Newington Green Unitarian Church (NGUC) in north London is one of
England's oldest Unitarian churches. It has had strong ties to
political radicalism for over 300 years, and is London's oldest
Nonconformist place of worship still in use. It was founded in 1708 by
English Dissenters, a community of which had been gathering around
Newington Green for at least half a century before that date. The
church belongs to the umbrella organisation known as the General
Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, and has had an
upturn in its fortunes since the turn of the millennium.
Its most famous minister was Dr Richard Price, a political radical who
is remembered for his role in the Revolution Controversy, a British
debate about the French Revolution, but who also did pioneering work
in finance and statistics. The most famous member of its congregation
was Mary Wollstonecraft, who drew inspiration from Price's sermons in
her work, both in arguing for the new French republic and in raising
the issue of the rights of women.
The building, which faces the north side of the green, was extended in
1860, and was listed in 1953. It lies within the London Borough of
Hackney, although the rest of the green is part of the London Borough
1 Background to its creation
2 The building and its religious neighbours
3 Earliest years: to the mid-eighteenth century
4 Later eighteenth century: the voices heard round the world
4.1 Richard Price
4.2 Mary Wollstonecraft
4.3 Joseph Towers
5 Early nineteenth century: The Barbaulds
6 Early nineteenth century: legal acceptance
7 Mid-nineteenth century: social challenges
8 Later nineteenth century: towards the high water
9 Early twentieth century: wars and crises
10 Later twentieth century/early twenty-first century: rejuvenation
Richard Price Memorial Lecture
10.2 Stance on gay marriage
10.3 Tercentenary celebrations
10.4 250th anniversary of Wollstonecraft's birth
10.5 Regular and occasional activities
12 Further reading
13 External links
Background to its creation
After the end of Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth and the Restoration of
Charles II, those in England and Wales who were not members of the
Church of England
Church of England found themselves in an uncomfortable position.
Several pieces of legislation, known collectively as the Clarendon
Code, made their lives difficult. The first restricted public office
to Anglicans. The Act of Uniformity the following year was a step too
far for many clergymen, and about 2,000 of them left the established
church in the
Great Ejection of 1662. The third act forbad
unauthorised religious meetings of more than five people. The final
Nonconformist clergymen from living within five miles
of a parish from which they had been banned. Where the ministers went,
their flocks tended to follow. Some of these restrictions were
ameliorated a generation later, with the passing of the Act of
Toleration 1689, which guaranteed freedom of worship for certain
groups. It allowed Nonconformists (or Dissenters) their own places of
worship and their own teachers and preachers, subject to certain oaths
of allegiance and to the registering of these locations and leaders,
but it perpetuated their existing social and political disabilities,
including their exclusion from political office and also from
universities (Oxford and Cambridge were the only universities in
England and Wales at that time).
Roman Catholics were specifically targeted by these acts, and many of
them went underground. Some Christians who had hoped for a more
Protestant Reformation within the
Established Church chose to
emigrate, especially to the American colonies, as the Pilgrim Fathers
had done in 1620. Others maintained their faith openly, and lived with
the restrictions the state placed upon them, moving to areas where
they were tolerated. Often they set up educational establishments,
known in general as dissenting academies, which were intellectually
and morally more rigorous than the universities. One such was at
Newington Green, then an agricultural village a few miles from London,
but now within Inner London.
Unitarianism or Rational Dissent –
"that intellectual aristocracy in the ranks of Dissent, as historians
often characterise it" – had an obvious affinity with
education, critical enquiry, and challenges to the status quo, and is
"one of the roots of modern English Culture". A critical mass of
such people, including "dissident intellectuals, pedagogues with
reforming ideas and Dissenters" and "the well-to-do edge of
radical Protestantism" clustered around Newington Green. Not all of
these free-thinkers were Unitarians, such as
Quaker John Coakley
Lettsome (physician, philanthropist, and abolitionist) or the
Vicesimus Knox (pacifist and writer) and George Gaskin
(minister and long-time secretary of the Society for Promoting
Christian Knowledge), but most had some connections to the chapel on
The building and its religious neighbours
St Mary's Old Church (left) and New Church (right)
The original building of 1708 was financed with £300 from Edward
Harrison, a goldsmith, equivalent to £44,235 in 2016. He leased it
to the trustees of the congregation, who furnished it with pulpit,
pews, and so on, raising the necessary £96 from about
20 subscribers, primarily by hiring or selling pews. It was a
"substantial brick building, of nearly square form, with the high,
tiled, projecting roof, common at its era", "Historic views show
that the original façade had a small pediment against a large hipped
roof, with a central oval window below." It was too plain for
Wollstonecraft's Anglican tastes, and one of her biographers
thought it defiantly stark. This building was substantially
extended and improved in the mid-nineteenth century. An internal
gallery was built to increase the seating available, and a few years
later the roof and apse were renewed, and a "stuccoed frontage" was
built, "mirroring the original façade with a three-bay front with two
round-headed windows, but with added Tuscan pilasters and a large
pediment". In the mid-twentieth century, the building was damaged
by enemy action. In 1953 its architectural importance was recognised
as a Grade II listed building.
China Inland Mission
China Inland Mission on Newington Green
The synagogue on Poets Road
Other religious institutions existed nearby. St Matthias, one of
London's foremost High Churches, was built a couple of hundred yards
away between 1849 and 1853, partly with money from a rich doctor named
Robert Brett, who thought that the Dissenting chapels were
attracting so many worshippers in part because the Anglican pews were
full. Jews fleeing the pogroms of the
Russian Empire established a
congregation in the area by 1876, and built the
Dalston Synagogue in
adjoining Poets Road in 1885. This
Victorian Gothic building became
one of the leading synagogues of London, with Jacob Koussevitzsky as
its cantor from 1936. Fronting onto the green itself was the China
Inland Mission headquarters (circa 1895), an organisation responsible
for 18,000 converts to Christianity that had been founded by
James Hudson Taylor
James Hudson Taylor at the height of the Victorian era. St
Matthias still operates as a church; the synagogue was demolished in
the 1970s; the missionary building is now international student
Newington Green fell within the old parish boundaries of Stoke
Newington. Although the latter village, centred on Church Street, was
a mile away from the hamlet of the Green, across farmland or along the
ancient drovers' road of Green Lanes, the two places had and still
have a close connection. From the mid-1640s to the mid-1650s, Stoke
Newington's parish church was led by Thomas Manton, "a principal
person among the non-conformist ministers",; a staunch and popular
defender of Reformed principles, he participated in the Westminster
Assembly, acted as chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and preached before
Parliament on several occasions. Another Dissenting meeting house was
Stoke Newington about 1700, near the house of Mary Abney, who
had inherited the manor. Later that century the village became
known for its
Quaker inhabitants; their meeting house was designed by
the architect William Alderson. In 1858 the medieval parish church
St Mary was supplemented by an impressive
Victorian Gothic building
opposite, by Sir George Gilbert Scott. In addition to the
Stoke Newington was remarkable for its range of social
reforms, from its connections to the Society for Effecting the
Abolition of the Slave Trade to the foundation of the innovative
Newington Academy for Girls.
As the NGUC lacks its own cemetery, some of its congregants, such as
the poet and banker Samuel Rogers, are buried in St Mary's churchyard.
However, as the
Church of England
Church of England normally limits its cemeteries to
its members, most of the
Newington Green Unitarians opted for Bunhill
Fields until the middle of the nineteenth century, and then Abney Park
Cemetery thereafter. (
Robert Southey called the former the Campo Santo
of the Dissenters, but the phrase was used for both.) Wollstonecraft
was married and later buried at
St Pancras Old Church
St Pancras Old Church a few miles
Earliest years: to the mid-eighteenth century
Newington Green Unitarian Church has been associated with many
historically significant people on both sides of the pulpit,
especially but not exclusively in the eighteenth century. Charles
Morton (1626–1698), the great educator who ended his career as
vice-president of Harvard University, ran an influential Dissenting
Academy, "probably on the site of the current Unitarian church".
One of his friends, James Ashurst, founded a group that worshipped in
private houses licensed for the purpose, and, in time, this small
congregation decided to build a proper meeting house. (It is worth
mentioning here the early religious evolution of this church. It
started as Presbyterian, with views on the
Trinity as orthodox as
those held by the Church of England. In fact, several of its first
ministers chose to conform, i.e. rejoin, the established church:
one of these was Richard Biscoe, who gave the
Boyle Lectures in the
late 1730s. However, NGUC soon acquired ministers who were Arian, that
is, who denied the Trinity, although they retained their belief in the
divinity of Jesus Christ. Thus was the Unitarian nature of the
church created. In the mid-nineteenth century it was described by a
local historian as a Socinian Independent meeting house.) The
author Daniel Defoe, who attended school at Newington Green, is
believed to have attended the church. Isaac Watts, the "Father of
English Hymnody", theologian, logician, and educator, was brought up
as a non-Conformist, lived from 1736–1748 at
Abney Park nearby, and
during that period "was known to have adopted decidedly Unitarian
opinions", so he too may have attended NGUC. Samuel Wright, son of
a nonconformist minister in Nottinghamshire, writer on theological
issues and "a very eminent divine among the Presbyterians" lived at
Newington Green until his death in 1746. Several of the church's
ministers were at the same time, or had been, the librarians at the
theological collection known as Dr Williams's Library, an
establishment still very much alive.
Later eighteenth century: the voices heard round the world
The minister whose name is still remembered centuries later is Dr
Richard Price, a libertarian and republican who cemented the village's
"reputation as a centre for radical thinkers and social
reformers". He arrived in 1758 with his wife Sarah, and took up
residence in No. 54 the Green, in the middle of a terrace even then a
hundred years old. (The building still survives as London's oldest
brick terrace, dated 1658.) In that house, or the church itself, he
was visited by
Founding Fathers of the United States
Founding Fathers of the United States such as Benjamin
Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine; other American
politicians such as John Adams, who later became the second president
of the United States, and his wife Abigail; British politicians such
as Lord Lyttleton, the Earl of Shelburne,
Earl Stanhope (known as
"Citizen Stanhope"), and even the Prime Minister William Pitt;
David Hume and Adam Smith; agitators such as prison
reformer John Howard, gadfly John Horne Tooke, and husband and wife
John and Ann Jebb, who between them campaigned on expansion of the
franchise, opposition to the war with America, support for the French
Revolution, abolitionism, and an end to legal discrimination against
Roman Catholics; writers such as poet and banker Samuel Rogers;
and clergyman-mathematician Thomas Bayes, known for Bayes' theorem.
Price was fortunate in forming close friendships among his neighbours
and congregants. One was Thomas Rogers, father of the above, a
merchant turned banker who had married into a long-established
Dissenting family and lived at No. 56 the Green. More than once, Price
and the elder Rogers rode on horseback to Wales. Another was the
Rev. James Burgh, author of The Dignity of Human Nature and Thoughts
on Education, who opened his Dissenting Academy on the green in 1750
and sent his pupils to Price's sermons. Price, Rogers, and Burgh
formed a dining club, eating at each other's houses in rotation.
When in 1770 Price became morning preacher at the
Gravel Pit Chapel in
Homerton, he continued his afternoon sermons at NGUC.
52–55 Newington Green, including the houses of Price and Rogers.
This is the oldest brick terrace in London.
There were many at a distance who acknowledged their debt to Price,
such as the Unitarian theologians
William Ellery Channing
William Ellery Channing and
Theophilus Lindsey, and the formidable polymath and Dissenting
clergyman, Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen. When Priestley's
support of dissent led to the riots named after him, he fled
Birmingham and headed for the sanctuary of Newington Green, where
Rogers took him in.
The support Price gave to the revolt of the colonies of British North
America, arguing that the
American Revolution was justified, made his
name as a famous or notorious preacher. He rejected traditional
Christian notions of original sin and moral punishment, preaching the
perfectibility of human nature, and he wrote on theological
questions. However, his interests were wide-ranging, and during the
decades Price spent as minister of NGUC, he also wrote on finance,
economics, probability, and life insurance, being inducted into the
Royal Society in recognition of his work. On the 101st anniversary of
the Glorious Revolution, he preached a sermon titled "A Discourse on
the Love of Our Country", thus igniting a so-called "pamphlet war"
known as the Revolution Controversy, furiously debating the issues
raised by the French Revolution. Burke's rebuttal "Reflections on the
Revolution in France" attacked Price, whose friends Paine and
Wollstonecraft leapt into the fray to defend their mentor. The
reputation of Price for speaking without fear of the government on
these political and philosophical matters drew huge crowds to the
church, and were published and sold as pamphlets (i.e. publications
easily printed and circulated).
Mary Wollstonecraft (c. 1797)
Arguably the congregant Price most influenced was the early feminist
Mary Wollstonecraft, who moved her fledgling school for girls from
Islington to the Green in 1784, with the help of a "fairy
godmother" whose good auspices found her a house to rent and
twenty students to fill it. Her patron — or matron — was the
well-off Mrs Burgh, widow of the educationalist, who treated her
almost as a daughter. The new arrival attended services at NGUC:
she was a lifelong Anglican, but, in keeping with the church's and
Price's ethos of logical enquiry and individual conscience, believers
of all kinds were welcomed without any expectation of conversion.
The approach of these Rational
Dissenters appealed to Wollstonecraft:
they were hard-working, humane, critical but uncynical, and respectful
towards women, and in her hour of need proved kinder to her than
her own family. She, an unmarried woman making her own way in the
world, was marginal to the dominant society in just the same way that
Wollstonecraft was then a young schoolmistress, as yet unpublished,
but Price saw something in her worth fostering, and became a friend
and mentor. Through the minister (and through the young Anglican John
Hewlett, who also introduced her to the eminent lexicographer
Samuel Johnson), she met the great humanitarian and radical
publisher Joseph Johnson, who was to guide her career and serve as a
father figure. Through him, with a title alluding to the husband of
her other benefactor, she published Thoughts on the Education of
Daughters (subtitled: with reflections on female conduct, in the more
important duties of life). The ideas Wollstonecraft ingested from the
sermons at NGUC pushed her towards a political awakening. A couple
of years after she had had to leave Newington Green, these seeds
germinated into A Vindication of the Rights of Men, a response to
Burke's denunciation of the
French Revolution and attack on Price. In
1792 she published the work for which she is best remembered, A
Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in the spirit of rationalism
extending Price's arguments about equality to women: Her biographer
Claire Tomalin argues that just as the
Dissenters were "excluded as a
class from education and civil rights by a lazy-minded majority", so
too were women, and the "character defects of both groups" could be
attributed to this discrimination.
Main article: Joseph Towers
It would have been hard for anyone to step into the shoes of Dr Price,
but the minister from 1778 to his death in 1799 was a remarkable
character in his own right.
Joseph Towers was born in about 1738, the
son of a poor bookseller, and was apprenticed as a printer to Robert
Goadby of Sherborne. Lacking formal education, he read all he could
and educated himself, eventually writing learned works such as
Criminal Libel and the Duty of Juries, and being awarded a Doctor of
Law degree by Edinburgh University. Towers assisted fellow minister
Andrew Kippis in developing the Biographia Britannica, a forerunner of
the Dictionary of National Biography. He was secretary of the highly
respectable Society for Constitutional Information, which lobbied for
political liberties, but it was suppressed by the authorities, who
lived in fear of the
Reign of Terror
Reign of Terror crossing the Channel. Towers was
put under arrest until the
Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury intervened on his
Early nineteenth century: The Barbaulds
The New River in Clissold Park.
In 1808, Rochemont Barbauld was appointed minister, first as the
morning preacher. His wife,
Anna Laetitia Barbauld
Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743–1825), was
a prolific writer, admired by
Samuel Johnson and William
Wordsworth. She enjoyed a long friendship with Joseph Priestley
and William Enfield, starting from their years together at the
Warrington Academy in the 1760s, where her father
John Aikin was
tutor. She wrote poems (including a tribute to Priestley), hymns,
children's literature, and political and religious tracts. She was an
abolitionist, addressing one of her works to William Wilberforce. 1793
saw her contribution to the Pamphlet War, "Sins of the Government,
Sins of the Nation". Two years later she wrote The Rights of Women,
but this was not published until her death thirty years later.
Rochemont eventually went violently insane, attacked his wife, and
committed suicide by drowning himself in the New River that runs
through Islington. Anna remained a member of the congregation until
her death and is commemorated in the church with a plaque which
praises her work for "the Cause of Humanity, Peace, and Justice, [and]
of Civil and Religious Liberty". Her brother Dr
John Aikin lived
nearby, and together they co-authored books such as Evenings at Home.
As he had been a Unitarian minister in his youth, it is likely that he
worshipped at NGUC, with his son Arthur, a prominent scientist, and
his daughter Lucy, a biographer. They lived in a house previously
occupied by Adam Anderson, clerk to the South Sea Company.
Early nineteenth century: legal acceptance
Thomas Rees took over after Barbauld's death. He was a leading
authority of the history of Unitarianism, and made connections with
the Unitarian Church of Transylvania. In 1813 two things occurred, key
to the understanding of the development of the church: Parliament
passed the Doctrine of the
Trinity Act, and Rees was succeeded by
James Gilchrist, who remained for 15 years. (His son Alexander wrote
the standard biography of poet and artist William Blake.) The larger
public event meant that the civil and religious liberties that
Dissenters had been fighting for were won, the battle of a century and
a half was over. The more particular event sowed its own seeds of
destruction, as Gilchrist gradually changed his opinions and
eventually wrote a pamphlet called "
Unitarianism Abandoned", which
infuriated his very Unitarian congregation. For a long time he refused
to resign, but in the end he was forced out, and the church built a
safeguard against such a future occurrence by holding annual elections
for the minister. NGUC then entered a very low ebb, with at one point
as few as nine subscribers and a rapid turnover of ministers. The
causes it had agitated for had been successful, and the church looked
backwards with pride, but saw little to look forward to. Energy
drained away. "Legal recognition did not prosper the cause of the
church, however, which at this time began to decline."
Mid-nineteenth century: social challenges
"New causes and fresh ideals were needed to revitalise the church,
and, fortunately, they were forthcoming." The nature of Newington
Green had changed—the fresh bucolic village had been swallowed up by
London's relentless growth, and had become a "thriving and expanding
suburb". With this growth of prosperity also came a tide of
poverty, and this was to prove the mission for the Victorian era.
A hundred years before, the ethos had been one of almost Puritan
self-reliance, but now the Dickensian poverty, evident in cholera
epidemics and rampant malnutrition, made social responsibility an
urgent necessity. The minister who guided the first 25 years of
this (1839–64) was Thomas Cromwell, FSA (1792–1870). (Like many
Anglican vicars, one of his hobbies was local history.)
A charity school for 14 girls and a monitorial
Sunday school for 150
children had been set up in the vicinity by
Dissenters in 1790 and
1808 respectively, but these efforts were augmented in the middle of
the century. In 1840, a
Sunday school was set up for poor
children, and soon thereafter a Domestic Mission Society, to visit the
poor in their homes. A library and a savings club emphasised
self-help. A regular day school ran from 1860 for ten years, until
primary education became the responsibility of the state with the
passing of the Elementary Education Act 1870.
One of the first actions of Cromwell's tenure, in terms of changing
the church services, was to introduce the hymnbook of James Martineau.
Samuel Sharpe, named after his uncle, the poet Samuel Rogers, came to
Newington Green in 1828, and maintained his connection for 30 years,
including as trustee. He was an erudite and generous man, a banker by
day and an Egyptologist and Bible translator in his leisure hours.
In 1870 he was elected Chairman of the British and Foreign Unitarian
Andrew Pritchard (1804–1882) was treasurer of NGUC
1850–73, during which time donations doubled. He was a microscope
and slide maker who made significant improvements to microscopy and
studied microscopic organisms; he was a friend of
Michael Faraday and
for him, science and religion were one. He led the Newington Green
Conversation Society, membership restricted to 16, a successor to the
Mutual Instruction Society. The "small but energetic community"
continued to campaign on the larger political stage, presenting
petitions to Parliament on subjects touching religious matters, such
Dissenting Chapels Bill (made law as Nonconformists Chapels Act
1844), the removal of civil disabilities from the Jews (1847),
Dissenters to attend Oxford and Cambridge Universities,
and the revision of the King James Bible. Religious freedom and
self-improvement were their watchwords.
Later nineteenth century: towards the high water
NGUC thrived during the last decades of the nineteenth century, and
its congregation grew to 80 subscribers. The London Sunday School
Society recognised the one at NGUC as the best in its class, educating
up to 200 children and necessitating the construction in 1887 of
the schoolhouse immediately behind the main church building. A range
of groups sprung up, ranging from intellectual (a Society for Mutual
Theological Study) to recreational (cycling and cricket). Young Men's
and Young Women's groups met, as did the Mothers' Meeting, a Provident
Society, and teetotalism (abstinence from alcohol) support for adults
and children. Other issues of concern were education, social reform,
and women's suffrage.
Sister and brother Marian and Ion Pritchard continued the work of
their father. The cause of liberal religion in general, and the
development of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian
Churches, were overarching themes. Marian in particular is described
as an unsung heroine, and "one of the leaders of modern Unitarianism".
She set up Oxford Summer Schools for the training of Sunday School
teachers, and Winifred House Invalid Children's Convalescent Home.
Early twentieth century: wars and crises
Thorncroft, author of the church's semiquincentennial history, Trust
in Freedom, concludes that NGUC reached its high-water mark at its
bicentenary in 1908. Immediately after this, NGUC suffered a religious
schism in miniature, when the incoming minister, Dr F. W. G. Foat,
backed the New Theology of
Reginald John Campbell
Reginald John Campbell and the League of
Progressive Thought and Service. This
Social Gospel movement was not
to the taste of all his congregants, and Foat left for the Richmond
Free Christian Church. Then came 1914, and Christian faith all over
the world was shaken by the horrors of World War I. Unitarians as a
body have never been pacifists, unlike the Quakers, and some fifteen
members of the congregation and Sunday School fell during the war.
Society as a whole found less solace in religion, perhaps particularly
liberal religion, with its message of human dignity ringing hollow
beside the great guns. Meanwhile, many of the older people with long
family ties to
Newington Green simply died. The professional middle
class had largely left the area. Numbers in the pews dropped. By 1930
"it was whispered that the church could not survive".
Nonetheless, survive it did. One influential supporter was an alderman
and councillor in the Borough of Stoke Newington, and in 1938 a new
lay pastor and his family breathed new life into the church. Although
attendance at services was low, other activities drew in crowds: 100
to the temperance meetings, for example. The outbreak of World War II
meant that children were evacuated temporarily from London, so the
Sunday Schools and Young People's Leagues ceased for a time. The
Sunday services never missed a week, however, even when the building
was badly damaged by a landmine blast: they just moved to the
schoolhouse. After the war, the ministry focused on building bridges
between races and faiths, e.g. with the Jewish community of North
London, and was recognised by the World Congress of Faiths, an
organisation founded by Francis Younghusband. Services were often
attended by local politicians, including the Mayor of Stoke Newington.
Leaders for the national Unitarian movement continued to be found
within the congregation at Newington Green.
Later twentieth century/early twenty-first century: rejuvenation
Protesters filled London's streets
In the late twentieth century, faced with declining numbers, Newington
Green Unitarian Church developed closer ties with Islington Unitarian
Church a couple of km away. They started to share a minister and
publicise events together under the name New Unity, while remaining
legally distinct entities. The 1969 sale of the (New) Gravel Pit
Chapel near the centre of the historic village of Hackney released
funding via the
Charity Commission for maintenance of the Newington
By the turn of the millennium, NGUC's community was reduced in
numbers. A small congregation of half a dozen elderly women
persisted, and a new burst of energy arrived with the appointment
of Cathal (Cal) Courtney, first as student pastor in 2002 and then as
minister in July 2004. He came from an Ireland of divided
communities; he was characterised as a "radical spirit" who had
made a "remarkable spiritual journey", and his weekly sermons soon
attracted twenty people. In the tradition of Unitarian social
action, he led a silent vigil through the night before the huge march
against the Iraq War, "protesting against the US-led incursion with,
among others, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews present" Later
made a Fellow of the
Royal Society of Arts, during his time at NGUC he
wrote Towards Beloved Community and was written about as the Right-On
Reverend in The Oldie's monthly "East of Islington" column.
The incumbent is Andrew Pakula, an American who grew up in a Jewish
family in New York. His
MIT doctorate in biology and master's
degree in business led to his first career in biotechnology management
and business development, before he undertook ministerial training,
completing his studies at Unitarian College, Manchester. He began
serving in October 2006, was inducted as full minister in January
2010, and was elected to the executive committee of the British
Unitarians. He was described – sympathetically – in
the local press as "controversial" when he did a reverse collection
plate, giving his own money away to those attending one sermon.
Richard Price Memorial Lecture
Courtney revived the
Richard Price Memorial Lecture, which had last
been given in 1981. NGUC now sponsors it annually, to address "a
topical or important aspect of liberty, reason and ethics". In
September 2003 the first of the new series took place under the
auspices of the
Stoke Newington Unitarian Conference, where Barbara
Taylor, author of
Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination,
spoke on "Radical Dissent and Women's Rights in Eighteenth-Century
Britain". In 2005
Will Self addressed the need to disestablish the
Church of England
Church of England  under the title "Why Religion Needs Satire".
The November 2008 lecture took the theme of "Dishonesty": Evan Davis,
the economist and
BBC presenter, used the platform to argue that "the
media industry has a 'misleading ethical code' and tendency to be
dishonest". The 2009 lecture, given on 27 January 2010, was given
by psychotherapist Susie Orbach, who spoke on the topic
"Frankenstein's Bodies Today". The 2010 lecture was given by
literary critic Terry Eagleton, who spoke on "The New Atheism and the
War on Terror". In 2011 Wendy Savage, a doctor and long-time
campaigner for women's reproductive health, spoke on " Patients'
Choice and Doctors' Responsibilities".
Stance on gay marriage
In March 2008,
Newington Green Unitarian Church became the first
religious establishment in Britain to refuse to carry out any weddings
at all until all couples have equal marriage rights. Unity Church
Islington followed suit a couple of months later. Pakula stated that
same-sex couples "are being treated like second-class citizens when
they are forbidden to celebrate their unions in a way that
heterosexual couples take for granted". The
BBC called it a "gay
rights church" for its unanimous committee vote suspending full
wedding services, although NGUC is not a "gay church" such as the
Metropolitan Community Church, and it still conducts ceremonial
blessings of relationships, straight and gay. The church's decision
was in response to the case brought by the Christian Institute,
backing the claim of Lillian Ladele, a registrar employed by Islington
London Borough Council who wished to be exempted from having to
perform civil partnership ceremonies on the grounds of her
religion. The move was praised by Rev. Richard Kirker, chairman of
the national Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. "This is the first
church I’ve heard of to have taken this step", he said. "We’re
proud that Islington is striking a blow for human rights."
Following in the steps of his immediate predecessor, who used his
inaugural column in the N16 magazine to address the international
furore around Gene Robinson's election as bishop, Pakula sees
homophobia as the real problem, and his congregation did consider
challenging the law under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Human rights campaigner
Peter Tatchell called on the church to conduct
a gay marriage in defiance of the law.
NGUC celebrated its tercentenary in 2008 under the slogan "300 years
of dissent", marking this with events such as planting a crab apple
tree, organising a picnic in conjunction with the Newington Green
Action Group, and hosting a concert of Ottoman classical music.
(There is a strong Turkish community in
Newington Green and along the
nearest section of Green Lanes, an ancient road which starts from the
northwest corner of the Green.)
250th anniversary of Wollstonecraft's birth
The following year it commemorated the 250th anniversary of the birth
of Mary Wollstonecraft, attaching a large banner to the railings
outside the building, proclaiming it the "birthplace of feminism", in
a nod to the formative years that she spent worshipping there.
NGUC sponsored a series of events, including a return visit and
lecture by biographer Barbara Taylor; a panel discussion about women
and power, between female politicians
Diane Abbott MP, Jean Lambert
Emily Thornberry MP; an art exhibition titled Mother of
Feminism; a concert featuring
Carol Grimes and Adey Grummet, to raise
money for Stop the Traffik, an anti-trafficking charity; a tombstone
tribute at St Pancras Old Church; a birthday cake baked by men; and
Pakula's sermon in honour of the Wollstonecraft anniversary stressed
her role as a prophet. This excerpt serves as a flavour of the
emphasis given to social action within the church:
Mary Wollstonecraft was a unique individual – brilliant and
strong. She was one who would not be swept along in stream of the
common beliefs and understandings of her time. Hers was a keener
sight – a vision that saw beyond what most people take for
granted. She saw, contrary to the assumptions of her time, that women
were the equals of men. Her bold stance – a position that
proved to be many years ahead of her time – was met with broad
condemnation. Today, we recognise that
Mary Wollstonecraft spoke with
the voice of prophesy. We honour her for her courage and for the gifts
she has given to future generations of women and men.
Regular and occasional activities
Services occur every Sunday at
Newington Green Unitarian Church and
include special events such as the yearly Flower Communion;
twice-monthly poetry readings and weekly meditation sessions are also
held at NGUC. It participates in the annual festival of architecture,
Open House London. It hosts occasional concerts, such as that given by
the London Gallery Quire, which "performs West Gallery Music, the
psalmody heard in parish churches and non-conformist chapels during
the Georgian period, from about 1720 to 1850", and the
Psallite Women's Choir. The congregation was reported to have
grown to 70 as of 2009, with 30 at one Sunday service; it is
one of the most rapidly growing Unitarian churches in Britain.
^ page 4. Thorncroft, Michael (1958). Trust in Freedom: The Story of
Newington Green Unitarian Church 1708–1958. London: Private
publication for the trustees of the church. p. 35.
^ Thorncroft p5
^ "Spirit of the Age" by Tom Paulin. 5 April 2003 The Guardian
^ Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of
Mary Wollstonecraft (rev. ed.
1992). London: Penguin Books. p. 46.
^ Jacobs, Diane (2001). Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary
Wollstonecraft. London: Simon & Schuster. pp. 334. Page
^ Gordon, Lyndall (2005). Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft.
Virago Press. pp. 562. Page 42.
Retail Price Index
Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from
Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for
Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 6
^ a b Thorncroft, p8
^ History and Topoography of the Parish of St Mary, Islington by
Samuel Lewis, 1842, cited in Allardyce, p9.
^ "Hackney - Archives and local history". Archived from the original
on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
^ a b Gordon, p42.
^ Jacobs, p38-39.
^ Allardyce, p35.
^ "Detailed Record". Retrieved 29 June 2016.
^ a b Allardyce, p33.
^ a b 'Stoke Newington: Churches', A History of the County of
Middlesex: Volume 8: Islington and
Stoke Newington parishes (1985),
pp. 204–211. Accessed 29 May 2009.
^ Allardyce, p39.
^ Allardyce, p36.
^ Robinson, p141.
^ Robinson, William (1842). The history and antiquities of the parish
Stoke Newington in the county of Middlesex: containing an account
of the prebendal manor, the church, charities, schools, meeting
houses, &c., with appendices. J.B. Nichols and Son. pp. 215,
Quakers around Shoreditch and life around Bunhill". Retrieved 29
^ Allardyce, p7.
^ Thorncroft, ch.3 "The Early Years: 1714–1758"
^ Thorncroft, p11
^ Robinson, p210.
^ "Defoe in Stoke Newington". Arthur Secord, P.M.L.A. Vol. 66, p. 211,
1951. Cited in Thorncroft, p9, who identifies him as "an American
^ Thorncroft, p10.
^ 'Stoke Newington', The Environs of London: volume 3: County of
Middlesex (1795), pp. 280–305. Accessed 31 May 2009.
^ Allardyce, p18.
^ a b Thorncroft, p15.
^ Allardyce, p23.
^ Gordon, p50.
^ Gordon, p40.
^ Jacobs, p38.
^ Gordon, p46.
^ a b Tomalin, p60.
^ Tomalin, p51.
^ Gordon, p48.
^ Jacobs, p45.
^ Tomalin, p50 and 57
^ Gordon, p51 passim.
^ Tomalin, p61.
^ Thorncroft, p17-18
^ Thorncroft, p19
^ Robinson, p91-92.
^ Thorncroft, p20 and throughout ch 5, "New Causes for Old".
^ Thorncroft, p20.
^ Thorncroft, p2-23.
William Bedwell (1561–1632), nearby Vicar of Tottenham, and
W.A. Diggens, Vicar of St Keverne, Cornwall 1896–1913 Index
^ Robinson, p209.
^ Clayden, PW. Samuel Sharpe. p. 82. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
^ Thorncroft, p23-24.
^ Thorncroft, p25.
^ Thorncroft, p28, and throughout ch7 "The Lights Go Out".
^ Thorncroft, p31.
^ Thorncroft, p32-33.
^ T.F.T. Baker (Editor) (1995). "Hackney: Protestant Nonconformity". A
History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney. Institute of
Historical Research. Retrieved 3 July 2013. CS1 maint: Extra
text: authors list (link)
^ a b c "It's time for Unitarians to break the law on marriage"
Islington News 20 Nov 2009
^ Lantern April 2005. London District Unitarian newsletter.
"Gentrification: how was it for you?" Mandy Richards. The Guardian,
Wednesday 20 April 2005
^ a b c N16 magazine, issue 18 (Summer 2003) Archived 4 December 2008
at the Wayback Machine. Photo and brief biography as part of
interview. "Dissent in Newington Green" by Rab MacWilliam
^ Courtney, Cathal (2 April 2007). "Towards Beloved Community".
Exposure Publishing. Retrieved 29 June 2016 – via Amazon.
^ a b "Church minister: homophobia is the real sin"[permanent dead
link] by Katrina Bishop. 18 March 2009 Islington Now
^ Self-provided biographical information on Unitarian.org.uk
^ ""Vandals at the chapel" N16 magazine Winter 2006". Archived from
the original on 18 March 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
^ a b "Church welcome for new minister" Hackney Gazette 21 January
2010 page 8
^ Commissions and Panels – Executive Committee Archived 6 December
2011 at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b ‘
Help yourselves to the collection plate’ 24 October 2008
^ ""Dishonesty" Evan Davis". Retrieved 29 June 2016.
^ "University of East London - UEL - University of East London".
Archived from the original on 2 May 2007. Retrieved 29 June
^ "The soggy wafer of meekness is backed up by air strikes" 28
November 2005 The Independent
^ "Media has 'misleading ethical code', says Evan Davis" Archived 26
August 2016 at the Wayback Machine. 14 November 2008 by Katrina Bishop
^  8 January 2010 Hackney Citizen
^  29 August 2010 Hackney Citizen
^ "Debunking Lansley: on patient choice and the NHS reforms".
Retrieved 29 June 2016.
^ "Radicalism and Richard Price" by Rhasan Brunner, in Newington Green
Now and Then: N16 magazine, December 2008[permanent dead link]
^ a b "The Church Where You Can't Marry" 4 April 2008 Islington
^ "Gay rights church bans weddings". 8 April 2008. Retrieved 29 June
2016 – via bbc.co.uk.
^ a b "Strength in Unity?" by Judith Evans. 19 March 2009 The Guardian
^ "Christian charity?" Archived 29 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine. by
Cal Courtney. Spring 2005. N16 magazine.
^ 25 Feb 2009
Newington Green Action Group Archived 24 February 2012
at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Home". Retrieved 29 June 2016.
^ "Festival for ‘first feminist’" by Peter Gruner, 17 April
2009, Islington Tribune
^ "Home". Retrieved 29 June 2016.
^ "Right, so just what do you do all day?" by Aida Edemariam, 19 May
2009 The Guardian
^ "Birthplace of Feminism" by Guy Bentham, in N16, issue 41, spring
^ "Prophetic Mary" New Unity website. For 26 April 2009. Archived 2
October 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
^ "London Gallery Quire - Welcome". Retrieved 29 June 2016.
^ 20 Sept 2008
Newington Green Action Group Archived 24 February 2012
at the Wayback Machine.
^ 4 Oct 2008
Newington Green Action Group Archived 24 February 2012 at
the Wayback Machine.
The Village that Changed the World: A History of Newington Green
London N16 by Alex Allardyce.
Newington Green Action Group: 2008.
Chapter titles: Beginnings, Kings and Treason; Dissenters, Academies
and Castaways; The Chaste Old Bachelor of Newington Green;
Enlightenment, Revolutions and Poets; Development, Destruction and
Vindication: A Life of
Mary Wollstonecraft by Lyndall Gordon. Little,
Her Own Woman: The Life of
Mary Wollstonecraft by Diane Jacobs. Simon
& Schuster: 2001.
Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination by Barbara Taylor.
Trust in Freedom: The Story of
Newington Green Unitarian Church
1708–1958 by Michael Thorncroft. Privately printed for church
trustees, 1958. Full text on church website here.
Chapter titles: The Fertile Soil; The Church is Built; The Early Years
(1714–1758); The Age of Richard Price; New Causes for Old; The Ideal
of Service; The Lights Go Out; The Present Day.
The Life and Death of
Mary Wollstonecraft by Claire Tomalin.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson: 1974.
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