ALBION STREET, WHITEHAVEN—
THE HUNTINGDON CONNEXION
At the end of my page on the early days of Whitehaven's Theatre Royal, and its sneaky triumph over the rival theatre on Albion Street, I pointed the way to the next chapter in the latter's story. Here are some more items from the Cumberland Pacquet newspaper and other contemporary sources, beginning at almost the very moment the Albion Street Theatre was doomed by Royal command.
|The site of the former assembly-room and theatre on Albion Street, photographed in June 2010. The half-demolished building seen here was probably purpose-built as a warehouse on the site of the former theatre.|
Cumberland Pacquet, 26 Nov 1782:
"We hear the Countess of Huntingdon has lately extended her pious plan of religious instruction, by sending clergymen, at her own expense, to several remote parts of the kingdom. The public will pronounce variously on the expediency of the measure; but some credit is certainly due to her ladyship's disinterestedness. One of her chaplains has preached thrice in the Meeting-house in Charles-street." [this was a Baptist chapel, on a now-vanished street up the hill near St. James's church]
Cumberland Pacquet, Tue 25 Feb 1783:
"Yesterday the Rev. Mr. Derby (one of the Countess of Huntingdon's chaplains) preached at three o'clock in the afternoon, and at seven in the evening, in the Theatre in Albion-street. A decent pulpit was erected on the stage, and every part of the house crouded with auditors. The preacher made some ingenious remarks on the change the place had undergone, and gave notice that he would preach again on Wednesday evening."
Cumberland Pacquet, 11 Mar 1783:
"We hear that the Theatre in Albion-street is taken by the Rev. Mr. Derbyshire, (the Countess of Huntingdon's Chaplain) for one year, to be employed as a chapel; the public preachings are on Wednesdays and Sundays, and are attended by great numbers of people; the congregation on Sunday evening amounted to upwards of eight hundred."
The early days of the Albion Street chapel under the Rev. J. Derbyshire, in 1783, were somewhat controversial. We continue with two rather uncharitable letters on the subject from the Cumberland Pacquet, and the response from the preacher:
Cumberland Pacquet, 4 Mar 1783:
"Without offering any violence to the intentions of the Countess of Huntingdon and her missionaries, there are (says a correspondent) some particulars in the conduct of the preacher in Albion-street, which warrant the animadversions of many well-disposed people. He is a Deacon in the Church of England, and, at his ordination, made a solemn promise to use (in his public ministration) the Liturgy of that Church, and none other. He received authority from the Bishop by whom he was ordained, to read the Scriptures publicly, and to preach, if licensed thereto by the Bishop himself.- He does not use that Liturgy, which is a breach of that obligation, and it is a doubt (which indeed it may be in his power to satisfy) whether he is licensed to preach. Besides these, he uses public preaching, &c. during the hours that the churches are open for the celebration of Divine Service. As a minister of the Church of England, how can he reconcile these seeming inconsistencies?"
Cumberland Pacquet, 4 Mar 1783:
"A correspondent, who heard the Albion-street preacher declare in public, that the Countess of Huntingdon had purchased the Pantheon in London, and that it made a very good preaching-house; wishes to know whether the masquerade with which it opened last Thursday evening, was under the direction of her ladyship?"
Cumberland Pacquet, 18 Mar 1783:
"To the Printers of the Cumberland Pacquet.
WITHOUT offering any violence to your correspondent, though his intentions seem to merit the most severe reproof, there are some particulars in his conduct * that call for my attention. He says that I am a Deacon in the Church of England, for which we have his ipse dixit. He may be a deacon for what I know; but he appears to be a dunce by his writing. He says that I, at my ordination, made a solemn promise to use, in my public ministration, the Liturgy of that church, and none other. He further observes, that I received authority from the bishop by whom, &c.- I observe the note of interrogation at the paragraph in question. I cannot solve some mens doubts, but I am happy to answer that I have it in my power to keep the door of the Albion-street Chapel open, for public preaching, and that while the doors of the established church are open for the celebration of divine service, for the comfort of my hearers, my own safety, and the glory of God; and I am persuaded there is not any good person who will be offended at this, but rather rejoice to hear it; no, not any will be offended except a few ungodly correspondents.
He says I do not read the liturgy; but he did not hear me advance any thing contrary to it, or inconsistent with it; and it is now become so common to read the liturgy, and immediately preach contrary to it, that persons are led to believe there is not any thing worth their notice, either in the liturgy, or in preaching. The effect of this inconsistency, upon our hearers, is much to be lamented; therefore I have thought proper not to read it at all.
In answer to your second correspondent's paragraph concerning the Pantheon in London, I say that I advanced nothing but the truth. The Countess of Huntingdon did purchase the Pantheon in London, and it makes a very good preaching house. But it did not open with a masquerade, as he mentions. There are no such scenes under her ladyship's direction. Should there be another Pantheon in London, (as I do not doubt but there is) I suppose this correspondent knows more about it, than he does about the liturgy and scriptures before mentioned; and I believe, by the question asked, he would much rather have been there, than at Albion-street Chapel, hearing me preach. You, Correspondents, will very soon wish that you had never attended such places; I wish it be not too late first.
Should these correspondents be priests or deacons, I will gladly join them to pray for, and administer to the inhabitants of Whitehaven, and its environs, as an humble minister of Jesus Christ, under the Countess of Huntingdon. And now the questions are answered, and, Gentlemen, I hope, you are satisfied; and in love to your never-dying sould, I shall pray for you, and subscribe myself
The Albion-street Preacher"
*[At this point the paper's editor inserted the explanatory note: "(says the Albion-street preacher)"]
The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion continued to use the Albion Street not just for one year, but for a decade, and it wasn't the only one in the area. A chapel had been opened at Bootle in 1780:
Cumberland Pacquet, 25 Mar 1783:
"We hear that Mr. Whitridge, silk-mercer in London, who lately built the chapel at Bootle (the place of his nativity) and a house for the accommodation of a minister, has endowed the same with thirty pounds a year, for the present, and settled it upon six persons in trust; and several members of that congregation have contributed liberally to make an addition to the stipend. There is also a handsome Organ coming down from London, for that chapel.
Mr. Whitridge has also made the Albion-street Preacher a present of six dozen of Bibles, for the use of Albion-street Chapel."
According to The Life and Times of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon by "A member of the Houses of Shirley and Hastings" [Aaron Seymour] (1840)
"The first minister settled over this congregation [at Bootle] was Mr. Derbyshire, one of the students from Lady Huntingdon's College at Trevecca. The Rev. Daniel Gray, another of the students, was likewise stationed here in 1782."
Evidently, it was this change of incumbent which enabled Derbyshire to commence his work in Whitehaven. The sting in the tale, however, is that that was not, seemingly, what the Countess had intended. To quote the same book, which transcribes some of Lady Huntingdon's original correspondence:
"On the 6th of October, 1783, her Ladyship wrote thus to Mr. Derbyshire from Bath ; it alludes to his opposition to Mr. Jones : —
" I was much surprised at your letter, dated Whitehaven, Sept. 27. My direction to you, and agreeable to your own request, was to abide at your own home, and study a year there ; and being excused by me going to College. This I agreed to, and added that the best time might be found for your going to the North by that means. Or to this purpose ; but I find you are going to set up altar against altar, and to oppose a brother student, and one I had for the work when you left it without any one. Mr. Jones, from fourteen years' experience of his grace, gifts, and abilities for the ministry, and I must add the most faithful, affectionate, and diligent labourer that I ever had, and the most disinterested one — I most lament you could find no one but him to choose thus to act so improperly by. If you do mean to oppose the Connexion, be open, or make peace as a Christian. Your hard sayings of Mr. Jones have no weight with me. I know him too well to receive a testimony passion, prejudice, &c., gives of him, and one so late in the work as you have been; and above all, that the large congregations you said that you had preached to in Staffordshire, were to be left; and you wanting my student Thorns to attend your wife to Whitehaven, and to abide there. The leaving the congregation in Staffordshire, and never applying to me for their being supplied, cannot be right to those poor people; and as to Thorns being allowed by me to go into the North, I on no account would admit of it. Gray is returned; John Williams is ordered for Bootle this winter, and I mean not to call Mr. Jones, as the most pressing requests from Whitehaven engage my wishing him to have yet a longer stay. I am sorry you have acted so improperly as to have occasioned this contention in the work; had you waited till Mr. Jones had been removed, all these miserable evils might have been prevented, and not have caused those offences that will follow; and my settled desires are that you should go into Staffordshire and take care of those large congregations you preach to; and when you leave for the North, to have a proper student sent in your place till your return ; and thus both works taken care of, is all that can be done for the good and benefit of all, and much the best for yourself, as it is needful these present disturbances among the people should subside, and our best and universal service be given them, as on other parts of the plan. I think you shall get Messrs. Gray and Williams, and consider with them in prayer, to settle matters in a truly Christian spirit, and let them see this letter of mine, as I can only wish and pray for the mutual blessing of all ministers and people; but to support division in our own work, is not only wicked but highly unjust to my students, who have been found years faithful in the work, and who claim my utmost regard. Your offering Mr. Jones money, as you mentioned, greatly surprised me. He laboured for the people; and surely you could have no right to be his paymaster while the labourer was, without you, worthy of that which was liberally given for him, and you have received. I am sorry in these matters I cannot approve your conduct, but will hope, when you well consider, matters may be healed among you, and you leave the place for a season, as I have before mentioned; wishing ever to remain your truly faithful friend,
To Mr. Jones, who was then at Whitehaven, her Ladyship wrote on the 8th of October, 1783 : —
" I have just received your letter, which has occasioned me great uneasiness on your account, but hope before this you will have received my letter, and should not Derbyshire remove on the receipt of my letter to him (the copy of which I wrote in mine to you), he cannot continue with me; and I hope you don't think it possible I could suffer any one to treat you with any ill usage, and therefore he must know how highly I am offended with him, and to oppose you must be so bad a spirit as I will not suffer. I would have Gray and Williams signify to the people how much I resent your being opposed, and for this end I write to them both this post, to go over and assure the people of my resolutions, that he, Derbyshire, must leave the Connexion, if he does not leave Whitehaven directly. The Cross is what you and I must meet with, and I don't doubt from your faithful attention to the Lord, and your as faithful conduct through all to me and the whole Connexion, but he will not only deliver you with honour to yourself, but add very much honour, and many blessings to your labours. Let us bear, my good Jones, for his sake, all we can meet with, and though in so close a quarter, as one that ought to be a brother, yet be assured he will confound first and last the evil-doers. Don't fail to let me hear from you, as I shall be exceeding uneasy, and keep but your ground, fearing nothing; and may the Lord strengthen you for the battle, and believe me, as ever, your truly faithful and affectionate friend,
By the same post, Lady Huntingdon wrote to the same purpose to the Rev. Mr. Gray at Kendal, and Mr. Williams at Bootle, desiring them to go to Whitehaven on Mr. Jones's behalf; but the substance of this letter is implied in the above. To Mr. Nicholson, one of the congregation, she wrote, also recommending a general meeting for the restoration of peace at Whitehaven ; and on the 29th January she again addressed Mr. Jones, who was still at Whitehaven." [letter not quoted]
About this internal controversy the Cumberland Pacquet remains, as far as I can tell, entirely silent, and no biography of Lady Huntingdon reveals the outcome. What is known, however, is that the Albion Street chapel prospered, and closed only when it was replaced by a new chapel on Duke Street in 1793. The plan here is based (with some modification from the first edition of the Ordnance Survey) on a Whitehaven town plan surveyed in 1790 by J. Howard, best known for its inlcusion in Hutchinson's History of Cumberland, 1794.