The forthcoming merger of two of Larbert’s Church of Scotland congregations is sad news for those folk who will leave a building they love that has played a big part in their lives going back to their grandparents.
Coming hard on the heels of the union of Falkirk Old and Erskine just a year ago, and with other possible mergers on the horizon, it is also a worrying time for those of us who love our built heritage and wonder how much of it will survive this generation.
The current situation is, of course, a combination of the general decline in church attendance in our more secular age and the legacy of division within the Presbyterian ‘family’ in Scotland which left the country “over churched” in bricks and mortar terms.
In our area, each new breakaway congregation was able to find the wherewithal to acquire a new building using the resources of the wealthy ironmasters who were for the most part enthusiastic members of the church. Between 1875 and 1915 there were 35 new architect-designed stone-built churches in Falkirk district which, in today’s money, represents at least a £70 million investment.
Many are handsome examples of Victorian architecture and a few are masterpieces of design of national importance. All of them are assets and should, if at all possible, be put to use serving the community in one way or another.
We have many examples of where this has happened, one of the earliest being the Tattie Kirk in Cow Wynd which served an ‘antiburgher’ congregation from 1806 until 1879 when they moved to Grahams Road.
The old building became a store for decades and is now a beauty parlour! In Bank Street, Wetherspoon’s Carron Works is housed in the former St Modan’s Church which has been both Picture House and Bingo Hall, and its successor as St Modan’s, the 1915 building in Cochrane Street, was converted into flats in the late 1980s.
Down in Grangemouth, the A listed Dundas Church (1894) is now a funeral home and Charing Cross (1884) a pub called the Earl of Zetland. The Grange Church (1903) was converted to flats several years ago.
A number have found a new lease of life as unique private houses like Cairneymount (1904) high up on the hill in Maddiston, Dennyloanhead Church (1738) and Denovan in Dunipace (1834). In Denny, the town centre demolition has brought to view the old Broompark Church (1881).
The building served the congregation under various names until the merger with Denny West in 1963 to form Westpark. Since then it has been a community centre but I’m not sure what fate awaits it as the bulldozers swarm around the vicinity.
There are many kinds of sacrilege and one of them is destroying the master works of architect and mason because our careless generation does not have the vision and energy to find a use for unused churches.
The first test of our collective determination will be the Erskine Church building which has graced the town since 1905 and could serve the people again far into the future. We live in hope.