Ref NoUC 2
TitleNew Meeting House, Moor Street (1690 - 1861), subsequently the Church of the Messiah, Broad Street (1862 - 1973), subsequently the Unitarian New Meeting, Ryland Street (1973 onwards)
Date1692 - 1971
DescriptionDue to the size of the collection, the items that form part of UC 2 have been repackaged and boxed, but retained in their original order. Individual items have been labelled with their old (finding) number as well as their new catalogue reference number. This finding number must be given when ordering items from this collection in the secure area at Birmingham Archives and Heritage.
FormatCubic metre
AccessStatusPartially closed (Content)
AdminHistoryThe Lower Meeting congregation had been in existence in Birmingham since the year 1692, following the passing of an Act of Toleration, 1689, which granted increased freedom of worship for Nonconformist congregations. The congregation is believed to have been served by one William Fincher, who had been licensed to preach in 1672. It was founded largely to accommodate the increasing number of Nonconformists who wished to worship in the Old Meeting House (for records of this church see UC 1), but could not due to its insufficient size. Another of its early Ministers, John Sillitoe, married a daughter of William Fincher.

The Lower Meeting's place of worship was apparently situated in a tan-yard in Deritend, which suffered some damage during the rioting of 1715. As the city expanded a new site on Moor Street further west was purchased by the Trustees in 1727 for £40, located on the northern side of a narrow lane which became known as New Meeting Street. The New Meeting House opened in April 1732. In 1764 the Trustees purchased three houses and land situated between the church building and Moor Street. These buildings were subsequently removed to create an open space in front of the chapel.

Little is known about church life during the early years of the congregation as the Vestry Committee minutes do not survive before 1771. During the eighteenth century there was a close connection with the Unitarian church at Coseley, with ministers preaching in alternate chapels each Sunday. Apparently the early minutes were recorded rather casually, with meetings held at a local inn or Freeth's Coffee House in Bell Street. Their main business was to raise money to defray general church expenses and to help other Nonconformist causes. A fund was established for such purposes as early as 1776 (see UC 2/9/1).

Such attempts to foster a sense of solidarity with other Unitarian and Presbyterian congregations appear to be as much a means of survival as Christian charity. The legal position of these loosely-knit congregations was still ambiguous. Individual congregations often faced the hostility of Church-and-King mobs and political and legal institutions and figures that identified Nonconformity with political radicalism and sedition, since many were involved in various political reform movements. This was later demonstrated by the hard-fought efforts of members of the Old and New congregations to seek compensation in the courts following the destruction of both meeting houses during the Priestley Riots of 1791 (see below).

Dr Joseph Priestley joined the New Meeting congregation in 1780, preaching a sermon that year, 'On The Proper Constitution Of A Christian Church', which led to the establishment of a more formally organised Vestry Committee (see UC 2/3/3). He had previously been the minister of the Hospital Street Chapel at Nantwich, Cheshire, between 1758 and 1761. He became minister at the New Meeting House in Birmingham during the turbulent political backdrop of the late 1780s and early 1790s.

Under Priestley, a system was set up at the New Meeting House in which seat holders and subscribers voted annually by ballot for the men who governed congregational affairs. Women were even allowed to vote, albeit by proxy, and the congregation was regarded as one of the most democratic in Birmingham in its system of appointing officials. The fact that a man as radical as Priestley was chosen as minister would suggest that most of the congregation of the New Meeting sympathised with his views.

Priestley's commitment to progressive education is also reflected in further organisational changes at the New Meeting. A Vestry Library was founded in 1781 on the suggestion of Priestley, which included commentaries on the Bible, with new translations sponsored by Liberal Dissenters during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The New Meeting Sunday Schools (see UC 2/12) were established in 1788, the Old Meeting Sunday Schools having been established around the same time (see UC 1/11). The curriculum of these schools was wider than many similar institutions, often embracing secular subjects.

In 1790 Priestley published a new hymn book for the New Meeting, all of which were unfortunately lost when the chapel was burnt down by a Church-and-King mob during the Priestley Riots of 1791 (see catalogue reference for main Priestley papers in UC 2/15 for some background information about the riots). Priestley and his supporters were seen as sympathetic to the French Revolution at a time of growing paranoia about a Napoleonic invasion, and corresponding social, economic and political unrest across the kingdom.

Although Priestley never returned to Birmingham, his work left its mark on the New Meeting congregation and the rest of the town. His belief that personal faith should relate to a citizen's public duty predated the 'Civic Gospel' championed by the likes of the Reverend George Dawson and Joseph Chamberlain half a decade later. Priestley's congregation continued to elect men of a similar outlook to lead them, such as David Jones and John Kentish, both of whom had studied at the radical Hackney College (1786 - 1796).

The most famous of these new preachers was Joseph Toulmin, who spent most of his final years from 1804 - 1815 in Birmingham. Many members of his congregation took to heart Priestley's sermon on 'Habitual Devotion', calling on them to support all radical causes in defence of political or religious freedom and serve their town to create a model for new industrial cities growing across the Midlands and northern England. A Brotherly Society was instituted in December 1796 and a Brotherly Benefit Society founded two years later in 1798, founded in conjunction with other Unitarian congregations (for records of this society see 391175 - 391188 [IIR 28]).

On 13 November 1791 a new temporary chapel was opened on Livery Street (designated the Union Meeting House) for the congregations of the Old and New Meeting Houses to worship in whilst their churches were being rebuilt after the riots. A third chapel for the New Meeting was eventually opened on 22 July 1802 which served a congregation of 1,600, built from brick with a stone front. In 1813 Unitarianism became legal with the passing of the Trinity Act, by which point the New Meeting was beginning to recover and expand. In 1851 there were sittings at the New Meeting for 564 persons and an estimated Sunday morning congregation of 320.

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century the ministers and laity of the church played an active role in the Birmingham Political Union (BPU). Many New Meeting members also became increasingly active in civic administration, and as the nineteenth century progressed the social composition of the New Meeting had correspondingly altered. The skilled artisans and small manufacturers that dominated the Board of Trustees were gradually replaced by wealthier professional men, generally sons of manufacturers who had grown wealthy as the town and its trade expanded. Joseph Chamberlain, later to become a Borough Councillor, Mayor, then a Member of Parliament, was from one of these entrepreneurial families, and had been highly involved member of the church's congregation and a member of its Sunday School Committee (see UC 2/14/9/8).

By the mid-nineteenth century the New Meeting played an increasingly active role in trying to assist Birmingham's poor, many of whom lived in overcrowded and unsanitary slum districts clustered around Moor Street within the proximity of the church. A Domestic Mission had been established in 1840 to help people in their own homes who were either unwilling or too poor to attend church. The mission was based in Hurst Street, was sponsored by the Unitarian Association for the Midland Counties, and continued until its amalgamation with the congregation of the Waverley Road Church (for records of this church see UC 4).

The Fazeley Street Mission was established by the New Meeting in 1844 (see UC 2/4/2). In 1848 a chapel at Lawrence Street was acquired for the Domestic Mission, and Newhall Hill Chapel opened in 1840, which has been regarded as a daughter chapel of the New Meeting. The purpose of these missions was to encourage working-class and pauper children to attend the church's Sunday schools, although there was no attempt to enforce attendance upon those the mission served, whilst generally encouraging people to attend their own local churches, whether Unitarian or not.

In 1861 the New Meeting chapel was sold to the Roman Catholics and the congregation moved to a new building on Broad Street, which was completed in 1862. This new church became the Church of the Messiah, with accommodation for 950 worshippers. It was designed by J.J. Bateman in the early 'Decorated' style, with gabled aisles and a tower with a lofty, banded spire, and was built on arches over the canal. The new school, one of eighteen Protestant Nonconformist schools visited by a government inspector in 1869, provided a nondenominational education to pupils.

The Reverend Crosskey led the church from 1869 until his death in 1893, and proved to be one of most influential ministers of the church since Priestley. Crosskey was a geologist as well as a religious man, and his sermons emphasised a commitment to liberal religion, scientific discovery, and educational reform. He believed religion should demonstrate itself in civic and national activities as well as its spiritual breadth and depth. His congregation included men who at that moment would make a huge impression on local and national life.

Unitarian Liberal families such as the Chamberlains, Kenricks, Nettlefolds and Beales would continue to dominate local government in the city, the Liberal cause preached from pulpits of Nonconformist churches throughout Birmingham by charismatic ministers like George Dawson, minister of another Unitarian congregation, the Church of the Saviour (for records of this church see UC 3).

Under the mayoralty of Joseph Chamberlain (1873 - 1876) Birmingham's Liberal Council introduced far-reaching public works programmes, including municipal provision of gas and fresh water supplies and the passing of an Improvement Scheme, 1875, in which the Council began to tackle central Birmingham's slums. It was in these areas that the New Meeting Ministry of the Poor had already laboured for thirty years, amidst a network of unsanitary tenement courts and back-to-back houses around Lawrence Street, where the mission was based.

The increasingly active phase of church life during the late Victorian period is emphasised in a set of historical notes that survive in the archive (see UC 2/14/9). These show that by the mid-1870s the church organised a number of educational, social and welfare organisations, including a Wednesday Evening Bible Class, Day Schools, Night Schools, Adult Classes, including a Women's Adult Class founded in 1897 (see UC 2/12/3), and a Choral Society. A Congregation Society was also formed in 1886 to provide a social club for its members, and proved to be extremely popular (see UC 2/12/2).

It was in the realm of education that the Unitarian cause made the most impact in the city. Sunday Schools and adult classes had already been established by the Broad Street Meeting long before the passing of the Education Act, 1870, and a commitment to teaching a broader, non-dogmatic curriculum was maintained with the setting up of the Church of the Messiah Day Schools in 1867. The school governors were willing to hand the school over to Birmingham's new School Board, which were now being set up across the country under the new Act (for records of the Birmingham School Board, see SB/B).

Unitarians became worried that the Church of England would establish its hegemony over the teaching of Religious Education in the new schools, and supported the National Education League, whose clerical leader in Birmingham was Dr Dale of Carr's Lane Church, leading to the addition of a principle that allowed parents to take children out of Religious Education lessons, which were to be at the beginning or end of the day. The church supported all manner of public educational initiatives, such as the establishment of the city library, demonstrating the continuing convergence of Nonconformist Unitarian and local government interests. The congregation also supported the Midland Institute and the new University which grew out of the college founded by Sir Josiah Mason near Edgbaston.

By 1892 the Sunday morning congregation at the Church of the Messiah was 432, including 238 school children. The last decades of the nineteenth century marked a high watermark for the Church of the Messiah in terms of the size of its congregation and the influence the church wielded in local life. It experienced the general trend of declining church attendance experienced elsewhere, exacerbated by the impact of the First World War, when people began to question liberal religion and the continual progress of man after the horrors witnessed by returning servicemen.

The questioning of nineteenth century religious convictions, coupled with increased leisure time during the 1920s and 1930s and the passing of more wide-reaching social legislation meant there was less need for religious charities and institutions, whose functions were now being taken over by local government and, increasingly after 1945, the State. Many of the great families who supported the church during its Victorian heyday also moved into new homes in the nearby countryside, or away from the region altogether, maintaining only tenuous links with the church.

During the twentieth century many of the charitable foundations ceased to exist. In a 1939 report the Sunday Schools, Home Mission and Lower Fazeley Street Mission (formerly the New Ministry Mission to the Poor) were still listed, and subscriptions still being paid to them, but the impact of wartime bombing and the movement of the population from the central wards meant that by 1950 none were in active being. Financial pressures meant that the church had enough to do paying to hold on to its Victorian building and pay their minister.

From the 1950s to the 1970s the congregation began to face up to these difficulties, and a new, modern building was opened on Ryland Street in September 1973, whilst reverting back to its old name, the Unitarian New Meeting. A few heirs to the leading Unitarian families remained involved in the church, and one of the new local grammar schools opened in the 1950s bore the name of Byng Kenrick. The church continued to play a role in many civic causes, part of its traditional service to city and county, and continues its role as a Unitarian place of worship to this day at its current location on Ryland Street. Its basic religious principles of worship remain largely as they have always been: ‘We are a loving and caring community that values freedom of belief and religion, worshipping in the heart of Birmingham’.
ArrangementUC 2 Records of the New Meeting House, Moor Street (1690 - 1861), subsequently the Church of the Messiah, Broad Street (1862 - 1973), subsequently the Unitarian New Meeting, Ryland Street (1973 onwards)

UC 2/1 Trustees and Trust Corporation Records
UC 2/1/1 Minutes

UC 2/2 Services of the church
UC 2/2/2 Registers of baptisms
UC 2/2/3 Registers of marriages

UC 2/3 Church government
UC 2/3/1 Minister
UC 2/3/2 Churchwardens
UC 2/3/3 Vestry
UC 2/3/4 Treasurer
UC 2/3/5 Beadle (Chapel Keeper)
UC 2/3/6 General Monthly Meetings of the Congregation
UC 2/3/7 General Annual Meetings of the Congregation
UC 2/3/8 Other church committees
UC 2/3/8/1 Congregational Committee
UC 2/3/8/2 Building Committee
UC 2/3/8/3 Visiting Committee
UC 2/3/9 Special committees and sub-committees

UC 2/4 Membership of the church
UC 2/4/1 Church membership lists
UC 2/4/2 Missionary work
UC 2/4/1 Lawrence Street, later Fazeley Street Domestic Mission

UC 2/5 Printed publications
UC 2/5/1 Church magazines
UC 2/5/2 Printed reports
UC 2/5/2/1 Annual reports
UC 2/5/3 Church guidebooks and published histories
UC 2/5/4 Forms of service
UC 2/5/5 Year books and directories
UC 2/5/6 Church calendars
UC 2/5/7 Miscellaneous printed material

UC 2/6 Church income
UC 2/6/2 Lists of subscriptions
UC 2/6/3 Seat rental accounts
UC 2/6/6 Offertory collections

UC 2/7 Church buildings and grounds
UC 2/7/1 Deeds and legal papers relating to the church site and its grounds
UC 2/7/4 Papers relating to the building and restoration of church building
UC 2/7/5 Papers relating to alterations, minor improvements, and maintenance made to the church
UC 2/7/6 Seats (including registers of pews, grants and licenses)
UC 2/7/7 Church fabric
UC 2/7/10 Miscellaneous material relating to the church building and grounds

UC 2/8 Other church property
UC 2/8/1 Deeds and legal papers

UC 2/9 Charities
UC 2/9/1 Committee for the Management of a Subscription for Raising a Fund for the Relief of Protestant Dissenting Congregations at a Distance
UC 2/9/2 New Meeting Christian Fellowship Fund Society
UC 2/9/3 Mrs Crosskey Fund

UC 2/10 Day Schools
UC 2/10/2 Minutes of the Meetings of the Subscribers of the Church of the Messiah Day School

UC 2/11 Sunday Schools and Home Mission
UC 2/11/2 Minutes and other records of committees relating to the Trustees of the New Meeting and Church of the Messiah Sunday Schools
UC 2/11/2/1 Sunday School Committee
UC 2/11/2/2 Annual General Meetings of the Sunday Schools
UC 2/11/2/3 Church of the Messiah House Mission, later Home Mission
UC 2/11/2/4 Sunday Schools Congregational Society
UC 2/11/2/5 Sunday Schools Centenary Committee
UC 2/11/3 Minutes and other records relating to the meetings of teachers of Trustees of the New Meeting and Church of the Messiah Sunday Schools
UC 2/11/3/1 Sunday School Teachers' Society
UC 2/11/3/2 New Meeting Sunday School Girls' Room
UC 2/11/4 Financial records
UC 2/11/7 Admissions registers
UC 2/11/8 Attendance registers
UC 2/11/10 Miscellaneous Sunday School records

UC 2/12 Other organisations and ministries
UC 2/12/1 Congregational Reading Society
UC 2/12/2 Congregation Society
UC 2/12/3 Women's Adult Class
UC 2/12/4 Recreation Club

UC 2/13 Regional Unitarian organisations and ministries
UC 2/13/1 Dudley Double Lecture
UC 2/13/2 Monthly Meetings of the Protestant Dissenting Ministers of Warwick and Neighbouring Counties
UC 2/13/3 Central Nonconformist Committee, Birmingham
UC 2/13/4 Midland Sunday School Association
UC 2/13/5 Miscellaneous papers relating to the organisations of regional and national Unitarian and other Liberal Churches

UC 2/14 Miscellaneous items

UC 2/15 Manuscripts and printed items relating to Joseph Priestley, formerly at the Church of the Messiah, Birmingham, and now on permanent loan to the Reference Library
Related MaterialArchives:
MS 315 Birmingham Unitarian Brotherly Benefit Society
MS 2027 Copy of address given at the annual meeting of the Unitarian Tract Society 1829
MS 2748 Unitarian Ministers Benevolent Society
UC 1 Old Meeting House, Old Meeting Street (1689 - 1881), subsequently Old Meeting Church, Bristol Street (1885 - 1950)
UC 3 Church of the Saviour, Edward Street (1847 - 1895)
UC 4 Waverley Road Church, Small Heath (1898 - 1921), subsequently Waverley Road Church and Hurst Street Mission, Small Heath (1921 - 1996)
UC 5 Kingswood Chapel, Hollywood, Kings Norton (1712 - present)
UC 6 Birmingham Domestic Mission, Thorp Street (1840 - 1844), subsequently Birmingham Domestic Mission, Hurst Street (1844 - 1890), subsequently Hurst Street Domestic Mission (1890 - 1921)
UC 7 Cambridge Street Chapel (1834 - 1840), subsequently Newhall Hill Chapel, Frederick Street (1840 - 1911), subsequently Newhall Hill Unitarian Church, Villa Road (1911 - 1915), subsequently Newhall Hill Unitarian Church, Gibson Road, Handsworth (1915 - 1961?)
UC 8 Moseley Unitarian Church, Yardley Wood Road, Billesley (1928 - onwards)

Local Studies Reference Collections:
A good soldier of Christ': A discourse in memory of the Reverend John Wilson by Henry W. Crosskey, 1882 [L 18.4]
A letter to the congregation of the New Meeting House by one of its ministers [John Kentish, 1828] [LP 18.4]
Address of the minister of the Laurence Street Mission [LP 18.4]
Birmingham Brotherly Benefit Society annual statements 1942 - 1969 [LF 18.4]
Catalogue of the Vestry Library of the Church of the Messiah, Birmingham, 1898 [L 18.4]
Church of the Messiah, Birmingham, annual reports 1938 - 1970, 1974, 1977 - 1979 [L 18.4]
Church of the Messiah, Birmingham, calendars and newsletters 1900 - 1967, 1972 - 2010 [L 18.4]
Church of the Messiah, Birmingham, Sunday Morning Senior Class programmes 1906 - 1931 [L 18.4]
Collection of sermons relating to the New Meeting House and Church of the Messiah, Birmingham [LP 07.3]
Discourse delivered by Henry W. Crosskey in the Church of the Messiah, Birmingham, January 22nd 1871 [LP 18.4]
New Meeting Ministry to the Poor reports 1845 - 1853 [L 18.4]
CreatorNameNew Meeting House, Moor Street (1692 - 1861)
Church of the Messiah, Broad Street (1862 - 1973)
Unitarian New Meeting (1973 onwards)
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