The Church Through The Ages
Historians assure us that there were monastic foundations, in the vicinity of the present Parish Church, dating from at least the fifteenth century and that a place of worship was in existence possibly as far back as 1306, when it is believed to have been the site of a Franciscan Monastery. They constituted an order of mendicant friars founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209. However, the first definite mention of a Church is in 1598. A map of Ulster, made at that date and now in the possession of the British Museum, has “Lambeg Church” clearly marked. Besides this, a tombstone bearing the date 1626, has been discovered in the Churchyard.
The fate of the original small church is uncertain, but, it is reported to have been in a ruinous condition before the beginning of the Civil Wars, which marked the end of the reign of Charles 1 (1649). In 1657 the Parish of Lambeg became part of the Parish of Blaris and up until the building of the new church the workings of the Parish were the responsibility of the clergy in Lisburn.
The parish of Lambeg is not large though it lies in two counties, Antrim, where the Church is situated, and Down.
The year 1737 is an important date in the history of the Parish. On September 25th of that year, Dr Francis Hutchinson, Bishop of Down and Connor, consecrated “the Chapel of Lambeg” and licensed a Mr Arthur to the curacy. The Church was an oblong building, measuring sixty feet in length by eighteen and a half feet wide. It accommodated a congregation of less than 200. The only part of it remaining is the tower, which was then surmounted by a wooden cupola complete with weathercock.
The Church was completely rebuilt, with the exception of the tower in 1849 in the incumbency of the Rev. Alexander Orr. This was necessitated by the rapid growth of the population with the expansion of the linen industry. The old church was too small and could accommodate little more than one-fifth of the parishioners. The man appointed to the task was the celebrated architect Mr Butterfield. His design amalgamated the tower of the old Friary, opening it into the west end of the church as a baptistry.
Just before the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1870, the new church had to be enlarged to a seating capacity of 480 by the addition of a South aisle. The east end of this aisle was used as a chancel up to 1902 when at that date the old chancel was brought back into use.
The pulpit, sanctuary chairs and lectern were the gift of the then Rector, the Rev. Chancellor Banks, whose long incumbency dates from 1877 to 1929. The present organ, erected in the east end of the South aisle in 1903, is the work of Messrs.Conacher and cost £418. The church bell, purchased from Ballymena Parish in 1895, was cast in 1866.It weighs 12cwt. The Sexton’s house was built at a cost of £210.
The Churchyard was extended in 1921 through a gift of land from Sir Milne Barbour. Over one and a half acres were added and new paths laid. New entrance gates were erected in 1924 and later a second entrance with a broad avenue leading to the church was made. There are many old graves and gravestones in the Churchyard, the oldest dating to 1626 and reading “Here lyeth the body of Margaret Wilson, wife of Donnell Savage, who departed this life the 24 April 1626”.
In 1933, electricity was installed in the church and in 1949 the interior was redecorated.The Parochial Hall, which was opened in 1937, was a fitting conclusion to a long series of efforts, dating back to 1922, to raise funds for the project. It includes a main and minor hall, committee room , kitchen and cloakroom accommodation. It is conveniently situated at the west end of the Churchard.In 1946 the derequisitioned school at Tullynacross was presented to the Parish by Sir Milne Barbour for to be used as a Sunday School as well as for other Parish purposes.
When the old school on Church Hill was demolished a car park was constructed in 1955. A gift enabled toilet accommodation to be built in the carpark. The new Rectory was completed in 1957 at a cost of £5900 much of which was offset by the sale of the previous Rectory and land. The original Rectory dated from 1823.
The Parochial Hall was extended in 1964 at a cost of £5000 and in 1967 the church roof was re-slated, major repairs were made to the fabric of the building with new floor covering, new lighting and complete redecoration of the interior. The cost was £8600. A new robing room adjoining the chancel was built in 1969 and the boilerhouse was converted to an oil fired system.
In 1976 the stonework of the Church underwent major renovation at a cost of some £17000 and in subsequent years expense in the region of £50000 was incurred in the rewiring and renovation of the Church. Rectory, Parochial Hall and Tullynacross Hall. In addition, new driveways were laid in the Churchyard and the Chancel Window was rebuilt.
Major works to stop damp invading the baptistery in the historic tower of Lambeg Parish Church began in 2016.
For many years the historic Lisburn church, which dates to 1737, has suffered from ingress of moisture in the baptistery and numerous attempts to correct this have failed. The baptistery is housed in the church tower which is the oldest part of the present building, having been completed some 279 years ago.
In 2015 an application was made to the Government-sponsored Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund and was awarded £20,000 towards a major project to repair the ineffective rainwater disposal system in the tower. The Select Vestry and parishioners of Lambeg Parish Church are most grateful for this government assistance.
Having received professional advice on the project from Chris McCollum, Building Conservation Surveyor, Dungannon, and following a tender process, the contract was awarded to J S Dunlop Ltd of Ballymoney.
The work, which commenced in April 2016, consisted of raking out all of the old pointing in the tower walls, pumping in grout to seal off the voids and fissures in the centre of the old walls, and then re-pointing the surface again.
Special mixtures of grout were used and in all it took some 91 bags to seal off all of the internal voids discovered in the ancient structure. The ledges on the tower were also sealed to give protection from the elements and a new storm glaze cover erected to protect the stained glass window.
The Hilden Centre. The Lambeg parish area also includes the Hilden Centre at Hilden. Prior to 1911, a Sunday school for the children of Hilden district was held in the canteen dining room of the Hilden Thread Mill factory. In 1911, Mr. J. Milne Barbour, Managing Director built the E.M.B. as a memorial to his wife Elise Milne Barbour and on 18th February 1912, it was handed over and vested in the Session of Railway Street Presbyterian Church. In 1996 it was sold to Lambeg Parish to be used for Church extension work. The E.M.B. hall was later demolished and The Hilden Centre was built on the same site. The E.M.B. Hall was later demolished and The Hilden Centre, built on the same site, was opened in 2001. Mrs Pat Harvey, who was appointed Pastoral Assistant in charge of the Hilden Centre in May 2000, retired in July 2008.
The industrial ‘face’ of the Parish has changed greatly in recent decades with the demise of the linen industry and the disappearance of many of the mills and associated premises. However, these have been replaced by modern light industry ranging from the manufacture of soft drinks to Computers and business centres.To-day Lambeg parish ministers to some 450 families, the majority of whom actually reside outside the geographical boundaries of the parish.Much has changed during the centuries of it’s history, but it’s task remains the same – to extend God’s Kingdom in the hearts and lives of it’s people and to encourage worship in His house.
Rectors since 1805
Rev.Thomas E. Higginson 1805 – 1810
Rev James Morewood 1810 – 1826
Rev Robert W.Rowan 1839 – 1841
Rev Canon CharlesLett 1841 – 1847
Rev Alexander Orr 1847 – 1860
Rev Thomas Cosgrave 1860 – 1871
Rev Thomas Hobson 1872 (3 months)
Rev William S Ross 1872 – 1874
Rev George Yeates 1874 – 1877
Rev Chancellor Banks 1877 – 1929
Rev William J Parr 1930 – 1953
Rev Canon R E W Thornton 1953 – 1959
Rev Canon S H McElhinney1959 – 1974
Rev Canon R H Lowry 1974 – 1989
Rev Canon Ken McReynolds 1989 – 2016
Rev. Edmund Coulter 2016 –