Manx Methodist Historical Society - Newsletter 24


April, 1996
"Churches and Chapels"

Mr. Cowin began his talk at 'St. Patrick's Chair' Marown, the earliest Christian -structure on the Island, commenting that it represented the Irish phenomenon of an open air preaching station.

Graves at Santon, dated about 1,000 AD gave no indication of a church in the neighbourhood, while Lag-ny-Killey (below Cronk-ny-eary-laa) was a good example of the early keeils of which the Island has about 200. It gives a good indication of the hermit's house, his chapel and surrounding burial ground. his well, and his lime garden. This is one of the most remote.

Druidale Keeil can no longer be seen since it has been removed by the Sulby dam. The Irish influence is frequently seen in the Isle of Man - for example the Round Tower at Peel and the associated St. Patrick's chapel.

St. Trinian's church in Marown illustrates the form of early parish churches, which followed the Treen chapels (keeils) when the parish system was superimposed. Maughold, Old Lonan and Old Braddan also illustrated clearly the long narrow form of the building. With slides of the old Cathedral at Peel, the Abbey at Rushen, and the Friary at Ballabeg, Mr. Cowin was able to illustrate the construction of shouldered arches, and also the recesses in arches which were probably an influence from Ireland.

There are not many churches on the Island which survive with a medieval layout, but Mr. Cowin showed a picture of the chapel at the Nunnery, with its rood screen, restored after its use as a coach-house. Following the Reformation, the altar became a holy table and moved forward so that everything could be seen and heard - so forming "auditory" churches. Triple decker pulpits were used in "Auditory" chapels formed from pre -Reformation buildings especially when galleries were added.

After Revestment in 1765, the Island supposedly faced many financial problems, but many of the churches were being re-built - or altered - e.g. St. George's in Douglas, Santon, St. Mark's etc. and St. Mary's in Castletown built in full auditory style: The style of Victoria Street Methodist church (the site of which is now occupied by Barclay's Banlc) with its balcony and organ,followed this high tradition, with John Taggart as the architect, (the old-market hall in Douglas was of the same appearance) - the Choral pattern for churches at the time of Wesley.

With changes in the style of liturgy and music in worship, the added west galleries became the home for the new organ, and a re-building programme was initiated by Bishop Ward. Hansom and Welch were the architects for St. Luke's, St. Andrews, (copied at Port St. Mary), Lezayre, Kirk Michael, Onchan; and also King William's College, whose original design of tower resembles that at Ballaugh.

John Mason Neale (1818 - 1866) - many of whose hymns can be found in the Methodist Hymns and Psalms - had a particular interest in medieval liturgy and hymns, and wanted to change the style of churches from the auditory back to pre-Reformation; nor did he like the Church Commissioners' style of the Bishop Ward churches. He was largely responsible for the "Anglican" church as we know it - as seen in the Island at Rushen Parish Church, with the added sanctuary at the end of the church, and its separation from the body of the church; and St. Catherine's and St. German's which were built new..

Primitive Methodist Chapels adopted a different style - for example at Castletown, Loch Parade, and at Ramsey, where the church was above the hall, and a flight of steps outside was needed.

Many Methodist churches are now reverting to something like the separated chancel - e.g Willaston, and Loch Promenade. In other denominations (and led by the Roman Catholics) altars are moving forward again almost to the centre of the church.

In some instances, preaching is again being conducted in the open air, as it was once on the steps of the Cronk chapel at Ballaugh (where the steps can still be seen near the now-disused chapel). Circumstances last summer led the Promenade Church congregation to hold an outdoor service on their steps in an endeavour to make contact with the T.T. crowds.

Mr. Cowin concluded with the thought - how will the continuing changes in the church's liturgy affect its future architecture?

Local Preachers-

The interest in Local preachers during this Bicentenary year has led the Secretary to undertake some research, and the discovery of a letter from the late Miss Mary McHardy received in 1991. With the letter was included a photocopy of a newspaper article on a certain Mr. Thomas Lewin who was a blacksmith in Baldrine, and was one of the first converts to Primitive Methodism on the Island, by later became "a local preacher of great ability and influence". Thomas Lewin was born in 1803, and died in 1891, and preached his first sermon in 1823 at Ballakilmerton chapel. He was so nervous on that occasion that he made an "ineffectual attempt to hide behind the porgy person of the Rev. Mr. Butcher, who accompanied him in the pulpit". The newspaper article, in the Isle of Man Examiner of 19th May, 1923 was the report by Thomas Lewin's son, John, of his father's activities as a preacher. It goes on to say - "Although the 'Ranters' soon ceased to 'rant', and became the highly respectable Primitive Methodists, my father remained a 'ranter' to the last; and was proud of the title. He was, unquestionably, one of the greatest preachers of his day; and his ministrations covered the whole of the Island. "The late Mr. Gill, of Ballagawne farm, Logan, place his gig at my father's disposal, and would frequently accompany him on these long distance journeys; and it was usually a very late hour when they returned. When quite a little child I can remember standing with my mother in the doorway on a Sunday night, listening for the sound of the wheels. If the night was clear and frosty, or the wind in the right direction, we could hear them singing (long before the sound of wheels became audible) -

"O love divine, how sweet thou art
"When shall I find my longing heart
"All taken up with thee."

The article goes on to describe Mr. Lewin's presence as a sick visitor - "His beaming countenance in the sick-room was a grand spiritual tonic in itself. He was so 'changed', and 'charged', so 'fired' and 'filled' with the Spirit of Christ, that he carried the divine presence with him wherever he went. On one occasion he was summoned to the death-bed of an old colleague. This man had been a useful local preacher for many years, but now that he was brought face to face with death, a nameless fear had seized upon him, nothing could dispel it. Hosts of Christian friends, including the "travelling" minister, rallied round him with words of comfort and cheer, but not one ray of light could pierce the gloom. At last, he said feebly, "send for Lewin quick!" In great haste a messenger was despatched for my father. Upon entering the sick room he cast one swift, comprehensive glance at the figure who lay there; and saw the unutterable pain and horror depicted in those dying features. Then with a sudden flash of inspiration, [Mr. Lewin] raised aloft his right arm, pointing upwards, and exclaimed with a ring of triumph: "He Liveth!". In an instant the face of the dying man became transformed: and mustering all his remaining strength, he shouted at the top of his voice "Glory! So He does!" O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"

The article continues for a further column with an account of Mr. Lewin's involvement in revival services at Baldrine, and also with a detailed synopsis of one of Mr. Lewin's sermons.

It would be wonderful if the church deserved such coverage in the press today.


A vignette of Mr. Vere Lawrence Swales - c. 1871 - 1939.

Mr. Swales was a local preacher on the Primitive Methodist Plan for the Castletown Circuit. I was asked by his great-grandson to make some enquiries about his work as a preacher. Mrs. Enid Maggs, a member at Ballafesson chapel, is Mr. Swales daughter, and I had an interesting chat with her. Mr. Swales was a photographer in Port St. Mary, and took photographs of local beauty spots - some of which still exist as postcards. In his early married life he became rather fond of a drink, which led to quarrels with his wife. Eventually, she threatened to put him out of the house If he did not improve. It was with this threat on his mind that he went for a walk in Port St. Mary one evening, and heard the singing of revival hymns coming from Mount Tabor chapel. He decided to investigate, and entered the church which was packed. The preacher was a visiting Irish evangelist -Mr. Craggan - and when at the end of the service the "altar call" was given, and the speaker invited any person who had been challenged by the message to rise and go to the front of the chapel, Vere Swales, moved by what he had heard, made his way to a side room where with the assistance of one of the members of the church, he gave his life to Christ. Vere Swales maintained his link with the Methodists, was reconciled with his wife, and in 1906 was given a note to accompany Rev. W. Harris on the Plan. For some reason he did not become fully accredited until 1913, but must have worked faithfully and quietly at a preacher until his death in 1939.

If anyone can supply any more information on Mr. Swales, I would be delighted to pass that on to his great grandson.

T. Wilson.

Did you know there is a Society of Cirplanologists? - people who study Plans? Are we all really primed on the importance of Circuit Plans? It is now nearly 20 years since William Leary produced his Guide to the usefulness of Plans to historians - for instance, the Circuit Plan may be the only document that identifies a person as a Methodist, and the frequency with which his or her name appears may determine to some extent their gifts and popularity.

Many Plans are of great value to those who study social and domestic life at the local level, for many will make reference to the Labour Movement, or Trade Unions. Village surveys, etc. Often, Superintendent Ministers would incorporate material which he considered fitting at the time. Wesleyans in Market Rasen m 1855 were, for instance, advised that "the hour entered on the Plan specifies the time for commencing the public service, and not for preparing to leave home for the chapel". Our Plans today seem very small and insignificant compared with some of the wonderfully decorative Plans of the past, but let us not forget their value to future historians who may be trying to find out about us!


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