03 November 2021

A grave at Saint Chad’s Church
links Lichfield with musical
life in Victorian Dublin

Samuel Culwick’s grave in Saint Chad’s Churchyard, Lichfield … a link between the choral traditions of Lichfield Cathedral and Victorian Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Saint Chad’s Church by Stowe Pool in Lichfield a few weeks ago, I came across, quite by accident, the grave of Samuel Culwick, who had been a Vicar Choral at Lichfield Cathedral and a churchwarden of Saint Chad’s for many years.

Samuel Culwick, who died in 1861, is buried in Saint Chad’s churchyard along with his wife Rebecca, who died in 1853, and their eldest daughter, Sarah Jane, who died in 1911. The Culwick family seems to have been part of church music in Lichfield for a number of generations. But there were other reasons too for paying attention to Samuel’s grave.

During another return visits to Lichfield 10 years ago (2011), I realised that that there is an interesting connection between Lichfield Cathedral and one of the high points of musical and cultural life in Dublin.

Everyone in Dublin knows both the Feis Ceoil and the Culwick Choral Society. But I wondered than how many people realise that both were founded within a year of each other by Dr James Cooksey Culwick (1845-1907), or that Culwick was a chorister and assistant organist at Lichfield Cathedral (1865-1866) before moving to Ireland in 1866.

James Culwick was born in West Bromwich on 28 April 1845, and moved in his early childhood to Lichfield, where his father was a musician and vicar choral in Lichfield Cathedral.

At the age of 14, James became a chorister in Lichfield Cathedral, where he took lessons from the cathedral’s assistant organist, Thomas Bedsmore (1833-1881). Bedsmore was a composer and was the assistant organist at Lichfield Cathedral until becoming the organist in 1864. He was also the organist at Saint Chad’s Church.

James Culwick was Bedsmore’s pupil and became assistant organist at Lichfield Cathedral (1865-1866), and also become the organist at Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield.

Saint Chad’s Church by Stowe Poll, Lichfield … James Culwick was the assistant organist at Lichfield Cathedral and the organist at Saint Chad’s before moving to Ireland in 1866 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

However, Culwick moved from Lichfield to Ireland with his young wife Alice in 1866, and held a succession of appointments as organist, first in Birr, Co Offaly, and then in Bray, Co Wicklow, before finally settling in Dublin.

Culwick moved from Saint Ann’s, in Dawson Street, Dublin, in 1881, to take up the prestigious position of organist and choirmaster in the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle. He was also Professor of Pianoforte and Theory at Alexandra College, Dublin, for 27 years.

Meanwhile, he was involved in a number of amateur musical bodies, including the Orpheus Choral Society, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Dublin (Trinity College Dublin) in 1893.

His output as a composer includes church services, anthems, finely-crafted secular songs, and notably the dramatic cantata The Legend of Stauffenberg (1890).

Culwick was a co-founder of Feis Ceoil in 1897, and a year later, in 1898, he founded the Orpheus Choral Society. The society was later renamed the Culwick Choral Society in his honour.

The organ in Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

James Culwick was married twice. His first wife, Alice Mary Harrison of Lichfield, died on 20 October 1875 at the age of 29. He married his second wife, Mary Richardson, in Saint Peter’s Church, Dublin, on 22 November 1876, was a daughter of the Dr Benjamin Richardson, a surgeon of Ely Place, Dublin. The officiant at the wedding, the Revd Alfred Thomas Harvey (1843-1898), was then curate in Saint Ann’s and Warden of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School. Mary Culwick died on 31 December 1921 at the age of 72.

The Culwick family lived at 28 Leeson Park, Ranelagh, for many years.

His children included the Revd Arthur James Culwick (1873-1939), curate of Drumcondra (1897-1900) and Zion Church, Rathgar (1901-1906), and incumbent of Saint James, Crinken, Bray (1906-1909). He worked briefly as a missionary in Lucknow and as an organising secretary with CMS, before working in parishes in England until he died in 1939.

James Culwick’s daughter, Florence Culwick (1877-1929), was a conductor and choir director. After her father’s death, she re-formed the Orpheus Choral Society as a mixed choir. For some time, it was known as ‘Miss Culwick’s Choral Society’ before becoming the Culwick Choral Society.

James Culwick died at his home, 57 Upper Mount Street, Dublin, on 5 October 1907 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, with both wives and his daughter Florence A memorial tablet in the south choir aisle of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin marks his as organist and choir master of the Chapel Royal, and describes him as ‘A learned musician. A true artist. A good man.’

The Culwick Choral Society is an amateur choir with over 100 active members drawn from all over Dublin and the surrounding counties. For 123 years, the Culwick has maintained an unbroken tradition of music-making in Dublin. The skill and musicianship of a succession of conductors has been crucial to its success. The present Musical Director, David Leigh, follows a long line of distinguished conductors.

The choir offers a major choral performance each Spring and a concert of seasonal music at Christmas. Since 1990, a charity performance of Handel’s Messiah in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral each December is an established event in the Dublin musical calendar.

James Culwick is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery with his wives and his daughter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
158, former Methodist Church, Wexford

The former Methodist Church on Rowe Street, Wexford, at night-time (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme this week is Methodist churches. My choice of church this morning (3 November 2021) is the former Methodist Church on Rowe Street, Wexford.

The cut-limestone date stone dated MDCCCXXXV (1835) on the fa├žade of the former Methodist Church on Rowe Street, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When I lived on High Street, Wexford, in the early 1970s, the street was ‘bookended’ by two churches at one end and church ruins at the other end: Rowe Street Church, or the Church of the Immaculate Conception, and the Methodist Church on the corners Rowe Street and Mallin Street at the north or west end, and the ruins of the mediaeval Saint Patrick’s Church fronting onto Saint Patrick’s Square at the south or east end of the street.

In between these three churches was the former Quaker meeting house on High Street, which by then had been closed for almost half a century and was being used as a band room.

For centuries, a Viking trail leading to the Quays ran along this route. Rowe Street is first documented on maps around 1840, when part of the old town wall was removed and the street was extended in the 19th century.

The street’s name comes from the Rowe family, who lived at Ballycross, near Bridgetown. The name of Ebenezer Rowe continued for generations in leases on the street. John Rowe, a descendant of Ebenezer Rowe, is later listed in Griffith’s Valuation as owner of a significant portion of the street.

The top of the street is dominated by the Church of the Immaculate Conception, one of Wexford’s ‘Twin Churches,’ along with the Church of the Assumption on Bride Street.

But lower down Rowe Street, closer to North Main Street, on the corner of Rowe Street and Mallin Street, opposite the corner with High Street, is Wexford’s former Methodist Church.

The story of the Methodist presence in Wexford goes back more than 250 years. The founder of the Methodists, John Wesley, is said to have preached in the newly-built Cornmarket in Wexford, and he noted in his journal that it was one of the best public rooms he had ever spoken in. The Hadden family are said to have originally come to Wexford with John Wesley, and for generations the family ran a drapery shop on North Main Street.

There were regular Methodist gatherings in Wexford by 1788, and it seems the Methodists held meetings in the former Friends’ Meeting House on High Street for a time around 1795 without the consent of Quakers.

There was a Methodist chapel around the corner in Allen Street, by 1802, but this must have been in a private house rather than a purpose-built chapel.

The first steps in breaking the sacramental link with the Church of Ireland was taken at the Methodist Conference of 1816 but not finally authorised until 1818 when for the first time Methodist societies and preachers were permitted to conduct Baptism and Holy Communion in their own preaching houses.

There were two different Methodist congregations in Wexford by 1830: a congregation in connection with the Irish Evangelical Society, and the ‘separatists’ who met in a private house.

Four branches of Methodism emerged in Ireland. The Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Connexion, the largest, broke from the main body and remained loyal to the Church of Ireland and its parishes, until reuniting with the main Methodist Connexion in 1878. The three other smaller branches of Methodism in Ireland were the Methodist New Connexion (1789-1905), the Primitive Methodist Connexion (1823-1910), and the Wesleyan Methodist Association (1832-1872).

The Methodist Church on Rowe Street was built as the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in 1835 to support a growing Methodist population in the town. The church has been attributed, perhaps mistakenly, to the architect Thomas Willis (1782-1864), who designed the Presbyterian Church in Anne Street (1843).

The new Wesleyan Methodist Chapel opened on 8 March 1836, when the first sermon was preached by the Revd Robert Newton of Manchester.

The church is a five-bay double-height single-cell church, built on a rectangular plan with a single-bay single-storey gabled projecting porch. It is ‘a solid and plain structure, similar to the contemporary former Methodist Church in Enniscorthy, also built in 1835.

A cut-limestone date stone is dated MDCCCXXXV (1835). The church has rendered, ruled and lined walls on a moulded rendered cushion course on a rendered, ruled and lined plinth with rusticated rendered quoins at the corners.

The tall, slender windows, with their pretty ‘switch track’ glazing patterns, provide a neo-Gothic theme. These lancet windows have cut-granite sills, there are concealed dressings with chamfered reveals and hood mouldings on label stops, framing 20 4-over-24 timber sash windows without horns. They have overlights with interlocking Y-tracery glazing bars.

The interior was extended in 1880 to cater for a growing congregation. At the time, a timber panelled gallery was added, with a pair of timber staircases. The interior plasterwork included a cornice on the ceiling centred on a decorative plasterwork ceiling rose.

Outside, the cast-iron railings include a finial-topped rosette-detailed cast-iron ‘bird cage’ and cast-iron double gate supported on piers.

By the 1970s, the Methodist Church in Wexford was served by a circuit minister stationed in Gorey, and the Sunday services were held only once or twice a month, usually on a Sunday evening in the gallery. There was a small congregation, and I remember that many of those who attended were Church of Ireland parishioners.

The funeral of the late Dr George Hadden (1882-1973), which I attended, was one of the last services in the church. The church closed in 1973.

He was a member of Wexford Corporation for many years, and he received the freedom of the borough in 1972. He died 21 July 1973 and was buried at Crosstown Cemetery.

By then, general permission had been given to sell the church and hall, and the Methodist congregation merged with the congregation of the Presbyterian Church on Anne Street.

A joint Presbyterian-Methodist agreement in 1977 drew in Gorey Methodist Church and saw the closure of Wexford Methodist Church in Rowe Street. This arrangement came to an end in June 2005, so that the churches in Wexford and Enniscorthy are now Presbyterian home mission churches, and the church in Gorey is a Methodist church once again.

The former Methodist Church on Rowe Street was first used by Jenkins department store on Main Street, and it was sold in 1995 for £65,000.

Brian Byrne of Lantern Events plans to create a new performance centre, with a bar, an audience standing capacity for 400 people, seating for 200 people and an entrance from the former church in Rowe Street into what was Byrne’s World of Wonder toy store on Mallin Street. He is the founder of the Spiegeltent Festival on Wexford Quays, and his plans for Rowe Street include stand-up comedy, acoustic singer-songwriters and bands, alongside children’s shows and occasional day-time conferences.

The church remains an important component of Wexford’s Victorian church heritage and its composition is of architectural value, and it remains a protected historical building.

The cast-iron ‘bird cage’ at the Methodist Church in Rowe Street, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 14: 25-33 (NRSVA):

25 Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Wexford Presbyterian Church, Anne Street, dates from 1840 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (3 November 2021) invites us to pray:

Lord, we pray for all those who have gathered at COP26 this month. May they make good decisions which centre the wellbeing of creation.

Wexford Arts Centre in Cornmarket, first built as the town’s Market House … when John Wesley preached there he noted it was one of the best public rooms he had ever spoken in (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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

Allen Street, leading up from South Main Street to Saint Patrick’s Square … there was a Methodist chapel in Allen Street, by 1802, but it may have been in a private house rather than a purpose-built chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)