Southport Unitarians

History

Southport Church

click image to enlarge


Our Church history begins way back in 1860 or thereabouts when Services were being held in private houses, and then in a rented cottage opposite the Bold Hotel on Lord Street. In 1862 Benjamin Glover, the first local missionary of the Liverpool District Missionary Association (now known as the MDMA) led our first Service in the Town Hall. This in its turn led to the construction of the present building opened on the 7 August 1867. The organ was installed in 1876. And then the Hall was built by Congregational Subscription, and opened in 1888 to mark the 21st Anniversary. Electrical lighting was installed in 1899.

It is good to know that we played our part in education, adult culture and literary endeavours over those early years. Thomas Holland, for example was a pioneer of the campaign for a Public Library; and Charles Weilbeloved founded the influential 'Literary and Social Union' which met in the Hall. Another member was Alderman Charles Aveling, a Mayor of Southport, and responsible for the acquisition of the land which was to become the Botanic Gardens, also one of the three founders of the Flower Show. Amongst other things he was also a benefactor of the 'Blind Baby's Home' in the town, which was forced to move away during the war. He was indeed a man to whom the town is extremely grateful for his many deeds of goodwill.

One very important contribution to education occurred even before the Church was built in that there were two Schools for young ladies under Unitarian control, in Sutton House in Queens Road, and also at 4 Hawkeshead Street. Later there were also other schools in the town, one in particular recommended by William Gaskell.

There is a connection between William and us. He and Holbrook Gaskell both had the same great-grandfather, Roger, and owing to two marriages between cousins, Holbrook was cousin to both William and Elizabeth. Holbrook became President of our Congregation, and he and his two sons were all Trustees of this Church, but they lived in Woolton, and have graves at Gateacre Chapel.

Kathleen Wallace wrote a charming piece for 'Veritas' (the title of our Calendar for many years until a political party started using it), giving us a feeling for an era we cannot know. It must have been the 1920s for she was a child newly arrived in Southport 'My first impression when we came to Morning Service at this Church was of two ladies sailing down the aisle in a slow and dignified manner. Mrs. Williamson, always dressed in black in a style reminiscent of the Edwardians, led the way followed by her daughter, Amelia, dressed in a long tailor made beige coat and flat hat to match. Throughout the years they never deviated from these fashions. All the congregation held them in great esteem and Mrs. Williamson made her wishes known in a quiet and gentle voice. Nobody dared to put a drawing pin in any woodwork when decorating for the Harvest, and woe betide anybody who suggested a different place from the usual site of bunches of grapes and other produce."

She goes on to say how kind they were and that Amelia was a good pianist with a store of classical music which Kathleen was allowed to browse through and to play on her piano. "They were people who set high standards in everything they did", she finished.

Over the years there have been events such as Rose Queen Festivals, Garden Parties and Christmas Fairs, Coffee Mornings, Pancake Parties, book sales, even an Art Exhibition. In the Hall there have been multitudinous activities, but we must mention the Scottish Dancers. And of course the Emmaus Day Centre which existed for several years serving out hot meals and giving those who needed it somewhere to keep warm for a day. It would be remiss not to mention the Annual Bazaar which in earlier days would have been a very great affair, possibly lasting two days - and it is from that event as it lessened about 1977, which has grown into our present Gift Day, held on our Anniversary. Groups have existed at various times, such as the Sunday Group which grew from a Sunday School revived after the last war, a Toddler's Group, a Youth Club. Then particularly for the ladies there have been a Sewing Circle, and a Ladies Circle which eventually evolved into the present Women's League. There has also been an association with the Southport branch of the Signals, due to our Minister having been asked to be their Padre; sadly like us their numbers are falling, but earlier there were several special Remembrance Sunday Services when their members were present and their flag was carried in with ceremony.

Over the years we have been a member of the Free Church Council and the Council of Christians and Jews.

To bring us up to date our last Minister, shared with our congregation in St Helens, remained in our pulpit for twenty years. He retired twelve years ago and since then, except for a short interim ministry quite recently, we have been fortunate in having very able lay people or retired ministers taking our Services. We are now part of a six church Partnership Ministry, and look forward to the years to come.

Southport Unitarian Church ©