James Martineau: Suggestions for a short talk to Secondary-age students

There are a several aspects of James Martineau's life and achievements which could form the basis of a short talk to older pupils, although, almost inevitably - and perhaps usefully - the issue of Nonconformity will be raised.

1. One could focus on church building styles (preferably with some illustrations) referring to the impact of the Romantic movement on Martineau and his support for a new Gothic chapel in Liverpool (complete with chancel and high altar) where Nonconformity had preferred simple and quite plain meeting houses. Martineau had considerable influence in emphasising the value of emotion where Unitarians, in particular, tended to favour a rational, intellectual approach to religion and worship. At about the time that the Gothic Hope Street Chapel was built in Liverpool (1849), Gothic chapels were built for other Unitarian congregations, for example at Hyde (1848) and Leeds (1848). The now-redundant magnificent Gothic chapel at Todmorden came a little later in 1869.

Below are images of the Octagon Chapel, Norwich, as it was in Martineau's time, and Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds.

2. You could explore Martineau's comment that: “The pinafore of the child will be more than a match for the frock of the bishop and the surplice of the priest”. What had he in mind? That the innocence of a child is nearer to heaven than the sophisticated learning of the clergy (a Wordsworthian notion)? This would be a sound Nonconformist - and especially Unitarian - thought; Martineau stood for freedom of belief rather than the blind acceptance of imposed doctrines. But Martineau's remark is Nonconformist, too, in its evident mistrust of the surplice and the episcopal dress which stand, here, for the more orthodox churches with their hierarchy of priests reflected in their special garments. Nonconformist ministers do not normally wear items which seem to elevate them any more than they claim a 'special relationship' with things divine.

Return to Martineau index page.