07 February 2017

Tait clock recalls the sad times and
successes of a Limerick entrepreneur

The Tait Memorial Clock in Baker Place, Limerick, was a public tribute to Alderman Sir Peter Tait (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Waiting for buses in Limerick, going to or from Dublin or Askeaton, is allowing me a little time each week to explore the history and architecture of a city I am beginning to get to know.

One of my routes between the bus station and Arthur’s Quay brings me past the Tait Memorial Clock in Baker Place, which was erected 150 years ago in 1867 and which tells stories of enterprise and industry, war and politics, and which links Limerick in a sad and telling way with Thessaloniki in northern Greece.

The Tait Memorial Clock is a 65 ft tall landmark monument on Baker Place, at the corner with Davis Street. This free-standing, carved limestone Gothic-style clock tower was erected in 1867 as a public tribute to the Scottish entrepreneur Alderman Sir Peter Tait.

Tait owned the nearby Tait factory, which supplied shirts and uniforms to the British Empire during the Crimean War in the 1850s and to the Confederate army during the American Civil War in the 1860s.

Tait moved to Limerick from the Shetland Islands in the early 1840s, and built a trading business that grew into the city’s largest textile factory. At the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Tait’s factory was producing enough textiles to supply the Confederate Army with jackets, trousers, caps, shirts, blankets, boots, stockings, and haversacks. Alongside his textile trade, Peter Tait served three terms as Mayor of Limerick between 1865 and 1868. Such was his reputation as an employer and politician that the Tait Clock Tower was erected as a tribute to him and was paid for by public subscriptions.

Sir Peter Tait (1828-1890) is one of the most colourful, flamboyant and entrepreneurial figures to have become Mayor of Limerick, and his life story brought him from the Shetland Islands to Limerick, London, and the Ottoman and Tsarist empires. He was born in 1828 in the Shetland Islands in Scotland, either in Lerwick or in the rural district of Tingwall. He came to Limerick in his early teens, and may have first lived with his sister who had already moved to Limerick some years earlier. She had married Martin Honan, of Quinsborough House, Parteen, who was Mayor of Limerick in 1842 and 1843, and her father-in-law, Matthew Honan, built and gave his name to one of the quays in Limerick.

Tait soon apprenticed himself to the drapers Cumine and Mitchell in George’s Street (now O’Connell Street). He then began hawking shirts to sailors on Arthur’s Quay, and was soon making and selling his own shirts.

Tait quickly spotted the opportunities provided by the new sewing machines. He started his first factory in 1850 in rented premises in Bedford Row. In 1852, he set up one of the first mass production textile factories in Europe, from which he sold shirts and other clothing.

His big break came with the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854, when Tait won contracts to supply the British army with uniforms. He was soon employing hundreds of people making shirts and uniforms for the troops in the Crimean War. The first soldiers to wear his Limerick shirts were in the 8th Royal Irish Hussars.

Meanwhile, Tait married Rose Abraham, who lived at Fort Prospect, near Janesboro, in the Independent Chapel or Congregationalist Church on Bedford Row, Limerick. The couple moved to South Hill House in the southern suburbs of Limerick.

Tait’s factory was the biggest in Limerick, and his business was known as the Army Clothing Factory. He had another factory in London, near Blackfriars Railway Bridge.

By the time of the American Civil War, Tait had a large factory in Limerick that was described as a set of ‘mean cheap buildings’ that employed up to 1,000 workers.

In late 1863, the firm contracted with the Confederate Government for the supply of jackets and trousers. Most Tait jackets and trousers were issued to the Army of Northern Virginia, although a large number was also issued to units in the Army of Tennessee and the garrison units along the east coast. As well as his contract with the Central Confederate Government, Tait also had a separate contract with the State of Alabama.

As well as making uniforms for the Confederates, Tait also ran them through the blockade in his own steamers, the Elavey, Eveline and Kelpie, none of which was captured. It is impossible to estimate how many uniforms were imported, but the bulk of the contract started to arrive in the autumn of 1864.

The ships he sent to the Confederate States returned to Limerick loaded with cotton for the clothing factories and shops. In 1864, Tait also revived the flax spinning industry in Limerick, reopening a factory that had first been established by the Russell family in Lansdowne in 1851. He also opened factories in Leeds and London, and bought a townhouse in London.

One shipment of 4,400 uniforms on the Eveline arrived in Wilmington on 29 December 1864. But the fall of Fort Fisher on 15 January 1865 probably put an end to any further shipments.

Tait was elected an Alderman in Limerick for the first time in 1865. He was elected Mayor of Limerick in December 1866, and was elected to that office on three occasions.

The clock in Baker Place was erected in 1867 as public tribute to Tait while he was still Mayor of Limerick. It was designed by William Edward Corbett (1824-1904), who acknowledged the influence of the design of Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. The tower was built by John Connolly at a cost of £750.

Corbett, who designed the clock tower, was the architect and borough surveyor of Limerick City (1854-1899), and lived at 39 Ennis Road, Limerick. He worked on a number of prominent churches in Limerick, and designed the pedestal of the Treaty Stone.

A plaque on a panel reads: ‘Erected by Public Subscription in Appreciation of the Enterprise and Usefulness of Alderman Peter Tait.’

But despite the public honour he received with a knighthood, and the public acclamation expressed in the erection of the Tait Clock in Baker Place in 1867, Tait’s Conservative political views grew increasingly unpopular in Limerick, and his fall from grace was swift.

In December 1868, Tait was defeated as the Conservative candidate for Parliament in Limerick in a brutal election campaign. He resigned as mayor on 1 December 1868, not having completed his third term in office.

Ostensibly, his resignation was to give him time to concentrate on his shipping interests. But one by one his factories began to close because of a general depression in the clothing market.

In 1871, Tait was defeated yet again, this time in a by-election. By 1874, he had changed his political views, and stood as a Liberal/Home Rule candidate, but was defeated by the Nationalist Isaac Butt. Tait retired from the business and left Limerick for good around 1875, leaving his factory to be run by his son.

Tait left for London and the moved to Thessaloniki in northern Greece to establish a Turkish cigarette factory. However, this venture was not a success, and he died in poverty at the Hotel De France in Batoum in southern Russia on 11 December 1890 at the age of 62. He bequeathed his belongs of books, furniture and linen and the sum of just £50 to his wife Rose.

It was a sad end for a remarkable man whose life in Limerick was marked by enterprise, courage, ambition and vision. An authoritative biography, Peter Tait: A Remarkable Story, by John E Waite, was published in 2005.

Impact on

Patrick Comerford

This year sees the fifth centenary of the Lutheran Reformation and the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther (1483-1546) setting in process the Reformation when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church of Wittenberg on 31 October 1517.

But for Anglicans, what is the legacy of Martin Luther, and what are his lasting influences on Anglicanism? How Lutheran was the Anglican Reformation, what were the Lutheran influences on the Reformation in the Church of England Lutheran, and how did Cambridge become known as ‘Little Germany’ and the ‘Birthplace of the English Reformation’?

Long before Luther is said to have nailed his theses to the door of the Church in Wittenberg in 1517, Desiderius Erasmus was at Queens’ College, Cambridge. There between 1511 and 1514, Erasmus translated his new Greek and Latin versions of the New Testament that would inspire the kind of Bible study that created an interest in Luther’s writings and theology.

In 1520, Luther wrote The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, challenging the traditional sacramental system. Incensed by Luther’s attack, King Henry VIII of England published his reply, An Assertion of the Seven Sacramentsm in 1521. Henry VIII earned Papal approval for his refutation and was honoured as ‘Defender of the Faith. The exchange between the monarch and the former monk was an important factor in the history of the English Church and Luther’s uncharitable and injudicious invective closed the door to Henry’s later acceptance of the Augsburg Confession.

Although books were burned in Cambridge in 1520 and 1521 in efforts to supress sympathies for Wycliffe and the Lollards and for Luther, English merchants trading between London and Antwerp became a source for Luther’s writings, which were soon read widely in the universities in Cambridge and Oxford.

‘Little Germany’ in Cambridge

In 1521, the Archbishop of Canterbury received complaints that Oxford was infested with Lutheranism. But Cambridge became the nursery of the English Reformation, and many of the English reformers and some of the early martyrs were students and scholars there. The White Horse Inn, on a site that is now part of Chetwynd Court at King’s College, Cambridge, became the meeting place for these young scholars. Because of their interest in Luther’s writings and theology, the White Horse Inn became known as ‘Little Germany.’

The Cambridge scholars who met at the White Horse from 1521 came to include Thomas Cranmer, future Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Barnes, Prior of the Austin Friars in Cambridge and future martyr, Thomas Bilney, who would change Latimer’s views about the Reformation, Stephen Gardiner, later Bishop of Winchester, Miles Coverdale, translator of the Bible into English and future Bishop of Exeter, Matthew Parker, later Archbishop of Canterbury, William Tyndale, Bible translator, Nicholas Shaxton, later Bishop of Salisbury, John Bale, later Bishop of Ossory, and the martyr Hugh Latimer.

Many of this group were influenced both by the new edition of the New Testament produced by Erasmus and by the ideas of Luther. Many in this group also preached at the Church of Saint Edward King and Martyr, close to King’s College. This Cambridge church played a unique role in the early days of the English Reformation, and was closely associated with the Austin Friars, whose priory stood on the site of Corpus Christ College. The North Chapel of the church had been built for the use of Trinity Hall and the South Chapel for the use of Clare Hall (now Clare College).

In 1522, Hugh Latimer of Clare College was nominated as university preacher and university chaplain. When he received the degree Bachelor of Divinity (BD) in 1524, Latimer publicly defence of the Pope’s authority and refuted the new Reformation ideas on the Continent, in particular the opinions of Philip Melanchthon, who would become the leading Reformer in Germany after Luther’s death in 1546.

A plaque at King’s College, Cambridge, marking the site of the White House Tavern or ‘Little Germany’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, Thomas Bilney, one of the White Horse group, came privately to Latimer in his study. Latimer was convinced by Bilney’s arguments and soon became one of the leading advocates of the Reformation. He began to preach publicly on the need for a translation of the Bible into English.

At the Midnight Mass in Saint Edward’s in Christmas 1525, Robert Barnes preached what was probably the first openly evangelical sermon in a church in England, proclaiming the Gospel and accusing the Church of many heresies. And so Saint Edward’s became ‘the cradle of the Reformation’ in England, and the pulpit from which Latimer preached is still in use.

Barnes was forced to make a recantation, Bilney was forced to make humiliating penance for his offences, and Latimer was prohibited from preaching in the university or in the Diocese of Ely. However, the pulpit of the Augustinian Friars in Cambridge – now part of the site of Corpus Christ College – was outside episcopal control. There Robert Barnes was the prior, Myles Coverdale, translator of the Bible, had joined the community in 1523, and Erasmus was close to the community while he was at Cambridge in 1511-1514.

In 1528, Cardinal Wolsey admonished Latimer, but then gave him a special licence to preach throughout England. In December 1529, Latimer preached two sermons that caused a turbulent controversy in the university. But it was reported to King Henry VIII that Latimer favoured the king’s demand divorce, and he was invited to preach before Henry VIII in Lent 1530.

Prompted by Christian II, the exiled king of Denmark, Luther sent a letter of apology to the king in September 1525. But a royal letter of ridicule and rebuke followed 10 months later. By 1527, however, Henry’s views were changing. He wanted a male heir and also wanted to marry Anne Boleyn in the hope that she would become the mother of a male heir.

Luther concluded that the king was bound under pain of eternal damnation to retain the wife he had married. But the divorce issue was settled for Henry in 1533 when Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, dissolved the marriage to Catherine of Aragon and declared the king lawfully married to Anne Boleyn.

Secure in Henry VIII’s protection, Latimer wrote a letter on the free circulation of the Bible. Latimer left Cambridge in 1531 to become a vicar in Wiltshire. But in in March 1532, he was censured, excommunicated and imprisoned. He was freed through the intervention of the king and confessed he had erred not only ‘in discretion but in doctrine.’

Cranmer finds favour

Meanwhile, another member of the White Horse group was finding favour with the king too. Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) was six years Luther’s junior, and was martyred 10 years after Luther’s death. As a student in Cambridge, Erasmus was one of his favourite authors, but it was Luther who drew his attention to the Scriptures.

He found favour with the king in 1529, when he suggested that the king’s divorce was a problem to be settled by theologians and not by canon lawyers. The king sent Cranmer as his representative to the Italian universities and to the Emperor. In Germany, he made his Lutheran connections, and married a niece of Andreas Osiander of Nuernberg.

When Cranmer returned to England, he left his wife behind in Germany and became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. One of his first acts as Archbishop was to declare Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon void and to validate his marriage to Anne Boleyn. After Cranmer’s consecration, Latimer’s fortunes changed, and he became Bishop of Worcester, in succession to four Italian absentee bishops who had been placed in the diocese, one after another.

In 1534, Henry VIII formally repudiated the authority of the Pope. Latimer began to advise Cranmer and Cromwell on legislative measures, and became the royal chaplain to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. That year, Convocation called for a translation of the Bible into English, and the Ten Articles in 1536 mark the beginning of doctrinal reform. Since Tyndale was considered a heretic, Myles Coverdale was enlisted as the translator of the Bible. His translation, edited by John Rogers, was printed in Antwerp under the pseudonym of Thomas Matthew, and a new edition was published in 1540, with a preface by Cranmer.

Meanwhile, Latimer was forced to resign as Bishop of Worcester when he opposed Henry VIII’s Act of the Six Articles in 1539, and was imprisoned. Cranmer, however, continued to enjoy Henry’s favour until the king’s death in 1547. Henry VIII died before Latimer’s final trial could take place, but Latimer declined to return to Worcester. Instead, he became a court preacher in the court of Edward VI.

The Lutheran influence that was dominant in the early Reformation in England diminished during the reign of Edward VI, when England became a haven for religious refugees, including Martin Bucer from Strasburg, who had once tried to bring Luther and Zwingli together and who influenced Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

Cranmer invited Melanchthon and Calvin to England for a conference to discuss a united confession but that conference never took place. The Lutherans were unfriendly to these exiles because of their denial of the real presence, and the heirs of exiles were among the later Puritans rather than among the Anglicans.

When Edward VI died, his sister, Mary I, came to the throne in 1553. She hated Cranmer, who by annulling the marriage of her mother Catherine of Aragon to Henry VIII had declared her illegitimate.

In 1554, papal commissioners began to examine Latimer, Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley, former Bishop of London. The commissioners tried to demonstrate that Latimer did not share the same faith as the Early Fathers, but Latimer replied: ‘I am of their faith when they say well … I have said, when they say well, and bring Scripture for them, I am of their faith; and further Augustine requireth not to be believed.’

Latimer was burned at the stake in Oxford on 16 October 1555, alongside Nicholas Ridley, outside Balliol College. As the flames rose, Latimer is said to have said to Ridley: ‘Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.’ It was said he ‘received the flame as it were embracing it. After he had stroked his face with his hands, and (as it were) bathed them a little in the fire, he soon died (as it appeared) with very little pain or none.’

Cranmer had outlived Luther. In the hope of saving his life, Cranmer signed a recantation, but he was deceived, and he too was also burned at the stake at the same place in Oxford on 21 March 1556. On the day of his burning, he publicly recanted his recantation, confessed his faith, and thrust into the fire the offending hand that he said had ‘written contrary to his heart.’

Of almost 300 people burned during Queen Mary’s reign, the most famous are the Oxford martyrs. The Martyrs’ Memorial in the city centre, near the site of their execution, commemorates the ‘faithfulness unto death’ of these three martyrs.

Cranmer drew on Lutheran catechisms, litanies, and liturgies as he compiled the Book of Common Prayer, Tyndale gave England its Bible, and Barnes gave it a Lutheran theology. No English denomination ever emerged that could call itself the Lutheran Church. But the 39 Articles were strongly influenced by phrases and sentences in the Augsburg Confession, and the Lutheran imprint is impressed on The Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican form of worship. Like the Lutheran Reformers, Cranmer and his heirs combined music and a polished vernacular prose style to achieve new heights of grandeur in the service of God in worship.

Revd Professor Patrick Comerford
Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Trinity College Dublin.

This feature was published in the February 2017 edition of ‘News from the Pews,’ the Parish Magazine of Killinchy, Kilmood and Tullynakill (Diocese of Down and Dromore), pp 15-18. In his introduction to the magazine, the Rector, the Revd Stanley Gamble writes:

‘Many Christians throughout the world are celebrating 500 years of the Reformation this year … How we understand the Reformation is important because it helps us to make sense of Western philosophy, history and culture. The Reverend Professor Patrick Comerford has a helpful article in this edition of the magazine, which sheds light on how Lutheran thinking and practice influence and shaped Anglicanism. Our thanks to Patrick for this! …’