Marking bicentenary of church funded by board of First Fruits

Roamer’s Christmas and New Year pages over the next fortnight will be taking a traditional, festive look-back at the year that’s shortly coming to an end.

Bangor Air 1910 Postcard
Bangor Air 1910 Postcard

Though it’ll not be altogether traditional as it has, of course, been a very different kind of a year!

Meanwhile, a short postscript to last week’s story about Bangor’s historic hoardings recently erected along the well-trodden coastal path at Brompton Road and Stricklands Glen.

NI Water is currently constructing two new underground wastewater pumping stations at these scenic locations.

History on the Hoardings. Panels along Bangor's Brompton Road site

In a unique collaboration between Bangor’s Seaside Revival Vintage festival, a small team of local historians and NI Water, the safety hoardings around both construction sites have been hung with an exclusive exhibition of old photographs and postcards.

Each image is historically significant to the area, compiled, researched and outlined on the hoardings, and on the project website, by local historian Robin Masefield, with contributions from Betty Armstrong, Ian Wilson and North Down Museum.

Some of the main topics were introduced here last week - the Ladies Diving Board at Skippingstone; Jenny Watt’s Cove; the old Malayan-style Bungalow Tea House at Stricklands Glen; the Girl’s Home of Rest at Brompton Road and the former all-Ireland diving champion and first ever Ladies Captain of Carnalea Golf Club, Marguerite Absolum McMurry.

There are also historic images of the home green at Royal Belfast (now Carnalea) Golf Club, Smelt Mill Bay, and Carnalea Railway Station.

John Woodward with a book of poems

Each display-board has a QR (quick response) code to scan on a smart phone, taking the viewer to the Seaside Revival website for the full stories behind the images, at https://www.openhousefestival.com/seaside-revival/niwaterproject/

The aforementioned postscript to the hoardings concerns a wonderful old postcard which didn’t survive the competitive selection procedure for inclusion in the sea-walk display. But it won’t be neglected, particularly in these trying times when it’s safer to meet up, if you must, in the open.

“Just a sniff of Bangor air makes you frisky, young and fair,” the old 1910 postcard proudly proclaims.

Robin Masefield particularly likes its message, amongst a number of old Bangor postcards on the hoardings. He told me that the note written on the back of the card reads “it’s a pity you weren’t here to get a sniff of this air. I have tried it and it is grand!”

Desertmartin Parish Church

From Bangor’s fresh sea breezes to the invigorating country air of Desertmartin, at the foot of Slieve Gallion in County Londonderry.

“The year 2020 should have been the year that Desertmartin Parish Church celebrated the 200th anniversary of the opening of the current church building,” Honorary Church Secretary Sam Hudson’s email began, adding sadly “the Select Vestry had a series of events planned but Covid-19 put paid to all of those.”

Sam’s note continued “However, during lockdown John Woodward, a churchwarden, has written a book of poems and reflections, with photographs of the church.”

The 69 page book is in full colour and “it’s great,” said Sam “once you start reading it’s very hard to put it down!”

It costs £10 “and will make an ideal Christmas gift,” he added “and all proceeds go to Parish funds.”

He included an outline history of the church in his email, and several of John Woodward’s poems, one opening with the evocatively seasonal lines:

Our lovely wee Church lies quiet and still,

On this cold Winter’s morn at the top of the hill,

Christmas is near, there’s a chill in the air,

There’s a frost on the grass but the sky’s blue and fair.

Desertmartin Parish Church boasts a long and fascinating history. The present church was built in the townland of Dromore in 1820. A loan of £800 was obtained from the Board of First Fruits (fund initiated by Queen Anne in 1711) to finance its construction.

Down the years many alterations and additions have been made.

In 1836 it was enlarged at the Drapers Company’s expense; in 1871 the gallery was removed and in 1892 the Venerable E.J. Hamilton placed reredos (altarpieces) in the chancel. In 1909 the Select Vestry resolved to carry out all the expensive improvements ‘deemed necessary to make the church worthy of its sacred purpose.’

Old wall plaster was replaced with ‘handsome wainscoting’ and pine moulding, and new floors and tiles were laid.

The heating was overhauled, expensive brass oil lamps were donated and hung from the ceiling, and the pulpit was raised and much improved.

The church was regarded as “one of the most handsome in the Diocese.”

In 1951 tilly lamps replaced the oil lamps; electric light was installed in 1966 and the original brass lamps of 1909 were incorporated in the electric system.

The church porch was also renovated in 1966, the church roof was repaired in 1978 and a stained glass east window was presented in 1979. Renovations in 2003 were the most extensive since the church was built, replacing the original pulpit of 1820 as well as the 1909 wainscoting.

Floors, doors and pews were replaced, new windows were installed in the nave, a new organ was provided and the church was completely decorated throughout.

If you’d like a copy of John Woodward’s full-colour book of poems, with all proceeds going to church funds, email Sam at [email protected]