A Street Through Time: Clifton Street Presbyterian Church

Clifton Street Presbyterian Church was the earliest Church to be built on Clifton Street, completed in 1863. The Church aimed to provide an alternative worship space for the oversubscribed Presbyterian congregation, in the nearby Academy Street Church. This in an indicator of the level of Presbyterian piety that existed in inner-city areas at the time. The Clifton Street Church was designed on the corner of Stanhope Street by iconic Belfast architects Young and Mackenzie. They would later use this design as a template for the United Clifton Street Presbyterian church on the opposite side of the road.

   The first minister of the Church was Reverend John Mecredy, whose enthusiasm and commitment to temperance defined much of his reputation. Accordingly, Mecredy is described as being ‘an ardent advocate of the most extreme principle of temperance and the most rigid purity in public worship’.[1] Nevertheless, his kind and devoted character was also noted in the media in the aftermath of his death. Mecredy both worked and lived within the North Belfast community, as his manse (home) was built next door to the Clifton Street Church. After Mecredy’s death, Reverend Samuel Thompson succeeded the position. Thompson served the church faithfully for 36 years, up to his retirement in 1924. He was a popular and personable pastor which may have contributed to his Church’s continued high attendance at a time where the influence of other inner-city churches was dwindling. One Belfast journalist notes, in 1917, that attendance in inner city congregations are ‘not so large as in suburban Churches’.[2] Nevertheless, he notes a ‘very good congregation in Clifton Street’.[3] Following the retirement of Reverend Thompson in 1924, the position was passed to Reverend Joseph Cordner, then in 1939 to Reverend H.H. Aitchison. It was under Aitchison’s stewardship that tragedy would strike!

Site of the Presbyterian Church today

   On the 15th April 1941, German bombs struck Clifton Street during the Belfast Blitz, the church and manse took a direct hit and were destroyed. Eagar to continue providing spiritual guidance during the troubling times of war, the Church conducted combined services with the United Clifton Street Presbyterian Church from the following month, in its unaffected building across the road.[4] Thereafter the churches were combined and the ground of the former Clifton Street Presbyterian Church lay vacant for many years. For a short time, shops were built on the area but none with lasting effect. In 2019 social housing plans were approved for the site, including four houses and six apartments. The development has recently been completed and promises to breathe life into an otherwise functional area of the city.

[1] Witness, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0004299/19170223/129/0007?browse=False, 23rd February 1917.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19410517/192/0002?browse=False, 17th May 1941.

Members Involved