A brief history of the First Presbyterian Church in Banbridge
When the Presbyterians first built their own churches across Ulster in the years following 1668, the parishes were often very large, especially in the districts where the Scots population was more thinly spread. Only at the end of the century and beyond was the size of parishes reduced and new congregations founded to meet the needs of growing towns and villages, and of the growing population in general. This was the case in Banbridge.
The people living in and about that town were connected with the congregation of Magherally whose meeting house was then in the townland of Drumneath. In 1716 they decided to press for a church of their own. The issue was debated at length at meetings of the General Synod in 1716 and 1717, where Samuel Henry pleaded on behalf of Banbridge that the congregation be continued there “it not being practicable for them to go elsewhere in winter, because of the great waters.” In any case the people of Banbridge did not wait for the official decision, but had gone ahead in 1716 to build their new church at what has since become known as “The Old Meeting House Green” on the Lurgan Road. The Synod bowed to the inevitable and instructed the Rev Samuel Young, the minister of Magherally, to preach alternately in the two churches. In 1718 Mr Young resigned his charge, in order to emigrate to America, and the people of Banbridge prepared to call a minister of their own.
The choice fell upon Archibald Maclaine who was Ordained there on 26th April 1720. He was an active member of the “Belfast Society” and doubtless shared in the discussions there that did so much to shape the thinking of the Non-Subscribers. His brother Alexander was later to become minister of the Non-Subscribing congregation in Antrim, and it seems clear that Maclaine sympathised with, if he did not fully share, the opinions of the Non-Subscribers. It is notable that from 1725 until the end of his ministry in 1740 the congregation was connected with the Presbytery of Killyleagh, probably the most liberal Presbytery remaining within the General Synod. There were significant in that they showed a “new light” or liberal tradition within this congregation, which would come to the fore once again in the 1820’s.
The Rev James Davis was Ordained in Banbridge on 23rd March 1814. At that time the Presbyterian Church in Ireland was a fairly broadly based denomination and contained many ministers and congregations of liberal sympathies. As the outcome, however, of a prolonged campaign spearheaded by the Rev Henry Cooke, the General Synod of Ulster took steps to ensure that in the future Non-Subscribers and kindred spirits would have no place within the church. James Davis took a leading part in the fight of the Non-Subscribers against this process. When, in the course of 1828, it become obvious that the Non-Subscribers were being overwhelmed and would have to withdraw, it was Davis who penned the document of protest, known as the Remonstrance and from which the “Remonstrant Synod of Ulster” was shortly to take its name.
His involvement in this proved unacceptable to a group of the more conservative members of his congregation who withdrew, and on the 5th August 1828 applied to the Presbytery of Dromore to be erected as a new congregation. This was the origin of the congregation now known as Scarva Street. In the following year Mr Davis and his congregation broke away from the General Synod of Ulster and became part of the Remonstrant Presbytery of Armagh. In May 1830 the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster met for the first time and the new denomination was inaugurated.
These years must have been a difficult time for James Davis and his congregation. Nevertheless the high personal esteem in which the minister was held locally did much to ease the worst of the conflict. Part of the proof of this must be in the large and impressive meeting house which was opened on the 6th October 1846. The size and quality of the building must reflect a congregation that had continued both large and wealthy. Davis died on the 21st July 1847, and was buried in the graveyard at Old Meeting House Green, under the site of his old pulpit.
It is unfortunate that the good work accomplished by Davis was shortly to be undermined by a dispute about the choice of his successor. The man chosen was the Rev John Montgomery, a nephew of Dr Henry Montgomery of Dunmurry. It is not apparent what was the exact nature of the objection to Mr Montgomery, but it was sufficiently strong for a substantial body of people to leave the congregation and to found a second Non-Subscribing Presbyterian congregation in the town. The division substantially injured the congregation. The bitter acrimony between the two injured the whole denomination in the eyes of the local community.
Nevertheless the congregation continued numerically strong with 960 individual members in 1850 and 910 in 1858. John Montgomery died in 1867 to be succeeded by the Rev Francis McCammon, and at this period the congregation appeared to be thriving. The Sunday School numbers over 100 pupils, with its own library of over 200 volumes. The Temperance Society and congregational socials were very well attended and for a period beginning in March 1876 the congregation actually employed the Rev HT Basford, formerly of Leicester, as “Missionary Minister.” However numbers continued to fall, standing at something like 650 in 1883.
The congregation continued to present a strong witness in the community, under a succession of ministers, into the twentieth century. The most notable of whom was Rev Percival Godding, who held a prominent position in the town through his keen interest in the work of the British Legion and also such bodies as the Worker’s Educational Association and the Board of Governors of Banbridge Academy of which he was a member for many years. Nevertheless, in spite of all his efforts and his high public profile it proved difficult to reverse the decline in numbers, which dropped from something like 260 members in 1920, the year of his installation, to something under 100 in 1953, the year of his death.
Mr Godding was succeeded by the Rev SL Johnston and then in 1963 by the Rev JW Crozier. However Mr Crozier resigned the charge in 1965 and after a long vacancy it became apparent that Banbridge could no longer support a minister of its own. On the 11th March 1976 the Rev Angus McQ. McCormick, minister of Newry and Warrenpoint, was installed as minister of Banbridge. This linkage was broken when McCormick’s successor the Rev DH Porter resigned his charge of Banbridge in 1989. Following a further vacancy Banbridge was linked with Dromore, and on 24th September 1993 the Rev Angus McQ. McCormick was installed for the second time in Banbridge.
At the present time the congregation, through numerically small, maintains a strong and active witness to the best traditions on Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism in Banbridge, under the care of the Rev Norman Hutton, minister of Newry and Warrenpoint and who was installed as minister in 2001.
The Ministers of the Banbridge Congregation
Educated Glasgow University, 1692. Licensed by the Route Presbytery Ordained as Minister of Magherally 16th February 1703. Ordered by the General Synod in 1717 to preach alternately at Magherally and in the new Meeting House in Banbridge. Resigned his charge in 1718 and emigrated to America. Officiated at Drawyers, Delaware. Died 1721.
Second son of the Rev Archibald Maclaine of Markethill. Educated at Glasgow University, M.A. Glasgow 1713. Licensed by the Armagh Presbytery 1719. Ordained by same Presbytery as Minister of Banbridge 26th April 1720. From 1725 until 1740 Maclaine and his congregation were connected with the Presbytery of Killyleagh. A member of the Belfast Society. Died 23rd February 1740.
Son of James Jackson of Bangor. Educated at Glasgow University 1738. Licensed by the Presbytery of Bangor. Ordained at Banbridge by the Presbytery of Armagh 8th November 1743. Moderator of the General Synod of Ulster 1775. 6th January 1790 the Rev Nathaniel Shaw, his son-in-law was Installed by the Presbytery of Armagh as his Assistant and Successor. Died 26th February 1795.
Fifth son of Robert Shaw of Drumbo. Educated at Glasgow University 1777. Licenced by the Bangor Presbytery 5th November 1782. Taken on second trials with a view to going to America 3rd March 1783. Called to Drumbanagher 1788. Supplied the congregation of Princess Street, Cork, September to October 1788. Received a Call to become Colleague with the Rev Samuel Perrott at Princess Street, Cork on the 8th December 1788. Ordained by the Presbytery of Bangor for Cork 6th January 1789 and constituted an Honorary Member of the Bangor Presbytery at the same time. Took up duty in Cork 21st February 1789. Allowed leave of absence in September 1789 to return north for his marriage with Miss Jackson of Banbridge. Did not return to Cork and resigned his charge there October 24th 1789. Installed at Banbridge by the Presbytery of Armagh 6th January 1790 as Assistant and Successor to his father-in-law the Rev Henry Jackson. Moderator of the General Synod of Ulster 1802-03. Died at Henry Hill, Banbridge 3rd July 1812.
Born 1783, the first son of Robert Davis, Merchant of Kilmore Co. Down. Educated at the Rademon Academy under Moses Neilson and at Glasgow University where he graduated M.A. in 1808. Acted as a private tutor for a time. Licensed by the Dromore Presbytery 4th February 1812. Ordained at Banbridge by the Presbytery of Armagh 23rd March 1814. Ran a classical school in Banbridge. Davis was a noted Non-Subscriber and personally penned the “Remonstrance.” A secession from his congregation founded Scarva Street Presbyterian Church in 1828. In 1829 Davis and his congregation left the General Synod of Ulster and were amongst the founders of the Remonstrant Presbytery of Armagh and the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster. Moderator of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster 1832-1833. New Meeting House built in Banbridge 1846. Died 21st July 1847 and was buried in the graveyard at Old Meeting House Green, under the site of his former pulpit.
Born 21st March 1819, the second son of John Montgomery, farmer of Killead, and the nephew of Rev Henry Montgomery. Educated at Belfast Academical Institution. Licensed by the Remonstrant Presbytery of Templepatrick at Raloo, August 1839. Ordained as Assistant and Successor to the Rev William Porter in the Remonstrant Presbyterian Congregation of Newtownlimavady 8th October 1840. Resigned that charge 1847 on receiving a Call to Banbridge 15th December 1847 by a Committee of the Remonstrant Synod. A portion of the congregation, who did not support his call, withdrew at this time and formed the Second Congregation, in connection with the Presbytery of Antrim. Died of fever, while still minister of Banbridge 28th April 1867.
Home congregation Larne. Educated for the ministry under the Presbytery of Antrim 1838-1843. Ordained at Ballymena by the Presbytery of Templepatrick 15th June 1845. Released from this charge by Presbytery 9th May 1849. Installed at Crumlin by the same Presbytery 21st January 1851. Resigned that charge 5th May 1857. Installed at the First Banbridge by the Presbytery of Antrim 31st December 1867. Moderator Remonstrant Synod of Ulster 1875-1876. Obliged by ill health to retire 22nd July 1885. The Rev Charles Henry Osler was Installed as his Assistant and Successor 10th March 1886. Died 28th October 1886
Charles Henry Osler
Born in Manchester 30th December 1851. Sometime architect. Educated for the ministry at Manchester University and Unitarian Home Missionary Board. Minister at Darwen, Lancashire; Sheffield, Upperthorpe 1881-1886. Installed at First Banbridge by the Presbytery of Armagh 10th March 1886 as Assistant and Successor to the Rev Francis McCammon. Moderator of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster 1888-1889. Resigned his charge of Banbridge 14th November 1890. Changed denomination and conformed to the Church of England. Ordained Curate of Parish Church Halifax, Vicar of St. Thomas’ Claremont, Halifax and Worley near Halifax where he remained until his death 6th April 1915.
Andrew Breakey Hamilton M.A., LL.B.
A graduate of Trinity College Dublin. A student for the ministry under the Presbytery of Antrim. Licensed by that Presbytery 1st April 1891. Ordained at Banbridge by the Presbytery of Armagh 30th April 1891. Moderator of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster 1893-1894. Died while still minister of Banbridge 31st July 1905.
Educated for the ministry at Manchester College Oxford 1900-1903. Minister Pudsey 1903-1905. Ordained and Installed by the Presbytery of Armagh at Banbridge 26th July 1906. Resigned that charge 1912. Minister at Chesterfield 1912-1913; Hasting 1913-1921. Installed at Holywood by the Presbytery of Antrim 15th December 1921. Resigned that charge 1938. Installed at Glenarm by the Presbytery of Templepatrick 27th April 1938. Moderator of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster 1908-1910. Moderator of the General Synod of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland 1926-1927. Resigned his charge of Glenarm and retired 1945. Died at Larne 23rd September 1951.
James Glynne Davies
Born 18th April 1883 at Llanarth Cardiganshire. Sometime Collier. Educated for the ministry at Unitarian Home Missionary College Manchester University 1906-1910. Minister at Aberdare Old Meeting 1910-1913. Installed at Banbridge by the Presbytery of Bangor 8th May 1913. Installed at Banbridge by the Presbytery of Bangor 8th May 1913. Resigned that charge 1919. Installed at Comber by the same Presbytery 14th August 1919. Moderator of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster 1919-1920, 1928-1929, 1936-1937, 1953-1954. Moderator of the General Synod of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland 1929-1930, 1939-1941. Resigned his charge of Comber as from 31st October 1964 when he retired. Died 19th June 1970.
Born Portsmouth 1883. Educated at St. Waeter St, John’s School. Entered Civil Service. Educated for the ministry Home Missionary College and Manchester University 1910-1912. Ordained at Ballyclare by the Presbytery of Antrim 10th July 1912. Saw war service in France 1917-1919, captured 1918. Returned to ministerial duty 1919. Resigned his charge of Ballyclare as from 31st July 1920 on call to Banbridge. Installed at Banbridge by the Presbytery of Bangor 2nd September 1920. Appointed to be Minister-in-charge of Moria by same Presbytery 23rd May 1922. Moderator of that Presbytery 1920-1921; Clerk of Remonstrant Synod 1937; Moderator of that Synod 1924-1925, 1934-1935. Prominent in Royal British Legion; member of Board of Governors Banbridge Academy; Editor of “Challenge.” Died 22nd July 1953, still in his charge of Banbridge and Minister-in-charge of Moria. Buried 24th July Old Meeting House Green, Banbridge.
Scott Little Johnston
Born 24th September 1902 in Edinburgh. After heaving High School he worked as a technician in the University and later in the building trade. Educated for the ministry Unitarian College Manchester and Manchester University 1947-1950. Lay Charge Bury, Chesham 1947-1950, Minister 1950-1952. Minister Old Meeting House Dudley, Worcestershire 1952-1954. Ordained and Installed at Banbridge by the Presbytery of Bangor 24th July 1954. Resigned that charge as from 31st October 1962. Minister Oldham and Manchester, Blackley 1962-1965. Installed at Killinchy by the Presbytery of Bangor 8th October 1965. Resigned that charge 1968 and retired returning to live in Edinburgh. Died in Edinburgh 25th October 1982.
John Wesley Crozier
Became a student for the ministry of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland in 1961. He trained at Manchester College Oxford 1961-1962 and at the Presbyterian College Belfast 1962-1963. He was Ordained and Installed by the Presbytery of Bangor as minister of Banbridge on 6th June 1963. He resigned this charge 31st March 1965. Installed by the Presbytery of Antrim as minister of Ballyclare and Templepatrick with Antrim and Crumlin 30th January 1966. Moderator of the General Synod of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland and of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster 1976-1978. Having resigned his charge of Crumlin on 30th April 1977, he resigned from that of Ballyclare on 31st May 1978 and finally from Templepatrick and Antrim and the ministry of the denomination on 3rd April 1979. He died on the 31st December 1992 and was cremated at Roselawn Crematorium on 4th January 1993.
Angus McQuoid McCormick
Born 18th October 1946. Home congregation Killinchy. Educated for the ministry at Manchester University and Unitarian College Manchester 1967-1971. B.A. Manchester 1970; Queens University Belfast 1971-1974; M.Ed. Manchester University 1984. Ordained and Installed to the charges of Newry and Warrenpoint by the Presbytery of Bangor 30th June 1971. Installed to the charge of Banbridge by the same Presbytery 11th March 1976. Resigned these charges 1977. Chaplain R.N.L.I. 1981 - . Minister at Hyde Gee Cross 1982-1993, with Hyde Flowery Field 1986-1993. Installed to the charge of Dromore by the Presbytery of Bangor 22nd September 1993. Installed to the charge of Banbridge by the same Presbytery 24th September 1993, resigned his charge in May 1999, to return to England.
Desmond Hadden Porter
Born 7th April 1935. Followed a business career in Belfast. Educated for the ministry at that Presbyterian College Belfast 1975-1978. Ordained and Installed to the charges of Newry, Warrenpoint and Banbridge 24th June 1978. Moderator of the General Synod of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland 1987-1989. Resigned his charge of Banbridge 1989. Resigned his charge of Newry and Warrenpoint 22nd March 1993. Minister at Bolton, Halliwell Road and Egerton 1993-until his retirement.
Born 29th July 1943. After almost 33 years in Industry, applied to the Presbytery of Bangor to be considered as a student for the ministry. Educated for the ministry at Queens University Belfast and Belfast Bible College – Advanced Certificate in Biblical Studies 1997. Licenced by the Presbytery of Bangor in May 1997. Installed to the joint charge of Newry and Warrenpoint on 7th November 1997. Appointed minister–in-charge of Banbridge in June 1999 and Installed as minister in February 2001. Moderator of Bangor Presbytery 2001-2003, Moderator of General Synod of the Non Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland 2003-2005 and Clerk of Synod 2009-2013.
Born in September 1974, in South Africa. His ancestors had immigrated to the Cape of Good Hope in 1819 from the Orkney Islands. He was educated through the University of Southern Africa where he completed a Batchelors Degree in Theology, majoring in Church History and Missiology. He then went on to complete a BTh Honours (Missiology) in 2001 and a Masters Degree in Theology in 2006. Accepted as a Probationer Minister in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in 1999, he was ordained in 2004 in Swaziland. He was installed in the Dromore Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in OCtober 2017 and in the Banbridge Non-Subcribing Presbyterian Church in December 2020.