Grimshaw Street Independent Chapel

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

Long before two-thirds of the people now living were born there was a rather curious difficulty at the Unitarian Chapel in this town. In 1807, the Rev. W. Manning Walker, who at that time had been minister of the chapel for five years, changed his mind, became “more evangelical,” could not agree with the doctrines he had previously preached, got into water somewhat warm with the members, and left the place. He took with him a few sympathisers, and through their instrumentality a new chapel was built for him in Grimshaw-street, and opened on the 12th of April, 1808. It was a small edifice, would accommodate about 850 persons, and was the original ancestor of the Independent Chapel in that street. In 1817 the building was enlarged so as to accommodate between 500 and 600, and Mr. Walker laboured regularly at it till 1822, when declining health necessitated his retirement. The Rev. Thomas Mc.Connell, a gentleman with a smart polemical tongue, succeeded him. Mr. Mc.Connell drew large congregations, and for a time was a burning and a shining light; but in 1825 be withdrew; became an infidel or something of the sort, and subsequently gave lectures on theological subjects, much to the regret of his friends and the horror of the orthodox.

On the 23rd of July, 1826, the Rev. R. Slate began duty as regular minister of the chapel, and remained at his post until April 7th, 1861, when through old age and growing infirmity he resigned. Mr. Slate was a tiny, careful, smoothly-earnest man, consistent and faithful as a minister, made more for quiet sincere work than dashing labour or dazzling performance; fond of the Puritan divines, a believer in old manuscripts, disposed to tell his audiences every time he got upon a platform how long he had been in the ministry, but in the aggregate well and deservedly respected. No clergyman in Preston has ever stayed so long at one place as Mr. Slate; and Grimshaw-street Chapel since it lost him has many a time had a “slate off” in more respects than one. After Mr. Slate retired from his post at Grimshaw-street Chapel, the Rev. J. Briggs, a young and vociferous gentleman, fresh from college, given to Sunday evening lecturing, Corn Exchange serenading, virtuous speech-making, and other – we were going to say evils – labours of love, appeared upon the stage. Soon after he arrived a new black gown was presented to him, and if one of the local papers which recorded the event at the time tells the truth, he had it donned in the vestry, after which there was a procession round the church, Mr. Briggs leading the way, whilst the deacons, including some mythological “Mr. Clinkscales” – that was the name given – and others brought up the rear. If the town’s beadle and mace-bearer had been present, the procession would have been complete. In October, 1866, Mr. Briggs retired, with the gown, and he has since, like Brother Clapham, formerly minister of Lancaster-road Independent Chapel – “par nobile fratrum” – gone over to “mother church.”

On the 20th of January, 1867, the Rev. Evan Lewis became minister of Grimshaw-street Chapel, but after staying about a year and a half, he, on account of ill health, resigned, went south, and died there. Mr. Lewis was a cautious, cultured person, had very many letters, which were always coming in a row to the surface, after his name, was a man of ripe and polished intellect, was clever in brain work, had good strategic skill, could manage an ill-natured church meeting well, and would have been a power in his own denomination and in the town if he had been physically stronger. He was an invalided intellectualist, well up in everything, but defective in stamina, muscle force, and lung strength. For about nine months after the retirement of Mr. Lewis no fixed minister occupied the pulpit. Sunday “supplies” were tried in the meantime; finally the Rev. G. F. Newman was selected, and about two months ago he commenced his ministerial labours.

The building as enlarged in 1817 remained without molestation for years; but in 1850 it was thought that a better place was needed; in 1856 it was decided to have a better place; soon afterwards the old edifice was pulled down; and in 1859 the Congregational Chapel we now see was opened. It stands upon the original site, but is extended nearer the street than its predecessor. There used to be a considerable portion of the graveyard in front, but owing to the enlarged character of the new chapel it was mainly covered over – built upon; and only a remnant of the old burial ground can now be seen in this quarter. Two small upright tombstones, immediately adjoining the chapel, and a few flat slabs on the ground below, are the only sepulchural indications remaining here. On the southern side of the building there is a dull and dreary square piece of ground, railed round, which constituted a portion of the old burial-yard, and which now contains a few forsaken-looking tombstones. The new church cost between £3,000 and £4,000, and it is not entirely finished yet. At the front it has a one-sided irregular look; and this is owing to the non-completion of a collateral spire. In the original design the facade consists of a central elevation with two flanking towers and spires; but one of the towers, whilst being constructed, gave way, got seriously out of the perpendicular, and it was decided to pull it down rather than allow the stone-work to fall of its own accord.

New foundations, ten feet deep, had to be sunk into the old front burial ground for it, and during the excavations 33 coffins were taken up and conveyed to a more peaceable place of sepulture. They literally couldn’t stand the pressure of the tower, and for their sake; as well as the safety of the building, a change was necessary. Afterwards the tower was raised to its former elevation, but it is still without a spire. The re-erection of the tower coat £380, which was raised by a weekly offertory. The chapel, barring the incomplete masonry mentioned, is a well made, neat-looking building. In front there is a large four-light window, which had to be taken right out when the tower was being re-made; on each side there is a long and very narrow window, more for ornament than use; and below there are two small triangular apertures of a similar character. Strong rails, intended to prevent people from approaching the building too closely on week-days, surround the chapel. There are three arched doorways immediately adjoining one another at the front, and on a Sunday you are at perfect liberty to use any of them – to try all of them if so disposed – and pass through that which appears most agreeable.

The chapel has a large and remarkably clean interior. It is well lighted with numerous windows bordered with coloured glass, and has a fine arched roof, supported by four principals, and filled-in centrally with elaborate designs. Around the building there is a large octagonal gallery; and whilst all the seats in it run up to a pretty fair height, those at the western end approach quite an aerial altitude. It is almost a question of being “up in a balloon, boys,” when you are perched in the loftiest of them. All the pews are plain, strong, and without doors. The central ones on the ground-floor are very uniform in design; those at the sides are, of various shapes, and are whimsically disposed – seem to be up and down, straight, diagonal, and semi-circular. The first pew on the right side was occupied, when we last saw it, with three brushes, an elderly shovel, and two gas-meters, one of them being a very full-grown fatherly affair – a sort of deacon amongst ordinary meters, and looking very authoritatively upon its smaller colleague and the brushes. The pulpit, at the eastern end of the chapel, is neatly made, but when the parson sits in it you can’t see him from the front. When we went the other Sunday evening, we could see no one in it; but after a hymn had been sung, a spring seemed to be touched, and up jumped the parson, who had been reclining on his dorsal vertebra for eight minutes at the rear. The pulpit formerly stood about a foot-and-a-half higher than it does now; Mr. Slate, who was a little man, would have it a good height; but a hole was afterwards made in the platform supporting the pulpit, and it was dropped through it to the level of the ordinary floor, where it now stands. Six chairs, in Gothic design, with cushions of rich velvet, are placed upon the platform near the pulpit; in the centre there is a more patriarchal-looking seat – a sort of pastoral throne; and in the front of the whole there is a strong table. The deacons and the minister sit here periodically, feeling grand and furzy all over, weighing up the universe on special occasions, but endeavouring always to discharge their executive duties with due propriety and gravity. We have seen them once or twice on this platform – on those silk velvet-bottomed chairs, resting upon Brussels carpet – and they looked majestic. One old gentleman we know, who used to be a deacon here, never would sit in any of these chairs. He seemed to have either a dread of the eighteen-inch elevation they conferred, or a fear that the platform would give way, or a dislike of the conspicuousness caused by it, and on all occasions when his official brethren took possession of the chairs, he sat upon an open bench adjoining.

An ancient-looking organ, of Gothic pattern, and formerly used in a Blackburn chapel, is placed within an archway in the eastern gallery. It is a moderately fair instrument, and is decently played, but it is not good enough for the place, and it is quite time to sell it to some other chapel, and get a better. The choir contains about the usual complement of smiling young men and maidens, with a central gentleman “bearded like the pard,” who sits in state in an elaborately backed chair, and conducts the proceedings with legitimate authority. The singing of the choir is pretty exact and melodious; but it is too weak – needs more harmonic energy and general strength. The congregation do their duty mildly in the singing portion of the proceedings, and at times, when some good old tune is started, they rush to the rescue with much dexterity and thoracic power.

There are about 200 “members of the Church” at this place of worship, and several young people are now, we believe “ready for admission.” The average congregation will be about 300 – not a large number considering the size of the building; but then, through ministerial changes, &c., the place has had much to contend with, and it has not had a chance for some time of getting into proper working order. Peacefulness prevails now at the chapel. Prior to the advent of the late Mr. Lewis, there were many storms at the place. The parson never got to literal fighting with any of the members; the members never threatened to hit him; but one or more of them have been heard to say that they would put him “behind the fire” in the vestry, and he in turn has been heard to remark that he would return the compliment. But all this sort of Christian courtesy has disappeared – let us hope forever; and the members now nestle in their seats lovingly, casting calm glances at each other betimes, and attending duly to the parson, who eyes them placidly, and encourages their affection. If they had to nestle upon each other’s bosoms during the intervals – properly, and without falling asleep over the job – he would not grow sullen and angry.

On Sundays, there are a couple of services – morning, and evening – at the chapel; and every Wednesday evening there is a prayer meeting, but it is not a very savage gathering; men and women seldom lash themselves into a foam at it; and nothing is uttered during its proceedings out of the ordinary run of Queen’s English. The Rev. G. F. Newman, a south of England gentleman, who, during the past seven or eight years, through delicate health, has spent much of his time in France, is the minister. He has an income independent of his clerical stipend. From Grimshaw-street Chapel he gets about £3 per week. It is derived from pew rents, which range from 1s. to 2s. 11d. per seat per quarter, so that its increase will depend upon the manner he fills the place. Mr. Newman is about 34 years of age, is of middle stature, has nothing physically ponderous or irrelevant about him; is a dark complexioned, moderately-sized person, of gentlemanly taste, deportment, and expression; knows manners – “they order this matter better in France,” as Sterne would say; his commingling with our lively neighbours has evidently given him the direct cue to them; has a temperament of the nervous-bilious order; is more perceptive than reflective; but has a calm, clear intellect notwithstanding; is rather fond of the sublime, and likes a strong dash of the beautiful; believes in good music, and understands notes a little himself; is an excellent reader – one of the best we have heard; is an average preacher; has nothing flashy or terrific in his style, but goes on quietly, tastefully, and with precision; cares more for short than long sermons; repeats himself rather often; likes to give his own experience during illustrations; talks much of France, and never forgets to let his hearers know that he has been there; takes long, careful pauses in his sermons, as if he were elaborating his conceptions, or selecting the exact words in which to convey them most definitely; has a special regard for the gas pendant on the left side of the pulpit, which he handles affectionately as a rest; dislikes being interrupted when either reading, or praying, or preaching; can’t stand coughing; doesn’t like a Preston cough – it has a half-harsh half-oily sound, which he could detect if in London or Paris; believes more in faith than good works, but respects both; is scrupulous as to punctuality, and is almost inclined to emulate the incumbent of Christ Church, who once threatened to lock the doors of that building at a certain time after business commenced, if all were not in their places; particularly objects to a lady coming late, because, as a rule, she makes a great noise with her dress on entering a place of worship, and, in addition, induces all the other ladies present to turn round, or look on one side, for the purpose of seeing what she is wearing; is more of a conversationalist than a speaker; likes chit-chat; would be at home in a conversazione or al fresco tea party, where the attendants walk about, gossip merrily, and, whilst holding a tea cup in one hand, poise with two fingers a piece of delicately-buttered toast in the other – a continental style quite aesthetic and refined in comparison with our feeding, and gormandising, and sweating exhibitions.

Mr. Newman promises to be a good minister. His commencement has been, satisfactory, and his prospects are encouraging. He is a bachelor, and seems mildly happy; but his bliss might be consummated – let no lady prick her ears too highly, for Mr. Newman has cautiousness largely developed – if he would study and practically carry out that notion expressed at a meeting over which he recently presided; the lecturer on that occasion saying that “marriage is essential to the true happiness of man.” The young men at Grimshaw-street are pretty intelligent and controversial. They have a mutual improvement class, which is one of the best of its kind in the town, and they discuss the laws of life, – mental, physical, political, and spiritual – like embryonic philosophers bent upon rectifying all creation. Their class is prosperous, and is calculated, if correctly managed, to be of much importance to those visiting it. All such classes ought to encouraged, and we hope the Grimshaw-street essayists will go on rectifying creation – never forgetting themselves at the same time. For a long period there has been a Sunday school in connection with the chapel. Several years, in the earlier stages of the denomination’s career, the scholars were taught in the vestry and in pews at the chapel; but in 1836 a school was erected for them upon a plot of land adjoining, and in 1846 it was enlarged to its present size. The average Sunday attendance is about 300. In January, 1868 a day school for boys, girls, and infants was opened in the same building, under the conductorship of Mr. J. Greenhalgh. So far it has been very successful. Its average attendance is about 190. Government reports speak very hopefully of the place; more prizes have been awarded to it by the Science and Art Department, South Kensington, than to any other school in the town; and its present status indicates a prosperous future. An unsectarian night school is also held in the building, and its average attendance is about 120. In addition there is a band of hope society at the place, and it is better attended than any other similar association in Preston. All that Grimshaw-street Chapel wants is a fuller congregation. That would develope every department of it; and energy, combined with continuity of service, would secure this. Mr. Newman who understands French, must adopt as his motto, and have it embossed on the buttons of his own and his deacons’ coats, and on the backs of the seven chairs they use in the chapel, the words “Boutez en avant.”