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Holy Trinity Church Drumbo

Holy Trinity Church DrumboAlthough there has been a Christian presence at Drumbo for over 1000 years, the present church dates from 1791. The Round Tower beside the Presbyterian Church in the village of Drumbo marks the site of the early Celtic monastery, which, after the Reformation in the 16th century, became the site of the parish church until the late 18th century. The local population had by then moved downhill to the Lagan valley and the churchwardens decided to build the new church in the townland of Ballylesson on a prominent site belonging to one of the churchwardens, James Beers, the actual site being chosen by the great Wills Hill, the first Marquis of Downshire. The old site at Drumbo village was taken over by the Presbyterian Church, who built a new church there in 1882.

The architect, Charles Lilly, was suggested by Lord Downshire, for whom he had already carried out several commissions in other parts of County Down. Six bells were purchased for the new church and the total cost, including the bells, was £1251.5.0 ½; the account for this sum survives in the Public Record Office. The church was speedily built and ready for consecration by William Dickson, Bishop of Down and Connor, on 24 July 1791. A copy of the Deed of Consecration is framed and hangs in the church.

Drumbo is fortunate in that it possesses a complete record of Vestry minutes and Preachers' Books, although it has to be said that the recording of Vestry minutes depended largely on the efficiency of the recorder, usually the Rector.

Interior Holy Trinity Church drumboNevertheless, we can piece together a fairly Accurate history of the various building stages in what one sees to-day. The only original part of the church is, in fact, the porch and tower, which houses the bells. Note the round arch on the right hand side )f the entrance with the oculus window above; these are original and were once replicated on the opposite side of the porch Along with the arch at the entrance to the lave. However, on the left hand side, there s now the entrance to the vestry, or robing room, which was added in 1825. During he recent restoration, it was discovered hat the wooden floor of this room had been laid on the grass, without any foundations beyond those which supported the walls. At the entrance to the vestry, there is a small plan of the church as it was at this period, with Georgian box pews and a three tier pulpit, as was the norm.

The Batt family of Purdysburn was perhaps the most influential family in the district. The first Batt who lived in Purdysburn was Narcissus, one of the founders of the Belfast Bank, who came to live here in the 1820s. He was a noted merchant in Belfast at a time when the town of Belfast was expanding rapidly and the merchant class was well placed to amass small fortunes. Narcissus Batt died in 1840 and he was succeeded in Purdysburn by his son, Robert, who was clearly a strong supporter of Drumbo Church. The next two decades witnessed a considerable increase in church attendance, culminating in the Great Revival of 1859 and this necessitated either the building of new churches or the enlargement of existing churches, without any regard for their innate architecture. So it was in Drumbo. The two transepts were added in 1863/4 to the design of Welland & Gillespie, architects to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; a plaque in the north transept tells us that it was built by Robert Batt and Mrs Caldwell (of Belvidere), whereas the south transept was built at the expense of the parishioners. These additions were dedicated by Bishop Robert Knox on 3 May 1863. The visitor should walk along the exterior of these transepts and look upward at the string course — these stones are, in fact, upturned grave stones which must have been trimmed from graves removed to build the transepts; the lettering can be seen on their upper side. In the north transept there is a memorial to Robert Batt's wife, who had died in Pau, France and an empty niche on the same wall (above the door) was probably intended for a memorial to Robert himself.

However, Robert had died in 1864 soon after its completion and his son, Robert Narcissus, probably financed the completion of the transepts and chancel. The transept memorial was not now necessary as he built the chancel and installed the east window of stained glass (by Gibbs of London) to his father's memory. Recently, when the plaster was stripped off the chancel walls, brick arches were revealed on either side just inside the communion rails. There was no corresponding door or other feature on the exterior wall. It is strongly suspected that Robert Narcissus intended these to be niches for memorials to himself and his wife.

Despite some friction between Robert Narcissus and the then rector, Rev.R.L.Scott (the pages have been torn out of the Minute Book), he financed the replacement of the original roof in 1874 with a roof of much steeper pitch, bringing in W.J.Watson from Newry as the architect. The Batt family owned considerable property in south county Down and this probably accounted for the employment of Watson, who does not appear to have worked as far north in the county previously. The pitch of the original roof can still be seen on the exterior gable at the east end. At the same time, the original box pews were removed and replaced with the present pitch pine pews; the original nave windows were also replaced with enlarged, Gothic, pointed arch windows. As this involved larger window opes, the nave must have been totally replastered using laths which was the prevalent method at that time. The recent restoration disclosed that the entrance from the porch to the nave was also a matching circular arch (which is till there) but was altered to an inset pointed Gothic arch to correspond with the nave windows.

Robert Narcissus Batt died in 1891 (he is reputed to have fallen downstairs at Purdysburn), leaving his wife and two daughters, all of whom died before the end of the century. Thus the Batt family of Purdysburn died out although there is still another branch of the family in Dublin. In the south transept is a brass plaque commemorating this last generation, thus rendering the use of the two niches hidden in the chancel unnecessary.

Before we leave the Batts, there is a large memorial on the north wall of the nave to Thomas Greg Batt, a brother of Robert, who built Stranmillis House and lived there before he moved to Rathmullan House in County Donegal.

InteriorThe fine two-manual organ by Conacher of Huddersfield was installed in 1893 at a cost of £350, replacing an earlier harmonium which had clearly run out of steam! Visitors are attracted by the decoration on the organ pipes, but this is very typical of the period. Around the turn of the century, a tile carpet was laid in the sanctuary and at the same time a reredos was erected behind the Holy Table; this obscured the dedication of the east window, but remained in place until its removal in the 1980s.

Rev. G.P.Mitchell was rector of the parish 1890 – 1922 and it was during his incumbency that these changes, in line with contemporary practice, were made. A prominent memorial on the south side of the nave commemorates the loss of his son Walter Dawson Mitchell when the Lusitania was torpedoed in 1915, and also to Rev. Mitchell and his wife who predeceased him.

In 1981, Drumbo had the opportunity of engaging Mr Stephen Dykes Bower, one of the leading English ecclesiastical architects of the 20th century and at the time Surveyor Emeritus to Westminster Abbey, to survey the church and make recommendations for its future design and lighting. It is to him that we owe the design of the magnificent chandelier lighting with 3 x 16 light chandeliers in the nave and 1 x 10 light chandelier in each transept. He also suggested the red walls in the sanctuary, a practice common in medieval times, when rural parish churches were ablaze with colour. The recent repainting has retained this rich crimson colour and with enhanced high-level lighting, the sanctuary is a blaze of colour as one enters the church by the west door.

Rev. Mrs Ian Frazer presented the church with two new bells in 1977, making a full peal of eight bells, which are rung every Sunday before Morning and Evening Prayer and can be heard very often at other times as well. When Christ Church in the centre of Belfast closed in 1994, the opportunity was taken to acquire the Baptismal Font, which is now installed in the north transept; at the same time new encaustic tiles were laid to enhance the baptistery area and to match those laid a century earlier in the sanctuary. Also transferred from Christ Church is a memorial tablet to Michael Thomas Sadler, who died in 1835 and, although he worshipped in Christ Church, is buried in Drumbo, in a grave surrounded by iron railings on the right hand side of the path leaving the church. Sadler came to live in Belfast from Nottinghamshire, where he was M.P. for Newark at Westminster and was prominent in the social reforms associated with the early industrial revolution. The door in the north transept was a gift from Mrs Sheila Denton in 1989, in memory of her husband.

In the early years of the new century, it was apparent that a considerable programme of restoration was fast becoming necessary; paint was beginning to strip off, bringing plaster with it and, unseen from ground level, a large attack of dry rot had grown on the wall plate of the north nave wall. The Select Vestry decided to retain Consarc Conservation Group, led by Mr Dawson Stelfox (great grandson of Rev. G.P. Mitchell), to advise on remedial work. Consarc's recommendation was to strip almost the entire interior plaster prior to replastering with lime based plaster and also to remove all the slates on the roof, replacing them with the original slates, cleaned, but with a layer of insulation beneath. The new paint, used throughout the church, is microporous, enabling the underlying plaster to breathe.

The cost of this work was a daunting task and the Select Vestry sought help from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The application to the Fund was successful and work commenced in November 2004, being undertaken by Annvale Construction Ltd., of Armagh. The church was finally handed back in May 2005, with all the work complete; hopefully the principles of conservation now being practised will last for many years to come.

The wall light brackets are the original brackets holding oil lamps probably dating from the building of the church. Mr Dykes Bower suggested that they should be fitted for electricity and had the plain funnels which now sit on the brackets specially manufactured in London by Goddard and Gibbs, the successor to the firm which had installed the stained glass window almost a century earlier. The pulpit, Holy Table and other furniture in the sanctuary have all been gifts from various parishioners over the years, some now only remembered by their gifts; these have greatly enriched the church and are now part of its history which have a meaning and a symbolism for the present generation. A small plaque on each item records the donor and the date of the gift. The visitor will also be interested in the many wall plaques which, in themselves, record our past history.

Holy Trinity, Drumbo, is in the Diocese of Down and a member of the world wide Anglican Communion. It occupies a prominent position in the neighbourhood – the site was well chosen by the first Marquis of Downshire; one of the best views can be had from the nearby Giant's Ring. With its surrounding graveyard, with many old graves dating from over two centuries ago, it is a haven of peace and beauty. Visitors are welcome at all times; times of Sunday services can be found on the notice board by the gate.

August 2005

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