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reason called “The Higher Meeting-house.” Of the congregation assembling in this latter place, Mr. Sillitoe was perhaps the first minister, of whom nothing remains but the name.
Mr. Wreford gives a curious account of the preservation of this chapel from the incendiarism of the mob in the Tory riots of 1715. “On Saturday night, July 16,” says a letter in my possession, “the rioters went down to the Lower Meeting-house, and Mr. Russen, whose it is, gave them the keys, and promised them it should never more be put to that use (a meeting. house) but he would turn it into dwelling-houses, if they would only take away the seats and leave the case whole; and upon that condition they only took the seats and burnt them, and as far as I can learn they have not so much as broke any of the windows or doors ; nay, and what is
gave them all drink when they had done, and told them he had a seat in Derrington (Deritend) chapel, and he would go to hear there; and all this out of mere covetousness to save the walls, though he is old and very rich, and has no child. How he could satisfy his conscience in such a thing I know not, but I am sure I could not."
How it came to pass that the condition upon which this meeting-house was preserved from the flames, so thriftily but so unworthily offered by its possessor, was nullified, whether by the violation of his own promise, or by the sale of the property to some one who had more value for Nonconformity than himself, does not appear; but certain it is that the building continued to be used as a place of worship for nearly seventeen years after this time. This is not the only case in which the individual possession of a place of worship has proved a snare for the conscience and a test of principle. There are not a few even now, I am afraid, who would protect and redeem their property at the cost of their virtue and consistency.
The worshippers in the Lower Meeting-house were exposed to great inconvenience, not only from its distance from their place of residence, but from the floods of the river Rea, which flowed very near it; and they therefore determined upon the erection of another building in which both these inconveniences should be avoided. A site in Moor-street was obtained, and a convenient and tolerably spacious house was raised on the spot where the New Meeting-house now stands, which was opened for public worship in 1732, on which occasion the Rev. Samuel Bourn, then of Chorley, preached from Haggai ii. 7-9. Two days after the opening of the chapel, Mr. Bourn was chosen to be one of the ministers, in conjunction with Mr. Pickard. From this year till 1761 a union subsisted between the New Meetinghouse and the Presbyterian chapel at Coseley, in the parish of Sedgeley, Staffordshire, a village about eight miles from Birmingham. The ministers officiated alternately at both.
Mr. Bourn at the commencement of his ministry was a Trinitarian, but upon the controversy raised by the writings of Mr. Whiston and Dr. Clarke, which, as Dr. Toulmin says, might be considered as the Arian controversy of the fourth century revived, he re-examined the subject, and became a high Arian.
One or two anecdotes of this gentleman, which are to be found in Dr. Toulmin's Memoirs of him, may serve to enliven these pages and shew the quickness of Mr. Bourn's intellect, and the readiness of his wit. On one of the trials at Warwick, in which he was engaged, when he had been admitted, according to his request, to plead his own cause, the counsel employed by the
adverse party, chagrined with the skill, sagacity, and power of speech which he displayed, asked him with ironical humour, “Of whom he had learnt his oratory ?" “Of one,” replied Mr. Bourn, “whom you do not know; of Paul of Tarsus.” Riding one day to preach, in company with a gentleman who was a Quaker, as they had to pass through a deep water in a flood created by heavy rain, he was asked by his companion, “ What wilt thou do, friend Bourn, if thy papers should be wet or damaged, so that thou couldest not read them ?" He replied, “ At worst it could only be a silent meeting.”
The following is the list of ministers of the New Meeting-house, in the order of their succession 1692 Rev. Sillitoe
1704 1705 Thomas Pickard ..
1747 1732 Samuel Bourn
1754 1747 Samuel Blyth
1791 1754 William Hawkes..
1780 1780 Joseph Priestley, LL.D. F.R.S. &c. 1791 1791 John Edwards
1802 1792 David Jones
1795 1803 John Kentish
1846 1801 Joshua Toulmin, D.D.
1815 1817 James Yates, M.A., &c.
1825 1826 John Reynell Wreford
1831 1832 Samuel Bache, the present minister. The following list shews their connection:1692 Rev. - Sillitoe 1704 1705 Rev. T. Pickard 1747 1732 S. Bourn 1754 with
1791 1754 W. Hawkes 1780
ditto 1780 Dr. Priestley 1791
ditto 1792 Rev. D. Jones 1795 1791 J. Edmonds 1802 1803 J. Kentish
1804 Dr. Toulmin 1815 ditto
1817 Rev. J. Yates 1825 ditto
1826 J. R. Wreford 1831 ditto
1832 S. Bache
Besides the venerable Mr. Kentish, who still lives to enjoy, amidst much public esteem and private friendship, his otium cum dignitate, one name stands conspicuous on this list above all the rest, I mean Dr. Priestley. As a Trinitarian I cannot but deplore of course that the weight of his fame, both as a scholar and a philosopher, should have been cast into the scale against, what I consider to be, the fundamental doctrines of the gospel. Of this great man, Robert Hall said, “The religious tenets of Dr. Priestley appear to me erroneous in the extreme; but I should be sorry to suffer any
difference of sentiment to diminish my sensibility to virtue or my admiration of genius. His enlightened and active mind, his unwearied assiduity, the extent of his researches, the light he has poured into almost every department of science, will be the admiration of that period when the greater part of those who have favoured, and those who have opposed him, will be alike forgotten. Distinguished merit will ever rise superior to oppression, and will draw lustre from reproach. The vapours which gather round the rising sun, and follow it in its course, seldom fail at the close of it to form a magnificent theatre for its reception, and to invest with variegated tints, and a sublime effulgence, the luminary which they cannot hide."
In the year 1791, before the convulsion which exploded both the dynasty and hierarchy of France had exhibited its blood and horrors to the astonished and affrighted nations of Europe, a company of friends had assembled at the Royal Hotel, to celebrate the French revolution. Whether, considering the excited state of the popular mind, it was quite prudent thus to display their love of liberty, has been questioned by some of its devoted champions; but nothing can justify, defend, or palliate the disgraceful and destructive riots which followed this meeting. The hotel where it was held was assaulted by a furious and outrageous mob, which proceeded then to demolish not only the Old and New Meeting-houses, but the private dwellings of the most wealthy indivi. duals who formed a part of the congregation that worshipped in them; and which, but for the timely arrival of the military, would have commenced a general sack and plunder of the town. The principal object of their fury was Dr. Priestley, whom they would no doubt have murdered, if he had fallen into their hands. As they could not apprehend his person, they vented their rage on his dwelling, library, manuscripts, and philosophical apparatus, which they utterly destroyed.
Till very lately the ruins of some of the demolished houses remained as a monument of the disgrace of those who instigated and those who perpetrated these outrages. It is matter of congratulation that they have now entirely disappeared. Whatever be the feelings of party in the present day, a humanising influence has since then come over the people, and the riots of 1791 could not now be repeated under the highest excitement of the popular mind.
For the Memorials of the Ministers of the Old and New Meeting-houses the reader is referred to Mr. Wreford's Sketch; but I deem it respectful to those of them who still live, to insert the following list of their works :
NEW MEETING.-MR. KENTISH. HOMILETICAL.—“Funeral Sermons” for Mr. Kenrick, Mr. Edwards, Dr. Toulmin, Mr. Scott, Mr. Belsham, The Princess of Wales—"A Review of Christian Doctrine," on resigning the ministerial office at Southwark and Hackney, December 2, 1802, January 2, 1803—"The Nature and Duties of the Christian Ministry,” on undertaking the office of religious instructor at Birmingham, January 23, 1803—“The Importance of Education