Newcastle upon Tyne Unitarians and James Martineau – time for a blue plaque?

James Martineau

James Martineau was a philosopher and theologian, a Unitarian Minister – and one of the most influential figures in the history of Unitarianism in the UK. He began his ministry in Dublin in 1828, later moving to Liverpool, then joined the staff of Manchester College in 1840. He was involved with Unitarian affairs nationally, including the passage of the Dissenters’ Chapels Act and opening universities to dissenters without doctrinal tests. What is less well-known is his connection to Newcastle upon Tyne Unitarians.

This was recently explored by our church historian, Maurice Large, in response to a request in the Unitarian magazine, the Inquirer, in November 2018 for details of chapels and fellowships with images of James Martineau. We have one in the Ministers’ Vestry in the church (now better known as the small committee room at the back of the church main hall), which can be seen above. David Wykes, who made the original request, informs us:

“The engraving is by Clara Martineau, wife of Basil Martineau, James’s son. She with her sisters-in-laws, Edith and Gertrude, were all professional artists and they and another Unitarian friends, Helen Allingham, all lived in the same road in Hampstead. Allingham was the most accomplished watercolourist of her day. I don’t think it is the best engraving of Martineau, though it may have been characteristic with his rather unruly hair, but I suppose we should assume it was the one that Martineau liked since he was happy to see it distributed. I would have thought the signature was JM’s. Perhaps the engraving was sent to an admirer who gave it to the Church of the Divine Unity?”

Maurice Large informs us of the full history of the picture:

“It is not difficult to establish the connection between James Martineau and the Newcastle upon Tyne Church of the Divine Unity. James Martineau’s elder sister, Elizabeth Martineau, married Thomas Michael Greenhow FRCS who was a pioneering surgeon in Newcastle, co-founder of the Newcastle upon Tyne Eye Infirmary, and a leading member of our congregation which then worshipped in Hanover Square. It is not fanciful to think that Elizabeth was given the picture by her niece, Clara. The present Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton, is directly descended from Thomas and Elizabeth, being their great- great-great-great-granddaughter. Perhaps we should apply for a blue plaque!”