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A blast from the past


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In digging around in search of any reference to what I believe was an Anneessens organ at Briarfield “Provident” Congregational Church, nr. Nelson, Lancashire, (not Barrowford as previously stated), I stumbled across a remarkable account of the sort of attitudes which prevailed in some early non-conformist churches, when it came to the use of organs in worship.


The story commences with a certain Rev Samuel Bradley, of the Lancashire Congregational Union; the following giving an account of events as they unfolded:-


Rev. Samuel Bradley (Served 1806-8).


Mr. Bradley was the first Secretary of the Union,

being appointed with the Committee and Treasurer on

September 23rd, 1806, at the meeting at which the Union

was born. He had been minister of the Mosley Street

Chapel, in whose vestry the Union found its birthplace,

since 1801........


.....His Church was at the time the highest con-

tributor to its (the Union’s) funds.....



It is interesting to note how these two Manchester

Churches, in the matter of contributions for the Union,

appear to have been engaged for several years in a little

friendly rivalry, and how nearly they approached (matched) one



Subsequently, however, the Moslev Street Church contributions fell considerably, whilst those of Mr. Roby's Church kept their high level.

Mr. Bradley's ministry at Mosley Street continued for more

than a quarter of a century.


Towards the end he (Mr.Roby) appears to have had some trouble

through the introduction of an organ into the chapel, which

had just been enlarged. One of his deacons sent the

following letter to the Church, which makes curious reading

to-day, and whose arguments are somewhat of a puzzle :


"As you have, together with your preacher, Mr. Samuel

Bradley, determined to intrude a costly organ upon the

public worship of God, contrary to the usual custom of

the place, an innovation not only unnecessary, but against

the express commandment of the Lord in Coloss. ii. 21-23:

' Touch not, taste not, handle not,' etc., I henceforth shall

no more, either as deacon or member, unite in your

worship. I cannot conscientiously join with any worship-

ping assembly where instrumental music is used ; should

I do so, to me it would be sin."


This letter was dated January 2nd, 1823, and it is a

singular coincidence that in that year the Rev. John

Adamson, who had recently removed to Charlesworth from

Patricroft, near Manchester, issued a pamphlet, in which

he fulminated terribly against the use of musical instru-

ments in public worship, employing the following arguments

in support of his position: —


1 . Instruments of music were never used, even among

the Jews, in ordinary worship of the Sabbath Day.


2. When instruments were used by the Jews in the

worship of God, they were accompanied with sacrifice

and dancing. Hence advocates for it in the New

Testament Churches, to be consistent, ought to dance

as well as play.


3. Instrumental music was neither admitted into the

Apostolic Churches, nor into those that succeeded them

for more than seven hundred years.


4. Instrumental music in the worship of God is a

custom derived from the idolatrous Church of Rome.


5. The Churches which made the greatest progress

in reformation laid instruments of music entirely aside.


6. Instruments of music should never be admitted

into a place of worship, because wherever thev are

admitted they produce a train of the most lamentable



It is scarcely necessary to say that these zealous and well-

meaning friends fought a vain battle, and, though the last

sounds of it had scarcely died away before the present

generation were born, the organ won. (Source: Archives of the University of San Francisco).


It is extraordinary that the attitudes of the puritans should continue to prevail for something like 170 years in the minds of some, and how completely (with the exception of the Quakers), that was reversed by around 1840-80, when just about every non-conformist church and chapel bought a new instrument. The Congregationalists delivered some fine music, an excellent hymn book and had built many very fine instruments; the veritable 4-manual Ashton-under-Lyne, Lewis among them.


I wonder what the “most lamentable evils” were?


Did the organists and choirs go to the pubs after services?


My own grandfather was a Congregationalist, and he liked a drink or three. When presented with the ultimatum of either choosing the devil drink, or God’s work,, (Grandfather WAS a Sunday School teacher), the old-boy thought about it briefly, put on his hat and coat, and said, “Good-bye;” never to return again.



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It is extraordinary that the attitudes of the puritans should continue to prevail for something like 170 years in the minds of some, and how completely (with the exception of the Quakers), that was reversed by around 1840-80,


The Quaker movement began at a time when the end of the world was expected, and because there was a great sense of urgency about evangelism, there was no time for music, and until the early 1900's music was not merely absent from worship, but Quakers were expected to have nothing to do with it. One of the reasons advanced that to be good at playing an instrument it was necessary to spend a lot of time practising, and it was not good for young people to sit still while they did this - forgetting that they were expected to sit still in silent Quaker meetings several times each week.


At a Quaker school in Lewes music was forbidden, but in the 1860's, if parents wished it, their children went from the school to a music teacher over the road. Between 1850 and 1880 many of the senior Quakers were great philanthropists, but "conspicuously absent" from fund-raising events which included musical performances.


In 1883 the Clerk of Lewes Meeting started a branch of the YMCA and was allowed to use the meeting room for this purpose until it was discovered that they had brought a harmonium into the building, and the Clerk was required to write a minute agreeing that this would never happen again.


In 1915 the Cadbury Family employed Harrison & Harrison to build an organ in the Quaker Meeting House, a gift to the Bournville Village Trust to be used by other denominations which had no church of their own in the village, and it is still used for practice and recitals.


In the 20th century many Quakers took up music as a career, including Paul Steinitz who founded the London Bach Society.

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This attitude seems to persist in the ultra-protestant churches of the Outer Hebrides - along with the idea that the Pope is the Antichrist (as several online sermons on church websites will attest!).


But they do have that extraordinary Gaelic psalm singing, which is (apparently) quite similar to Coptic chant.

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Well, are we sure Cromwell is dead ?


(I'd check)








Well, I do hope so, judging by the canonball holes in the walls of Halifax Minster!


What a dreadful man Cromwell was.



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Well, I do hope so, judging by the canonball holes in the walls of Halifax Minster!


What a dreadful man Cromwell was.



Do you think he went to Heaven or to the other place when he fell off his perch?


I could not say whether the former or the latter, but wherever he is, one hopes that the organ pipes will fire cannon-balls at him for all eternity! ;)

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