Community scratching its head as axe falls on Larbert Old

Spotlight on Larbert
Spotlight on Larbert

Spare a thought today for the faithful congregation of Larbert Old Parish Church.

A couple of years ago they stayed loyal to the Church of Scotland when others walked out in a mini ‘disruption’.

And the reward for their fidelity? Being turfed out of their beautiful, historic building at the stroke of an arbiter’s pen.

But it is not only the shocked members of the congregation who are left scratching their heads.

Thecommunity, especially those with a sense of history, simply cannot understand the thinking that has led to this incomprehensible decision.

Twenty odd years ago I had the pleasure of writing a history of Larbert Old, tracing a thousand years of continuous Christian worship on the site which created the village and parish of Larbert and served 40 generations of families – many of whom now lie in the historic churchyard.

The recorded story begins as early as 1160 when the chapels of ‘Lethbert andDonypas’ were part of the parish of St Ninians with their revenues going to the Augustinian Abbey at Cambuskenneth. Just 
before the Reformation, probably around 1530, a new stone church was built within what is now the graveyard and where parts of it survive today as a burial enclosure.

At the time, the parish was united with Dunipace and the Larbert Church was secondary to the other but it was rebuilt and revived by one of Scotland’s most famous men Rev. Robert Bruce of Kinnaird.

Bruce was a powerful and influential part of King James VI’s council but the two men fell out on a matter of principle which led to his confinement to within two miles of Kinnaird.

Thousands came to hear him preach and his fame put Larbert on the map.

He died in 1631 and lies buried in the kirkyard.

The surviving old manse was built four years later.

By the beginning of the 19th century the church was in a poor state and the congregation, wealthier after the arrival of Carron Ironworks, decided to replace the building.

David Hamilton, one of Scotland’s leading architects and designer of Falkirk’s new Steeple, was given the commission.

The result was the magnificent B-listed building we have today, augmented over the years by a handsome chancel (1911) by Peter Macgregor Chalmers and some beautiful stained glass, including work by Stephen Adam and Gordon Webster.

Its location is magnificent, standing high above the River Carron and seen for miles around signalling the presence of the church in Larbert.

It was in this building that Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, one of the great evangelical preachers in the history of the Church of Scotland, first discovered the power of oratory which he put into practice in the years that followed his departure to Dundee in 1836.

And so it continued through years of war and peace, feast and famine, the mother church of all others in the parish.

At the end of the day it is clearly for the church, both local and national, to decide where it wants to meet for worship in this area.

But I believe that the community has a legitimate interest in what happens.

Larbert Old is part of the heritage of all the people, including those who have supported the work of the church over many decades.

I have no doubt that they will have their say – and quite right too.

The building is far too precious to lose and will certainly survive, even if the current plan is ratified.

However, my personal hope is the powers-that-be will reconsider their decision.

If not, it will have such far reaching consequences for both church and community and the 40 generations of families in Larbert it has served so well and so proudly.