The Church, the City and the Wider Community
SYNOPSIS: Established in 1672. Situated in Bowlalley Lane until the move to Park Street in 1881. Benefactors to the town were Leonard Chamberlain, Dr. Alderson and others. In the 17th century formed a Society to Improve Morality in the town. In the 18th and 19th centuries raised petitions to Parliament to urge Abolition of Slavery, Emancipation of the Jews and Catholics, Education for the Irish etc. Formed charitable trusts for the poor and aged. Set up Sunday and Evening Schools for all denominations.
Around 1705 the large congregation of five hundred at the Bowlalley Lane church had great influence in the city with eight county voters and fifty borough voters. The church had an outgoing mission, being part of the Puritan Society for the Reformation of Manners, a moralising body. This attitude soon changed with the church becoming more concerned about itself leaving outward concerns to individuals.
The death of Leonard Chamberlain led to money going to schools and hospitals, and his name is still strong in the city. He had instituted a sermon on Sutton Feast Day which is still held in the village today. Dr. John Alderson, a senior physician, whose statue stands outside the Hull Royal Infirmary, laid the founding stones of the Mechanics' Institute and the Subscription Library, the forerunner of the public library. The first and second editors of The Hull Rockingham were Unitarians.
In 1829 the church began a series of meetings for Catholic Emancipation, the abolition of slavery, ending the death penalty, Irish education, ending Jewish legal disabilities and ending Dissenters' legal disabilities.
In the late 1880's Rev. Perris worked in a great many charitable and educational groups which he preferred to house to house calls. He saw this as essential for outreach. The church grew irritated and sacked him. But then as today church members carried out their own charitable work in preference to starting rival concerns.
Influence in the city declined in the nineteenth century until when in the 1923 Annual Report it was recorded that Park Street had a high standing in Hull and in the denomination. It helped begin the League of Nations Movement in the city. In the 1930's depression the Hull Community Council requested participation in the Unemployed Social Service and so rooms were given for weekly sewing classes conducted by Unitarian ladies and others. The church raised money for relief of distress after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, to help keep Basque children at the home in Sutton, to aid the Finland Relief Fund and set up a 'Charitable Appeals Fund' for disposal at the Church Committee's discretion.
But even in wartime there was distrust from city Churches. Park Street was excluded from participation on equal terms in the Hull Religion and Life Week (May 29th to June 1943) so it held its own special events in its Free Religion and Life Week attended by friends at the Fish Street Memorial Church who leant the church its buildings after a bomb hit the church in 1941. On May 5th 1954 Canon C.E. Raven, DD., visited the Church Hall and spoke on Religion and Science. Many outside people were attracted. A service under the auspices of the World Congress of Faiths was put on and as a result a branch was set up in Hull.
Unitarian individuals continue to be involved in wide civic, social, charitable and progressive religious work in Hull and beyond, seen as consistent with their approach to faith.
Costs and Concerns of Building Unitarianism
The first Church built by 1693 in Bowlalley Lane copied its style from the London Merchant's Halls, and the replacement chapel opened in August 1803 had an octagonal shape. It became Unitarian.
The congregation moved to the suburbs of Park Street in 1881 when the grand Victorian Gothic Church was opened. It was in need of constant redecoration and repair, expanded for its area social and missionary role.
The damage in the Second World War and continuing costs meant that eventually in 1977 it was replaced by a small functional building in accordance with the more associational needs it served.
Minor developments through time included in 1897-98 a sub-committee formed to replace the old chapel library with a reference library. Learning was important! At Bowlalley Lane Gas lighting was introduced in 1832. In 1901 the electric light came to Park Street. Then some years later it was extended to the school and adjacent rooms and in 1907-8 improved lighting was put outside the church and the school and a year later it was all generally improved. Ordinary costs went to redecorating, new fixtures and fittings, the choir, coal, printing, advertising, tradesmen expenses, the Calendar, electricity, cleaning expenses and the greater cost of ministry. The main pre-First World War task was the foundation problems caused during 1891-92 by the building of the children's hospital. Money was afterwards raised to put right the difficulties.
The 1909 Annual Meeting began an extension scheme for Park Street. Building the enlarged premises started in 1912 and Mrs. Shannon of London, the oldest member of the congregation, declared the new buildings open on Thursday, May 8th, 1913.
Then came the First World War. "Home Fires" began in June 1916, a publication to keep all people both at home and away in communication with each other. A member helped with the Belgian Hut. There was a Soldiers and Sailors' Presents Fund and also the Park Street Church War Savings Association with 105 members. But the War led to avoidance of repairs. A War Memorial was erected and a bound "Home Fires" volume put in the library.
At the turn of the century the Church owned land in Hessle and a farm at Keyingham. The Hessle Road land was realised as an invested asset sold for over £1,738 during the 1923-24 session. During 1920-21 the church acquired a sports field in Stoneferry which was sold during the Second World War.
Around 1925 it was realised that the organ was in need of restoration or replacement. By 1926 a Field Carnival, an appeal, a Shilling Fund and a Bazaar raised nearly the thousand pounds aimed for. The contract was given to Messrs. Fitton and Haley of Stanningley costing £1050 and it came into use in September 1927. Water got into it after war damage.
Main artistic alterations included a new stained glass east window early in the century. During 1924-25 the west arch was inscribed with the text "Blessed are the Pure in Heart for they shall see God." As time went on the the west end was given added grandeur. On Christmas Day 1937 a present came from Hingham, Massechusetts, where the minister had been on exchange. It was a block of timber from the Old Ship Church (built in 1681 - the oldest church in continual use in America) which was mounted in Park Street Church.
It took over ten years to bring the building back to normal condition after it had been bombed in May 1941. Repair work, part funded from the slow to pay War Damage Commission, caused continuous need to clean and redecorate. As time went on and redecoration became too great a struggle, the church was demolished and a new functional building erected using brick and hardwood - materials to last - and the costs of maintenance have been kept down ever since.
A building gives a public presence to the faith expressed. The building that exists reflects in some way the character of the faith expressed at any one period. In Hull the buildings have expressed trade, importance, upward mobility and rationality.
Hull and its Early Unitarian Church
Unitarianism is an evolutionary Church and had no founder, but it has been a church of personalities, particularly in Kingston upon Hull. The church today stands in Park Street on the same site as its Victorian Gothic predecessor, but the Unitarian heritage began in the Old Town.
The Elizabethan Church Settlement (1563) intended to make the Church of England the one national Church for everyone containing all kinds of tendencies. So it naturally contained many Puritan Ministers, like Andrew Marvell at Holy Trinity Hull. But until Charles I was vanquished by Cromwell and executed in 1649, times were difficult. Church independency was an option carried out by some, but others frowned upon it and wished to remain part of the greater broad Church.
The Presbyterians believed in the broad Church, not in the supremacy of the local congregation like the Independents, and they would have prefered to stay in the Church of England. But there was soon to be no real choice in the matter. The Restoration (1660) of the Stuarts took away religious liberties gained. Many of Hull's Puritan Ministers were removed before the black day of August 24th 1662 when 2000 ministers nationally were ejected.
Then the Declaration of Indulgence of 1672 allowed licensed congregations to meet legally. Non-conformity began in earnest, with large houses and new buildings being used. It was removed after one year and persecution returned. However, Hull acquired a libertarian governor (the Duke of Monmouth) which made the city a haven for outcasts. This helped non-conformity to develop.
Perhaps two meeting houses (Blackfriargate, a chapel, and Richard Barnes' house where Joseph Wilson preached) merged to form the one congregation at Bowl Alley Lane in Christopher Fanthrope's house. The stern Puritan Samuel Charles, ordained in 1655 and ejected at Mickleover in 1662, came to the freedom of Hull around 1680 and probably ministered to the merged congregation from the beginning.
The repressive Lord Plymouth replaced the the Duke of Monmouth in 1682. By 1683 a basic reign of fear existed. Charles was caught and imprisoned for a time, and, like Astley, the Independent minister (who escaped imprisonment), was excluded from the city under the Five Mile Act. When in 1685 the Duke of Monmouth was found and executed, many non-conformists, including the famous Leonard Chamberlain, were put under house arrest and feared for their lives.
However, another Declaration of Indulgence was issued in 1687 to Roman Catholics and non-conformists. Bowl Alley Lane was reopened and the Reverend Charles returned. Then William of Orange replaced James II and Protestant liberties were granted in the 1689 Act of Toleration. In 1694, after the death of Charles, Reverend John Billingsley (son of an ejected minister in Chesterfield in 1662) took over.
The congregation left Christopher Fanthrope's house for a new chapel built by 1693. The Trust Deed of 1689 under his name gives that no doctrines wre to be preached: only the worship of God and the administration of the Sacrament, although the Trinity was assumed. Anne Tomlin gave money towards the new building and appointed Leonard Chamberlain, a woollen draper; Theophilus Mowbray, master mariner; Robert Burton, baker and Richard Cooke, wine cooper as trustees. Christopher Fanthrope was a wine cooper and the connection with trades went further.
Chapels built in this period copied their style from the Halls of the London Merchants' Companies, reflecting the parallel increasing economic liberalism of the day. They had pan-tile roofs, strong benches and alleys between them. Self- government reflected the Gilds own governing system too.
The Hull congregation contained other people of social influence in the eighteenth century. Joseph Turner and Ralph Peacock amongst others aided the Charity Hall, a workhouse in Whitefriargate. After Billingsley's ministry it is reported that there were five hundred in the congregation with eight county voters and fifty borough voters. It was a big church, and had three ministers together in part of the early eighteenth century.
Leonard Chamberlain died in 1716. In his bequests schools and hospitals received money in Hull, Selby, and Sutton (there are the Chamberlain Homes in Chamberlain Street). He also instituted a sermon (still given within the Methodist church) on the day of Sutton Fair. Other dissenting churches received money, as they had from Anne Tomlin earlier.
Benjamin Blaydes became a chapel trustee in 1744. He commenced the Hull and Hamburg trade and was important in civic life. Outside the Hull Royal Infirmary stands a statue of Dr. John Alderson, a senior physician, one of the founders of the Literary and Philosophical Society and subscriber to Bowl Alley Lane. He laid the founding stones of the Mechanic's Institute and the first Subscription Library building. At this time in 1802 Joseph R. Pease was in the chair of a committee of rebuilding the chapel. One of persons in the building scheme was probably W. Spence F.R.S., the first editor of the "Hull Rockingham." The Octagonal Shape building cost £1300 and was opened in August 1803 on the site of the main Post Office. Reverend George Lee, a caretaker minister about this time, was a founding proprieter and the next editor of the "Hull Rockingham" and a civic leader to boot.
Social and Political concerns at Bowlalley Lane
From 1698 the Puritan Society for Reformation of Manners in Kingston Upon Hull was a moralising body which heard sermons from many ministers and not only produced pamphlets but prosecuted people who drank at late hours, had been fishing on Sunday and anything else offensive to the Puritan spirit.
But Bowl Alley Lane soon changed, becoming temporarily more concerned with its own social life and congregation, until later the chapel held Extraordinary Meetings beginning in 1829 calling for Catholic Emancipation, the abolition of slavery, abolition of the death penalty, Irish education, ending Jewish legal disabilities and ending Dissenters legal disabilities.
Ecclesiology and Theology
In the early days there was little real difference between Independent and Presbyterian congregations. The latter was reluctant to be outside the Church of England. Indeed, in the 1689 Trust Deed even the word Presbyterian was not used and it gave provision for winding the congregation up should there be an Act of Comprehension to make the Church of England free.
But then in 1719 at Salters Hall in London non-subscribers split from subscribers, and in general the Independents subscribed and the Presbyterians did not. Reverend Billingsley was a non-subscriber, not because of disbelief in the doctrines but because to subscribe was against the spirit of dissent.
The way was open for liberal development of the Presbyterians. This was added to when the Methodist revival and eighteenth century evangelism left the Old Dissent relatively untouched (although the minister from 1806, William Severn, was a convert from Wesleyanism and had even been a friend of John Wesley). Furthermore, the New Theology movement in the the mid-eighteenth century was creating heresy in many quarters in Independent as well as Presbyterian chapels.
The Cottingham and Bridlington Independents split. A schism at Dagger Lane Independents led to a new anti-liberal chapel in Blanket Row. With the Old Dissent having a reformation of its own, the way was open for Arminian, Arian and Unitarian views to develop in the liberal chapel.
The law still shackled dissenters, and Unitarians were at the forefront of campaining for freedom, including the Reverend Beverley (appointed to Bowl Alley Lane in 1757). In 1779 dissenters received partial freedom from subscription to the Articles of the Church of England. Anglicans too wanted more freedom but when this failed Theophilus Lindsey, an Anglican priest, opened in 1774 the first defined Unitarian church in London using a modified Prayer Book.
Reverend Beverley was clearly biblical, not a deist, with Jesus as Messiah and Redeemer of the world. Yet he did not believe that the death of Christ appeased the anger of God (the orthodox Atonement) and he rejected the Methodist and evangelical belief in salvation from Christ's death and the need to feel instantly saved. For him the Bible was to be used rationally. The Unitarian movement was developing in two directions. One was the broad perhaps deist Free Christian direction, and the other was denominational.
William Severn, minister from 1806, unlike his predecessors was very Unitarian in identification, believing this Church held a precious message. This was the time when those who saw no Trinity in the Bible would travel the country and evangelise. Richard Wright visited and found that three Unitarian Baptist churches existed in Hull (which had become one by 1840 and eventually merged into Bowl Alley Lane).
There were some interesting Unitarian and Free Christian family connections at Hull. Reverend William Steele Brown was minister between 1825 and 1826 and his wife was a grandaughter of Joseph Priestly, the famous Unitarian minister and chemist. Reverend Edward Higginson was minister from 1828 to 1845, the brother of James Martineau's wife. He was scriptural and believed in the worship of God through Christ. The second Sunday service was moved from the afternoon to the evening when gas lighting was introduced in 1832.
Because the denomination had changed its theology, its established finances were challenged by orthodox denominations. Their victory in the Lady Hewley case (she created a fund to support dissenting ministers - Reverend Higginson received £12) threatened the whole existence of Unitarianism. But Bowl Alley Lane resisted a suggestion to safeguard itself by adapting Presbyterian authority and licensing of ministers and instead insisted on being "untrammelled by Church Government or by human Creeds." Its style might have been Presbyterian, but it valued its freedom, as did the rest of Unitarianism.
Reverend John Shannon took over in 1845, he was Northern Irish, originally Calvanist but studied scripture and changed his views to the "doctrine of Unitarian Christianity". Henry Blundell died before he could present a marble clock and 100 guineas to him when he left in 1865.
A year later there was another shift in ministerial theology with the appointment of the Reverend Matthias Dixon. He was a writer in newspapers, magazines and pamphlets. He was a friend of secularists Charles Bradlaugh and G. J. Holyoake. Perhaps Unitarianism was scenting Humanism!
At this time the population was moving away, and so it was decided to move to the suburbs at Park Street where a Victorian Gothic style church costing £3800 was opened in 1881, and a new chapter in the liberal church began.
Some Past Well Known Local Unitarian Names
Joseph Wilson: Member of the Presbyterian Party within the Church of England. One time minister at Hessle and Beverley. Licence granted July 25th 1672 for Richard Barnes' house, of the Presbyterian denomination and Joseph Wilson's preaching place.
Samuel Charles: Minister ejected from the Church of England in 1662 from Mickleover, ministered from 1680. In 1683 repression replaced tolerance and he was caught and imprisoned, and for some time kept five miles from the city until 1687.
Leonard Chamberlain: Woollen draper and original trustee of the first Bowlalley Lane chapel. Philanthopist and still an active Chamberlain Trust exists.
Benjamin Blaydes: Became a chapel trustee in 1744. He started the Hull to Hamburg trade and was important in civic life.
Dr. John Alderson: Senior physician and one of the founders of the Literary and Philosophical Society. Laid the foundation stones of the Mechanics Institute and the first Subscription Library.
Joseph Pease: Chairman of chapel rebuilding and trader, a converted warehouse exists after his name today.
W. Spence: First editor of the "Hull Rockingham." Rev. George Lee: Second editor of the "Hull Rockingham", buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church.
Henry Blundell: Civic leader and founder of a paint manufacturing company.
Park Street Local Mission and Change
The church moved from Bowlalley Lane to Park Street in 1881 because that was where people had gone to live. In this situation, until the area changed, the church operated a number of semi-independent local groups affecting a fringe association of at one time some five hundred people.
The Sunday School dealt at its peak with two hundred pupils in different departments. The evacuation crippled the school and in the 1960's social habits began to change, and as everywhere else Sunday School ceased to be an important part of English social upbringing.
The Worker's League and Institute (later just the Institute) through lectures and social events provided a local meeting place for those older than Sunday School age. This was to integrate members into the life of the church but was only partly successful in this and in taking Sunday School people. The Women's Friendly Society provided for many the only church contact they had. It has always been a working class tradition to stay away from churches, and this was about as near as many came to the one in Hull. The church often provided welfare and leisure philanthropy through this society.
The Literary and Social Union provided for the general intellectual life of the church and spread it into the city. It was always in competition with other outside secular and specialising church groups and was eventually discontinued. Then a general wartime umbrella group was created into the Literary and Social Society for some years beyond the war.
Faith in Services
Hull Unitarian Church has always had an evolutionary approach to worship.
Many Unitarian churches used modified forms of the Book of Common Prayer ever since the days of The Strand Unitarian Church was opened by an ex-Anglican priest Theophilus Lindsey in 1774. In the Church of England the principle has been set forms and doctrines but Unitarians believed in modifications according to changing beliefs. In Hull the nineteenth century saw much examination by the church to change its liturgical worship. At the same time the Hull minister favoured "high intellectual and moral influences in Church life".
As early as that time a sub-committee engaged in change questioned the need for any liturgical worship at all. But it was only in modern times that it was discontinued. Around 1894 Holy Communion was seen to be less important and its celebration was reduced. Today it is hardly practised at all.
Some of the lofty subjects of the time included "Greek Myths in Relation to Christianity", "Israel's Place in History", "Illustrations of Great Texts", "The Dialogues of Plato", "Early Buddhism" and "The Religious Teaching of Tolstoy". Eight discourses called "Voices of the Night and the Day" on nineteenth century authors created much interest. At the same time people were concerned with the contrast of poverty and wealth, political and Church reforms and private and public morality.
An idea of beliefs at the turn of the century is given at an induction service of Rev. Vaughan in 1902. Rev. Dr. Drummond, a ministry training college Principal, said that preaching was not to gain a reputation but to vanquish sin, and not to draw crowds to admire the preacher but to raise the moral and spiritual force in society. Outward garb never rose above the level of dry intellectual formula but if ministers could not feed men's minds with the bread of life from heaven they may as well close all the chapels. By speaking in simplicity one could find in Christianity the Lord who ruled only so that he might emancipate. They stood before a supreme judge who they could not disobey.
Fifteen years later Rev. T.M. Falconer tried to show that Christianity is more a way of life than a theology, widely applied to social, industrial, national and international areas of the then war saddened world. He was a very popular minister and his stipend was increased.
Interesting services used in 1928 were the modified "Service of Thanksgiving for Life" and those containing lectures on "Foundations of Religious Opinion", illustrating rational belief. New Orders of Worship were introduced in Autumn 1932.
From the end of the Second World War Park Street services began to reflect a greater international flavour. There was an annual International Tea and Service, a service in conjunction with the Hull Branch of the United Nations Association. In the January 24th 1954 World Congress of Faiths service, the Northern Organiser, George Harrison, spoke on "The Harmony of Religions" and taking part were an Anglican clergyman, a rabbi, and people from India, Pakistan and Persia. This was Rev. Philipson's idea and it resulted in a branch of the World Congress of Faiths being formed in Hull.
The other development was a greater sense of participation within a service. There were in 1948-49 two services where five lay people helped the minister. One was a symposium on "Our Thought of God" and the other involved six readings from recent American and English Unitarian writings. Then, in considering whether to restart the morning service, it was thought that an additional service could perhaps have an element for discussion. The young people had acquired an important role.
In 1955 the new ministry of Ernest Penn began. The service style slowly ceased to be liturgical because that was too restricting and the theology moved further in a liberal direction.He retired in March 1999 after 50 years service with the Unitarian movement.