WRITTEN ON THE OCCASION OF THE
Seymour Street Methodist Church 1975
When I agreed to undertake the writing of the record I found it much less daunting than I had feared because of the great amount of research already carried out by Mr. Charles M. Allen. This account would not have been written without Mr. Allen's thorough and painstaking researches, his desire to produce an accurate and authentic historical record, his constant help and encouragement and his willingness to discuss and investigate any problem which arose. This Introduction is the only part of the manuscript which he has not read. To him, and to Rev. John A. T. Fee, who also read the script, I owe a debt of gratitude for their many, invariably helpful, suggestions.
Many others have also assisted. Several members of the Church answered our request for old documents, Annual Reports, and other material connected with the Church, much of it useful. I am particularly grateful for the help received from Mr. William Caves and Mr. Howard Stevenson. Several of the more senior members of the congregation were able to recall incidents going back to the 1920's and beyond. To all who helped I offer my thanks.
I am grateful to those who lent photographs, several of which have been used in the production, and to Mr. George Balfour, a former member of Seymour Street Church, now residing in Enniskillen, who photographed the church, the places associated with John Wesley, and several of the officials. Thanks are also due to former ministers and to others who cooperated by responding to the requests for photographs.
Finally I wish to acknowledge the help and co-operation of those who lent me books, particularly Rev. J. Winston Good and Dr. Samuel Baxter; of Rev. R. Desmond Morris who so willingly agreed to write the Foreword; of Mr. John Weir, of the Wesley Historical Society, for his unfailing courtesy and patience; and of my sister-in-law, Mrs. Gordon Wileman, who generously agreed to type the manuscript.
I have come to respect and admire the leaders and officials of the past hundred years. I hope, however, that those who hold office during the next hundred years will show greater interest in preserving and retaining records. of church activities, minutes of meetings and other potential historical data. I should have liked to have appended accurate lists of church officials but these are only available for the past thirty years. However, I hope that what has been written will prove of interest, that there are no errors of fact and few errors of judgment.
I have no doubt that the names of many worthy members have been
omitted. This, though regrettable, is almost inevitable. I apologise if
there are any glaring omissions and I accept entire responsibility for any
I regard it a real privilege to be invited to write a Foreword to this
excellent record of the history of Lisburn Methodist Church.
We, as a family, spent eight extremely happy years on the Circuit, and we shall ever be grateful for the opportunity of identifying ourselves with such generous and warmhearted people, sharing in their joys and sorrows, and facing with them the problems, changes and challenges in Christian Mission. Throughout that period we learned much about those good and faithful servants who, long since, have joined the Church Triumphant. The memories of their loyalty, devotion and sacrifice still linger on. It is with profound gratitude that we salute our forefathers in the faith.
It is most encouraging to learn of steady progress in recent years; the deepening of spiritual life; the energetic involvement in youth activities; the commitment of talented young people to the service of the Church both at Home and Overseas; and the growing concern for outreach and mission. We rejoice in every evidence of the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Whilst every birthday brings with it a sense of nostalgia and a looking gratefully into the past, the real purpose of our commemoration is lost if there is not also a forward look. It would be a mistake to consider a century of achievement without turning to the future. A wise teacher has said: `The essential planning for the future is part of the duty of today.' The present is ours to use as God directs. The immediate task, in this period of change and upheaval, is of the utmost importance It may be tough, complex and exacting, but if we have the will to do it, God will supply the necessary resources.
Methodism is still a living branch of the Universal Church, and while she is true to herself and all she represents, she is meaningful, relevant and attractive. When she preaches Christ's wonderful Gospel of love, forgiveness and renewal of life; when she nurtures and builds up her youth in Christian faith and teaching; when she commissions her gifted laymen
Despite this pessimism a small cause was established and, unlike many other areas, there was little active opposition or persecution. It seems likely that this fact can be attributed to the widespread respect for Mr. and Mrs. Cumberland and to the enlightened response from the local clergymen.
On Wesley's return in May, 1758, he says that "abundance of people attended the preaching." However, on his third visit, in May, 1760, he writes, "The people here are `all ear', but who can find a way to their heart?" Some indication of Wesley's remarkable energy is given by the casual comment in his journal that he preached to a large congregation at seven in Lisburn before hastening to Comber, "in order to be at church on time."
In 1762, Wesley paid a further visit to Lisburn, where he had many "rich and genteel hearers." On Sunday evening, 25th April, he had a large congregation, "and yet I saw not a scoffer, no, nor a trifler among them."
Wesley next visited Ulster in 1765. He arrived at Donaghadee after a five and a half hour sea crossing from Portpatrick on Ist May. Two days later he rode to Lisburn where he preached in the market-house. He writes, "The wind was as keen as in December; yet a large congregation attended. I then met what was left of the society; and the spirit of many that were faint revived." On the evening of the following day he preached in "the Linen Hall, so called, a large square, with piazzas on three sides of it." The present Post Office is built on the site of this Linen Hall.
During his visit to Lisburn in March, 1767, Wesley again preached in the area of the Linen Hall. Afterwards he administered the Sacrament to about forty or fifty persons, nearly all the Methodists in the counties of Down or Antrim. The editor of John Wesley's Journal, Nehemiah Curnock, writes, "This was probably the first Methodist Sacramental service in the north of Ireland."
Following the now established practice of biennial visits, Wesley returned to the Lisburn society in 1 769 and again in 1771. Of July 1, 1771, he writes, "I preached at Kilwarlin where, a few weeks ago, Thomas Motte died in peace. In the evening I preached in the Linen Hall at Lisburn to a numerous congregation." Wesley was clearly pleased with the response on that occasion because in his Journal for the following day he notes, "I preached on the Green at Newtownards; but the people had not the spirit of those in Lisburn."
Wesley's comments on his visit to Lisburn in 1773 throw light not only
on current medical practices but also on his own wry sense of humour. He
writes of Monday 14th June, "I preaches in the evening at Lisburn. All the
time I could spare here was taken up by poor patients. I generally asked,
`What remedies have you used?' and was not a little surprised. What has
fashion to do with physic? Why (in Ireland at least), almost as much as
head dress. Blisters, for anything or nothing, were all the fashion when I
was in Ireland last. Now the grand fashionable medicine for twenty
diseases (who would imagine it?) is mercury sublimate! Why is it not a
halter or a pistol? That would cure a little more speedily!"
It was on this visit that Wesley met Mrs. Henrietta Gayer, wife of Edward Gayer, Clerk of the Irish House of Lords, who lived in a beautiful mansion at Derriaghy, described by Wesley as "one of the pleasantest spots in the kingdom." Mrs. Gayer had been converted during the previous year and, together with her daughter, had been received as a member of the Lisburn Society. Mr. Gayer appears at first to have been hostile towards Methodism but after meeting Wesley, who had walked out to visit his wife at Derriaghy, he was much impressed by him, his prejudices were removed and the Gayer home was opened to Wesley and his preachers.
It was to the Gayer home that Wesley came on Saturday, 17th June, 1775. For about four days he had been ill but had insisted in carrying out a rigorous programme of preaching appointments. However in Tandragee he eventually agreed to being examined by a doctor, who diagnosed fever and prescribed rest. This, Wesley at first resisted but finding himself unable to preach, his "understanding being quite confused" and his "strength entirely gone", he decided to make for Derriaghy. Here he lay apparently at death's door. Great concern was felt for his well-being and much prayer was offered for his recovery. One day, during his illness, Thomas Payne, one of the preachers, with a few friends, prayed that God would prolong the life of His servant, and that, as in the case of Hezekiah, He would add fifteen years to his life. Mrs. Gayer suddenly rose from her knees and exclaimed, "The prayer is granted!" Shortly afterwards Wesley recovered and, interestingly, lived a further fifteen years and eight months. He astonished his friends by setting out for Dublin within a week, where he resumed his normal activities, preaching twice each day.
He returned to Lisburn and Derriaghy in June, 1778, where on this occasion he was more able to enjoy his visit. On Tuesday 16th June, he "preached at eight to a lively congregation, under the venerable old yew, supposed to have flourished in the reign of King James, if not of Queen Elizabeth." The venerable old yew still stands and flourishes, though more venerable now by almost two hundred years.
It was seven years later, in June 1785, that Wesley again visited Lisburn. Writing of Saturday 11th June, he says, "At six I preached in the Presbyterian meeting, a large and commodious building; and I was now with the most lively society that I had seen for many days." The following day he 'had what he calls a "solemn opportunity" when he preached in the open air to a congregation of between seven and eight thousand.
His preaching in Lisburn was clearly highly regarded because on his next visit in 1787, once again a large congregation assembled to hear him. It was, he declared, the largest that he had seen since leaving England, "and all, excepting a few giddy children, behaved as men that heard for life."
On the same Sunday afternoon Wesley visited Lambeg House, the home of Richard Wolfenden, husband of Mary Gayer, daughter of Edward and Henrietta Gayer. Lambeg House, which is situated amongst a bluff of trees just north-east of Lambeg Parish Church, is today known as Chrome Hill and is occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Robert McKinstry. In its grounds there are two beech trees which have grown together as one. It is said that as saplings they were intertwined by John Wesley and that he did so in order to demonstrate his hope that the Methodist Church and the Church of Ireland would eventually unite. Of the following day, Monday 11th June, he writes, "It being the Quarterly Meeting I preached at eleven in the Presbyterian meeting-house, a large and handsome building, freely offered both by the minister and his elders; and it then contained the congregation. But in the evening the multitude of people constrained me to return to my old stand in the Linen Hall; and I have hardly had so solemn an opportunity since we came into the kingdom."
Wesley's final visit to Lisburn occurred in June, 1789 and of this he writes, "In the evening I was at the new chapel in Lisburn, the largest and best finished in the North of Ireland."
This, in fact, was not a new chapel but the old one which had been enlarged and improved through the liberality of Mr. John Johnson. The original Methodist chapel had been erected about 1774, though possibly as early as 1772, mainly through the instrumentality of Mrs. Gayer, who had seen the need for a central preaching-house. It was built during the course of a year and in that period about seventy people from the town and neighbourhood joined the Society. One of those who helped to build it was Mr. John Johnson. Johnson had been born of Roman Catholic parents in Somerset in 1725. He became a shoemaker and after leaving the Roman Catholic Church he became a member of the Church of England. Following a period of depression and the death of his wife, who had deserted him, he was converted under the preaching of George Whitefield. He joined the Methodist Society and was called to Ireland to be a preacher. In 1768 he retired from the active itinerancy owing to poor health and in 1771 he settled in Lisburn where he continued to act as a local preacher. When, in 1788, the congregation became too large for the building, Mr. Johnson undertook its enlargement and renovation. With the support of the Society, and through a generous gift of £150 of his own money, he produced a building which well merited Wesley's praise. This building served the Society for just over one hundred years, until it was replaced by the present building in Seymour Street in 1875, It is still in existence as the Christian Workers' Union Hall in Market Street.
Days of Division
This situation was partly resolved in England in 1795 when the British Conference decided that, in certain circumstances, the Methodist preachers in England might administer the Sacraments, In the same year, 1795, a memorial was sent to the Irish Conference from the Lisburn Society requesti'ng that the Sacraments should be administered but the Irish Conference replied that it was not expedient to grant such a request.
A further area of disagreement was the matter of lay representation. Many members of the Irish church felt that laymen should be represented in the various governing bodies of the church, membership of which was the prerogative of the itinerant ministers. Once again, members from the Lisburn Society took the initiative in this matter and thirty-two stewards and leaders from Lisburn sent a memorial to the Irish Conference in 1798 requesting that lay representatives might be introduced into the District Meetings and the Conference. Not only was their request rejected-Conference considered such a request rebelliousness of spirit, "founded on the principles of Jacobinism." The reply of Conference stated, "We are determined in the most resolved manner, and with the most unanimous spirit, to reject the plan of delegates, in whatever shape or manner it may be proposed." The thirty-two Lisburn leaders were expelled from the Methodist Church in these words, " We can on no account have any further connexion with you."
The thirty-two men, thus expelled from the Methodist Church, formed a new society an ca led out Mr. John McClure as their first preacher. Shortly afterwards they became affiliated to the Methodist New Connection in England, a body which had been formed under similar circumstances in that country.
This society flourished and soon there was a membership of about two hundred. Among them were William Black, a godly and conscientious Christian from Lisburn, and George Carlisle of the Maze. The break from the Wesleyan Church was not effected without some bitterness and jealousy-a matter of great regret to Mr. Black, who, when he died in 1835, aged 90 years, was a patriarchal figure, a man beloved and respected by all.
This was the origin of the Methodist New Connexion-a branch of the Methodist Church which continued independently in Ireland for over 100 years-until in 1905 it was re-united with the Methodist Church in Ireland. Lisburn, where it all bean, was one of the leading areas of influence of the New Connexion and two of the churches on the present Lisburn Circuit, those at Broomhedge and Priesthill, were originally chapels of the Methodist New connexion. Other places where New Connexion Societies had been formed by 1800 included Bangor, Newtownards, Belfast, Knockbreckan, Milltown, Maze, Kilwarlin; Magheraga and Moyrusk; there was also a small society in Dublin.
This split in the Methodist Church anticipated a further and more significant division in 1816 when Conference decided that, on certain circuits and in certain circumstances, the Methodist ministers might, after all, administer the Sacraments. Again, members of the Wesleyan Society in Lisburn-the direct antedecedents of Seymour Street Congregation-had a contribution to make in this discussion. A meeting on 26th December, 1814, of Lisburn trustees, stewards and leaders resolved that "those Dissenters and others amongst us, whose minds are dissatisfied for want of the ordinances administered by our own preachers, may have these ordinances, as the wisdom of the Conference may direct; and that under existing circumstances, such a measure would relieve the minds of our dear and respected brethren from much painful exercise, and in our judgment promote a general union amongst us." This wise and liberal counsel was accepted by the Conference in 1816 but, unfortunately, it did not command general acceptance. About 7500 members of the Wesleyan Church in Ireland, who wished to retain the current position, rejected the innovation of the administration of the Sacraments, seceded from the Wesleyan Methodist Church, and set up an independent system of itinerancy, the Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Church.
Meanwhile, the, Wesleyan Methodist Church in Lisburn had flourished and an important event occurred in 1814-the founding of a Sunday School on the Circuit. Crookshank, in his History of Methodism, describes how Mr. John Collier, of Ballynacoy, near Lisburn, noticed, on his way to religious services, "numbers of boys and girls living in ignorance and sin, and strolling about the fields with none to care for them." Although he knew nothing of Sunday Schools he resolved to organize one. He commenced the School in his own premises, but so great was the interest in the project that before long it became necessary to move to a more suitable building and to seek the assistance of other teachers. Crookshank says that "within two years a marked change was apparent in the moral state of the neighbourhood."
The Wesley Tree in the grounds of Chrome Hill, Lambeg
Lisburn Methodism-Three Churches
The Methodist New Connexion Church was now firmly established in the
Lisburn area. When, in 1833 Rev. William McClure was appointed to the
Lisburn Circuit by the New Connexion Conference there were meetings in
Broomhedge, Ballinderry, Ballyskeagh, Priesthill, Moyrusk,
The Primitive Wesleyans made considerable progress, after some initial difficulties. Crookshank states that when, in 1827, a Primitive Wesleyan preacher, Mr. Edward Sullivan, came as a missioner to Lisburn he "found very few places prepared to receive him and therefore for some time laboured under considerable disadvantage." He moved on to more profitable areas, such as Banbridge, Dromore and Hillsborough. However, a few years later, in 1836, Mr. George Stewart, who had been appointed to the Primitive Wesleyan Mission in Lisburn and Antrim, reported, "This mission, with the exception of the town of Antrim, continues in a state of growing prosperity. During the last quarter we have formed four new classes, besides having obtained six additional leaders." This encouraging report appears justified by the fact that a new Primitive Wesleyan Chapel was completed in Lisburn in 1836. The foundation stone was laid at the close of 1835 by William Gregg. In February, 1836, it is recorded, "A commodious new preaching-house and residence are in a state of considerable forwardness. The site is very convenient and beautiful." By October, this new Primitive Wesleyan preaching-house was in use. In 1844, Mr. John Carlisle of Lisburn wrote in the Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, "We held our quarterly meeting here on Sunday, March 24th, and such a day has seldom been witnessed in this country. So great was the power of Divine influence that rested upon the people that all present felt it. About forty persons, some of whom were old, grey-headed men, were deeply convinced of sin, and came forward seeking salvation."
In 1851, according to Crookshank, "in Lisburn it appeared that the influence of the Gospel supplanted the love for horse-racing, and the institution of Temperance Societies bade fair to reclaim many from slavery to strong drink." The interest in the Temperance Movement in the Lisburn area appears to have been particularly strong among the Primitive Wesleyans and the members of the New Connexion. The great evangelical revival in Ireland occurred in 1859. According to Crookshank its influence in Lisburn appears to have originated in the Primitive Wesleyan Chapel. He writes, "Mr. George Hamilton preached in the street, night after night, and then invited his hearers into the house, until it was unable to accommodate the crowds, sometimes amounting to two thousand persons, who desired to be present."
The Wesleyan Methodist congregation continued to worship during this period in the church in Market Street. Records indicate a thriving, active church. The church was, like all Methodist churches, organised in the Class system. Each class, consisting of from four to thirty members, met weekly for prayer and fellowship under the guidance of a Class Leader. 4n 1828 these classes met at the following venues: Lisburn Chapel, 8 a.m.; Lisburn Chapel, 10 a.m.; Monday (in the home of Mrs. Delacherois); Females (in the home of Mrs. Barnsley); Troopersfield; Carnbane; Racecourse; Legmore; Clogher Hill; Tullyard; Dunmurry; Bainestown; Kilcorig; Quarry; Loughleek; Crew Hill; Killultagh; Steel's Hill; Ballinacoy; Stoneyford; Dundrod; Stroudspark; Pawnpark(sic); Upper Maze; Lower Maze; Lisadian; Flatfield; Broomhedge; Moyrusk; Magheragall; Redhill; Mileflush; as well as eighteen classes in the Dromore and Drumlough Divisions. By 1835 the Dromore and Drumlough classes disappear from the Lisburn Circuit records so it is probable that the Dromore division became a separate circuit at that time. Other centres for class meetings which appear in later years include Lisnestrain; Hill Hall; Magheralave; Ballymacleward; Lurgantaneel; Ballinderry; Causeway End; Annahilt; Piper Hill; Collin Mountain and Clontarf. This wide coverage of the Lisburn area gives some indication of the extent of Wesleyan Methodist influence around Lisburn about the middle of the nineteenth century.
During this period an important event was the opening of Magheragall Chapel. The land and property were granted in 1837 to Bennett Megarry of Kilcorig by the Marquis of Hertford and in turn leased to the following trustees: Robert McCall, Merchant, Erskine Neely, Pawnbroker, Redmond Jefferson, Gentleman, all of Lisburn; Henry Shillington, Jun., Aghagallon, James Megarry, Magheramesk, Alexander Magee, Killultagh, and Andrew Kernaghan, Slievenacloy, Farmers, on payment of an annual rent of One Shilling.
In Lisburn a new manse was purchased around 1860; a "large and commodious house in Castle Street was purchased from Mr. Barbour for the sum of £435 and £215 was expended upon it to fit it for the residence of both ministers of the circuit. It was occupied in November, 1861. The trustees of this property were: Rev. Henry Price, Rev. Robert Wallace, Rev. William Cather, Robert Cordner, George Thompson, James Kearns, Joseph Bell, John Stevenson, James Maze, Richard Megarry, James Megarry and Samuel Smyth.
Lambeg House (now Chrome Hill, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Robert
McKinstry) which was visited by John Wesley in 1787
The Building of Seymour Street Church
The congregation had for some time been contemplating the erection of a new building but the chief problem was that of procuring a suitable site. An approach was made to Sir Richard Wallace and he made a very generous offer of a valuable plot of ground, free of rent for ever, at the junction of the Belfast and Hilden roads at the Northern end of Seymour Street. On this site it was planned to erect a church, a school, two ministers' residences and office houses. The total cost was expected to be less than £4,000.
A committee was formed to undertake the necessary arrangements and to invite subscriptions. Alexander Stevenson of Market Square was the Secretary and George Thompson of Bow Street and John Stevenson of Market Square acted as Treasurers. Other members of this committee were Rev. Robert Collier, Rev. Francis Douglas, Messrs. Henry Hart, Hugh McCall, David Carlisle, James Cairns, Matthew Totten, Edward Allen, Alexander Mayes, Samuel Nelson and William John Bailey. A subscription list was opened and this was headed by a gift of £250 from Philip Johnston & Sons, Belfast. Messrs. William Campbell, Belfast, Henry Hart, Ravarnet House, George Thompson and John Stevenson each contributed £100. When the first subscription list was published in The Irish Evangelist of October 1st, 1873, it amounted to £1017 and contained 50 subscribers. A second subscription list was published in the same journal on December 1st, 1873, when the total had reached £ 1552.12.6 and there were a further 155 subscribers; these included the firm of William Barbour & Sons, Hilden, who subscribed £100. A third subscription list, published on July 8th, 1875, showed that a further 50 subscribers had raised the total to £1,760.15.9. When the church and school were opened in November, 1875, at a cost of almost £2,700, they were free of debt.
No time was lost in building operations. In November, 1874, the work was undertaken by Messrs. J. & R. Thompson, Belfast, who had the building ready for worship one year later. The ceremony of laying the foundation stone took place on Wednesday, 18th November, 1874. It was performed by Mr. Philip Johnston J.P., Dalriada, Belfast, whose initial generous gift had given encouragement and impetus to the appeal. The weather was very poor and much of the proceedings took place in the nearby Female School, the Belfast Gate School. A very large and representative gathering attended the ceremony. Rev. Robert Knowles, one of the ministers on the circuit, gave a detailed account of the origins of Methodism in the Lisburn area, the visits of Wesley, and the events leading up to the opening of the new church. Mr. Alexander Stevenson, the secretary of the Building Committee, introduced Mr. Johnston and presented him with the trowel to perform the ceremony. The stone which he laid was the south-west corner-stone and in a cavity beneath it was placed a large bottle containing copies of the Northern Whig and Newsletter, Methodist Recorder, etc., and several documents giving particulars of the congregation and the building.
The church was opened for Public Worship on Sunday, November 21st, 1875, when Rev. W. P. Appelbe, LL.D., preached at the morning service and Rev. Joseph W. McKay in the evening. The special opening services continued on Sunday, November 28th, when Rev. James McGarry, M.A., LL.D., D.C.L., preached at the morning service and Rev. William McMullen in the evening. The third and concluding series of services was held on Sunday, December 5th, when Rev. William Gorman, of Dublin, preached at both services. These services were well attended and the offering amounted to more than £400.
A description of the new church appeared in The Irish Evangelist of 1st January, 1876, and is included as a contemporary account of the building. "The new church is a very conspicuous and ornamental building, occupying an excellent site at the extreme end of Seymour Street, at the junction of the Belfast and Hilden roads. The main front is approached by a gradual incline, and a flight of steps leading to a large open vestibule, having bold, massive columns of the finest County Down granite, the carved caps and other enrichments being of Dungannon stone. The vestibule is surmounted by an encircled cornice, over which there is a large circular stone window in the principal gable. The front is flanked by wings, which form gables at the sides. The ornamented accessories of both sides of the building correspond with those of the main front, so that no portion of the building is enriched at the expense of the other. Throughout the building no special style is strictly followed, the principle governing the style being an appropriate employment of inexpensive materials, with strict regard to fitness of purpose. A very bold and pleasing architectural effect has been successfully secured by means of broken masses and well proportioned general outline rather than by a redundance of ornamental embellishments.
The very appropriate site was somewhat irregular, and being judiciously treated, added very much to the effect of the building. The advantage taken of the slope of the ground enabled the architect to provide a large airy school-room below the church. The school is entered off the Hilden Road by a common entrance, which also leads to the caretaker's house, committee-room, etc. The church, entered off the Belfast Road, is 51 feet long, 36 feet wide, and 30 feet high, and, with the end gallery, will accommodate over 400 persons. It is lighted by large circular-headed windows at each side, glazed with coloured cathedral glass of subdued tints, which, with the warm shade of the highly varnished woodwork, produces a very pleasing effect. The ceiling is panelled between the exposed roof timbers, and the windows are furnished with detached columns on each jamb. The recess at the back of the pulpit and the end wall are panelled to correspond with the ceiling, and thus the broken surface of walls and ceiling aid in securing good acoustic properties, and prevents that bald, naked appearance too often noticed in our provincial places of worship. Indeed, this church has the comfort and furnished appearance of a private room. The platform-pulpit, 16 feet long, and 5 feet wide, with the communion rail and furniture, are unusually elaborate, exhibiting very superior workmanship, and contributing very materially to the general elegance of the interior.
Ample provision is made for heating, lighting, and, above all. ventilation. The heating is very effectively secured by a simple arrangement of hot water pipes. The gas fittings consist of a corona from the ceiling and neat brackers springing from the side walls, which produce a brilliant effect when lighted. The ventilators in the ceiling, and all the large windows, open in at the top by a peculiar arrangement, which directs the fresh air upwards and prevents draughts. The same system is applied in the school, so that an ample supply of fresh air is always available. The school, caretaker's residence, committee room, vestry, etc., have been fitted up with all necessary requirements, so as to render the establishment as complete as possible.
During the series of opening services just concluded, the new building has been visited by a very large number of persons, and the general testimony seems to be that this church is so effective in appearance, tasteful in its appointments, and perfect In all its arrangements, it may be considered a typical example of a complete Methodist Church, and the testimony of the numerous visitors' approval was confirmed by the liberality of their contributions. The church was designed and built under the direction of William Gray, Esq., M.R.I.A. architect, Belfast. Messrs. Thompsons, of Ballymacarrett, were the contractors. Messrs. Musgrave and Co. carried out the heating, and Mr. Carlisle, of Donegall Street, provided the gasfitting; the total cost being under £2,700."
An interesting report appeared in the "Methodist Intelligence" column of The Irish Evangelist of 1st October, 1878. It read, "The Methodists of' Lisburn have completed their arrangements for opening on 1st October next a classical school under the Intermediate Education Act. The Principal of the new school, Mr. C. F. Baker, T.C.D., bears the highest testimonials." Two months later in The Irish Evangelist of 2nd December there appeared the following advertisement:
"The Principal of the Lisburn Intermediate School, C. F. Baker, T.C.D., will receive a limited number of Pupils as Boarders, who will have, in addition to the advantage of a well-conducted Middle Class School, the personal assistance of the Principal in the preparation of their work. Pupils will be prepared in the shortest possible time for Trinity, the Queen's College and Civil Service Examinations.
The residence is spacious, and furnished with shower and plunge baths. It is in a healthy locality.
References kindly permitted to the parents of former pupils, and to the Revs. J. W. Jones, R. Roberts, James Dixon, John Dwyer, George Vance, John Carson, James Thompson and W. Nicholas, A.B.
Many of Mr. Baker's former pupils now occupy distinguished positions in the various professions and Civil Service employments.
Terms for pupils under 15 years, including English, Mathematics, Classics and French, £26 per annum.
Special terms for Boys over 15 years. Great attention given to backward or neglected Boys.
For further information apply to the Principal."
A report in The Irish Evangelist on Ist February, 1879, suggests that there was a good response to Mr. Baker's efforts to enlist pupils. It reads,
"The Intermediate School lately established by Rev. J. W. Jones in Lisburn is progressing favourably. The number on the roll is now 72 and, under the care of Mr. C. F. Baker, it is likely to increase." Rev. J. W. Jones was at that time the Superintendent Minister of the Lisburn Circuit. There is one further mention of Mr. Baker in the contemporary press. A report in the Belfast News Letter of 17th February, 1881, mentions the prize distribution of "Lisburn Academy and Intermediate School." The prizes were presented by Sir Richard Wallace "in the large room of the new schools." The Principal's name is given as C. F. Baker. There is evidence that C. F. Baker's school was opened in Market Place (Dublin Road), probably in the building now used by the Salvation Army.
The present Wallace High School on Antrim Road was built by Sir Richard Wallace in 1880, under the name, "Lisburn Intermediate and University School." The first headmaster, according to the school brochure, was Mr. A. C. Baker. It appears to be a remarkable coincidence that there were two Intermediate Schools in Lisburn, one founded in 1878 and the other in 1880; that their two principals should have the same surname, Baker; that Sir Richard Wallace should have associations with both; and that one should have been newly built in 1880 whilst the other should hold a prize distribution in February 1881,"in the large room of the new schools." Perhaps in the future these similarities may be explained and it may be discovered that the present Wallace High School is a continuation of the earlier intermediate School, founded by the Methodist Church.
Mr. C. F. Baker., during his short stay in Lisburn, was appointed a Class Leader and a note in the Membership records indicates that he left Lisburn in June 1881 to go to Skibbereen.
Seymour Street National School was opened in July, 1886, mainly through the efforts of Rev. Dr. Hollingsworth, the Superintendent Minister of Lisburn Circuit. The first headmaster was Mr. James Henry, LL. D., B. L., under whose leadership the school quickly grew. By the end of the first year there were three assistant teachers on the staff and by the following Spring a fourth assistant became necessary. These four assistant teachers were in turn assisted by several monitors. Dr. Henry resigned in July, 1897, in order to join the legal profession. He was succeeded by Mr. Alex. S. Mayes. The school was highly regarded as it provided a wide curriculum, including the study of languages and science, which appealed to more senior students. Many of its pupils won valuable entrance scholarships to such well-known educational establishments as Methodist College, Campbell College and Victoria High School.
As numbers on rolls increased (at one time, according to contemporary reports there were 240 children enrolled) the accommodation became increasingly cramped and inadequate. Only a completely new school could solve the problem. However such an undertaking would prove very costly and the leaders were much exercised about the situation when a new school was made possible through the generosity of Mrs Archibald McAfee, a widow, of Bow Street. Mrs. McAfee was probably the last surviving member of the Foote family which had long had a close association with the Seymour Street congregation and, indeed, with the Market Street Preaching-house of earlier days. She, herself, was not a member of the Methodist Church, having become a Presbyterian, probably at the time of her marriage. She wished to honour the memory of her recently deceased brother, William Foote, described by the Lisburn Standard as "a well-known and respected business-man of Lisburn," who had been a member of Seymour Street congregation. She offered a donation of £1,500 to be used to build a school which would bear his name. The leaders were delighted to receive such a munificent gift and the school was erected on ground already belonging to the congregation, with 100 feet frontage along Wesley Street. It is probable that Mrs. McAfee's gift covered the entire cost of building the new school. Appeals were made for help in furnishing the classrooms and individual members' gifts were used for this purpose. The Barbour family was responsible for furnishing two of the rooms.
The school was built by James McNally, Lisburn, the architect being J. St. John Phillips, A.R.I.B.A., of Belfast. The opening ceremony on Wednesday, 15th April, 1908, was presided over by the Superintendent of the Lisburn Circuit and Manager of the School, Rev. Alexander Egan, who referred to the work of his colleagues on the Building Committee, Dr. James G. Jefferson and Mr. Thompson Allen. The door of the new school, which comprised five classrooms, was opened by Mrs. Harold Barbour of Dunmurry and speeches were made by Rev. Dr. Evans, a Commissioner of Irish National Education, Rev. G. R. Wedgwood, Chairman of the Belfast District Synod, Professor A. C. Dixon, Queen's College, Mr. Harold Barbour and Mr. James Pelan, Chairman of the Urban District Council. It is an interesting comment on the good relationships between the sister churches that Rev. Canon Pounden of Lisburn Cathedral pronounced the Benediction at the Ceremony. Unfortunately Mrs. McAfee, who was 86 years old, was too infirm to be present at the opening ceremony. Indeed, she died only a few months later. One of our oldest members, the "father" of our Leaders' Board, Mr. David Williams, remembers her funeral. He recalls that boys from the William Foote Memorial School attended her funeral in August, 1908, and that it was one of the last local funerals to have a four-horse hearse.
Mr. Alexander S. Mayes, B.A. who had been headmaster of Seymour Street National School continued in this capacity in the new school until 1917 when he was succeeded by Mr. Francis O'Kane. Mr. Mayes, on his departure from Lisburn, went to Duncairn Gardens, Belfast. He played a prominent part in founding the Belfast District Sunday School Union. M r. James Wells succeeded Mr. O'Kane in 1937 and in 1956 he was followed as headmaster by Mr. David G. Leinster. The building was vacated in 1966 just before Mr. Leinster's retirement in 1967.
Following the 1923 Education Act the Regional Education Committees took over responsibility for the former National Schools. The William Foote Memorial School was handed over to the Lisburn and Belfast Regional Education Committee and was then run by a "four and two" committee. The premises continued to be used until 1966 when the new committee. Primary School was opened. Then, as there was no further use for the William Foote Memorial School as a school the premises were handed back to the church in their original "plight and condition." They were then ready to begin a new and exciting chapter in their history.
Lisburn Methodism-One Church
In the years immediately following the opening of the new church in 1875 there occurred important changes in the organisation of Methodism in the Lisburn district.
As has already been stated an important schism in Methodism in 1816 had led to the formation of the Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Church. For a number of reasons, not the least being a dramatic decline in the membership of the Primitive Wesleyan Church from about 1860 onwards, attempts were made to re-unite the Primitive Wesleyan and the Wesleyan communions. This re-union was effected in 1878. At that time there were 40 members of Lisburn Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Church. These were absorbed into Seymour Street Wesleyan Methodist Church, to form Lisburn Methodist Church, as it was now officially designated.
During the following year, 1879, a revision of circuit boundaries took
place. Lisburn circuit lost five classes, consisting of 48 members, and
six preaching-places, Ballinacoy, Knockcairn, Bridgend, Stoneyford,
Rushyhill and Ballymacward, to the Antrim and Glenavy Circuit.
A notable period of spiritual activity occurred in the Spring of 1891, when the circuit ministers were Revs. Henry Ball and G. W. Thompson. According to The Lisburn Standard "a remarkable revival broke out. The work began very quietly, no special advertising being done. A small band of workers went out with a lantern to announce the services. The meetings grew in interest and power in a very remarkable way, and were continued for about ten to twelve weeks, drawing very large congregations. All available spaces were filled, pulpit steps, boardroom, vestry, aisles, etc., being occupied. The gracious influence became so great that an address became almost unnecessary. On one occasion, after an address of ten minutes, 110 names were taken at the enquiry room. It became necessary to open the schoolroom for the enquirers. The meetings reached various classes-policemen, shop assistants, factory workers, and some very low, degraded people were among the seekers. Among those who helped our own ministers were Rev. Crawford Johnston and Rev. James Grubb, who brought large numbers from the Central Mission with them; Rev. James Harpur, Rev. John E. Green and the local Presbyterian ministers gave valuable help. Billy Spence, Mr. Joseph Connell, Mr. Hugh McCahey, Mr. J. Neill, Mr. S. J. Briggs and Mr. James Maze were also very busy in helping the converts. When the mission closed the interest and power were as great as when it commenced-physical exhaustion and lengthening of days brought it to a close."
The re-union of the Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Church had been successfully negotiated in 1878. There still remained the Methodist New Connexion-particularly strong in Lisburn, the place of its origin in Ireland. Following the re-union of two branches of Methodism many felt that the split between the Methodist Church and the Methodist New Connexion was no longer necessary. That was especially true as the differences in church government and administration no longer existed. Following a resolution from the Quarterly Meeting of the Wesleyan Church in Bangor, where the Methodist New Connexion was also notably strong, two committees, one from each communion, met in 1904 and recommended a union-in practice a transfer of all the mission work and property of the Methodist New Connexion in Ireland to the control and jurisdiction of the Methodist Conference. This transfer was completed in 1905, when the Lisburn Circuit as we know it to-day was constituted. The Lisburn New Connexion church was closed, the members being absorbed into Seymour Street; Broomhedge and Priesthill, former Methodist New Connexion churches, became divisions of the new circuit.
It is interesting to examine the terms and conditions of this transfer.
In the Minutes of Conference for 1905 it states that Conference approved
the Report of the Committee appointed by Belfast District Synod and
consisting of the Superintendent and Circuit Stewards of Lisburn Circuit
in consultation with the officials of Broomhedge and Priesthill. The
Conference approved of the union of Broom-hedge and Priesthill with
Lisburn Circuit on the following conditions:
Quarterly Meeting shall exercise its functions for the whole circuit.
Some idea of the importance of the merger with the Methodist New Connexion can be seen in the increase in membership of the Lisburn Circuit. In 1904 there were 301 members, in 1905 the membership was 514.
The Methodist New Connexion owned a Schoolhouse in Antrim Street, the site of which is said to be occupied to-day by the firm of B. J. Eastwood, Bookmakers. In 1907 this Schoolhouse was bought by the officers of the Home Mission Fund for £150. The Conference of 1908 sanctioned the selling of the Schoolhouse but there appear to have been no purchasers because in 1910 Conference agreed to the leasing of the premises for ten years at £ 13.10.0 per annum to a Mr. Duncan for use as a Blouse Factory. Its later history is unknown.
It will be remembered that when Seymour Street Church was opened in 1875 the plans included two ministers' residences which were to be built on the site adjacent to the church. In fact, as those acquainted with Lisburn Methodism are aware, only one manse was built. The actual date of building is unknown-certainly the manse was built at a later date than 1875. In The Irish Evangelist of April, 1880, a note referring to the Lisburn Circuit mentioned ". . . a sum of £150 is in the bank towards erection of a new manse." In the Belfast News Letter of 28th June, 1882, there appears a report of a Conference decision that ". . . £300, part proceeds of the sale of manses in Lisburn, should be put at the disposal of the circuit." Possibly these manses may include the house purchased in Castle Street around 1860 and the Primitive Wesleyan Manse connected with the church in Dublin Road. If the former was being sold it would suggest that the new manse, beside the church, was ready for occupation in 1882.
Early in the first decade of the 20th century Mr. Samuel J. Briggs, a tailor, of Bow Street, Lisburn, who had been appointed Class Leader of the Hull's H ill Class on the death of Mr. John Connell in 1892, began a Sunday School and services in his cottage residence situated on the Lisburn side of Hull's Hill Corner on the Lisburn/ Moira road. He was greatly assisted later by Mr. Thomas Balmer and his wife who owned a grocery shop nearby. Those who attended were from various denominations though Mr. Briggs and Mr. and Mrs. Balmer were members of Seymour Street Congregation.
Numbers attending these services greatly increased, following the Mission in 1921 conducted by Rev. W. P. Nicholson, and the present wooden hall was erected soon after. Following the death of Mr. Briggs the venture was operated by a local committee, few of whom were Methodist. It was understood that it had been Mr. Briggs's wish to have the hall handed over to Seymour Street Methodist Church and this was effected about 1941/42. The services continued to attract local support but by 1962 considerable expenditure on the building seemed necessary owing to decay. As no Methodist remained on the Committee, and as the association with Seymour Street was tenuous, the building and site were transferred from the Methodist Church to the local committee and Hull's Hill Hall ceased to farm part of the Lisburn Circuit from 1964.
A cottage service at Ravarnette and an open-air, service at Barnsley's Row, off Linenhall Street, were for some time regular appointments for the Ministers of Seymour Street. Their frequency and the duration of their activity cannot be recalled with certainly but they appear to have flourished during the second decade of the present century and to have been discontinued in the following years.
Ballyskeagh Mission Hall, Lambeg, is still on the plan for Sunday Services. Meetings for fellowship, Bible study and Sunday School instruction were held in various houses in the Ballyskeagh area early in the 20th Century. The meetings which led to the erection of the present hall seem to have started about 1911 or 1912. They were inter-denominational and appear to have been begun by Mr. James Allen, supported by Mr. John Wilkinson. These men were both members of the Church of Ireland and seem to have been influenced to some extent by the "Cooneyite" movement at that time. Few attending had any Methodist affiliation.
After the Gee family moved from Lisburn to Ballyskeagh, services were being taken on a monthly basis by Ministers of the various denominations in the locality, and gradually there appears to have arisen a preference for the services of the Methodist Minister. By that time a disused house had been adapted for the meeting but as attendances increased this became too small. In 1927, during the ministry of Rev. John N. Spence, the Methodist Church in Seymour Street acceded to a request to take over the administration of the cause. A sum of £527 was gradually collected and the present hall, designed by Mr. James Shortt, the contemporary Town Surveyor of Lisburn, was built. It was opened on 23rd October, 1927, when the preacher was Rev. E. B. Cullen.
Mr. Albert Gee was much involved in the management of this cause and continued so (in effect as Society Steward) until the Autumn of 1941 when other commitments demanded his attention. Meetings were held regularly until March, 1941, when, following the German air-raids, the Hall was used as an emergency evacuation centre for people from Belfast. Mr. Gee spared no efforts in building bunks and making the necessary arrangements to house and feed the evacuees. He was greatly assisted by Mr. Robert Gill who looked after the Hall during this period and later during the twentyfive years when Mr. J. Wesley Campbell was Superintendent of Ballyskeagh Sunday School. Mr. Campbell resigned from this position in 1967. In 1973, Mr. W. Leslie Millar was appointed Society Steward for Ballyskeagh. The Ballyskeagh cause owes its survival and growth to the devoted service of all these men and to very many others who remain anonymous.
During the First World War, a concern was felt that something should be done to help the young people of the congregation. Rev. R. Hull Spence, the Junior Minister in Seymour Street, made a move to do something practical by founding a troop of Boy Scouts. The Scout Movement was then in its infancy and it would be fair to say that many members looked on the project with tolerance rather than enthusiasm. However the Leaders' Board gave its permission and the troop was formed. Mr. Spence left the Circuit in 1915 and, following his departure to become a Chaplain to the Forces, enthusiasm waned. Nevertheless the Troop still existed at late as 1919 when it made an uninvited "guest appearance" at the Victory Parade in Lisburn. It became defunct soon after.
A more permanent form of youth work began in 1923 with the formation of Life Brigade companies for both boys and girls. Thus there commenced a work which has had a good influence on the lives of many members of the congregation.
In the Autumn of 1923, with the active encouragement of Rev. Herbert Deale, Commissioner of the Boys' Life Brigade in Ireland, then composed of one Company only, 1st Portadown, attached to Thomas Street Methodist Church, a company was formed in Seymour Street. The Superintendent Minister of Lisburn, Rev. Beresford S. Lyons, had been keen to band together the boys of the congregation and he became the first Chaplain of the Company, whilst the Junior Minister, Rev. W. H. Stewart, was appointed as the first Captain. As the Junior Minister remained on the Circuit for no longer than two years there were frequent changes in the captaincy in the early years of the Company. Geoffrey Deale, the son of Rev. Herbert Deale, was eventually appointed Captain and gave faithful service until he was transferred to England on promotion. Mr. William Caves, one of the founder members and later Captain of the Company, also gave valuable and faithful service to the Company in its early and later years. The Boys' Life Brigade eventually amalgamated with the Boys' Brigade to form one of the largest organisations for boys and, as the 1st Lisburn Company B.B., attached to Railway Street, had already been members of the Belfast Battalion for many years, the 2nd Lisburn Company B.B. was created. Many Officers and N.C.O.'s have given valuable service to keep the Company alive through the years.
Shortly after the formation of the Boys' Life Brigade Company it was felt that an organisation for girls would be helpful. Rev. Herbert Deale, who had inspired the founding of the Boys' Company, suggested that a Girls' Life Brigade should be formed in Seymour Street. On 6th November, 1923, thirty-two girls and three potential officers met in the Schoolroom and decided to act upon this suggestion. The G.L.B. Company was to meet weekly on Thursdays; Miss Sally McCahey was to be in charge and she was to be assisted by Miss Isabel Tate and Miss Georgie Menary. Rev. Beresford S. Lyons became the Company's first chaplain.
Later when the Company was affiliated to Headquarters in London on 24th March, 1924, Miss Isabel Tate, now the wife of Rev. D. Hall Ludlow, became its first Captain and later Miss Ruby Walker assisted as Lieutenant. From the start, Officers and girls were enthusiastic, Classes were formed and work on badges commenced. It was gratifying, that so many of the early members, including the first Captain, were present at the Jubilee celebrations in 1974. Many of them spoke of the helpful and enjoyable times spent in those early days.
A couple of years after the formation of the Boys' Life Brigade Company, about 1925, a need was felt for a similar organisation for younger boys so under the direction of Miss Sophie Given a Life Boy Company was formed. Miss Given was assisted by Miss McDonald.
The 1920's were a period of evangelical zeal and fervour, following the missionary activity of Rev. W. P. Nicholson. He held a Mission in Lisburn, in Railway Street Presbyterian Church, which had the greatest seating capacity. This mission had the support of almost all the Protestant ministers and was inter-denominational but it proved of lasting benefit to Seymour Street congregation as many of the converts returned to the church to participate in its activites and, in some cases, to become enthusiastic leaders.
A further important Mission occurred in Seymour Street in 1933-it seemed almost by accident. A young man from Lisburn, Harold Ruddock, had been converted in his late "teens" or early twenties. With his family, he joined Seymour Street congregation and later went to study in Cliff College. There two of his fellow students were Tom Butler and Joe Blinco. It was the custom for the students of Cliff College to go out "on trek" preaching the Gospel as they travelled. Perhaps because of their friendship with Harold Ruddock, Messrs. Butler and Blinco arrived at Seymour Street in September 1933, unknown and unexpected. The Superintendent Minister, Rev. Edward Whittaker, hastily convened a Leaders' Meeting following the Sunday morning service and the two students were authorised to conduct a Mission for a fortnight. There was a certain novelty in the appearance of the young men, dressed in their shorts, and crowds quickly gathered, despite the short notice and lack of advertising. Many people were touched by the Message preached and much work of lasting good was effected.
The following year, in March, 1934, Joe Blinco and Tom Butler returned
to the Lisburn district and held missions in Magheragall and Ballyskeagh.
Tom Butler returned again in 1961 and conducted a fortnight's mission, the
New Life Crusade, in Seymour Street. From time to time he visits Seymour
Street where he is always sure of a warm welcome. He comes now more
sedately dressed but is as energetic and ebullient as ever.
One form of Christian activity undertaken by the Church was of a temporary nature but had a strong impact on the life of the community. During the Second World War troops from the Dunkirk evacuation began to build up in the Lisburn area from June 1940 and the numbers were augmented by airmen when the aerodrome for R.A.F. training opened at Long Kesh. Facilities for evening meals and recreation were lacking in off duty hours. The congregation at Seymour Street therefore offered facilities for those needs to be supplied in the Church Hall beneath the Church. A band of almost 100 voluntary workers operated on a rota basis, members serving as they had free time. The small kitchen then existing was really inadequate for the purpose but somehow the need was met and snacks of all kinds were provided at the cost of materials only. Prizes for games and competitions were offered; sing-songs and impromptu concerts took place. Many who were not members of the Methodist Church joined in to help; there were staff available to serve every night and enthusiasm was maintained at a high level .
The Minister at that time, Rev. John Hart, remembers the occasion well and speaks with great enthusiasm of the spirit of helpfulness and cooperation which was generated. At one period 10,000 meals were being provided per month and many of the soldiers were entertained in the homes of members of the congregation. Friendships were formed which lasted long beyond the end of the war and letters of appreciation were received from men drafted to all parts of the world. Mr. Hart, in his reminiscences, remembers and emphasises the total involvement of members of Seymour Street Congregation, their response to the need of the armed forces and their kindness and consideration towards men shattered by the experience of Dunkirk.
Help was also given to evacuees from Belfast following the bombings in April, 1941. Mr. Hart, who was an A.R.P. warden, vividly remembers the scene as hundreds of refugees trudged along the road from Belfast into Lisburn. They were frightened, dazed and demoralised, many of them were injured and blood-stained, some didn't know where they were and were surprised when told that they had reached Lisburn. Again the members of the congregation rose to the occasion. Scores of these refugees were given sleeping accommodation in the church, in the canteen and in the William Foote Memorial School. Women with nursing experience tended those who were injured, patching up wounds and bathing the children. The church organist, Miss Maureen Johnston, played the organ in the church to help soothe and calm those who were upset.
No praise can be too great for the leadership and direction given to this humane and Christian activity by Rev. John Hart. He threw himself into the work with enthusiasm. He was Chaplain to twelve military units, including some American troops, stationed in the area. He opened an Advice Clinic where, through personal interviews, he sought to help many of the men who had personal problems, especially those who had come through the nightmare experience of Dunkirk. Mr. Hart helped found and administer the Lisburn Air-Raid Distress Fund and was one of the founders of the Social Welfare Committee in Lisburn. So great, indeed, was his participation in public affairs and the esteem in which he was held in the town that the Urban District Council took the unprecedented step of writing to the President of the Conference, Dr. W. L. Northridge, asking that his term of office in Lisburn should be specially extended in order that he might help to bring to completion the various schemes which he had helped to inaugurate. This request could not, however, according to the rules of Conference, be granted.
A Personal Memoir
"A Faithful Servant"'
But this occasion was different and they waited patiently until, after many false alarms, they heard the sound they were expecting-one not often heard nowadays-the clip-clop of horse's hooves, accompanied by that peculiar swishing of rubber tyres on the wet metal road. A jaunting car, now only seen on postcards, slowed down and with a final, "Whoa there, girl!" came to a halt opposite the gate. The Jarvey seated on the dickey with a foot on each shaft stirred himself and, after climbing down via a foot pedal, removed the rug from the passenger's knees and assisted the little lady to alight. She immediately commenced giving instructions regarding the unloading of the musical instrument strapped on the other seat of the jaunting car.
The boys watched wide-eyed, for this instrument was not a violin, 'cello or even a double-bass but a harp, and was generally only seen once or twice a year, and they never ceased to be amazed by the fact that when placed carefully on the path, the instrument was taller than its owner, who was under five feet in height.
The lady's name was Miss Maud J. G. Hunter, and no history written in the centenary year of Seymour Street would be complete without mention of her name. She was organist for thirty of the past 100 years and the music of her regime was all that Church music should be, and will always be remembered by those who were privileged to attend during her years of faithful service.
The occasions when the harp was played were the Congregational Reunion, or Social as it was then called, when Miss Hunter accompanied some of her invited artistes. Many were the occasions when the old hall rang to the well-known songs of these islands. At these social evenings most of those present were seated at or convenient to long tables capable of seating 24 persons and presided over by two hostesses, one at each end.
How well those tables looked, covered with the pure-white linen cloths specially laundered for this annual event. The flowers added their usual touch of colour and the silver tea-services at either end of the tables gleamed in the light from the gas-lamps overhead and the flickering flames from the two huge coal fires, which were then the only means of heating the room, added their reflections to the sparkling silver. Each tea-maker (then called) was attended by a gentleman who kept her supplied with all her requirements and helped those seated at the tables. One of these gentlemen had always to quote his yearly joke on these occasions, "I am keeping the ladies in hot water."
In those days the congregation was much smaller than at present but the eight long tables would always be fully occupied with overflows seated on forms around the walls. The six stables at the back of the Manse were all occupied, with some horses sheeted and tethered behind the playground wall and the playground completely chock-a-block with pony traps. Oh, yes! they did not mind travelling miles, in conditions we would now consider most uncomfortable, to be present at the Church Social.
After the reports from the stewards, which were generally long with
many items and details, although. in those days the total income would
never have reached four figures, the programme commenced and the items
were varied; soloists, duettists, instrumentalists, elocutionists, all
gave of their best, and the applause, coupled with requests for encores,
was hearty and spontaneous. One of those taking part and who gave great
pleasure to all present was Mr. David Williams who was gifted with a
beautiful tenor voice and was greatly in demand, not only locally but much
Children's Sunday was a memorable service for those taking part when girls and boys from the Sunday School occupied the front centre seats, girls on the Manse side and boys opposite, and during hymn singing they faced the congregation.
It is not difficult to recall the opening hymn always sung at this service:
Ten thousand times ten thousand
The strains of the orchestra and harmonium, the singing of the choir, children, and congregation must surely be remembered by those who were present at those services.
The opening lines of the second verse of the hymn
"What rush of Hallelujahs
must have suggested to the children taking part that they were having a prelude to Heaven itself.
The actual dates of Miss Hunter's years of service may be uncertain, but she was organist and continued for some considerable time after the new organ was installed in 1920.
It might interest readers to learn that the organ builders arrived from England to commence work on Monday, 23rd August, 1920, following the Sunday when District Inspector Swanzy was shot at the door of the Northern Bank on the corner of Railway Street. Many shops and houses were in flames and the two English workmen. hesitated about opening the huge cases of organ pipes which were delivered to the front of the church. On being assured that the mobs would not organise a band and use the pipes as instruments, and that they would get assistance, they opened the cases and with the assistance of many willing helpers the contents were safely deposited in the church pews. Some weeks later the builders were searching for one very small pipe and were in some distress when a thorough search of every pew in the Church revealed no trace of the missing flute but, fortunately, someone suggested it might have been overlooked in unpacking the cases and, as the empty cases had not yet been returned, a search revealed the lost pipe buried in the shavings and it is hardly advisable to state the nature of their form of celebration.
The organ chamber was, of course, built many weeks before the installation of the organ and in June, 1920 Miss Hunter's orchestra performed for the last time at the Children's Service. At that time the Church was lit by gas and after wooden brackets had been screwed to the walls of the chamber, members of the congregation brought large oil lamps to provide light for the orchestra and the harmonium.
Can you visualise what the scene was like? The chamber was a rectangular room of approximately 200 square feet, the inner walls framed with tongued and grooved sheeting and reaching the height of the semicircular dome above the existing frontal organ pipes. Filled with the members of the orchestra, their music stands and instruments gleaming in the soft lights of the oil lamps, the chamber provided a scene never to be forgotten by those present.
Miss Hunter who lived to celebrate her 100th birthday, and was blind
for some years before her decease, will always be remembered by those who
knew her and it is gratifying to know her name is recorded in the