Ballystockart Mission Hall

Photography captures a moment in time – a moment that sometimes can never be recreated, and in that sense is an important tool in recording our local history (and our national and international history too).

These images are of the old Ballystockart Mission Hall, between Comber and Dundonald, where I preached one of my very first sermons, back in the 1970s.  It held great memories for me, for I had shared with the people my call to be the pastor at Annaghanoon, Co. Down.  As I left the building one lady asked, “Whereabouts in Africa are you going?”

The building has now been renovated and made into a lovely home, and these images were made after services in the hall had ceased, while it was still derelict, and awaiting renovation.  They were part of an exhibition in Newtownards Town Hall, (Conway Square) a few years back, and evoked some memories for many of the visitors, who left some very appreciative comments.  I included the monochrome image – just because it was shot on Black and White film, and I like the way it shows off the grain on the pole.

Here’s my original notes on the Black and White image:

On Wednesday 13th January 2010, I travelled to Ballystockart Mission Hall, outside Comber for the third time. In the darkroom the previous day, I had developed and printed some images of the remaining hand-printed sign outside the hall. I am so taken by this image!

  • I love its incongruity, for the hall has long since closed, and the pulpit been silenced, and yet the old rickety sign still proclaims the message that once rang out from its pulpit.
  • I love the overgrowth of ivy and the grain of the old post and the uneven, amateurish writing on the sign itself. This sign is totally evocative of working class Ulster Evangelicalism, with its fervour and yet its complete lack of sophistication – that same unsophistication that infuriates more liberal elements, who refer to it using such pejorative terms as ‘Bible Bashing’ or ‘Redneck.’ Yet the people who would have attended this hall would have been honest, hard-working, God-fearing farmers and workers, whose creed would have taught them to hate sin, and to love sinners, the very message of this sign.
  • I love the slates on the roof of the hall, apparent beyond the sign, but missing (behind the sign) is a chimney, which perhaps gives us a clue to the origins of this hall, for in times past it may have been a little cottage, someone’s home.

I wanted to go back and shoot the sign again, this time from an angle which showed a little more of the hall behind the post, to include the chimney, and a little less sky. I used the Nikon F100 camera, loaded with Ilford B+W Film, FP5, ISO400, The camera was set to aperture priority and I selected an aperture of f/8 (The sky was cloudy and it was raining slightly) and I bracketed by 2/3 stop. I developed the film in Fotospeed FD10 for 7 minutes, washed with water at 20 deg C, then treated it with fixer for 10 minutes. I scanned the negatives into the computer, to produce instant contact sheets. The resulting image is pleasant enough, although there is less sky detail.   The shallow depth of field has rendered the roof slightly out of focus, thus causing the eye to linger on the post and sign, which I think is a good result.