join the Unitarian Historical Society via the treasurer. Details of how to join (along with a great deal more) can be found on the UHS website: http://www.unitarianhistory.org.uk/hsmembership4.html

 

This year’s Transactions include:

 

Bells and Bell-Ringing in Unitarian Chapels

Leonard Smith                                                                                                                       

 

An Inventory of Unitarian Bell Locations

Leonard Smith

 

Selling Manchester College: 1949 and the aftermath

Alan Ruston

 

Harriet Martineau and ‘safety’ in the after-life

John Warren

 

As well as reviews of

 

Free Trade’s First Missionary Sir John Bowring in Europe and Asia, Philip Bowring, Hong Kong University Press, 2014, pp. 262, with portraits in colour plus 18 pages of index. Hardback. ISBN 978-988-8208-72-2. Price £33.

 

Children of the Same God: The Historical Relationship Between Unitarianism, Judaism, and Islam, Susan J. Ritchie, Skinner House Books, Boston, 2014, pp. I-xx, 106. ISBN 978-1-55896-725-0. Price $14 US.

 

In these Times, Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars 1793-1815, Jenny Uglow, 2014, London Faber & Faber, pp. 641 plus 98 pages of notes and index. ISBN 978-0571-26952-5. Price £25.

 

The Dissenters Volume 3, The Crisis and Conscience of Nonconformist, Michael R. Watts, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 493. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-19-822969-8. Price £85.

 

The Spirit of Dissent: A Commemoration of the Great Ejectment of 1662, Janet Wootton, (ed.), Institute of Theological Partnerships Publishing [ITPP], 2015, pp. 210. ISBN: 978-1-908532-04-6. Price £10.

 

Willaston School Nantwich. Later St Joseph’s and Elim Bible College, Andrew Lamberton (ed.), Willaston and District History Group, Chester, 2015, pp. 144. ISBN 978-0-949001-56-6. Price £11.95. Copies of the book can be ordered from the Willaston and District History Group.

 

From Somerset to the Pyrenees in the steps of William Arthur Jones, Geologist and Antiquary, David Rabson. Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (SANHS). pp. 108. Paperback. ISBN 978 0 902152 28 1. Price £14.95 plus £3.99 post and packing from SANHS.

 

TUHS Cover 2016

 

Willaston School “a public school education on modern lines”

The edition of Christian Life published to celebrate the centenary of the Trinity Act never fails to provide something of interest. Leafing through its pages the other day looking for something else I chanced upon the half page or so celebrating Willaston School. As with everything else in the whole issue it gives a celebratory account of the institution in question. I notice that the regular Sunday services were conducted by the headmaster or the Unitarian minister in Nantwich and that religious teaching in the school consisted of “instruction in the Bible, and in the history of liberal thought and religion”. The fees were £63 per annum although bursaries were available for the sons of ministers. It paints a positive picture of music, the classics, cricket etc. with every boy cultivating his own allotment in the twenty-four acres of grounds and “a resident staff of university men”.  It provided “a public school education on modern lines”. For those who could afford it, it was a golden age, the last days of the old order before everything was changed utterly by the First World War.

 

One of the things the recently published book Willaston School Nantwich edited by Andrew Lamberton and published by Willaston and District History Group brings out is how heavily militarised the school became after the war started. There is nothing unusual in that but nearly every boy and member of staff became a member of the Army Cadet Corps and many of them were to be killed at the front in a matter of years, a great many of them decorated for bravery as I have already noticed in the previous post. At least one founding pupil took a different view though. Although I have mentioned him in the forthcoming review of the book that will appear in the 2016 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society I didn’t mention him in the previous post. William Mellor joined the school in 1900 and went on to Exeter College, Oxford. He was a prefect and a captain of cricket and football. He ended up as editor of the Daily Herald and the Tribune and during the First World War was a conscientious objector. His career was not without significance in the development of the Labour party. William Mellor shared radical socialist views with his brother, the Rev Stanley Mellor, minister at Hope Street Church, Liverpool. William and Stanley were the sons of Rev William Mellor, Unitarian minister at Huddersfield before the First World War. I am grateful to Andrew Mellor, grandson of the William in the photograph below, for this family information.

But one other short passage from the Willaston book stuck in my mind. In the chapter on 1914-1924 short passages illustrating the activities of the Cadets are given, taken from the school magazine, including this one on page 45:

In April 1918, “We have only had one lecture this term; that was a most interesting one from Captain Kitchen, (Old Willastonian) Assistant Instructor at the Command Gas School Aldershot. Besides the description of the uses of gas, various specimens of gas masks displayed, practical demonstrations were given of tear-gas and smoke bombs.”

 

This must have been R.T. Kitchen who was at the school from 1903 to 1908. The first use of gas by British troops came at the battle of Loos in 1915. It was not a success, the wind blew the gas back into the British trenches. Later in the war the allies also utilised mustard gas. A grim job indeed to be assistant instructor at the Gas Command School.

 

HMC: England: Cheshire: Willaston School, Nantwich: "505"
Willaston School Football XI 1908. With thanks to Andrew Lamberton

In one of the many images in the Willaston School Nantwich book there is a picture of the Football XI in 1908 (page 60). There they sit, the first eleven, a confident looking W. Mellor (captain) seated in the centre. To his left is Norman Ebbutt who served in the RNVS throughout the First World War, and who later became The Times correspondent in Berlin until he was expelled by Goebbels. To William Mellor’s right is a young R.T. Kitchen.

 

Founder Philip Barker and a view of the school from the 'Christian Life' 1913
Founder Philip Barker and a view of the school from the ‘Christian Life’ 1913