The History of Ramelton Presbyterian Church
As the congregation of Ramelton Presbyterian Church gathers to celebrate the Centenary of their church building, we give thanks to Almighty God for His grace and provision for the Presbyterian peoples of this community during the past 100 years. We are grateful for those faithful servants of God who ministered to us here and to those who were instrumental in keeping faith alive down through the years.
Ireland has changed beyond recognition between 1908 and 2008 and many significant events have taken place such as the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, two World Wars, and periods of immigration from the State to Northern Ireland and afar, and the troubles in Northern Ireland
As well as these changes in Irish society there have also been many changes in congregational life in Ramelton over the past 100 years. Some significant events which took place in the Presbyterian community were: The closure of the Bank Church (Seceder) in 1911 when during a vacancy they moved to join Scots’ Church under the ministry of Rev. Alfred Torrens; The long and popular tenure of the Rev. Dr. Eric Scott from 1923 until 1971; The joint worship arrangement between First and Second congregation begun under the ministry of Rev. Roy Lester in 1967; The erection of the Makemie Hall in 1982 during the leadership of Rev. Paul Erskine; and the amalgamation of First and Second Ramelton congregations to form Ramelton Presbyterian Church under the guidance of Rev. Charles Clements on 31st December 1989.
This is the story of the events leading up to and during the time that the present church building was constructed one hundred years ago. Most of the information is taken from the Church Committee Minute Books from that era. I hope you will find it provides a fascinating glimpse at the vision of the minister and members of the congregation at the start of the 20th century and the difficulties they encountered to provide a new church, “built to the glory of God, and to the convenience of the members, who worship God in simple form as Presbyterians do.”
At a Church Committee meeting held in May 1899, “the Committee were unanimous in their opinion that a new church should be erected and that the mind of the congregation be taken on Sabbath of June 4th, 1899 as to whether the members desired to build a new church.” Rev. William D. Wallace was the Chairman of the Committee and Mr. Andrew S. Hunter acted as Secretary during this entire time. The result of the vote was 67 seat holders for the erection of a new church and 6 against. In July of 1899 the committee decided to divide the congregation into districts and set up collectors for these areas to solicit pledges for building the new church. The areas were established and the collectors were appointed but there seems to have been no definite outcome from their efforts.
A new Finance Committee was also appointed and allocated districts to actually collect the funds pledged in December by the previous visitation of the districts.
The newly formed Building Committee, with Rev. Wallace in the chair, held their first meeting shortly afterwards on the 10th January 1905. They appointed a delegation to visit three other churches to view the style, seating layout and determine the approximate cost. The three churches chosen were: Ballywillan Presbyterian Church, Portrush, First Castlederg Presbyterian Church, Co. Tyrone and Carlisle Road Methodist Church, Londonderry. Upon the delegation reporting back, the Building Committee unanimously approved of the design of Carlisle Road Methodist Church in Derry for style, etc. provided the cost was appropriate.
In February 1905 the Building Committee contacted Messrs. Young & Mackenzie Architects, Belfast to consider designing a church building seating from 550 to 700 people. Young & Mackenzie were a prominent firm of architects in Belfast during the second half of the nineteenth century up until the 1930’s. They designed, often in the popular Gothic style, many notable buildings in the ever-expanding city of Belfast. These included the Robinson & Cleaver Building in 1885, Anderson & McCauley in 1890, and the Ocean Buildings in Donegall Square at the turn of the century and The Presbyterian Assembly Buildings, Fisherwick Place built between 1900 and 1905. This firm was also the architects for the Slieve Donard Hotel built in Newcastle, Co. Down in 1896 and many Presbyterian Churches erected in Belfast during this time. Mr. John Mackenzie became the building project’s architect and made many visits to Ramelton while the church building was under construction.
By May 1905 the Architects had supplied drawings for a new church and they were approved and accepted by the church Building Committee. In July Mr. Mackenzie estimated the completed church would cost £5,807 or £4,616 without the belfry and spire. The Building Committee was enraged and requested the secretary to write a letter to Messrs. Young & Mackenzie requesting to know why the church could not be built for £4,000 which was the verbal amount given by the architect on an earlier occasion. Even one hundred years ago verbal quotations were getting people into the bother!
The Committee agreed to have 1,500 circulars printed with a photograph of their present church in Meetinghouse Street and a drawing of the new church for fund raising purposes. In August 1905 the Building Committee offered the building to tender and the following tenders were received back as per “Young & Mackenzie Architects specification and Bills of Quantities as prepared by Mr. Ferguson, Surveyor of Quantities”:
Courtney & Co., Belfast £5,885
Dowling & Co Belfast £6,260
Colhoun & Co., Derry £5,850
Stewart & Co., Belfast £5,944
Laverty & Sons, Belfast £4,900
Having received pledges of £2,000 and anticipating a significant shortfall, the Building Committee presumably thought the quotations to be daunting and inquired from Mr. Mackenzie where cost reductions could be obtained. He replied that £1,200 could be saved by doing the following:
Front face in plaster instead of stone £250
Eliminate the side aisles £260
Build narrower transepts £120
Omit asphalt-paving £40
Omit tracery design in windows £120
Omit spire £440
Later in August the Building Committee met again. It was proposed by Mr. J W Fullerton, JP, (Lt. Col. Fullerton’s brother) and seconded by Mr. John Mackey “that the tender of Messrs. Laverty & Sons for £4,900 for the entire church, less £591 (the estimated cost of the belfry and spire) be accepted with the right of the Committee before the completion of the church to request contractors to build belfry and spire at £591-0-0.” By November of 1905 the balance in the Building Fund Account stood at £928-2-2.
In February 1906 the Building Committee met again and Rev. Wallace was heartily welcomed from his return from his lecture tour in America. He reported that he had raised £600 from the tour and that he was invited to go back to the USA in April of 1906 as a delegate at the Makemie Bicentennial Conference. Also “it was decided to write to Messrs. Young & Mackenzie to urge the contractors to get to work as soon as possible”. For Church Committees some things never change! The building work was carried out under the direct supervision of Mr. William Laverty and the site foreman was Mr. McAllister.
By July 1906 the Committee decided to complete the belfry and spire if the congregation approved. This was strongly recommended by Mr. Mackenzie as being an important feature of the church architecture. The congregation subsequently approved the committee’s decision. The Committee also decided that two memorial stones would be laid on 2nd August 1906; one by Lt. Col. Fullerton and the other by Rev. Wallace. Mr. John Mackey had prepared a record on parchment to be placed under one of the memorial stones. Lt. Col. Fullerton was pleased to comply with the Committee’s request and sent the following letter in reply:
Dear Mr. Wallace,
I understand that it is definitely settled that I am (DV) to lay one of the memorial stones in our new church on Friday week. I now desire to ask if you will be so kind as to convey to the gentlemen of the Building Committee, and to accept for yourself my warmest best thanks for the kind and considerate thought that prompted you and them to ask me to perform the ceremony. I accept the compliment all the more gratefully believing that it is intended as a mark of regard for my family who have for so many years been members of the old church, as well as a very special compliment to my brother and myself. I hope the Committee and indeed the members of the church generally will believe that I value their good opinion very highly and that I shall not forget their kindness.
With best wishes and kindest regards. I am,
John C. Fullerton
It came around to January 1907, just one year before the opening of the church. Unfortunately no written social history or records exist describing the demolition of St. Helen’s or the details of the progress of the construction work except for what is recorded in the Minute Books. Also in January consideration was given to other tenders for completion of the church:
Heating system – Messrs. Mackenzie & Moncure, Edinburgh £119
Lighting – Patent Paraffin Gas Lighting Co., Glasgow £65
Memorial stained glass windows – Campbell, Belfast £72
Railings and gates – Messrs. Riddell, Musgrave & Co. £48
Stone plinth for railings – Messrs. H. Laverty (contractor) £60
In April of 1907 the fifth instalment of £900 was paid to the contractor and in July the sixth instalment of £600 was due. This left the indebtedness of the Building Fund at £1,088. About this time the Northern Bank manager in Ramelton, Mr. D. C. Motherwell (a member of Scot’s Church) granted overdraft facilities for the church building of £2,000 in a special account. In order to avail of this, the bank required the signatures of 25 members of the congregation as guarantors! It is amusing to read that the Building Committee met on 21st May 1907. At this stage of busy building and preparation, just eight months before the new church opened, the minute book reads simply….. “No business”.
By the autumn of 1907 the Building Committee was discussing the finer details required for the completion of the new church. Some of the matters considered was whether the choir seat should be square or circular, the size of the pulpit and providing panelled wainscoting behind the pulpit in the recess where the pipe organ is now located. The finishing touch was to order 250 shrubs from Messrs McCready, Portadown for the princely sum of £10.
The first recorded discussion about the bell to be installed took place at a church committee meeting in September of 1907, just three and a half months before the proposed opening. At that meeting it was decided to ask the other two Presbyterian congregations in town “to go in conjunction with First church to provide a suitable bell”. Suitable presumably meant a bell that would be rung for occasions in all three churches. Also at this meeting it was proposed by Mr. John Mackey and seconded by Mr. R. Stewart that the opening of the new church be adjourned until “first moonlight” in January 1908.
In October of 1907 the congregation elected a Pew Committee by ballot whose function was to oversee the allocation and letting of the pews in the new church. A tricky task, no doubt, fraught with pit-falls! The Committee comprised Samuel Floyd, David Malseed, William Speer, Andrew S. Hunter and Moses Black. Shortly after that, James Campbell was appointed Sexton for the soon to be opened new church with a salary of £12 per year. He served until August 1912, losing an eye in a boiler explosion the previous year.
On 10th December 1907 just one month before the opening service, the Committee placed an order with Messrs. Taylor of Loughborough for a tenor bell weighing not more than 10 cwt. The firm of John Taylor, Bellfounders, Loughborough, in Leicestershire were renowned as premier bell makers. They had supplied St. Paul’s Cathedral, London with the 17-ton ‘Great Paul’ bell, the largest in Britain, in 1881. They also supplied the 15-ton ‘Great George’ bell, second largest, to Liverpool cathedral. The price of the bell for Ramelton was £82-15-3 delivered. It was decided that Rev. Wallace would announce during the next Sabbath service that the Committee had purchased a bell and members of the congregation were to place a slip on the collection plates on Sabbath 22nd December inst. and indicate what amount they were prepared to subscribe to the Bell Fund. It is unlikely from this time scale that the bell was installed in time for the opening of the new church. Subsequent minutes describe difficulties with the clapper and complaints about the ‘tone’ of the bell, even requesting a representative of the bell makers to be present some Sabbath to observe the tone for himself. Minutes regarding issues with the bell continue to appear up as far as 1915.
One document from 1908 exists which gives a good description of the new church upon completion. It states in part that “the new church occupies a central and prominent site on an elevated position in town.” The architecture of the church is “a simple treatment of the late Tudor style and the walls has mainly been constructed of an excellent local stone with dressings of Dumfries red sandstone. All the bricks used were specially brought from Messrs. Laverty’s works at Carrickfergus. A special feature has been made of the bell tower which is 20-ft. square with embattled parapets and gargoyles, above which rises an octagonal stone spire surmounted by a copper-guilt vane at a height of 120 ft.”
“The main entrance, placed in the centre of the west gable, gives access to a spacious vestibule, flanked by the circular staircase. The dimensions of the church are about 90 ft. long by 70 ft. wide at transepts. There is seating accommodation for upwards of 500 persons, and the gallery, which extends over the vestibule for 80 persons additional. Above the boldly moulded arch of the main door is placed a five-light, richly traceried window with label moulding. Each of the transepts has four-light windows and numerous tracery windows in the aisles afford ample light and ventilation. The windows in the east gable are of special design in which appropriate texts are combined with Biblical plants. The central wheel window (Rose Window) is the gift of the Architects.”
“The rooms at the rear comprise accommodation for Committee, Minister and Cloak Rooms. The roof is formed with large curved braces resting on moulded corbels. Between each principal there are sheeted panels. The internal forming including the pews, which are curved, on-plan, is of pitch pine varnished. At the back of the pulpit is placed an arched screen with moulded and cusped spandrels”
The Opening Services of the new First Ramelton Presbyterian Church took place on Sabbath 12th January 1908. The preacher at the Morning Service was Rev. John Stewart BA from Rathgar, Dublin.
This was the Order of service:
Praise – Psalm 100 – ‘All people that on earth do dwell’
Praise – Psalm 43 – ‘O send thy light forth and thy truth’
Old Testament Reading – 2Chronicles 6; verses 12 – 42
Praise – Psalm 65 – ‘Praise waits for thee in Zion, Lord’
New Testament Reading – Hebrews 10; verses 19 – 39
Praise – Psalm 136 – ‘Praise God for he is kind’
Sermon – Rev. J Stewart, Rathgar, Dublin
Collection and Announcements
Praise – Paraphrase 2 – ‘O God of Bethel! By whose hand’
As was customary in those days, Presbyterians “of means” from neighbouring congregations were invited to your church to take up the collection at special services. The assumption being that they would put a handsome offering on the plate themselves! No details are available about the evening service on the opening Sabbath but the Offering Collections on opening day were £554-7-8, a considerable sum for the beginning of the last century. These special collections with their specially invited collectors continued for two further Sundays and the total amount realised was £849-16-4.
As with any new building, there were some teething problems and snags with the new church and the Church Committee continued to deal with these issues for many months following the opening. A storm on Sunday 23rd February 1908 blew off a quantity of slates and lead was lifted up in places from the roof and bell tower. Upon examination, the Committee felt the slates were not to the quality specified in the contract and wrote to the architect and contractor. Messrs. Laverty replied that they would “send down their Foreman Slater to put things right.’ The Committee also wrote to Messrs Young & Mackenzie regarding the draught in the large front doors. One hundred years later we still discuss this issue with no one to write to! In April they wrote to the architects again asking them “to suggest some means whereby the sun may be kept from shining so strongly through the windows.”
In June 1908 the final instalment was paid to the contractor leaving the total amount paid of £5,300. Including separate amounts paid to the various other sub-contractors and suppliers, it is estimated that the new church building cost approximately £6,000. After all the bills were paid, an overdraft of £1,998-10-8 remained with the Northern Bank.
Paying off this debt was a major task facing the congregation and much effort by the minister, committee and congregational members went into the task. In the end it took eight years to eliminate the debt in the Building Fund account. During those years the members of the congregation continued to pay subscriptions to the building fund and some private donations were received from friends of the congregation. Here are examples of other activities for fund-raising that took place during those years:
The Church Committee decided to hold a ‘Social Meeting’ in the Public Hall, Ramelton in March 1909 with proceeds for the Building Fund. The Committee ordered 900 buns, half fruit and half plain. The net proceeds were £11-0-0. By September 1909 the debt was £1,828 including £36 half-yearly bank interest charges.
In 1910 a Special Meeting of the Committee was convened to discuss measures to be taken to liquidate the debt. The outcome of this meeting is not known. In the spring of 1911 the ladies of the congregation held a Sale of Work for the Building Fund raising £90, leaving the debt balance at £1,550. To put this debt in perspective, the total church income for the year 1910 – Stipend, Foreign and Home Missions, etc. was £365-0-0.
In May 1912 Rev. Wallace undertook to visit the entire congregation “to invite members to subscribe to the Building Fund and that the members were to pay (if possible) their subscriptions in two years”. Six Committeemen were appointed to drive Rev. Wallace around the various districts. As a result of Rev. Wallace’s appeal, £464-18-0 was collected or promised. By February 1913 the Debit balance in the Building Fund account was £843. As a side note, the Committee also decided to give Rev. Wallace a cheque for £25 to defray costs in connection with the conferring of his Doctor of Divinity degree.
Again in May 1916 the Church Committee decided that Dr. Wallace would call on the members of the congregation in order to wipe off the Building Fund debt. The minute’s state that in two days Dr. Wallace collected £395-14-6, clearing off the balance of debt. Dr. Wallace retired in 1922 and died in February 1935 at the age of 93 yrs. At his funeral service the address was give by the Moderator of the General Assembly, Rt. Rev. Dr. T. M. Johnstone MA, Belfast. He said: “The building of a new church under conditions such as existed there was not a light undertaking to shoulder at any age, but to set out on such an enterprise when one had come to his 64th year, as Dr. Wallace did, was something to be accredited for righteousness. Yet, notwithstanding his years, he proved no ‘tardy son’. Courageous as he was in planning the venture, he was equally prompt in carrying it out. In its interest he went to America and was himself chiefly responsible for raising the funds to defray its cost, a sum of about £6,000.”
This ends the story of the building of Ramelton Presbyterian Church. As we look back in reflection during this centenary year to how it all began, we remember with gratitude God’s provision for us all over the past 100 years. As a united congregation, we look forward with resolve to serving God faithfully in this place in the years to come and rededicate ourselves to Him.
Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
Urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
Sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided:
Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.
Lord for ourselves; in living power remake us –
Self on the cross and Christ upon the throne,
Past put behind us, for the future take us:
Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.