St Ninian’s and St Andrew’s United Reformed Church A Brief History
Over Three Hundred and Fifty Years of the Reformed Faith in Hull
The earliest church register in the possession of St Ninian’s and St Andrew’s URC dates back to 1643. Although the line of descent of the present congregation from the early Presbyterians contains some twists and turns, we can look back on 350 years of presbyterian presence in Hull.
The 1640’s and 1650’s were years of religious turmoil in England as the authority of established Anglican church collapsed and the Parliamentarians, after their success in the Civil War, could reach no agreement as to its replacement. After a brief period where an established Presbyterian Church seemed a possibility, various local arrangements prevailed. In Hull, by 1650, Holy Trinity Church had been divided with Presbyterians worshiping in the nave and Independents in the chancel, but both these groups were ejected in 1669 when the Anglican Church was reinstated.
The old register of 1643 reflects the struggles of the early Nonconformists and their search for premises after 1660. Many congregations led itinerant existences moving between rented places of worship, their cohesion very much dependent on the leadership of their ministers. In the course of the eighteenth century, various splits occurred within Presbyterianism and by the end of the century few distinctively Presbyterian congregations remained. Thus when large numbers of Scots moved to England seeking work in the growing industrial cities, they found no familiar church with which they could identify and feel at home.
It was such a group of 32 Scots who, in 1838, met in Hull to set up a congregation attached to the Newcastle Presbytery of the United Associate Synod of Scotland (later to become the United Presbyterian Church). By 1841 the congregation was sufficiently established with elders and managers to rent the Dagger Lane chapel from a Mr Hill, who, having had trouble with his flock, had premises but no worshipers. Along with the chapel came the old church register, a large leather bound volume which contains a variety of material including a list of church members between 1643 and 1826. However these cannot all be claimed as early Presbyterians. Dagger Lane chapel was erected in 1698 by an Independent congregation which enjoyed a brief interlude under a Presbyterian minister appointed in 1767 but by 1783 a Swedenborgian congregation was worshiping there.
From this small group in 1838, members grew slowly to 47 in 1840, 58 in 1845, 71 in 1852, 83 in 1871 and 141 by the end of the century. In 1841 the first minister, James White, was called but the financial resources of the church were hardly enough to support him and he left after four years. The next minister, Alexander Renton, appointed in 1847 also stayed for four years, but stability was achieved under James Little Rome who served from 1853 to 1868, despite complaints from members that they did “not feel comfortable under Mr Rome”.
By 1848, the congregation felt able to commit itself to buying, over a period of time, the chapel from Mr Hill. By 1864 the church was in full possession of the deeds, but it was not to enjoy a settled period of witness. Before long, despite a still weak financial position, proposals to build a new church were being discussed. A move out of the Old Town to the blossoming residential areas was agreed. The new building on Spring Bank (on the site of Kwik Fit) was dedicated in 1875.
In 1875 Dagger Lane was not the only Presbyterian congregation in Hull. Since 1866 there had been a flourishing congregation of the Presbyterian Church in England in Prospect Street. As had been the case in 1838, many of the founder members were Scots and indeed some transferred from Dagger Lane. With the union of the various Presbyterian bodies in the Presbyterian Church of England in 1876, the links between the two congregations were formalised. Prospect Street established offshoots in Holderness Road (1872) and Newington (1895), extending the Presbyterian presence in Hull.
Unfortunately, perhaps because money had been short, it was not long before the managers of the Spring Bank church were dealing with various faults in the building. These problems perhaps encouraged the decision taken in 1931 to move yet further from the centre of town – following the drift of the population to the newly built suburbs of Chanterlands Avenue. The new church, named St Ninian’s, was opened in 1932. The building which has served for 80 years as a place of worship was intended as the church hall and was part of a more ambitious scheme. However, the congregation had never been wealthy and eventually, in 1972, it was decided to put the money in the New Church Fund towards the building of a church hall (St Ninian’s Hall). St Andrew’s Hall was added in 1984.
St Ninian’s building plans in the 1930’s were disrupted by the war, but Prospect Street suffered far worse. The church was destroyed by bombing in 1941, although the church halls escaped destruction. the church was rebuilt nearby in 1960 and renamed St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.
the last 40 years have seen two important events in the history of the church. In 1972 the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Union in England and Wales came together to form the United Reformed Church, thus healing the old division between Presbyterians and Independents exemplified in the division of the Holy Trinity Church in the 1640’s and 1650’s. In 1980 the two former Presbyterian congregations of St Ninian’s and St Andrew’s united to form the present day church, so bringing together the two principal strands of Presbyterianism in nineteenth-century Hull.
In 2005 the Hull Area Team was formed, consisting of St Ninian’s and St Andrew’s, Zion (Cottingham) with Newland, Holderness Road and Christ Church with Trinity under the ministries of Revd Simon Swailes and Revd David Coote.
Originally written by Alison Hoppen (one-time member, now deceased) for the spring 1993 edition of the Chanter, a forerunner of our present newsletter.
About St Ninian
A shining example
For more than a thousand years, kings and queens came to Whithorn, joining crowds of foreign visitors and local people in pilgrimage to the place where St Ninian had founded the first centre of Christian mission in Britain. The Saint was hailed as ‘Lampas Mundi Luminosa’ (the World’s Bright Lamp) and his church bore the name of ‘Candida Case’ or ‘The Shining White House’. this was translated into Old English by the Northumbrians who came to the area in the 7th century as ‘Hwit Aerne’ – hence Whithorn.
Why, then, is this earliest Scottish saint now seldom remembered? Why, despite an acclaimed archeological dig that has confirmed the international importance of Whithorn’s early history and the town’s sixteen centuries of unbroken Christian worship, do so many people still have to ask, “Where on earth is Whithorn?”
Whithorn at the centre
Whithorn, of course, is where it always was. It’s only our viewpoint that has changed. We look at the map and see Whithorn far to the west of Britain’s busy north/south axis, and well to the south of the road that forms the main route for traffic through Dumfries & Galloway. Nowadays, because we tend to think in terms of land travel, we see the town as remote and isolated.
But look at Whithorn as it would have appeared in an age when the sea provided the easiest and most direct means of transport, and its merits as a base for Ninian’s mission, and as a centre for international communications are quite easy to understand.
The World’s Bright Lamp
The ‘real’ St Ninian is a shadowy figure half hidden in the dazzle of his own reputation. Tradition tells us that he was a British Christian prince who went to Rome to study and was ordained a bishop. On the way back to Britain, Ninian drew inspiration from studying with St Martin of Tours, and dedicated the church at Whithorn to Martin’s honour. Even now the town’s Roman Catholic church bears the names of both saints.
Spreading the Light
St Ninian is credited with having converted the Southern Picts to Christianity, and although the route of his missionary travels is not certain, the spread of place names and sites connected with the name of Ninian show that the Lampas Mundi Luminosa cast his light accross much of northern Dark Age Britain.
Fame and Fortune
After St Ninian’s death, his tomb became a place of pilgrimage and miraculous healing. The Northumbrian and Viking settlements that came after the saint’s time have long vanished from site, but the Whithorn Dig has uncovered information about these hidden chapters of Whithorn’s story.
In the 12th Century, simple buildings of earlier days were replaced by a new cathedral and priory, that reached the height of its glory in the 15th Century.
By the time the Reformation swept saints aside and banned pilgrimages, Whithorn had been visited by such famous figures as Robert Bruce, James IV and Mary Queen of Scots.Today you can still see not only the ruins of Whithorn’s cathedral but also the town’s basic medieval street plan, with the long strips of garden that were typical of the Middle Ages.