History of the Church
This House was built in the year of our Lord 1787 which was the 21st year of the Rev Moses Neilson’s ministry in this place.
This is the inscription on the stone above the entrance door on this historic old meeting house which was opened for worship on the 3rd Sunday in December 1787.
This history of the Rademon congregation goes back to 1713 when the first church was erected as a daughter church of 1st Saintfield ( Tonaghneave) when the presbyterians of Kilmore,
being at an inconvenient distance from Ballynahinch and Saintfield and withall numerous and respectable determined to build a house for the purpose of Presbyterian worship in their own Parish.
This first house, which was probably a simple wood and thatch construction lasted about 10 years.
A second meeting house which was more substantial, remains of walls can still be seen on the site, lasted until the present house was built.
Rademon has been described by Denis O D Hanna, the noted authority on this type of building as
an excellent example of early Ulster Barn Church.
This type of architecture is common in Scotland and is of special interest to architects and archaeologists as it is the predecessor of the Presbyterian Palladian Meeting House.
Very few examples of the fine vernacular style remain but Rademon is perfect in all its details in fact, it may be said to be one of the last examples in the Province which has not suffered at the hands of the Renovators.
The building is unique in that it is a T shaped building containing a balcony on each arm of the T. These balconies can only be entered by outside stone steps.
In all there are seven entrances to the building, the three gallery entrances, three ground floor doors at each end of the arms of the T and the main entrance beside the pulpit. From Historical records it would appear that the pulpit, which is raised between two stairways is also original.
Two years after the opening in 1787, an eight-day clock which strikes every hour was installed. Made by Johnston of Comber, simple and accurate to this day it remains in good working order. Although it was installed opposite to and on the same level as the pulpit and therefore in plain view of the preaching Minister it did not always help to shorten the old time customary long sermons.
The congregation celebrated the bi- centenary of the unique old meeting house and Mr Hanna’s comments were still very relevant. The Committee and members have seen to it that the character of the church has been maintained. The fabric of the building has been kept in excellent repair, a duty lovingly and willingly carried out by a small congregation and their friends. Nevertheless the alterations necessary to keep a place with modern living have been carried out, no longer do we depend on oil lamps for lighting, electricity was installed in 1954. Nor do we depend on wood and coal-fired “Pot Belly” stoves for heat an automatic oil-fired heating system ensures comfort for the worshippers.
These two major changes apart from the building is essentially the same today as it was 300 years ago. Most of the windows are original and indeed nearly all contain some panes of original hand-made glass.
Communion for the members is held twice yearly and here again historical links with the first ever congregation are maintained by the use of the old pewter communion plate and cups and the sacrament being served at long tables erected in the aisles of the church.
During the 300 years Rademon has been served by twelve Ministers, the most famous of these being the Rev Moses Neilson 1767 – 1823 who established the Renowned Rademon Academy where many notable scholars were educated. Indeed it is reported that 30 – 40 Parish priests and numerous Presbyterian Ministers were educated during the Rev Neilson’s ministry at Rademon.
It is known, from records that 150 years ago the membership of Rademon congregation was made up of 150 families which meant 600 – 700 actual members.
A brief history of the church and congregation was produced by Rev David Stewart in 1932. This little book covers the years from the formation in 1713 to 1831 when the congregation was split on theological and political beliefs. From 1931 to the present very little has been written on the life of the congregation certainly nothing was required to be written about the meeting house, as substantially it remains the same today as it was 300 years ago.
Moving forward to 1996 the restoration of the east wing was started and completed in 1998 and dedicated to the memory of the Rev William Frame our Minister in charge for some 12 years. During this renovation it was discovered that although the building looked in good condition on the surface a lot of the timbers in the roof and floors were in very poor condition. The restoration of the east wing cost about £16,000 this money was raised by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust and the DOE Historic Building Fund which left the congregation to raise about £8,000 – A task that the ladies of the congregation gladly under took.
The Restoration of the rest of the meeting house was started in the year 2000 and completed in 2002 and dedicated by our minister then moderator the RT Rev Sam Peden. Funds for this undertaking were provided by DOE Historic Building £90,000, Heritage Lottery £225,000 and the rest as usual provided by the Ladies of the congregation. In all about £350,000 was spent and we now have the building in pristine condition and restored to its former glory.
A More detailed Historical Record composed by Jim Ferris is available on CD from the Church Secretary.