Unitarianism - a liberal religious movement now embracing a broad spectrum of belief but traditionally affirming the oneness of God and of humanity, and upholding liberty of individual conscience in matters of faith - has deep roots in East Anglia. It has always been a minority denomination within Reformed Protestant Christianity, however, and its presence has always been small. This guide offers a brief description of East Anglia's Unitarian places of worship and their history, and also introduces a few of the figures who have contributed to the Unitarian story in the region - and beyond.
CAMBRIDGE UNITARIAN HERITAGE TRAIL
Start at Drummer Street Bus Station. See, on the other side of Christ's Pieces, the Memorial Church (1928) and Unitarian Hall, formerly known as Carpenter Hall (1922) on Emmanuel Road and Victoria Street, architect Ronald Potter Jones, eminent Unitarian and cousin of both Beatrix and Beatrice Potter.
From the Bus Station walk down Emmanuel Street, and turn left into St. Andrew's Street for the main entrance of Emmanuel College (Robert Hibbert). Further up St. Andrew's Street is Regent Street, and on the right Downing College (Prof. Courtney Kenney). Retrace steps along Regent Street, turn left into Downing Street and Pembroke Street, turn right into Trumpington Street and left into Silver Street to Queen's College (Thomas Fyshe Palmer). Return to Trumpington Street and King's Parade. Opposite the gateway to King's College (Prof. Kenneth Mellanby) see the plaque to Charles Lamb above the shops. Proceed past Senate House to Gonville & Caius College (Prof. F.J.M. Stratton and Lord McNair). Go down Senate House Passage and turn left for Clare College (William Whiston). Go down Trinity Street to Trinity College (Isaac Newton and Richard Porson). Newton's rooms are in Great Court and his statue in the Chapel. Next to Trinity is St. John's College (Theophilus Lindsey, William Frend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge). From Jesus College by way of Malcolm Street, King Street and Hobson Street proceed to Christ's College (John Milton). By way of Christ's Lane return to Drummer Street Bus Station. Girton College (Barbara Bodichon, Prof. Dorothy Tarrant and the Rev. Margaret Barr) is three miles out of the city centre up the Huntingdon Road.
(Names in the order in which they appear in the heritage trail.)
Robert Hibbert (1770-1849). He graduated at Emmanuel in 1791 and inherited a very lucrative family business as a West Indian merchant, owning 400 slaves. He employed the Rev. Thomas Cooper, later Unitarian minister at Framlingham, to look after their religious and educational welfare. Later he set his slaves free at great financial loss to himself. In 1847 he founded the Hibbert Trust to promote 'the spread of Christianity in its most simple and intelligible form, and the unfetted exercise of the right of private judgment in matters of religion'.
Prof. Courtney Kenney, F.B.A. (1847-1930). Downing Professor of the Laws of England, and Liberal M.P. In the 1920s he introduced a Religious Prosecutions Abolition Bill, an unsuccessful attempt to repeal the laws on blasphemy.
Thomas Fyshe Palmer (1747-1802). Educated at Eton, he became Fellow of Queens' in 1781. He resigned his position as an Anglican clergyman to become an ardent Unitarian. A man of independent means, he devoted himself to strengthening Unitarian congregations in Scotland. His enthusiasm for Parliamentary Reform led to his arrest on a charge of sedition, and in 1793 he was sentenced to 7 years' transportation. He was sent to Botany Bay in Australia and died on the island of Guam on his way home after serving his sentence. He is one of the "Scottish Political Martyrs" commemorated by monuments on Calton Hill, Edinburgh and in Nunhead Cemetery, south London.
Prof. Kenneth Mellanby, C.B.E. (1908-1993) Former Chairman of Cambridge Unitarian church, eminent biologist, pioneer ecologist, first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, former Director of Monkswood Experimental Station, Member of King's College.
Charles Lamb (1775-1834). The most famous of English essayists.
Frederick John Marrion Stratton. F.R.S. (1881-1960). Professor of Astrophysics and Fellow of Caius, he was the leading founder of the present Cambridge Unitarian congregation in 1904, and its Chairman for 50 years.
Arnold Duncan McNair, Lord McNair of Gleniffer F.B.A. (1885-1975). Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool University, Professor of Law at Cambridge, President of the International Court of Justice, President of Cambridge Unitarian Church.
William Whiston (1667-1752). He succeeded Isaac Newton as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. Like Newton, he held unorthodox religious views and in 1710 was banished from the University for heresy. He translated the histories of Josephus and devoted himself to a congregation of "Primitive Christians" that he formed in London. His portrait is in Clare College Senior Common Room.
Sir Isaac Newton, F.R.S. (1642-1727). One of the world's greatest scientific geniuses, he went up to Trinity in 1661 Here he became Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. Outwardly he conformed to the Church of England, though he rarely attended church services. His unorthodox and Arian (or Unitarian) views were known to his friends, and are clearly stated in his posthumously published religious writings.
Richard Porson (1759-1808). Porson was one of the greatest classical scholars. In 1782 he became Fellow of Trinity. He proved that the verse 1 John 7 about the Three Heavenly Witnesses, considered to be a text proving the Doctrine of the Trinity, was spurious. Frequently drunk, he conformed outwardly to the Church of England, but privately held Arian (or Unitarian) views.
Theophilus Lindsey, 1723-1808. As an Anglican clergyman Lindsey was Fellow of St. John's and later Vicar of Catterick. In 1774 he resigned his living to become minister of the first openly avowed Unitarian congregation in England at Essex Street in London.
William Frend (1757-1841). A brilliant mathematician (second Wrangler), he was ordained a clergyman of the Church of England, and became Fellow of Jesus. As Vicar of Madingley, near Cambridge, he was a pioneer of Sunday School work. In 1787 he became a Unitarian and resigned his living. In 1793 he was banished from the University and in 1807 helped to found the Rock Life Assurance Company, of which he was actuary. It was through the influence of Frend that Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet, became an eager Unitarian as an undergraduate at Jesus College.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). His period as a Unitarian dates from his days at Jesus College. Much of his finest poetry was written while he was in active Unitarian pulpits in the West of England, and considered becoming a Unitarian minister. (An annuity provided for him by the Unitarian layman Thomas Wedgwood, enabled him to devote himself to writing.)
John Milton (1608-1674). Milton in his mature years did not hold the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, a fact which many had surmised on reading Paradise Lost, and which was confirmed in 1823 by the posthumous publication of his theological treatises. The latest research reveals him to have been greatly interested in Servetus and Socinus, the Unitarian martyrs. His Areopagitica is a noble defence of freedom of thought. He came up to Christ's College in 1625.
Barbara Bodichon (nee Leigh Smith) (1827-1891). She was the grand-daughter, as was also Florence Nightingale, of William Smith, M.P. for Norwich, a most zealous Unitarian. Like many Victorian Unitarians she was a pioneer in the promotion of women's education, and become a founder of Girton College.
Prof. Dorothy Tarrant (1885-1973). She was the daughter of the Rev. W. G. Tarrant, hymn-writer, minister at Wandsworth and editor of The Inquirer. She was Britain's first woman professor of Greek, at Bedford College, London University, and an Hon. Fellow of Girton.
The Rev. A. Margaret Barr (d. 1973) Friend and disciple of Gandhi, she was minister, teacher, and midwife amongst the indigenous Unitarians of the Khasi Hills in N.E. India, and was educated at Girton.
ESSEX UNITARIAN HERITAGE TRAIL
The almost circular route runs anti-clockwise through the County, beginning at Ingatestone and ending at Harlow. It features the following Unitarians and their families:- Reverend John Disney (Ingatestone and Fryerning), Samuel and William Shaen (Chelmsford, Little Baddow, Hatfield Peverel and Witham), Sir John Robinson (Witham), Henry Crabb Robinson (Colchester), Samuel Courtauld (Pebmarsh, Halstead, Gosfield, Bocking and Braintree), and Sarah Flower Adams (Harlow).
Saffron Walden in the north-west and Cold Norton in the south-east have been dealt with separately at the end. Southend on Sea in the London District and South-eastern Provincial Assembly area has been omitted. The circular route could be completed by including Walthamstow and Leyton (in the administrative county of Essex until 1965 , when they became part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest), Stratford and Forest Gate in West Ham (in the administrative county until 1889, when West Ham became a County Borough, and, since 1965, part of the London Borough of Newham), and Ilford (in the administrative county until 1965, when it became part of the London Borough of Redbridge), but all these are in the London District and South-eastern Provincial Assembly area.
In the administrative county of Essex (including the exceptions noted above) 42 Presbyterian teachers obtained licences in 1672 under the Act of Indulgence. For the number of Presbyterian ministers, Essex stood about the highest in England when the area and population are taken into account. Most of the Presbyterian congregations in Essex became Independent or Congregational during the 18th century.
Thus Unitarianism has left little mark on the County in the way of congregations and chapels, and its heritage is to be found mainly in places associated with the above- mentioned persons. The general absence of Unitarian chapels in the County resulted in Essex Unitarians attending other non-conformist chapels, particularly Congregational, and being buried in non-conformist burial grounds and parish churchyards.
Whilst every care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information given below, it has been impossible to visit all of the sites. Visitors are warned that buildings frequently change their uses, are altered and even demolished. Very few of the buildings and sites below-mentioned are open to the public.
In the gazetteer below, information about individual Unitarian chapels has been based on the book by Graham and Judy Hague "The Unitarian Heritage: an architectural survey of chapels and churches in the Unitarian tradition in the British Isles" (1986). Items of interest, not connected with Unitarianism, but perhaps of interest to American visitors, are noted in [square brackets].
The Revd. John Disney (1746 - 1816) resigned as minister of Essex Street Chapel, Strand, London, in 1805 when he was bequeathed The Hyde estate by his friend Thomas Brand Hollis (1720? - 1804), politician and collector of antiquities. Disney died there and was buried in the churchyard of the neighbouring parish of Fryerning. His son John Disney (1779 - 1857) inherited the estate, enlarged the collection of antiquities formed by Hollis, founded the Disneian chair of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge in 1851, and in 1857 left Cambridge his marbles, now in the Fitzwillam Museum. The Hyde was burnt out and demolished c.1965
The Disney tomb on the north side of the churchyard of St. Mary contains 8 members of the family. It is now in a state of some disrepair.
The Unitarian chapel in Legg Street was erected in 1879. After its closure in 1913, the building was used by the Peculiar People and later by Jehovah's Witnesses, and ended as the Oddfellows' Hall. It was demolished c 1989, and offices now occupy the site (postcode CM1 1NQ). Some Unitarians may have been buried in the Non-conformist Cemetery (opposite Christ Church United Reformed Church in New London Road) where their minister, the Revd. John Morgan Whiteman, officiated occasionally. In the Shire Hall, Tindal Square, Samuel Shaen (1783 - 1854), one of the first non-conformists to be appointed a magistrate after the repeal of the Test Act 1828, sat with his fellow justices of the peace at the Court of Essex Quarter Sessions. [Beside the Shire Hall, on the left-hand wall at the gates of the entrance to the Cathedral, is a plaque commemorating Thomas Hooker, founder of the state of Connecticut in 1636. The south porch of the Cathedral was enriched and beautified by Essex Friends of the American People in 1953 as a memorial to 'tasks and friendships shared' between 1942 and 1945, when many American airmen were stationed in Essex.] The current congregation is a Fellowship. For website see www.unitarian.org.uk/eu/Chelmsford.
Samuel Shaen (1783 - 1854), barrister and local landowner, and his wife Rebecca (1783 - 1858) were buried in the box-tomb near the porch of the United Reformed Church (built in 1708 as a Presbyterian Meeting House and later an Independent or Congregational Chapel). Rebecca Shaen (nee Solly) was descended from Daniel Neal, who wrote "The History of the Puritans" and Thomas Hollis, one of the early benefactors of Harvard College. John Daniel MoreIl (1816- 1891), philosopher and inspector of schools, was born in the Manse adjoining the chapel where his father and then brother ministered from 1799 to 1877. He had been briefly a Congregational minister but worshipped later with Anglican churchmen and finally with Unitarians. [Two hundred yards east of the Manse is Cuckoos, where John Eliot, afterwards apostle to the North American Indians, was assistant to Thomas Hooker, who kept a school here in 1630.]
Samuel and Rebecca Shaen lived at Crix. Their youngest child William (1820- 1887), solicitor and social reformer, was the first Clerk of the Convocation of the University of London, and his sister-in-law was Catherine Winkworth (1829 - 1878), hymn writer and 'Queen of Translators'. The family attended Congregational chapels at Little Baddow and Witham, whilst the pew in the parish church of St. Andrew, maintained by them as owners of Crix, was used mainly by their servants).
Sir John Robinson (1828 - 1903), editor of the Daily News, whose father was minister of the Congregational chapel (now United Reformed Church), owed his drift to Unitarianism to the Shaens.
The Presbyterian Meeting House in St. Helen's Lane was built c.1692, closed in 1823 and demolished in 1894. All the ministers, except one, until 1796 were said by a later minister to have been 'Socinians' (i.e. Unitarians). Henry Crabb Robinson (1775 - 1867), diarist and letter-writer, was articled to an attorney at Colchester in 1790. The current congregation is a Fellowship. For website see www.ukunitarians.org.uk/colchester.
Mill House, down the lane south of the parish church of St. John the Baptist, once belonged to the flour mill which was converted to silk throwing in 1798 by George Courtauld, a descendant of a French Huguenot. It was the beginning of the Courtaulds, textile manufacturers. Courtauld moved his business to Braintree in 1809. His son, Samuel (1793 - 1881) set up mills in Bocking near Braintree and at Halstead. The mill at Pebmarsh was pulled down c. 1900.
The Causeway leads to Townford Mill, Bridge Street, which was acquired in 1825 by Samuel Courtauld. It was converted for making silk, velvet and black silk crepe, the latter associated with mourning and much used in the 19th century. The factory closed in 1982. In Factory Lane East, among Courtauld's mills and workers' cottages, the Unitarian chapel was built in 1857, closed in 1958 and has been demolished.
Samuel Courtauld owned Gosfield Hall from 1854 to 1881. In the village street he built some neat half-timbered houses c. 1855-60, including a village hall, and constructed a family vault and mausoleum in the parish churchyard of St. Catherine.
Previously Samuel Courtauld had lived at Folly (now Foley) House in the hamlet of High Garrett. Almost opposite this house is the Elizabethan-style building where he opened a school in 1850 and began Unitarian services in 1853. The congregation moved to a chapel in Coggeshall Road, Braintree, which closed later when the patronage ceased (Courtauld's descendants having become Anglicans!). Earlier, Samuel Courtauld had attended Bocking End Congregational church.
In 1834 Samuel Courtauld began to agitate against church rates in Braintree, Bocking and Halstead, which resulted in the celebrated Braintree church rates cases in various courts (1837- 1853). Braintree Museum (Town Hall Centre, Market Square), contains objects associated with the Courtauld family.
Sarah Flower Adams (1805 - 1848), poetess and writer of hymns, including 'Nearer my God to Thee' was born in a house in the High Street, Old Harlow,). She was buried in the Baptist burial ground in Foster Street.
A General Baptist congregation founded in 1711 by the Head Steward of nearby Audley End House (postcode CB1 4JF) met in a house in Hill Street which was adapted as a chapel. In 1792 a chapel was built at the rear. It was closed in 1930 and is now in commercial use, reached via Elm Grove.
The Revd. Francis Stone. (1738?- 1813), Unitarian divine, was Rector here from 1765 until deprived of his Anglican living in 1808. His rectory and parish church was demolished and the present church of St. Stephen built in 1855.
NORFOLK UNITARIAN HERITAGE TRAIL
A Norwich trail starts at St. Stephen's, whence the Vicar, John Collinges, was ejected in 1662 and became first Minister of the Presbyterian congregation (see WALCOTT); proceed via the Assembly House and the 1683 Bethel Hospital, site of the 'Great Blowe' during the riots of 1648, upon which Collinges and his friend John Carter preached in the Cathedral, to St Peter Mancroft, where Collinges' successor Peter Finch and John Carter (former Vicar) are buried.
These connections were important for the survival of dissent in Norfolk: a colleague at the Savoy Conference was Edward Reynolds who became his friend and a very tolerant Bishop of Norwich; the Hobarts were leading Puritans and Lady Frances' governess had been a Huguenot refugee.
Collinges probably had rooms and held services in 'three rooms in New (Blackfriars) Hall equipped as a (the first civic subscription) library and temporary lodgings for invited preachers' as City Library Keeper from l657 until it was closed in 1665. Across the river the Blackfriars also had extensive lands including what is now Colegate; in 1643 the Independents (now Congregationalists) were allowed to build their Meeting House (still in use) for Martin Finch (who preached Collinges' funeral sermon in 1691), and by 1687 the Presbyterians were sufficiently confident to build a meeting house for Collinges, replaced in 1754-6 by the Octagon Chapel.
Brick Chapel designed by Thomas Ivory and built in 1754-6 on site of previous chapel of 1687. Arched windows below with round dormer windows in roof. Generously proportioned porch of free classical design. Graveyard re-made as garden.
Inside eight Corinthian Columns dominate a more strictly classical design. Large dome with plaster work by William Wilkins, grandfather of the Architect of the National Gallery. Original wood door surrounds. Pews and pulpit extremely altered in 1889, with further re-arrangement in 1991. Mace rest for civic visits - memorials to John Taylor, William Enfield and others, brass Art Nouveau plaque of 1900 and 1989 chairs by communion table, In vestry a collection of pictures of ministers and earlier states of the building.
There is a double connection between the Chapelfield area and the site: Collinges lived in what is now the Assembly House when it was the town residence of the Hobart family, and Thomas Ivory designed both the successor buildings. The connection with Blackfriars was revived in the time of Peter Finch, when one of his assistants, Edward Crane was invited to serve the Dutch congregation worshipping at Blackfriars in 1748.
MARTINEAU MEMORIAL HALL
Large Sunday school and church rooms built in 1907 to the design of H. Chatfeild-Clarke and paid for largely by a public appeal for a national memorial to James Martineau (1805- 1900), leading 19th Century Unitarian Theologian. contemporary fireplace in chapel parlour and bas-relief of Martineau and stained glass in principal rooms, Foundation Stone laid by Martineau's daughter Gertrude, noted watercolourist and sculptor.
Adjacent to 31 Magdalen Street
Beautiful house around courtyard, birthplace of Harriet Martineau, sister of James and writer, journalist and advocate of small-holdings. Plaque by entrance. Garden front visible from alleyway off Fishergate.
No. 24 Magdalen Street
Birthplace of James Martineau. Georgian house; now with shops on ground floor. Plaque. The family were descended from Huguenot refugees.
Founded in 1819 by Thomas Drummond, retired Presbyterian minister from Ipswich and considered Britain's first public cemetery. Unitarian figures buried there include R. H. Mottram, writer, John Dowson, educationalist and solicitor and Travers Madge.
Chapel, Greyfriars Quay
The congregation maintain a tradition continuous from 1642 when the Reverend William Bridge returned to England from Rotterdam where he was Pastor to the English Church of the Dissenters. Meetings were held at the Priory. The nave and south aisle were retained for Anglican worship, the north aisle for Presbyterians and the chancel was reserved for the Independents. A meeting house was eventually built in Middlegate in 1673 and in 1705 a chapel was also built in Filby and the two congregations became closely connected.
A new chapel, still called "Old Meeting", replaced the 17th century building, in 1845 from a design in modern Gothic but it was destroyed by wartime bombing in 1941. The new Unitarian "Old Meeting" was built in 1954 and the architect, Mr C.H. Dann, has achieved an outstanding light and airy effect in the interior of the church.
Chapel - Between Denmark Street and the Mere
Now a Masonic Lodge. White regency style building with Tuscan columns and pediment. Built 1822. Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743-1825) was the daughter of Dr. Aikin, minister at Newington Green and Hampstead, London, until his removal to Warrington, where he became Principal of the Academy. At poetry evenings there Anna came under the spell of his young colleague Joseph Priestley (who claimed that she had written her first poem in his house) and resolved on becoming a poet herself. A lively and scholarly girl, she married (after refusing Jean Marat, at that time teaching there) Rochemont Barbauld (a Unitarian minister of Hugenot descent). He was minister at Palgrave, Suffolk, while her father was at Great Yarmouth and they all became part of a lively Unitarian community in the area. Like Harriet Martineau (who remembered her as an old lady visiting her parents in Norwich), she made her name as a writer and correspondent with many literary figures of her day; but she is especially remembered for her advanced views on education and for some of her hymns. The site of the Meeting House in Palgrave where the Barboulds worshipped is now a graveyard.
Near Long Stratton
Former Chapel now converted to house. Built 1741 on north side of B road, approached up left-hand side of the barn. Recognisable by 3 arched windows on upper floor. Timber-framed, lath and plaster: door from Octagon Chapel, Norwich (which still administers a small fund). Closed 1959. The adjacent burial ground which is open to the public is maintained by the trustees of the Octagon Unitarian Chapel in Norwich.
Near Great Yarmouth
It appears that there was a gathering of dissenters in the village of Filby from 1702 who were led by a lay man by the name of Henry Daliel. They met in various houses until 1705. In this year they decided to establish themselves as the Church or Congregation of Protestant Dissenters of Filby in Norfolk.
By a licence dated 11th July 1706 it appears that a building was completed and used as a meeting house for protestant dissenters. In a letter from John Cockiday of Amsterdam to Mr. Samuel Manning of Norwich it is implied that the Rev. Henry Daliel officiated as minister until 1709, when he was invited to the English Church at Amsterdam - an invitation which he declined. This is borne out by the recent discovery of the tombstone of Henry Daliel where he is buried which states that as the founder of this Congregation he ministered to it from 1702 until his death on 2nd January 1710, aged 29 years.
Henry Daliel was followed by Mr. Richard Chorley until at least 1723, but it is not clear how long after that, although there is a record of his being paid in 1729.
In 1722 Mr. Nathaniel Carter, a Merchant of Great Yarmouth, who also had a house and considerable estates in the nearby village of Ormesby, in a codicil to his will (29th March 1719) appointed trustees for the residuary part of his estate, provided that they should appropriate such residue to the use of the dissenting meeting house and preacher at Filby for the time being and also to the dissenting meeting house and preacher at Yarmouth, in such manner and by such parts as my Trustees shall think fit and convenient.
From that time onwards, Filby continued to thrive until 1940 a German bomb landed about 50 yards behind the Meeting House. The chapel area is now maintained as a Unitarian heritage site.
William Whites Directory (1845) reports that "The Unitarian Chapel, in Court 127,Norfolk Street, was built in 1811 at a cost of £1,000, and is now under the Ministry of Wm. Mountford". This was the Unitarian Baptist Sales chapel which stood till 1978, a square building latterly used as a printers workshop. The congregation moved in 1875 to the Presbyterian chapel (c1701) in Spinners Lane. Both sites are now redeveloped.
between Mundesley and Happisburgh
Situated by B1159 road south of the village the isolated church contains the memorial slab to Dr. John Collinges, first minister of the Unitarian congregation in Norwich. Collinges, a very prolific preacher and writer of more than local importance, was appointed as personal chaplain is to the Hobart family soon after his arrival in Norwich in 1646. He was one of twelve Presbyterians to meet twelve Bishops at the Savoy Conference in 1661 'to advise upon and review' the Book of Common Prayer, but resigned from St. Stephen's in 1662 (Act of Uniformity); see Norwich. The memorial in the church contains a long inscription in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.
Large tomb of Pendlebury Houghton, Minister of the Octagon Chapel, Norwich 1787-1808 and 1811-12 buried, sharing a tomb with several of his wife's (Dowson) family.
TABERNACLES OF MEETING: A BRIEF GUIDE TO THE UNITARIAN HERITAGE OF SUFFOLK "Let us not satisfy ourselves that we have built this
House of God for his solemn worship, where his name
may be recorded, This is not our whole duty, nay,
'tis but a small part thereof, God expects that we
prepare him another habitation, even our hearts."
-The Rev John Fairfax, from, 'Primitiae Synagogae: A Sermon preached at Ipswich, April 26 1700. At the opening of a New-Erected Meeting House.'
THE PLACES OF WORSHIP
IPSWICH UNITARIAN MEETING HOUSE
Friars Street (Grade One listed)
Built by a Presbyterian congregation in 1699 at a cost of £257, and opened in April 1700, the Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House is one of the finest surviving examples of a purpose-built 17th century Nonconformist place of worship in the country. This, plus its timber-frame construction, is believed to make it unique. The dominant pulpit - finely carved by Grinling Gibbons or one of his pupils - reflects the early Nonconformists' stress on the centrality in worship of the preaching of the Word of God. The simplicity of the building's design, the clear glass windows, the virtual absence of imagery and the situation of the communion table "in the midst of the congregation" all reflect Puritan concerns and are a major departure from mediaeval church arrangement. Originally, organ music would have been frowned upon, and the first organ was not installed until 1799. The present organ, the third, was installed in 1900, when the Meeting House underwent a major restoration.
Other features of interest are the original box-pews; most of which were rearranged in 1900; the pillars holding up the double-pitched roof, and reputedly ships' masts; the few remaining wig-pegs, reflecting 17th century male fashion; and, the spy-hole in the large double doors (originally the main entrance), reflecting the uncertainty of religious liberty when the Meeting House was built. The timber-frame building next door, now containing the Unitarian hail, is believed to be of 16th century date and is Grade Two listed.
The congregation originated as early as 1672, when the Rev. Owen Stockton was called as its first minister. It then consisted of Presbyterians and Congregationalists. Its earlier places of worship were the Old Monastery House in Turret Lane (demolished 1913) and a rented room in Silent Street. The Congregationalists seceded in 1686 and later built their own Meeting House in Tacket Street, where Christ Church now stands. The sermon preached by the Rev. John Fairfax at the opening of the then Presbyterian Meeting House is still extant, and reflects an "orthodox" theology. The congregation moved towards a Unitarian position during the 18th century, a process that may have begun during the ministry of the Rev. Thomas Scott (1737- 66). The congregation has been avowedly Unitarian since the early 19th century.
Among the Meeting House's distinguished visitors was writer Daniel Defoe in 1720.who described it as "the best finished I have ever seen, London not excepted". Artist Thomas Gainsborough, a Presbyterian, would have worshipped here when he lived in Ipswich between 1752 and 1759. Victorian writer William Hale White, alias 'Mark Rutherford' preached in the Meeting House on a visit to the town. Frank Woolnough, popular local journalist, curator of Ipswich Museum and campaigner for the building of a crematorium, was a leading member in the early 20th century. The congregation called its first woman minister, the Rev. Winifred Brown, in 1943.
BURY ST. EDMUNDS UNITARIAN MEETING HOUSE
Churchgate Street (Grade One listed)
The Unitarian Meeting House in Churchgate Street, with its old English bond brickwork and its rainwater heads dated 1711, is one of the finest examples of early Nonconformist architecture and building of great importance. To the street it presents a tripartite front, a pedimented door and oval petal-paned window being flanked by high arched windows with scrolled headstones. Inside, the high 'double-decker' pulpit with sounding board reflects Puritan preaching priorities. The gallery, on three sides, contains original pews, but the downstairs box-pews were removed early in the 20th century. The building was re-opened in 1991 after a full restoration. Although still a place of worship, the Meeting House is also used as a public venue and exhibition centre.
The Meeting House was built by Presbyterians under the leadership of the Rev. Samuel Bury, whose replica portrait still hangs in the building. It was their second Meeting House, the first - a converted dwelling on the same site - having proved too small for Bury's large congregation of several hundred. The new Meeting House was opened in December 1711. Something of the flavour of Bury's ministry can be gleaned from his sermon at the funeral of Ipswich's Rev. John Fairfax in 1700, when he declared, "Let religion in its own latitude be the common bond of all union, and whatever differences may be amongst us in smaller matters, yet let us be lovers of all good men". The congregation had moved to Unitarianism by about the turn of the 19th century, and was referred to as "The Unitarian Society" as early as 1809. The history of the congregation has been chequered, and the Meeting House has had three periods of closure, the longest from 1955 to 1991. During much of this period, however, a small Unitarian fellowship continued to meet at the Friends Meeting House in St. John's Street. In 1968 the Unitarian Trustees initiated the exterior restoration with the help of English Heritage and latterly to complete the interior with the help of St Edmundsbury Borough, the Bury Town Trust and The Bury Society. The Unitarian congregation has grown in recent years and is now active in Bury St Edmunds.
FRAMLINGHAM UNITARIAN MEETING HOUSE
Bridge Street (Grade Two listed)
The Unitarian Meeting House in Bridge Street, Framlingham was built in 1717by a Nonconformist congregation of Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists, under the leadership of the Rev. Samuel Lodge. Its plain appearance - a brick "preaching box" - reflects its Puritan origins. The interior was drastically altered in the 19th century, although the gallery at what is now the back, is a remnant of the original gallery that extended to three sides (as at Ipswich and Bury). The pulpit, now on the short east wall, was originally on the long north wall between the tall windows. There were probably box-pews, and the building formerly had two entrances in the south wall, one of which is now blocked. The small burial ground behind the Meeting House was in use from 1792 to the mid- 19th century. Unlike Ipswich, where the burial ground is now a forecourt and car park, the gravestones are still in place.
The congregation originated in 1660 when the Rev. Dr. Henry Sampson was ejected from the pulpit of St. Michael's Parish Church on the Restoration of King Charles II. It became Unitarian during the fifty-six year ministry of the Rev. Samuel Say Toms from 1773 to 1829. When Unitarianism was openly declared in the early 19th century, a group seceded and founded the Congregational Church in Fore Street. Toms was quite a celebrity in Framlingham, and his retirement was marked by a famous dinner in the Crown Hotel. He is buried in St. Michael's Churchyard, to the east of the church, beneath a large table tomb that bears witness to the regard in which he was held.
BEDFIELD UNITARIAN CHAPEL
The only 19th century Unitarian foundation in Suffolk, the Unitarian Chapel in Bedfield - a village off the A 1120 about three miles west of Framlingham - owes its origin to the Rev. Alfred Amey, minister at Framlingham, who set Out to revive Unitarianism in this part of the county. With the help of the London-based Unitarian Postal Mission - through which he had become a Unitarian himself - and its prime-movers, Florence Hill and Lucy Tagart, Amey set about gathering a congregation in Bedfield in about 1892. He rode a bicycle about the lanes and held services in cottages and in the open-air, with singing accompanied on a portable harmonium. The Mission bought a number of derelict cottages, repaired them and let them at a nominal rent. One such cottage - Cowslip Cottage - reputedly a former smugglers' haunt, became its local headquarters and a holiday retreat for London Unitarians. The enterprise went well, and the present Chapel was built in 1895 as a 'temporary' home for the congregation. In 1991 the building underwent extensive restoration. From the outside the Chapel is unprepossessing, but its plain wooden interior has an attractive simplicity.
PEOPLE - SOME NOTED SUFFOLK UNITARIANS
Peter Cole (died 1587): An Ipswich tanner, Cole was a member of an Anabaptist group based in Norfolk which rejected the doctrine of the Trinity as unscriptural and believed Jesus to have been a human being chosen and inspired by God. They also preached religious tolerance. A hostile contemporary said that they 'stoutly denied the divinity of the Son of God, and have not sucked to tear out of the Bible all such places as made against them'. Cole was found guilty of heresy and burnt at the stake in Norwich in 1587.
William Manning (c. 1630 - 1711): An Essex born, Cambridge educated Anglican clergyman who served as chaplain at Landguard Fort, Felixstowe and 'perpetual curate' at Middleton, near Yoxford, before being ejected from the Church of England in 1662 - along with about two thousand others - for refusing to conform to the new prayer book and the restored Episcopalian church order. In 1690, as the result of discussions with the Rev. Thomas Emlyn in Lowestoft and their joint study of William Sherlock's 'Vindication of the Trinity', Manning 'took the Socinian (i.e. Unitarian) way', the only one of the 'ejected two thousand' to do so. Manning gathered round him in Peasenhall a small group of like-minded people, perhaps the first Unitarian congregation in Suffolk.
Thomas Firmin (1632 - 1697): An Ipswich born merchant and philanthropist who became Unitarian in his personal beliefs under the influence of Unitarian pioneer John Biddle, whom he met in London after going there as a young apprentice. Firmin campaigned for Biddle's release when he was imprisoned by Oliver Cromwell, as a heretic. Firmin became a wealthy and influential figure in London, using his money in various charitable causes - including the relief of refugees from religious persecution. In Ipswich, he financed a 'linen manufacture' for French Huguenots. He was also active in poor-relief, prison reform, hospital improvements and employment training. He financed a series of 'Unitarian tracts' in the hope of converting the Church of England (which he never left) to Unitarianism. He also sought to establish Unitarian 'fraternities' within the established church. In Ipswich he paid the rent for the premises used by the Presbyterian congregation before they built what is now the Unitarian Meeting House.
Joseph Priestley (1733 - 1804): A Yorkshireman, better remembered for his scientific achievements, notably the discovery of oxygen, Priestley spent three years in Suffolk (1755 to 1758) as minister to the Dissenting congregation in Needham Market. Later a major figure in Unitarianism, while in Suffolk he was still working his way towards a thorough-going Unitarian position. Nevertheless, his increasing unorthodoxy made his ministry in a largely orthodox congregation difficult, and it cannot be said to have been successful. His relations with local ministers were not good, although he was friendly with the Rev. Thomas Scott, minister of the Presbyterian, later Unitarian, Meeting House in Ipswich. It is likely that he preached there from time to time. In his later career Priestley's religious and political radicalism made him many enemies, and in 1791 his Meeting House and laboratory in Birmingham were destroyed by the mob. He left for America in 1794, and founded the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia. In Needham Market today his memory is preserved in the United Reformed Church, where a room containing his portrait bears his name.
John Goodwyn Barmby (1820 - 81): Born in Yoxford, Barmby was, in his youth, active in radical politics. In Suffolk, he was a leading Chartist while still in his teens, he spoke at political rallies and he helped to form the East Suffolk Working Man's Association. He moved to London and initiated several radical projects in politics and publishing. In 1840, on a visit to Paris, he coined the word 'communist', and used it to describe his political philosophy, His communism was, however, based on Christian principles, and in a letter of about 1846 to the Ipswich Unitarian John Glyde, he stated 'that early Christianity was Communism'. His Christianity was unorthodox, though, and tended towards pantheism. In the late 1840s Barmby became a Unitarian under the influence of the Rev. William Johnson Fox M.P., a Suffolk man as radical in his religion as he was in his politics. Barmby began to preach in the Unitarian church in Southampton, and entering the ministry served congregations in Devon, Lancaster and Wakefield. He applied unsuccessfully for the Ipswich pulpit in 1854. Although his politics moderated a little with age, he remained both radical and socialist and was very active in the campaign for universal suffrage. Retiring to the family home - 'The Vines'- in Yoxford in 1879, he held services there 'which were notable for their intensely devotional and liberal spirit'. He died on 18th October 1881, his funeral being held in the Framlingham Meeting House. He is buried in Framlingham town cemetery. Fore Street, where his gravestone describes him as 'Preacher and Poet and true worker for God and his fellow men'.
Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743 - 1825): Educationalist, poet, pamphleteer and 'bluestocking' Anna Laetitia Barbauld lived in Suffolk from 1774 to 1785. During this period, her husband, the Rev. Rochemont Barbauld, was minister to the Dissenting congregation in Palgrave. In Palgrave she ran a school which gained a good reputation in the area, and she also wrote some educational books, notably 'Early Lessons' and 'Hymns in Prose for Children', which enjoyed wide success, going through several editions and being translated into several languages. She was a pioneer in education for girls, although she was less radical than her contemporary, Mary Wollstonecraft. Her political radicalism came more to the fore after she and her husband moved to London, when she wrote and campaigned passionately for peace, for the abolition of slavery and for civil and religious liberty, all of which led Horace Walpole to call her 'that virago Barbauld'. She also wrote hymns, and it is in these that is revealed her Unitarian faith. Her husband was also a Unitarian, and the congregation they left behind in Palgrave later transferred its operations across the county border to Diss, in Norfolk, where they built the Unitarian Chapel in Parkfields in 1822. The site of the Meeting House in Palgrave where the Barbaulds worshipped is now a graveyard.