S. Matthew's, Douglas



It will be of interest to the readers of this booklet, especially to those who are citizens of Douglas, to know the circumstances of the first provision of public worship in our town. It was on the Feast of S. Matthew (21st September, 1708) that Bishop Wilson consecrated the old Church of S.Matthew. Up to that time the nearest Church for the residents of Douglas was Braddan. It was not surprising that the good Bishop ever solicitous of the needs of his people resolved upon the erection of a Church which might better serve the wants of the people of Douglas. The following is a copy of the Deed of Consecration :—

" Whereas the Parish Church of Braddan in our Diocese is more than a mile distant from the township of Douglas, so that the inhabitants of the said town-ship wishing to hear the sacred Offices of the Church, as often as it behoves the sons of the Holy Mother Church, cannot easily approach it, particularly in the winter time, with the stream flowing between.

And whereas certain honourable men of the said township, and a great many others, moved by pious and religious devotion, have at their own expense, and with our approval and consent, built an Oratory or Chapel

We, therefore, Thomas, by Divine permission Bishop of Sodor and Man, on the 21st day of September, and Feast of S. Matthew the Apostle, in the year of our Lord 1708, and of our Consecration the 12th do separate this Chapel or Oratory from all common use."

 From that time onwards, ministered to by the little Oratory of S. Matthew alone, till late in the 18th Century, the little town of Douglas grew and prospered. Undiminished, nay augmented, is the sacred halo that tune weaves around the figure of the Island’s greatest Bishop—Thomas Wilson. It was but fitting and proper that a handsome Church should be his memorial, and our tribute to his enduring memory.

Old St Matthew's

Such is the Church of which we are to speak. But before doing so it will be of interest to recall some features of the old mother Church. it was a very plain building, small, and unpretentious, and its removal in 1897 proved it to have been without foundations. It stood in the Market Place, facing the end of James-street, and was colour-washed. The view of the interior which we give will afford an idea of its uninviting and unimposing appearance.

Old St matthew's Interior
Old St Matthew's Interior, looking west

The high-backed pews with their locked doors (they were rented prior to the appointment of the Rev. T. A. Taggart, in the year 1878, fourteen of them being claimed by one man), the yellow-washed walls, the rotting floors, the lofty forbidding altar rail, with the three-decker pulpit in front obscuring the altar, the low gallery at the west end supported by pillars, combined to form a very plain and uninspiring interior. But in spite of all this, under the leadership of the Rev. T. A. Taggart, who refused to receive a penny from pew-rents, and taught the poorest of the people to use and love their Church, the old Chapel soon became the spiritual home of a large and enthusiastic flock, so large that they were quite unable to find accommodation within its walls, and so enthusiastic that they set to work forthwith to collect. funds for a new building, and did not rest from their labours, though they involved great sacrifices and unceasing labours in preparing for Bazaars and Sales of Work too numerous to mention, until the New Church was built and paid for ; and we can imagine with what. joy and thankful-ness they gathered in their New Church on the 10th July, 1901, for the Consecration of the Nave. The foundation stone had been laid in August, 1895, by Sir West Ridgeway, K.O.B., Governor of the island, and the Nave had already been in use from the 10th August, 1897, when it was opened by, and under the licence of, the Bishop of the Diocese, to be entirely free, open and unappropriated for ever. It was shortly after the opening of the Church (and while the old Church was still standing) that the Rev. T. E. Brown the distinguished son of a former Chaplain of Saint Matthew’s, wrote the following lines :—

Saint Matthew's, Old and New.

OUR Mother sits on Douglas Quay,
And dreams, and passes patiently;
The midnight hour will soon be fled.
She has no doubts she has no fears,
Her thoughts are of departed years,
Her dreams are with the dead.
Strke gently, bell,
So gently, bell
She dreams, and dreams, and all is well.

For she is happy as she dies,
The Past is present to her eyes.
The dearly loved who went before,
She sees them in the heavenly land,
She hears them chant, a ransomed band,
Safe, safe upon the shore.
Strike gently, bell,
So gently, bell;
She dreams, and dreams, and all is well.

Who comes, and gathers to her side,
Fair, young, and clothed like a bride?
Her daughter, full of love and hope,
Revealed to her the Church that traces
Her mansions in the Heavenly places,
Revealed the further scope.
Strike gently, bell,
So gently, bell ;
She dreams, and dreams, and all is well.

And to that aged mother sweet
She whispers lowly, as is meek,
"Behold, in these we copy those’.
God’s House in Heaven we adumbrate
On earth, its beauty and its state,
As of a perfect rose."
Strike gently, bell,
So gently, bell;
She dreams, and dreams, and all is well.

" And, polishing our souls, we make them
God’s mirrors, and we humbly take them
To Him in prayer, and. one by one,
They body forth, as mern'ry brings
Assurance, bright immortal things
That are beyond the Sun."
Strike gently, bell,
So gently, bell;
She dreams, and dreams, and all is well.

Sept. 1897. T. E. B.

It was not long after the writing of this poem that its author died at Clifton, to the great sorrow of his fellow-countrymen, and particularly of the Vicar and people of S. Matthew’s, to whom he had been a valuable helper and unfailing friend.

We have already referred to the Consecration of the Nave of the Church in July, 1901. There still remained the Chancel to be built, and it was not until the year 1908 that that object was achieved, largely through the efforts of the late Attorney-General (Mr. G. A. Ring), who rendered yeoman service, in collaboration with the Vicar and the congregation. The Consecration took place on S. Matthew’s Day (21st September, 1908), two hundred years, to the very day, after the Consecration of the Mother Church by Bishop Wilson. We need not here attempt any detailed description of the Church. It will suffice to state that while it is a very handsome building, it is also a very substantial one, being built of good-dressed Manx stone, with red sand-stone facings. The Nave was built by Messrs. Kelly & Preston, Douglas, and the Chancel by Mr. George Preston. The architect. was the late J. L. Pearson, R.A., London, who was one of the most eminent ecclesiastical architects in the kingdom, and employed Mr. W. Bond, now Diocesan Surveyor of Lincoln, as his Clerk of Works. The total cost of the building, including the site, was £8,700.

Resignation of Canon Taggart.

It was shortly after the Consecration of the Chancel that the Rev. Canon Taggart communicated to his people his conviction that, after thirty-one years, spent as they had been spent in incessant toil with hardly a single rest or holiday, the time had come for him to resign. There was not one of them who could be persuaded to agree with him in this conviction. They could not imagine the Church, the Parish, or the town without Parson Taggart. Nevertheless the resignation took place in the beginning of the year 1909, when, after a very serious illness brought on by constant over-work, the Rev. Canon Taggart accepted the small country living of S. Maurice, Horkstow, Lincs. There he remained for about two years when he felt that his health was no longer equal to the task, and having retired from active service, he removed to London, where he resided until his death, which occurred on the 1st June, 1912. The following " appreciation" was written for the Press at the time by Mr. J. D. Fell, J.P., who from boyhood had been one of the Canon’s closest associates in the work of the Church and Parish, and is still actively engaged :—

This appreciation. 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ Truly a fitting epitaph to write over the remains of the Rev. Thomas Arthur Taggart, for, like St. Paul, did he ‘ gladly spend and he spent’ in his Master’s service. He was indeed a faithful minister of Jesus Christ. As Vicar of S. Matthew’s Church, he was unsparing of himself, and his parish knew no bounds. Ever at the beck and call of all and sundry, even those who never entered a place of worship came to feel that they had a claim on his service. Nothing was ever a trouble to him if he thought he could oblige one of his workers, and the demands made on his time in sick visiting equalled, and often exceeded, the demands made on a hard-working physician. A strict rule with him was to set aside at least a tenth part of his income for God’s work, and he kept his personal balance-sheet in this particular as strictly as a banking account. His love for the poor was without limit, his forbearance with their weaknesses great. and he never hesitated to denounce those who were ready to oppress them. George Herber wrote, ‘ All equal are within the Church’s gate, ‘ and Canon Taggart made it the rule of his ministry. His success in eventually securing his Church to be ‘ free, open, and unappropriated,’ was ever a source of gratification to him. Standing in the Church porch, previous to the beginning of a service, he regularly welcomed all and sundry with a hearty hand-shake, calling them all by their Christian names. His memory for names and faces was a gift, and a repeated absence from Church was sure to be early inquired after. A common sight was to see him descend the companion-way of a trading or fishing vessel in the harbour, and very often he was followed into Church by the ship’s crew. The frequenters of street corners loved him and feared him, for his questioning was often not to their liking, and the remembrance of a forgotten premise to attend Church smote the conscience painfully whey next they met him. Believing that a parochial view of the work of the Catholic Church was inimical to sound Churchmanship, he regularly encouraged a number of working men in his congregation to visit the English Church Congresses, accompanying them and often paying the whole of the expenses incurred. Punctual and methodical to a degree, he forgot nothing and left nothing undone. In principle unflinching, in service untiring, in good works abounding, he was the friend of all and the enemy of none. A verse from Goldsmiths ‘ Village Pastor’ aptly describes the life’s work of the dead Canon :—


To relieve the wretched was his’ pride
And e'en his failings lean’d to virtues side’;
But in his duty prompt at every call,
He watch’d and wept, he pray’d and felt for all;
And, as the bird each fond endearment tries
To tempt his new-fledged offspring to the skies
He ‘tried each art, reproved each dull delay,
Allured to brighter worlds, and led the’ way..’
‘ And now he has heard and answered the summons ‘
Well done, thou good and faithful servant ; thou hast been faithful over a few things. I will make thee-ruler over nany things ; enter thou into the joy of thy’ Lord.’"

Canon T A Taggart
Thomas Arthur Taggart

Another old friend and helper, Mr. W. Gell, who is. still with us, the father of our Choirmaster, Mr. R. H. Gell, wrote the following lines


" The dear, familiar form has passed away,
The spirit, severed from the mortal clay,
Now waits transition to the realms beyond.
1-ils parish was his town—his word his bond;
No thought had he for what there was to spare,
But with the humblest soul his mite would share;
To lead his Master’s work, himself a host.,
Who knew him best were those who loved him most;
Inspired by him upréared by willing hands,
His well-loved Church his monument now stands;
We little thought that we in the near past
Upon the dear old face had looked our last;
Yet let us not repine, hut hold our way,
To meet him in the realms of endless day !"

When the Rev. M. S. Taggart succeeded his father as Vicar of the Parish, the situation was as follows : The Church had been built and paid for, the adjoining plot of ground had been purchased for a New School, and there was also the sum of £100 in hand for the erection of the building, together with the old School in New Bond Street. Without any delay. the congregation rallied round their new Vicar, and resolved to carry on the work until the buildings were complete. Within three years of his arrival this happy result was achieved, and on the 7th March, 1912, the New Schoo!s were opened by Lady Raglan, who had rendered valuable aid in raising the necessary funds, and had always shown a keen interest in our work. On this occasion the Vicar recalled the history of the Sunday School during the previous 24 years. On the arrival of Canon Taggart, as there was no Sunday School he started one in the gallery of the Old Church. When that space was no longer sufficient for the purpose, a change was made to a disused billiard room in the Peveril Buildings, and, later on, to a room over a chandler’s shop in old Lord Street. All this time Mrs. Cecil Hall, or. as she was called "Lady Hall"—and well did she deserve the title—had been silently watching the wonderful work that had been going on, and to show her admiration of it and her desire to help, she bought back the Old Grammar School in New Bond Street, and presented it to the Church.But that was not all, for this noble lady added to her gift the cost of reconstructing and refitting the old school for the purposes required. So it came about that the old school, where two centuries before the apostolic Bishop Wilson trained his postulants for Holy Orders, where, many years later, the Rev. T. E. Brown was born, became the nursery ground of many priceless souls, the busy hive where all our workers met and the energies of the Parish were concentrated. Long before the year 1912, the building proved far too small for the work required, but that had to be endured until the New Church was built and paid for. No sooner was that object achieved than the matter of the New School was taken in hand, and, as we have already seen, in the Spring of 1912 the New School was opened. The building, in material an style, is in strict harmony with the Church, which adjoins, and is a very handsome structure. The builder was Mr. R. F. Douglas, of this town, who has good reason to be proud of his work. Mr. Mark Carine, who had previously been Clerk of Works for the Chancel, acted in a similar capacity for the School. The cost of this new building, apart from the site, was£2,300.

With our building now complete, we were the more free to attend to the spiritual upbuilding of the flock, young and old, in Church and School. From the time of his appointment in 1878, the Rev. Canon Taggart had steadly striven to lead his people on to the acceptance of the whole Gospel as presented in the age-long Faith and worship of the Catholic Church. That work was continued by his son, the present Vicar, who, after several years of teaching, felt that the time had come to place "The Lord’s Service" in that position of pre-eminence among the services of the Church to which it was intrinsically entitled, and which the Prayer Book plainly contemplated ; and so by the winter of 1911, the Sung Eucharist had become the chief act of worship on the Lord’s Day. In loyalty to the Book of Common Prayer, and with the hearty approval of his flock, he adopted the Onaments Rubric as the Church’s Rule for the ornaments of the Church and her ministry, and gradually succeeded in restoring the service of the altar and the vestments of the rninhter to the standard which was ordered by the Prayer Book. Opportunities were given to the faithful, as the Church required, to "open their grief’ ‘ in confession, and to "receive the benefit of absolution together with ghostly counsel and advice."

These changes were not effected without considerable opposition from outside, but through it all the Wardens Sidesmen, and the entire congregation stood by their Vicar, who can never forget their steadfastness and loyalty. There had already existed ties of affection between the Vicar, his family, and his people, which strangers could not have been expected to appreciate or understand, but these were only strengthened by the experiences they shared together in contending for the Faith. They are of such a character today that the Vicar can honestly say of his people that no Parish Priest is more happily placed than he. To prove the statement, it may he here recorded that though the building of the New School and the erection of the new and costly organ have demanded great sacrifices from the people, nevertheless they have for years maintained an average Easter Offering of £80. Moreover, by means of a Freewill Offering Fund they have recently. increased the Vicar's salary and, still more recently, they have made him a present of over £50 to pay the expenses of a serious illness. In other ways also he has been highly favoured.

Within recent years he has been greatly helped by the voluntary assistance of the Rev. W. J. Karran, M.A., who after resigning the Living of West Somerton, Norfolk, came to reside in his old homeland. This was indeed most fortunate both for the Vicar and people of S. Matthew’s, who fully appreciate the privilege they have enjoyed in the voluntary services of a priest of his ability and experience. In a booklet of this size and character, it would be impossible to recall the names of those who through so many years have been engaged in the work of the Church, nor can we attempt to mention the names of those who are now engaged. We believe that they are more than satisfied to have been allowed to take part in the good work which we have tried to record. We must now confine ourselves to the walls of the Church and attempt to give our readers some description of its contents.


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