Verbatim: Woodall, R. D. (1962?), Midland Unitarianism and its Story 1662-1962, Streetly, Sutton Coldfield: Norman A. Tector Ltd.


and its







1662 - 1962

[page 1 becomes page 2]


1. August 1662 - How Our Churches Began .....5
2. Eighteenth Century Developments -
Trinitarianism Becomes Unitarianism
3. Unitarianism Militant - Midland
Unitarianism, 1800-1914
4. Unitarianism in the Midlands Since 1914 .....40




Printed by Express Printing (Rossendale) Ltd., Rawtenstall, and published by Norman A. Tector, Ltd., Aldridge Road, Streetly, Sutton Coldfield.

[page 3 follows]


This publication arises from the tercentenary in 1962 of the ejection of approximately 1,000 ministers from the Anglican Church, because they could not accept the Act of Uniformity. There is evidence that between 1660 and 1662 nearly 2,000 Anglican ministers and College officers were ejected from their livings.

As author and a director of the small firm responsible for the publication of the booklet I must accept full responsibility myself for the selection and interpretation of the facts, for this booklet does not represent the opinions of any Committee or body connected with the Unitarian Movement.

I have aimed in the text to show how the Midland Unitarian congregations of to-day began, how they have developed and their present position to-day.

I have tried to write a truthful picture of what has happened and is happening, as the publication is intended for those who attend Unitarian Churches and who know little of their history and for those who are new to Unitarianism and who want to know something about their churches. It is in my opinionvery wrong for anyone to imagine Unitarians to be a band of fiery theological and political rebels. I have tried to set out their attitudes and opinions as they are and as they have been, not as some might wish them to be or to have been.

History has grouped the Midland Unitarian Churches into a number of Associations like the Midland Christian Union, the South Cheshire Association, the North Midland Presbyterian and Unitarian Association and the Western Union. My definition of the Churches in the geographical Midlands covers the 21 Churches of the Midland Christian Union, 11 Churches of the North Midland Association, the 5 Churches of the South Cheshire Association and 2 of the Churches in the Western Union. The area covers Churches as widely scattered as Chester and Lincoln and Gloucester and Chesterfield.

My definition of the geographical Midlands covers South Cheshire, Derbyshire, North Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Stafiordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

I must express thanks to the many who have helped in the compilation of this booklet, especially the Church Secretaries and Ministers who have provided so much of the information used in the last chapter, to Mr. Philip Spencer of West Bromwich who helped in checking the M.S., to my wife who has done so much of the typing, inevitably unpaid, and to Mr. Alfred Benton, of [page 3 becomes page 4] Yardley, who not only approached me about compiling the booklet but who has been an unfailing source of help in all the difficulties that arise in a venture like this.

Perhaps my greatest debts are owed to those who have passed on-to Rev. W. H. Burgess, one of the founders of the Unitarian Historical Society with whom I talked Unitarian history 20 years ago in Devonshire and to Rev. Hugh Warnock who passed over to me the greater part of his magnificent collection of Unitarian historical pamphlets and many of the earlier parts of "Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society", from which so much of the early material in this booklet is drawn.


[page 5 follows]

Chapter I


Our modern Unitarian Churches are the result of a deliberately calculated policy of religious persecution in the 1660's. [sic]

Unitarians to-day are known as people who believe in the Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man and that the good life can be built on the examples set by the great masters of religion like Jesus. Unitarians usually do not preach doctrines like the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the Atonement and the infallibility of the Bible. They are generally sceptical over Articles of Faith, confessions, creeds and priestly rites. Like Robert Hibbert, founder of the Hibbert Trust, Unitarians favour "The unfettered exercise of private judgment in matters of religion" and in spreading Christianity and religious thought in "its simplest form".

Their seventeenth century ancestors held very different views. They were puritans who believed in all the doctrines normally associated with orthodox Christian Churches. 300 years ago religion was deeply linked with politics. From the early days of the Christian Church until Luther in 1521 was declared a heretic the Western world was Catholic. The Church however had grown too wealthy and corrupt, although it educated people, fed the needy and ministered to the poor. Rulers also had for a long time resented the power claimed over them by the Mediaeval Popes, one of whom, Innocent III, in 1213 had declared King John deposed and had ordered Philip of France to carry out the sentence.

Hence they seized the opportunities offered by the revolt of religious leaders like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli against the Church which had failed to keep its own house in order. In France and Germany there were bloody religious wars. In Germany by 1555 the principle had been accepted that each ruler decided the religion of his people. Scandinavia, Scotland and North Germany, by 1600 had adopted one or other form of Protestantism.

Inevitably the Roman Catholic Church fought back. The Society of Jesus, founded by Ignatius Loyola, won back Poland for the Catholic Church and sent its missionaries all over the world as an army of spiritual soldiers at the service of the Pope. In the Netherlands there was a bloody war between the Spaniards in control of Belgium and the Dutch, revolting under the leadership of William the Silent. 25,000 crowns of gold and a patent of nobility were offered for his assassination in 1580. To break the [page 5 becomes page 6] spirit of recalcitrant protestants, the Catholic Church in 1542 established the Inquisition which could punish by imprisonment, confiscation of goods and death. No book could be printed without its permission. In England, Henry VIII broke from Rome in 1534 and took the title "Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England". The ostensible reason for this was that he could not divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. The wealth of the monasteries was plundered but Catholic teachings were kept. In the reign of Edward VI, under the leadership of Cranmer, the Anglican Prayer Book was introduced and England became Protestant. Priests were allowed to marry and under the influence of European Protestants, traditional Church fixtures like the rood screens were demolished and church walls were whitewashed.

Queen Mary between 1553 and 1558 restored Roman Catholicism. A violent persecution of Protestants followed. About 300 people were burned, including five bishops.

Elizabeth, 1558-1603, tried to effect a compromise. She could not be a Roman Catholic, because no Pope could recognise her father's marriage to Anne Boleyn. The national enemy was Roman Catholic Spain and therefore those who supported the Roman Catholic faith were in fact regarded as traitors. Elizabeth took the title of Head of the Church. All men had to attend church or be fined. It was high treason to refer to the Queen as a heretic, usurper or infidel. Many Roman Catholics plotted to make Mary Queen of Scots ruler and therefore they were tortured and executed as traitors.

Elizabeth's Church Settlement which essentially survives to-day, was not acceptable to the Puritans - Presbyterians who followed the theories of Calvin over Church Government, Independents and Baptists.

Generally speaking, these people objected to the wearing of the surplice, bowing the head at the name of Jesus, kneeling at the Communion, using a ring in the marriage service, the use of the sign of the Cross in Baptism and the authority of bishops.

In Elizabeth's reign, some of the Puritans organised their own special religious meetings within the framework of the established Church and had a sympathiser in Edward Grindal, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1575 till 1583.

Elizabeth kept the Puritans under control, largely because her income was adequate enough to enable her to avoid appealing to Parliament for money. In her time too, the danger of invasion from Roman Catholic Spain kept criticism of her actions within bounds.

Her successors, James I and Charles I, were Scots. Spain had [page 6 becomes page 7] been beaten in 1588 and they were much more at the mercy of Parliament in which Puritan infiuences were growing. This was due to the sharp fall in the value of money. E. Victor Morgan in his "Study of Prices and the Value of Money" notes that wheat prices began to rise in the decade 1511-20. "In the second half of the 17th century the average price per quarter was 44/7 compared with 5/7 in the second half of the 15th century - a rise of about eight times."

James I and Charles I had to ask their Parliaments for money, as their incomes were fixed. There were demands for Parliamentary control over foreign affairs, the King's Ministers and the use of money granted. The head-on confiict between Parliament and the Crown was closely tied with religious troubles for both men disliked Puritans. James I said, "No Bishop, No King" and that he would harry them out of the land. Puritans like "The Pilgrim Fathers" emigrated. In Charles I's reign, especially during the period 1629-40, when Charles tried to rule without Parliament by raising money illegally, the Puritans were under considerable pressure. His Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, believed in the need for Bishops, in the doctrine of Real Presence, in elaborate ritual and claimed that the Church of England was a development of the Church in the Middle Ages. One good job he did was to discourage the use of Churches as markets and for other secular purposes during week days. Puritans attacked these changes in print and in sermons and suffered accordingly.

In 1637, the father of Archbishop Leighton, for printing "Zion's Plea against Prelacy" was fined £10,000, degraded from the Ministry, put in the pillory, branded and whipped. Healso had an ear cropped and his nostril slit.

Dr Bastwick, who had written "From plague, pestilence and famine, fr-om bishops, priests and deacons, good Lord deliver us" was put in the pillory in London and suffered the loss of both ears. These his wife promptly wrapped up in- a clean handkerchief.

Inevitably vengeance came, when Charles I was forced to summon the Long Parliament in 1640. Charles was in real financial trouble and Parliament stripped him of his powers. The Civil War of 1642-46 was partly the result of an attempt by the Puritan majority, elected to Parliament, to abolish bishops. Anglicans who resented the Root and Branch Bill and who did not like the idea ofthe Church being reformed by a Council of Divines formed the backbone of his armies at first, although many had wanted to see the Kings powers reduced.

Charles was beaten and ultimately executed in 1649. Those who beat him were Puritans - Presbyterians, Baptists or Independents (Congregationalists) like Cromwell. By the Solemn League [page 7 becomes page 8] and Covenant, through which Parliament got aid from the Scots in 1643, the Churches in England, Scotland and Ireland were to be brought into "The nearest conformity" and reformed according to "The word of God and the practice of the best reformed Churches" i.e. on the Presbyterian model. As a result, a statement of faith known as the Westminster Confession emerged and was often used later at induction services of English Presbyterian ministers.

England did not become Presbyterian, because Cromwell who by 1653 had completely mastered Parliament, was an Independent and for those days a remarkably tolerant man who in 1656 allowed the Jews to return to England. "The Humble Petition and Advice" of 1657 in fact offered toleration to all except "Papists, Prelatists (Anglicans) and Socinians".

At this stage the Presbyterians favoured a form of running the Church by a system of Presbyteries or synods of ministers, a simple service with hymns, psalms, no set prayers and a communion table and the wearing by ministers of a black preaching gown.

The Independents favoured freedom for each congregation and its minister to adopt the form of service which its conscience dictated. At the same time a wide variety of other sects arose like the Quakers or Friends led by George Fox. These in fact are claimed at one time to have embraced one in every six of the population.

Cromwell, on becoming Protector in 1653, appointed a body of Triers, ministers and laymen, to examine candidates for livings. In each county a body known as Ejectors heard complaints against the character of existing ministers and schoolmasters. In fact during the Commonwealth usually only those who were unfit for moral or educational reasons or who used the Prayer Book openly and were therefore political opponents of the regime, lost their livings. In Staffordshire, according to A. G. Matthews in his "Congregational Churches of Staffordshire" some 1/5 of the clergy were ejected. One Sampson Newton, minister at Chebsey for example was ejected for praying for the Royal Family in Exile.

Puritanism aroused much opposition because its leaders tried to reform manners. Sports like cock fighting, bull baiting and horse racing were stamped out as well as theatricals and traditional efforts like Morris Dancing on the village greens.

Unfortunately for the Puritans there was no logical successor to Cromwell who died in 1658 and therefore after eighteen months of growing chaos in 1660 General Monk engineered the restoration of King Charles II.

[page 9 follows] Charles, before returning to England, pledged by his Declaration of Breda to offer "Liberty to tender consciences" which was generally interpreted to mean toleration for the various forms of Puritans then flourishing.

Unfortunately the promises of politicians are too often forgotten. The Parliament which restored Charles II was strongly Presbyterian. A Savoy Conference between the two largest groups in the Country, the Presbyterians and the Anglicans, failed to agree in the Spring of 1661.

By 1661 a new Parliament, the "Cavalier Parliament" had been elected and was out for vengeance. It was "more zealous for loyalty than the King, more zealous for Episcopacy than the bishops". Its victims were the Puritans and the Roman Catholics.

By the Corporation Act of 1661 all members of a Corporation (Town Council) had once a year to take communion according to the rites of the Church of England. By the Act of Uniformity of 1662, signed by King Charles II on May 19th, 1662, any clergyman who refused to use the Anglican Prayer Book before St. Bartholomew's Day, August 24th, 1662 was to be deprived of his living without compensation. By the Conventicle Act of 1664 all who attended a service other than that of the Church of England could be fined, imprisoned or transported. A Conventicle was defined as a meeting for worship of more than five in addition to the household in which it was being held. One victim of this Act was John Bunyan who spent 12 years in Bedford Gaol. Under the Five Mile Act no dissenting clergyman could live within five miles of a town which had a charter. Such was perhaps the most vicious form of intolerance ever promulgated by an English Parliament which clearly regarded Puritans as political traitors.

The Act of Uniformity which also applied to teachers, had in it an element of real spite, for the clergy who were to be ejected, were ejected just before the tithes from which much of their income came, were due to be paid to them.

Up till 1662 most Puritan clergy had wanted to remain within approximately 1,000 of the ablest and boldest spirits in the Church, backed by their wives and families who must have had real courage to face a life of persecution with no assured form of income, let themselves be ejected from the Church by refusing the Act of Uniformity. When they left the Church of England, it ceased to be the National Church and became the Church of the majority. Most of them were Presbyterians and it was these men who largely founded the group of congregations in the Midlands known as Unitarians today.

[page 10 follows] We know something of these men through the "Nonconformists' Memorial", written by Edmund Calamy (1671-1732) grandson of a member of the Westminster Assembly. A grandson of one of the ejected 'ministers summarised their courage by saying, "I esteem it a greater honour to be descended from one of those noble confessors than to have a Coronet or a Garter in the line of my ancestry."

In the Midlands there were many of these ejected ministers, some of whom are listed below with details of their later careers. Some ministers came from far afield. Presbyterian Samuel Statham, ejected from St. Giles's Church Cripplegate, London, for example settled at Loughborough where he helped to found what is now the Victoria Street Unitarian Church at Loughborough. Over 50 Fellows, Chaplains, Professors, Students and University Officials were ejected at Oxford, between 1660 and 1662.

In Bedfordshire 9 ministers were ejected, 24 in Berkshire, 30 in Buckinghamshire and 39 in Derbyshire from places like Derby, Eyam and Norton, where a Unitarian Congregation survived till 1843 and which could claim descent from the congregation started after the ejection of Jeremy Scoales in 1662. In Gloucestershire 52 were ejected. There were 23 ministers ejected in Herefordshire including four from the Cathedral. Leicestershire contributed 35, Lincolnshire 40, Northamptonshire 46, Nottinghamshire 34, Oxfordshire 23, Rutlandshire 10, Shropshire 36, Stafiordshire 44, Warwickshire 31 and Worcestershire 35. (Figures based on "Calamy Revised" - A. G. Matthews, 1934). These figures include those ejected earlier in 1660.

To live, most of these ministers had to rely on gifts from their old supporters or take up fresh occupations. Rev. George Long, former minister of St. Giles's Church, Newcastle-under-Lyme for example had to seek refuge in Holland, where he studied medicine at Leyden University and took his M.D. Degree. Some defied the law and stayed where they were. When plague struck the little Derbyshire village of Eyam in 1665, it was the rector William Mompesson and the ejected minister Thomas Stanley who acted as leaders of the village, when the people decided to stay where they were instead of spreading the disease by scattering themselves over the Midlands. In this act of self sacrifice 267 out of a population of 350 died. Wood's "History of Eyam" suggests that Stanley and Mompesson, separated by what might have been irreconcilable differences, showed themselves as true servants of Christ. A few like Philip Henry, father of Matthew Henry, first minister of the historic Matthew Henry's Chapel in Chester, were able to live on their small estates they had inherited. Philip Henry after his ejection from the Curacy of Wortenbury [page 10 becomes page 11] retired to a family property at Broad Oak where he "was ever careful to have all his family present at family worship" including his "domestick servants, his workmen and day labourers and all that were employ'd for him."

Dissenters won the right to have their own Chapels and to have a limited degree of freedom later in the 17th century, through the vagaries of politics. King Charles II by the Secret Treaty of Dover (1670) in return for £150,000 and a subsidy from King Louis XIV of France agreed with King Louis XIV that, when convenient, he would declare himself a Roman Catholic. The country was firmly Protestant and in order to secure Toleration for Roman Catholics in 1672 without the consent of Parliament Charles II issued a Declaration of Indulgence suspending the laws against all nonconformists including of course Roman Catholics. It is significant therefore that some of our Unitarian Congregations claim to have been started in 1672. These include Hospital Street Chapel in Nantwich; King Edward Street Chapel, Macclesfield; Friar Gate Chapel, Derby; the Great Meeting in Hinckley; the Victoria Street Chapel, Loughborough; Christchurch Chapel in Horse Fair, Banbury; and the Old Meeting, Newcastle (Staffs).

This freedom was short lived however and in 1673 Parliament forced Charles to cancel the Declaration of Indulgence and to pass a Test Act ordering everyone holding office under the crown to take the communion according to the rites of the Anglican Church.

When King James II, a Roman Catholic, came to the throne, he was much less tactful than Charles II in his methods. In 1687 in order to secure toleration for Roman Catholics he issued a new Declaration of Indulgence suspending all laws against Roman Catholics and Dissenters. Our Cross Street Chapel, Congleton was built as a result of this. In 1688 a second Declaration of Indulgence which was ordered to be read in the Churches was issued to win the Dissenters. By then there was organised opposition led by the Whig Party which was favoured by the dissenters. The dissenters in fact preferred to be persecuted than to allow England to become a Roman Catholic country in which their liberties could so easily be curtailed. Exiles were steadily arriving from France, where in 1685 King Louis XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes of 1598 which had given toleration to the Huguenots. Dr. Iames Martineau, the 19th century philosopher was in fact descended from one of these refugees who settled in Norwich.

Events moved to a climax in 1688, when Roman Catholic King Iames II, had a male heir, which meant that England would have a succession of Roman Catholic rulers. An invitation was [page 11 becomes page 12] sent to William of Orange and his wife, Mary, a daughter of James II, to become rulers of England. They accepted. William III who wanted English aid in his fight against France, landed at Brixham on November 5th, 1688 and on December 23rd, 1688 James II fled to France. A long period of Whig rule inevitably followed and the Whigs remembered their dissenting friends.

A Toleration Act was passed in 1689. Those who took the Oaths of Allegiance to the crown were exempted from fines for non-attendance at Church. Dissenters were still not able to serve in Parliament or on Town Councils.

This was however the signal for the building of many of the chapels now described as Unitarian. Matthew Henry's Chapel in Chester was built in 1700. Other chapels originally built in this period include Bradwell Old Chapel near Sheffield; Elder Yard Chapel, Chesterfield; the Old Chapel, Great Hucklow; Barton Street Chapel, Gloucester; the High Pavement Chapel in Nottingham; High Street Chapel, Shrewsbury, the Old Meeting, Walsall; All Souls' Chapel, Wolverhampton (originally known as the Old Meeting); the Old and New Meetings in Birmingham; the Great Meeting House in Coventry; Victoria Road Chapel, Tamworth; High Street Chapel, Warwick; and the Old Meeting House, Wolverhampton Street, Dudley.

Architecturally the original Meeting Houses were very simple, often situated in out of the way courtyards, where they were less likely to attract the attention of those hostile to dissent. The original Old Meeting House, Birmingham, looked very like a private house and was probably so built in case, through a change in the law, it had to be converted into one. The original Lower Meeting House, later the New Meeting House and now the Church of the Messiah, Birmingham, indeed ended its days as a workshop showing few signs of its original use. At Walsall in the early eighteenth century the Old Meeting stood in Cox's Court off the High Street. The windows had heavy outside shutters and the pulpit had a curtain ready to be drawn before the preacher and a door behind him, leading on to the roof, to facilitate his escape, should spies or informers intrude upon the service.

The standard pattern in building adopted in places like Nantwich and Chester was for the Meeting Houses to be built with their length running east and west with the pulpit in the south wall as was done at Nantwich. Often the pews were raised up in tiers as at Chester and as in many European Calvinist Churches. The Communion table stood in the centre of an oblong fioor space with the pulpit behind" it against one of the long walls. Pews faced inwards from the other three sides. Preachers and congregation thus surrounded the Lord's Table like a family as Calvin at least intended.

[page 13 follows] In organisation the Dissenting Churches sought to help each other by the establishment of the Presbyterian Fund. This was started in 1690 and was formed by Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Through this the wealthy London congregations aimed to help the poorer provincial congregations.

Although the London Congregationalists established their own fund in 1695, in fact the Presbyterian Fund continued to make grants to non-Presbyterian Churches. The foundations of modern nonconformity had been laid.

How many worshipping in Meeting Houses, like the Old Meeting in Birmingham, in 1700 could guess that 100 years later their congregations would have very largely changed their religious beliefs?

[page 14 follows]

Chapter II


Most of our older Unitarian Congregations became Unitarian during the period 1700 - 1800. In 1700 all these chapels upheld orthodox religious teachings about the Trinity. Unitarianism as such was in fact illegal by an Act of 1698.

The eighteenth century was a century of rationalism even in the Anglican Church. In the early 18th century many dissenting ministers and their congregations became what were loosely called Arians. Their sermons were based strictly on the Bible. The Bible was interpreted rationally and texts were examined critically to disprove arguments like the depravity of man as a result of Adam's fall from grace and of his miraculous salvation through Jesus. Doctrines like the Trinity and the Virgin Birth were criticised.

From about 1750 the ministers and their congregations gradually became "Socinian". They held that Jesus was not divine but a son of God as all men are sons of God. They founded their teachings on the Bible interpreted by reason and usually accepted the truth of the miracle stories. As late as 1823 Charles Wellbeloved, Principal of Manchester College, then at York, declared: "Convince us that any tenet is authorised by the Bible, from that moment we receive it." Typical of this school of thought was Joseph Priestley (1723-1804), discoverer of oxygen and minister of Hospital Street Chapel, Nantwich from 1758-1761, where the pulpit he used still survives and at the New Meeting Birmingham from 1780 till 1791.

What made this radical change of religious teachings possible within a century was that many of the Meeting Houses built after 1689 were managed under what have been called Open Trusts. Generally the documents suggest that the Meeting Houses existed for "The worship of Almighty God and for the use of Protestant Dissenters". In many cases the documents did not even stipulate that the users should be Independents or Presbyterians. The framers of the documents probably never considered that the ministers and congregations might change their religious opinions. In 1700 there was a very real danger that the Toleration Act of 1689 might be repealed. At any rate, 'when the congregations had become Unitarian in fact, although not in name, the Trust Deeds offered no legal obstacle to the change. As each congregation was entirely independent in the way it ran its affairs, no outside body could stop the development. It is significant that some Unitarian Churches in the Midlands still [page 14 to page 15] retain their old titles. Thus there is the Presbyterian Chapel at Stourbridge.

The main problem of the newly tolerated congregations was to maintain an educated ministry. To start with they had the survivors of the ejection of 1662. These were highly cultured men. Typical of these were Rev. Joseph Eccleshall, first minister at Coseley. He had studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and graduated there. Rev. Michael Drake, one of the first Lincoln ministers, similarly had studied at St. ]ohn's College, Cambridge; Rev. William Turton, minister of the Old Meeting, Birmingham, from 1686 till 1716 was an M.A. and had been ejected from Rowley Regis. Oxford and Cambridge were however closed to dissenters. Some ministers were trained in Scotland where the universities were not closed to dissenters. Dr. Daniel Williams who died in 1716, for example, in his generous bequest to the dissenters left money for bursaries at Glasgow University and divinity scholarships which could then be only held in "North Britain". Other ministers were trained at academies or schools run by ministers in conjunction often with their normal church work. Their salaries were often pitifully low. At Alcester Benjamin Maurice, minister there from 1785 till his death in 1814, had a stipend of little more than £20, although he "left behind him a sufficiency to cover the expenses of his funeral". At Chesterfield in the 1730's the salary varied from £35 - £40. In the Midlands there were dissenting academies at Findern (1710?-1754); and Northampton (1729-51). The latter had successors at Daventry (1752-89); Northampton (1789-98) and Wymondley.

[(later) Harris] Manchester College, Oxford, where many modern Unitarian ministers are trained, is in fact descended from one of these academies, started in Manchester in 1786. It migrated to York in 1803. It removed to Manchester again in 1840 and to London in 1853. It did not move to Oxford till 1889 and the present 'premises in Mansfield Road, Oxford, were opened in October, 1893.

In the 18th century a number of new chapels were built, often to house existing congregations. Our Buxton Chapel dates from 1725. Other chapels built in the early eighteenth century include the Great Meeting at Leicester (1708), the Great Meeting at Hinckley (1722), Trinity Street Chapel, Gainsborough (1701); High Street Chapel, Lincoln (1725); the Old Meeting House at Mansfield; Christ Church Chapel, Horse Fair, Banbury; Nether-end Chapel, Park Lane, Cradley (1707); The Old Meeting, Dudley (1702); Oat Street Chapel, Evesham (1737); the original Kingswood Chapel (1708) and the Birmingham Street Meeting House, Oldbury. Some of these chapels have been rebuilt.

Another Chapel built at this period was the Old Meeting in Bull's Head Yard at Alcester, dismantled in 1901 and which was [page 16 -] then sold under the hammer. A picture of the Chapel taken just before its sale shows it to have had a fine two decker pulpit with an inlaid square sounding board. The pews were dark oak panelled affairs. The gallery reached by balustrated staircases was held up by strong oak pillars. There were also massive oak architraved windows with ornamental leaded lights. In the centre of the Chapel there was a chain hung, nine light brass candelabra. This had a dove and olive branch in its beak. Beside it there were two side candelabra. The communion pews were unique. For the communion services the backs of the seats could be folded over and made into narrow tables. The building survived in its original form till 1901, having escaped any restoration and in 1894, when seen by the nonconformist historian, George Eyre Evans, Minister of the Whitchurch congregation, was "as perfect as the day on which it was opened." Of this Chapel, one who knew it, claimed, "This is a building which ought no more to be touched than the Abbey at Westminster".

Later in the century a few new Chapels were built, because in some places Trinitarian Ministers were unacceptable to con-gregations who had accepted the teachings of a Unitarian predecessor. Thus after a Trinitarian was appointed to the pulpit of Kidderminster Presbyterian Chapel in 1781, the chief sub-scribers and seven trustees decided to break away and form a new congregation. Hence the New Meeting House at Kidder-minster was built in 1782. The same happened in reverse in some other places. At Walsall the Trinitarians left to form the Bridge Street Congregational Church.

In the early part of the eighteenth century, Communion Services were held. Hence "to-day a number of the older Unitarian Churches in the Midlands possess interesting Communion plate. Thus Barton Street Chapel, Gloucester, possesses a silver pint cup, dated 1757, presented to the Chapel in 1757. Kidderniinster New Meeeting which possesses the pulpit used by the great preacher, Richard Baxter in the parish church and bought for £5 in the 1780's, has silver and pewter Communion vessels. Matthew Henry's Chapel at Chester acquired a silver porringer pot, dated 1703-4 and another porringer dated 1723-4 and two silver cups, dated 1745-46, two plain pewter fiagons with lid handles and six pewter plates. The Great Meeting House at Coventry has f-our silver cups dated 1731-32 and four white metal plain patens. Elder Yard Chapel at Chesterfield had two silver cups dated 1709-10 and two plain patens. Park Lan-e Chapel at Cradley similarly had two pewter chalices, two patens and one fiagon, probably given by Iames Scott, Minister 1789-1827. Friar Gate Chapel, Derby, also acquired a William and 'Mary tankard, four George I porringers and two Queen Anne patens.

[page 17 follows] All indications are that in the main the worshippers in the Chapels were unostentatious but reasonably prosperous people. Much of the nation's trade was in the hands of dissenters.

Amongst the original shareholders of the Old Meeting, Birmingham were a prosperous linen draper, two maltsters and a chandler. When George Jackson, one of these original shareholders died in 1696, he appointed as trustees for a Charity he left to Birmingham, two linen drapers, a cutler, a maltster, two mercers, two saddlers, a tallow-chandler, two ironmongers and a "boddys" maker. These were the type of men to whom nonconformity appealed in many places other than Birmingham. At Stourbridge, occupations of the early dissenters included a journeyman glassmaker, glover, pipe maker, wool sorter, wool stapler, clothier, journeyman cooper, iron master, leather dresser, iron monger, nailer, forgeman.

In the early part of the 18th century at least the dissenters, possibly as a sign of gratitude for the religious toleration granted to them, were very patriotic. A sign of this is that the Royal Arms still hang in our High Street Chapel at Shrewsbury. In return the government without officially allowing dissenters to serve on Corporations, made it possible for them to do so by the aid of an Act for Quieting and Establishing Corporations and various Indemnity Acts.

There were of course occasional outbursts of local persecution generally caused by local resentment against dissenters and their inevitable close links with the Whigs and their policies. In the later years of Anne's reign, when certain Tories were aiming to prevent the accession of the protestant George, Elector of Hanover, there was trouble. Sympathisers with the preaching of Dr. Henry Sacheverell, an opponent of the Revolution Settlement of 1688 and of the Toleration Act of 1689, who was at one time Anglican Minister at Cannock, organised attacks on dissenting chapels.

When compensation of £5,580 4s. 7½d. was allocated to victims of the 1715 riots, Staffordshire was allotted £1,722 17s. 7d., the largest sum paid to any county.

The Walsall Meeting House was wrecked in 1710. On June 29th, 1715, rioters wrecked the Wolverhampton Meeting House. At Newcastle-under-Lyme, the riot was engineered by the Mayor with a signal from the bell of the parish Church. The Mayor and two Justices of the Peace helped to foment the riot and drink was distributed amongst the mob.

At Burton, the chapel was damaged as was the minister's house. On the Sunday afterwards the rioters are said to have [page 17 becomes page 18-] secured a young bull, cut off its ears and tail, put squibs and serpents to the creature and then tried to drive it into the Meeting House during service time. Serious damage was done to chapels at Oldbury, Dudley, Leek and Whitchurch. At Stourbridge where Philip Foley (b. 1653) of Prestwood Hall had helped to found a dissenting congregation, the Meeting House furniture was burned in the Market Place. At Stafford the heaviest sentence passed on a rioter was on one John Wild - two years imprisonment and "to be whipped twice round the Town Hall at Stafford for rioting at Wolverhampton and West Bromwich."

The Walsall Chapel seems to have been a special target for rioters. It was damaged during Wesley's first visit in 1743 and in 1751 it was again half pulled down by a mob. After the second riot the authorities tried to stipulate that it should be rebuilt "farther from the Parish Church".

Later in the century political factors caused further attacks on Midland Dissenting properties. This was because many Unitarian Ministers and laymen wished to see Parliamentary and other reforms. This was no doubt the result of a demand by middle class dissenters, who had wealth, to have political power. No defence could be made of the Parliamentary set up. Very few people had the vote; tiny places had two M.P.'s, great cities like Birmingham and Wolverhampton had no M.P.'s, while Old Sarum, a green mound, and Gatton, a ruined wall, both sent two M.P.'s to Parliament. In 1793 311 M.P.'s were returned by 154 patrons of "pocket boroughs" and in 1816 out of 658 M.P.'s 487 were in some way nominated. Bribery in towns like Newcastle and Stafford was the rule.

A leader in the Midlands in the demand for Parliamentary Reform was Joseph Priestley, Minister of the New Meeting, Birmingham. Inevitably, when the French Revolution started in 1789, he and his friends sympathised with its aims. A dinner was held in Birmingham on July 14th, 1791, to celebrate the French Revolution on the anniversary of the taking of the Bastille.

Riots followed. At Birmingham, the New Meeting and the Old Meeting were burnt down as well as Dollax Chapel, Kingswood. Priestley's House was burnt down and most of his valuable books, scientific instruments and manuscripts destroyed as well. The homes of prominent dissenters like William Hutton, the historian of Birmingham, T. E. Lee, John Taylor and William Russell were burnt down. It is clear that the local Iustices of the Peace and Rev. B. Spencer, Vicar of Aston, encouraged the rioters whose cry was "Mr. Justice Carles will protect us". In Birmingham alone £35,095 13s. 6d. was claimed as compensation by the victims. Altogether after much difficulty £26,961 2s. 3d. [page 18 becomes page 19] was recovered. Generally speaking however members of the dissenting congregations refiected the conventional political opinions of the day. The age was one in which the educated frowned on enthusiasm. As a result the dissenting congregations, freed from the general fear of persecution, tended to decline. Hence in Staffordshire alone Meeting Houses closed at Lichfield in 1753, Uttoxeter in 1760, Longdon, Burton-on-Trent in 1803 and Stafford in 1808. In 1790 at Stafford the congregation was "composed principally of aged persons, some of them married but without families, others in a state of celibacy". '

Another factor which may have helped the decline was the great length of some of the ministries. William Willett who married the sister of Iosiah Wedgwood, the potter, had a ministry of 49 years at Newcastle (1727-1776); George Hampton, M.A., served at Banbury from 1739-1775. At Shrewsbury, Joseph Fownes ministered for 41 years, 1748-1789; at Evesham, Paul Cardale ministered for 42 years, 1733-1775. John Edge at Stourbridge served 43 years, l733 - 1777. At Colehill Chapel, Tamworth, John Byng was minister from 1768 till 1827, 59 years and at Warwick, William Field, the schoolmaster and historian of Warwick, acted as minister for 54 years 1789-1843. Joseph Jevans, minister of the long defunct Oxfordshire congregations at Bloxham and Milton served from the autumn of 1779 till his death on July 31st, 1839. One who remembered him wrote in 1895; "He wore a rather long coat, somewhat in the Quaker fashion, over which his long grey hair fell upon his shoulders. He wore knee breeches, generally of velveteen, buckled round the knee; also large shoe buckles, and above all a large brimmed hat. In fine weather he walked with a long staff but in rainy weather he carried a large silk umbrella with an ivory handle. . . I always considered him to be the last of the Puritans."

It was not really till late in the century that the congregations and their ministers began to see any need to form associations for their protection and expansion. Thus we find in 1782 there was formed the Protestant Dissenting Ministers of Warwickshire and Neighboroughing Counties Monthly Meeting. This still survives and at Evesham, where it is usually held in May the visitors from far afield receive an "asparagus luncheon".

Another development was the formation of Tract 'Societies. Deprived of the chance to use their energies in National and Local Government, the ablest Midland dissenters found other fields for their activity and showed themselves as progressives in a remarkable number of fields. One of the most distinguished Bible scholars of the day was Gilbert Wakefield who ran a school at Nottingham. One of his pupils was Robert Hibbert, donor of the Hibbert Trust, founded in 1847. Hibbert so admired his [page 19 becomes page 20] teacher that, when Wakefield was sentenced to a term of imprisonment in 1800 for writing an illegal pamphlet, he sent him £1,000. William Field, minister at Warwick from 1789 till 1843, ran a most successful school at Learn. His pupils included James Russell, the Birmingham surgeon and philanthropist and Thomas Eyre Lee, President of the Birmingham Law Institution.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet, at one time planned to be a Unitarian minister and in Ianuary, 1796, preached at the New Meeting, Birmingham. He also preached a Charity Sermon at the High Pavement Chapel, Nottingham. On Sunday, 14th January, 1798, he took the service at High Street Chapel, Shrewsbury. William Hazlitt heard him preach on "peace and war . . . on the spirit of the world and the spirit of Christianity, not as the same but as opposed to one another!"

Hazlitt himself was the son of Rev. William Hazlitt, Unitarian Minister at Wem from 1787 till his retirement in 1813.

Men associated with our congregations were prominent amongst early leaders of the Industrial Revolution and were on the whole good employers. Daniel Bourn, for example, erected the first cotton mill in England at Leominster. Jedediah Strutt (1729-1797) discovered how to produce ribbed stockings and ran a cotton mill at Belper, Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) built up the international reputation of the North Staffordshire china, pottery and earthenware industry. He was a supporter of the Old Meeting House, Newcastle. He also was one of the sponsors of the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Wedgwood's daughter married the son of Dr. Erasmus Darwin, the physician and poet, and their son Charles Darwin, expounder of the 19th century of evolution, in his youth attended High Street Chapel, Shrewsbury.

Samuel Parkes, the chemist who ran a soap boiling business at one time in Stoke on Trent, opened his home there to Unitarian preachers. Born in 1761 and educated at a Stourbridge Dame School, he won a silver cup for a paper on the uses of salt in gardening.

Unitarians attacked social evils and in 1788 Joseph Priestley in Birmingham attacked slavery and congregations like that at Elder Yard, Chesterfield, sent petitions against it. Timothy Smith who died in 1834, was an active Street Light Commissioner in Birmingham and was Secretary for the Birmingham Waterworks in 1808.

A Sunday School seems to have been started at Coseley in 1781 and the New Meeting, Birmingham, had one in 1777. Other early Midland Sunday Schools were opened at Warwick, Derby, [page 20 becomes page 21] Stourbridge and Lye. At Birmingham a Brotherly Society was started in association with the Sunday School and from this there developed the first Birmingham Mechanics' Institute. The modern Birmingham and Midland Institute developed from this. The first undenominational day school in the country was started in Nottingham by supporters of the High Pavement Chapel.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the power actually exercised by supporters of our congregations at this period can be gleaned by a study of the type of people buried in the graveyard attached to Old Meeting, Birmingham. These included Rev. Robert Robinson of Cambridge "The intrepid champion of Liberty, Civil and Religious" (died 1790); Harry Hunt Gentleman, a Birmingham lawyer (1776-1856); George Russell, "formerly a merchant in this town" (died 1825, aged 81); Daniel Wright, "many years conductor of classes in the Mechanics' Institute in this town" (died 1839, aged 61); William Ryland (died 1810, aged 79); William Beale (died 1848, aged 79), a County Magistrate and Low Bailiff of Birmingham in 1822, father of Samuel Beale, Mayor of Birmingham in 1841, M.P. for Derby and Chairman of the Midland Railway; Thomas Lee, gentleman (died 1791, aged 69); John Towers Lawrence, leather merchant and Low Bailiff in 1826; members of the Hunt family of the Brades Steel Works; Timothy Smith (died 1786, aged 56) and father of Timothy Smith, a banker; Sarah Carpenter, cousin by marriage to Mary Carpenter who founded the first Reformatory in England and who did much work for the education of women in England; Mark Saunders (died 1821, aged 71), Low Bailiff in 1798; Samuel Smith, Low Bailiff in 1816 (died 1838, aged 68); Timothy Smith (died 1834, aged 69), banker, magistrate and Low Bailiff in 1801 and John Freeth, the Birmingham poet. Freeth who died in 1808 at the age of 77 had run Freeth's Coffee House in Bell Street and wrote his own epitaph:

"Free and easy through life 'twas his wish to proceed; Good men he revered be whatever their creed; His pride was a sociable evening to spend, For no man loved better his pipe and his friend."

[page 22 follows]

Chapter III


The 19th century opened with many of the older dissenting congregations weaker than at any time since 1688. This was of course, because many had become Unitarian and the orthodox had gone elsewhere or joined the varying forms of Methodism then in its most aggressive mood. Methodism was an offshoot of the Anglican Church. It made its appeal felt especially amongst the miners of South Staffordshire and in the North Staffordshire Potteries.

The 19th century however saw the full development of Unitarian thought in these congregations. To start with in 1813 Unitarianism was permitted by law, although Theophilus Lindsey, an ex-Anglican minister had in fact opened a Unitarian Church in Essex Street, London, in 1774.

By the mid-nineteenth century the movement had come under the spell of James Martineau (1805-1900) whose "Seat of Authority in Religion" argued that the true seat of authority and religion lies in human experience of the divine, in the conscience, soul and mind of man. This shifting of the authority for religious opinions from the Scriptures to human experience was a logical development from the writings of the American William Ellery Channing (1780-1842). Martineau summarised his views about Iesus in the sentence : "And if Jesus of Nazareth in virtue of the characteristics of his spirit, holds the place of Prince of Saints and perfects the conditions of the most religious life, he thereby reveals the highest possibilities - of the human soul, and their dependence on habitual communion between man and God."

Martineau's views were of course far in advance of Scriptural Unitarians like Charles Clarke, Minister of the Old Meeting, Birmingham from 1851 till 1882. If Martineau was a revolutionary in thought, he was a Tory in politics, unlike most of his contemporary Unitarians.

In the country churches old ways died hard and Thomas Warren, unpaid Minister at Alcester from 1834 till 1864 used Theophilus Lindsey's original liturgy with the modified Apostles creed and all. In his Sunday School, Warren used to teach his scholars whole chapters of the gospels of St. Luke and St. ]ohn. Then they had to say them to him by heart. Unitarians inevitably suffered some dislike because of the strong support many gave to the campaigns for Parliamentary Reform, which culminated in the passing of the 1832 Reform Bill. When on October 3rd, 1831, [page 21 becomes page 22] a monster meeting of the Political Unions was held on Newhall Hill, Birmingham, and some 150,000 people gathered to hear leaders like Thomas Attwood, the Birmingham banker, pledge that no taxes would be paid, if the House of Lords rejected the Bill, the prayers were led by Hugh Hutton, Minister of the Old Meeting, Birmingham (1822-1851). No other minister could be found to lead the prayers.

Although a new congregation had been started at Lye in 1792, the early nineteenth century saw little Chapel building or expansion apart from the removal of the Walsall Chapel from its old site to Stafford Street in 1827. The cause of this was that orthodox nonconformists, like the Congregationalists were trying by legal means to take possession of the Chapels and their endowments. Their argument was that the Chapels had been built by orthodox dissenters at a time when Unitarianism was illegal. The Unitarians replied by saying that in fact the con-gregations of the early nineteenth century were largely composed of descendants of those who founded them and that therefore they were entitled to use moneys and buildings inherited by them, even if the doctrines held by the congregations had changed.

Trouble arose at Wolverhampton. There the John Street Meeting House had been orthodox. In 1781 the trustees seem to have consisted of 6 Unitarians, 3 Calvinists and one of neither group. They refused to accept a Trinitarian Minister. In 1814 there became minister one John Steward, an ex-Baptist who had become a Unitarian. Steward had been appointed for three years and in his third year at Wolverhampton he reverted to orthodoxy. An attempt was made to drive Steward out of the Chapel. An undignified quarrel followed and the matter was taken to the Court of Chancery in 1817. Pamphlets were written in profusion and the Unitarians withdrew to found what later became the Snow Hill Chapel in 1817. As the legal case dragged on, it became dependent on the judgement in the Sarah Hewley Charity Suit. In 1704 Sarah Hewley had left certain Trust funds to found charities for "poor and godly preachers of Christ's Holy gospel". In course of time the York Presbyterians had become Unitarians and the trustees of Lady Hewley's bequests had been mainly Unitarians. Naturally they used the funds to help poor Unitarian ministers.

In 1830 however certain Congregationalists had taken the case to law, maintaining that Lady Hewley had intended her charity to be for orthodox dissenters. It was further argued, that just because there was no doctrinal limitation, it did not mean that Lady Hewley ever intended Unitarians to benefit from the Trust. The Unitarians argued that, as the Trust was open, no orthodox limitation had been intended. The matter was taken [Page 23 followed by images until page 30 of text] from Court to Court and in 1842 it was laid down that "No Trust might be held for any purpose which was illegal at the time, when the Trust was established."

This was a judgement against the Unitarians and orthodox trustees took over the Hewley Trust. It also meant that the Wolverhampton case was lost as well. The John Street Meeting House there in fact became a chapel of ease to St. Peter's Church. In 1890, when it ceased to be used as a Church it was absorbed 'into the works of Mander Bros. the paint manufacturers.

This legal decision of course threatened every Unitarian congregation, founded before 1813, and leading Unitarians on the advice of a Unitarian lawyer, Edward Wilkins Field, son of William Field, Unitarian Minister at Warwick and Kenilworth, decided to press for an Act of Parliament to protect their congregations. Edward Wilkins Field had married a niece of Samuel Rogers, the banker poet, Mary Sharpe, and she died at Leam House, Warwick, in October 1831, just after the birth of her first child. She lies buried in the small graveyard attached to High Street Unitarian Church, Warwick. In 1844 Parliament passed the Dissenters' Chapels Act. This Act "secured Unitarians in their possesion of Trusts, containing no doctrinal provision, when they could prove the undisputed usage of 25 years in favour of the opinions they held and taught".

One active Unitarian worker for the Bill in Parliament was Thomas Thornely, a Liverpool merchant and Liberal M.P. for Wolverhampton. In the debate over the bill Lord John Russell, a Liberal declared, "There never has been a question heard in this House... in which the weight of argument was so over-whelming on the one side and against the other." He argued that, if Unitarians were only legally tolerated in 1813, they had in fact been tolerated for years before. The Tory Premier, Robert Peel quoted the case of our Tamworth Chapel and declared, "I have determined, with my colleagues to give this Bill the most decided and persevering support."

After the bill became law the Non-subscribing Presbyterians of England and Ireland presented Edward Wilkins Field with an enormous silver salver and some £520 which was used to rebuild Rosemary Hill Unitarian Chapel, Kenilworth. Edward Wilkins' Field who was described by Queen Victoria as her "trusty and well beloved servant" advised Robert Hibbert, founder of the Hibbert Trust, on how to bequeath his money and according to Lord Chancellor Selborne was the original author and moving spirit of the scheme for building the Law Courts in Fleet Street.

Many Chapels were now rebuilt. These included Victoria Street Chapel, Loughborough (1864); the High Pavement Chapel [page 30 into page 31] at Nottingham (1876); Christchurch Chapel, Banbury (1850); High Street Chapel, Ilkeston (1869); the Old Meeting House, Coseley (1875); the Church of the 'Messiah, Birmingham (1862); High Street Chapel, Lye (1861) and the Buxton Chapel in 1875. The new Buxton Chapel in Hartington Road replaced a Presbyterian Meeting House built on the Market Square in 1725. Many of these were built in an imitation Gothic style. The Banbury Chapel, built largely at the expense of the Cobb family, once well known as bankers, was one of the first. One of the best architecturally was the Old Meeting, Birmingham. This was built in 1885, when the North Western Railway bought the site of the Old Meeting as an extension for New Street Station for £30,000. Amongst its assets were Burne Jones stained glass windows.

The pattern of English life was changing. Population was moving into the great industrial cities and the old country towns were static or declining. The cities themselves were sprawling outwards and residential suburbs were being built for people who travelled to work in the cities by train, tram or bus. The change in the pattern of English life is reflected in the fact that trustees of the Old Mountsorrel Chapel in Leicestershire in 1761 included Robert Bakewell of Dishley (1725-95), a pioneer in the selective breeding of sheep and producer of the "Leicestershire longhorn" cattle, two yeomen farmers and a felmonger. At nearby Loughborough the trustees, appointed in 1863, included two manufacturers, a banker's clerk and a brewer.

New Chapels appeared. At Cheltenham, then well established as a health resort, Bayshill Chapel was built in 1842 through the drive of a local jeweller. At Crewe then under strong Anglican infiuence, a Chapel was built in 1865. Other new congregations of the nineteenth century include Glossop (1875); Narborough Road Chapel, Leicester (1875); Coalville (1908); Christ Church, Peas Hill Road, Nottingham (1860-64); Newark (1862-3); Longton (1862); Lodge Road, West Bromwich (1871-5); Newhall Hill Chapel, Birmingham (1834-40). The Northampton congregation founded in 1827, moved in 1897 into the present premises built by Sir Philip and Lady Manfield. According to Henry Solly, Sir Philip Manfield came to Northampton with a few shillings in his pocket and by sheer hard work and ability made himself one of the town's leading citizens and its M.P. Other 19th century developments included the rebuilding of the Oldlbury Chapel in 1806 and the building of Spain Lane Chapel at Boston in Lincoln-shire in 1804 and the chapel at Kirkstead (Woodhall Spa) in 1819. The Kirkstead Chapel was originally endowed by a deed of 1720 by Daniel Disney of Lincoln and Swinderby and the congregation met in a 13th century Chapel in what were formerly the grounds (of the Cistercian Abbey at Kirkstead. Thev were ejected from this in 1793 - "in a far from creditable way" according to the [page 31 to page 32] late John Crosby Warren, M.A. The original building is now Kirkstead Parish Church. The Wolverhampton congregation in 1898 sold their Snow Hill premises and held their services in an iron school room and later in a prefabricated structure in Bath Road before the present All Souls' Church in Park Road West was opened in 1911 during the ministry of Rev. J. A. Shaw (1906-23), one of the first Unitarian ministers to stand for election to Parliament as a Labour candidate.

Inevitably there were casualties. These were congregations in smaller towns and villages, where endowments were lacking and where the hostility of the orthodox dissenters and Anglicans could be most overpowering. By 1842 the congregations at Bloxham and Milton had ceased to hold services. The Duffield (Derbyshire) congregation closed after the death of Evan Owen Jones, minister there (1807-67). The Norton (Derbyshire) congregation ceased to exist in 1843. The Old General Baptist Church at Long Sutton (Lincs.) was closed in 1907. The Alcester Chapel was sold under the hammer in 1901. The magnificent panelled oak pulpit fetched £17. The original Whitchurch Chapel was closed in 1844 and the building later became a schoolroom, from which George Eyre Evans, minister of the Church of the Saviour, Whitchurch (1889-97) recovered 23 fine memorial brasses. By 1914 the Church of the Saviour at Whitchurch (Salop.) founded by a minister who had broken from the Baptists, had died. One of the stained glass windows from the building is now at the Old Meeting, Newcastle (Staffs.).

By 1914 the congregations at Atherstone, Kenilworth and Bewdley had died out. The Kenilworth Chapel, closed 1891, in the mid 1950's was being used as an amateur theatre and the Bewdley Chapel, where Edward Parry, founder, editor and proprietor of "The Kidderminster Shuttle" and Mayor of Kidderminster 1898-1900, was minister from 1857-67, was for a time used by the Midland Adult School Union and to-day, possibly because of its semi-circular or elliptical ends and curved balcony, is listed by the Ministry of Works as a building of historical and architectural interest. Built in 1786, it was opened in September, 1953 as a Roman Catholic Church. Other Anti-Trinitarian Chapels listed in J. R. Beard's "Unitarianism Explained" (1846) which had disappeared by 1914 were Findern, Horncastle (Lincs.), Ripley (Derbyshire), Shelton (Hanley, Staffs), and Sutton in Ashfield near Mansfield.

The Chapel at Mount Sorrell (Leics.) in 1842 was loaned to the Baptists and on 8th February, 1867 passed into Baptist hands after £10 was paid by them towards the building of the new Unitarian Church at Loughborough. The Longton Chapel was last used for Unitarian services in 1903.

[page 33 follows] Real advances were made however. The movement collected new blood from ex-Methodist New Connexion members who followed Joseph Barker, publisher of the Barker Library of Cheap Books, from Methodism into the Christian Brethren Movement. Barker, born 1806 was for a time a Unitarian and Unitarian preachers in the period 1854-61 served his congregations at Etruria, Hanley and Red Street, Chesterton (Staffs). The Parsonage Street congregation at Macclesfield which joined King Edward Street Unitarian Chapel in 1884, began as Christian Brethren Chapel. Missionary work was done in the villages of Knutton and Silverdale, near Newcastle (Staffs) in the late 1850's. The East Cheshire Union as recently as 1911 employed a part time lay worker to run a mission at Biddulph under the supervision of the Congleton Minister. In the years preceding the 1914 war a "Van Mission" was operated. Domestic Missions were started as a result of the extraordinary social work done amongst the very poor in Liverpool by Rev. John Johns, the poet and hymn writer. The New Meeting, Birmingham, founded a Domestic Mission in 1845 and in its heyday it ran a day school for girls, a Sunday School, a Library, a Savings Club provided penny dinners, encouraged window gardening, ran an Annual Flower Show, a Band of Hope, a Cricket Club, a Saxhorn, and a Drum and Fife Band. This Mission moved from its ex-Dance Hall premises in Lawrence Street to Fazeley Street in 1888. Members of the Old Meeting, the New Meeting and Newhall Hill Church founded a Domestic Mission in a wooden structure in Thorp Street in 1840. In Leicester, similarly, the Great Meeting started a Domestic Mission which had a full time missioner till 1949.

Another infusion of new blood in the Midlands came from the followers of George Dawson (1821-76), a brilliant lecturer and preacher who broke from the Baptists to start his own Church of the Saviour in Edward Street, Birmingham, in 1847. The Church was one of the first to have a paid choir to lead the singing. It also had a hymn book compiled chiefiy by Dawson and containing 30 hymns by Thomas Hornblower Gill, a Birmingham writer, who claimed descent from John Spiers, a protestant martyr at the time of Queen Mary. Dawson was a great public figure, backing most Radical causes. He was instrumental in saving Aston Hall and part of its park for the people of Birmingham and was largely responsible for the opening of the first Public Library in Birmingham just over 100 years ago. After he died, Unitarians largely succeeded him as ministers of the Church of the Saviour. When it was sold, £900 was contributed to the building of Waverley Road Church, Small Heath which was p opened in October 1898. This congregation which began its life in a Board School, was one of the first to employ a woman as [page 33 becomes page 34] minister. She was Rev. Gertrud von Petzold, minister from 1911-1915.

More effective district associations were built up, often with a clear missionary purpose. Thus there was established the Western Union in 1845. The Cheltenham Church is a member of this. The North Midland Presbyterian Association was started in 1865. Midland Churches in this association include the congregations at Belper, Boston, Derby," Hinckley, Kirkstead, Leicester, Lincoln, Loughborough, Mansfield and Nottingham.

The East Cheshire Union founded in 1859 includes in its list of over 20 congregations those at Newcastle, Crewe, Congleton, Macclesfield and Nantwich. The Chester congregation belongs to the Liverpool District Association started in 1860. The Midland Christian Union founded in 1866 has on its roll the Churches at Banbury, Birmingham, Coseley, Coventry, Cradley, Dudley, Evesham, Kidderminster, Kingswood, Lye, Northampton, Oldbury, Oxford, Shrewsbury, Stourbridge, Tamworth, Walsall, Warwick, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton. Another Association, the South Cheshire, founded in 1899 embraces the Churches at Chester, Crewe, Congleton, Newcastle (Staffs) and Nantwich.

The movement was helped too by the establishment of the Unitarian College in Manchester in 1854. This provided the Churches with a steady fiow of men trained for propagandist work and at first less academic in approach than those produced by the older academies. In 1889 moreover Manchester College was moved from London to Oxford where new premises in Mansfield Road were opened in October, 1893. Its library was given by Sir Henry Tate, founder of the firm of sugar refiners and donor of the Tate Gallery. His father had been a Unitarian minister at Chorley. Its first principal, Dr. James Drummond (1835-1918) was the writer of much valuable theological literature and his life was described by "The Times" as "closely akin to that of the purest type of Christian saint". Another distinguished principal from 1915-1931 was Dr. L. P. Jacks, minister of the Church of the Messiah from 1894-1903. His uncle Joseph Steere was a pioneer in the development of the Nottingham lace industry and his father, a Nottingham ironmonger, played an active part in Nottingham local politics in the 1860's. Dr. lacks from 1902 till 1947 was an editor of "The Hibbert Journal".

At Nantwich, where once Joseph Priestley had run a school for some 30 boys and 6 young 'ladies, a Public School for boys founded under the will of Philip Barker, a generous patron of the Nantwich Church, was opened in 1900. This survived until the late 1930's when the economic conditions of the period forced its closure. The premises are now us-ed as an approved school.

[page 35 follows] A more agressive note was struck in propaganda. "The Monthly Repository" (1805-1838) served in an academic way to unite all the Unitarian congregations. Its place was taken by "The Inquirer" from 1842. A more popular venture was "The Christian Life" (1876-1929). A Midland venture, "The Seed Sower" which was discontinued in 1907, was published in Birmingham and edited by Rev. Joseph Wood, minister of the Old Meeting from 1884 till 1912, an ex-Congregationalist.

In the period 1800-1914 politically the Unitarians were nationally associated in the public mind with Liberalism. This link was largely broken in the Midlands after 1886, when many Unitarian families refused to follow Gladstone's line over Irish Home Rule and leading Birmingham Unitarian families like the Chamberlains became Unionists and ultimately Conservatives.

Throughout the period, however, considering the small size of the denomination, individual Unitarians in many places showed themselves socially to be extraordinarily progressive and capable of earning a fame known far beyond the confines of the denomination.

William Field (minister at Warwick 1789-1843) wrote a valuable "History of Warwick". George May, whose "History of Evesham" appeared in 1845, worshipped at Oat Street Chapel, Evesham and lies buried in the Chapel yard at Oat Street, Evesham. Herbert New (1820-1893), an Evesham solicitor rose to be Mayor of Evesham. He wrote "A Day in Evesham" and "The Battle of Evesham" and was president of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association, 1877-1878. Dr. H. W. Crosskey, minister of the Church of the Messiah from 1869 till 1893, was a champion of women's suffrage. As a young man he supported the Derby Ribbon Weavers' strike and in his later years he campaigned for Old Age Pensions. In Birmingham as a member of the School Board for 16 years, he fought to abolish all sectarian religious education in schools, to introduce Science classes into Board Schools and to secure salary increases for teachers according to merit. He argued that "a bad teacher was dear at any price". Nationally he was an authority on glacial geology.

At Glossop, in 1906 Captain Partington, the paper manufacturer, gave £30,000 for the erection of a convalescent home. Members of his family were generous donors to local charities as was Edmund Potter, of Glossop, and Isaac Jackson, inventor of a new method of belt fastening for machine belt drives. The Jacksons gave Glossop its Town Hall. Lord Dovedale, also a Glossop Unitarian, founded the firm of Kellner Partington.

At Walsall, Thomas Bowen (minister from 1794 till 1838) founded a General Library and established the first Sunday School [page 35 becomes page 36] there. Edward Myers, minister 1852-60, helped to found "The Walsall Free Press' in 1856. Peter Dean, minister 1876-1901, was for some years an active member of the School Board, opposed to all forms of doctrinal sectarianism, an attitude which did not make him loved by the Anglican elements in Walsall. Peter Dean created a minor sensation at one School Board Meeting by taking off his boot and banging it on the table after being refused the right to speak.

John Page Hopps, minister at the Great Meeting, Leicester from 1876 till 1892, took the chair at a meeting for Charles Bradlaugh, the atheist, who was elected to Parliament in 1880 and not allowed to sit, because he was an atheist. He also spoke at a Trafalgar Square Meeting in opposition to the government policy which led up to the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899. He was well known as a writer of hymns like :

"Father, let thy Kingdom come,
Let it come with living power."

Another prominent Unitarian figure of the period was Jesse Collings, head of Samuel Booth and Co. of Birmingham, Unionist M.P. for Bordesley from 1886 till 1918. A Devonian, Jesse Collings was the son of a small builder and was a strong supporter of the National Union of Agricultural Labourers of England and Wales which was founded in 1872 by Joseph Arch. On many schemes like the Sunday opening of museums and libraries, he worked with Joseph Chamberlain. His slogan of "Three acres and a cow" for each agriculturalist remains one of the unforgettable political catch phrases.

Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914) who taught at one time in the New Meeting Sunday School, joined his cousin, Joseph Nettlefold in a screw making business. A Radical in his early years, he rose to be President of the Board of Trade under Gladstone. Later as a Unionist he was Colonial Secretary from 1895 till 1900 and in his later years devoted his energies to fighting for "Tariff Reform" at a time when national public opinion favoured Free Trade. His greatest achievements were probably in Local Government, where under his leadership in the 1870's the Liberals cleaned up Birmingham Local Government and ended the days when local affairs were too often decided in "The Woodman Inn". The Liberal Party under his leadership, built up a formidable Election Machine and Chamberlain, Mayor of Birmingham from 1873 till 1876, used this Liberal majority to secure the municipalisation of the gas and water supplies, the erection of better municipal buildings and a vast improvement scheme which involved the clearance of many slums in the heart of the city and the construction of the modern Corporation Street. Chamberlain, according to the Rev. Raymond Holt, an early [page 36 becomes page 37] Labour Councillor in Oxford, made Birmingham "The best governed city in England".

Rev. H. Eachus, minister at Coseley from 1865 till 1912, was second Chairman of the Coseley Urban District Council. Rev. Henry McKean, minister at Oldbury from 1858 till 1904, was the first Chairman of Oldbury Urban District Council, a member of Worcestershire County Council and the first editor of the "Oldbury Weekly News".

One of the first to recognise the importance of modern Town Planning was John Sutton Nettlefold of Birmingham, whose "Housing Policy" appeared in 1905 and "Practical Town Planning" in 1914. Neville Chamberlain indeed claimed "Municipal town planning in Birmingham owes its inception to the energy and enthusiasm of Mr. J. S. Nettlefold".

John Crosby Warren (1852-1931), a Nottingham solicitor and first President of the Unitarian Historical Society, was for over half a century Secretary for the Royal Midland Institution for the Blind and, because of his work for the blind, was made a Fellow of the College of Teachers of the Blind.

Alexander Gordon (1841-1931) the son of Rev. John Gordon, a Unitarian minister, at Coventry and Kenilworth, was a native of Coventry. For 21 years Principal of the Unitarian College, Manchester, he wrote 778 biographies in the "Dictionary of National Biography". According to Principal McLachlan he was one of only two writers who contributed to every volume of the original issue of 63 volumes and to each of the six volumes of the two Supplements. To the eleventh edition of the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" he contributed 39 Articles.

Joseph Strutt, one of the early Mayors of Derby, a supporter of Friargate Chapel there, gave the town one of its first pleasure gardens on condition that no intoxicants could be used in it. Unitarians were prominent in railway building. Samuel Beale of Birmingham was Chairman of the Midland Railway from 1858 till 1864 and M.P. for Derby from 1857 till 1865.

W. Phillips Price, M.P. was Chairman of the Midland Rail-way from 1870-1873. His family was associated with Barton Street Chapel, Gloucester.

Thomas Hawksley (1807-1893) the Civil Engineer, played a big part in constructing a number of important waterworks for towns like Leicester. He was associated with the High Pavement Chapel at Nottingham.

Members of the Hill family were progressives in a wide field. Thomas Wright Hill who was born in 1763 ran a progressive [page 37 becomes page 38] school at Hazelwood on the Hagley Road in Birmingham in the 1820's where caning had been abolished and where discipline was maintained by a Court of Justice. A pioneer in developing a type of shorthand, Thomas Wright Hill was father of Rowland Hill (1795-1879), the originator of the penny post, Matthew Davenport Hill (1792-1872), Recorder of Birmingham and Frederick Hill, both of whom were active advocates of prison reform and of modern methods of treating criminals.

Octavia Hill (1838-1912), the housing reformer was brought up as a Unitarian and incidentally was the granddaughter of Dr. Southwood Smith, the sanitary reformer, who had been a Unitarian minister at Yeovil, and who dedicated his life to fighting against the insanitary conditions in towns like Birmingham. These of course, were the basic causes of epidemics like cholera.

Some Midland Unitarians were active champions of the Co-operative Movement. These included Rev. William Mitchell at Hinckley and Rev. Isaac Wrigley, minister at Lye from 1891-1924. At Lye near the chain making district of Cradley, where working conditions provoked bitter industrial disputes in the early years of this century, Rev. Isaac Wrigley fought for the housing, sanitation and street lighting. He served for some years on the Worcestershire County Council and reorganised the local Co-operative Society, when it faced ruin through the dishonesty of an official.

Unitarians were prominent in the development of Mechanics Institutes as educational centres in the early 19th century and Rev. Henry Solly, founder of the Working Men's Club and Institute Union was responsible for the starting of many of these Clubs in Birmingham and the Black Country. Other activites, backed by Midland Unitarian families like the Oslers, Chamberlains, Kenricks, Beales, Nettlefolds, Rylands and Smiths, were the Birmingham Society of Arts, the Birmingham Botanical and Horticultural Society and the campaign which resulted in the opening of the Art Gallery and Museum. Miss Ryland of Barford also gave Birmingham some of its parks.

These were but a few of the prominent Midland Unitarians who in the 19th century found ways of turning their faith into action. This list could be multiplied many times over.

Unitarians indeed even remembered their own ministers and it was a group of Midland Unitarians who in 1852 founded the Ministers' Benevolent Society to aid Unitarian Ministers in cases of sickness and incapacity and their families in case of death. This Society developed from a Meeting held at the New Meeting House, Birmingham on October 25th, 1852. Its first Secretary who held ofiice from 1853 till 1881 was Timothy [page 38 becomes page 39] Kenrick. At the centenary in 1952 its Secretary was A. Wynn Kenrick who had held office since 1930. In 1952 the late Mr. H. G. Wilson, M.A., for many years an Inspector of Schools, wrote: "The Society continues to serve a very real need."

Perhaps the greatest single contribution Unitarians made in the Midlands in the late 19th century was their fight for a University in Birmingham. The Mason College there had been founded by Sir ]osiah Mason who as a lad had attended the Unitarian Sunday School at Kidderminster. It was in 1887 that Dr. Crosskey read a paper on "Proposals for a Midland University". He fought to see the old Day Training College for Teachers transferred from the Birmingham School Board to the Mason College, founded in 1870. Sir George Kenrick helped to endow the department; Arthur Chamberlain played a big part in establishing a School of Commerce at the Mason College and Joseph Chamberlain provided much of the drive behind the demand for a University Charter for the Mason College. It was he who interested Andrew Carnegie in the project and got him to give £50,000 towards its endowment. Appropriately Joseph Chamberlain was its first Chancellor.

Midland Unitarians had in the years before the 1914 War every reason to feel they were on the eve of a great advance. New scientific knowledge was lessening the appeal of the older fundamental religions. The "New Theology" Movement of R. J. Campbell, which infiuenced thousands who never heard him preach at the City Temple, was making men and women all over the country doubt old ideas like the Virgin Birth, the Atonement and the old-time theories that man was born in sin. The one thing necessary was for them to link their doubts with the positive faith of the Unitarians.

page 40 proceeds

Chapter IV

[TO 1962]

The hopes of Unitarians in the early years of the twentieth century that they were on the eve of a general advance were doomed to disappointment.

The 1914-18 war and the 1939-45 war had deep repercussions on all Churches. It was perhaps a mistake that so many clergy identified themselves with the recruiting drives in the 1914 war. Most churchgoers were quite patriotic. What however was happening was so indescribably horrible that most normal people came to feel that it did not quite suit the role of the any Church to become a recruiting centre. They expected the Churches rather to stand for what ought to be, even if they had to condone what was happening and accept that the world's ways were not those taught by the great masters of religion.

In the 1939-45 war this mistake was avoided. As a whole the denomination accepted that men of deep religious faith could be both non-pacifists and pacifists and that the issue was one of conscience for each individual. A few ministers like Rev. Richard Lee, minister of the Great Meeting, Coventry (1928-47), were absolute pacifists. The majority, like their congregations, accepted the war as a "regrettable necessity". There are few records, however, of head-on confiicts between ministers and congregations over this issue in the Midlands or in fact in the denomination as a whole.

In both world wars many of the younger members served in the Forces and some did not return. In the 1939-45 war many members of Unitarian congregations suffered through the German air-raids and several were killed, including members of the Lloyd family of Moseley.

Church buildings suffered too in the 1939-45 war. Amongst Churches seriously damaged was the Old Meeting Church in Bristol Street, Birmingham. Its ruins, known as "Rheims Cathedral" by the troops were used for practice in street-fighting. Damage was also done to Unitarian buildings at West Bromwich.

The 1914-18 war was followed by a general change in the pattern of English life. The grim economic depression of the 1920's and 1930's forced families to move from towns like Walsall and many Churches lost members, because families had to move to areas where there was work. There was also an intellectual revolt against the conventions of the past much as there had been in the seventeenth century. Young idealists, who at one [page 40 becomes page 41] time might have been attracted to Unitarianism, found their way into Left Wing political movements. In towns like Birmingham, Walsall and Chester between 1918 and 1939 there were great movements of population from the densely packed slum houses near the centres of the towns to vast new Council Estates. The better off also tended to move out of the towns into residential suburbs, developed by speculative builders. As a result many congregations lost members through a drift of population to these newly developed areas and chapels like Matthew Henry's Chapel at Chester, which at one time had drawn a large number of supporters from their immediate neighbourhood found themselves left surrounded by an area of derelict property. As a result congregations tended to consist of convinced Unitarians or members of families traditionally associated with the chapels.

Since 1945 building developments have merely accentuated a trend which had started before 1939.

The position to-day [1962] is that generally speaking Unitarian Churches like Quaker Meetings serve wide areas. Questionnaires completed by officials of a number of our Midland congregations show some startling distances travelled by supporters. The present organist and minister at Banbury travel 25 miles to get there. One member at Chesterfield has to travel eight miles and the general body of supporters there consists of people travelling from half a mile to three miles. Some regular supporters of the Great Meeting at Leicester journey 10 miles or more to get there. At least one Northampton member travels from Bedford, where from 1872 till 1934, Rev. Rowland Hill tried to build up a Unitarian congregation. One family travels 15 miles from Wantage to attend the services at Manchester College, Oxford. The Walsall congregation draws supporters from places as far afield as Lichfield, 8 miles away while Warwick similarly draws supporters from Leamington, 4 miles away. Churches like this inevitably find it hard to develop Sunday Schools and week night activities.

Some congregations have developed well as "neighbourhood" churches like Waverley Road Church, Birmingham, with its innumerable social activities including a Darby and Joan Club. Housing developments in the area have given new life to congregations like Kingswood on the Birmingham border. In 1937 the Great Meeting House in Smithford Street, Coventry, was moved to new and up-to-date premises on the Holyhead Road. In the forseeable future road developments at Walsall and the need for a new Public Market with car parks underneath in Chester may result in our congregations there being forced to move to new and possibly more up-to-date premises. At Chester negotiations with the Corporation are on the footing [page 41 becomes page 42] that the trustees will receive sufficient compensation to enable them to build a new chapel in a developing area, to which a large part of the city's population is moving. Planning developments are likely to result in the transfer of the Church of the Messiah, the meeting point for organisations like the Midland Christian Union, to a new site. At the end of 1952 incidentally the top of the spire of the Church of the Messiah was found to be unsafe and 18 feet had to be removed, the remnants of the spire acquiring the nickname of "The Broad Street Stump".

Experiments with "Neighbourhood Churches" in areas where there was not an active group of Unitarians, have not always been successful. Jn 1928 for example the Moseley congregation, founded in 1898, constructed a new temporary wooden Chapel in Yardley Wood Road, Birmingham. Despite the efforts of various ministers and devoted lay workers, this congregation amalgamated with Waverley Road Church, Birmingham in 1954. New-Hall Hill Chapel in Birmingham, due to the rapid build-up of the Birmingham suburbs, moved to Gibson Road, Handsworth in 1915. It closed after the resignation of the last minister in 1950. As late as 1948 over 25 members of this congregation subscribed to the funds of the Midland Christian Union.

In the period 1918-45 most of the pre-1914 congregations survived apart from Christ Church, Peas Hill Road, Nottingham which last had a minister of its own in 1926. By 1940 the Ilkeston congregation had dispersed. The most serious casuality of that period was the Old Meeting in Bristol Street, Birmingham.

Its death was a tragedy. In 1928 the National organisations of the Movement, the old National Conference of Unitarian, Liberal Christian, Free Christian, Presbyterian and other Non-Subscribing "or Kindred Congregations and the British and Foreign Unitarian Association joined to form the General Assembly of the Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. The Old Meeting, Birmingham, led by its minister, Rev. J. M. Lloyd Thomas, refused to join.

Rev. J. M. Lloyd Thomas, minister of the Old Meeting from 1912 till 1932, had become what he called a Free Catholic and had transformed the services at the Old Meeting into a form not normally associated with Unitarian Churches. In the inter-war years one or two of our Midland Chapels like that at West Bromwich and Oldbury did adopt an almost Anglican style of internal decoration. This in many chapels now seems to have given way to the use of contemporary shades and to the restoration of these buildings in styles more normally associated with nonconformity. This was possibly an indirect result of the Free Catholic Movement.

[page 43 follows] When Rev. J. M. Lloyd Thomas resigned in 1932, his place at the Old Meeting was taken in 1934 by a Baptist minister. His ministry finished in 1942 after the Church had been seriously damaged in an air raid in 1940. The remnants of the congregation disbanded in 1950.

As early as 1946 Birmingham Corporation obtained compulsory powers to buy the whole site for redevelopment purposes. In 1953 the five surviving trustees sold the premises to Birmingham Corporation for £15,400. They held a Reserve Fund as well of about £6,000. Proceedings on behalf of the Unitarian denomination were opened in the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, where the trustees asked permission to give £15,400 the proceeds of the sale of the site and buildings towards the cost of erecting the Chapel of Unity at Coventry Cathedral and to transfer the reserve fund of approximately £6,000 to the trustees of the Joseph Scott Charity, a Birmingham (Congregationalist) Trust to form a special fund for the benefit of Birmingham nonconformist ministers. As a result in 1960 Mr. Justice Russell divided the assets, about £21,000 into 21 parts. 10/21 parts were to be used to create a fund for the general purposes of Churches and congregations associated with the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches in Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire with a preference to such Churches or congregations in Birmingham. Such churches and congregations must be governed by an Open Trust.

Six parts were to be transferred to a Trust to aid active Protestant Nonconformist ministers in Birmingham including Unitarians. Five parts were to be given to construct or maintain the Chapel of Unity attached to Coventry Cathedral. On the, events leading up to the loss of this once great Church and congregation Dr. Mortimer Rowe who acted for the Midland Christian Union and the General Assembly, wisely wrote in the 1960 "Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society"; "It would be useless to indulge in post mortem reflections and vain regrets".

By 1948 the areas, once served most effectively by the Birmingham Domestic Missions, had lost their populations. The Hurst Street Mission had since 1921 been amalgamated with Waverley Road Church, Birmingham. The building became a synagogue. The death in 1947 of Rev. W. H. Hargreaves, the last honorary minister of the Church of the Messiah's Mission in Fazeley Street, Birmingham, led to its closure and disposal. The historic Nantwich Church is now so unsafe structurally that it inevitably will have to be closed and its assets including the historic Priestley pulpit dispersed.

[page 44 follows] lt has not however all been loss or retreat since 1918. The 1948 Midland Christian Union's Report refers to a group at Stafford which had a short lived existence. In 1961 a new group seems to be developing well at Malvern. This was started in 1957 largely by Mr. J. H. Ashcroft, an architect, previously connected with Unitarian congregations at Coseley and Preston. He was helped by Mr. Harold Steele, who went to Japan in an effort to reach Christmas lsland as a protest against one of the earliest nuclear tests. Since then monthly services attended by professional people, clerical workers, tradespeople and retired people, have been held in the Malvern Friends' Meeting House with an average attendance of 16. This group since 1960 has even developed its own branch of the Women's League.

The infiation, caused by the 1914 war and the 1939-45 war and its aftermath, has inevitably played havoc with the financial position of many of the congregations with endowments. Some of these prior to 1914 gave congregations the chance to pay their ministers a reasonable stipend. In the later years of the nineteenth century ministers were on the whole better paid than people like school teachers, whose Union in 1903 was demanding a maximum of £150 for its members in the Provinces. To-day ministers are probably worse paid than any member of their congregation who is actually earning, especially in the great industrial cities.

lt seems unlikely that there will ever again be long ministerial settlements like those of Rev. George Heaviside, minister at Coventry from 1860 till 1914, Rev. J. E. Stronge, minister at Kidderminster from 1905 till 1941, Rev. H. Eachus, minister at Coseley from 1865 till 1912, Rev. H. C. Hawkins, minister at Oldbury from 1914 till 1947, Rev. Hugh Warnock, minister at Walsall from 1913 till 1948 and Rev. T. A. Gorton, an ex-Roman Catholic priest, minister at Kingswood from 1909 till 1952. One of the longest recent ministries in the Midlands has been that of Rev. Gordon St-uart at the Church of the Messiah, Birmingham, from 1944 till 1961. At the present time no minister in the Midland Christian Union has served longer in his present charge than Rev. Harold Gore, who settled at Oldbury in 1950.

The pattern of 200 years ago, when ministers kept schools or did some secular occupation is in fact being repeated. Rev. H. Hesford, who had charge of the Kingswood Chapel from 1953 till 1958, was at the same time engaged in full time teaching. Mr. D. Malbon, who since 1955 has been in charge of the Old Meeting Church, Newcastle, is an lnsurance Official.

Many ministerial settlements are now quite short. Since the resignation of Rev. Charles Biggins from the pulpit of the Old Meeting House, Dudley, in 1943, five ministers have come and [page 44 becomes page 45] gone. Since 1940 at the Oat Street Chapel, Evesham there have been three ministries and this pattern is fairly general across the Midlands.

The old tradition of one minister per congregation has been broken and Churches, often widely separated from each other geographically, have had to share the services of one minister. Since the close of Rev. F. A. Homer's 26 year ministry at West Bromwich in 1933, the Church has shared the services of a minister with Walsall, a situation still existing to-day. The Midland Christian Union acted as the organising body behind the arrangements. lndeed from 1951 Walsall, West Bromwich and Tamworth shared the services of a minister. In 1959 however, Tamworth was transferred to the care of the minister of Waverley Road Church, Birmingham, who from 1939 until its closure had charge of the Moseley congregation.

In the early 1930's a District minister for the North Midland Association served congregations like Loughborough and the now defunct congregation at Coalville. Similarly congregations like that at Gainsborough shared the services of a minister with the now defunct congregation at Newark. Since 1949 the Lincoln minister has also been minister at Gainsborough.

From 1952 till 1954 one minister served four congregations - Crewe, Congleton, Nantwich and Newcastle. In 1955 an experiment was tried of grouping Macclesfield with Congleton.

From 1951 till 1956 Evesham and Gloucester shared the services of a minister, although geographically far apart. Since 1956 Gloucester has shared a minister with Cheltenham. Earlier from 1932 till 1943 the Cheltenham minister, had also been minister of the Cirencester congregation where Rev. H. Austin was minister for 63 years from 1866 till 1929.

In March 1961 there were 21 Churches on the roll of the Midland Christian Union. 13 of these were served by the ten active ministers in the area. Eight congregations like the isolated congregations at Shrewsbury and Northampton were without ministers. Of the active ministers at least one is nearly 80.

In fact many Churches simply could not have survived but for the efforts of a small band of Lay Preachers. There are 14 names on the list for the Midland Christian Union. Only 6 however are able to take services anywhere in the Union. The others for various reasons are compelled to limit their services mainly to their own congregations. At the present time the Midland Christian Union's Preaching Plan covers Waverley Road Church Birmingham, Cradley, Tamworth, Wolverhampton and Northampton.

[page 46 follows] As in the past, twentieth century Unitarians have been active in a wide variety of fields and thus refiect the essentials of all religious faith, that it must be lived in some form of service. Rev. F. A. Homer, minister at West Bromich from 1907 till 1933 was an expert genealogist. Rev. E. G. Lee, minister at Shrewsbury from 1934 till 1939, has for the last 22 years been editor of "The Inquirer", Britain's oldest nonconformist weekly and the denomination's weekly religious journal. Rev. Ottwell Binns, an ex-Congregational minister who was minister at the Old Meeting House, Mansfield, from 1922 till 1927, was well-known as the novelist Ben Bolt. Dr. Alfred Hall, minister at Lincoln from 1939 till 1949 wrote a number of valuable religious booklets like "The Beliefs of a Unitarian" and compiled useful selections from the works of James Martineau. Rev. Leslie Belton, minister at Wolverhampton from 1924 till 1927, edited "The Inquirer" for seven years and wrote useful booklets like "Psychical Research and Religion", "World Vision", "Religion and the Scientists" and "Can We Still Believe in Man?"

Leicester University owes a great deal to the work of Rev. R. F. Rattray, minister of the Great Meeting, Leicester, from 1917 till 1921. From 1921 till 1923 he was Acting Principal of University College, Leicester and from 1923 till 1931 Principal, Rev. Ronald McGraw, minister at Waverley Road Chapel, Birmingham, from 1951 till 1958, and later minister of Kingswood Chapel, was a member of Birmingham City Council from 1954- till 1957, Rev. R. V. Holt, author of "The Unitarian Contribution to Social Progress in England" and Tutor in Christian History at Manchester College, Oxford, for twenty years, was also a member at one time of Oxford City Council.

Most congregations have had in this century as in the past members active in a wide variety of organisations. Here are but a few of the many members and organisations which can be mentioned to give an idea of what is being and has been done. Dr. Killick Millard, founder of the Euthanasia Society was for eight years Chairman of the Vestry at the Great Meeting in Leicester (1940-48). A member of the congregation of the Great Meeting at Leicester is Chairman of a Hospital Management Board and a member of the Court of Governors of Leicester, University. Connected with the Lye congregation there have been at least three who have been Mayors, four as local Councillors and two as Justices of the Peace. The present Chairman of the Macclesfield congregation is Mr. T. M. Abraham, a Justice of the Peace. Individual members of the congregation, associated with Manchester College, Oxford, have been associated with the Liberal Party. Some have worked for the Oxford Council for Famine Relief. At Oxford incidentally the Youth Club has decorated the local Probation Olfice, the schoolroom at the Ban- [page 46 becomes page 47] bury Chapel and done gardening for elderly people, unable to do it themselves. At Stourbridge, where the chapel has associations with William Akroyd, grandfather of Lord Beveridge and Frank Short, the water colour artist and etcher, two members have served as Mayors including Alderman H. Evers Palfrey, who has been four times Mayor of Stourbridge and who was made Liberal candidate for Stourbridge. Sir Michael N. Lakin who died in 1931, gave such devoted service to Warwick and Warwickshire that there is a Lakin Road in Warwick and a Hospital named after him.

Miss Caroline Badland who died in 1957, aged 102, laid the foundation stone of the Harry Cheshire Girls' School at Kidder-minster. Miss Jane Badland, her sister, died in 1958 at the age of 105. Both attended morning service regularly at the Kidder-minister Chapel. up to the 'time of their deaths.

In 1927 three of the four Alderman of the borough of Evesham were active members of the congregation - Geoffrey New, John Lloyd Felton and William Gill Smith. More recently Mrs. Amy Nightingale became Evesham's first woman town councillor, its first woman Mayor, and its first woman Alderman. She was Senior Alderman, when she retired in January 1961. For many years she was Chairman of the Evesham Public Library Committee and she was suceeded as Chairman of that committee by Kenneth Gill Smith, a life long member of Oat Street Chapel. His father, William Gill Smith, was Mayor of Evesham from 1923 till 1925.

Answers to a questionnaire sent out in July, 1961, show the type of people who attend Unitarian meetings is very varied. One is described as having as its core the widows of a number of railwaymen, attached to the Church during the ministries early in the present century of two ministers of left wing politics. Another congregation reports that its supporters contain people like a solicitor and coroner, a school teacher, a borough architect, a clerk to an Urban District Council, a garage clerk, pottery management staff, a medical supplies department manager, a tube works draughtsman and an electrician. Teachers and business people seem to be the core of another congregation. Clerical workers, retail trade workers, teachers and engineering operatives are the backbone of another congregation. Inevitably the congregation at Kidderminster contains its fair share of carpet workers and at Walsall representatives of the leather trade are to be found in the congregation. One Church with an overwhelmingly female membership includes amongst its supporters a fireman and an oil-painting restorer.

The age structure of Unitarian congregations tends to be middle aged and elderly, although the answers to the question- [page 47 becomes page 48] naires show great variations. Analysis of the replies from ten representative Unitarian congregations in the Midlands show that one congregation with no Sunday School was composed entirely of elderly people. Three lacked members between 21 and 40. Two claimed to have a middle aged and elderly congregation. Three had a membership representative of all ages.

Five of the ten Churches reported a decline in attendances since 1939. Only four of the ten had morning and evening servies on Sundays. Two held morning services only and four evening services only.

The lowest evening attendance was given as 12 and the highest 40. The average was 31. The lowest morning attendance was given as 13 and the highest 40. The average was about 24.

Eight of the 10 churches had branches of the Women's League. Seven ran Sunday Schools of varying sizes. One ran a Women's Burial Club with 470 members. Two ran Youth Clubs. Two ran branches of the Young People's League. One had a Boy Scouts and Girl Guides troop. One had an ''Old Ladies' Class' and another ran a Women's Friendly Hour.

All had endowments. The highest figure given was £500 per year and the lowest £100. The average for the ten was £254.

Most of the congregations reported that they had had converts. These came chiefiy from the Church of England and the Methodists and other orthodox denominations.

The lowest membership was given as 15 and the highest as 135. The average membership for the ten churches was 67.

It is significant that all the congregations argued that they would survive without the endowments but that the endowments helped them considerably, especially to pay the salaries of their ministers. One Church not included in the sample ten honestly said that without the endowments it could not pay a minister and that its congregation, averaging about 15 every Sunday evening, would probably not survive without a minister.

One congregation reported that prior to 1914 a minister's daughter had been unable to obtain a local educational appointment, because of her Unitarian convictions and had had to move to another town to get one. Two sisters who taught locally at this period had experienced discrimination against them.

Another congregation reported that prior to 1914 the congregation, which was then a wealthy and infiuential one, had attracted one or two people interested in securing favour with and possibly employment from some of the wealthier members.

Unitarianism in the Midlands is looking to the future. There are 13 Churches with active Sunday Schools and Children's [page 48 becomes page 49] Churches. Sunday School teachers are now helped by a Syllabus Sub-Committee which provides them with lesson material.

In 1959 the Hibbert Trustees arranged for Professor Basil Willey to give four lectures on "Darwinism in the History of Thought" at the University College of North Staffordshire. These attracted an audience from a wide field.

Most congregations seem to have plans for the future of one type or another. Some are hoping for little else than "Faithful continuance". Chesterfield is planning a "Forward Movement". The Kidderminster congregation hopes to renovate the Baxter pulpit and to move it from the vestry into the Church. When the schools and the old Domestic Mission are demolished in city re-planning in Leicester, the Great Meeting hopes to provide more suitable and smaller chapel rooms on the same site. The Lye congregation plans to celebrate the centenary of the building of their present premises by a complete restoration of their buildings and are planning to raise a fund for £1,500 to do this. Macclesfield Wants to have a "Forward Movement". At Stourbridge an Appeal Fund for £1,000 has been launched to meet the cost of further repairs to the chapel and the chapel premises. The Walsall congregation hopes to build a new chapel in an outlying district, when its present premises disappear as a result of road improvements.

At Warwick, where the School premises were sold seven years ago, the manse has been converted into two flats. A house, owned by the congregation, is to be renovated. In 1962 it is planned to renovate the Chapel. The current Year Book issued by the Warwick congregation says "Though Architects' and Builders' estimates of £3,000 necessary for renovation and repair, make a new challenge, yet congregations are increasing".

The Wolverhampton congregation, which has suffered some sharp set backs in recent years, reports : "We have a strong solid little body of people who are striving to build a Church worthy of its great traditions".

Such is typical of what is happening in congregations, where the leadership is go ahead. Expenditure on buildings is surely not the result of building worship but a sign that the congregations have the will to live.

To-day the great threats to human development lie in conformism. Politically the individual is threatened by totalitarian idealogies. Socially the individual is threatened by the mass mind and'the pressure of "Keeping up with the Joneses". Unitarianism stands for the essential, religious integrity and dignity of the individual. Politically, probably over 60 per cent of the modern Unitarians are Conservatives but all, Conservatives, Liberals and Socialists, are the type of people who have come to believe that [page 49 in to 50] the truth in religion or anything else can only be sought after by free enquiry. The very existence of such people at a time, when society is threatened by so many "Hidden persuaders" and by a swing back to Mediaevalism in religion, is a challenge to the evils of our times. In the same way, the clergy and their congregations who challenged the Act of Uniformity of 1662, were a challenge to the conformism of their times.

The aims of modern Unitarian congregations are well expressed in one of the various newsletters published by one of our Midland congregations in 1958; "In the love of Truth and in the spirit of Jesus, we unite for the worship of God and the service of man". In the Minister's Letter this sentence is equally fundamental; "This is surely one of the most distinctive characteristics of a Unitarian Church - the acknowledgment that minds are bound to differ but that hearts and hands may yet combine in the comradeship of action".

[page 51 follows]


(This list is necessarily incomplete).

"The Unitarian Contribution to Social Progress in England." R. V. Holt.

"The Unitarian Movement in the Religious Life of England, Its Contribution to Thought and Learning." H. McLachlan.

"Origins and History of Elder Yard Chapel, Chesterfield." Robson.

"Unitarianism in Its Actual Condition." Beard,

"A History of the Old Meeting House, Newcastle." Pegler.

"A History of the New Meeting House, Kidderminster." Evans.

"The Story of an Old Meeting House, 1737-1937 (Evesham)." Smith.

"Matthew Henry and His Chapel," Roberts.

"Midland Churches." G. E. Evans.

"Vestiges of Protestant Dissent." G. E. Evans,

"Lest We Forget." John Stanley.

"Lodge Road Church (Unitarian), West Bromwich." Spencer.

"High Street Chapel, Warwick, Tercentenary Programme, 1935."

"The Congregational Churches of Staffordshire." A. G. Matthews.

"Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, 1917-61."

"Early Warrington Nonconformity." Arthur Mounfield.

Reports of the Midland Christian Union and the North Midland Presbyterian and Unitarian Association.

"Priestley Centenary Handbook of the Presbyterian, Unitarian and other Liberal Christian Churches in the Midlands (1904)."

Reports of the Western Union of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches and the East Cheshire Union of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

"Memorials of the Old Meeting House." Beale,

"A Century of Birmingham Life." Langford.

Midland Unitarian Lay Preachers Association, Preaching Plans.

Year Books of the Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

"History of the Loughborough Unitarian Congregation." Burgess.

"The Midland Unitarian Quarterly."

Press cuttings from "The Birmingham Post," "Redditch Indicator," "Guardian Journal," etc.

"The Study' of Prices and the Value of Money." , Morgan.

Completed Questionnaires on the Recent Histories of Midland Unitarian Congregations.

"A History of the Presbyterian and General Baptist Churches in the West of England." ...Jerom March.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful