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Annie Gowans

Annie Gowans, Nan to everyone who met her, died in July 2022, days after her 99th birthday.

She was very special in the life of Williamson Memorial Church in Dundee for many reasons, two of which may be of historical interest.

The War Memorial in the Church is a Roll of Honour that contains the names not only of those who died in the two World Wars but also of those who served. Nan was one of those and it was an honour that, for many years, our Remembrance Sunday service was attended by someone listed on that Roll.

Birth register 2

Birth register 1

Annie Smith Small was baptised in the Church on 10 December 1925 by the Rev Helen Phillips. She was the second woman on the Unitarian Roll of Ministers. Nan’s entry is 4th from the bottom. It is lucky for us that she was baptised several years after her birthday as by that time the Rev Henry Williamson, who had been minister in Dundee since 1866, was unwell and Phillips acted as a locum.

Helen Louise Phillips was born in Neath, Glamorgan on the 4 October 1873. Her father was a Grocer. She applied to Manchester College, Oxford in 1906. The Minute Book has this for a Meeting of General Committee held in Cross Street Chapel Room on Monday 19 February 1906 :

Mem. M. Read application from Miss Helen L. Phillips for admission to the College as a regular non graduate Theological Student with letter in support from Mr. M. Fulford, the Rev. J.M. Lloyd Thomas and the Rev. T. Phillips and Medical Certificate by Dr. J.J. Burton.
Miss Phillips attended.

Resolved That the consideration of the application be adjourned and in the meantime the Secretaries be requested to communicate with the Rev. J.M. Lloyd Thomas relating to the application. [1]


The matter never reappears in the minutes and she never entered the College. However, as the Rev Keith Gilley writes in his work on Women and the Unitarian Ministry: “There were, as I have hinted, other ways into the Unitarian ministry. Helen Phillips, described as ‘lay visitor’ at Nottingham, High Pavement, from about 1904, became lay pastor at Christchurch, Nottingham, with Ilkeston, in 1912, where she stayed three years before moving to Carlisle Here, as if she had not already served her apprenticeship, she had a probationary year before becoming a fully accredited minister in 1916.” [2] As yet I have found no evidence of her having graduated from anywhere but the search goes on.

[1] Minute Book held in archive at Harris Manchester College and I am thankful to Sue Killoran for her help with this. The files contain a letter from her and a number of supporters as well as her birth certificate.
[2] p39 (viewed 300123)

I have one further mystery.

Rev Helen Phillips

This picture shows us the Rev Helen Phillips. There are three names on the back but it is far from clear which is which. I hope to find another photo to be sure.

Rev Dr Rob Whiteman
Minister with Williamson Memorial Unitarian Church, Dundee

Image credits: Rob Whiteman