17 May 2021

Saint Bride’s Parish, a book review
in the ‘Irish Theological Quarterly’

The Churchwardens’ Accounts of the Parishes of St Bride, St Michael Le Pole and St Stephen, Dublin, 1663-1702. Edited by WJR Wallace. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2020. Pp. 208. Price €50.00 (hbk). ISBN 978-1-84682-835-5.

The four decades between 1663 and 1702 seem a short span for putting the details of life in city parishes in Dublin under the microscope. But this is formative epoch in early modern Irish history, for church and city alike, as Dublin and the Church of Ireland move from the immediate aftermath of the Cromwellian destruction through the Caroline Restoration, the Jacobite wars and Williamite revolution to the stability promised by the reign of Queen Ann that began in 1702.

This is Ronnie Wallace’s second volume charting the records of these parishes, complementing an earlier edition in 2011 of the vestry minutes. Together they offer a valuable resource for understanding parish life in Dublin in late 17th and early 18th centuries, and for gaining insights into how the Church interacted with the life of the City in this time of change and uncertainty.

The churchwardens were the principal, elected officers of the vestry, the committee that ran the parish. They were elected each year and presented their accounts annually, and so these accounts provide much information in a regular and structured way of life in Dublin over 300 years ago.

The three parishes that are the focus of this book formed a single unit immediately outside the city walls, to the south and east, extending along Bride Street as far as Ship Street (the site of the Church of Saint Michael de la Pole) on one end, and Golden Lane at the other, and east as far as George’s Street and Stephen Street (the site of the original Saint Stephen’s Church). Despite the unwieldy name of the parish, due to parochial amalgamations, only one church – Saint Bride’s, on the corner of Bride Street and Bride Alley – was open at this period, although the graveyards in all three parishes were in use. The parish was still not fully developed by 1662, there were few wealthy or powerful families, although there was a substantial middle class, mainly lawyers, and the parishioners were predominantly small tradesmen. Those class differences are reflected in the different charges for burials.

The opening entries show how religious divisions appeared to continue after the Caroline Restoration and the reversal of Puritanism. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was negligent in appointing priests to the parish, and the gap was often filled on Sundays by former Puritan ministers who were paid for their sermons. Perhaps the differences in payment, from 18 shillings for two sermons to £16 for four months, reflected the reception their sermons received from the congregation.

In time, the attention to liturgical detail improved. Increasing sums were spent on bread and wine, indicating more frequent celebrations of the Holy Communion, the church bells were repaired, new chairs, pews, windows, candelabra and candle holders were acquired, a new oak altar or communion table and a cloth to cover it were bought, the old baptismal font from Saint Michael’s was installed, and, eventually, in 1686, the church was rebuilt and a new organ installed.

But the wardens and vestry were busy mainly with civil matters for they were, effectively, the first rung of local government. They collected local tolls, disbursed the cess or local tax imposed on residents of the parish, using it for the relief of the poor, administered legacies for poor relief, and imposed fines for a variety of offences – from carrying goods on a Sunday, profane cursing and swearing and swearing oaths to ‘keeping a naughty house’ (pp 11, 139, 159-160). The prosecutor in the case of the ‘naughty house’ gloried in the name of Mr Rotten (p 139).

The parish maintained the public stocks in Ship Street and later in Bride Street, used for the public and demeaning punishment of people convicted of minor crimes, and maintained the parish constable, the watch or local police, and local firefighting.

Widespread poverty is indicated in references to street people, starving families and poor people who died on the streets or in frosty weather, abandoned children, and the plans to build a poor house. But there were times too when the Lord Mayor had to order the parish to care for children rather than send them outside the parish boundaries.

Although the churchwardens and vestry members were unpaid, they rewarded themselves liberally for their voluntary role, providing beer and food at their meetings, often held at a local inn.

A dominant figure in the parish at this time, Nathaniel Foy (1638-1708), was the perpetual curate or vicar in 1678-1691. He was born in the parish, a son of Dr John Foy of Golden Lane. He was suspended for not attending an archbishop’s visitation in 1678, yet was singularly responsible for rebuilding the church, and he went on to become Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1691-1707), founding Bishop Foy’s School in Waterford.

The manuscript was heavily annotated in pencil by the Revd William George Carroll (1821-1885), who was the last rector of the parish in 1859-1885. He did much to preserve the parish records and arranged for them to be bound in 25 volumes at the expense of the parish. He was the uncle of George Bernard Shaw and baptised the future Nobel playwright. Carroll was also an innovative liturgist, strongly influenced by the Oxford and Anglo-Catholic movements.

After Carroll’s death, the parish was united with Saint Werburgh’s in 1886, the church was closed and it was demolished in 1898 as part of the sum clearance and housing programme in the area financed by the Guinness family. Many of the bodies in the churchyard were moved to Mount Jerome and the organ case is now in the National Museum of Ireland.

This volume is the ninth book in a series of texts and calendars published in association with the Representative Church Body Library of the Church of Ireland. This publication ensures the story of a lost church is not forgotten.

Patrick Comerford
Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes,
Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe

Expanded biographical note:
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, a former adjunct assistant professor in Trinity College, and has taught liturgy and Church History in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin.

This book review is published in the Irish Theological Quarterly Vol 8 No 2 (Maynooth, May 2021), pp 213-215

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
90, High Leigh Conference Centre, Hoddesdon

The Barn Chapel in the grounds of the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week, we are in an ‘in-between week’, between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost. My photographs this week are from places I associate with the life of USPG. Earlier in this series, I introduced the Chapel in the USPG offices in Southwark and its stained glass windows (20 March 2021).


This morning (17 May 2021), my photographs are from the High Leigh Conference Centre, outside Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire. High Leigh is the planned venue for the USPG conference once again this year (20 to 22 July 2021), and I still have hopes that the roll out of the vaccine and the easing of travel restrictions may mean I can take part in the conference this year, the last year in my six-year term as a trustee of USPG.

I have taken part in many USPG conferences here in the past (2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019), sometimes leading workshops, taking part in council and trustee meetings, and I presided at the Eucharist at the end of the 2012 conference. I was also the chaplain in 2006 at a joint conference of the Friends of the Church in China and the China Desk of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), when I led daily worship and celebrated the Sunday Eucharist.

The High Leigh Conference Centre is a beautiful Victorian country house, set in extensive parkland and landscaped gardens, surrounded by some of Hertfordshire’s most beautiful countryside. The house was built in 1853 by Charles Webb, a gold lace manufacturer, and was bought in 1871 by Robert Barclay, a member of a well-known banking dynasty and a committed Christian, who renamed it High Leigh.

For generations, members of the Barclay family were leading Quakers, and there is a Friends’ Meeting House on Lord Street, leading from Hoddesdon out to High Leigh. By the time they came to live at High Leigh, the Barclays were committed Anglicans.

On the stairs to the room where I was staying in High Leigh on the last occasion, the walls are lined with Victorian photographs of the Barclay family and their staff, and a stained-glass window in the original parts of the house shows an impaled Barclay coat-of-arms that has a bishop’s mitre as one of the two crests.

Robert Barclay (1843-1921) was the son of Joseph Gurney Barclay and Mary Walker Barclay; his wife, Elizabeth Ellen Buxton (1848-1911), was a granddaughter of the 19th century reformer and campaigner against slaver, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, and their large family included many missionaries. Joseph Gurney Barclay (1879-1976), who was born at High Leigh, left Barclay’s Bank to be become am Anglican missionary in Japan, where his wife Gillian died in 1909.

Another son, the Revd Gilbert Arthur Barclay (1882-1970), was a vicar in Cumbria, Leicester and Essex, and an army chaplain and hospital chaplain. A daughter, Rachel Elizabeth Barclay (1885-1932), who was born in High Leigh, was a missionary in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Her sister, Clemence Rachel Barclay (1874-1952), married Bishop Edward Sydney Woods (1877-1953) in Hoddesdon in 1903. He was the Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, Suffragan Bishop of Croydon, and Bishop of Lichfield (1937-1952).

Robert Barclay continued to live at High Leigh until he died in 1921. His family then sold the property on favourable terms to First Conference Estate, a company he had been a director of, so that the house could become a Christian conference centre. The generosity of the Barclay family is celebrated in a plaque in the Oak Room.

Hoddesdon is a parish is in the Diocese of St Alban’s, and the parish church, the Church of Saint Catherine and Saint Paul, is in Paul’s Lane.

The High Leigh Conference Centre is a beautiful Victorian country house, long associated with the Barclay family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 16: 29-33 (NRSVA)

29 His disciples said, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.’ 31 Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’

An image of the Virgin Mary in a quiet corner at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (17 May 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the relationship between the Anglican Church in Korea and USPG.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The impaled Barclay and Buxton coats-of-arms with an episcopal mitre at High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The parish church of Saint Catherine and Saint Paul in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)