The four Quakers who bought Farfield Meeting House in 1956 had barely been in possession for 18 months when they received a letter forwarded from Dacre, Son and Hartley, the estate agents who had sold it to them. It was written by Eric Busby of Menston, formerly one of the directors of Busby’s department store in Bradford. On 7 January 1958 he wrote under the heading ‘Friends Meeting House, Farfield’ as follows:

John, my son, has now returned to Edinburgh. On Sunday last we had a look at the exterior of the above property. “We love the place.” It might well be the perfect answer…
… If we are the fortunate purchasers at the right price we will undertake to preserve the appearance of the property as now. The uses of the same would be as a working studio, not as living quarters. It would be necessary to let light though the West roof. This could be done without spoiling the roof design in any way.

Needless to say, the four Friends were not about to sell but they did come to an understanding with the Busbys and a lease was drawn up for seven years from September 1959 that allowed John Busby to use the Meeting House as his studio and for Eric Busby to be responsible for the maintenance of the building.


John Busby was born in Bradford and educated at Ilkley Grammar School. After National Service he trained at Leeds College of Art and then at Edinburgh College of Art where he was awarded postgraduate and travel scholarships which took him to Italy and France. On his return he was invited to join the staff in Edinburgh where he taught drawing and painting from 1956 until 1988.


The landscape of Wharfedale, where John grew up, shaped his thoughts in childhood.

He explored streams to the source, cycled the quiet war-time roads, drew and learned the rhythms of nature. He was particularly drawn to bird-painting and assisted by Walter Flesher, a gamekeeper on Ilkley Moor, he explored the surrounding countryside, making notes on OS maps, as seen here: at age 17, John was a founder member of the Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society. Some of his earliest published drawings in 1948 were in The Dalesman. As well as a painter of wildlife, John was a dedicated landscape artist whose work was often executed in bold colours, in styles ranging from highly representational to near abstract. Views of the land from above – a bird’s eye view – seemed to fascinate Busby and the expansiveness of the sky also held great appeal, becoming very nearly the sole subject of some paintings.

So it was no surprise that John should have been drawn to Farfield as a place to paint, presumably largely in the summer vacations. The photo above shows him in the meeting house in 1961 surrounded by some of his landscapes of the period. One cannot help wondering how much he absorbed of the atmosphere of the place. John Busby was a life-long Christian and very much thought of his landscapes as being linked to the inner life:
“ …The roots of landscape experience go deep into our subconscious and its mood’s reflect our states of being…. landscape becomes a metaphor in art and music and literature for spiritual dimensions”


But John Busby’s lasting reputation was as a wildlife artist and the author of the RSPB’s handbook – Drawing Birds – first published in 1986 and still in print. From 1988 he ran an annual seabird drawing course based on the East Lothian coast around Bass Rock – the gannet was one of his special loves. He insisted on drawing or painting from life and on the importance of an understanding of bird anatomy for capturing the fleeting movements of birds, particularly in flight. His effects were achieved with minimal lines and washes which gave a result which looked effortless but was based on a lifetime’s work. He was a founder member of the Society of Wildlife Artists and a key member of the Artists for Nature Foundation.


John Busby’s period of painting at Farfield may have represented a small part of Farfield’s long history and one which left no imprint on the building itself but, as Farfield friends look forward to welcoming our first art exhibition to the meeting house, it is one well worth remembering.

Chris Skidmore

The lofty spire of Unitarian Church that commands the Calder Valley at Todmorden is now in HCT ownership.  It was built as the memorial to the local MP, cotton magnate and philanthropist, who achieved a national reputation: ‘Honest’ John Fielden.

Anonymous unfinished portrait of John Fielden, probably painted when he was in his late thirties.
Statue of John Fielden by J. A. Foley RA, erected 20 years after the MP’s death in celebration of the ‘Ten Hours Act’. Moved twice it now stands in Centre Vale Park, Todmorden on land which was once the grounds of the Fielden’s family home.

Born into a family with a modest but rapidly expanding cotton spinning business, John Fielden (1784-1849) came to lead the partnership when his father Joshua died. Having harnessed the water power of the upland cloughs as they tumble down the steep Calder valley, the business had flourished and diversified from spinning into weaving, thence finance and export, enabling it to weather better than many competitors the wild market fluctuations of the cotton trade. Waterside, Robinwood and Lumbutts Mills in the valley bottom at Todmorden all followed as the Fieldens acquired and built mills using both steam and water power, embracing power looms and other cutting-edge technology.

John was a man of strong personal conscience. Brought up by his father as a Quaker, he was later greatly influenced by Methodism, and then the breakaway Methodist Unitarians; all three of these were religious traditions not shy of political engagement. Fielden encouraged Unitarian preacher Richard Wright to visit Todmorden and helped establish the Todmorden Unitarian Society. He attended their new chapel in Bank Street. When the Society got into financial difficulties John bought its chapel, settled its debts and for the rest of his life was a generous supporter, paying for visiting preachers among other things. Fielden founded several Sunday Schools, teaching himself at some. This was a time when for many children of working people national schooling was unknown and Sunday was their only contact with writing education. He founded a factory school at the Waterside Mill.

Fielden’s active engagement in local political causes led him to be a co-founder of the Manchester Political Union and later the Todmorden Political Union. These Unions organised mass petitions and meetings for electoral reform and it was finally the powerful popular movement that overcame entrenched opposition to the 1832 Reform Act – not least for fear of revolution if the demands were ignored.  Although it took another 96 years to arrive at universal suffrage, the 1832 Act expanded the electorate by about 60% and had a great effect in the North of England where the growing population following the industrial revolution was not reflected in the unreformed Commons. Whilst campaigning for reform John was proposed as a one of two Radical MPs for Oldham (the other being William Cobbett) in a town that acquired two parliamentary seats for the first time under the 1832 Act reforms.  In an electoral address Fielden stated he had ‘nothing but an anxious solicitude to see the people restored their just rights, and especially the position of the labouring portion of society greatly improved.’ It was a powerful statement from a wealthy mill-owner and at odds with the views of many others of his station.

MPs then drew neither salaries nor expenses but John was more active than many MPs in pursuing liberal causes. He also gave financial assistance to several liberal candidates and MPs of more modest means. As a parliamentarian he pressed for further electoral reform and was the chairman of the huge Chartist open-air meeting at Peep Green, Hartshead Moor in 1839, said at the time to have been the largest political meeting ever in England.

Fielden’s lengthy campaign for factory reform finally bore fruit in the 1847 Factory Act, usually known as the ‘Ten Hours Act’ under which the permissible hours of work for women and children were restricted to ten hours a day, eight on Saturday, with Sunday as a day of rest. Jointly promoted by Fielden and Lord Ashley, it was Fielden who piloted it carefully through parliament, where the Bill severely split all parties, since Ashley had moved to the House of Lords the year before.

John Fielden was energetic, handsome, compassionate, un-snobbish and generous with his money; when he died obituaries were not merely loyal, but spoke of genuine loss of an industrialist-reformer with national achievements to his name. His grave is in the burial ground off Bank Street, Todmorden, against the former Unitarian chapel, in a characteristically modest plot with a simple kerb. The Bank St. chapel has now been converted to flats, but the burial ground is in HCT ownership and unlocked during daylight hours.

The Fielden’s company was sold in the 1960’s and its mill buildings have mostly been demolished since the 1980s. Honest John’s public monument – the new Todmorden Unitarian Church replacing the Bank St chapel that was no longer large enough to house the congregations – was not as self-effacing as its dedicatee. It was paid for by his sons with a declared budget of £6,000, but eventually cost £35,000 (£3.1m today, though the insurance rebuilding cost is put at £19m) and is a fittingly inspiring and prominent monument for such a well-loved local figure.

HCT owns two chapels where stained glass windows by Hardman & Co. were a major feature.

At HCT’s Longworth Chapel in Bartestree, just outside Hereford a three-light Hardman window over the altar was one of the glories of the small space. This is currently in store for safety but an appeal is being launched to restore it and put it back in situ. At HCT’s Petre chapel, Thorndon Park, Essex a complete set of Hardman glass was almost entirely lost to mindless vandalism before the building came into HCT hands, creating an interesting conservation issue.
The Birmingham firm of Hardman & Co. is best known as the favourite supplier to architect and pioneer Gothic revivalist A W N Pugin. Indeed, the collaboration between the designer and manufacturer is a central one to the Gothic revival in England. Hardman’s firm made celebrated metalwork for churches too – everything from light fittings and screens to chalices and liturgical ware.

Hardman & Co. started making stained glass in 1845 at the direct suggestion of A W N Pugin. Coloured glass had been used in the Georgian period – especially for churches and armorial windows. But the revival of the medieval style with the lead between pieces of coloured glass being an essential part of the design and the practice of filling the entire window with opaque medieval style work was a striking departure in the 1840s – and part of a quest for an aesthetic drawn from pre-Reformation England.

Pugin and Hardman’s method of working was, in some respects, more modern than medieval; Pugin’s drawings were sent to Birmingham by train and the glass was produced in efficient, easily controlled gas-fired furnaces, very different from the wood-fired furnaces on site used in the medieval times.
Above all, there was a sharp and un-medieval divide between designer and maker. Pugin regretted this division and wrote to Hardman ‘Our greatest disadvantage is my never seeing the work in progress… we shall never produce anything good until the furnaces are within a few yards of the easel’. This was something that Arts and Craft movement pioneers sometimes achieved later.

The three-light window at Longworth Chapel, currently in storage. Plans are being made to reinstate it.

The three-light window at Longworth Chapel is currently in store for its safety. Plans are being made to return it to the window openings after the stonework is repaired and at present unsightly plastic keeps the weather out, though not very well. An appeal has been launched to raise the £30,000 to do it.

Plastic sheeting currently closes the window at Longworth.

William Wardell, architect of the Petre chantry chapel, near Brentwood, Essex was one of A.W.N. Pugin’s most enthusiastic followers in the Gothic Revival. But Wardell’s early success and rapid flow of commissions was perhaps the reason why Pugin had a rather tetchy attitude to his younger follower. It cannot have helped that Wardell also used many of the same suppliers – including Hardman & Co. – thereby taking full advantage of the work by Pugin to painstakingly develop the appearance and techniques of a medieval style of window making, without the need for the trials and experiments – or the need to credit the older pioneer.

All but one light and some fragments in the upper tracery have been lost and the windows are currently bricked up, making the chapel very dark inside. What to do at Petre chantry chapel is an interesting conservation dilemma.

The Petre Chapel windows are now mostly bricked up following vandalism three decades ago. Only fragments of stained glass survive in the upper tracery, but one whole window light was rescued and is now in storage.

Re-creating the Hardman windows might be an option – though only if the original design drawings could be found so that the reproductions were highly accurate. Not to date tracked down, the drawings were possibly a victim of a devastating fire at Thorndon Park in 1878. Or maybe they were removed to Australia, when Wardell emigrated there as a young man, for health reasons. Making new windows ‘in the manner of’ Hardman glass is another option, as is commissioning completely new windows from a contemporary designer in a fresh style. The approach that HCT has adopted is to try and find glass of the 1860s that needs a new home (because of demolition or change at a church).

By re-homing glass we hope not only to save windows of quality that are at risk, but re-create something like the original impression at Petre chantry chapel. It would be wonderful to find a set of Hardman & Co. glass, but lucky indeed to find one, especially one that fits. Scale drawings of the windows have been made to assist the search and the project may well take some years if the glass comes from different places. We are now on the look-out for suitable 1860s glass. We have prepared an information sheet and if you feel you can help or know of suitable glass please let us know.

Meanwhile, fundraising for the repair and reinstatement of the windows at Longworth is in hand.

It is so hard for me to disentangle West Gallery Music from the Historic Chapels Trust that I won’t even try. If it had not been for the one, I would not have known about the other. The reason is that the choir I belong to sings each December at St. George’s Lutheran Church in east London which, as you will surely know, is the home of the HCT.

On my first visit, I accidentally left my scarf in the depths of one of the church’s thankfully retained box pews. Going back to retrieve it on a bright winter’s morning, I saw St. George’s in its full, if publicly hidden, magnificence. Well, the West Gallery choral tradition can be seen as something of a musical counterpart to buildings such as this.

Not only does the repertoire derive from broadly the same period, it has become the object of similarly passionate drives for conservation and refurbishment. If St. George’s is passed unwittingly by the traffic of Leman Street, this is because it is surrounded by buildings on three sides.

Image from West Gallery Christmas Music from Northamptonshire, Collected by Stephen J Weston, Camerata Publishing, Kettering

If West Gallery has remained largely hidden, this too is on account of developments since its heyday in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

West Gallery Music is basically Georgian hymnody, and was prevalent in town and country churches, roughly between 1700 and 1850. Dr. Francis Roads, the founder and director of the London Gallery Quire, in which I sing, describes it as ‘happy without being clappy’, and this is indeed the case. The hymns are classy in their joyfulness, ranging from catchy congregational to quite difficult, ruminative anthems. They are written in four-part counterpoint that is robust yet not predictable, and often tenor-led.

The Village Choir by Thomas Webster, courtesy of the Sheepshanks Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum

They have been called sub-Handelian but this surely misses the point. Their ornate energy is their own, not imitation of another. Some of the tunes and arrangements might have a certain eccentricity, but this is not a tactful way of trying to say they are naïf. Nor are they folk hymns, despite their occasional profusion of dotted crotchets. They are well-wrought metrical psalms, hymns and shifting anthems. Some of them are by such ‘name’ composers such as Wesley, Watts, Keys and Knapp; others are the work of less lettered practitioners, but they more than work by virtue of a well-ordered exuberance.

Photo Courtesy West Gallery Music Association

We are seeing a great renaissance of West Gallery, with more than thirty such choirs now in existence in this country. But since rebirths imply an earlier death, what happened to this tradition that makes current interest a revival? Put at its simplest, West Gallery was killed off by new proprieties. If we want culprits, the search ends with the Victorians, for it was they who looked askance at the bands of string and wind instrumentalists who were very likely playing until late at the alehouse on the evening before the Sunday service. This proximity of profane and sacred was too much for the sensibilities of the day. To borrow the language of our own time, the players and singers did not constitute a dedicated unit. What’s more, the bands were –horror!–of mixed gender.

Thomas Hardy is as good on all this as you would expect. He was a fiddler himself, and his father and grandfather had played that instrument in the Dorset churches which shaped his portrayal of the Mellstock band in Under the Greenwood Tree. This short novel was published in 1872, but it was looking back nearly thirty years to a musical disbanding of the kind that had taken place all over the country. A new, young, pretty school teacher Fancy Day arrives in the village. So far, so decorous. But she plays the organ; the mere word carries overtones of a siege engine in the Anglicans’ drive towards seemliness in worship. It does indeed spell the beginning of the end for the band. Here and elsewhere in his stories and poems, Hardy mourns the passing of this music with a rueful acceptance.

Last autumn we sang at St. Andrew’s Church in Enfield. One of the readings during the service was taken from his account of Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir. It’s a yarn about a hung-over band accidentally playing the roistering pub song “Devil Among the Tailors” in church one Sunday, and being sacked. St. Andrew’s happens to be the very church where the author married his young secretary Florence in 1914. How happy, if not clappy, he would have been, to sit in the pews and hear his story being enhanced by the presence of a West Gallery choir in full voice.”        

~ Alan Franks

Author and musician Alan Franks was a feature-writer on The Times for more than thirty years. His latest novel is ‘The Notes of Dr. Newgate’.

For information on the London Gallery Quire go here
To join a local quire visit the West Gallery Music Association

Historic Chapels Trust churches and chapels may be hired for West Gallery and other concerts.

If celebrities had existed in 1817, Rev. Dr. John Fawcett would have been one.  Such was his fame, he came to the attention of King George III and was offered positions by wealthy city chapels in both London and Bristol. Tempted by the London offer, he and his family were all packed and ready to make the journey, but he could not bear to part from the people of Wainsgate Chapel, on the hills above Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley of the Pennines.

So at the last moment he changed his mind – and stayed. Today, Wainsgate Chapel is in the ownership of the Historic Chapels Trust.

The Friends of Wainsgate Chapel, in partnership with Hebden Bridge Local History Society and Hope Chapel in Hebden Bridge, are organising Fawcett200 which will commemorate the bicentenary of the death of the Wainsgate Baptist minister (6 January 1739 – 25 July 1817). Fawcett and his family are buried in the burial ground at Wainsgate and, although quite simple in design, the memorial is individually listed in view of Fawcett’s importance to the development of the worldwide Baptist movement.

Fawcett is perhaps today best known as the author of the hymn, “Blest be the Ties that Bind” but it is easy to under-estimate the influence the Minister had on the mill communities of the area in both social and spiritual leadership. Having been a poor Bradford apprentice who sought to better himself, he recognised the importance of education. He started a school and training for Baptist ministers, but was also keen to improve the lot of the poor children, so he began the first Sunday School in the Upper Calder Valley, just a few years after the Sunday School movement had begun. He published Hints on the Education of Children in which he said

Some parents are so poor as to be unable to pay the demands of a teacher, or to dispense with the little earnings of their children’s labour. Thus multitudes of families have lived in gross darkness, in the midst of poverty and wretchedness, till it pleased the Almighty to put it into the heart of an highly favoured individual, to form the plan of Sunday Schools. … The good effects of the institution we are now recommending, have been apparent in many places. Peace and quietness are enjoyed in towns and villages where noise, riot and mischief before prevailed.

By 1833, there were 49 in the Upper Calder Valley, with 9,669 children and young people enrolled, 80 per cent of whom were non-conformists. Ten years the later, the numbers had tripled. (for more details see Amy Binns Valley of A Hundred Chapels – Yorkshire non-conformists’ lives and legacies).

Although a Wainsgate Sunday school was established in Fawcett’s time, in 1834, Wainsgate Chapel opened a purpose-built Sunday School. A third school was erected in 1860 and included accommodation for the minister. When a new detached manse was built in 1891, the fourth school was made from the redundant manse and school.

“A re-union of old and present scholars took place, when over 300 had tea and celebrated the completion of the new school, rejoicing in the fact that this work had been brought to a successful completion without incurring any debt whatsoever.” – A Short History of the Baptist Church at Wainsgate 1750-1950.

Finally in the 1920s an old stable was converted into further school accommodation. The school building is as large as the chapel itself and is used mainly as artists’ studios.

At the centre of Fawcett200 will be a Fawcett weekend September 23rd and 24th 2017  – not just for those interested in John Fawcett, but for those who have a Fawcett ancestor. For example, we have had contact with some descendants from as far afield as Canada. We have also had much interest from USA because of the strong Baptist tradition there. The surname originated from Fawcett in Westmorland as early as the 13th century, reached Leeds in the 1500s and Bradford soon afterwards and is now prolific in both places. Hebden Bridge Local History Society is also searching for more descendants of the famous minister or his brother Richard. Follow this link on the right to access the Society’s website.

We were immensely sad to share the news that John Booth, Chair of the Friends of Bethesda chapel in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, died on Saturday 22nd February, 2020.

A retired electrician, John was a huge enthusiast for Bethesda. It was after all, where he met his wife Jean, when they attended services there before it closed.  His commitment was enormous, even at times when his health was a source of concern.  He happily threw himself into helping in whatever ways he could with the project to restore Bethesda and was involved with the Friends of Bethesda from its inception in 2003. 

When HCT first became responsible for Bethesda, it was a semi-derelict shell of a building, infested by pigeons, and a daunting restoration project.  The appearance of the chapel in the BBC2 Restoration Series in 2003 (winning the local heat and coming a creditable fourth in the final) galvanised interest in Bethesda.  John, Jean and a coachload of supporters from Stoke attended the final of the 2003 series when it was recorded at the Tower of London.

John was the deputy chair of the Friends of Bethesda for many years, and became chair when Fred Hughes retired a year ago.

He opened the chapel to visitors, to potential users, to architects and builders. He maintained contact with the police, the council, the security contractor, the traffic-control staff, and the city-centre manager.  For most local people he was, as it were, ‘Mr Bethesda’. His complete lack of pretension meant that he was trusted respected, and able to build support from all quarters.

Though not a professional historian, John wrote two well-received histories of Hanley, and devoted years to the study of Bethesda’s history. He co-authored HCT’s substantial booklet about the chapel, and was invariably the one who gave talks about Bethesda.  He undertook his own research into the service records of all those recorded on the Bethesda War Memorial – leading to him publishing a book listing all the details. His special research into the chapel’s work during the First World War led to the HLF-funded exhibition, ‘Bethesda Our Boys’.

John arranged many of the events at Bethesda and established links with a network of local businesses and individuals who helped when asked.  Most recently he had been working hard on the chapel’s forthcoming bi-centenary weekend (9-10 May), and found a local company to print the programmes at cost price. It is of course poignant that John will not be able to take part in the celebrations.

John was an enormous help to HCT during the two main phases of conservation work at Bethesda.  He was delighted that Prince Charles visited Bethesda – twice – and that John had the opportunity to meet and talk to him.

Two very tangible legacies of John’s involvement are the restoration of ‘The Light of the World’ stained glass window and the new toilet facilities at Bethesda.

When Bethesda closed, two local men were concerned that the beautiful stained-glass window ‘The Light of the World’ would be broken by vandals. They arranged for it to be boxed up and taken to a place of safekeeping, where it lay forgotten for approximately 25 years.  John undertook enquiries around Stoke-on-Trent and managed to track it down and it returned to Bethesda in 2010 as part of the second phase of restoration works.   Without his research it might well have been lost without trace.

John recognised that the lack of toilets would be an issue that would restrict the future use of Bethesda for major events.  His tenacious pursuit of funding for the conversion of the former vestry block paid off and a new toilet facility was completed in January this year.

John’s wife, Jean, has also been an active member of the Friends, and their son has used his professional skills to help with IT matters.

The work to restore Bethesda has come a long way since John first became involved – it will be a fitting tribute to John and his endeavours if the final phase of work can be undertaken.

The name Bethesda – popular for many chapels, especially in Wales – recalls the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. A pre-Christian site of ritual healing, the precise location and origins of the Pool are today not clear. But the desert mystic we call John the Baptist was well-known for performing rituals in the Jordan river when he baptised Christ. John was probably part of a long Jewish tradition of Mikveh, or religious ritual bathing, symbolising cleansing, renewal and initiation.

From its earliest days Christianity adopted the practice of baptism.  At first, when the church grew chiefly through the winning of converts, adult baptism was the norm.  So, the first permanent provision for the rite was in the form of a sunken stone baptistery, large enough for adult baptism ceremonies.  During the middle ages, when whole populations were nominally Christian, infant baptism became usual.  For this, raised fonts were naturally more convenient.  Tub-shaped fonts of stone or metal, large enough for the immersion of infants, were in use by the eleventh century, and later a rich variety of stone pedestal-fonts served the same purpose.  In general these medieval fonts were placed near the entrance to a church, and many examples can still be admired in old parish churches. 

During the Reformation several major changes occurred.  Calvin moved the baptismal ceremony to the heart of the church building, and saw no reason to insist on immersion.   As a consequence, the Reformed churches commonly used a bowl, which might be placed on the communion table when required or in a bracket on the pulpit.  English baptismal bowls were made in a variety of materials (including silver, pewter, marble and pottery) and range in date from the seventeenth century until at least the late nineteenth.  They were used by almost all of the Nonconformist denominations who baptised infants.  HCT’s Bethesda (Methodist New Connexion) chapel, Hanley, for instance, had a stone-coloured ceramic bowl which latterly stood on a small table below the pulpit.  In the 1840s some chapels began to use miniature pottery versions of medieval-style fonts in lieu of bowls.

A quite different Protestant tradition argued that infant Baptism was unscriptural, and returned to the New Testament practice of baptising only adults.  The first Baptist churches accordingly tended to baptise (mostly by immersion) out of doors, often in streams or rivers.  The congregation at HCT’s Grittleton Strict Baptist Chapel used the village mill pond.  During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, outdoor baptisteries were created for some chapels.

At Cote the baptistry is located below the larger central pew which has removable benches.

Over time, however, indoor baptism became usual.  The Baptist chapels at Cote and Wainsgate provide good examples: floorboards in the centre of each chapel can be lifted to reveal a baptismal pool.

At Wainsgate Baptist Church the spacious lead–lined baptistery is normally covered beneath carpet. Only the mahogany railings give a clue to its size and central location in the church.

That at HCT’s Wainsgate Chapel is lead-lined and large enough for use by adults, the considerable volume of water being introduced by a hand pump from a well under the building. 

At HCT’s Umberslade Baptist church, Warwickshire, the baptismal pool forms the focal point of the church and is surrounded by a marble balustrade.

Later, where the space could be afforded, it was thought better to make a permanent display of this important feature rather than conceal it under floorboards. Umberslade Baptist Church, Hockley Heath, near Solihull is characteristic, its marble-lined baptismal pool with matching balustrade sits in full view before the pulpit.

A third strand of Protestantism, represented from the seventeenth century by the Quakers and later the Salvation Army, sees no need for such external rites as baptism and communion.  For this reason there are no fonts or communion tables in Quaker meeting houses or Salvation Army citadels.

In England attitudes to baptism began to change in the early nineteenth century.  Many Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy were using baptismal bowls, and there was a reaction in favour of fonts – preferably of stone, and placed at the west end of a church.  Characteristically, Pugin created a full-blown medieval arrangement in his Catholic church at Cheadle: an octagonal alabaster font with a spire-like cover, standing in its own baptistery chapel.  At about the same time, freestanding fonts of wood or stone began to appear in the chapels of some Nonconformist denominations (including Wesleyans, Congregationalists and Unitarians). 

HCT’s Todmorden Unitarian church has a rich example, of white Sicilian marble, with colonnettes of Greek marble and polished Devon limestone.  Its location – close to the pulpit – owes as much to Calvin as to Pugin, however.

Orthodox churches maintained the practice of baptising infants by total immersion, as is shown by the splendid metal font at the Greek church of St Nicholas, Liverpool.

The fine font at St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Liverpool is large enough for total immersion of infants (Photo: Christopher Wakeling)

The liturgical movement of the twentieth century considered the rite of baptism afresh, and by the 1950s it was common for fonts in new churches and chapels to be given greater prominence.  This tendency has continued, affected also by the increasing need for the baptism of adult converts. William Pye’s recent font in Salisbury cathedral, for instance, shows that even Anglicans are now commissioning pieces large enough to cater for adult immersion.

~ Christopher Wakeling

Dr Christopher Wakeling is a Trustee of Historic Chapels Trust. His book English Chapels was published by Historic England in 2017 and he is revising the Staffordshire ‘Pevsner’.

I first came across James Saunders in David Boulton’s book Objection Overruled (1967, republished 2014), a study of conscription and conscientious objection during World War 1.

When I read the details of Field Punishment No. 1 – inflicted over 60,000 times during the war – I wondered if I could carry on. I did – and so met a certain J. B. Saunders from Halesworth, Suffolk, near to the Old Independent Chapel at Walpole that I help to look after for Historic Chapels Trust.

James had been arrested in May 1916 and persuaded against his convictions to enlist. After enlistment his convictions reasserted themselves and he went absent without leave, was court-martialled and sentenced to a year’s detention. He was sent to Barlinnie prison north-east of Glasgow then after three months, secretly shipped to France under a false name to a different regiment. Here he refused to carry his equipment and was again court-martialled and after a week’s detention was sent to Alexandria, Egypt in April 1917, where he was court-martialled a third time for disobedience and sentenced to six months’ hard labour in Gabarree prison.

In August 1917 he wrote to his wife from Mustapha Camp, Alexandria:“You may believe what I say that I am not afraid of anything the military can do. I have been in chains and handcuffs, crucified to a tree in the broiling sun nearly every morning and evening, for five months have had bread and water and solitary confinement. I refused to do any work whatever, so leave you to guess what five months alone in a cell, doing nothing is like. Seven times I went down with dysentery, and seven times I managed to get on my feet and face the music. I fainted and had to be driven away in a barrow. This tropical sun and chaining up nearly drove me mad. I stuck it, and finally got bowled out, and was sent to 19th General Schools Hospital for seventeen days. I was offered RAMC work. I refused it, and asked to be sent back to prison to do full six months. I left hospital next day, and was doing seven days’ No. 1 Punishment diet, chained up in the sun etc. when suddenly I had the chains taken off and I was released. They have discovered at last that they cannot break me. They failed at Barlinnie, and I intend them to fail here.I am determined to sacrifice all rather than to give in. Many times I thought I should hang in the sun and die. I pleaded with the sentry to shoot me. I cannot tell you the misery of it…. I’ll die fifty times rather than endorse the wicked thing. I was flooded for weeks in my cell with water, two buckets of creosol were thrown in, and I was gassed. I was naked for several days and nights in chains. I had to lie on the concrete floor. However, I believe the doctor stopped these horrible proceedings.”

I felt sure James would not have survived the war. I put some feelers out in Halesworth and discovered a James Baldry Saunders lived in London Road in 1911, but that research into Halesworth men in WW1 had not found any record of his enlistment. I found out from the 1911 census that he was born in 1878 – so was 36 when war broke out – and a builder. A search produced 39 people with the surname Saunders in Halesworth today. So …where to start?

Then I had a stroke of luck. I remembered that there were some Saunders graves in our burial ground at Walpole. I scratched around and found a fallen stone commemorating a Frederick Baldry Saunders who was born in 1884 – it had to be his younger brother as it was customary at that time to give boys their mother’s maiden name as a middle name.

Information started to arrive from all sides. I made contact with James Baldry Saunders’ grandson, and to my delight and surprise, James did survive the War. I now have copies of photographs and of his funeral service which took place in Walpole Old Chapel on 16th February 1935 and was reported in the Halesworth Review & District News. His grave is unmarked, but we know for certain he lies there.

His grandson told me that when war broke out, James volunteered as a dispatch rider but was turned down, possibly because of his age. However by the time conscription was introduced in 1916, he had become utterly opposed to the war. His brother-in-law Reginald Aldridge had already been killed in combat in France.

Sadly, having survived all that he had gone through during the war, James died at the age of only 57 from a tetanus infection following a building site accident at Darsham. His son Mark taught woodwork to several generations of boys around Halesworth and lived for years in the house his father built for the family at Walpole.

James Baldry Saunders lies without marker in the burial ground at Walpole Old Chapel. Nearby lies the headstone he had placed on his brother’s grave, its inscription reading:

‘Oh Lord, scatter Thou the people who delight in war’ (Psalm 68.v.30).

James’s only son died in November 2014 and his memorial service was held at Walpole Old Chapel.

The reredos at the Liscard Memorial Unitarian Church, Wallasey, is one of the finest extant examples of the architectural products of the Della Robbia Pottery in Birkenhead. This celebrated small Pottery was in operation from 1894 to 1906 and occupied premises just off Hamilton Square in the centre of Birkenhead.

The Della Robbia Pottery was founded by artist designer and poet Harold Rathbone (1858– 1929), a member of the influential Rathbone dynasty of Merseyside who through successive generations had been at the core of civic, political and mercantile life in Liverpool.

Early opponents of the slave trade, they were originally Quakers, but had become Unitarians in the early 19th century. By the middle of the century their extensive shipping and business interests were linked with a tradition of philanthropy and Liberal politics.

Harold Rathbone’s father, Philip, at first followed the usual Rathbone path into the business world, but then developed a passion for the arts which he pursued as local politician and Alderman of Liverpool, becoming Chairman of the Arts Subcommittee responsible, among other things, for the prestigious Walker Art Gallery Exhibitions.

In this capacity Philip Rathbone got to know many of the nation’s leading artists and when his son Harold showed promise as an artist he was able to guide him towards the best possible art education. Harold trained at the Slade School of Art, as a pupil of Ford Maddox Brown and in Paris. It was traditional also for student artists to visit Italy, which Harold duly did.

Harold Rathbone painted in 1893 by William Holman Hunt. Photo ©National Museums Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery by kind permission.

In Florence Harold was captivated by the ceramic panels and figures made by Luca Della Robbia (1399 or 1400–1482) and his nephew Andrea, using a process more akin to potting than to sculpture, in which figures and reliefs were modelled in soft clay, coated in impervious coloured glazes and then fired. The result was that the colours were ‘fixed’ permanently and remained as bright as they were when first applied.

Harold determined to revive this process in England and, encouraged by John Ruskin and largely financed by his own family, he founded his Della Robbia Pottery in December 1893, with the intention of making colourful panels and reliefs, in a broadly Pre-Raphaelite style, for installation in larger houses, churches and public buildings.

For technical reasons manufacture proved difficult, the task not being made easier by Harold’s initial insistence on conforming to the strict rules laid down by William Morris for potting whereby local clay had to be used, with no mechanical aids. Soon Harold was forced to modify his methods, bringing in a much finer type of clay from the south of England and using moulds. He also recruited a sculptor, Carlo Manzoni, originally from Turin but who had gained experience in modelling and firing clay panels in London. There was an immediate improvement in the products.

One of the three larger panels of the reredos, the joins between the pieces clearly visible. Photo: HCT

The design is attractive and typical of its time – figures (probably representing Virtues) in a stylised woodland landscape.

A long riband runs through the design unifying the panels, bearing an inscription from the Old Testament writings of the minor prophet Micah: “And what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy & to walk humbly with thy God”.     

The upper panels comprise a row of four tiles depicting an oceanic sunrise (or sunset), surmounted by a moulded pair of angel’s wings. The main panels are signed by Harold Rathbone and dated 1899, but the high standard of the relief figures probably points to a collaboration on this work with Carlo Manzoni, though he rarely signed his work.

The five panels of the Wallasey Reredos are set into a dark oak framework and were produced a few years later in 1899, when the Pottery had become much more experienced in making larger pieces and had developed a trained workforce. Even so, each of three larger panels is composed of a number of smaller sections – these were easier to fire in the Pottery’s small kiln and were less likely to split during firing.

Article contributed by Peter Hyland

Peter Hyland has written widely on ceramics and is author of the recent and fully-illustrated volume The Della Robbia Pottery Birkenhead 1894–1906 which is published by the Antique Collectors’ Club, New York, 2013. ISBN 9781851497348

Local people and walkers on the Dales Way may have noticed that Farfield Quaker Meeting House – that sits adjacent to the long distance path between Addingham and Bolton Abbey – no longer has dilapidated timber shutters hanging at the windows. Farfield Meeting House was the first property acquired by Historic Chapels Trust and dates from 1689. The single-storey stone building is typical of Dales architecture, with an appearance similar to that of farmhouses of the period. Its plainness is its key feature and expresses the religious view of its Quaker builders, who felt no need for symbols and ornamentation.

 It is a building of special importance not only architecturally, being typically ‘Quakerly’ in its simplicity, but also historically, because of its date of construction. Under the 1689 Act of Toleration Quaker and other non-Anglican worship was first – and to a limited extent – decriminalised. So this modest building stands as a landmark on the road to freedom of worship we today take for granted. Due to its survival in close to its original form, complete with interior fittings, stand and settles it is now a rarity.

Farfield Meeting House with the modern shutters still in place, 2015

The Meeting House was listed Grade II* as long ago as 1954. The list description describes it as ‘domestic looking’ and specific mention is made of the doorway, with its stone lintel inscribed with the building date, and of the stone mullion windows (no mention of shutters). Two of the five Myers family tombs which stand within the burial ground are older than the Meeting House itself and the walls, gateway and all five tombs were listed in their own right in 1985, Grade II.

At the Annual Visit in November 2014 the local Friends Committee met HCT Director Roland Jeffery and Trustee Clyde Binfield and proposed that HCT remove the sagging and by then rotting shutters. After discussion this was agreed and as one of HCT’s office volunteers and a retired Planner, I was asked to co-ordinate an application for Listed Building Consent, which I researched using information and historic photos collected over the years.

Farfield Friends Committee member Keith Appleyard supplied further photos and information to support the application to Bradford Council. The trust finally obtained listed building consent to remove the shutters in August 2015.

Farfield after the removal of the shutters in 2015 (Photo by Keith Appleyard)

Farfield Meeting House had undergone a limited amount of ‘modernisation’ in the 20th century prior to HCT’s ownership, when it was in agricultural use and it later served as an artist’s studio; the original leaded light windows had been replaced with timber framed glazing. It is possible that this is when the louvre design shutters were introduced.  Although it has proved impossible to ascertain whether this building was provided with shutters from the outset, or acquired them whilst it was still in use for worship or later, the louvre shutters present were of relatively recent date and clearly not of a design which would have been used in the 17th century. Bradford, as Local Planning Authority, Addingham Parish Council and Historic England all consequently accepted that removal of the shutters would not detract from the special architectural and historic interest of the building and that consent should be granted.

There is a condition to the consent that we keep the ‘pintle’ hinges which appear older than the louvre shutters. Whether these were for an earlier form of shutter or for casement stays is not known, but we have carefully preserved the evidence. The shutters were taken down in November last year and we hope you will agree that the result is a success, restoring the simple Quaker appeal of the Meeting House.

 ~  Kathryn Phillipson

Kathryn Phillipson is a chartered planner and volunteers in the HCT office in London.