Rev. James Murray and the High Bridge Chapel

Event date(s)

1 January 1764

Description/importance

High Bridge Street was the site of an independent chapel, established in 1765-6 by the friends and admirers of James Murray (1732-82), a Scottish-born Presbyterian minister who used his pulpit to advocate the Enlightenment principles of religious and civil liberty.

In some fields Murray was an orthodox and reactionary figure. For example, he despised the new kinds of revivalist and ‘enthusiastic’ religion that were associated with John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. He was an anti-Catholic who objected to extending civil rights to Roman Catholics. Murray’s radicalism is more evident in his politics. The Enlightenment provided the background for Murray's lifelong commitment to religious and civil liberty, and it was this libertarianism that informed his reaction to the crisis that developed between Britain and the American colonists in the 1760s and 1770s. Murray emerged as perhaps the most vocal and prominent supporter of the American colonists in Newcastle. His Sermons for Asses (1768) – written in the wake of the ‘Stamp Act’ controversy – began by announcing that ‘all Europe - yea the greatest part of the world have couched down between these two burdens of civil and religious oppression’. As historian James Bradley has noted, Murray coupled his concern for the rights of colonists with a concern for the independence of local voters: during the 1774 election, for instance, he urged the electors of Newcastle to vote independently, and not be cowed down by intimidation and threats from the magistracy. His Freeman’s Magazine, or, The Constitutional Repository (published from 1774) was a crucial political organ.

Murray communicated his ideas through radical Sunday sermons in the chapel. He also delivered weekday public lectures which were intended to educate local people about politics and about the rights and liberties that were common to all. His argument that subjects had the right to resist unjust laws and tyrannical sovereigns (just as the American colonists had) made him known to government. One of Murray’s biographers remarks that Thomas Bewick, a contemporary, noted that he was a ‘cheerful…sensible, pleasant man—a most agreeable companion’. His life illustrates the connections between Protestant dissent and radical politics, the compatibility of Enlightenment teachings and anti-Catholicism, as well as the deep support that the American cause garnered in Britain.

Location/map point

Address

High Bridge Street
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
Select one
NE1

Directions

The location of the High Bridge Street chapel, described in Eneas MacKenzie's Historical Account of Newcastle Including the Borough of Gateshead (1827) is not known by the author of this entry. If readers are aware of its whereabouts, do please contact the website.

Further reading

James Bradley, Religion, Revolution and English Radicalism: Nonconformity in Eighteenth-Century Politics and Society (Cambridge, 1990), 128-30; Kenneth B. E. Roxburgh, 'Murray, James (1732-82)', Dictionary of Natioanal Biography (Oxford, 2004), [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/19618, accessed 11 Oct 2016]; Eneas MacKenzie, Historical Account of Newcastle Upon Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead (Newcastle, 1827), 370-414.

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