Intrigued to read Kenny Bruce’s article concerning the discovery of the bell belonging to the ancient church on the Kirkburn, Fiona-Jane Brown thought readers would like to hear about St Peter’s spiritual descendant which replaced it in the early 19th century.
The fine Gothic kirk situated on Merchant Street was designed by local architect, Robert Mitchell.
Opened on Christmas Eve 1814, the new St Peter’s was now the unified site of Anglican worship in Peterhead.
This was a replacement for the short-lived Episcopal chapel erected in 1798 during the ministry of Rev. Patrick Torry.
The Georgian St. Peter’s is home to two very special mice - not furry white ones, but carved oaken beasties created by the Yorkshire furniture maker, Robert “Mouseman” Thompson.
The latter inherited his father’s carpentry business at Kilburn in 1895, but it was not until 1919 while working on his first large commission for Ampleforth College that he carved his first rodent.
One of his workmen commented that carpenters were “all as poor as church mice” and instantly Thompson added the little form of a mouse to the screen on which they were working.
Eventually customers started requesting mice on their pieces, thus by 1930 Thompson refined the carving, removing the front legs of the mouse which were too fragile.
St Peter’s mice, although having no front legs, are early examples, dating from 1926, with classic bas-relief whiskers, little eyeholes and fine whips of tails.
So why should Mouseman have come to Peterhead?
The first mouse, features on a reredos or rear altarpiece dedicated to Susan Ewan Mitchell (1839-1926).
Miss Mitchell was the spinster daughter of David Mitchell, mercer, ironmonger and shipowner.
Her father, in business with her uncle William and whaling captain David Ewan, established a shipping company in 1839 with the Mary Ann Henderson, a whaler named after William’s Banffshire-born wife.
Other ships, famous in Peterhead’s whaling canon, Polar Star and Windward followed.
David’s success would allow him to buy Berryhill, a grand house near Longside, where Susan and her sister Mary Ann lived after their father’s death.
Their brother William became a solicitor and then successful tea planter in Ceylon, while his daughter, Constance was brought up by her aunts.
Susan was highly educated in her own right, working as a foreign language teacher, thus niece Constance did not want for knowledge.
The whole family were Episcopalians, William Jnr, who had a house around the corner from St Peter’s, was particularly noted for his generosity to the church and his fellow worshippers.
William died in 1899 occasioning great sadness in the town.
Susan must have continued her devotion to the church until her own death 27 years later.
There is a second mouse on a shelf below the St Paul window, which was a surprise to the present incumbent, Rev. Richard O’Sullivan.
Robert Thompson clearly thought that Miss Mitchell merited a bonus rodent for her unstinting service to church and education.
*Robert Thompson was part of the 1920s revival of craftsmanship, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement led by William Morris, John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle.
A workshop is now run by his descendants which includes a showroom and visitor centre and is located beside the parish church which contains ‘Mouseman’ pews, fittings and other funiture.
The visitor centre takes you on an amazing journey through the life and times of the Mouseman from humble beginnings to furniture legend. Visitors to the centre can pass through rooms set in the 1930s that are full of Robert Thompson’s own personal furniture s and signed with early examples of the carved mouse symbol.