Nostalgia: Celebrating the bicentenary of Larbert's congregation

On January 3, 1821, just 200 years ago this weekend, the congregation of Larbert Parish moved into the fine new church building which has graced the village ever since.
Larbert Old  Church from the southLarbert Old  Church from the south
Larbert Old Church from the south

As their descendants celebrate this bicentenary they can look back even further to the centuries of worship in their former building which stood within the present graveyard, as well as to the even earlier chapel of ‘Lethbert’ which along with the linked congregation of ‘Donypas’ take us back to the very dawning of Christianity in the area.

The link between the two which had withered during the long years when power in the parishes lay with the Augustinian Canons of Cambuskenneth Abbey, was restored not long after the Reformation of 1560 and remained in place until 1962!

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Between times the people of both parishes witnessed all the complex changes brought about by power shifts at national level but by the early 19th century Larbert had prospered over its neighbour largely because of the arrival of Carron Company and the growing community that resulted.

The interior of Larbert Old Church.The interior of Larbert Old Church.
The interior of Larbert Old Church.

More people put greater pressure on an old, cold and crumbling kirk but also brought new financial resources.

The Heritors who were responsible for such things agreed to replace the old building and in 1818 appointed the top Scottish architect, David Hamilton, designer of the Falkirk Steeple, to prepare the plans.

The result was much admired at the time – the finest church building in central Scotland was the verdict of one observer – and it is still high on the list today.

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Over the years there have been many changes inside the sanctuary.

In 1887 for example there was a complete restoration with new pews replacing the old fashioned boxes, fine oak fittings throughout the building and a pipe organ reflecting a change in attitudes towards music in church.

Another breakthrough had taken place even earlier, in 1859, when a beautiful stained glass window was installed at the east end of the building in memory of Joseph Dawson of Carron Company.

It was the prelude to a gradual filling up of the nave windows which are, to many, the crowning glory of the church interior.

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In 1911 the builders were once again at work, this time extending the east end by the addition of a chancel.

For the people of successive congregations it was, of course, about much more than providing attractive surroundings for worship.

Dedicated ministers, elders and thousands of unsung parishioners have shared in spiritual devotions which brought meaning and purpose to their lives, and have used their resources to assist the wider community during times of difficulty.

But the building is important. As Rev John McLaren Minister for 51 years told his congregation back in 1887: “Is it not a house endeared to you by many hallowed associations where you were baptised yourselves and where you have held your children up to be dedicated to the Lord? Does not the church-going bell echo back the recollections of childhood and dear ones now lying in yonder churchyard? Above all, has not this house been to some as the very gate of Heaven?”

And to all of us in our community this fantastic building, a pearl beyond price, is a powerful living link to 1000 years of our local history and heritage.