The Church in Mornington Road

The first reference to a church being built in Mornington Road is in the minutes of the Quakers’ Ratcliff & Barking Monthly Meeting, 14th May, 1868, stating that Charles Martin, builder of the houses in the street, has asked for “permission to erect a Church in connection with the Scotch Church or Evangelical Departers from the Church of England on a part of the Estate and for an extension of the time for building in the residue of the land, this meeting assents generally to the proposal.”

So the Quakers agreed to this, but whether this church was ‘the little iron building’ that was opened in 1869, or the later large brick built comfortable church with a frontage on Bow Road next to the County Court and opened in January 1876, is not certain.  Presumably the ‘liberal collections’ taken in the former building were enough to finance the construction of the latter.

The opening of the little iron building was reported in the East London Observer, Saturday January 9th 1869

BOW ROAD PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

During the past week services have been held in the little iron building in Mornington-road, bearing the above name, to celebrate the opening of a Presbyterian Church in Bow – pastor, the Rev. A. Curr.  On Tuesday evening last a soirée was held, and after the soirée a public meeting took place, at which Mr Alderman Lusk, M.P., was announced to preside. However, as it turned out afterwards, the worthy alderman had a private engagement to keep, and the meeting fell back upon the future pastor of the little Church for chairman, and Mr Curr accordingly presided.  Following the usual custom a hymn was sung and prayer offered at the opening of the public part of the proceedings, and then Dr. Edmunds, of Highbury, proceeded to address the meeting, congratulating Mr. Curr upon the opening of a Presbyterian Church in the neighbourhood, and, of course, earnestly wishing the rev. gentleman success in his new undertaking.  Then the chairman gave out another hymn, after which he proceeded to read extracts from about 20 letters, which he had received from various ministers in the immediate vicinity, also wishing him success in his undertaking.  He then went on to say that the next thing he should set about would be to answer a question that might be put to him: Why do you appear as a minister of the Church called a Presbyterian Church, when lately you were a Baptist minister?  As this is a question that many people who have heard of Mr. Carr’s sudden conversion have already asked, we hasten to give the leading points of the explanation so given.  He said he was born and bred in the United Presbyterian Church, and remained a member of that Church till 11 years ago, when he came to London.  He brought a letter of introduction to Dr. Hamilton, and living as he did then at Hackney, he became a member of the John Knox English Presbyterian Church.  He continued in that Church for some time, until enquiring into the subject of baptism, especially the question of immersion, he became conscientiously and thoroughly convinced that it was the primitive system, and that infant sprinkling was in no way authorised in Scripture.  Having a thorough conviction of this he left the Church and joined that of Mr. Stovel, where he was re-baptized, and he became a member of Mr. Stovel’s church until he (Mr. Curr) went to Regents-park College.  Leaving the college, he began preaching as a member of the Baptist Church, and he held the same views until within fifteen months ago, when he decided before God, and in the sight of man, and to the satisfaction of his own conscience, to return to the church of his fathers. He had simply changed his views on baptism; he never ceased to be a Presbyterian in anything else, and as many of the brethren knew he had repeatedly helped the Presbyterian church by lectures, &c….”

This conscientious reporting seems not to have been emulated by the Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser that published on the same day a report of the same gathering, as follows, on the assumption that Alderman Lusk had actually turned up, even if the reporter obviously had not:

BOW PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH – This church, which is situate in the Mornington-road, Bow, held a soirée and public meeting on Tuesday last, in celebration of the opening of the place.  Alderman Lusk, M.P., occupied the chair, and a full and enthusiastic audience was in attendance.  Ministers from all the surrounding Dissenting places of worship were present, and … addressed the meeting. … At the conclusion of the proceedings a liberal collection was made in aid of the funds of the church.

The Orator Reverend Curr.

The East London Observer, 15 May 1869, announced that at Bow Presbyterian Church, (near the Railway Arch, Bow Road), The Rev. Allan Curr, F.G.S, F.R.S.L., is delivering a series of biographical discourses, entitled, “BIBLE HEROES” on Sabbath evening, May 16th, “Noah, the man of faith.”  The speech would cover: – “The age we live in contrasted with the time of Noah – Modern and ancient infidelity – Can a miracle be proved? – The strange story of Noah – How the ship was built – Noah’s faith – How the ship was launched and what came after – God’s covenant with man – A solemn warning addressed to the present infidel, sinful and Christ-rejecting world.”

On 10th July 1870, advertised in East London Advertiser on the 9th, this same Rev. Allan Curr preached a special sermon on “The deaths of Charles Dickens and the Earl of Clarendon.  Modern statesmanship and literature, in relation to the religion of Jesus Christ.” The Morning Advertiser, 12 August 1870, noted that the Rev. Allan Curr would be lecturing again, now on The French Revolution, “Storming the Bastille at Paris”.  Rev. Curr travelled the length, and possibly the breadth, of the British Isles giving his lectures.  There are, at least, several reports from Scotland of the same lectures, with the addition of a lecture on “The social influence of Music”, in which a choir accompanied, in Aberdeen, by harmonium, sang examples such as “The Hallelujah Chorus”, “See the conquering hero comes”, and always finishing with “God Save the Queen”.

A scandal arose in Fraserborough, where the advertisement referred to Rev. Curr as Allan Curr Esq., which was apparently reprehensible enough for a mendacious report to have been sent to a Dr. Scott of Glasgow, who managed a fund for aiding “the evangelisation of London”, and he passed the report on Dr. Edmund of London, Moderator of the Presbyterian Synod, who took the matter so seriously that the Rev. Curr was summoned to a conference on the matter.  Curr remarked that whoever the officious meddler had been, he had done him “a very mean dirty trick”.

But troubles seemed to pursue the redoubtable Rev. Curr for he was declared bankrupt in February 1871.  The Clerkenwell News reported that Mr W. Haigh, solicitor, filed a petition under the liquidation clauses of the Bankruptcy Act… in the matter of the Rev. Allan Curr, described as clerk in holy orders … now of Ina House, Tredegar-road, Bow, Middlesex.”  (Ina House still stands, opposite the junction with Mostyn Grove in Tredegar Road).

This state of affairs seems not to have deterred him from speaking out, for he gave a talk in Reading in March, “An Evening in the House of Commons” which was heckled by a Mr P. H. O’Connor, and prompted a letter of complaint in which Mr O’Connor wished to correct a report about a stormy election in Waterford, viz. “I fell into no tank of water and did not take refuge in a chest of drawers”. (Reading Mercury 11 & 18 March 1871).  But in May 1871 the United Presbyterian Synod considered the case of Rev. Allan Curr, ‘who had resigned his charge of the congregation of Bow, near London – leaving several members and friends of the congregation under peculiar pecuniary liabilities – and the whole affairs of the congregation being in a condition that would require much care, and may involve the payment of some considerable amount of money.  In order to extricate the friends of the cause from difficulty, and to build them up into a vigorous and self-supporting church, the Home Committee had made a grant of £75 to meet the present crisis.”  This report of the Synod makes first mention of a new, expensive church: “The tenders which the managers intended to accept for the new church amounted to £5058.” [Perhaps about £3 million in today’s labour value.] (Dundee Advertiser 20 May 1871)

NEW PASTOR… NEW CHURCH

The East London Observer advertised the induction of the Rev. J. M. Erskine on Tuesday, July 2, 1872, and carried advertisements in 1872 and 1873 to the effect that the newly inducted Pastor, Rev. J. M. Erskine, will be conducting public worship every Sabbath, morning at 11; evening at 6.30.

The new church was opened in 1876, an event reported at some length in the East London Observer 15 January of that year. “BOW PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH  The opening services in connection with the new church just erected by the Presbyterian denomination in a conspicuous part of the fine Bow-road, wwere commenced on Wednesday evening, when there was a large attendance.  The new building, which is plain and unpretentious in appearance, is reached by a flight of steps in front of the main road, and, on passing to the interior, the visitor is at once struck with the air of comfort which prevails and the general subordination of architectural effects to the comfort and convenience of the congregation. In this respect the building, although not large, may be taken as a model of neatness and comfort, the architect having taken light and ventilation into account, leaves the worshipper at breathing ease; and even should the place be crowded to its utmost capacity neither lungs nor pores will be violently exercised, and no obstructive pillar will place devotion under difficulties.  Those who are acquainted with the many inconveniences of church and chapel accommodation in East London, will appreciate the benefits to which we have called attention, and to which we may add another, in the excellent acoustic qualities of the church; the absence of which generally accompanies the other evils mentioned in those devotional structures, galleried for multitude, but erected on the principle that they that have ears shall not be permitted to hear.

Presbyterian Church
Bow Presbyterian Church – from Tower Hamlets Local History Library collection
Many clerics attended the service that ‘embraced the ministers and members of almost every denomination of Protestant Christians in the East of London.  There was a lengthy discourse by a Dr. Fraser on Matthew 27 v.50, about the moment of Jesus Christ’s death, after which with singing and a prayer the service ended, the Rev. Erskine announcing the amount of the collection to £83 8s 7d. [Possibly equivalent to over £7,000 in 2017].

Fund raising continued, as this piece in the East London Observer, 20 January 1877, reports: BOW ROAD PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH ANNIVERSARY. – An anniversary tea and public meeting in connection with the Bow Presbyterian Church, corner of Mornington-road, Bow-road, was held in the hall below the church.  On Tuesday evening upwards of 200 persons sat down to tea at six o’clock.  It ought to be mentioned that several ladies of the congregation formed themselves into a committee and provided the tea, cake &c., so that a larger amount was thereby realised for the building fund.  At seven o’clock the tables were removed, and a public meeting constituted under the presidency of the Rev. J. M. Erskine, pastor of the church, opening with the hymn “All hail the power.”  Several ministers and friends from the neighbouring churches, and a distance, gave short but pithy addresses.  The hall was beautifully decorated with ornamented texts, flags and flowers.  The meeting which was an extremely pleasant one throughout closed at ten o’clock.

Attached to the church was a ‘schoolroom’ which in 1877 upon Thursday evenings from 8 till 9.30 pm hosted a ‘building society’, the BOW AND STRATFORD 205TH STARR-BOWKETT.  (East London Observer Jan, Feb1877). But Starr-Bowkett societies are described as follows in Wikipedia (accessed 09/11/2017) “A Starr-Bowkett Society was a co-operative, non-profit financial institution that provides interest-free loans to its members and operates on the principle of mutual self-help as espoused by Dr T. E. Bowkett in 1843. Dr. Thomas Edward Bowkett was a London surgeon as well as a vocal proponent of a number of progressive and unionist ideas. His scheme to provide “mechanics” with a means to become landholders and thus have a greater influence on government was first proposed during a series of lectures and articles in 1843. In 1862 Richard B. Starr made some changes to Dr. Bowkett’s scheme, including a slightly increased subscription fee and shorter subscription time among others. The changes made the scheme more palatable to potential subscribers and Starr promoted his now copyrighted system aggressively. The Starr changes also made running a Starr-Bowkett Society profitable for management.  

Concerns over the “lottery” system used plus the fact that the lottery was decided in full view of all members and therefore open to physical abuse to change the person/people who received the funds at each meeting, as well as the actions of unscrupulous managers, led governments in the United Kingdom to outlaw Starr-Bowkett societies there.”  This prohibition was enacted in 1894.