Early History of St. Bartholomew’s
The name “Stranmillis” comes form the two Irish words; ‘Struthan’ (stream) and ‘milis’ (sweet). Until late in the 19th century, the Stranmillis Road was a country road with hedges and green fields stretching to the River Lagan and the first lock on its canal, along which barges were towed to Lough Neagh.
In 1899 the horse trams had reached Ridgeway St. This encouraged a building boom in the surrounding district from Friar’s Bush to Mount Pleasant involving both sides of the Stranmillis Road.
The area was within the Parish of St. Thomas on the Lisburn Road. In 1906 a lease was taken on a hall, [approximately where the Centra shop presently stands on the corner of Stranmillis Park], which was the property of Fisherwick Presbyterian Church. A Sunday school and some weekday activities were held there.
Later a site was purchased at the corner of Pretoria St. [where the Stranmillis Evangelical Presbyterian Church is now]. This was to enable the Select Vestry of St. Thomas’s to erect a building rent free. Soon after a Hall was built to the status of a District Church and the Minister appointed was the Rev. Herbert Lindsay, who was one of the assistant clergy in St. Thomas’s. The new church was dedicated by Dr. C. F. D’Arcy, Bishop of Down, Connor & Dromore on Easter Day 1913.
This building was in use as the Church until 1930 and after the opening of the new Church further down the road it continued in use as the Parochial Hall.
In 1918 the new Parish of St. Bartholomew’s was created, [incorporating portions of St. Thomas’s & St. John’s Malone], and was raised to full parochial status in April 1919, the inaugural services taking place on Sunday 27th April 1919. The new Rector, Rev Lindsay, who had been in charge since the inception of St Bartholomew’s preached his first sermon as Rector on Sunday 11th May 1919.
The Pretoria St. site also included a portion of land extending behind the present building down to what we refer to as the start of the older houses in Pretoria St. The new Parish grew very rapidly & by the early Twenties it was felt that a larger church building was required. Consideration was given to extending the building, but that was rejected as it was felt this could prove too small as well. By chance a 2 acre site became available on the corner of Mount Pleasant and the Stranmillis Road in 1925, and a lease was taken on this and subsequently purchased with the aid of 11 guarantors. The cost being met eventually by the Parish and it was subsequently vested in the Representative Church Body. The foundation stone was laid on 9th February 1929, with the Church being consecrated on the 13th September 1930 by Dr. C. T. F. Grierson Bishop of the United Dioceses. To help reduce the debt at the time the land behind the Pretoria St Hall was sold for building the newer houses at the top of Pretoria St and also a portion of the land fronting onto the Stranmillis Road between the present Church and Sandymount St. was also sold for housing which left an area of land to the back used for allotments, besides having 2 tennis courts!
By the end of the 1950’s it became clear that the old Church Hall was not suitable for the increasing number of parochial activities. So a new Hall and Rectory were built on the land adjacent to and behind the St. Bartholomew Church. These premises were opened for use in 1963, which was during the incumbency of the Rev. W. J. McCappin.
Meantime the old Hall at the corner of Pretoria Street was still in use, but around the time of Rev. McCappin’s departure about 1970 the old Hall was sold to help reduce the debt still outstanding from building the new Hall/ Rectory at Mount Pleasant. It was felt appropriate to sell the property on for use as a place of worship rather than for other purposes. To-day it remains the site of the Stranmillis Evangelical Presbyterian Church but in the last 18 months the old hall has been demolished and replaced by a modern purpose built worship centre.
An updated and abridged version of “A History of Stranmillis, Belfast” by Dr H. F. Selwood Lindsay (1968)
Rectors of St Bartholomew’s
Canon H.O. Lindsay 1919-1958
Right Reverend W.J. McCappin 1959-71, latterly Bishop of Connor
Canon E.H. Gough 1971-1985
Very Reverend G.B. Moller 1986-2001, latterly Dean of Connor
Reverend Dr R. Elsdon 2002-2013
Canon T.K.D. Graham 2013-present